Hello Everyone, this is really just a test post to help me get things organized. I am taking a bit of a new approach to my website and blog as well as my FB page. A lot of you already know that when you like, share and comment, it helps my post or blog to rank and therefore potentially get new eyeballs. That is good.
In fact, I am in the middle of writing an ebook called Invite Culture: How to support your favorite church or ministry without spending a dime. There is a lot we can do to support our favorite ministries that has nothing to do with giving donations or buying their books or products.
I do it regularly on my site. Two of my favorite ministries is Ransomed Heart Ministries by John Elderidge and Daily Hope by Pastor Rick Warren. I get their devotional emails every day and I repost them on my FB page and Twitter page with just a few clicks of a button. I know that this helps them quite a bit. Making comments, liking and sharing are also great ways to give your favorite ministry or church some ranking juice. Also giving a testimonial for a book on Amazon is key and providing referrals is essential.
None of these things cost us any money but they are essential elements in the digital economy and can help a church or ministry have more visibility online so that more people can find them and potentially be exposed to the gospel. In fact, each like, share and comment is an invitation to others to come and check out that blog or FB page. It is social proof that someone enjoyed it, someone liked it, someone thought enough about it to make a recommendation. We are in the day-and-age when personal testimony and referral are the keys to success online.
But that is only one half of what Invite Culture is all about. The other half is about learning to invite people offline as well to come and experience God through your church or ministry. Programs like the Alpha Course allow you to work as a team to provide a safe place to share the gospel with those who may be open to the gospel or at least curious enough to come and check it out for themselves. Invite Culture will teach people how to keep their personal invitations casual and friendly without scaring people off. Building relationships is key. Prayer and even fasting is essential. But having a safe place to invite them to is the most important element of this new approach to team evangelism.
Of course, churches and ministries also need to be ready and willing to make this work. If a church does not even have a blog or a FB page, how can anyone share it. If they don’t provide a daily devotional, how can I send it to a friend, or share it on my FB page. Instagram may be popular today but it isn’t enough simply to post fotos. There needs to be a strategy behind it. Churches are in the business of information and need to provide content that their followers can share. Building up an audience online is essential for a church that wants to grow. There is a lot to learn, but if the church or ministry is not ready and willing, how are people supposed to follow them and support them and invite others (online and offline) to do the same.
So let me know if you are interested in reading my book about being an Invite Culture. If enough people respond, I will fast track it and give you an opportunity to review it first. Thanks for being part of Desert Warrior Ministries.
The Desert Warrior
We’re the generation that doesn’t want relationships.
We want a second cup of coffee in our Instagram’s of lazy Saturday mornings.
We want a second pair of shoes in the artsy pictures we take of our feet.
We want that Facebook official relationship that everyone can like and comment on.
We want the post that wins relationship goals.
We want that date for Sunday morning brunch, someone to drown our sorrows for the Monday blues.
We want that Taco Tuesday partner, someone to text us “Good morning” on a Wednesday.
We want a +1 for all the weddings we keep getting invited to.
How did they do it? How did they find their happily ever after?
But we’re the generation that doesn’t want a relationship.
We swipe left in hopes of finding the right one.
We try to special order our soul mates like we do on Postmates.
We read “5 Ways to Know that he’s into You” and “7 Ways She Will Fall For You”
Thinking we can upcycle a person into a relationship like a Pinterest project.
We invest more time in our Tinder profiles than we do with our personalities
Yet we’re the ones that don’t want a relationship.
We talk and we text. We snapchat and we sext. We hang out and we happy hour.
We go get coffee and grab a beer. Anything to avoid an actual date.
We private message to meet up, small talk for an hour
Only to return home and then small talk via text.
We forego and chance of a real connection by mutually playing games with no winner.
The only thing we end up winning is most likely to be alone.
We want the facade of a relationship without the work of a relationship.
We want the handholding without the eye contact.
We want the teasing without the serious conversations.
We want the pretty promise without the actual commitment.
We want to celebrate the anniversaries without the 365 days leading up to them.
We want the happily ever after without the effort in the here and now.
We want to have deep connections but still keep things shallow.
We want that World Series kind of love without willing to go to bat.
We want someone to hold our hands but we don’t want to put the power to hurt us in their hands.
We want to be swept off our feet but at the same time remaining safely, independently, standing on our own.
We want to keep chasing love but we don’t actually want to fall into it.
We don’t want relationships. We want friends with benefits.
We want Netflix and Chill and nudes on Tinder.
We want everything that will give us the illusion of a relationship without an actual relationship.
We want the rewards with no risk, the payout with no cost.
We want to connect enough but not too much. We want to commit a little but not a lot.
We take it slow, see where it goes. We don’t want to label things, just go with the flow.
We keep one foot out the door, we keep one eye open.
We keep people at arm’s length, toying with their emotions.
But mostly toying with our own.
When things get too close to being real, we run, we hide, we leave, we say to ourselves “there’s more fish in the sea.”
We want the downloadable person that’s a perfect fit, just like an app you can update whenever there’s a hitch.
Compartmentalized into a folder that we can delete when we have no more need for it.
We don’t want to unpack our baggage, or worse help someone unpack theirs.
We hide everything behind an Instagram filter, we choose a Netflix show over a real conversation.
We feel entitled to love like we feel entitled to full-time jobs out of college.
We want a placeholder not a person, we want a warm body not a partner.
We want someone to eat with while we scroll through our newsfeed.
See, what we need to recognize is that the things we truly want, the things that are deeply meaningful, the things that are genuinely fulfilling all require patience.
They all require work. They all require energy.
See, the challenge is we all want to be with someone who makes us happy,
When what we need to do is be someone who makes us happy.
We sit with our friends discussing the rules but no one even knows what game we’re trying to play.
Because the problem with our generation not wanting relationships is that
At the end of the day, we actually do.
Performed by Jay Shetty. Adapted from Krysti Wilkinson.
The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing……if you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15: 5,7,8 NIV).
The Three Truths of Holiness
The first truth of a holy life is that the abundant life of full surrender and consecration to His service is the NORMAL Christian life (which includes unconscious and unintentional sin and pollution of sin lived in humility in the shadow of the cross). The abundant life is the normal Christian life.
