Category Archives: Truth-Seekers

Becoming Nothing

Jesus consistently demonstrated his care and compassion for “the least of these.” In the following Scripture passage, we see another beautiful example of both Jesus’ love for broken people and his ability to reveal the condition of a person’s heart in a matter of seconds.

Mark 7:24 And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. 25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.

This woman was most likely overlooked by her community because she had a demon possessed daughter. They were cursed, unclean, scary, and devalued. Yet, this woman has a conviction that if she could only get Jesus’ attention, her daughter could be freed from the unclean spirit. This mom is on a mission, determined, and willing to go to all lengths to find a future for her little girl. Scripture states, “She begged.” There is a sense of determined desperation here.

Jesus’ response is, quite frankly, startling.

And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (v.27) In this statement, Jesus is clearly communicating that this “food”, the truth of God, is for the Israelites, not the Gentiles (dogs). By the way, a dog was not a positive term in these days. They were dirty diseased scavengers.

Seems harsh? Listen to the woman’s response…

“Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (v.28)

And here is revealed a profound spiritual truth. This woman demonstrates absolute authentic humility. She doesn’t dispute the fact that she’s nothing. She doesn’t try to convince him of some entitlement. She doesn’t even get upset that she is reduced in value to a scavenging dog. She simply states another fact of life–even dogs get to eat a few scraps from the table–and in saying that, she is asking only for that.

Jesus confirms that her humble response is the key to unleashing his favor and power: For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” (v.29)

Especially as Americans, we struggle with this kind of authentic humility. We are hard-wired to be capable, self-confident, oozing with self-worth and independence. But it all flies in the face of the gospel. Jesus is looking for people who actually recognize they are broken and have no right to receive anything from God–that they are, quite literally, beggars in the presence of a holy capable God.

The Syrophoenician Gentile modeled well what need to fully embrace: Absolute authentic humility.

Broken

I’m broken. It’s not easy to admit and it’s easier to write it than it is even to say. Who likes to flaunt their weaknesses or failures. Not me! But if I’m honest with myself, I see that sin is at work in me ALL THE TIME. I can relate to the apostle Paul all too well when he said, The very thing I want to do I do not do and the very thing I don’t want to do, that is what I do. Oh wretched man that I am!”

I’ve just come off a three-month season of deep reflection, plumbing the dark places of my soul and have been humbled significantly. For a season, I had become quite numb to the realities of life, who I am, how I’m faring, the deadness of my relationship with God, etc. These are hard things to find–and not so fun to admit.

There’s good news, too. I’ve recently studied a section of Scripture in Mark. In chapter 7:24-8:13, we see four short stories about Jesus. Three reveal how we get in on God’s grace, experience his power and find transformation happening in our lives. The last story draws a sobering contrast–how we are certain to repel the grace of God. For today, let me keep it simple:

In each of these three stories, we see needy, unimportant, overlooked, even despised people capturing the attention of Jesus. They are all broken, but Jesus is compelled to action BECAUSE of their brokenness. Here’s the key, however. In each story, the people knew and embraced their brokenness. They didn’t hide it. They didn’t reason it away. They didn’t attempt to put on masks, or sound pious, or present themselves in sophisticated or respectable ways. They were broken and honest about it. In fact, their brokenness drew them to Jesus because they embrace it so well. We’ll consider those spiritual truths in the days ahead.

Are you broken? Do you know it? Are you honest with yourself? With God? With others? Is it driving you to look to Jesus or inserting a wedge between you?

Yet You are Holy

It’s easy, even exhilarating to proclaim God’s holiness when we gather for worship or are giddy about God or feel immersed in his blessings. It doesn’t come natural, however, to celebrate God’s holiness when our world is crumbling or when the soul is parched or when we feel abandoned by God.

Psalm 22 begins with David’s lament.

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief.” verses 1-2

The Psalmist David suffered torturous experiences in his lifetime–for years being unjustly hunted by King Saul, having his troops forsake him, and experiencing the depths of family depravity and betrayal. These were not momentary afflictions, but episodes of life that rocks your world and assaults easy faith in God. David couldn’t figure out, at times, how God could be in these things.

