Come to the Party…

Come to the Party (2 Chronicles 29-30)

Introduction: Let me add one more promotional for our Tuesday nights. I love spending time with our Gathering each Tuesday. The dinner is always good. The study time is a chance to learn and to talk about life and Scripture. And the diversity of students and young professionals gives rise to a lot of interesting questions and spiritual conversations. For instance, two week ago I spoke with a student who is studying neuropsychology – that’s about how the brain works. And we talked about none of us needs to be stuck in bad habits. The brain can be our ally, our best friend in breaking destructive patterns. We’ve got some smart people here at ICF. If you don’t believe me, Look beside you to your right, now your left. Doesn’t it look like we have smart people here? And you’ve given us proof by being here today with us.

Let’s get started with our message. Our study today began in my personal devotions. Do you know what it’s like to read your Bible and you come across a passage, and it seems that God makes these verses powerful and special and important. I experienced an intense awareness of God’s goodness and presence as I was reading – and that led to further study; I would like to try to convey some of what I discovered and I believe it will encourage you and draw you further into His grace toward you.

So, let’s pray and invite the Spirit of God to teach us today and reveal the love of the Father to us.

Earlier this year, I had the honor to teach at a local Bible College near here. My course for that semester last year was on Apologetics – it’s the study of how to answer questions about Christianity. And we invested a number of hours comparing the claims of Christianity with other world religions. We studies Islam, Buddhism, Shintoism, Hinduism, and more looking at the basics of their beliefs compared with Christianity.

As I was teaching these 18 university students, our conversation led to just how lost and misguided other faith systems are. I’m a firm believer in freedom to worship and express one’s self as I believe this opens many doors for ministry and sharing the Gospel. And While I respect people for their choices and where they stand in politics and religion, it is clear that the values and claims of Christianity – and how the Christian faith has invited us to relate to God and to others – is radically different from other systems of faith.

And at the core of this radical difference is the person of Jesus Christ. His pure and unstained holiness in life, his miracles and teachings, and most importantly his revolutionary love and invitation to relationship to all who would choose Him. This sets Jesus apart from every other religious leader and makes Christianity unique.

When Jesus preached that the Kingdom of Heaven is near, he invited his disciples and others into a radical relationship of grace with Himself, and a revolutionary approach to a life of love toward others.

He invited everyone, regardless of past sins, political stance, gender, economic standing, race or national origin, to trust Him. Everyone was invited to His party!

He lived and demonstrated the lavish grace and forgiveness of His Father. And it was this revolutionary love that led Him to the Cross. More of this at the end, because I want you to join me in 2 Chronicles 29 for our message today. And as you find 2 Chronicles in your Bibles or on your Bible applications on your device, I want to frame our passage with some background.

Transition: The prophet Samuel from the Old Testament served the people of Israel as one of their judges; in fact, he ended up being their last judge. And in his old age, the leaders of Israel came to him and said this:

“Now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” And they got Saul, then King David, followed by Solomon in the United Kingdom of Israel. And things went downhill from there. And for the next three centuries the people of God in the divided kingdoms of Judah and Israel lived under the rule of one king after another – an occasional good and a lot of bad kings.

Our passage today is about a good king. Hezekiah was a ruler in Jerusalem who chose to be God’s leader. He was a good king among the many who did evil by leading the nation toward other gods. From his very first month as king, he determined to reclaim the Temple for worship of the Lord God and decreed that Jerusalem was to be a place to worship the living God and only Him.

I wanted to give you this background because during the first few months of Hezekiah’s reign, three things happen that show the wisdom of this king, and the favor that God showed His people because of him.

Read 2 Chronicles 29:1-12

The first thing he did was to reclaim the Temple so the people of God could worship Him. Can you imagine going away for a few years, and then returning to our church building here, and stuff was stacked up and stored, and there was rubbish everywhere, and you couldn’t even see the stage or the cross on the wall to your left? I can’t imagine, and you know that your pastor would never let this happen.

But, after years of evil leaders, the Temple had become exactly that, and more. In fact, the previous king had practiced the most evil of religious practices in the Temple and in Jerusalem. The Temple was in a bad way. And he is how the godly King Hezekiah began.

  1. He began with what he had and trusted God with the outcome. When he started, he had a team of 14 from the Levitical tribe of Temple leaders. It seemed an impossible situation. Too few people. Too big a task. Have you ever read through the genealogies and lists in the Old Testament? There are pages and pages, just of Levites and priests! He began with what he had and trusted God with the outcome. And the King gave them this job: recruit more priests and clean the Temple.

Here’s how bad the Temple was in disrepair. It took them seven days just to clean out the courtyard so they could open the door. Additionally, the number of workers in the Temple had shrunk. And Hezekiah ignored the obstacles of a mountainous task and a small workforce. He began with what he had and trusted God with the outcome!

Can you think of another small group of people that become a movement? Absolutely. Jesus chose how many? Twelve. He walked around the fishing district and said – you, you, and you two also. He walked through the streets of Bethsaida and looked into the fig groves and picked two more disciples. He saw a political zealot in the crowds in Jerusalem and chose another. He walked through the Tax district (the Agenzia delle Entrate – can you believe a disciple could be there?), and he called another. And He gathered the Twelve He called from all areas of the culture minus one traitor, taught them about life in the Kingdom, trained them to pray, heal the sick, cast out the enemy, empowered them, and they turn the world right side up.