The second truth of a holy life is that living in sin (whether intentional, conscious sin or spiritual drift) is dangerous to your spiritual health and demands a relational answer to the question of whether or not we are saved and if so, whether or not we want fellowship with God more than we want to live in sin (if saved and immature we are like a married man living like a single guy in a bar flirting with the barmaid). Living in sin and complacency is dangerous to your soul.
The third truth of a holy life is that relational maturity is the “complex good” work of God which he does as we seek the “simple good” of character maturity making every effort in faith to please God while living the abundant life walking in the Spirit but sometimes failing and falling into conscious sin temporarily. Holiness is a heart set apart for God.
Holiness is the desire to be exclusive (set apart) to God and intimate with Him so that you can know Him and enjoy Him forever and expresses itself in a heartfelt participation in the process of growing in Christlike character in the context of relational maturity.
Without holiness, the Bible says, we will not see the Lord. The problem is that holiness is not merely moral perfection but a heart set apart exclusively for God growing in character in the context of ongoing growth in relational maturity.
It’s like saying, without true love, every marriage is a sham. True. Relational and character growth in the context of a marriage commitment empowered by the humility of confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation based on the cross of Christ makes for a very romantic and ministry oriented marital relationship.
True oneness (unity). True glory. True holiness.
But it is a oneness or unity in Christ. It is the glory of Christ in us and it is the holiness of Christ lived out in our lives. That holiness is relational.
Holiness is being set apart for a relationship with God resulting in service to others. Holiness is revealing the glory of God through a Christlike character in the context of a growing intimate love for God.
It is the holiness of walking in the Spirit in the righteousness of Christ set apart unto good works as a living, walking testimony of someone who loves God and wants to please Him out of true love not for the temporal benefits.
Without that true love for God rooted in Christ, we will not see the Lord.
You may be married, but the question is “do you truly love your spouse?” Given that 50% of marriages end in divorce and the other 50% mostly live in complacency and often stay together for the kids and or their social/spiritual reputation or fear of being alone and rejected, the question stands. Yes, there are bright spots and exceptions, but the question still stands.
Do you truly love God? If the answer is no, but I truly want to, you are on the right track. That is the evidence of the Holy Spirit in your life.
And furthermore, how do you know? What is the evidence of your love? or your desire to learn to love?
Is it passive and complacent or passionate and romantic? How does it hold up under pressure, temptation and time? If true love is the litmus test of our salvation, would we admit that we aren’t actually Christians at all or perhaps luke-warm and immature and in desperate need of repentance?
If the call to abundant living makes you feel guilty and pressured, it’s time to recheck your relationship to God. Are you in a relationship with God through the work of Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit, or not?
If the abundant life is something you desire, then get on your knees and humble yourself and pray because adventure and power and blessing beyond measure await those who are committed to true love (in marriage and in spirituality).
Holiness is a matter of the heart. Holiness is a mature, exclusive, true love for God in full surrender and consecration to his service in the context of quick confession and ongoing repentance/discipleship when we sin. We desire fellowship with God over a life apart from Him in sin and rebellion and it is possible because of the cross, the glory of God expressed in the work and person of Jesus Christ.
It is the holiness of Christ in us that is our hope of glory.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God…..
Lord, you know the cry of my heart is to live in your presence, in the abundant life in your Spirit. I cannot do it without your help but I also know that I must make every effort as well. I also know that this lifestyle of faith and abundance was meant to be lived together with other believers. Help me to find a small group of believers that can help each other live this normal Christian life of abundance and spiritual prosperity even in the desert. In your name I pray. Amen.
The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV).
Discipleship and Spiritual Warfare
Uuggghh! It was so frustrating talking to this woman.
Of course I didn’t let it show and my smile was more or less genuine but the truth still lingered in the corners of my eyes.
It was like I surrounded myself with these people, misfits and homeless and emotionally unstable and even a bit crazy. I started to tick them off in my mind one by one. Charlie, Leticia, Silvana, Fernando….
I said goodbye and started to walk away thinking about my life and how I had gotten here, to this place surrounded by difficult people everywhere I looked.
Every one of them was a problem. What did someone call them? Yes, I remember. Well-intentioned dragons. They sucked at your energy and drained you of your motivation. What would Jesus do with these people?
I stopped in my tracks. My smile fading….
What would Jesus do?
That was easy. He had surrounded himself with these same type of people and he had done so on purpose. Peter, always jumping in before he thought things through. James and John with their reputation for fighting. They even had a nickname, “The Sons of Thunder.” I bet there was a story behind that. And the way James was always working the power angle, trying to get himself and his brother into the best seats beside Jesus. And don’t forget Simon the zealot and Judas Iscariot. One ready to lay down his life in the battle against Rome, paranoid, even obsessive, no doubt. And the other? Urbane, sophisticated but really a scoundrel and a thief, ready to betray his Master for thirty pieces of silver. Maybe it was a trick to get Jesus to commit to the revolution against the Romans, to use his power to free their people, but that was no excuse. It was still betrayal and it was still wrong. Ultimately it cost him his life and his place in the Kingdom of God.
Jesus had it a lot worse but he had chosen each one of them knowing who and what they were. I was trying to avoid these people like the plague.
And what about you? The thought came into my head just that instant. Me? It was a good question. I wasn’t much better. Yes, I might be the Pastor but that didn’t make me any great catch either. I could be a pain in the neck too. Just ask my wife.
I chuckled out loud.
In any event, it would be resolved tonight at a special meeting with the Board. They made the mess. They can clean it up.
I straightened out some of the chairs and picked up a hymnal and put it back on the shelf. I heard the front door open and someone come in.
“Hello Pastor,” he called. It was Hank, one of the members of the church. Never on the Board or in a leadership position. He made people uncomfortable.
“Hey, Hank. How are you?” I hoped my lack of enthusiasm wasn’t evident in my voice. I liked Hank. Really I did. It was just that he was…….what was the word? Difficult. Yes, that was it. He was also a dragon and well-intentioned no doubt, but still a thorn-in-my-flesh. Prophets usually are, the thought came into my mind but I shook it off.
