Monthly Archives: March 2011

Lock Down

From time to time, a voice emanates from out of the intercom of my office phone. It is always the same instruction, on the same day of the week, at the same time: “Staff devotional will begin at 9:45.” You can set your watch by it. Today a new message jarred the counseling session I was involved in. Caught off guard, knowing the staff devotional had ended 1 ½ hours earlier, I tuned into the unseen voice and turned off the heart-felt confessions of my counselee.

“Attention! We are going into lockdown! No one will be allowed to leave the building by order of the fire department! A gas leak has been discovered across the street and due to the imminent danger no one will be allowed to leave the building!” A few moments later, a more forceful masculine voice dittoed what the soft feminine voice had initially stated. (Someone probably attempted an escape—one of the pastors perhaps?)

The first thought that swirled through my mind was not the danger of an explosion or the safety of those working to fix it. My initial thought was, “It’s 11:55! I’m starving to death! I can’t believe I’m going to be late for lunch!” I know that’s selfish but I feel confident that’s what most of my associates were thinking.

The good news is the lock down lasted about forty minutes until the gas supply could be shut off. There were no explosions or horrible injuries; just some frustrated shoppers at the Piggly Wiggly and an irate diner or two at the local Chinese restaurant who missed getting their fortune cookies during the forced evacuation. The bad news is God decided to use it as a teaching point in my journey to be like Christ. I call these instructional lessons prophetic parables—moments where God takes a real-life situation and applies it prophetically to a person specifically or a group of people corporately. In this case it was the latter and I knew it would probably leave a mark.

For many years now, the body of Christ in North America—the church (not the building that houses the people who compose the body that represents Christ)—has been in a state of lockdown. We look like cities under siege—gates locked, stocked with supplies, with congregations frozen in fear of the supposed threat lying an inch or so past the borders of our orthodox campuses. We either fear this world that is our calling or we have no concern for it. Either way, the eternal result is the same.

Our local congregations are filled with spiritual gluttons whose only concern is the next milk of the month teaching or that perfectly seared sermonic cut of steak hand-cooked to order by their very own personal chef—I mean pastor. We have become cafeteria line Christians—picking and choosing from a smorgasbord of what we like, dislike, agree, or disagree with. We take what we want and feast on it with little regard for what God is saying or those He desires to save who are alone, starving, and headed to hell.

That lockdown has filled the church with selfishness rather than sacrifice. Instead of becoming wells of living water, we have become stagnant cisterns collecting the soiled runoff of Dr. So-and-So’s theological fertilizer. The church of Acts was an explosion looking to go off at any moment. If you doubt that just read a few chapters and look at the impact of the Gospel’s message on their culture. They were fueled by a passion to take the message to the masses. In three hundred years they changed the world turning it upside down. That’s what explosions do.

Sadly, the church is no longer in danger of exploding, but rather imploding from a pressurized build-up of hot air created by decaying piles of eloquent language fueled by an empty love.

Blue Bloods: Reformation or Revolution (part 14 of 14)

And so, dear friend, we find ourselves at a crossroads. Here the sons and daughters of the King must part company with the slaves. The time has come for either reformation or revolution, either of which is far nobler than dying on a chain gang building Babel’s walls and towers under the tutelage and whips of religious megalomaniacs whose own kingdoms have commandeered the center stage. We must either take back that center stage and offer it to Jesus or exit these current cities and join the real Jesus outside the gates of these doomed citadels. His cry is arising and many will hear that clarion call to true freedom.

Tragically, many are content with the status quo. Their endless song is, “Don’t rock the boat baby.” They are satisfied having their egos massaged and their ears tickled, while being told every move to make and the backstage spot where they must stand. These slaves will follow the crowd because that’s what slaves have been taught to do. They will complain about enduring the monotony of a past that can produce no future, but they will do nothing but complain, as they trudge mindlessly along. Most will never break rank. That is why you must now decide who you will follow. Your moment at the crossroads is approaching as the endless column ahead of you bears to the right or left. What will you do?

Freedom means throwing off the shackles of a system and embracing a Savior who really has paid your debts in full and now offers a walk of relationship in a garden setting similar to the one our ancient ancestors trashed. It means you can intimately hear His voice and be sure He hears yours. It means His endless embrace is an eternal expression of the extravagant pleasure He finds in you. It means you don’t just hear about it every Sunday morning for an hour or so, but you experience it fully every moment of every day for the rest of your eternal life.