Could it be that we need to do the same with what we face today? We may have too little income, or too small influence, or we may feel we have too little education, or limited skills in speaking, relationship, or time.  Bring it to Him. Bring who you are and what you have and ask Him for the best outcome. I believe God’s glory and grace shine best in impossible situations.

For Hezekiah, with the beginnings of a new group of priests to lead the worship in the Temple, Hezekiah tasked this small group with making the courtyards and the Temple ready for worship. As this fourteen recruited and involve more of what the passage calls “their brothers,” they moved one step at a time to make this place one of worship and prayer.

Let’s read our next verses in this story for our next 2 Chronicles 29:16-17, 28-30

  1. They Cleaned the Outside and the Inside – step by step, one step at a time. The King’s team started at the courtyard – the most obvious – and move inward to the holiest places – the most intimate. And they hauled away the rubbish and the idols that cluttered the place. They swept, cleaned, and shined all the elements of worship that had been ignored or dirtied.

Restoration is hard work. Take a look at this picture of the last home my wife lived in during college. We learned that a piece of property in Susan’s family in Georgia is without owners – her parents have passed away, and two houses and land are sitting there – for ten years. It needs restoration.

When we restore a place, the obvious stuff, the big stuff goes first. But, when that’s done, the real work begins and we can see all the little things that need cleaning and repairing. We turn on the lights, and we see even more that needs restoring.

Restoration of our lives is hard work, too. Jesus has promised to make us new and renovate our lives. The hard work of restoration has already happened – he already sees the finished product! He sees you as a new creation. But then Jesus asks us to allow Him into the different areas of our lives, to remove the big stuff that keeps us down, to fix the places that we’ve not allowed the Spirit of God to touch. And He turns on the light in places that need His presence. And he changes us.

Here’s the Principle – whether it’s restoring a home or restoring a heart. It’s this: the rooms inside are more important to God than the outside. What’s outside matters. The big stuff matters. But God wants to get us to the holy places deep inside our hearts. This is the place of worship and intimacy.

Illust. My Heart Christ Home The story of My Heart, Christ’s Home illustrates this. The author compares our lives to a house -with kitchen, workshop, living room, bedroom. It’s the story of an invitation to Jesus to make himself comfortable in each room that makes up our lives.

Let me take you to the third action Hezekiah took that changed the nation. After the first sacrifices and worship in the Temple, Hezekiah looked to the nation and determined that, as a people of God, worship would bring the tribes and people together.

Everybody was invited to the Party.

Let’s read 2 Chronicles 30:15-20

  • The nation was divided. Judah and the Southern Kingdom was still together, but the rebellious Northern Kingdom of Manasseh and Ephraim and who claimed the name Israel had been conquered by the enemy. And they all needed the call to worship.
  • The people were not ready. And while many refused and laughed at this call to an “out-dated” religion, many came.
  • The leaders were too few. Even many of the priests and Levitical leaders had ignored the call to worship. And were shamed to miss out on the party.
  • The day for Passover was past. Imagine trying to get the word out by runners from one end to the other, city after city; then prepare the city for the crowds; then everyone had to travel to Jerusalem. And even though the day of Passover was past, they worshiped and celebrated anyway.

From one end of Israel to the other – from north, south, east and west, he sent runners to every city and he invited everyone to come and seek God and worship him.

What can you do when you throw a party and things go wrong? You throw the party anyway! Invite everyone you can, get the house ready, and work with what you have! Do you know what happened when everyone showed up for worship? They might not have brought their best, but they showed up. God heard their prayers and healed the nation. And their worship party lasted two week!

Conclusion: So, what does this mean to us. Today. You and me. This morning.

Would the worship team come up, please.

What speaks to me in this invitation – whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, wherever you’ve been. You are invited. If you are hurt, forgotten, sick, broken. You are invited. If you have ignored God until now, you are invited. If you have been hiding out and not using what God has given you. You are invited.

So, let’s worship a few minutes and wait and see what God might want to do here at the end of our time together. Pray.

(We are called to come to the party and becoming worshipers. Making our lives the place Jesus feels at home. We are called to bring others with us. The nations need to discover the power of worshiping Jesus.

Illust. Marriage Feast of the Lamb

God heal me. God heal my church. God heal our city and our nation.)

“… I’ve never seen so many…”

When the doctors and their team working in Liberia during the height of the 2014 Ebola epidemic saw the damage the disease caused, one reportedly said “I’ve never seen so many bodies.” One doctor was in charge of gathering and disposing of those who died from the disease; he and his team worked tirelessly to serve the Liberians by helping them through the collection and, with a respectful process, cremation of their dead.

Stephen Rowden was a first time volunteer with Doctors without Borders; his team processed between 10 and 25 cremations a day in Monrovia as the work sought to contain the epidemic to the region. He said his team of 36 have shown no signs of the disease even though they worked in such proximity to the dangers of the contagion.

When ask about his motivation, Dr. Rowden confessed that he is “a practicing Christian” who finds support and “strength from his faith and family.”

Since the first centuries of Christianity, those who follow Christ run toward the danger, the tragedy, the hurt… even the contagion, while most flee. From the Antonine Plague in the mid-100’s that wipe nearly 25% of the Roman Empire into eternity and those many epidemics that followed, Christ-followers sought to stay and help and serve…and suffer, in order to live a life that gives credit to the Good News and the love and power of God.

