Withered

I need to wake up. It is not all about how warm and fuzzy I feel during worship in a place of safety and aesthetically pleasing surroundings.

Advertisements
The Lesson from the Withered Fig Tree – Mark 11:23-24
“Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
I would not have expected this statement. Is it true? I must say that it is inspiring. Where is the “But”? Jesus made this statement as a carpenter. Everything that Jesus did on earth he did as a man fashioned just like me. When he was building stuff in his father’s shop and hit his thumb with a hammer, it hurt him as much as it would hurt me. When consider this startling statement, maybe Jesus is moving me out of low-grade praying. Maybe He is moving me toward elevated prayers. Is this sort of prayer possible coming from my level of confidence?
As with all things originating with God, there is a certain way that things work. And there is a way that things will not work. Too often I just assume that God will just do things outside of the way that He designed things to work; including prayer. If I am going to be able to move a mountain, then I need to shift my mindset in a different direction. I need to wake up to the reality of the way that God does things.
Consider this insight that the Spirit of Jesus gave to John in exile: Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Rev 12:7-11 Based on human event thought out time and on the opposition toward Jesus while He was on earth and the opposition thrown against those who follow Jesus, it is hard to argue that there is not some sort of holy war going thought human history. And it is a brutal war. Paul wrote to the house churches in Ephesus: “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.”
I need to wake up. It is not all about how warm and fuzzy I feel during worship in a place of safety and aesthetically pleasing surroundings. The Apostle Peter writes to warn us: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 1Pe 5:8 In some sense, that adversary is not something in a red suit with horns. It can be seen in our culture where to stand up for biblical principles is to invite an onslaught of hate-filled opposition. There is no room for ‘agreeing to disagree’ but if you do not agree you are labeled with ugly names and having no value to society.
Part of the mind-set of growing up is that I need to change how I interact with God. Instead of asking Jesus to do stuff for me, maybe I need to ask Jesus what I can do for Him? Sound familiar? Growing up means understanding things from a different perspective. When I was a child I had no clue why my parents would tell me certain things other than to deprive me of what I wanted. But then when I became a parent it became clearer what they were doing. God wants me to grow up. Again the Apostle Paul puts it succinctly regarding God’s agenda for me: “… to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” But do not look for some magic wand, formula or way of worship to accomplish this. It takes an act of commitment and just like moving from childhood to adulthood, it takes work and learning ‘how stuff works.’
I think the problem is simple and yet difficult. We are invited by Jesus to grow up. We are invited to related to God not as children but as son and daughters. Ask yourself, do you pray as a son or daughter. Do you talk to God the Father as a son or daughter who know their position in the family of God? That is what Jesus was trying to tell His twelve close followers that gave up everything to be like Him. The Apostle relates that one time Jesus told the group that He alone has overcome the opposition in the world: “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. … In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” John 16:24 & 27 In living out life here on earth, we move from childhood to adult. Somewhere in that journey we need to understand and make sure that we are really children of God, related to Jesus by blood and not just by some ecclesiastical name. King David recorded this insight: “The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear Him, and He makes known to them His covenant.”
 

Not About Religion

Generally today, when someone talks uses the word ‘religion’ they mean a set of beliefs, values and practices based on the teaching of some denomination or some cult like leader. The Apostle Paul considered himself on top of the pile when it came to strict religion. In his words: “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.” [Gal 1:13 ESV]

The real issue of religion is that we have forgotten the source of Christian religion. We have forgotten the Bible. It is not just a collection of musty writings from long-ago out of touch old men. God wants to reveal His story and His vision for us.  Religion according to God is learning to find the pathway to Him so that we can live satisfying lives. James, the step brother of Jesus, was not always a Christ follower. Later in life he had this to say about religion: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” [Jam 1:27 ESV]

At least two or three times a year, we can pick up the newspaper and find some article on how a christian group or leader has fallen. All too often, the source of the fall is embedded in the avoidance of God and not taking seriously personal interaction with Him. This is not about tradition, public practices, parental upbringings or backgrounds. This is about personal relationship with the Sovereign Living God.