Freedom means He longs for your presence as much as you do His. It is the emotions of your spirit set free to host His Spirit in the very depths of your personal expression of His image and likeness. This is what it means to be alive—to breathe the same breath God breathed into Adam. Your spiritual oxygen is not elemental in composition, but experiential in Christ. Life is no longer just a biological expression, but now can be lived out as a spiritual explosion.

Freedom is the authority—a delegated permission—to be everything Jesus bought and paid for. It is also the power—the ability to exercise the authority—to bring order out of chaos, health into sickness, restoration to brokenness, and light into darkness. It is the ability and permission to do the things that Jesus did and the greater things He promised. It means acting as His ambassador—standing in His place speaking with His voice and accomplishing His work as though He was standing there. Freedom is allowing Him to live His life through you. This is the real secret of being a blue blood. You no longer live, but Christ lives in you. The Son of God has put you on like a glove and now brings to life the potent animation of His omnipotence through you on whatever stands in rebellious opposition to His will.

This kind of freedom is worth the price of another reformation or a new revolution. Someone must say, “Enough!” Someone must take up the banner of the Resurrection—not the resuscitation of a diseased and dying religious system—but the rising from the dead of a people filled and formed by the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. A people who will live, eat, breathe, dream, and want nothing but Jesus.

If this seems a bit too radical or revolutionary for your spiritual refinement, then keep step with the rhythmic march of your fellow slaves, and at the intersection head right or left to the brick pits of your own particular Pharaoh. It won’t be long until the brick molds are passed out and you can resume turning mud into bricks for the construction of that tower you’ve been assured will take you to heaven.

As for me, I am not a brick-maker, nor the son of a brick-maker. The flesh of my back will no longer bear the lash nor will my feet stand paralyzed in the stinking mud of that sacred sewer. I will not bend to the religious demands of a counterfeit, nor bow my knee in submission to a demagogue, a demigod, or a man who thinks he is a god. I will no longer remain silent as the very images of God all around me are destroyed by slavery. I will shout the truth until my voice is heard and heeded here, hushed by hell, or hailed in heaven. I am a son of the Most High God, purchased by the blood of the Son of God, and filled with the very Spirit of God. I am baptized for battle, empowered by His victory, and ready to sound the alarm and answer the call of my King. I am a child of royalty—a son of the Sovereign—a prince of the realm. I am a blue blood.

Blue Bloods: Slave Pastors (part 13 of 14)

I find it extremely hard to write this piece. I am a pastor and have been for over 25 years. I have served in both the small and mega church spheres. A pastor is a shepherd, one who has been called by God to lovingly care for His flock. So as I pen the following words, I do so with a desire to shine the light of freedom and not to throw stones of anger or judgment. I will use a term that sours my stomach to the point of sickness, but the term is what it is and it will not cease to be simply because we ignore it or pretend it isn’t there. It’s the pink elephant rampaging the pulpits and population of our churches. That term is “slave pastor,” and like “slave church,” is an oxymoron.

Slave pastors always lead slave churches. A slave pastor cannot lead a church filled with blue bloods (sons and daughters who know their identity in Christ), and neither can a blue blood pastor survive in a slave church. They are oil and water—night and day—a recipe for disaster. Conflict will take place at some point when one confronts the other.

Slave pastors lead small, medium, and mega-sized churches. The size of the church has nothing to do with it. Don’t allow tremendous growth in a church to fool you. A small church can grow into a mega church with the right location, program, or preacher. Size has nothing to do with slavery—the faulty mindsets and belief systems we have discussed in earlier pieces determine slave or free.

The slave pastor is a control freak. Slaves crave control because their lives seem out of control and they fearfully desire the boundaries someone else will implement and enforce. Some might call this type of pastor a person with personal ambition, a sense of purpose, or a strong drive to succeed. I prefer to call them slave pastors—slaves to their own ambitions, dreams, and self-constructed kingdoms. By the way, one person cannot build their own kingdom: They need laborers and slave pastors can spot strong backs and weak minds immediately.