“Just stopped by for a chat,” he said with a big smile. “That is, if you have some time…”
“Yeah, sure, no problem.” It wasn’t easy to say no to Hank. I always felt like I needed to be careful with him around. He was different. Smart as anything and very knowledgeable about the Word of God but he always had an opinion about everything and it wasn’t always positive.
We walked over to a couple of chairs and sat down. Nobody really came to the church during the day so we would not be interrupted.
“How can I help you, Hank?”
“Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about this meeting you’re going to have today,” Hank said. “I just wanted to pray with you a bit beforehand if you don’t mind.”
How can you say no to prayer? But I wanted to know why he thought it was important enough to come over to the church in the middle of the day. So I asked him.
“It’s probably the most important meeting that you or the church will have this week, maybe even this month,” he said.
Really? Why? It was just a short meeting with one of the ladies that claimed to have been treated badly by the church before I had arrived to become the Pastor of our little international congregation. We needed to resolve the problem by talking it out and getting some reconciliation going between people, especially when it involves the elders.
“Don’t you think it’s important?” Hank looked at me carefully.
“Of course I do,” I said. “We’ve talked about this before, Hank. I believe that reconciliation is the key to pleasing God and receiving his anointing on our ministry as a church. If we want to grow, we need to do things God’s way and this is at the heart of the matter.”
“I hear the words, Pastor John, but I’m not sure you really believe them yourself.”
Well, that was blunt. I didn’t know how to respond. I wanted to get angry. I was hurt but I was also confused. I took a deep breath and asked him quietly, “Why do you say that?”
“I’m sorry if I offended you. That was not my intention. In fact, I agree with you totally and most churches and many pastors don’t even go there. The ministry of reconciliation is difficult and dangerous and can even be deadly if we don’t treat it carefully with much prayer and fasting.”
“You think I’m not praying or fasting?” I blurted out.
“Of course I am.”
“When, what? Are you checking up on me now?” Yes, I was getting bothered. Even angry.
“No, you’re right. Don’t answer that. I just know that I tell people all the time that I will pray for them but I don’t really do it much or with much passion. Maybe I’m just projecting my weaknesses on to you.” Hank hung his head for a moment and I didn’t know what to say.
Then Hank began to talk to Jesus. It wasn’t prayer like I normally prayed. He just started talking to him as if he was sitting right next to us. He poured out his heart and asked for forgiveness. At one point he grabbed my hands and tears squeezed out of his eyes. I was watching him covertly while pretending to pray with him throwing in the occasional “Amen” or “Yes, Lord.” He prayed fervently for the meeting later that afternoon and called on God for protection for me and the board and for Silvana.
When Hank was done, he waited in silence and I realized that I should pray too. Five minutes later Hank was on his way and I walked a bit bewildered into the kitchen where my wife was making lunch.
“Who was that, dear?” she asked.
“Oh, Silvana was here earlier and then Hank came for a few minutes to pray.”
“How is Silvana doing? Is she ready for the meeting this afternoon?
“She’s scared,” I confessed. “She doesn’t want to come alone. She wanted to invite Hank’s wife, Anita, to come to the meeting with her but Anita said that Silvana needed to come alone.”
“Why was she scared?”
“I don’t know. I don’t get it.” I started to get a bit hot under the collar. “She makes this whole thing a big deal when it really is quite simple and straightforward. The board handled her situation badly. Everyone is going to apologize and we will move forward. That’s it….”
“Well, it’s not quite that simple, dear. I heard her testimony at our women’s conference last month and Silvana is someone who has lived with rejection and pain most of her life.” My wife put the stove on simmer, then took my hand and we both sat down at the kitchen table. “Listen,” she said. “You’ve got to take this a bit more seriously.”
“You sound like Hank,” I said.
She just smiled at me.
“Okay, okay. I get it. She has been rejected all her life. I heard she was adopted. That couldn’t have been easy for her.”
“Not just adopted but also rejected by them. They have money but refuse to help her and have practically left her on the streets with nothing to her name. Sure, she has emotional problems. Wouldn’t you? But she loves God and she is always willing to seek reconciliation with the people she’s offended.” My wife paused for a moment. “You always say that seeking reconciliation is a sign of the Holy Spirit at work in someone’s heart. Right?”
“Yes, of course,” I said. “I believe she’s a Christian and loves the Lord and I understand the pain our church gave her when she was living here. They handled it badly, apparently. She needed to go and find her own place but they were too abrupt and not very helpful in the process.”
“It’s more than that, John,” my wife said. “One thing is the specific need she had at the time and the other is the relationship that she has with the church, especially the leaders. They told her to go away and never come back…”
There were tears forming in my wife’s eyes and I had to look away.
“And it isn’t the first time this has happened,” she said quietly. “It’s almost as if they just want to get rid of problem people and not deal with them at all.”
I thought of my attitude a couple of hours earlier. I was just as guilty as they were….
My wife sat silently. Probably praying…
Maybe this was more important than I realized. I hesitated, wanting to say something else….
“Just before Hank left, he said something strange. He said that the ministry of reconciliation was spiritual warfare. I hadn’t thought of it that way before.”
“Some things only come out with prayer and fasting,” my wife said. “Hank’s wife told me that once. I thought she was talking about demons or something but I think it applies to all kinds of evil.”
“Do you think we are dealing with evil here?”
“Yes, I do,” she said quietly. “It’s in us as well, not just the board. We have to take it seriously.”
I sighed heavily. “I guess anything that gets in the way of God’s anointing is evil.”
“That’s a good place to start,” my wife said. “You are always saying that the ministry of reconciliation is the key to spiritual power in the church.” She smiled.
“True.” I was quiet for a long moment. “Hank doesn’t think I’m taking it seriously enough,” I said.
“Is he right?”
“I’m not sure how to take it more seriously.” I shifted in my seat. “I feel like I’m out of my depth, like I’m drowning in a pool of good intentions and nice people that haven’t a clue as to what’s really going on. And I’m one of them.”
My wife laid her hand on my arm and said, “That’s a good start. Confession is where truth can get a foothold, you always say. Go take your nap and then get ready for the meeting and let’s see what God does with this mess.”