While many might say that Christianity was established in the empire because of edits, it really spread as a revolution of love, sacrifice and suffering. We run toward the need, even if the rest are running away.

Dr. Rowden captures this kind of faith through his actions.

Live sacrificially,

Rick

(Thanks to a great NPR interview by  at https://www.npr.org/2014/10/09/354890862/in-collecting-and-cremating-ebola-victims-a-grim-public-service and Baker Book called Restoring All Things: God’s Audacious Plan to Change the World through Everyday People by Stonestreet and Smith.)

 

Doing Less to do more

Our men’s group is studying Exodus 18 tonight. The story is a classic case in problem-solving. It opens with the back-story; how God had developed Moses’ the Leader. Then it moves to the crisis; the kind of crisis that most see, but nobody calls out. The final act is the resolution; it comes through a visit from the past that alters the future.

Act One:

Moses and the Israelites are out of reach of Egypt, free, and at the rendezvous point God pointed them toward earlier. The Hebrew count is at 600,000 men plus the women and children. It’s a crowd.

While they camp in the desert near the Mountain of God, Moses gets a visit from someone out of his past – Jethro, his father-in-law, the man whose sheep he watched for close to forty years. He comes for one purpose – the bring Moses’ family back now that they were free – but is surprised and used for another.

They throw a party and Moses tells the whole story, perhaps for the first time to one “outside the camp.” Moses the Leader had been God’s instrument to deliver the people. The Egyptian oppression was over; the people were alive and free.

Act Two:

Jethro gets an inside look into Moses the Leader and how his day-to-day work progressed, now that he (and 600,000 of his closest friends) were free. He sits down before all those with problems or disputes and hears them one-by-one, to infinity and beyond. All day and into the evening.

Three issues he faced that I see:

First, Moses created the mess he was in. He assumed the leadership God had given him was for him alone. That left him with long lines of complaints and issues, and little time to settle it all.

Second, Moses solved problems for others because that’s the way he’d always done it (remember the murdered Egyptian?) He kept doing it the same way because it had worked for him so far. At least, from where he sat.

Third, Moses led by himself. And leaders who lead alone lead blind. They don’t see what others see. Sure, he listened to the problems and bickering for hours on end; but he must have missed what the people had to endure, standing around, reliving everyone’s problems. And waiting.

Act Three:

Jethro reveals what Moses hadn’t seen before. The conversation seems a bit heated, or at least very honest. He presents the resolution – put leaders in place over 1000’s, 100’s, 50’s and 10’s and let them listen, negotiate, judge, and lead – and like a good problem-solver, leaves it in the hands of the leader; in this case, Moses. The timing was right and, after the sting of Jethro’s rebuke lessened, he began the process of raising up judges, and letting leaders lead. He no longer had to listen to every dispute – he just got the big ones; and the people had leaders they could turn to.

I have heard or read a bunch of teaching on this chapter. It’s a discipleship strategy. It’s a business model. It’s an organizational plan. But, mainly it was a rescue operation. Moses was in a fix. He was heading toward burn-out; so were the people.

Here are some applications:

1) Leading alone can be dangerous, no matter your organization. Jethro’s warning was four-fold:

  • It’s not good (as in, the plan won’t work in the long run.)
  • It will wear you and everyone else out (each hour will make you more and more tired.)
  • It is to heavy for you (the burden of everyone’s problems is too much for one set of shoulders.)
  • You can’t do it alone (you need some new levels of problem-solving to ease the burden.)

So, if you are leading alone, begin with one or two who are godly and honest, and train them up (how to live, how to behave, and how to wisely make decisions.)

2) Don’t fear the new voice. Someone with wisdom, humility and seeing things differently than “from where you sit” can take things to a new place. A new set of eyes can see the big picture and help pull the threads of a resolution together. In fact, though the visit was brief, Jethro changed the future for God’s people.

3) Raise the bar high, but not beyond reach. Let leaders lead. But don’t put a “50’s” leader over “1000.” Give them room to exercise their gifts, develop their leadership voice, and even make mistakes. But, give them a safety net. Be nearby, but don’t hover. They don’t need a daddy or mommy; they need a mentor.

The best part of the story, though, often gets lost. Jethro, already a priest from Midian, took the God of the Hebrews as Lord. He heard the good news of the deliverance, and declared with his voice and sacrifice, that the Lord is God above all gods. That should be the outcome of our own leadership.

All Mission Supporters are not created equal…

From someone on the field who has some wonderful missional people in my life, I have learned to live by grace when it comes to the weighing the excitement people share about missions. (Please read on and don’t judge me by the title.)

  • Some are genuinely passionate to see the church go to the nations – after all, in more nations than not, a McDonald’s full of people would not have one solitary evangelical Christ-follower (other than you) if you walked in.
  • Some are excited for us that we are going on the adventure. And doing so for God.
  • Some look incredulously at us and ask, “what’s that all about”. In the words of my late father-in-law, many think, “I ain’t left nothing over there.”
  • And some wish they could go, want to go, would try to go if they could find the door opening. I can see it in their eyes. They want to be a part of the adventure.

So, how does this translate into being a mission supporter? And are they created, or does missional passion emerge?

