Living in Difficulties with Great Joy

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,
whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Let perseverance finish its work
so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
-James 1:1-4 (NIV)

Do you ever have times when it seems like everything is broken?
It seems like all of life is discovering brokenness.
Broken things, broken people and broken relationships.

Will things ever be fixed?
When one thing gets better, it seems like a new problem arises.

Why is this happening to me?
I would prefer to avoid difficulties.
I look for a way around it, or above it.

The way of wisdom and the way of wholeness is to take on and go through difficulties that meet us.
If we turn away from difficulties that face us, we are stopping the maturing process that God has for us.
Difficulties are where God grows us.  This is is why we are happy when a difficulty arises.

I am saying 'difficulty', but the text from James says 'trials'. Some translations say 'temptations'. The CEB has 'tests' and The Message has 'challenges'. The Passion Translation has 'difficulties'.

I prefer 'difficulties' or 'challenges', to describe the brokenness of life: things, situations, people and relationships. The other words may fit you better. That thing you are facing is a temptation and also a test and a trial and a challenge and a difficulty.

The word 'trial' is about something that is trying to us or testing us or 'putting us to proof'. In other words, proving us. It is like a person saying that an object is made of metal and not plastic or wax. To prove it, the object it put into heat. The metal is proved to be metal and if it is plastic or wax, it melts and is proven to not be metal. That is a trial.

When we go through difficulties, our faith is proven real. There is a secret about faith.  It only gets grown through difficulties. There is an equation here that says faith plus difficulties equals perseverance.

The goal is not just faith, but maturity and completeness. Perseverance is a part of maturity and completeness. Faith alone, without perseverance, means lacking maturity and incomplete.

James is strongly echoing Jesus when he says that faith must be tested. There is never a question of what saves us. God saves us and we believe it and that is faith.

But then our faith is always tested, tried, or tempted. These trials are difficulties and challenges. When we face them, growth occurs inside us and we become more mature and complete.

And a secret behind this process is that with every difficulty, challenge, trial, test or temptation that comes against us; there is a gift from God. The gift is the provision that God has placed there for you, next to that difficulty. It is not an escape hatch or an ejection seat, but a grace package from the Father (James 1:17).

I long for things to be made whole. 
I am learning to live in brokenness. 
These two things are 'the life'.

Difficulties stretch us. 

Our lives today, with difficulties, form us to become who we need to be tomorrow.

I am longing for wholeness and living in brokenness.

I have been thinking about a book called, "Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness", by Jerry Cook and Stanley C. Baldwin.  In the book, they talk about how the church ought to be a place where people become whole.

Their message is that God loves, accepts, and forgives people.  We often do not love, do not accept, and do not forgive people; including ourselves.

The seventh chapter (p. 103-119) deals directly with the text from James that I quoted, about difficulties.  The authors list these as difficulties that Christians encounter:
  • Criticism: Learning to give receive constructive criticism.
  • Sensitivity: Learning the distinction between being sensitive to others and taking offense.
  • Divisiveness: Learning to have differences without dividing over them.
  • Traditionalism: Learning to live from Christ for the sake of others, as the center; and making traditions peripheral. 
To me, these four represent common ailments that Christians have today.

The message from James is: "Now that you are a Christian, you have a lot of problems".

As a pastor and a teacher, James preaches about how to navigate your challenges.  James has a very commanding voice.  His letter is the bossiest book in the New Testament. See Jeffrey Kanz's post on this (2nd place goes to Joel).

James is a 'how to book'.  Do you want to know what to do?  James has 54 commands of what we should do.  Timothy Sparks made a list, here.

In this beginning section of James, the commands are:
  • Consider it pure joy
  • Let perseverance finish its work
If you choose to not take James advice or obey the commands he gives, then what are the consequences?  I ask this because we are a people who get a lot of advice, but sometimes do not take it.  Our Christian culture is a culture where advice or commands or bossiness abounds, but the follow through is very small.

In most churches, we have a lot of sermons.  A person stands up and tells us something.  It is sometimes something we already know.

And often that something we already have heard before is something we are not doing.  The preacher's job is to tell us something we usually already know that we are not doing.  Nothing has changed since James pastored his church and preached to them.

Imagine that James is a collection of his sermons, in newsletter form.  The problems Christians were encountering, who were scattered far and wide, were the same as those who lived in Jerusalem.

The people had difficulties: problems just like we do today.

And the way life worked then and today, is that we have problems and then we have to decide how we will navigate them.  James says, "You have problems".  Awareness is the beginning.

Okay, I have problems.  Now what?  How do I escape?

James says that you do not escape your problems.  He says something that sounds like the opposite.  He says to celebrate the fact that you have problems.

This is verse number two of a lengthy sermon/letter.  He does not tell a joke or tell a sentimental story, to warm his audience's hearts; but immediately gives what we would call, 'a hard word'.

Can you already tell that this is Jesus' brother?  Does he remind you of Jesus?  What is ironic is that James did not recognize that Jesus was the Messiah, before he died on the cross and rose from the dead.

James became a believer, after Jesus rose from the dead.  He was a late adopter, when the truth had been right in front of him.

James was written to Jewish Christians that realized Jesus was Messiah, but many other Jewish people around them did not and perhaps gave them a hard time.  That might be the number one trial that the original readers of James were going through.

People got saved and became Christians, followers of Jesus.  That is really good.  The negative side though, was that many of their kin, did not not get saved, but became antagonistic to these believers in Jesus.

Circumstances, that are negative, stretch us to touch God.  Our lives today, with the troubles, form us to become who we need to be.  God uses trials to shape believers into people that will glorify Himself.[1]

The theme of James is: How shall we live as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ?[2]  Serving Jesus is the theme of our lives.

James begins his letter with a piece of advice.  He says, that it is a great thing that you have troubles, challenges or trials in your life, because these are an opportunity for you to grow in joy.

This sounds very paradoxical, because difficulties are the opposite of joy.  He is saying that your difficulties are an opportunity to grow in joy that you should celebrate.

How can this be?  This does not make sense.

Here is what I think James had in mind.  When our lives are not working well,  and it could be any kind of troubles; we simply must turn to God.

Christians live in the paradox of total dependence on God and the stewardship of our lives.  In our covenant relationship to God, we are totally dependent while being totally free.  In our freedom, we are completely wedded to God.

We live in the tension of being set free, but being in need.  When troubles come, of any kind, they are an opportunity to connect deeper with God and become authentically joyous.

There is something called 'strangely encouraged'.  That is when something bad happens, but you have a measure of joy in the Lord.

What God wants is to form us into being like Jesus.  When things hurt or when we are irritated or discouraged, our job is to turn to God.

With every negative, there is a positive.  When something bad happens, God has something good for us to receive.

When things happen that are unpleasant, we may ask, "why?"  We might reason that we do not deserve it or we may assume it is happening because we do deserve it.  But many things happen to us, not because we do not or do deserve them.

Conversely, many things are related to cause and effect.  We do one thing and it makes us vulnerable to this other thing happening.  

But what if you don't do anything wrong, and in fact you do a lot of right things, but bad things happen to you.  Cause and effect is not the answer.  

"Why?", is usually the wrong question.  "What?" is a better question.  "Who?" is the best question.

"What is life about?"  "Who loves me?"  "What is God doing?"  "Who is God making me to be?"

These are the ultimate questions.

The way of wisdom and the way of wholeness is to take on and go through difficulties that meet us.
If we turn away from difficulties that face us, we are stopping the maturing process that God has for us.
Difficulties are where God grows us.  This is is why we are happy when a difficulty arises.

When we go through difficulties, our faith is proven real. There is a secret about faith.  It only gets grown through difficulties. There is an equation here that says faith plus difficulties equals perseverance.

The goal is not just faith, but maturity and completeness. Perseverance is a part of maturity and completeness. Faith alone, without perseverance, means lacking maturity and incomplete.

