Saturday, February 28, 2015

Is it God's Will That I change Churches?

Over the past several months, several pastoral friends have prayerfully asked this question, “Do you sense the ministry move from ‘here to there’ would be a faithful transition?” This is always a deep trust question that I prayerfully attempt to honor. But this faith adventure with Jesus also has imbedded within it presuppositions that should be identified before moving forward. Simply, let’s look back and in before leaning forward.
First, “Do you assume that the location of your ministry calling is paramount and of primary concern to your faithfulness to the Lord?” (Theology question, Is the Lord’s working in an thru you restricted by location)
Second, as an extension of the first question, “Is there only one place where your gifts can be utilized by the Lord?” Rephrase it this way, if your answer is yes, then you must be assuming that one response you will make is the faithful one and the other must be resulting in your disobedience. (Now, the theological question, what does this reveal about the nature of God and His character and the manner He employs spirit-filled people in Kingdom work?)

My friend…you know my desire is not to gain the right answer but to ask the right question that prepares the “way of the Lord.” So, here we go…

In seeking the Lord’s will, especially for questions that involved significant life change, my questions in prayer are these:
1.    Will this decision and the journey it may take me on make me more servant-like? More humble? (And not just “look” more like a servant but will this serve as a catalyst for my own real transformation)
2.   Will the Imago Dei in me continue to be shaped into His?
·      Will your mind become more like that of Christ Jesus? (Phil 2)
·      Will your “thinking like men diminish as thinking like God will increase?” (Mark 8)
3.   Will this action (obedience by either “staying” or “going”) display to my family, friends, and faith community a movement of the Spirit in my life? 
4.   Will my Kingdom influence increase as my needs of self-interest diminish?
5.    Will God the Father and His Son be glorified? Will the Spirit find pleasure in me as His home?
6.   Does this time of “seeking His Face” (not just His will) cause me to fully submit to Him in prayer, searching the Scriptures, and practicing the means of Grace. (Read it this way: Is the delight of being in His presence so much better than merely gaining information about my “next steps”?)
7.   Finally, have I already said “Yes” to His will BEFORE I know what it is? Do I so trust Him that I am already leaning towards His voice even before He speaks?

Response from my seeking friend;

Wow. That is a lot to take in. Thank you for your guidance Dave. I needed to read all of these. I am not sure it's possible to answer some of them fully until you step out in faith. How is it possible to know how you will be shaped in the future by decisions that must be made on the present? How do I know if the Imago Dei will be formed in me? These are all great questions. I would expect nothing less 

My friend;
Try to re-read my questions without implying that you are merely seeking to make a ministry placement decision. For the questions are not segmented or focused on making a “right choice” (or the fear of making a “wrong choice”) but making a godly “life choice” (and read that as a Resurrection life-choice). Huge difference. The questions are intentionally designed to get you into the Presence of the God of all Wisdom, not merely making a list of spiritual pros-and-cons for a choice. That, my friend is secondary at best.

In my life there have been rare occasions when the Lord has so powerfully intervened and invaded my world that He has sovereignly taken me out of my current ministry context. Maybe 5 times in my entire life. Mostly I sense He is about changing me IN my current location and making me salt and light to broken and lost people.

In the end, I really think we have historically asked the wrong question: “Lord, what is Your will for my life?” For as a whole, doesn’t that sound self-centered? Rather, why not ask a larger Kingdom-minded question: “Lord, what is Your will, for the world!” Thus, we think global in scope and transformational of our heart.
If “spiritual unrest” is being stirred up in our ministry and maybe you even feel as if you are in currently living in the land of ministry-wilderness, maybe its not so much to move us out but to change us from within. Let’s get that part right first…before we begin thinking that simply a change of location will fix everything.  Otherwise we take our same spiritual-relational problems into a new setting…and maybe actually contaminate that place with our pain and shame. I want to be a contagion of grace and peace. I do not want to make bad people good…or good people better; I want to be part of making dead people ALIVE. Jesus, start with me.