Perhaps, to move further down this path, a quick recap of the needs missionaries have might help with perspective:

Food, transportation, housing, clothing, ministry resources, medical and dental care, the occasional vacation or conference – and since I live in Italy, a regular measure of coffee. Add to this short-term teams to come and help, church rent, Bibles, project resources, and special ministry funds for reaching out to the different kinds of needs. (I don’t know a missionary yet who is asking for the moon.)

Mission supporters come in all shapes and sizes. And God, somehow, matches us mission supporters with these needs.

I know fixed income Christians who give regularly beyond their tithe. I’ve met reasonably educated and employed church-goers who give up things they’ve earned the right to spend their resources on so they can give to multiple missional causes. Some of my friends are highly educated, highly skilled, and/or blessed with great wealth, and they strategically look for and give to mission needs. I even have retired friends who could be on the back nine who have reinvented their skills in business so they can give all the profits to Kingdom causes.

Then, how can each of us nurture our lives so we can be more missional?

  1. Overestimate … each moment of prayer for missions. Most of us, honestly, low-ball our impact in the prayer closet. We just don’t “feel” we are making a difference. God says otherwise. When we pray, we change and we connect God’s purposes and resources to those for whom we pray.
  2. Reposition … the heart. We can get pretty wrapped up in what’s before us, and forget what is happening across the street or around the globe. Ask God for an upward love – on Him, and an outward love – for the world, and for specific cultures and people. Jesus said the heart resides with what we value.
  3. Lavishly spend … time with missional people. Find ways to get “in the way” – get into the lives of missionaries. Learn about their nations. Find ways to surprise them with your presence and word of encouragement.
  4. Turn up the heat … on giving and going. Your heart follows your bank account. My pastor from Crossroads Church in Newnan taught me this in relation to giving. If you don’t give at all, give some to someone. If you don’t give regularly, give monthly to someone. If you don’t give a percentage, begin to give a specific portion. Make your tithe count in your church and strategic giving count to missional causes.

It’s very true that “disciples are made, not born”* and the same is true of mission supporters. We are all (yes, this missionary is a missionary supporter, too) on the way to becoming better mission supporters. God, the God of The Mission** to save our world, is working it in us.

From the field – Rick

* Two disciple-makers, Howard Hendricks and Walt Henrichsen, wrote Disciples are Made not Born years ago. Still an awesome book to read. The premise: each of us as Christ-followers have the potential to change our world, but we need to make the choices to be a disciples and find others who can pour into our lives and into whom we can pour into theirs. (Another shout out to Ken Adams, pastor of Crossroads Church Newnan GA – we are called to “be and build disciples of Christ.)

** I hear at Christmas time how Jesus came into the world as an immigrant (the trek to Egypt is the nod this claim gives). In reality, He was missional in the Advent – He came to declare and be Good News: the Kingdom of God is at hand (Isaiah 61, Luke 4, John 3).

The Apostle and the Congressman

The Apostle:

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is found in Philippians chapter 4:4-9. When the Apostle Paul wrote this to the church that gathered in the city of Philippi, he was in prison for preaching the Good News about Jesus.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

What a great way to approach life –1) Focus on good things of life – noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. 2) Practice the right things we learn from Scripture and pass it along to others. 3) Don’t worry; but pray and trust God. And Paul includes, as he writes from his cell, do this with thanksgiving.

He certainly was learning how to do this in prison. But, he knew that it’s only when our faith is tested that we really get to put this into practice.

The verses before this passage tell us what the Philippians were facing. Two of the ladies in the church were having problems with each other. And not just two ladies; but two who had worked diligently right alongside Paul and other leaders in their church.

Euodia, whose name means “good journey” and Syntyche, whose name means “pleasant friend” – were absolutely not being pleasant and good. They were not getting along – and it was causing problems.

Paul encouraged them: to remember who you are, remember who you represent, and to work things out with the help of God. And directly after this – to change what you think about, change who your examples are, and change how you pray.

From the first settlers, when the Pilgrims survived their first winter in the new land, America was where people came who were oppressed for their faith. And for a century, Congregationalists, Baptists, Puritans, Presbyterians, and others settled in different colonies.

The Congressman:

A hundred years later, after the end of the Revolutionary War and during the establishing of the United States, the new President of this new nation named George Washington faced his own set of problems. America’s new Bill of Rights was barely three days old. It was the same Bill of Rights that guaranteed “free exercise of religion.”

And Washington knew he had thirteen states, with different dialects, different economics, different expectations, and different styles of worship. They didn’t get along and they weren’t sure this new government would work.

Washington’s good friend, Elias Boudinot, stood before Congress with a proposal he thought would unite the States in a stronger way. Boudinot, barely remembered today, was famous in his day for his strong faith, his belief that all people were created equal, his passion for everyone to hear the Good News, and even later for his outspoken defense for the rights of blacks and for Native Americans.

He proposed the first National Day of Prayer and Thanksgiving under the new government of the United States of America – “ a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God.”

The House of Representative, the Senate, and the President agree to call the whole nation to prayer on the final Thursday of the following month of November. It was to be a day of repentance and a plea that the new nation would be “a blessing to all the people” – that the leaders of this new nation would “faithfully execute…the wise, just and constitutional laws” of the new land. And, it would be a day to “promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue.”