And a secret behind this process is that with every difficulty, challenge, trial, test or temptation that comes against us; there is a gift from God. The gift is the provision that God has placed there for you, next to that difficulty. 

This is the secret of trials, temptations and difficulties:

Joy from God.

Embracing the brokenness is the doorway to Joy.

Surrender to God.

I long for things to be made whole. 

I am learning to live in brokenness. 

These two things are 'the life'.

Difficulties stretch us.   In the stretching, we experience uncommon joy.

Our lives today, with difficulties, form us to become who we need to be tomorrow.

I am longing for wholeness and living in brokenness.

With great joy.

1. Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes On James
2. George M. Stulac, James; p. 30

I Can See Clearly Now

Arise, my darling.
Come away, my beautiful one.
For now the winter is past;
the rain has ended and gone away.
The blossoms appear in the countryside.
The time of singing has come,
and the turtledove’s cooing is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs;
the blossoming vines give off their fragrance.
Arise, my darling.
Come away, my beautiful one.
-Song of Songs 2:10-13

I can see things clearer now.  Did the Lord heal me?  Did I do something?  Or did the season change?  Yes.

What if the 'move of God' in your life is a simple sight adjustment, like focusing a lens?  What if the move of God for you is more about you seeing God and knowing God sees you?  What if the move of God was about the atmosphere having changed in your present time and then you living differently, because you now see?

When I was thinking about this poetic idea of, "I can see clearly now, the rain is gone". I thought about the stories of when Jesus healing various blind people.  And then I looked at Jesus word, to remove the logs from our own eyes, so that we can see.

We can see clearly after we take the impediments to seeing out of our eyes.  Those 'blinders' are things like bigotry, sectarianism, racism, classism and judgmentalism.  What if we began to see life through love?

What if we got an upgraded ability to see ourselves as loved by God and then began loving ourselves and loving others and seeing others through the love of Christ?

The Bible is filled with stories, with object lessons about seeing.  Seeing has to do with sight and understanding.  Our hearts and minds impair what we can see and Paul even makes the statement that non-believers have been blinded by the god of this age.

There is a saying, "This too will pass", that is said to someone that is in the middle of a loss or a struggle or a challenging situation.  It is a word that is comforting to hear or read.

Every winter ends and turns into spring.  We crossed over, into the season of Spring, ten days ago.  It is funny that Saint Patrick's Day is three days before spring.  On the friday of Saint Patrick's day, we went through a weekend of season change and came out in spring on Monday.

The winter has past, it is behind us.  The rain was good for the land, but it made it hard to see and get around.  The rains finished and ended and now there is green everywhere.

The air is cleaner and sweeter, because of all the plant life.  All of the wildlife is out and about as well, beginning to enjoy the springtime.

The change that has happened is that heaven is closer to earth.  Neither moved, but is is about, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,"  We now are living in more heaven on earth.

God has not taken us somewhere new or brought new things to us.  God has changed the atmosphere, here and now, where we live today.  And we can see and experience life differently now, because of what God has none.

If you have been waiting for something or for God to do something, God says, "now is the time".  God is saying that now is the time when He is changing your life's atmosphere, so that you can see Him.  We first have to begin to live in seeing the Lord and then the rest will fall into place.

Every person has secret and not so secret needs and wants, requests, wishes, desires and unfulfilled dreams; that God is fully aware of.  Our Father is a good father and takes good care of us.  I remember running into a close friend, who was unemployed and then underemployed and he said this exact thing.  Today, he is fully employed.

You might know this, but God is more concerned with how we are on the inside, in our hearts.  And our hearts affect our minds.  God has always been after the transformation of our hearts.

God has changed the atmosphere, just like how the seasons have just changed, so that we can see and live differently.  Do you remember that moment in The Wizard of Oz movie, when it goes from black and white to color?  That is what God is doing,

The purpose of the change that God has brought on, is so that we can be closer to Him.  When you are closer to Him, He will either make your dreams come true or He will change your dreams, and both are good.

For me, personally; I have a good list of dreams, requests, desires and wishes.  And I know that God: My Father, My Lord Jesus and The Holy Spirit are intimately aware of these.  I also know that what they want to do in my life, to me and through me; is bigger and more wonderful that my lists and even my imagining that reaches beyond my cognitive abilities.

What I see God doing now, is giving us vision to see more clearly:   To see God and to see that God sees me and to see all of the circumstances in my life with God.  I previously knew all this was possible and wanted it in my life, while I was calling out and longing for my dreams, requests, desires and wishes to be granted.

And this is what Song of Songs 2 is about.  We can absolutely learn things about our romantic relationship with our spouse in Song of Songs.  But the main point of the book is Jesus Christ and His Bride.

Here is what Brian Simmons writes in his introduction to his translation of Song of Songs:
The divine poem embedded in this romantic book tells the story of our journey of divine romance as bride of the Bridegroom-King, Jesus Christ.  It speaks of the journey every longing lover of Jesus will find as his or her very own.  (TPT, Song of Songs, p,10)
Here is what Winn Griffin wrote, in his, 'About Song of Songs: Romantic Love', page in his book, God's Epic Adventure (p. 139-40):
Its interpretive history is intriguing.  It has been read and understood in many different ways over the centuries.  Very few, if any would have interpreted the book as God's sex manual within marriage in the middle ages.  To do so would have caused excommunication.  Today it is most commonly interpreted as a book about the erotic passion between spouses...
...The Song of Songs does not appear to be an allegorical or typological message through which one can view God.  It does however, appear to be a bold presentation on the wholesomeness and biblical balance of the extremes of sexual excess and asceticism...
...While God is never mentioned by name in the Song, the book teaches by inference, using the marriage metaphor, that God and Israel have a marriage covenant which promises exclusive allegiance to God and does not allow Israel to commit adultery against God by sleeping with other gods.
And here is what G. Llyoyd Carr wrote in his book on The Song of Solomon (p. 23-4):
The assumption that the Song is purely allegorical has been widespread amongst English-speaking  evangelicals for many generations.  Their devotional writing on the Song has sometimes been of a high order, but that does not, of course, settle the question whether their basic approach is true to the text itself.  The recently published comment of the renown Reformed theologian, the late Professor John Murray, provides an admirable summary of the general difficulties raised in this approach: 'I cannot now endorse the allegorical interpretation of the Song of Solomon.  I think the vagaries of interpretation given in terms of the allegorical principal indicate that there are no well-defined hermeneutical canons to guide us in determining the precise meaning and application to guide us in determining the precise meaning and application if we adopt the allegorical view.  However, I also think that in terms of the biblical analogy the Song could be used to illustrate the relation of Christ and the church. If the Song portrays marital love and relationship on the highest levels of exercise and devotion, then surely it may be used to exemplify what is transcendently true in the bond that exists between Christ and the church.  One would have to avoid a great deal of the arbitrary and indeed fanciful interpretations to which the allegorical view leads and which it would demand.'

I believe The Song of Songs is both a book that informs us about God's design and plan for erotic and romantic passion and devotion between married spouses, and a book about the divine romance between Christ and his people, the church, His bride.

In the garden of our lives, we see Christ, who is calling us to come away with him.  We have been waiting for and wanting him to come and bring something to us.  But He calls to us and makes a way for us, to come to Him.

The atmospheric, season change, is making it possible to see and be closer the God.  God comes in Jesus and draws us to His heart and leads us out into life, our lives and into the world, with Him.

He is saying, "Now is the time".  He is saying that it is a new day and new season and a new beginning.  A fresh start is here, if we will take Him up on the offer.

He has come to set us free and end our barrenness.  He has come to bring us out of hiding.  Jesus wants to cleanse us and bring us into union with Him for life and His purpose.

The time of sadness and a loss for words has past and it is now a time for singing.  He has put a new song in our hearts and we will sing it.