My friend, a ministry move may be in order. I’m just begging you to ask the first-order question; “Am I running from something (pain, ministry disappointment, financial hardship, lack of divine trust, pastoral leadership issues, laity problems) or am I submissive to the Holy Sprit to use all this to prepare me to be more Christ-like than I ever imagined. Remember, all of life and ministry is preparing us not just to “do something more effectively” but also to “be with Him” and to live in the presence of the Triune God for all eternity. So, the true location question of ministry should not be “here or there” but “ in Christ.”

This is the worst “non-answer” I have ever given. But He-Jesus is the best answer to any question you can come up with.

In Jesus' joy,


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

How To Hear the Voice of Jesus

How to Hear the Voice of Jesus
My Musings on Scriptural Spiritual Discernment

Intro Resources:
Smith, Gordon. Listening to God in Times of Choice: The Art of Discerning God’s Will.
                      . The Voice of Jesus.
Willard, Dallas. Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God.

Initial thought – Hearing the Voice of Jesus (aka, Discernment) falls under the larger umbrella of discipleship, for we are all disciples of something or someone. All humans hear the voice of someone speaking into our soul. The question will be, "Which one will we follow?" - The voice of Jesus or all the other competing voices in our lives? We will either listen to the “Script of culture” or the “Scripture of the Kingdom.”

Great texts to ponder as we begin:
1.    John 10 – Good Shepherd; My Sheep Hear my Voice and Obey
2.    Ps 81:13, “If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways; how quickly I would subdue their enemies”
3.    Ps 95:7-8, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts…” (as later quoted in Hebrews 4:7)

How does Jesus Speak into our lives? Through what life events or spiritual disciplines?
1.    His Written Word – Make Bible a sacramental reading for the rest of your life
2.    His Preached Word
3.    Means of Grace (thank you John Wesley)
o   Prayer
o   Scripture
o   Lords Supper
o   Worship-Fellowship-Society-Accountability-Bands
o   Fasting
4.    Lectio Divina
o   Spiritual Reading – Truth found in historical Christian classics and contemporary material. Decide: who are your ancient writing pastors…contemporary writing pastors?
5.    Trusted Friends and Counselors
o   This is Body Life at its best. It is in clear opposition to the voices of so many others who speaks lies or non-truths into our ears (eg. See friend of Job)
6.    Angels
o   When we examine the Biblical evidence, we simply cannot deny the reality
o   OT
§  Abraham - Gen 18
§  Lot – Gen 19
§  Joshua 5:13
o   NT
§  Pre-Incarnation - Joseph, Mary,
§  Post-Resurrection - Women at tomb, Peter Acts 10
7.    Dreams/Visions
o   Abraham, Joseph, Daniel
o   Joseph (Matt 1-2, 4X’s), Paul (Acts 16), Peter (Acts 10)
8.    Speaking thru Created Order
o   Matt 6 – Consider the Birds of the air, Lilies of the field
o   Listening to the Lord while walking, observing, pondering His vast creation
9.    Circumstances
o   Obstacles in the way, sometimes deep and tragic which bring transformation
o   Doors that have been opened, which brings inner peace
o   Be cautious not to put fingers in the way of doors being closed!
10.  Inner Voice of the Holy Spirit - How do we “test the Spirit?”
o   Voice of Jesus is always in harmony with Scripture
o   Voice of Jesus is always in harmony with the character of Jesus
o   Voice of Jesus always tells us to move in the “Jesus way”
§  It's the “harder way” (add painful way…humble way…merciful way)
·      Smith Family Call Principle: “Planning to Stay…but Willing to Go!”
·      One should “remain” in the place 1 Cor 7:17-24 -
·      Stay in Ephesus…1 Tim 1:3
§  It's the more “sacrificial way” (add “costly way”)
§  It’s shaping the Imago Dei in us
§  It's never just “truth. Never just “love”. But it speaks the “truth in love.”
o   Voice of Jesus always draws us to Him…never away!
§  Opposite is when the evil one speaks. He divides, isolates, condemns
o   Voice of Jesus is usually the quiet-est
§  Still small voice - 1 Kings 19:10-18 (esp. 19:12)
o   Voice of Jesus is authoritative
§  It never argues…it does not need to justify itself
§  Simply speaks with self-authenticating authority
o   Voice of Jesus is usually “call-centered” not “need-oriented”
§  Remember, Missio Dei…. Triune God is on a mission and He asks us to serve within His Mission…not every human need (Mark 1:35-39)