Many depend on their denominational pedigrees to open doors. Slave pastors often serve in slave denominations (nothing but a partnership of slave churches all wanting to be first). Openings and opportunities are meted out to those who have come up through the system—paid their dues and are sworn to the party line (even if it diametrically opposes the truth of Scripture). Slave pastors, though they hunger to be in control, are often subjugated by slave pastors who are a rung or two higher on that proverbial ladder of success.

The slave pastor has learned the organizational techniques, corporate leadership skills, and the art of manipulative preaching with twisted contextual biblical passages to create a smooth machine that from all outside appearances seem to have the markings of God’s favor. But in reality many would not recognize the presence of God if He walked in and sat on the front row. In fact, that church, wherever it is located, is in slavery because in the past someone relegated the Holy Spirit to the back row because He was a bit too rowdy for their own personal taste. Their vocabulary is sprinkled with the buzz words of faith but there is little faith in the God of the Word.

Sermons carry the familiar phrases of the Zion to arouse the excitement of the crowd, but excitement alone can never evolve into holiness. Holiness is a word bandied about, but quietly dismissed, as it often leads to freedom, and freedom is the last thing a slave pastor wants. Free people think for themselves, and heaven forbid, we cannot have that in church.

They come dressed in slick suits and tee shirts with designer jeans. Media graphics and carefully coined verbiage become substitutes for broken hearts and contrite spirits. With these tools and host of others at their command, they purport that the power of God is in the house. Cutting edge techniques—that next great show Bro. “So and so” is having success with—fuels their ministries and their mission. Their prayers are, “God bless what I’m doing” rather than “God show me what you’re doing and where you’re doing it, so I can join you.”

Fear, manipulation, and arrogance mark their behavior, while their sermonic offerings either beat down the sheep or inflate their heads with feel-good gas. The Word of God is used as a tool to get what they want, when they want it, and without any regard for the lives they might damage. Often the sermon topics they rail on—that hobbyhorse they love to ride roughshod over the congregation—mask the sinful bondage their own pharisaical souls are chained in.

This, my friend, is a worst-case scenario, but sadly it is the reality of so many pastors and churches. God help us if this poisonous mindset and pervert skill set is not eradicated from the Body of Christ. The apostle Paul’s question to the Galatian believers seems rather appropriate at this point.

But now that you have come to know God, or rather be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? (Gal. 4:9)

Blue Bloods: Slave Churches (part 12 0f 14)

A slave church is an oxymoron—a self-contradiction. The church is the Body of Christ. The benefits of the cross and resurrection assure her freedom. But tragically, she has erected her own prison camp, entered, shut the gate, and tossed the key to the devil. The church Jesus died for and the church that exists in many communities bear little resemblance. Come and we will visit a slave church.

In slave churches, the members appoint the popular, the powerful, or the prestigious to positions of authority because in a slave society power is everything. Spiritual qualifications finish at the rear of the pack. Men and women with powerful positions in business fill offices of service regardless of whether or not they have a servant’s heart. Leadership, not servanthood is the prime prerequisite for holding office. Most are chosen by popularity rather than through agonizing prayer. People who are not biblically qualified are given preference with the faint hope that the methods they use in business will translate into nickels and noses—money and membership.

Those who possess the eloquent voices or tell a riveting story become teachers, with little regard for their lifestyles or evidence of the spiritual gift of teaching. The art of persuasion and manipulation are valued far more than holiness and prayer. Slave teachers spend a few minutes during the week searching quarterlies, commentaries, and warmed-over sermon snippets from the past, rather than spending time in the presence of God with an open heart and Bible crying out for a fresh word. They seek a word, but more often than not, the word they deliver wasn’t from God.

Slave churches view their pastor as their personal servant. He is the Bible Answer Man until his answers offend their pride or step squarely on their arrogance, and then he becomes the dumbest man alive. These congregations devour pastors like wolves devour sheep. If he proclaims a message that tickles their ears they will keep him. They expect him to be where they want him when they want him there—he has no real life anyway. Surgery for an ingrown toenail at 5 am demands his personal attention—heck, he only works an hour or two a week. Instead of sharing the gospel with the guy they’ve worked next to on the assembly line for 40 years, they will wait until 2 am to call and wake up the pastor’s whole family, so that he can go and pray with Bill who is in the last stages of cancer and has only minutes to live. Slave churches expect a pastor to excel in everything, but treat and pay him like a common laborer who has no skills.