Our day of destiny is breaking out all around us.  To be with Him and walk in Him and know Him has always been our destiny and we are walking into it now, because He has changed the season and transformed the atmosphere, so that we can now see clearly.

Sky Links, 3-29-17

Photo: Spacebridge by longobord CC 2.0

Ministry In Your 60's

Doug Paul wrote a piece about why ministry in your 60's is the most fruitful season of your life:
And here is my question: Can you really lead a meaningful Kingdom movement before the age of 50? You could maybe plant seeds for it. But in terms of leading one, growing one, sustaining one…I wonder if you have to be 50 and older.
Because I wonder if the accrued wisdom needed to lead a multiplying Kingdom expression is simply not possible for someone who is younger. For instance, at least in my opinion, I’m not sure Paul was really contributing to a sustainable Kingdom movement in training and sending out his team until the beginning of Acts 19 in Ephesus. At that point in his life, Paul is probably well over 50. Furthermore, I’m more convinced than ever that Paul saw more sustained breakthrough as a broken down, old man in a prison cell, writing letters and warring in prayer for the young pastors he’d invested so much of his life into. The seeds have been planted, the ground had been watered and the Lord was making the thing grow.
This wasn’t sexy work. This wasn’t work that many people saw. But it was Paul bearing the most Kingdom fruit of his life.
Through a lot of brokenness, substantial failure and a smidgen of success, I’ve learned that at the end of the day, Kingdom work has very little do with IQ, smarts, and charismatic gifting. The best strategy and powerful preaching and even hard work is needed, but still incredibly limited. (In fact, I hear that if it can be explained by my own human effort, it’s not really Jesus: “Apart from me, you can do nothing.)
The most powerful Kingdom leadership comes from the wisdom of trying at something for more than 30 years, and all the failure that this entails, and all the way that life in the Spirit for this long a time grows someone. This kind of wisdom and leadership come from people whom the Lord has taken through the crucible of long term, sustained faithfulness and all the pain that comes with it, and all the sanctification this produces.
Our culture and our young leaders may gravitate towards overnight success and people finding it at a young age, but these things aren’t reproducible. And sometimes I think God is just gracious that way. Plus…even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then.
I’m starting to find certain things incredibly reproducible, and every day, my ability to do them grows…often most powerfully in the midst of my own mis-steps and failure. I expect that will lead to a lot of gained wisdom in the next 20-40 years, right?
I certainly hope so, or my posture as a disciples of Jesus (a learner and the humility that should come with that posture) is all a sham.
I say this as someone who is 35. And to be honest? For me, I find this liberating.
The Alexander Syndrome: Why 60 is the new 30, by Doug Paul

Going Into The Ministry and the confusing advice of, "Do not enter the ministry, if you can help it."

My pastor used to say, that if you are considering going into full time ministry (he may have actually said, "being a pastor") that you should only do it, if you can not do anything else.  I have been curious about that statement he made, and thought about it, over the years.  I did a little searching and realized that he was quoting Charles Spurgeon or perhaps he had heard this saying from someone else.  Here is the exact quote, taken from Spurgeon's lecture, "The Call To The Ministry" (p. 33):
“Do not enter the ministry if you can help it,”
For me, and for others, we might misunderstand these words of Spurgeon.  Here is the context of the statement:
“The first sign of the heavenly calling is an intense, all-absorbing desire for the work”  In order to a true call to the ministry there must be an irresistible, overwhelming craving and raging thirst for telling to others What God has done to our own souls; what if I call it a kind of such as birds have for rearing their young when the season is come; when the mother bird would sooner die than leave her nest. It was said of Alleine by one who knew him intimately, that “he was infinitely and insatiably greedy of the conversion of souls.” When he might have had a fellowship at his university, he preferred a chaplaincy, because he was “inspired with an impatience to be occupied in direct ministerial work.”  Do not enter the ministry if you can help it,” was the deeply sage advice of a divine to one who sought his judgment. If any student in this room could be content to be a newspaper editor, or a grocer, or a farmer, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or a senator, or a king, in the name of heaven and earth let him go his way; he is not the man in whom dwells the Spirit of God in its fulness, for a man so filled with God would utterly weary of any pursuit by that for which his inmost soul pants.  If on the other hand, you can say that for all the wealth of both the Indies you could not and dare not espouse any other calling so as to be put aside from preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, then, depend upon it, if other things be equally satisfactory, you have the signs of this apostleship. We must feel that woe is unto us if we preach not the gospel; the word of God must be unto us as fire in our bones, otherwise, if we undertake the ministry, we shall be unhappy in it, shall be unable to bear the self-denials incident to it, and shall be of little service to those among whom we minister. I speak of self-denials, and well I may; for the true pastor’s work is full of them, and without a love to his calling he will soon succumb, and either leave the drudgery, or move on in discontent, burdened with a monotony as tiresome as that of a blind horse in a mill."
The first thing that Spurgeon says here, helps clarify the quote.  He asks: Do you have, an intense, all-absorbing desire for the work?  Do you have that insatiable greed for the conversion of souls?  Do you identify with the preference of a chaplaincy over being an academic?  And do you have an inspirational impatience to be in direct ministerial work?

Would you be discontent in any occupation other than minister?  I think he might be saying something like, "do not go into the ministry, if you are drawn to something else, and there is nothing wrong with that".  His bottom line is that you should not be in the ministry (talking vocational, occupation) if you are not called; and people who are called have the passion for it, that he describes.

[And getting a check, wage, salary or income from 'doing' ministry is not at all what this discussion is about, so don't get confused there, and your examples are Jesus and Paul.  Jesus did not receive a salary and Paul was bi-vocational.  And both of them did not start their public ministries until mid or later life.]

Some notes about Spurgeon's life: When Spurgeon was 10 years old, he received a prophetic word from a missionary, named Richard Knill; that he would preach to thousands and would preach at the largest Dissenting church in London.  And through a goof up, Spurgeon missed being admitted to college and when he prepared to re-apply, he believed he heard God speak to him not to go.

By the time Spurgeon turned 20, he had already preached 600 times.  He also was a voracious reader, averaging 6 books a week, and he read The Pilgrim's Progress, when he was six and then read it 99 more times.  Hold that thought, for later when we read discussions on The Shack.

A couple other interesting notes are that he amassed a 12,000 volume library and he had two (twin) sons: one became a preacher who succeeded him at their church and the other took on the leadership of their orphanage.

These 'fun facts' are from, "32 Things You Might Not Know About Charles Spurgeon", on a Patheos blog called Born To Reform.

Interaction with Spurgeon's words about entering ministry:

Mike Ross, responds to Spurgeon's words, agreeing, but adding:
But the advice rings hollow if the man considering a call to the ministry has never tried anything else! I am a firm believer that a man should not begin seminary until three things have transpired:
1. He has seasoned enough in both years of life and experience (a combination of both) so that he meets the requirements of First Timothy 3: "not a new convert . . . let these also first be tested . . ." (3:6,10). How can a man "have a good reputation with those outside the church" (3:7) if he has never worked "outside the church"? Work experience and growth in grace, coupled with common-sense experience prepare a man for ministry. But they also let him try other careers and thus enable him to make an informed decision about his calling.