I nodded wearily and trudged up the stairs to lay down for a few minutes.
An hour later I was up, took a shower and got ready for the meeting. “Lord,” I prayed silently. “I put these people and this meeting in your hands.” Then I went downstairs and met with the prayer team and had them focus on the spiritual battle that lay ahead. They would surround the church, walking around it while they prayed.
Our board wasn’t very big, just three people. One of them brought their wife with them. That was unusual but not a big deal. Silvana showed up on time and I called the meeting to order. We prayed for a moment before we started and then I got down to business.
“Everybody knows each other here so let’s just get started,” I said.
“No, no,” Silvana said. “Let me talk first. May I?” She was always a bit abrupt in her manner but I wanted her to feel comfortable so I waved at her to indicate that she could start.
“I just want to apologize to all of you for what happened last year. It was my fault. I was off my meds and having a rough time emotionally and I took it out on you.” She went on for a bit explaining what was going on in her life at that time and we all listened quietly. Finally, she was finished.
“Apology accepted,” said the head elder. His name was Arnold. He was a preaching elder that had led this small congregation for years. He was a pillar of the church and his wife, Annie, was involved in everything from the fellowship committee to the potlucks once a month to singing in the choir. They were good people. Solid. God-fearing. “But I have something to say as well…”
I looked up at him sharply. This was interesting.
“I also need to make an apology. I handled the situation all wrong. I treated you badly, Silvana and I am so sorry.” His eyes glistened. Was he crying? “It wasn’t just the fact that you needed a place to stay. After all, we gave you a place in the church in the back room for almost six months. We also gave you some money to get you started somewhere else. But that isn’t the point. I was just trying to get rid of a problem. ”
“You told her never to come back,” his wife said gently.
He nodded, his head hung low, unable to look anyone in the eye. “I’m sorry. That was wrong. Please forgive me.”
I was holding my breath. It was absolutely silent in the room. Silvana didn’t say anything which was very unusual for her. Finally, one of the other elders spoke up. His name was Peter. He was talking to Arnold.
“You know I always supported you, Arnie,” he said. “But when this happened, I was uncomfortable. I didn’t like it but I went along with you anyway. I thought I was being loyal.” He paused. “But maybe I was being loyal to the wrong person.” He turned to Silvana. “You are a sister in Christ. We have a bond that goes way beyond family or friendship. I am sorry that I didn’t have the courage to protect you from this abuse of our authority. I am ashamed of myself. Please forgive me.”
Again, silence in the room. It stretched on into agony. Suddenly, I thought maybe I was supposed to say something, but before I could speak, I heard a sob from Santiago, our third elder.
“I don’t know what I’m doing being an elder,” he said. He was having a hard time maintaining his composure. “This is the second meeting this month that we have had with someone that we’ve hurt as a board. And I can think of three or four others that we should probably talk to as well and that’s without half trying.” He stopped, gulping.
“Pastor John has been preaching on the ministry of reconciliation and the priority of healthy spiritual relationships, healed through confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. It’s hit me hard. I’ve never really heard this stuff before. Pastor John and I have been getting together a lot to talk about this and praying but I really have no business being an elder. I just make things worse.”
“You and me both,” Arnold said, and Peter nodded as well.
I had to tell myself to breathe or I would pass out and spoil everything. Even I knew that I was in the presence of the Holy Spirit and He was coming in power into the lives of these people. There seemed to be a bubble of protection around us and we were able to share our hearts without shame, or fear or any other hindrance.
Silvana finally started to speak again.
“Of course I forgive you and thank you for your help last year. I really needed a place to stay and get my act together again. I had nowhere else to turn and you graciously gave me a place to stay in your church. Thank you.” She was quiet for a moment. “But when you threw me out and told me not to come back….. I almost died.” She looked at the floor, unwilling to meet their eyes, wounded and afraid to tell them her secret, to look even weaker than she already was. I knew what she was going to say.
“I tried to commit suicide, right here in this room, that same night,” she whispered. “I was going to do it right there in front of the altar, hanging myself from the cross, so you could see what you did to me first thing Sunday morning.”
Now even I was crying.
“Why didn’t you do it?” Arnold asked quietly.
Silence. Everyone waited.
“I don’t know,” she said, finally. “I guess because Jesus was watching, and I knew he wouldn’t be happy about it. Kind of lame, I know. I remember thinking that this wasn’t over yet. Something else had to happen.” She paused. “Now I get it.”
What did she get? I didn’t get it. What was she talking about? But the others were all nodding their heads and I felt like the outsider here.
“He’s like that,” Peter said. “Uses our stupidities and sin and makes them into something beautiful.”
“Only if we do things his way,” Arnold said. “Otherwise we just make things worse.”
Heads nodded in agreement. The Spirit of God was bringing the power of fellowship and spiritual unity into play.
“I hear that you need a place to stay again,” Santiago said.
“That’s not why I came,” Silvana said quickly. “I’ll figure it out myself. Don’t worry about it.”
“I get it,” Santiago said. “One thing doesn’t have anything to do with the other. But we still want to help, don’t we?” He looked around at the others. “You could stay here at the church again for a few months and save up some money and we will all start looking for a place for you.”
“Yeah, and I got a truck that we can use to move your stuff in here this weekend,” Peter said. “We’ll all pitch in and get you moved.”
“You know that old furniture we have in the downstairs room?” Arnold was talking to his wife. “She might be able to use some of that.”
“Great idea. I’ll get together with Silvana and find out what she needs,” Annie said, smiling at Silvana. “I’ll also get some of the ladies together to make a lunch on Saturday after you move her in and we can eat together afterward.”
“Sounds good,” I said finally finding my voice. I took a deep breath. “Let’s talk to Jesus for a minute and thank him for a great meeting and then we can get things organized.”
We grabbed each other’s hands and I bowed my head to start praying…..
and woke up with a start.
I was in my room, the air heavy, the windows open but no breeze, not even the sound of birds chirping. Where was I? What was happening? Then I realized. It had all been a dream, a very vivid one at that. My heart sank. Did that mean it had never happened? I looked at my watch. The meeting was scheduled in forty-five minutes. O bother….