After the above cry of honesty, he also declares his unmoving conviction–“Yet you are holy, verse 3.

David recognizes that God is one of a kind, set apart, in a completely other category than any other person or being. He’s holy! He cannot fit into our best logic, most sophisticated theology, deepest thoughts or most creative solutions. He’s so much bigger than we can understand, especially in the deepest agonies and struggles of life. God is there. He knows. He cares. He’s working out His plan–for His kingdom and your good. He’s holy.

The God who turned the most hopeless Friday into Sunday’s most mind-blowing victory is the one who takes our worst seasons and manufactures his best scenarios.

No matter what you’re facing, “Yet He is holy.”

Doing Things the Right Way

“They placed the Ark of God on a new cart and brought it from Abinidab’s house. Uzzah and Ahio were guiding the cart,” 1 Chronicles 13:7

David was the new King of Israel. Meaning well, David decided to bring the powerful and mysterious Ark of the Covenant from a remote location back to Jerusalem. In the midst of singing, dancing, many instruments playing and raucous jubilation, “the oxen stumbled and Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the Ark of God. Then God’s anger was roused against Uzzah, and God struck him dead because of this. So Uzzah died right there beside the Ark of God,” 2 Samuel 6:6b-7.

You can only imagine how quickly the climate shifted from the heights of celebration to the depths of shock and despair. The party ended. Scripture also tells us that David “was now afraid of God” and decided to stop transporting the Ark. It stayed right there for the next three months in the private home of Obed-edom.

I have often wrestled with this story. It seems harsh, unfair, and quite frankly, reactionary by God. But when you understand the full picture, it changes the story. A lot.

Check out 1 Chronicles 15:13. After three months of wrestling with this event, King David discovered why it happened the way it did. He decides to move the Ark of God again, but listen to what he states to the Levite tribe as they prepare: “Because you Levites did not carry the Ark the first time, the anger of the Lord our God burst out against us. We failed to ask God how to move it properly.”

God had given previous instructions as to who and how the Ark of God was always to be transported. In David’s eagerness to do what was right, he overlooked the right way to do it. The Ark was never to be put on an oxcart and it was not to be “handled” by anyone other than a Levite–those designated by God to care for the temple and religious activities.

What a great reminder that God has declared standards. There are ways His work should be done. In our age of efficiency and pursuit of measurable results, we can easily overlook the godly way things should be done. Human wisdom is no match for God’s declared ways, though we often revert to that instead of God’s best plan. It still matters how we get God’s work done–not only that we do.

By the way, on this second try, all went well.

“So all Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant with shouts of joy, the blowing of rams’ horns and trumpets, the crashing of cymbals, and loud playing on harps and lyres,” 1 Chronicles 15:28

Now that’ my kind of party!

Ragamuffin

Brennan Manning describes a ragamuffin as one who is dirty, bedraggled, and beat-up. None of us like to think of ourselves this way, but for many of us, it’s a mighty accurate description. Though I may look good on the outside, I’m fighting like crazy on the inside. Even as I produce notable accomplishments for Christ’s kingdom, I find myself struggling for spiritual survival much of the time. Yes–dirty, bedraggled and beat up is a pretty good description, not only of a ragamuffin, but of me.

Of course, this shouldn’t be any surprise. We’re in a war!

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” Ephesians 6:12.

This is not a theoretical war–it’s real! It’s not something far off like Afghanistan or Iraq or Yemen–it’s in our mind, heart, homes and closest relationships! It affects us every day. To pretend the war doesn’t exist is to sentence your life to ruin or insignificance. To fight the battles in human strength is futile. We must use the weapons and equipment Christ has provided as described in Ephesians 6.

We Christians are quite proficient at presenting ourselves as victors. We aren’t too fond of revealing our real selves, the ongoing struggles, the temptations we fight nor the battles we lose. But remember, even in the losing, in the fray of battle, in the wrong moves, missed opportunities, stupid choices, areas of weakness and remorseful decisions, God loves us and is waiting to make something beautiful in the midst of the mess.

Want to see a GREAT movie that shows it well? Watch Ragamuffin (it’s on Prime)–the true story of Rich Mullins. It’s unsettling, sobering, inspiring, and real.