2. He has tested his gifts sufficiently enough that others in his church can affirm his calling to ministry. Too many young men show up to the first day of seminary classes "called to the ministry" without pastoral counsel, elder approval, ministry experience or testing by fire. Our seminaries are full of uncalled, ungifted men. Vocations must be examined by others over time. Paul warns against this mistake of "quick calls": "Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thus share the sins of others . . ." (1 Tim. 5:22).
3. He has learned what the person in the pew encounters day in and day out and has gained a sympathy for those whose walk in Christ is much more openly assaulted daily by the world than that of a pastor.
I find it convincingly apparent that Jesus Christ worked in a trade for years and did not enter the ministry until He was "about thirty years of age" (Luke 3:23). Perhaps there is something to the Old Testament requirement that a Levite be thirty years old before He began priestly service (Numbers 4). It is difficult for a man to truly know if he could do anything other than the pastorate if he has never had opportunity to do so!
If you can do anything other than pastor, should you?, By Mike Ross

Kevin DeYoung wrote a post about the Spurgeon quote about going into the ministry, called, A Quibble With Spurgeon.  It is notable that DeYoung seems to have gone straight into the ministry as a young man and began writing books, before the age of 30; the first of which was his book on the role of women in the church.  Kevin wrestles with the Spurgeon quote, and then says something, that I have actually heard myself:
...the Spurgeon quotation sometimes morphs into the strange notion that pastors go into the ministry because they aren’t good at anything else. On more than one occasion I’ve heard pastors say, mostly tongue in cheek I imagine, that the only reason they keep doing what they do is because they couldn’t get another job. This is decidedly not what Spurgeon had in mind. Toward the end of the same lecture he says, “A man who succeeds as a preacher would probably do right well either as a grocer, or a lawyer, or anything else. A really valuable ministry would have excelled at anything”
I am going to share the last two comments to Kevin's post:
(Geoff) I think that church leaders, as per Paul’s example (1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1, and 1 Thessalonians 1:4-2:12), should be able to work any job thankfully and to God’s glory.
It would be very difficult to teach men and women how to obey Jesus in the workplace if we’d never been there. Also, the fact is that many (as has been mentioned) have to lead churches and work one or two jobs.
The idea of training for something else is in no way a sign that somebody is not called, it’s a sign of a willingness to give the gospel free of charge. 1 Thessalonians 5:12 is clear that people who work to support the church financially are to be recognized, and they are the same people who teach the church. So, it seems to me that working is actually very helpful to being a pastor.
Though it would be like God to call somebody to be a leader in his church who has no special skills in any field, it would make sense for Christian leaders to have an array of skills to help any in need to set a good example. For instance, Richard Baxter and George Herbert learned to be both doctors and lawyers in their spare time.
(Ron) I Pastor a Church and work another job too. But I don’t believe God will allow me to leave the Pastorate.Paul says, Php 4:11 for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. Paul was also a tent maker. Further, Scripture says … Ec 9:10 Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest. The True Believer will be content and serving God, whatever he or she is doing and doing it with all their might and to God’s glory.
I think Spurgeon’s point has been missed. If God calls a man to Preach, God won’t allow that man to ‘not preach’. Therefore, if God allows you to go do something else, go do it. God did not call you to preach. Case in point, Jonah. God didn’t allow him to do anything else. The point not being the ‘other things’ but that the preaching must be done!
This is not making any statement about the work of the Holy Spirit in preaching only or whether a preacher is capable of doing anything else or not. The Only point is, If God is truly calling you to preach, He won’t let you go. If God won’t let you walk away from preaching, then you know it is a call to preach. (note also God’s call to Moses)
Kevin DeYoung: A Quibble With Spurgeon 

Joe McKeever shared his perspective, on this same issue, in a post called, You Know You're Called to This Work When...
My pastor friend was about to conduct the most difficult funeral of his nearly-20 year ministry. He and I had discussed it and I had prayed for him. His heart was breaking for the young family that was laying to rest two close loved ones.
In a private moment, I said to him, “Pastor to pastor, I want to ask you something. Even though this is tearing your heart out, do you find yourself thinking, ‘I’d rather be here doing this than anywhere else in the world’?”
He said, “I do! I really do.”
I said, “That’s how you know you are really called to this work.”
Later in his post, Joe gives two lists, illustrating "You now you are not called when...", and, "You know you are called when..."
First: You know you are not called into the pastoral ministry when….
1) … you cannot take the criticism, the antagonism, the animosity of the very people you came to minister to.
 2) …the church votes to fire you and you get angry and leave in a huff, and quit preaching.
 3)…the lay leadership wants to add another Sunday morning service and a Christmas Eve service, and you rebel because it adds to your work load.
4)…you do not love the people you’re ministering to.

Second: You know God called you into this ministry when….
1)…the work is hard, the rewards are few, the complaining is multiplying, and you are more fulfilled than in anything you’ve ever done in your life.
2)…you preached your heart out, you know beyond a doubt that the hand of God was on you, but the only response from the congregation was griping that you went overtime. And you are still happy to be serving those people in that pastorate.
3)…the deacons are discussing your ministry (pro and con; you do have your supporters) while you sit there in silence, and you find the peace of Christ settling upon you. You sense within yourself a strong love for your critics.

4)…you can’t do anything else.

5)…you take a well-needed vacation and when it’s over, you can’t wait to get back.

6)…you sincerely love the people you are ministering to. They’re sinful and can be difficult and the work is emotionally and spiritually draining. But you love them in a way that feels that it must be how the Lord loves them.
7)…you are truly burdened for the spiritual well-being of your people.
You Know You're Called to This Work When..., by Joe McKeever

What would happen if we gave every preacher the freedom to be real?

Since I was a kid, I have wondered about, "preacher personalities".  This is from a short piece by Emily Wierenga, titled Take the pastor off the pedestal: What would happen if we gave every preacher the freedom to be real?

I still remember the day when I sat in that pew and listened to my pastor tell us he’d been a single dad for years before going into seminary. How he’d made some choices he wasn’t proud of but how God had caught hold of him.
 And every Sunday I listen to him pray before he preaches, asking God in front of the whole congregation to not let him stand in the way of the word God wants to speak. To be a vessel for truth and to forgive any sin which stands in the way of him being this vessel.
 What would happen if we gave every preacher the freedom to be real?

Posts on The Shack

Curious About The Shack Movie?  Here are a few more articles, I liked.

From Ashley Linne's review:

  • As with any artwork, I approached the film with curiosity as to how God might speak to me through it. I was surprised that this film contained many fantastic and impactful visual metaphors. In my opinion, the film is worth viewing for that reason alone—for the artistic representations of abstract concepts that can be difficult to convey with words.
  • What stood out to me about the presentation of the Triune God is that He was happy. Joyful. Laughing. Dancing.
  • He was also always in a state of open invitation—inviting questions, inviting Mack to follow, inviting him into the mess and the pain and the mystery. 
  • I wonder how many times He has tried to get my attention and I have missed it. I wonder how often I have been preoccupied with dissecting the innumerable aspects of God’s character and forgotten that ultimately, they all rest within Love.  
  • Many Christian adults perhaps have not had the opportunity to learn or hone the skills needed to approach a film like The Shack with open minds and hearts, and this could contribute to a culture of fear, ridicule, and avoidance. It is of utmost importance to be firm in our convictions and for us to be rooted in Scripture. But that grounded, sure footing should allow us to travel into unfamiliar places and to return with tales of the voyage. Have we inadvertently taught people to avoid the mess—the art—of the journey and instead skip too soon to the healing? The problem with that is, as we see in this film, healing cannot be attained except through the valley of darkness and the passage of time.