I got up and took a shower and shook off my lethargy.
“Are you alright dear?” I could hear my wife’s voice calling from the bottom of the stairs.
“Down in a minute,” I called out.
I looked at myself in the mirror. Yes, there was something off about that dream. They talked as if I had preached about this stuff a lot when it had only been one sermon so far. I knew that sounded off even when I was in the dream. There was no prayer team coming to pray around the church. I hadn’t met with any of the elders before the meeting to talk about their walk with God.
I was upset with myself and nervous. I was winging it. Hank was right to challenge me. I hadn’t even prayed much for this meeting myself. And fasting? Forget about it. It wasn’t happening. I realized right then that I was going into battle totally unprepared.
But it was too late. I heard the doorbell ring.
Our board wasn’t very big, just three people. One of them brought their wife with them. Silvana showed up on time and I called the meeting to order. We prayed for a moment before we started.
“Everybody knows each other here so let’s just get started,” I said.
“No, no,” Silvana said. “Let me talk first. May I?” I waved at her to indicate that she could start.
“I just want to apologize to all of you for what happened last year. It was my fault. I was off my meds and having a rough time emotionally and I took it out on you.”
“Apology accepted,” said the head elder, interrupting. His name was Arnold. He was a preaching elder that had led this small congregation for years. “But I have something to say as well…”
I looked up at him sharply.
“I understand that you are looking for a place to stay again? Is that why you’re here?”
“No, no,” Silvana said. “One thing has nothing to do with the other.”
“I’m not sure why we are having this meeting then.” Arnold’s wife, Annie, had decided to speak up. “I thought we were going to talk about whether or not she could move into the church again.”
“No,” I said. “We are here to see if we can reconcile with one another.”
“We already accepted her apology,” Arnold said. “Maybe we didn’t handle things so well last time but, like she said, she was off her meds and not in a good place. We did the best we could.”
“You told me to leave and never come back,” Silvana burst out. “How is that doing the best you can do?”
“We gave you some money so that you could find another place,” Annie said. “You should be thankful for our help.”
“It was Hank and Anita who helped me move, paid for the moving truck, got me a place and paid for the first month’s rent,” Silvana said heatedly. “They even signed the documents as guarantors. You didn’t do anything.”
I was holding my breath. It was absolutely silent in the room. Finally, one of the other elders spoke up. His name was Peter. He was talking to Arnold.
“You know I always supported you, Arnie,” he said. “And I support you now. Maybe we could have handled things better but we did the best we could at the time. Enough said. I’m ready to go home.”
Again, silence in the room. It stretched on into agony. Suddenly, I thought maybe I was supposed to say something, but before I could speak, I heard a sob from Silvana.
“I don’t know what I’m doing here,” she said. She was having a hard time maintaining her composure. “I have nowhere to go. I’m supposed to leave the place I’m in this Saturday. I don’t have the money to pay a real estate company or the money for a deposit and I don’t have a guarantor.” She stopped, gulping. “I was scared to come here today. I never wanted to come back and ask for anything but Pastor John encouraged me to come.”
“We have a room upstairs in the church she could stay in for a couple of months,” I said softly.
“No,” Annie said sharply. “Not upstairs. We need that for Sunday School classes.”
“But we have had other people living up there this past year…”
Annie waved her hand to dismiss the idea completely. “There’s a small room in the back where the gardener used to stay. It has room for a single bed. She can stay there for a couple of weeks.”
“No, it…it’s all right…” Silvana stammered.
“Maybe you can talk to the owners where she is right now and ask for more time,” Peter suggested, talking to me.
“Well, I really don’t know anything about….”
“Great idea. I think that settles it, then,” Arnold said. Problem solved.
No reconciliation. No healing. No anointing from God.
Problem. Definitely. Not. Solved.
Santiago, the third elder, had not said a word. He was going with the flow. Peter and Arnold were in agreement. Doing the best they could. Nothing more. Fine, upstanding elders. Pillars of the community. No spiritual maturity or discernment but nice people in the wrong job. Cannot be trusted to lead the church. That was the truth.
Silvana was speaking again.
“Thank you for your help last year. I really needed a place to stay and get my act together again. I had nowhere else to turn and you graciously gave me a place to stay in your church. Thank you.” She was quiet for a moment. “But when you threw me out and told me not to come back…. I almost died.” She looked around at them, holding their eyes with hers, angry but still afraid to tell them her secret, to look even weaker than she already was. I knew what she was going to say.
She hesitated. Then stopped.
“I don’t need your room in the back. Thank you anyway,” she whispered. “I came here for something else.” Then she said again, quietly, “I’m sorry.”
The silence was uncomfortable. The elders looked at me.
“It looks like we are done here,” I said, finally finding my voice. “Let’s have a prayer and get going. We all have things to do.” I couldn’t believe what I was saying but I was tired and discouraged and things were going nowhere fast. It was time to end it.
I grabbed Silvana’s hand, but the others already had their heads down so I just started praying…..
and woke up with a start.
I was in my room, the air heavy, the windows open but no breeze, not even the sound of birds chirping. Where was I? What was happening? Then I realized. It had all been a dream, another one, a very vivid one at that. My heart soared. Did that mean it had never happened? I looked at my watch quickly. The meeting was scheduled in forty-five minutes. Thank God….
I grabbed my phone and called Hank. Told him what I needed and hung up. Prayer cover was on its way. I sank to my knees and started to call out to God earnestly. Forget about a shower. Forget about eating. There was work to be done. The ministry of reconciliation was spiritual warfare and I was damned if I was going into battle unprepared.
Not this time. Not ever again.
Jesus said, “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.”
Mark 9:29 NIV
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Spiritual Warfare requires prayer….
Lord, I’m scared of spiritual warfare. I don’t understand it very well. I know I am protected by your blood and, so long as I am walking in the Spirit, I have nothing to worry about. It’s important work. I never really thought of it in the context of relationships and reconciling people to you and to each other. That ministry is the heart of the gospel and is my main work as your disciple. I accept that job description, Lord. But I cannot do anything without your anointing. Teach me your ways, O Lord. In your name I pray. Amen.
The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word.
Be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear….
But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (II Timothy 4: 1-5 NIV).