“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:3-4)

Three BIG Fallacies About Church

Lagos 034There are numerous fallacies in the church at large that kill it, make believers ineffective, and disillusion them. I’ll give you three big ones today:

FALLACY #1: The church is for believers. This is like saying the fire department is for the firemen! In fact, if the firemen were there only to enjoy the fellowship in the fire hall, to learn how to fight fires and only do it when they felt like it, to build close relationships with eachother at the expense of doing their job, we would all be in trouble. Besides, the firemen would get very little fulfillment from their position. Christians are to be on a mission. That’s why Jesus said to His disciples, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Of course it’s nice to have good fellowship, make deep and significant friendships, and be caring and supportive of one another. We are supposed to be about these things. But to make these items the priority is like telling firemen to fight fires when it fits their schedule. NO! The church is NOT for believers, but the means by which God wants to save a lost world. Our ultimate objective, which must shape everything we do and everything we are, is to make disciples of all ethnic groups.

FALLACY #2: The best church for me is the church where I get my preferences met. This is like finding a doctor that tells you only what you want to hear. Personal preferences should be WAY down on the Christians list of priorities for their church. WAY DOWN…like non-existent. Here’s what you really need to look for in a church — whether or not this community of believers is doing everything they can to appeal to the lost people around them. The BEST church is the church that is reaching into the secular world in their neighborhood. This requires seismic shifts for most churches in their orientation, presentation, and application of Scripture. Church should have very little to do with what you personally want, but everything to do with becoming “fishers of people.” After all, Jesus still has us here on planet Earth to come, follow and fish.

FALLACY #3: A biblical church is where I learn as much as I can about the Word. This is like a shoe factory that gives seminars galore on making shoes, but never produces any. Don’t misunderstand me, learning the Word is REALLY important, but Christians have a habit of doing this at the expense of living it. I mean, ACTUALLY living it every day. We make learning such a high priority that we overlook living it. Churches sometimes keep their congregants so busy in Bible studies, small groups, serving in programs, and attending services that there is not time or energy left to actually live it out in the context of our world. Jesus had a balance in His approach that must be duplicated. Early on, long before the disciples were fully equipped, He sent them out two by two to engage in some pretty radical things — casting out demons, healing, and sowing seeds of the gospel among hostile recipients. He knew that the only way they would stay hungry to learn, and the only way they would fulfill their God-sized task, was to get them out there doing what they were meant to do. Churches often put such a priority on learning that we drastically fail at doing exactly what Jesus told us to do with it. Even Sunday preaching should not primarily be about learning, but challenging people to live out the gospel in Jesus-style ways.  PS–the best learning, even in the Word, is found through the joy of discovery in Bible study. When you read it, wrestle with it, and the Spirit teaches it, you will never ever forget it. It gets in you. There is no better way to learn.

Cultural Christianity and Biblical Christianity are worlds apart. Unfortunately, many churches think they’re living a Biblical Christianity, when in fact, it’s only cultural…they’re doing what they have learned to do from others before them. They overlook what the Bible REALLY teaches about following Jesus. In Jesus’ day, the people who led this “cultural movement” were the Pharisees. As Jesus said, they taught the traditions of men while disobeying the commands of God.

The Degree that God Intends

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,” Acts 1:8.

Jesus smiling #6Jesus smiling #6Thailand leadersAmong evangelical believers, the Holy Spirit has received little press. We tend to be strong on sin, justice, the Word, and the Great Commission, but our daily dependence upon the Spirit’s power has  been woefully overlooked.

The passage above reminds us that the Spirit’s presence and power in our lives is indispensable.

  • We cannot be who God intends for us without the Holy Spirit unleashed in our lives.
  • We cannot accomplish what God intends for us without Holy Spirit power surging through us.

It is, in actuality, impossible.

And what is the focal point of the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives? As first eight states clearly, to be His witnesses.

  • Would it be an overstatement to say that if we fail to be his witness, we lack the Spirit’s empowerment?
  • If this is the ultimate issue for which the Spirit was given (and it is in this passage), could we assume that failing to engage in this central mission as a disciple of Jesus reveals a distracted powerless believer?

