Archive for August, 2018

Meeting

In my 35 years of working experience I have come to recognize a phenomenon I call The Meeting Culture. Interestingly enough it crosses through the borders of the various regions in which I have been employed, across industries and even informal groups.  It became more salient in the later part of my career in the hospitality industry because I was engaged in trouble shooting challenged operations.  As I refocused my life on ministry and spiritual growth I was somewhat surprised to find the same culture at play within the fellowship of ministry, but then people are people no matter where we are.  Interestingly enough the heart of the culture has its genesis in both settings.

The early church, particularly the early Jewish church experienced a new phenomenon.  The practice of Judaism had long been tolerated by the Romans.  Zealots and radicals were put down but synagogues and temple worship were given a pass by the Latin conquerors.  However this new practice, these followers of Jesus were not content with their own kind and taught intolerance of other religions. Jesus was not just a god among gods, he was the God and the only one worthy of worship by all, not just the Jewish people.  Pack that up with the rumors spread by opponents and Christianity became anathema to 1st century rulers.  Gathering became dangerous.  It came to the point that the writer of Hebrews had to encourage and even mandate that the early believers meet together for fellowship and encouragement in the faith (Hebrews 1:25).  However there is a danger.  One that Paul clearly recognized when he wrote to the Corinthians and condemned their time together as not focused on their faith, “…because you come together not for the better but for the worse.”  He extends this warning in a positive sense when in Ephesians 4 he states:  “And he gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;”  Ephesians 4:11-12  When the meetings stop resulting in “the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ.” – and this is not your local church body – then it ceases to serve or follow the Gospel.

This is what I found as I started engaging businesses in crisis.  The deeper the crisis, the more meetings they had scheduled.  They would have manager meetings, department meetings, position meetings, strategy meetings, every kind of meeting that you can imagine.  They would plan these meetings, record these meetings and unfortunately never adequately execute anything that came out of these meetings.  In most cases the company had fully executable procedures and policies already in place.  So that raises the question, “What is the purpose, what is the drive for all those meetings?”  It became pretty obvious that even in distressed operations people need to feel successful.  This is what they find in their endless meetings…success.  They are able to have the most successful meetings.  They come out of the meetings feeling like they have made real progress.  They feel like they are fulfilling their purpose and calling.  The focus of success ceases to be the execution of purpose but becomes the discussion and planning of purpose.  However life and business are hard.  So when push comes to shove it is easier to have another meeting than to actually hold oneself accountable for the execution necessary for success.  This was fortunate for me as it kept me employed for a couple of decades.

So how does all this apply to our faith.  Let me be clear the gathering of the Saints is mandated by Scripture and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  The problem is when the meetings instead of focusing our faith become the focus of our faith.  When the center of our faith life is in a building instead of in our hearts; that building becomes a cage for the Gospel instead of a launching pad.  The impetus for this is the same as the meeting focused businesses that I have engaged.  We believe that we can find success in our meetings (services, gathering, experiences….).  We can be holy, inspired and powerful inside those four walls.  We are rarely challenged and often supported inside those four walls (unless we find ourselves challenging the culture inside those four walls!).  We are safe in the practice of our faith inside those four walls.  After the conversion of Emperor Constantine in 312 AD Christianity transitioned from a fringe group of Jesus fanatics to the primary religion of Europe.  It was during this period that a corollary to the Meeting Culture developed.  It is the idea that there are special “professional” children of God who really should carry the weight of the Gospel ( re-read Ephesians 4:11-12).  They get to lead the meetings where we can be so successful.  The newest class of these professional Christians is the worship leader.  Again worship is wonderful, but if the top of one’s life in Christ exists only in the midst of well engineered worship sets, we go back to the problem of the meeting culture in business.  The Gospel is contained, not executed.  The personal satisfaction and alleviation of personal responsibility that this culture provided made it grow.  It was easy to move from a fellowship of equals celebrating and sharing the gospel of redemption both together and in their communities to being a culture of meetings and rituals performed by “professional” Christians and from there to the place where the meeting itself became not only a celebration of salvation but the mode of salvation.

There was a time in my life when I measured the health of my faith by the number of meetings I attended.  This week I went to two church services, Wednesday night prayer, a small group, served at youth group and did the Friday morning prayer card session.  I am rocking for the Lord.  Now none of those things is bad.  Not event the collection is bad.  The fact that I used my attendance as a Spiritual scorecard is bad.  Honestly at that time in my life my immersion in the church was probably necessary to my spiritual formation but God had to rip the scorecard out of my hand.  I am particularly stubborn so my grip on that card was pretty tight.  It took pretty intense situations in my life to move me from a meeting scorecard to a biblical scorecard.  Now I know that you are ready for me to lay out all the check boxes on that biblical scorecard.  Sorry, no such luck.  It does  not work that way.  There are two metrics for the scorecard, the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.

Jesus tells the disciples in Luke 12 that when they are brought to judgement for their faith, “The Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”  Paul uses the Holy Spirit as a scorecard for his words to the Romans in chapter 9, “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit,…” and in chapter 14 he sets the Holy Spirit as the scorecard for the very kingdom of God, “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  

David says in Psalm 119:11, “Your Word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You.” and Jesus uses His Word as the metric for a Hupomone life built on the rock in Matthew 7 as compared to the foolish life of the man who did not act on his Word and built his house on the sand.  This is what we do when we center our lives in the house instead of on the foundation.

Build your faith on the Rock.  Fellowship together with purpose (the Gospel) not as a purpose and you will see the hand of God move in and around you like never before.