Seven Questions for Elders
By now you must realize that when the Bible talks of ministry, it includes you. Perhaps you aren’t the Pastor or a teacher of the Word, but you are involved in ministry. Through your life, through your spiritual conversations, through your spiritual gifts, you have a ministry. A Life Ministry. Your discipleship is practical. And so it should be. You are already a leader, influencing others for Christ.
And it is likely that at some point your efforts will be recognized as useful in the role of an elder or deacon in the church. You are already a leader but your sphere of influence may be limited or may be outward focused. If you are being called to serve in the role of an elder or deacon in the church, it is a specific calling. We call it church leadership but that is a misnomer.
It’s true, of course, on a church-wide basis but it is also true that there are many spheres of influence and leadership both within and without the church. We do not want to fall into the trap of thinking that there is only church-wide leadership and the rest of us are simply not leaders, only disciples. That would be unbiblical thinking.
In the NT, we are all prophets, priests and kings and we must act like it. But some people are called to a church-wide leadership position because they have been recognized as spiritually mature and functioning within their limited sphere of influence as leaders already. Yes, they could have some creational leadership skills in business and the like but it is spiritual leadership that matters most here.
So, before you embark on that journey, I have a few questions for you.
Beyond the general maturity in Christ expected from all leaders, a few more questions might reveal the beliefs and values you hold on to when the going gets rough. Many other questions could be added, but these get to the essence of whether or not you are ready for spiritual warfare and have some idea of what the strategic and tactical plan of God is in the context of the church.
- What is the purpose of leadership in the church? Is the idea to simply support the Pastor in whatever he wants to do (a leader with a thousand helpers) or to help prepare the people to do the ministry? Is the role of an elder, deacon or Board member a spiritual role or an administrative one? Can administration (stewardship) be done in a spiritual manner? If so, how? What is the focus of your ministry as a leader? Is it different from your life ministry? If so, how? What makes the church special in terms of it’s role in the kingdom of God? What is the focus and purpose of the ministry of the church that you can’t find anywhere eles? Do you know how to have a spiritual conversation? Do you know what the goal of the conversation is and how to get there? How fundamental is prayer to that goal? What is your prayer life like?
2. Is it possible for a leader of the church, one who truly loves God and has good intentions, to make fundamental and dangerous mistakes in morality, life and spiritual management of the church and be blind to it? Which things are essential for every Christian (and even more so for a leader) to protect them from the ignorance, blindness and willfulness of the flesh?
- the conviction and ministry of the Holy Spirit within,
- the knowledge and ongoing application of the Word of God,
- the fellowship (and accountability) of a group of mature and wise believers,
- all of the above.
3. Do you believe that there is a spiritual battle going on for the hearts and minds of every believer (including your own) and for the church as a whole with a particular focus on the leadership? If so, what will you do about it? How do you know when you are being religious and when you are being spiritual? How do you know when you are being political and not being relational? How do you know when to enforce the rules and when to allow more freedom? Do you know what the Devil’s schemes are and what the dynamics of the spiritual battle are and what to do about them?
4. Do you believe that a leader of the church, including the Pastor, has the right to prohibit the use of a believer´s gifts in ministry within the church? Do you believe that God is building the church and that every person present is there for a reason and has gifts that are essential for building the kingdom of God? If so, what is the role of the leadership when God brings those gifted people into the church?
5. What is the purpose of church discipline? Is it to deal with difficult people by asking them to leave? Does treating someone “as a Gentile,” as Paul said, mean to evangelize them (reconcile them to God) or to shun them and throw them out of the church? Would you call the police to remove a homeless or poor man from the premises because he is bothering the people and asking for money? Do you believe that a leader of the church, including the Pastor, has the right to prohibit the presence of a believer (or non-believer) in the church for any reason or any sin whatsoever (other than temporarily because of an immediate physical threat of danger to themselves or others)?
6. When do you think it is appropriate to spiritually and publicly confront a leader, if ever? How should a leader act when he is confronted in that way? When is a rebuke spiritual and when is it an expression of the flesh? Do you know what the seven deadly sins are for spiritual leadership? Are you aware of the existence of corporate sin that you participate in actively or passively as part of the leadership of the church? Do you know what to do about it?
7. What (and who) are you willing to fight for? You can either have the status quo or the abundant life, but you can´t have both (until you arrive in heaven). What do you believe is the bottom line for the church? When will you stand up and be counted? When is being loyal to the Pastor not being loyal to Christ? When is doing the will of the Board not doing the will of the Father? How will you know the difference? Would you sacrifice the needs of the one for the sake of the many? Or would you meet the needs of the one and ignore the opinion of the many?
Finally, the overall quesion is whether it is the job of the leaders to defend the church or to defend the gospel? And no, those are not the same thing. They are supposed to be, but they´re not. Sadly. If we defend the gospel, we defend the church. If we defend the church, (most often from unsavory characters such as prophets or the least, the last, the lost and the losers) we may, in fact, be hindering the gospel. How will you know the difference?
If you don’t know the answers to these questions (or at least some of them), then why are you accepting the assignment as a leader of the church? Don’t you know that teachers (and leaders) are doubly judged – first for their own lives and secondly for the influence they have had on other people’s lives?
Send me a comment with the answers you would give. Privacy assured unless permission is given. Pray. Think. Share.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to Jesus….
Lord, I’m not sure that I want to be a leader. It’s a scary deal. But I know that all disciples are expected to grow in maturity and that positions of leadership are merely positions of ministry. I’m not sure that I know all of the answers to these questions but I am going to find out. Lead me. Guide me. Protect me from my own flesh and the flesh of others. Reveal my sin so that I can confess it. Reveal the sin of the church so that we can overcome it together. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.
The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts” (II Corinthians 3: 9-11 NIV).
Revealing the Glory
John Eldredge, in his book Waking the Dead, talks about three eternal truths that we must “see” with the eyes of our heart.
1. Things are not what they seem.
2. This is a world at war.
3. Each of us has a crucial role to play.
He goes on to talk about the “glory” that each of us has, and that it is essential to God´s plans that we reveal that glory, live in that glory and share that glory with others. I would add that the “glory” is not only our creational gifts and abilities, but, first of all, our redemptive glory in Christ. The creational integrated into and providing the real world context for the redemptive. The redemptive empowering and focusing the creational.