In other words, this Day of Thanksgiving was to encourage this new nation to remember who you are, remember who you represent, and works things out with the powerful help of God.

And just like Paul reminded the church in Philippi, and the two ladies in the church, this Day of Thanksgiving was a day to focus on the good things of life, practice the right things we have learned from God’s Word, and pray with faith and with Thanksgiving.

Remembering —

 

 

Vineyard 201 – Power of God, Power of Prayer

This week’s article by John Wimber, one of the key pastors who helped launch the “Vineyard Movement” links two important spiritual topics: the power of God and the Christ-follower’s prayer life. God wants to display His power through our lives – no question about his (the whole “same works and even greater” promise still wrecks my experiential grid!) But, what is our responsibility through prayer? And more importantly, how does prayer display God’s Kingdom and Power? Wimber would say, it’s all about intimacy!

Enjoy the article below and learn about the empowering nature of intimacy with God:

PRAYER: INTIMACY WITH GOD

Only in an intimate relationship with God can we hear his voice, know his will,

and understand his heart.

By John Wimber

If most Christians could listen to recordings of their prayers over a week’s time, we would discover we pray the same things, using the same words and sentence structures, over and over again. But, I suspect, what would disturb us most is the cold, mechanical, removed feeling of the prayers. We would become more aware of something we already know but can hardly acknowledge: our relationship with God is distant and impersonal – and because of this we are unhappy and unfulfilled.

Now think of the quality of Jesus’ prayer life. Picture in your mind the freedom and openness he always experienced with his heavenly Father. He spoke to his Father in terms of endearment, referring to him as “Daddy.” Jesus took every problem, every concern, and every decision to him moment by moment. And he did it with ease and joy! It was an intimate relationship, an openness in which he freely shared his most essential, private, and personal thoughts and emotions.

The quality of relationship with his Father also was a key to answered prayer. By knowing his Father’s will, he knew how, what, and whom to pray for. “The world must learn that I love the Father,” Jesus said, “and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me” (John 14:31). How did the world know Jesus loved the Father? Because he did what the Father told him to do, and he was able to do that because he had an intimate relationship with him.

I believe Jesus’ prayer life is something that we should aspire to, that intimacy with God in prayer is a primary goal of the Christian life.

Obedience

Why is our goal intimacy with God? Because only there do we experience forgiveness, renewal, and power for righteous living. Only in an intimate relationship with God can we hear his voice, know his will, and understand his heart.

Some of us, though, think of intimacy as merely a warm emotion—something akin to spiritual goose bumps. But this isn’t what I mean by intimacy with God. By intimacy I mean four things:

  • First, intimacy is self-disclosure. This is our ability to talk with God about who we really are, to say what we need and want, all the time knowing that he hears us and cares about these things. This touches on the formation of such character traits as honesty, integrity, and confidence.
  • Second, intimacy is being known by God. God doesn’t need our cooperation to know everything about us (Matthew 10:30). But for him to work in us and through us, we must cooperate with him, joyfully receiving his fatherly love.
  • Third, intimacy is continual obedience to God. This means knowing God in the deepest part of our beings, hearing his voice, experiencing his grace and then doing what he says to do. There is nothing fancy or mysterious about obedience. The rewards are great: A greater knowledge of God’s holiness and a clear conscience.

Scripture

  • Fourth, intimacy is knowing God. By knowing God I mean having relationship with him and knowing about him. The latter point contains a Catch 22, because a proper understanding of God’s nature is both a goal and prerequisite of intimacy. In other words, what we believe about God determines how we pray, and the quality of our prayer life powerfully affects what we believe about God!

A defective understanding of our heavenly Father’s nature (usually a result of some failure in our earthly father) is one of the greatest obstacles to an intimate prayer life. Do you think of God as quite distant from creation, disinterested in ordinary people’s daily struggles? If so your prayer life is probably an infrequent exercise in paying homage to the Creator, but in no way is it a life-changing relationship. Do you think of God as an angry old man, depriving you of life’s pleasures and joys? If so, your prayer life likely is a loathsome event, full of fear and anger.

God has provided means for overcoming our misconceptions about his nature: Scripture. In the Bible, God reveals his nature to us, but most of us require healing in some area of our lives so we can receive the truth of Scripture. Hurtful memories of our earthly fathers may hold us back from receiving our heavenly Father. Prayer for overcoming the effects of past hurts and immersion in God’s Word are the pathway to knowing God.

Models

Another obstacle to attaining intimacy with God in prayer is the dearth of mature prayer models, men and women who inspire and instruct us through prayer and deed.

As a new Christian, I was discipled by a man who embodied what it meant to be intimate with God. But even he wasn’t perfect, and when he moved away after only two years, I was forced to look elsewhere for a model of intimacy. So to whom can we look? Christ is available to all, our great example of intimacy with the Father. He is the one that we ultimately look to and pattern our lives after.

I began this article by contrasting our prayer life with Christ’s. In the remainder of the article, I will take a closer look at Christ’s relationship with his Father as found in what is commonly called the high priestly prayer of John 17.

The Upper Room

John 17 must be understood with its broader context, chapter 13 through17, the longest account of Jesus’ last night with his disciples in the upper room. Jesus speaks to his disciples in an intimate, after-dinner exchange. He discloses to them some of the most beautiful truths in the Bible. One prominent feature of his discourse is his use of the word love. It is used only six times in chapters 1-12 of John’s Gospel but 31 times in chapters 13-17.