 The Shack, movie review, by Ashley Linne

Sometimes, the comments threads, from a post are very rich.  Here are a few of Roger Olson's replies to comments on his positive review on The Shack movie:

  • (Question) So, how does this movie present the "Gospel"?  (RO Answer) Underlying "the gospel" as you express it is a deeper truth--that God is love. That is the main point of the book and the movie. Many people say it, but many don't understand it (especially those under the influence of Calvinism). The "gospel" is not really good news if it's just for God's own glorification and not an expression of God's compassionate love for all people.
  • (Comment/Question) William Paul Young claims his book is more than a novel and claims to have had real conversations with God that he includes in the book and I'm guessing the movie included some of those conversations.  Do you believe he had these conversations with God?  It may not be a systematic theology book but it is theology wrapped in a story and some people are using it that way.  (RO Answer) For the most part it is good theology wrapped in a story. People should focus on the theology, not the imagery. Unfortunately, in my opinion, many critics (some of who refuse to even see the movie!) focus on the imagery--which is clearly not to be taken literally--rather than on the theology. I suspect many of them (mostly Reformed/Calvinist critics) think the imagery is the "soft underbelly" of the book and the movie and they use it to persuade their followers not even to see the movie. I would prefer it if they would stop that (because I think they're smarter than that) and focus on the theology. I have no problem with someone claiming to have had a conversation with God. Why would God not converse with us? I just don't believe anything God is believed to have said in such a conversation is authoritative for all believers. When I read or hear it I test it by what Scripture says and especially the person of Jesus Christ.
  • (Reply) I'm not Reformed/Calvinist (in fact I'm very critical of Covenant Theology, TULIP and Amillennialism) and the critics Iv'e read are not either except for Tim Challies. I think there is a problem with people claiming to have conversations with God, I'm not saying being prompted to do something or reminded of scripture by the Holy Spirit but believe God converses to us through scripture. I agree everything should be tested by scripture. Seems most who claim conversations with God are off in their theology...  (RO Response) It's a distant God you believe in. The God I believe in did not stop speaking when Scripture was completed. I have myself had conversations with God. Not that I tell everyone about them, but they have profoundly influenced my awareness that God is alive and wants communion with his people.
  • (Reply) That is a snap judgement. The God of the bible came and dwelt in me may years ago, that's why he came, not to come and go, but to dwell in us. The primary way to know him is to read the scriptures and yield to them by faith. I think you are believing in extra biblical teaching that leads one away from God not closer.  (RO Response) Well, you have no idea. You are just guessing. I, too, believe that God, through the Holy Spirit, dwells in every true Christian. But I don't believe God the Holy Spirit speaks to us only through the Bible. The Bible is the norm for testing all messages from God. You should read Wayne Grudem's book on prophecy. He has impeccable evangelical theological credentials, but he wrote a whole book on God's contemporary speaking to God's people. Go read it.

  • (Comment) Dr. Olson,

    I guess I'm not too surprised at the criticism The Shack has received by the "Christian community". I would say I was a little shocked at the idea it is the worst deception in the last 200 years of Christianity or the possibility that the author is the anti-christ.

    It seems many people criticize the book for what it is not (a college text book on systematic theology).  (RO Reply) I have two reactions to the criticisms: 1) Most of it is from Calvinists and I expect that (the book and movie are clearly more Arminian), and 2) Many of the critics are simply taking the imagery too literally and expecting the story to encompass a systematic theology. I offered some criticisms of the book in my book Finding God in The Shack, but I acknowledged that the book is not meant to teach everything or even be an orthodox system of theology. I take it that the author wants us to think about it, not swallow every word (as if he were a fundamentalist "Bible teacher").

  • (Comment/Question from RP) ...So my question is this, are you OK with supporting a book that came from that author, that paints a picture of God that is entirely untrue, and comes from a source that very happily admits to believing heresy?  (RO Reply) So it would be wrong for me to recommend as a very good book one written by Martin Luther because later he wrote extremely anti-Semitic literature? C'mon. I was reviewing only one book and one movie based on it--not everything else by the same author. I haven't read anything else by him and it doesn't matter to whether The Shack itself is good or not good. Stick to the subject.

  • (Comment/Question from M) Don't know why God was played by a woman and later by a Native American. Am I nit picking or is there a theme of co redemptrix?  (RO Reply) Yes, you are nit-picking. "Papa" explains to make--both in the book and the movie--why he is appearing to him in those ways and that those appearances are not to be taken literally.

  • (Comment by MK) .....WOW.......just.....WOW!!! This movie hit me on so many levels.....I was completed consumed by the emotions and the inspiration of it. I never in a million years think I was going to be hit so hard by a movie. It was just......WOW. Touching and raw on so many levels......a fantasic movie.....just WOW............
These were comments from the post, Finding God in "The Shack", by Roger Olson

Scot McKnight re-posted Allan Bevere's post, in a post called, Baffled By Criticisms of The Shack?  Allan's post is based on the book.  Here are some great points that Allan made:
  • I love theology and I love the necessary precision of theological language. But I also love the imaginative narrative that displays theology in ways that speak to the head and to the heart, which is why I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Shack several years ago and found myself rather baffled then, and somewhat mystified now with the advent of the movie, at so many of the very negative appraisals of the book (and now the movie) on theological grounds from other Christians.
  • I heard Paul Young speak several years ago. If you ever get an opportunity to hear him you must make the effort. As I listened to Paul, I remember becoming rather angry at the charge of heresy that had been leveled against him by those, who may know their theology, but know little about the nature of true heresy, as well as having no idea how to express theological truth in a way that makes a difference in people’s lives.
  • C.S. Lewis often complained that the biggest problem with theologians was that they lacked imagination in their theological explications. If Lewis were still alive he would know that little has changed.  
  • I am an unapologetic Nicene-Chalcedonian trinitarian theologian; and I applaud Paul Young for his portrayal of the Trinity and his narrative display of some of our most significant beliefs and convictions in The Shack.
Comments from others:
  • (JF) ...While the theologians quibble over Young's theology (with some degree of justification), I got caught up in the story presented both in the book and in the movie.
  • (F)  wonder what the critics of 'The Shack' have to say about 'Left Behind'?
  • (ES) ...I too thought of Jesus' many parables and stories where he does not fully portray God. The Prodigal Son is a prime example. Story has a very different role in telling the truth about God and life. To evaluate a novel or movie as if they are thinly veiled propositional truths is to miss the point. In the Incarnation, Jesus came and lived the story of God before us. It was the most full portrayal possible. But even the Word in flesh left plenty of mystery and aspects of God un-portrayed.
The original post from the author, Allan Brevere, The Shack: Theological Precision and Narrative Imagination

Scott McKnight hosted another review by a friend of his, John Frye (JF in the comment above).  Here are some great things John wrote:
  • First, the movie is an art form. Say it out loud, “Art form.” Neither the book nor the film is a theology textbook about God and the Trinity. I liked the scene of the Father, Son, and Spirit sitting at the meal table.
  • Second, I did not pick up in the movie a clear sense of universalism (which is thrown about by the “burn it down” crowd). There was no “all religions lead to God” teaching though it is not unknown that Young himself tips in the universalism direction. I did not see sin and evil taken lightly with no judgment to fear.
  • Third, I did not see nor hear the Bible being belittled or set aside. Though there is a little poke at those who think the living God is trapped within the pages of a Book.
  • Fourth, I was impressed by the depiction of devastating human pain and the Jesus’ command to love and, yes, forgive. How can a good, loving God plan or allow evil? That question is raised and dealt with satisfactorily (yet, perhaps, not to the satisfaction of all). 
  • People who have a hard time with The Shack probably have a hard time with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, too. But I could be wrong. (emphasis in the original post)

At Internet Monk, Chaplain Mike brough back a couple of posts that the late Michael Spencer wrote, when the controversy was bubbling over the original book.  In his introduction, Mike wrote these words that encapsulate something profound:
This is about the place — I would say the essential place — of imagination and art in Christian expression.
Some great points that Michael Spencer made (about the book):