Quote from Sarah Young, Jesus Calling

o   Words of Jesus to us: I love you for who you are, not for what you do. Many voices vie for control of your mind, especially when you sit in silence. You must learn to discern what is My voice and what is not. Ask My Spirit to give you this discernment. Many of My children run around in circles, trying to obey the various voices directing their lives. This results in fragmented, frustrating patterns of living. Do not fall into this trap. Walk closely with Me each moment, listening for My directives and enjoying My Companionship. Refuse to let other voices tie you up in knots. My sheep know My voice and follow Me wherever I lead. (Ephesians 4:1-6; John 10:4)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Romans 16 - Its Not Just a List!

So, I’m continuing with my Romans reading in preparation for teaching this marvelous epistle. I finally made it to the end, chapter 16, and I am fascinated by the litany of names with which Paul concludes the book; 26 in all (17 men and 9 women).

Now, many folks might see this as anti-climactic in the letter, almost as a boring conclusion; like the genealogy of Matthew 1. I mean, come on, it’s only a list. What is so special or what in the world is spiritual about a list of names? I mean, isn’t the core of the Roman argument found in 1:16-15:33. Romans 1-11 is often viewed as a theological argument for the righteousness of God and then chapters 12-15 are the ethical application of Paul’s teaching. Thus, Romans 16 is nothing other than an epilogue to the main argument. It’s just a list. 
Can I make just a few observations about this so-called list:
  • There are 26 names in the list; 16 of the 26 are singled out in some special way, either as deacons, co-workers, apostles, or a relative of some sort, either literal or figurative (i.e., Christian brother). 
  • Of the 16 individuals commended for specific tasks, almost half (7) are women. 
  • There are several married couples singled out and what appears to be four separate Christian communities; two of which seem to be house churches, Prisca and Aquila (16:3-5) and Aristobulos (16:10). 
  • Finally, in the list, there appear to be both Jewish and Gentile names.

What are the implications of these observations? Allow me to simply focus on the last one; there are both Jewish and Gentile names in Paul’s Roman 16 list. Now, that observation may not be as clear-cut as it seems. First, many Jewish people adopted Greco-Roman names as they functioned in the Roman marketplace outside of Palestine. Second, since Paul has yet to visit Rome, how did he meet all these Christian servants who are now living in Rome? The meetings must have been in other places in at earlier times. Remember, that in 49AD emperor Claudius evicted all the Jews from Rome (Acts 18:2). They were dispersed throughout the empire. Many in the list, such as Pricilla and Aquila were among the expelled Jews who met Paul in Corinth. Andronicus and Junia are said to have been in prison with Paul (16:7) and from the same “nation.” They also are most certainly Jewish. Others on the list are referred to as Paul’s relatives (16:7, 11, 13). If all this is true, maybe this so-called list is much more Jewish than it appears at first look.

If this list is of Jewish Christians, then let’s take seriously that this list is in the form of a recommendation (beginning with Phoebe) not the typical greeting found at the end of other of Paul’s letters (e.g., 1 Cor 16). Paul is not greeting these people but rather is asking the gentile church in Rome to greet them and “receive them in a manner worthy of the saints.” Listen to the opening in 16:1-2:
commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.

Simply, the Gentile church in Rome is to receive the Jewish co-workers of Paul. My point is that Rom 16 is NOT JUST A LIST…I would call it the theological high water mark of practical spirituality in the Book of Romans. It might even be called the climax of the book. It’s the church living out practical righteousness before the world. Paul does not care for the Roman church to merely comprehend his theology (Rom 1-11) or to merely wrestle with its theoretical application (12-15). Paul is arguing that a life “dead to sin” (Rom 6) and “alive to the Spirit” (Rom 8) should play itself out with the reconciliation of the most difficult of all relationships; life-long adversaries (Jews and Gentiles) should live together as brothers.
I will leave the application of this principle into your hands, as directed by the very Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead.

Lord Jesus;
May we never take Your Word lightly.
May we always seek the depth of its practicality to our lives.
Grant us eyes to see,
Give us ears to hear,
And empower us with Your Spirit to live on earth,
As it is in Heaven.

Now, Go with God.