These churches talk about growing, but refuse to do anything to reach their community. They talk and talk and talk and read their denominational reports of what to do and then talk some more while real people with real needs go to hell out from under the shadow cast by their steeples. When the community gets bad enough, they relocate to the suburbs where the right people live and talk and talk until that community goes to hell. Evangelism is an occasional invitation to Sunday School or Sunday worship, rather than a loving confrontation with the truth of the gospel.

Worship is an exercise in self-gratification with no understanding or concern that God is the object of worship, not the flesh that fills the pews. They are the audience not the participants. And God…well, He’s visiting somewhere else on Sundays because He feels a bit out of place there.

Slave churches are fortified bastions to protect the slaves who gather there. They resemble country clubs, health spas, or therapy sessions erected for the self more than the visible body of the Savior, left to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Blue Bloods: Confused Character (part 11 of 14)

Character is easier to build than to re-build. As believers we all received a fresh opportunity to have a new character constructed in place of the ashes and rumble of the old nature. Your character is you—the person hidden deep beneath the makeup, masks, and veneer. It’s the real you. At salvation the old you passed away—was in fact, executed on the cross—and a new you was created. You received a new character on which the image of Christ is being formed.

That character you received was the character of Christ manifested in you through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Sons and daughters recognize this and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit—thus, they are Spirit-filled. They surrender their desire to the desire of the King and fulfill His purpose and plan. In the process, their character is constructed and it becomes hard to tell the difference in their individual character and that of Christ. They literally become Christ fleshed out—they mirror the image and likeness of God through their actions and attitudes.

Slaves fear losing control. They hang on for dear life with their fingernails dug in and refuse to allow the Holy Spirit to be their guide. They give lip service to His power and presence, but run away at first sight, fearing a relinquishment of control. Slavery is bondage—bondage to an old way of thinking—to a limp and long dead character that was crucified on the cross when that person came to Christ. Fear of ___________ (you fill in the blank) has paralyzed them and neutralized their growth in Christ. They are busy (like a slave), but on the inside that new character (son or daughter) is suffocating. The bondage of slavery seems far safer than the freedom of sonship. Slaves prefer safety and control over the absolute freedom of surrender. Therefore, they daily forfeit through their personal choice the position and power of their birthright. They become paupers instead of princes and princesses—broken and burned out instead of blue bloods.

Consider for a moment which of these characteristics you find yourself living out. Remember your attitudes produce actions that, over time, reap a character.

Blue Bloods:                                                            Slaves:

Are willing to work                                                    Are lazy

Affirm even when admonishing                               Criticize and judge

See the positive                                                          See the negative

Are wise                                                                       Are fools

Are rivers of living water                                          Are broken cisterns and stagnant ponds

Have a generational world view                               Care about now and short-term gain

Are interdependent                                                    Independent

Willing to acknowledge need                                     Self-reliant

Willing to suffer hardship to                                      Unwilling to learn hard lessons and will learn hard lessons                                                        continually suffer hardships

The issue that will always separate a slave from a son or daughter is the character they choose to live out of. What will it be: One of control and survival or one of surrender to Christ?

Blue Bloods: Struggling with Acceptance (part 10 of 14)

Every person hungers for acceptance. We all want to be wanted. God created us with that craving. We were endued with a longing for community, and this desire is fulfilled only when we are accepted.

Tragically, that acceptance usually has strings attached. Everyone seems to want something in return for their acceptance. We tend to give up far too much to get what we want or pay far too high a price for what should be free. Acceptance has become a bartering chip people use to elevate in position, power, or prestige. It is no longer an act of dignity and honor. We have forgotten that all men and women are created in the image and likeness of God.

There is another option, although in God’s opinion this is really not an option—it’s His will. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. A huge ingredient in the recipe for love is acceptance. In fact, God has accepted us in the Beloved—in and through His Son, Jesus Christ. Our acceptance is based not on what we have done, can do, or will ever be able to do. It is based on the unconditional love of God the Father. It is freely extended to us, but its cost for the Father was the death of His Son. The life of Jesus purchased acceptance for you and me. Once that payment has been applied to the debt we could never pay, we are accepted by God. If God accepts you—you are accepted—right where you’re at—just like you are. This alone is the satisfaction for the desperate craving deep within. It is a done deal in the mind of God through faith in Jesus Christ—no strings attached.