It is so natural for me to choose disengagement from my neighbors and acquaintances in the spiritual realm of things. I have manufactured lots of good reasons for this (and I’m guessing you may have, too). But I’m quite certain that truth is this: My lack of witnessing about Jesus is an accurate reflection that the Holy Spirit is not upon me to the degree that God intends.

 

 

Priority

Priorities slip. The things that we should always highly value have a way of getting lost in the fray.

ivansusancruise2013I recently looked at my wife’s calendar and was humbly reminded of how easily this happens. There in her calendar, on every Tuesday night, was a notation, “Date with Ivan.” Oh wow! This was a commitment I had made some time ago because my relationship with Susan needed time and commitment. Somewhere in the busy schedules and demanding responsibilities, I lost sight of that priority. It’s time for a recommitment.

When Jesus said, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority, but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses…”, He was giving us a clear priority.

  • Holy Spirit power trumps end times information.
  • Doing is more important than knowing.
  • Our curiosity must be held in check by Jesus command.
  • God does His part and we need to do ours.

In essence, Jesus was telling His disciples that nothing matters more than being His witnesses. Our active involvement in His plan of redemption for all mankind is to be an ultimate priority in our daily lives. Our love for Jesus is not best expressed by determining the time of His return, but by engaging in the command He has delivered.

Hold on–you may not be an eschatological wiz. You’re not enamored by end times puzzles. But, you may have let something else creep in and crop out God’s directive. It’s all the same. If we’re not doing what He desires, it doesn’t really matter why. The fact is, we’re missing in action. That’s what matters.

So here’s a important priority to embrace. Take Jesus’ words to heart. Are you involved in spreading the word about what Jesus has done for you? The priority is simply this–be His witness. Tell what you have seen heard and experienced. Again and again and again…

Perspective

Our paradigm of understanding is a box. We usually see things from our perspective with little or no thought about how others may understand the same thing.

Kolkata slum womanTake world events, for instance. So many well intentioned believers, seeing the evil and chaos everywhere, are sure that Christ must be returning soon. This “conviction” is often driven by a desire to avoid suffering rather than having been derived out of the pages of Scripture.

Jesus made it clear that “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations (ethne’), and then the end will come,” Matthew 24:14. J. Oswald Smith declared, “We talk of the Second Coming; half of the world has never heard of the first.” Yes,  there are still over six thousand unreached people groups (ethne’) in the world. The task has not been accomplished.

Don’t get me wrong. Jesus could come any day, but from the view of Scripture, it looks like we have some serious work still to do.

In the days ahead, I would like you to join me in a search to understand our part, beginning with a very familiar, but vaguely understood statement of Jesus: “It’s not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority, But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth,” Acts 1:7-8.

I’m convinced that every person and every church is to play an irreplaceable role in God’s big plan. Let’s go for it!

Word Based, Spirit Empowered

As servants of Christ, we need to do the right things in the right ways–and then see results that go way beyond our ability to produce.

Our Converge International Ministry value #1 states: We are Word-based and Spirit-empowered.

The Word of God tells us what to do and how to do it. This is our baseline in all that we do. We need to be in the Word, listening for God to speak, searching for truth, hungry for spiritual nourishment. Our natural default is to sample the Word — maybe just enough to help us still feel biblical or acceptable — but to bypass the Truth as our true source of guidance and confidence. I find myself constantly needing to refocus my life so that I’m a man of the Word. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. If I’m going to truly live by this value of being Word-based, it means that I must be pursuing truth constantly right from the pages of Scripture. Anything less is a sham.

When we are people of the Word, the Spirit loves to take our offerings of service and multiply its fruit. The Spirit has been given as our “Helper.” Too often, in our western version of Christianity, we theologically espouse the Spirit’s supernatural power, but fail to depend on His intervention. To see a great post on this, a friend of mine, T.J. Addington, recently wrote a good one! I’m convinced that a minority of believers actually know how to walk by the Spirit and be radically used by Him. But this is what we all must be doing every day! As the apostle Paul declared, “each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done,” 1 Corinthians 3:13, ESV.

Whether we are a missionary, pastor, volunteer in the church, or Christian in the marketplace, we must be Word-based and Spirit-empowered in order to fulfill God’s designed plan for our lives.