Chapter 17 records Jesus’ conversation with his Father about himself, the apostles, and all believers. I am not as much interested here in what he prayed about as how he prayed, for his manner reveals much about his relationship with the Father.

Verse one says, “He looked toward heaven and prayed.” Did you know that the customary attitude of prayer for Jesus was to open his eyes and raise his head? His position on prayer was different from the practices of most Western Christians. Now, I believe there is nothing wrong in lowering our heads and closing our eyes (it communicates reverence toward God and helps us keep our concentration on God), but Jesus looked up and opened his eyes because his relationship with the Father was open, free, uninhibited.

He begins his prayer with the simple “Father,” the common address of a child to its parent. Jesus was using language common to everyday family life and transferring it to God. It reveals the close familiarity between Jesus and his Father.

Reinforce Truth

Jesus then goes on in verses two to five to pray for himself as within hours he would face the cross. But the tone of his prayer impresses me—informal, free, and heartfelt. These were the prayers of a friend of God. In reading many of Jesus’ prayers, I get the feeling that he is interrupting a private, unspoken conversation in order to speak aloud so the disciples can learn how to pray. In other words, his spoken words appear to be the overflow of a continuing dialogue with his Father.

In saying, “Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you,” Jesus revealed his one motivation in life was to glorify his Father. This meant that all his prayers were steeped with an attitude of obedience and sacrifice, a desire to submit his life to whatever his Father wanted. It is almost as though he is reviewing a fundamental principle of the Christian life: You glorify me, I glorify you. We too, should never hesitate to repeat the fundamental promises of Scripture to God in prayer; in doing so we reinforce his truth in us and faith grows. We need to regularly review our commitments, and what better place is there to do that than with God?

In verses 6 to 19 he prays for the disciples. He continues to focus on fulfilling God’s purpose: to redeem and raise up a people who know the Father. When we experience intimacy with our heavenly Father our hearts will naturally turn toward intercession. Why? Because we will take on his heart, his burden for men and women.

Jesus and the early Christians rarely prayed for the world. Instead, they prayed that the church would be bold in proclaiming the gospel to the unsaved! You don’t have to tell God your friends aren’t saved. He already knows. You need to tell them about Christ, and ask God for the boldness to speak the gospel in love.

Unity

In verses 20 to 26 he prays for all believers “that all may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (v. 21). This is the punch line of the high priestly prayer: We can have the same type of relationship with the Father that Jesus has.

I grew up as an only child with both parents who worked. From the ages of five to eighteen I devoted my life almost entirely to music, sitting alone for hours practicing different musical instruments. I didn’t develop very many social skills with a horn in my mouth. If it hadn’t been for my wife, I don’t know if I would have ever learned how to have deep, intimate friendships. I have found it difficult to know God as my “Daddy,” but as I grow in the knowledge of his nature and take risks with him, I’m learning he loves me and accepts me the way I am. I can enter into the same quality of relationship as Jesus has with the Father.

When we experience the intimacy of the Father and the Son, it will affect our relationship brothers and sisters in such a way that many pagans will believe that Jesus was sent by the Father to redeem the world (v.23). Christian unity, rooted in an intimate relationship with our heavenly Father, is the most powerful testimony of Christ’s lordship in the world today.

 

Vineyard 201 – Disciple-making Jesus’ Way

At the heart of the Vineyard Movement, “making disciples of all nations” has been a core value. At Seacoast Vineyard, we seek to “make disciples” through Small Groups, personal mentoring, leadership development, recovery and healing, conferences, our college-level Vineyard Institute, and ministry training.

A lot has been published about disciple-making; here is an article by John Wimber who contributed much to helping us understand the Kingdom qualities of discipleship found in Jesus’ life.

NO SHORTCUTS TO MATURITY

Jesus had a conscious, single-minded plan to train the Twelve in his way of life.

By John Wimber

A major part of Christ’s ministry was devoted to training the disciples to do the Father’s works and reflect his righteous nature, to preparing them to lead the church that was created at Pentecost. His strategy for winning the world was simple: win a few men and women to Christ, train them well, and release them to repeat the process over and over again. We can learn much about discipleship by studying how Jesus trained the Twelve.

Christ’s method of training is difficult for Western Christians to understand, for it involved much more than the accumulation of knowledge. Twentieth century Christians equate training with accumulating knowledge about God through Bible study. But Christ was more action oriented; his disciples learned by doing as he did, and in so doing they combined right doctrine with changed behavior and attitudes.

Another obstacle to understanding Christ’s method of discipleship is the rejection of signs and wonders today. Signs and wonders, all Western Christians acknowledge, were necessary to authenticate Christ’s divinity. Further, signs and wonders were key in establishing the apostolic authority of the Twelve and Paul. But most Western Christians reject or adopt a generally negative attitude toward signs and wonders after the first century. This diminishes the effectiveness of Christ’s example for us and discounts much of what Christ intended that we do. What Christians are often left to follow is a good moral example, not a dynamic, Satan-conquering Lord. This results in overly intellectual disciples—certainly not a people who cause demons to tremble.

Teacher, Rabbi

A closer look at how Jesus trained the disciples to carry on his ministry after his ascension reveals many of the key elements for learning how to minister today.