The King’s kids respond to this concept with joy, while slaves react with unbelief thinking somehow they must gain it through their efforts. This is the great chasm between grace and works. Grace will take you to heights you can only daydream about in the midst of your works.

The term “acceptance” doesn’t even translate into the language of a slave. It is counterintuitive to their mindset. But the shackles of slavery are destroyed whenever a man or woman embraces God’s acceptance. Once it is received (the only way it can be had), the sweet taste of freedom immediately makes one forget the rotten flavor of servitude. There is no comparison.

Sons and daughters—blue bloods—thrive and grow in the atmosphere of God’s acceptance, but slaves work harder, frustrated that their labor only seems to push what they hunger for even farther away. Take a moment and reflect on your mindset and lifestyle. What do your attitudes and actions reveal concerning your understanding of God’s acceptance? Is it a heady concept you’ve heard of or a heart-fact you live in?

Blue Bloods:                                                            Slaves:

Live under grace                                                       Live by works

Seek relationship                                                       Flee relationship

Thrive in relationship                                               Thrive on rules/religion

Are secure, at rest, and at peace                             Are insecure and lack peace

Are totally at peace in God’s love and grace         Strive for man’s approval and praise

Positive and affirmed                                               Self-rejected—always comparing                                                                                                   themselves to others

Respectful and honors authority                             Distrustful, unsubmitted, and rebellious                                                                                          toward authority

Receive correction as a blessing                              Always right and correction is punishment

Acceptance is the missing key that will unlock any chain of slavery holding you, but you must stop struggling and accept it. Once you give up, it will slide gently in that rusty lock, and the click you hear will be your first breath of real freedom in Christ.

Blue Bloods: Confused Personal Significance (part 9 of 14)

Every person seeks significance. All of us desire for our lives to be important—that they might have some kind of meaning that will endure long after we’re gone. God created us that way. Most of the people you will encounter today are searching for that seemingly elusive significance. In Christ, that slippery significance that evades us is given to each of us without measure. In Christ we have become joint heirs with Jesus, meaning that we, as sons and daughters of God, possess everything Jesus possesses. His significance is ours. Let’s get personal— His significance is your significance!

You no longer need to seek, search, or strive for significance because you are fully significant in Christ. That is not what you will become, but rather, who you are right now at this very moment. Sadly, most believers think like slaves instead of sons and daughters and are beating the bushes for some “thing” that will make them important and give them meaning. The most significant person the world has ever known—Jesus Christ—lives in you, and you are a visible manifestation of His body. Let that simmer in your brain for a moment: If that doesn’t create a revolution in your spirit and, in turn, your life—then you may need to check your spiritual birth certificate and see if it’s genuine.

Slaves are confused when it comes to what brings significance, while sons and daughters—the blue bloods—are confident in their significance. The difference is, the first group has no clue about who they are, while the second is living out with abandonment all that they are. Consider the following and you will see how diametrically opposed the mindset of a slave and a son are when it comes to this critical area of human existence.

Blue Bloods:                                                                 Slaves:

Lead                                                                                  Follow

Make messes that ultimately lead to successes          Make nothing because of fear

Seek to conquer                                                               Seek to survive

Continually look to the future                                        Constantly look in the past

Are willing to sacrifice to gain a promise                      Want to succeed at any and all costs

Gifting is recognized                                                        Usefulness is exploited

Focused thinkers                                                              Confused thinkers

Purposeful                                                                         Aimless

Seek comfort in God’s presence and love                      Seek comfort in counterfeit affections

Respond with humility and unity by valuing others    React with accusation, rivalry, and                                                                                                     jealousy

Respond to the faults of others with love and               React to the faults of others with            restoration                                                                         accusation, exposure, and blame

Serve motivated by gratitude in response to                Serve seeking to impress or with no      God’s unconditional love                                                 motivation for service at all

Slaves are still seeking their significance because they refuse to live in the freedom Christ has provided. Sons and daughters enjoy the freedom, and their lives are therefore significant. Are you confident or confused? Your answer will reveal your address. And…perhaps the time has come for a change of address.