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. Romans 8:37

 

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Marrow

…knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life…,but with precious blood,as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.  1 Peter 1:18-19

Ask any blood cancer or disorder survivor about the value of blood and you may get a more intense answer than you were expecting.  As a rule we don’t think about blood much unless it starts coming out (and then we are kind of disgusted) or when it fails us.  God established the value of blood from the beginning when he created the universe.  It has been interwoven into the fabric of his covenant with mankind over the millennia, taking shape in the Law and being fulfilled in the person of His son Jesus Christ.

God tells Cain that Abel’s blood is crying out from the ground. (Genesis 4:10).  Reuben sees the judgment for Joseph’s blood (he didn’t know what had happened to him in Egypt) when Joseph tests the brothers. (Genesis 42:22)  Blood on the door posts signaled the angel of death to pass by the homes of the Jews and. (Exodus 12)  Blood figures prominently in the sacrificial worship instituted by the Law of Moses, including being dabbed onto the ear lobes, thumbs and big toes of the priests.  The shedding of blood is God’s reason for not allowing David to build His temple. (1 Chronicles 19:10)  Solomon writes in Psalm 72:

He will have compassion on the poor and needy, And the lives of the needy he will save.  He will rescue their life from oppression and violence, And their blood will be precious in His sight;

The prophets decry the spilling of innocent blood over and over. Ezekiel describes its cleansing properties.  They set the stage for the compelling atonement to come in the person of the Messiah,

Jesus would proclaim “For My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” establishing a new standard of life for mankind, redeemed life, shortly before He is sacrificed on a hill outside of Jerusalem.  This fulfills the enormous body of blood theology that God through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit inspired many different men to write, establishing the great value of the tainted blood of creation. They gave just a taste of the value of the blood of the perfect Lamb, without spot or blemish;  all God …all Man…all love…come to be the savior of humanity.  He provides us a pathway to renewed relationship with our creator.  It is the relationship that we were created for prompting the author of Hebrews to say:

“how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation…” Hebrews 2:3

This is the value of blood, that God values the blood of every human being and desires that the atoning blood of his Son will restore the relationship so long broken.  This is so great a salvation and so great a power in the blood of the lamb how can we who know not proclaim it to a lost world.

“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness…”

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High Places

“A higher plane than I have found;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

“Higher, Higher”

“Higher and Higher”

 

Everyone wants to get to higher ground in their Christian experience.  Unfortunately too few want to do the work that takes us there.  The Bible is our comprehensive guide to Hupomone living and when one adopts the Hupomone lifestyle the practice of the Gospel of Jesus Christ prepares us and carries us to the high places that we want to go.  So here are three principles for getting to higher ground.

 Carry the right equipment.

My son Robert is in the picture.  My brother-in-law, born and bred in Colorado, is an avid hiker of 14’ers.  These are mountains where the summit is above 14,000 feet.  This picture is taken at just such a summit. He made sure that Robert had all of the equipment that he needed to reach the summit with as little discomfort as possible.  Without the right equipment the journey is painful and difficult and there are many who opt not to complete and settle for lower areas.  Layered clothing protects you from the elements.  Higher Ground can throw all kinds of damage at you.  Wind can rip at your skin and steal the water from your body.  The sun can burn and blind in the thin atmosphere of the heights requiring quality sunglasses to keep the path visible.  The right shoes are essential as the steep inclines and uneven surfaces tear at your feet and legs.  Consider Ephesians 6, a much quoted passage about the armor of God.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore *, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, 15 and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Paul uses a military metaphor to make the same point.  If you want to get to higher ground you need to have the right equipment.  The higher that you want to go, the better the equipment you need.

Train for the journey

My son made several trips to Colorado.  Along with ensuring that Robert had the equipment that he needed to make the trip, his uncle built and tested his stamina through smaller local hikes.  God provides us multiple options for training and has given us the Holy Spirit to navigate our spiritual formation.  His Word the Bible is of course the basis for all maturing.

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Just as his uncle guided him in preparing to seek high ground, God provides each of us with spiritual leaders in our lives who will help us train for the heights that are ahead of us.

11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together * by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.  Ephesians 4:11-16

Take the Journey with others

Robert did not hike any of summits by himself.  He went with his uncle and cousins.  He went with family whom he trusted and who were more mature in dealing with the mountain than he was.  There are stories of men who foolishly tested mountains alone or in groups unprepared.  They typically do not end well.  The circle of trust that you enter with brothers and sisters in Christ cannot be a mutual admiration society.  It must be one that recognizes the weaknesses of its members and steps in bring the fellowship to the summit.

2 Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.  Galatians 6:2

The Holy Spirit is of course the penultimate member of any Christian fellowship journeying to higher ground.

26 In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; Romans 8:26

The Spirit steps in when our humanity fails us.

God did not design His people to operate alone.  While Robert is pictured alone, he is with a group, one that he both admires and trusts.  While the journey is one of fellowship, the joy of the summit is even more the fruit of godly community.

By all means reach for the summit.  Seek the higher ground that God has for you.  The air is thin making it difficult to breathe, the cold wind will chap and chill even while the sun burns.  Your legs will feel like wooden posts and your eyes will struggle to pick out the path but higher ground is your purpose.  It will draw others to you and fulfill the Gospel.  Just remember to bring the right equipment, train under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the men and women of faith that God places in your life and take the journey with others.  Now this doesn’t mean that you won’t make it to the summit without doing these things, but the joy will be lost in the struggle and the summit may just feel a little hollow as you struggle to catch your breath.

The Lord is my Strength and he has made my feet like hind’s feet and makes me walk on my high places.  Habakkuk 3:19

 

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