Jesus’ method of instruction was the method of the day: rabbinic. A rabbi would minister while his disciples watched; then they would minister with him watching; next they went out on short missions, reporting back for further instruction and correction from the master. After repeating this process for years, and the rabbi was convinced his disciples were formed in his way of life, he released his students to become rabbis and teach others by the same process.

Christ used the same training method with his disciples. Christ, the Teacher, Rabbi, formed his disciples in his way of life, passing on his character. Faith, hope, love, joy, peace, and so on were the goals of his training. Performing signs and wonders—casting out demons, healing the sick, even walking on water—were avenues through which the disciples learned more about God’s nature. The disciples understood and accepted what Jesus expected of them. We never read of them objecting to being asked to do the works of Jesus, only of their sense of personal inadequacy in performing his commands.

Tennessee Walkers

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In my early years, I often visited a horse farm in Illinois where my grandfather worked. He trained Tennessee walking horses. Tennessee Walkers have a remarkable high-strutting gait, different from any other horse in the world. One day I was with him while he worked on a horse with a problem gait. His solution was to hitch a pacer—a horse with the correct gait—to the horse with the problem and let them walk together. After a few days, the problem horse’s gait became consistent, just like that of the pacer. My grandfather explained that when a horse cannot do its job, if you connect it to one that can, soon both do the job correctly.

I have been training men and women for twenty-five years. During this period I have learned that the secret for success with people is the same as with horses: hitch a person who cannot do a job with one who can, and soon both will know how. This is how Christ trained the Twelve: they lived with him, soon living like him. Training today works the same way. Being around someone who performs a certain ministry skill successfully (or demonstrates personal maturity) is the best way for you to learn to do it (or be it) yourself.

A willingness to follow

The primary criteria for becoming one of the Twelve was a willingness to follow Christ— to walk with him, and to choose to become like him. Other than that desire, the only thing the disciples had in common was that they were Jews with middle class economic and social standing living in Galilee (Judas was the exception; the others were mostly fishermen). From a human perspective, one can imagine the Father telling his Son, “If we can train this motley crew to advance my kingdom, we can train anyone.” This gives all of us hope.

Through mutual commitment, Jesus made disciples out of the Twelve. He developed mature character and leadership in them. He trained them to do signs and wonders. They were hitched together for three years, and when released, the disciples continued to walk in his way. They performed God’s works and persevered under the most severe of conditions. And they trained the next generation to carry on in the same way.

Difficulties

But the disciples had difficulty in cooperating with Christ in their training. They often misunderstood Christ’s teachings (Matthew 13:36; 15:15; 16:6-12). They never fully understood his mission until after the resurrection—and even then they were in need of further correction (Mark 10:35-40; Luke 9:46-48). But Jesus was patient with them, for his goal was to build men who did the Father’s bidding.

For three years the Twelve were in a learning environment. They not only learned new ideas, but they developed new skills and abilities. They were teachable because they saw a large gap between Christ’s life and their own. Progressive growth came through trial and error.

Frequent failures characterized the early ministry of all the disciples (Luke 9:37-43; 5255), especially Peter’s. His abortive attempt to walk on water (Matthew 14)) is one of many examples. As the disciples continued to live with Christ, their failures diminished

( 55 )

and their successes became more frequent. Each new step of faith was a springboard for their Master to push them further, enlarging their worldview and expanding their understanding of God.

Disciples today

I believe our challenge for training today is no different from or less critical than it was for the Twelve in the first century. We, too, are called to be like Christ and to do his Father’s works. But, unlike the Twelve, we cannot live and work with the incarnate Christ. Also, the rabbinic method of training is rarely found in Western society. So how can we apply Christ’s training methods to our lives?

First, any training and formation that we receive from other Christians must be subordinated to Scripture. We worship the living God of the Bible, and it is his image-not another man’s or woman’s image—that is the goal of all discipleship.

Second, we have access to Christ through the disciplines of prayer, worship, meditation, and study. The cultivation of these “inward disciplines,” as Richard J. Foster calls them, is the most significant means of formation in Christ.

Third, we have older brothers and sisters to whom we may look for models of maturity and guidance. Saying Christ is our pattern of maturity does not exclude learning about him from more experienced Christians. Paul was not afraid to say to the Corinthian Christians, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” Paul clearly says that Christ is the supreme example (1 Peter 2:21), that he (Paul) follows Christ’s example, and that we follow him only to the degree that he reflects Christ.

You may ask, “Where are my contemporary examples?” and “How can I be sure that they will not abuse me?” The answer to the first question is that most churches have many mature Christians from whom you can learn. But you must be involved in the church, for example, in a small group, before you can discover them and take advantage of their example. Look for someone you admire, respect, and trust. Then spend time with him or her; most of what you learn comes through association.

The answer to the second question—how to avoid abuse—goes back to the basics: Our goal is to become like Christ, and he is revealed in Scripture. If you abandon the hard work of checking out everything you are taught by others with what Scripture teaches, you place yourself in jeopardy of being deceived and hurt by Satan. In other words, while we have a responsibility to show honor and respect toward the leaders who train us, our highest responsibility is to Jesus.

Of course, the greatest joy of all is when God uses you to train others. And that is my prayer for you; that if you haven’t already grown to that level of maturity, someday you will be used by God to train others.