So, when you read your Bible, are you focusing on the events you are reading about? Are you possible focusing on how questionable they sound? Or are you focusing on how God is defining life for you? Do you see life-shaping issues in your life that God might want you to trust Him with? You know the stuff I am talking about … those thoughts and actions that simply will not go away no matter what you do.

Yes? Then the very next time that you sit down and start reading your Bible, pause just for 15 seconds and simply ask God to “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” [Psa 119:18 ESV] “Open my eyes so I can see what you show me of your miracle-wonders.” [MSG]

Try it. Seek God were He can be found. He will find you.

An Unashamed Worker

“Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” [1Ti 2:14-15 NASB]

If I need to divide a pie into four equal parts than I need to accurately divide it so each piece is equal. I need to cut straight. When teaching I need to be accurate and not fudge on my research. Communicating the gospel requires care and a willingness to work hard. At each step I need to ensure the Holy Spirit is working and I am not hindering His work in me. Let’s look at the word “approved.” Webster defines this word as: acceptable, tried and refined, proven to be genuine. Synonyms would be worthy, able, chosen, faultless and blameless. The antonym would be reprobate.

I heard a preacher say recently that we cannot know everything in the Bible. And that is a very true statement. The God we worship and serve not only created us but the time frame we live in. He alone is outside our time. If we cannot know everything in the Bible what is the point? Because God loves it when we search to know Him. In His wisdom, we are made of dust but we handle eternal things when we study His ways and means. We are handling eternal beings when we engage people in eternal truth.

Journeymen Electricians must go through a rigorous process. They may either work under a journeyman electrician for 4000 hours and then take the licensing examine or they may first complete an apprentice program. An electrician apprentice program combines classroom work with field training. This program lasts about four years and requires the apprentice to complete at least 144 hours of classroom instruction and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training. While the classroom work teaches about blueprint reading, electrical code requirements, soldering and electrical code requirements, field training allows the apprentice to apply this knowledge to practical work under the supervision of a licensed electrician. After all that, then they are ready to take the licensing examinations. This examination ensures that the apprentice understands the various aspects of electrical theory, the National Code, the state and local building and electrical codes.

Churches should be doing the same thing with every member so that they are trained “as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” We have lots of programs in the church that fill up the calendar. But what are we doing in the average church to provide the opportunities to become a workman approved by God? To become skilled in accurately handling the word of truth, we must provide not only classroom training but also OJT [On the Job Training]. This is where we allow our members to actually practice what they are learning. Teach them how to take a passage of Scripture and create a simple lesson plan. Then get them up in front of the class and give the lesson. Have them pray in front of the church by praying for the offering. Teach them how to witness. Then go out and actually do that in the local park. Have them give a sermon. That is scary, isn’t it pastors!

If we are to fulfill the mandate of Matthew 28 that Jesus left we need to be serious about discipleship and training our flock to do the work God has given us to accomplish. God has only one plan for the prorogation of the Good News regarding Jesus. He has no backup plan for telling people of the comfort, truth and love that He alone can provide. That one plan is us in the fellowship, sitting there comfortably in the pews. The “pastor” cannot do it all nor should he. We are to be the witnesses. The propagation of the Gospel is a participatory ministry. We need to be in the marketplace where the people are, exercising the gifts that He has given us.

He knows that each of us is up to the job. All we need to do is allow ourselves the opportunity to be trained as workmen. The training is available. The Holy Spirit awaits in the wings for us to take what we learn and go to stage center … wherever that is that He directs. We have learned His Script. He promises to direct our feet and our words so that the play unfolds and lost people find Christ.

So what is the point of all this?

First, we will get to not only do what He commands us to do but we will get to see up close and personal His working in the lives of others. Watching a life be redeemed and then transformed is more awesome than any miracle found in the Bible!

Second, Pastors, keep your flock “Reminding them of these things…” and give them the training and opportunity to “accurately handle the word of truth” in the church [that is the training ground] and then in the world around you.

Third, remember you only got proficient in handling the Word by doing it in real time. Practice makes perfect.