The key concept that Mr. Eldredge uses to convey these ideas is the famous phrase from St. Irenaeus. “The glory of God is man fully alive.” I would add, for clarification, “in Christ.”
The glory of God is man fully alive in Christ.
Man was made in the image of God. That is our creational glory which is muted and tarnished by our rebellion so that it is but a mere glimmer of it´s former glory.
An essential part of that glory, lost through rebellion and sin, was the intimate relational glory of man´s conscious, loving connection with his Father and Creator. Man was created in his very nature to be fully alive only in an ongoing, intimate relationship with his Maker.
The moral life is dependent on the relational.
Since morality expresses itself in relationships, it must find its power in the love and safety of the primal relationship with our Creator, as our Provider and Protector, because no other relationship is strong enough to survive in this dangerous world. How could it be otherwise in a world infused with and totally dependant on the ongoing presence and favor of it´s Maker? He has not left us to our own purposes. He has intervened and confronted and transformed our evil into a new relationship with Him.
This in-between place, this abnormal existence, deludes us into thinking that independence from an intimate relationship with God is an option, that God´s justice will somehow be controlled by His love rather than be fulfilled by the cross, calling us to a new lifestyle of dependence and obedience to our Maker, whether we like it or not. And we don´t. At least, not at first.
Man re-created in the image of God through Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, restoring the relationship between man and his Father and Creator is our redemptive glory. Created in the image of God, fallen, rebellious, evil but re-created in the image of Christ. From beginning to end, life is relational.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Romans 8:18 (NIV)
Therefore, the glory of God, the nature and character of God, is revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ in us. Our new bodies, our adoption as sons, our hope of glory is the result of something that is already within us, namely, the Holy Spirit of God, which is our guarantee of resurrection to new life now and when Christ returns.
The glory of God is the cross of Christ.
The cross of Christ, the nature and person and work of Jesus Christ, is the most valuable thing in the entire universe to God. It is because of the value of Jesus Christ, God Himself, that his suffering and death can substitute for and be sufficient for all of the sins of the world, even though it is only efficient for some.
To the degree that we also live in the glory of the cross and resurrection of Christ, to that degree the glory of God is revealed in us now and will be fully revealed in us creationally (through a new, powerful, resurrected body in a new heavens and a new earth) and redemptively (through final, and complete freedom from the corrupting influence of sin within us and the full liberation of the Holy Spirit´s influence in us, without barriers, without limit), the true hope and focus of the resurrection.
To the degree that we pursue and live out the value and centrality of the cross in our lives, to that degree, we reveal the glory of God in us.
To the degree that we walk in step with the Spirit in abundant life, as part of a fellowship of believers, to that degree we reveal the glory of God in us.
To the degree that we seek to please God above all and pursue Him with all of our hearts, casting down every idol, every pretension that sets itself up in our lives as a barrier between us and God, to the degree that we are willing to live out the miracle of wanting to sacrifice anything and everything to please the God who truly likes us, and loves us, enough to endure hell for us, to that degree we reveal the glory of God in us.
Now if we are children, then we are heirs
– heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ,
if indeed we share in his sufferings
in order that we may also share in his glory.
Romans 8:17 (NIV)
To the degree that we are willing to be trained, to grow, to become the kind of people that God sees when He looks at us, and to do so out of gratitude and love rather than necessity and fear, to that degree we reveal the glory of God in us.
Finally, to the degree that we live a life of loving obedience to his priorities, goals, purposes and plans, using every gift, every ability, every treasure, talent, time and thought, living with a redemptive focus in a creational context, to that degree we reveal the glory of God in us.
Perhaps it will not be so clear now, but certainly before the throne of God where everything will come to light, this revealation of the glory of God in our lives, this miracle of grace to which we responded in our weakness and frailty, this glory which is ours only in Christ, and only to the degree that we live out of our true selves in Christ, this redemptive new creation glory will be made known and we will share in the joy of our Master, casting our crowns before Him in humble and true recognition that none of it was possible without His intervention of grace.
We are significant to the purposes of God since it is only the miracle of His glory in us that can change the heart of man. It cannot be about propositional truths only, as important as they are. The power of evangelism is a transformed heart fully alive to God in Christ.
It has to do with the real transformation of the heart of man by the ongoing glory of the cross in salvation and sanctification. Redeemed by the cross but also living out the glory of the cross in our daily lives by crucifying our old nature and flesh through confession and repentance and carrying that cross with us as we follow him. It is a lifestyle-yoke which is easy and light because it is the enslaving, will-limiting yoke of love, requiring us to live in the freedom of forgiveness for ourselves and others (even our enemies) with the goal of reconciliation and spiritual unity.
Love is what makes this world bearable and Divine love rooted in the cross is the only power that can transform evil into good. That is the glory of God. The cross shows Him as He truly is in His justice and in His love. Love does not forgive by dismissing justice but by fulfilling it. The message of sin and despair and hell is essential to the glory of God. Our situation is much worse than we can imagine. We are arrogant when we should be ashamed of ourselves before God as we try to live out our lives as if He doesn´t exist, His will doesn´t matter, as if we are gods unto ourselves.
That arrogance will be revealed in us to our judgment in this life and before the throne of God on the Day of Judgment. Either our arrogance, that is, or God´s glory will be revealed in us through a cross rooted lifestyle of confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation with the goal of spiritual unity in our joint purpose in Christ. Either our arrogance will be revealed to our judgment or God´s glory will be revealed in us to our salvation and joy. It is not cheap grace after all but, rather, the most expensive grace possible, a price we could never pay, which is why it´s free. The power of evangelism is the glory of God lived out in the daily lives of God´s people.
It has to do with the radical nature of the resurrection-empowered presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer demonstrated….