Adapted: Power Evangelism by John Wimber w/ Kevin Springer, Harper & Row, pub.

 

 

A Lifetime Punctuated with Suddenlies…

What do shepherds, a leper, and Simon Peter have in common? (Cue “Jeopardy Theme). What is, they each were waylaid by a “Suddenly?” The shepherds on the hillside with the angelic host, the leper healed by Jesus, and Paul and the horse (on the road to Damascus, and that’s what he fell to the ground from in my picture Bible… humor me.)

How many times does the word “suddenly’  occur? A whole bunch… I quit counting in YouVersion. In the New Testament, though, it happens forty-five times.

“Suddenlies” are different from how we like to describe our Christian experience. It’s akin to Bilbo telling Gandalf, “Adventures? We don’t want any of those around here, thank you!” We go for lifelong, for the walk, or the word du Jour, “process.” But, what’s the fun in a walk without a few surprises?

In fact, when we have a real prayer need (not the ones that involved parking places or nail fungus), we pray for “suddenlies.” And we should.

Each moment as Christ-followers should prepare us for “suddenly.” We may still freak out, shake in our sandals, or drop to our knees in fear like the shepherds, Mary, the disciples, Paul, and even the centurion at the Cross. But our story afterward will be, “yep, that was God!”

We aren’t far away from Easter – it’s in just a few weeks. And we are not at all far away from our next “Suddenly.” So get ready… and if you freak, shake or fall down, I hope someone has a camera.

With all immediacy,

Rick

 

Jesus isn’t like that…

Preachers have long suspected that most of what we say is forgotten. I know we want to think differently, and we can seek to be memorable and quotable all we want. But, a snippet or sound bite here, or a timely story there, and that’s all we get.

But, Sunday was different.

Let me cast the normal flowers: your message was moving, great, spoke to me, nice job, nailed it (that’s always a curious comment to say to a preacher of the Gospel), and my favorite – were you thinking of me when you prepared this message.

Here’s what changed my life.

Our lead pastor (Tim Holt, Seacoast Vineyard, been doing if faithfully since “the Call”) described what happened with Jesus and his disciples as they left the crowd one day, and in dire need of rest, sailed to a remote place to get some rest. The crowd got wind of the relocation and showed up before Jesus dropped anchor.

And here’s where it got good.

He said, for us, we might have looked at the crowd and despaired, or tried to send them away, or ignored them. After all, we were tired, we deserved some rest, some “me time.”

Are  you ready? Then he said, “but Jesus isn’t like that.” Wait… wait… wait… let it hit you.

He’s not like us. He’s not. Confessional time. He isn’t like me. We live in a world that measures Jesus by us. I know the argument: we’re the only “Bible” some will ever read, and how else will others know Jesus unless we are “Jesus with skin on.”

But, no matter how much we model our lives by Jesus, he is not like us. I can show compassion in a kind action. He is fully, beyond measure, love. I can share a word of wisdom with a friend. He is the source of wisdom; he invented it. I can pray for a sickness to be healed. He expresses healing and wholeness in all he does. Even in my best, he’s not like me.

A dose of humility. Jesus already has come with skin on. And if the Gospel another reads comes from my life, it will not be enough to save or transform. Jesus is completely and wholly not like me. Measuring Jesus by me is a mistake. But oh, how by His immeasurable grace, I want to be measured by his standard (“Life is not measured by how much you own. Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” Luke 12:15, 21)

Maybe we can quit judging Jesus without knowing him. We make him small when we say he is like us. Maybe a better plan is to go for a rich relationship with Him.

So, if you want to know what Jesus is like, my life is probably not the measurement you want… he’s not like that. But I suspect that, what you hope he is like – compassionate, consistent, near, trustworthy, forgiving, powerful, and full of grace – he is, and then some.

Thanks, Tim, for a life-altering word. (And btw, I remember what you said next, too – Jesus isn’t like that. He saw the people and had compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd.  And sheep when there are no boundaries or fences, need a shepherd.)

Rick

Price of slavery, Cost of freedom

Slavery has never been more profitable. But, human trafficking, as heinous as it is, isn’t the only end that the means justifies. Sell outs to subjugation go on all the time – bondage and entrapment are gussied up as the next experience to be had –  no matter how many shades of grey cloak it (btw, how can we rail against causing women pain and embrace the same in the name of pleasure? Using others for gratification or anger still leads to subjection.)

Judas gave up freedom for 30 silver coins. Whether he was disillusioned with the progress of the social takeover he’d hope would come with Jesus’ reign, or disappointed at being caught at embezzlement, he sold his freedom. Matthew and others give the details. Try Judas for your next character study. Or maybe not… it may be too familiar.

The cash he accepted equaled the cost of a slave (see Exodus 21) – 30 silver coins. Judas took his final step into slavery with the bribe, then surrendered it under remorse as the exact cost of a graveyard, the perfect final home for slaves.

Jesus planned for a better home for slaves.

For Jesus, these same thirty coins bought our slavery to sin. He cashed it in at the Cross. I am the direct beneficiary to this investment, a thirty coin bribe sought to capture and kill a King became the price to free a slave. Me.

Two simple applications: To the enslaved (yes, I know who I am – you do, too), your purchase has been proffered and accepted. The document is filed waiting to be claimed. To the set-free-ones, tell someone where freedom waits.

Rick the Purchased

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