  • ...this is not a systematic theology, and that those looking for errors could easily find them. But it’s important to remember that Young was writing a theological parable of sorts, for his children, not for a seminary faculty.
  • He’s not trying to start anything or rescue evangelicalism. He’s reporting on the God he’s come to know and love. Like most people who dream of writing a novel, it’s full of his own journey to understand life’s most important realities. In his case, that takes us back to the shack for a journey of forgiveness and rediscovering God.
  • When critics say that the book promotes worshiping God as a woman, they’ve completely missed the point. They might be a tad overenthusiastic. Young’s choice of imagery isn’t teaching theology or inviting worship. It’s trying to prod us, even shock us a bit, out of thinking of God as a set of handouts and into seeing God in surprisingly personal terms. Young isn’t trying to start a church. He’s wanting you to rediscover the God who loves you. He HAS left out some of the points and subpoints of systematic theology. Tweak your setting accordingly.
  • Young is a writer of fiction; a story-teller. The prodigal’s father, the unjust judge, the owner of the vineyard, the mother hen, the Rock, the lamb……all of these are literary explorations of God in the context of story, not pure theology. None of them can be taken beyond the boundaries of legitimate literary use. Pressed too far, they become– hang on — heretical. And they are all in scripture.
  • You may find Young’s theology of the resolution of good and evil to be unconvincing. That’s fair, but it’s also fair that Young gets to play the game we’re all playing on that issue. It’s not like there’s a simple answer and no one is still trying to articulate something that speaks to us where we are.
  • The Shack is a pilgrimage. It’s an allegorical account of one person’s history with God; a history deeply affected by the theme of “The Great Sadness.” It’s a journey, and overlooking what’s going on in Mack’s journey is a certain prescription of seeing The Shack as a failed critique of Knowing God.
  • I’ve come to believe that the most significant reason for The Shack’s early success- certainly the reason I picked it up- is the endorsement from Eugene Peterson on the cover, an endorsement where Peterson refers to Young’s book as another “Pilgrim’s Progress.” That’s not a random compliment.
  • The Knights of Reformed Orthodoxy like to talk about Pilgrim’s Progress as if it is Calvin’s Institutes made into a movie. In reality, Bunyan’s Book is a personal pilgrimage, one that illustrated his version of Christian experience and retold his own experiences.
  • Even Spurgeon realized that Bunyan’s theology wasn’t completely dependable. The loss of the “burden” comes after a long search for relief, a storyline that reflected Bunyan’s own struggles with assurance and obsessive subjectivity. Few pastors today would endorse a version of the Gospel that left people wandering in advanced states of conviction, unable to find any way to receive forgiveness. Bunyan’s particular personality has too much influence on his presentation of belief and assurance.
  • But what Bunyan does illustrate is valuable in a manner much different than a theological outline. He tells the story of a journey from guilt to forgiveness, the confrontation with worldly powers, spiritual conflict, imperfect fellow believers and the inertia and resistance within ourselves. We can measure Bunyan’s book by measurements of correct theology, but I believe most of us know that this isn’t the proper measurement for Pilgrim’s Progress. We should measure it as a presentation of one Christian’s life.
  • It’ a story of a journey.
  • The same could be said of many other books. Take C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed. It’s the journey of grieving the death of a spouse. Along the way, God’s appearances are all over the map because the “pilgrim” is moving in his journey through “the Great Sadness.”

Internet Monk, Fridays with Michael Spencer: March 10, 2017 — On “The Shack”

Here's a good word: 
In the Essentials, Unity. In Non-Essentials, Liberty. And in All Things, Charity.
The original source is Peter Meiderlin, who also was known as, Rupertus Meldenius:
“In a word, were we to observe unity in essentials, liberty in incidentals, and in all things charity, our affairs would be certainly in a most happy situation.”

I See The Lord Now, Today

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
-Psalm 118:24

I see the Lord now, today.

Today is the day of salvation.  Today is the day of deliverance.  Today is the day to trust God.

Today thank God.  Today trust God.  Today see God.

The Lord is here.  He is on the scene.  The Lord is working.

I see the Lord.  I see Him now.  I am glad, thankful and filled with joy about what I see God doing in my life and in those around me.

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.  There is no better day than today, to begin praising God.  There is no better time to trust Him.

Today is a day to choose to worship Him.  Today we have the opportunity, like no other day, to express our thanks to God.

Today is a day to begin trusting God.  Today we can begin to see God as good.  Today is a new day.

Every day is a day with God.  Every day is a day for God.  Every day is a day God made that we can choose to rejoice and be glad in.

Today is a day when I will choose to see God's goodness.  Today is a day like no other day.  This day is a day to rejoice in because the Lord is my God.

I see the Lord as good and loving, kind and gracious, filled with mercy and faithfulness.  My heart is glad when I consider God.  Today I will be be filled with joy, because of the Lord.

I am no longer waiting on the Lord, but I now see the Lord and what the Lord has done already.  I am filled with thankfulness today.  I am going to live in today, knowing that God is at work, in me, around me, and in the lives of the people dear to me.

I see the Lord today and I am thankful.  Today is the day that I am letting joy flow.  I am no longer waiting for a breakthrough, waiting for the heavens to open, waiting for a miracle.  Instead, I see the Lord today, where I am.  And I see the Lord in all the people I know.

I am celebrating today.  The Lord is here.  The Lord is mine today.

The Lord has made my day.

I am thanking God and living in what He has done.  I will no longer discount today and short circuit my happiness.  I now see God and will live in today.

I see clearly now.  I see today as the day when the Lord has acted and intervened.  It may have happened yesterday, last week, last year or even many years ago; but I see what the Lord has done now, today.

A seed planted has sprung forth.  A plant planted has flowered.  A tree now is filled with abundant fruit.

I see it now.  I see the Lord today.

It did not happen today, but I see it today.  I am glad today.  I have been waiting for God while God has been waiting for me.

I have gotten up and gotten out and looked around and I now see all the good things.  My heart has changed and I am no longer pessimistic, cynical or negative.  I'm not judging things anymore.

Where I thought I saw 'impossible', I now see 'possible'.  On the hardest places, I now see the Lord and his encouragement.  I sense the Lord saying something like, "If I am with you, you will be ok".

I don't don't sense the Lord saying, "You can do it", but, "I will be with you".  I also have a strong, I mean overpowering sense that the Lord says, "I have been with you and I am with you today".

Don't misunderstand me,  I am not saying that I sense the Lord saying, "You can not do it", but I sense the Lord saying that He is with me and has been with me.

I saw one note on Psalm 118, that told me everything: "This is the psalm or "hymn" that Jesus likely sang after the Passover supper with his disciples, before making his way to Gethsemane and Calvary" (TPT, Psalms, p, 253).  

This is the whole backstory on Psalm 118, from Thomas Constable:
This is the last in this series of the Egyptian Hallel psalms (Pss. 113—118). It describes a festal procession to the temple to praise and sacrifice to the Lord. The historical background may be the dedication of the restored walls and gates of Jerusalem in Ezra and Nehemiah’s time, following the return from Babylonian captivity, in 444 B.C.[474] It contains elements of communal thanksgiving, individual thanksgiving, and liturgical psalms. The subject is God’s loyal love for His people. The situation behind it seems to be God’s restoration of the psalmist after a period of dishonor. This would have been a very appropriate psalm to sing during the Feast of Tabernacles as well as at Passover and Pentecost. The Lord Jesus and His disciples probably sang it together in the Upper Room at the end of the Lord’s Supper (cf. Matt. 26:30).

And this is what Derek Kidner wrote, in his commentary (pp. 412-13):
“As the final psalm of the ‘Egyptian Hallel’, sung to celebrate the Passover . . ., this psalm may have pictured to those who first sang it the rescue of Israel at the Exodus, and the eventual journey’s end at Mount Zion. But it was destined to be fulfilled more perfectly, as the echoes of it on Palm Sunday and in the Passion Week make clear to every reader of the Gospels.”
And, I am always interested in seeing the context of a verse.  This is the immediate context, of the previous two verses:
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
This came from the Lord; it is wonderful in our eyes.
This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Am here it is, with the preceding five verses, for more context:
Open the gates of righteousness for me;
I will enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous will enter through it.
I will give thanks to You because You have answered me and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
This came from the Lord; it is wonderful in our eyes.
This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
This is a twenty-nine verse psalm.  It starts with the words,
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, His faithful love endures forever.  
And the center verse, verse fourteen, echoes the song of deliverance, from Exodus 15:
The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.
These two verses, one and fourteen, are what this psalm is about.  This is what rejoicing in the day that the Lord has made is all about.  Every day is the day of deliverance, with the Lord.