- when we live out a lifestyle of repentance and forgiveness with the goal of reconciliation and spiritual unity in the fellowship of believers,
- when we love our enemies (and our frienemies) even if they remain our enemies (or frienemies),
- when we give grace to those who deserve nothing but our anger and contempt,
- when we impoverish ourselves for the sake of the gospel (Word) and the needy (Deed), even if their ongoing enmity toward Christ, or their poverty and need is their own fault,
- when we treat one another as we are in Christ rather than as we are in the flesh (even when we continue to be in the flesh),
- when we prioritize the poor and powerless in society and in the church and identify ourselves with them (whether they are Christians or not) and
- when we live in humble awareness of our ongoing sinful tendencies and constant need for His intervening and confrontative grace and respond wholeheartedly (imperfectly, inconsistently, partially though it may be).
This is the radical nature of the normal Christian life, uncommon as it is.
It is a miracle of His grace, after all, given to those who seek Him with all their heart, soul, mind and strength by keeping the value and centrality of the cross first and foremost in their lives. The abundant life is not automatic. It is a relationship after all. It requires comittment, loyalty, faith, hope and love. Just like any relationship but even more with God. The abundant life is a product of walking in the Spirit. It has the conditions and requirements that all relationships have. Our eternal life, the timeless relationship itself may be secure but living it out is a process, a journey, a transformation over time. There is a process of going deeper in and further back. Just like all relationships. It is not enough to be married, we must also be, and stay, in love for this relationship to bear fruit – not for salvation, not to avoid divorce, but, rather, to find the joy, the power and the purpose of the relationship.
The abundant life is a miracle of God´s grace. It is interactive. We must respond, but He empowers us to respond. He creates the desire, we develop that desire into obedience in the context of the desert (just like all the creational gifts He gives us). He gives us the gift of grace, and faith and the miracle of wanting to please Him, just because we can. But we must respond. We must make every effort. We must work, fight, whatever metaphor you want, but we must value the relationship and show it (at the expense of our pride). That is the abundant life which is full of the presence and power of the joy of the Lord. It is the pearl of great price.
who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord´s glory,
are being transformed into his likeness
with ever-increasing glory,
which comes from the Lord,
who is the Spirit.
I Corinthians 3:18 (NIV)
We are significant to God because, by the glory of the cross, we now have the ability to please Him or grieve Him, as a child can please or grieve his natural father, with our behavior, intentions and motivations.
We are significant to God because we are channels of His grace, broken, earthen pots, that reveal the glory of a man or woman fully alive in Christ.
Why do you think the Devil spends so much time and energy, in our lives and in the life of the church, distracting us from the essential, strategic importance of the cross, not only in preaching but in the daily reality of how we relate to one another in the body of Christ? Often the preaching of the cross does not translate to living out the value of the cross in the fellowship of the believers. There is a blindness, a deception, an ignorance and even willful disobedience, excuses, justifications, rationalizations, anything to avoid the transparency of confession, the vulnerability, difficulties and effort of a lifestyle of repentance. Anything to avoid the humility (and shame) of forgiveness (both giving and asking) and the inter-dependent priority and value of reconciliation (spiritual unity, value and prioritization of those we normally would prefer not to associate with – the least, the last, the lost, the loser).
The church is the battleground for the glory of God. The glory of God revealed in us through Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, rooted in the cross, demonstrates itself in confession, repentance, forgiveness and, above all, reconciliation and spiritual unity.
Christ in us, the hope of glory
Colossians 1:27b (NIV)
It is not only about salvation, but about our sanctification, our maturity in Christ, our walk in the Spirit, our revealing of the glory of God redemptively and creationally by living a lifestyle of repentance with the goal of reconciliation. That is the source of power in the Christian life and it will bring the transforming anointing of the presence and pleasure of God into our lives personally, and, even more importantly, corporately, as a body of believers.
Spiritual unity in the body of Christ is a miracle of the intervening grace of God as we live out the value and centrality of the cross in our personal and body life.
Therefore, there is one more change that must be made to the famous saying of St. Ireneaus. It isn´t only about individuals but about the body in Christ. The body is made up of individuals who reveal the glory of God personally in their daily lives, no doubt, but we must not shy away from the goal of bringing the fellowship, as a group, as a body, into the glory of God rooted in the cross.
The glory of God is a body of believers fully alive in Christ
in spiritual unity with God and others.
The key to that kind of spiritual unity as an expression of ongoing reconciliation within the church between each other and God, is the leadership. If true fellowship is not practiced there, fiercely and with determination, then the consequences for the rest of the church will be severe.
The thing to remember is that we will be opposed. Opposed by the flesh (even and especially our own), the world, and, especially, the Devil. It is important to be aware of the Devil´s schemes, our weaknesses, and the world´s distractions.
If you can “see” with a heart that truly wants to understand and follow the ways of the Lord, you will recognize the validity of these three eternal truths that Mr. Eldredge shares with us. Things are not what they seem. This is a world (and a church and a marriage and a life) at war. Each of us has a crucial role to play.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. It’s time to talk with God…
Lord, I want to see your glory and I want your glory to be revealed in me. I know that things are not what they seem. The Devil has blinded our eyes to his involvement in our human affairs and we give him permission to do so every day. Forgive us, Lord. We are at war and we have a crucial role to play in this drama of redemption. Teach me to learn the ways of the cross and to get involved in your great rescue operation to save my friends and family members. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.
One of the greatest failures of the modern church in the last 150 years is the emphasis on the love of God to the exclusion of His justice. That´s why we don´t talk about sin or judgment or hellfire and brimstone. It is a deception of the Devil.
One of my teenage students and I were talking about God and forgiveness and eternal life and he asked me a good question. “Why doesn´t God just forgive everyone and be done with it? He is good and full of love, he could just wait until we all die and then forgive people and welcome them into heaven. There would be no need for hell and everyone would be happy.”
It´s a good question and one that many people in the church, even the leaders, would share. There are good answers to that question as well (which we will discuss another time). The point for today is that many Christians don´t really know what to do with sin. They are embarrassed by the wrath of God and don´t want to talk about hell with anyone. Better to just forget those unpleasant parts of the Bible.
But if there is no theology of sin, no reality of judgment, no fear of hell, then there is also no room for confession of sins.
We don´t need more self-esteem
but, rather, God-esteem, the true self-esteem.
Esteemed by God in Christ, through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Desert Warrior