At every Passover, from the days of Moses, up to the night of the last supper; people worshipped the Lord for that day, the day, today: this day.  Every day is the day of deliverance, because that is what God is all about.

We live in the kingdom of God.  The kingdom is already and not yet.  We know this, and neither live in the triumphalism of an over realized eschatology, nor in a futurist theological mindset that says, "it's all future, so I will just wait".  Wait for the rapture or wait for God to do the next big thing.

Triumphalism and futurism are both errors and extremes, detrimental, unhealthy and dysfunctional (and fattening).  The kingdom life, the Jesus life, is lived in the already of the kingdom, while eagerly anticipating the not yet and seeing the not yet breaking into today, while still being held back as not (fully) yet.

This is the day that the Lord has made.  I will rejoice and be glad in it.

I see the Lord now.

Today is the day of salvation.  Today is the day of deliverance.  Today is the day to trust God.

Today thank God.  Today trust God.  Today see God.

The Lord is here.  He is on the scene.  The Lord is working.

I see the Lord.  I see Him now.  I am glad, thankful and filled with joy about what I see God doing in my life and in those around me.

Resigned To Jesus Christ and Him Crucified

For I didn't think it was a good idea to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
-1 Corinthians 2:2

When we interface with other people, we have to be careful to not get away from Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  This applies in friendships, families and with people we meet in the marketplace.

When we gather for a small or large meet up, forgetting Jesus Christ and his crucifixion is the greatest mistake.  I imagine that this is why many churches believe in taking communion or the Eucharist at each formal meeting.

But that is not what Paul is saying nor is it the application.  The word here is saying that I am not going to get in the way of Jesus Christ and His crucifixion and I am not going to be a part of you steering us, away from Jesus Christ and His crucifixion; when we meet.

Part of the message of 1 Corinthians is that we do celebrate Christ and find Him in the midst of our fellowship, as we eat together; in the same way as Jesus was found, seen, heard and felt when He ate and drank with His first disciples.  We redirect our thoughts, hearts and awareness towards Jesus Christ and Him crucified, when we raise a cup and lift a loaf, together and speak words of thanks to God, together.

When we interface with people in combos or larger groups, we can be intentional to focus our hearts on Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  If we are not, we may focus of other things other than Jesus Christ.  This seems like stating the obvious, but I believe that the reason we have a word like this is that we are so easily distracted and so easily taken off center.

This is number one, a word for me and you.  It is secondly a word for others.  Many people are so distracted or immature, broken or in bondage; that they can not hear this advice.  You and I must do it and have this in our hearts and minds, and then be a corralling force.

The way of bringing Jesus Christ and Him crucified to a relationship between me and another or others, is for me to be crucified with Christ.  This is the message and the means.  That means big Jesus and little me.

If I am crucified with Christ, I am completely resigned to Him.  My strengths that I was born with, my talents, my abilities are all nothing, if I am crucified with Christ.  This means that I am completely at the service of God and others.

This means that people can take advantage of me and even bore me to death, so to speak.  The good news is that people who are crucified with Christ get to be resurrected with Christ, now.  The resurrection life of Christ is going to look, sound and feel like Christ.

The only way for me to be like Christ is to be crucified with Him and then be utterly dependent on Him for His life in me.

The paradox is that people need Christ, but they want to avoid being crucified with Him.  Wisdom and spirituality and every talent or ability that can be received and enjoyed from God; is wonderful.  But the life of Christ does not work, flow or can not be received without the crucifixion of Christ.

He came, He lived, He died, He rose from the dead and He ascended.  Even before Jesus died, he told his first followers that they can only follow him, if they took up or embraced their own crucified lives.

For Christians, in life, when we interface with other people, we have to be careful to not get away from Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  This applies in friendships, families and with people we meet in the marketplace.

Whatever the issue is that others have or bring, I want to be resigned to Jesus, when I am among them.  And what I want to do is to be in His life.  And I want to invite others who have not partaken of Christ to know Him.  I want to be a person who is resigned to Jesus Christ and Him crucified.


All the Israelites complained about Moses and Aaron,and the whole community told them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this wilderness!
-Numbers 14:2

We live in a complaining culture and most Christians complain constantly.  Have you ever wondered why complaining is a constant thing for many people?  I think it is one of the easiest ways for us to be taken off-track, off-point, fouled-out, de-commissioned or sidelined.

Many years ago, I went to a conference.  And between sessions, we heard people in the halls complaining that the bathrooms were not well stocked.  Many times, in later years I noticed that we could complain that the music was too loud, too soft; or that the a/c was too cold or too stuffy and a hundred other things.

And that is just complaining in church, where all sorts of good things are happening.  We complained a lot more during the other six days of the week.

There are many Bible verses that say that we must have faith.  God does many things, the biggest of which was sending Jesus.  And our little job is to have faith or believe.  We had a saying when I was a boy, "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it!"

Complaining kills or puts a wet blanket on faith or 'faith-ing'.  Two people are encountering the same difficulty.  One has faith, holding God in their heart; while the other complains, and turns away from God.

When we complain, we are not having faith, and we are making a choice that is turning away from God.  To pray to God about the difficulty is a whole different matter and is completely endorsed by God, because when we pray, we are exercising faith and turning towards God.

It is wise to turn your complaint into a prayer.  In the story cited in Numbers 14, all of the people complained about Moses and Aaron.  The 'about' is the problem.  The better way that would have been if they cried out to the Lord.

They could have said, "God, this looks impossible; what are we going to do!", or anything along those lines.  And it is the same thing today, with us and our difficulties.  I always think of this line from the song, "What A Friend We Have In Jesus":

Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer

We are so accustomed to constantly complaining.  Facebook, Twitter, blog posts, podcasts, and 'news' articles; are often:

  • Complaints
  • Criticisms
  • Grievances
  • Taking umbrage
  • Seething discontent: murmuring or grumbling
So, as Christians, when we do life, we complain.  And then we wonder why our lives do not work, why we have no power and little authority.

When Christians gather, whether in a tiny group of two or three, or in a small group at a house, or with a larger group in a building; we come with our complaints and grievances, oftentimes against leaders or authority people.

The story told in Numbers 13 and 14 explores the themes of God offering a great gift, that to some seems too good to be true.  And unfortunately, some people take a gift from God a despise it.  They do not accept it and ridicule it as being a cruel joke.

A man or a woman hears about and is given the gospel of Jesus, including what He did on the cross and what that means about God and for us.  And that man or woman rejects the gospel and despises the gift of God.  We might say, "they don't get it", "they aren't ready", or even, "they aren't chosen"; and we know that there is this issue of Satan blinding the hearts of people, so they can not see the truth of the gospel.

But what about people who are already saved and delivered from the spiritual blindness that Satan inflicts on non-believers?  What about people who cannot or will not grow up and move on to maturity in their Christian lives?  

What about the figurative mountain of maturity that people refuse to scale, that has gifts for them waiting on each higher level; and many believers choose to live their whole lives in the valley, looking at the mountain before them as being 'too hard'?

All of Exodus and the first 13 chapters of Numbers, looks forward to the people of God getting into the promised land.  After all that build up and expectation, as a people, they say, "no".  They turn God down and don't believe.

They don't trust God.  A foundation of the life is trusting God.  The Israelites had all those signs and wonders in their history, but when the final exam came or at the moment of truth, their trust was not there.

How does the story of the rejection of God and the promises of God that go all the way back to Abraham and Sarah, apply to Christians today who complain?  Maybe the common denominator is covenant.  They were in a covenant with God that they broke that day and we also are in a covenant with God.

In a covenant, each side promises to do certain things.  It boils down to God saving us and us saying, "yes", or "yes, I will let you save me, which entails my surrendering my whole life to you".

When they said, "It's too hard!", and when we say the same, we are forgetting the covenant where God says that He does the saving and we do the obeying.  When we begin to talk 'about' God and 'about' how what God is asking of us is 'too hard', we are in trouble.  Another way we do it, is that we talk 'about' all our problems and leave God out of the equation.  

We become 'unbelieving believers' (oxymoronic).  We do a whole variety of Christian activities, but we constantly express unbelief and covenant breaking through complaining.  We seethe with grievances.  We have little of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

We belong to the community of believers, but we don't believe.  The story of the Israelites refusing to go into their land of promise is a very tragic and sad story.  And why is it in the Bible, both for the pre-Jesus people and for us?

It is a lesson on faith and obedience.  It is a lesson called "Trust God".  Back then, under the Old Covenant, and now, under the New Covenant; God brings us to Himself, for His glory; and we must in turn, reciprocally give over our lives to Him, in trust and obedience, by His grace and through faith.

Instead of complaining, pray.  If you are a 'cry baby', at least cry to God and let God love you.  If you are fearful, turn to God for comfort and strength.

When someone complains, love them and say, "let's pray".  If they have a story and praying with them just is not going to happen, then be like Jesus was with the woman at the well (John 4): listen to her and listen to what the Spirit of God is saying and gives you to say to her that will bring her closer to God.

Our Sorrows Call Us into The Kindness of God

My deep need calls out to the deep kindness of your love.
Your waterfall of weeping sent waves of sorrow
over my soul carrying me away,
cascading over me like a thundering cataract.
-Psalm 42:7 (TPT)

Our sorrows call us into the kindness of God.  Our grieving is an opportunity to know God.  The deep pain we have experienced is filled by God.

For those who have experienced deep sorrow, a deep experience of God's kindness is available.  The experience begins with the realization that God has been with you in your suffering.  And God is here today, to wash you with tears.

For the one who has experienced great sorrow, God has a washing and cleansing journey.

Some of us deal with sorrow by saying or living either:
  1. "It did not happen."
  2. "It happened, but should not have."
  3. "It happened, but it's no big deal."
Number one is denial.  Number two is a calculated life, that is "tit for tat", "cause and effect" or a sort of legalism; and may include unforgiveness and the bitterness towards others, God or yourself.  Number three is minimizing, where I might see myself as more than human, or less than human: "that did not hurt", or, "I must have deserved it".

All three of these are dysfunctional.  Dysfunctional means that our functioning is blocked.  When our functioning is blocked, we become stuck as smaller people than we could be; and we impose on ourselves a constricted life.

The fourth way is to say, "God is good and His kindness is more than I know."
  1. "It did happen, and God was with me and experienced all of it with me."
  2. "I don't know why it happened, but I know that God was with me and loved me in that time."
  3. "It was a big deal and hurt, even excruciatingly; and God was with me."
As we get the revelation of God's kindness and that God was with us in whatever painful experience we went through, we might circle back to "why?", many times.  That is simply the wrong question.  And the wrong answer is that God is not good or is bad.

When we come out of denial, blaming and minimizing; and embrace the reality of our pain, loss and sorrow; the next step or stage is a deeper revelation of God:  God is kind, God is good, God is compassionate and God is merciful to me.

That God who is The God, is the one I can be real with and let my sorrows flow before.  God's deep kindness, deep love, deep comfort and deep healing has always been available.  There is a time in our journey, when we come to realize this and begin to call to God for God's deep kindness.

Our lives with the deep pain and the deep need for healing and wholeness, become a prayer.  The revelation that comes is that God weeps with us and for us.  God has intercessory tears for us.

Our sorrows call us into the kindness of God.  Our grieving is an opportunity to know God.  The deep pain we have experienced is filled by God.

For those who have experienced deep sorrow, a deep experience of God's kindness is available.  The experience begins with the realization that God has been with you in your suffering.  And God is here today, to wash you with tears.

The Lord's Favorite Place

The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
-Psalm 87:2

The Lord has a favorite place on earth.  His favorite place is the place where people come into His presence.  That is what the gates of Zion means.

The gates of Zion is God's Golden Gate Bridge.

Zion is a place, a mountain, that is real and symbolic.  Zion is the hill that Jerusalem is built on and Zion is the mountain that the temple is built on.  But today it is a place that points to something.

Zion today, is a word that signifies the people of God.  The Lord loves the gates of His people.  The gates signify the entryway and authority of Christ that believers live in with the Lord.

The gates are the ways and the means.  That is to say, the Lord loves the gates of Zion, because the Lord loves people who are living in Christ.  God's plan has always been for people to come and be transformed and then to go out with Him, into the world.

The gates of Zion are the place where people are transformed.  People come into Christ, through the gates.  Then people go out into the world as God's missionaries in Christ, through those same gates.

The gates of Zion signify the authority given by Jesus to his church.  Jesus said, 
"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
-Matthew 28:18-20
Notice that baptism comes before teaching.  The beginning of discipleship is baptism.  This is something I learned recently, from a Baptist friend, who is insightful.

The great commision is to go out and make disciples. And the first thing a disciple does is to get baptized.

Jesus method is to go out and find people, make them disciples and baptize them, where they live.

Baptism is part of mission and evangelism.  I think that if you study baptism in the NT, you will find that it always happens outside of the more formal meetings.  As soon as you become a disciple, you get baptized.

It is natural, powerful and solemn; with prayer, and in the authority of Jesus, which all believers possess.

Jesus simply said, "go out into the world, in my authority. You are all authorized, as missionaries, to make disciples.  And first baptise them."  There is no mention from him of getting people into the church (meeting houses) first or through catechism or confirmatory classes before the event of baptism.

The gates of Zion, are the authority to say, "you are in", to people.  And baptising someone, where you find them, says, or is symbolic of, "you're in".  Every Christian is authorized by Jesus, to go out, into the world, and find people; to make them disciples and immediately baptize them.

That is the great commission.  That is the assignment from Jesus to all Christians.  This is permission.

The gates of Zion signify coming and going.  Coming into Christ and going out with Christ.  And we do both, through his authority.

And there is also an enemy of Christ in the world.  He also has a kingdom and authority.  A battle is going on between God's and Satan's kingdoms.

Jesus said,
"I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it"                                                           -Matthew 16:18b (ESV)
The gates of Zion prevail over the gates of hell.  The gates of hell means the comings and goings or the commerce of the forces of darkness.  Gates also means power or force, and hell also means hades.

The church has authority over the spiritual forces of darkness in the world today, through Jesus.  There is a battle going on and we are on God's side.

The authority or authorization that Jesus gives his people, is to take territory and capture people out from the hands or clutches of the enemy.  As the church Jesus builds expands, it also extends into areas or spheres where the enemy has held influence, and takes that territory or spheres of influence away from the enemy and takes it for the kingdom of God.

The church and the people in the church, believers; are the soldiers of God, in the world, who put their feet on the ground and take the territory that Christ makes a way to be taken.  The church was never meant to be just a house of refuge, but the mountain that is Zion, and has authority from Jesus.

The way for the world to be evangelized is to take the church into the world.  And this is part of the destiny, calling and inheritance of the church that Jesus has had in mind.

The Lord has a favorite place on earth.  His favorite place is the place where people come into His presence.  That is what the gates of Zion means.

The gates of Zion is God's Golden Gate Bridge.

Zion is a place, a mountain, that is real and symbolic.  Zion is the hill that Jerusalem is built on and Zion is the mountain that the temple is built on.  But today it is a place that points to something.

Zion today, is a word that signifies the people of God.  The Lord loves the gates of His people.  The gates signify the entryway and authority of Christ that believers live in with the Lord.