Monthly Archives: February 2014

It’s Time to Stop Arguing and Act!

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The modern church can’t seem to make up its mind on what a “Spirit-filled ministry” looks like. For some, it is proclaimed through the practice of divine healing and supernatural miracles as the Bible is demonstrated. For others, it is proclaimed through the practice of obedience and growth in sanctification as the Bible is taught. One stresses experiential, while the other demands subjectivity. Yet both are required to have a genuine “Spirit-filled ministry.” It is possible to have both and still be biblical, but we must follow the example of Jesus to insure that.

According to Luke 4:14, Jesus returned from his temptation experience “in the power of the Spirit.” What he was teaching (subjective truth) and ministering (experiential truth) caused such a commotion that crowds began to gather wherever he went. Our definitions of “Spirit-filled ministry” are based more often than not in denominationalism rather than the Bible. Luke 4:18-19 gives us a concise, clear, and workable definition of what a “Spirit-filled ministry” looks like. Jesus said, “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD.”

A true “Spirit-filled ministry” will always deal with the “poor,” meaning primarily  the “poor in spirit.” The very form of this designation given by Jesus indicates this group was lacking something. These are men and women who are helpless, miserable, helpless, and hopeless. It is more than a condition; it’s an attitude of the soul toward God. It is the utter realization that one has nothing to offer and everything to gain from an encounter with God. Miracles take place in this atmosphere when the impotence of man encounters the magnificent power of God. This “poor” condition aptly describes every person Jesus met.

This “Spirit-filled ministry” also deals with liberation, which is freedom. Just as Jesus encountered the battlefield casualties of creation’s cosmic war, so do we. He saw the spiritual captives that were held at spear point as prisoners of war. He saw the “blind ones” whose prison cells were so deep in darkness that the pupils of their eyes had become darkened by the perpetual smoke of the pit they found themselves shackled in. He saw the “shattered ones” who were broken in so many pieces that wholeness and health for them was not even an option. He saw them, but do we?

Jesus saw and he acted. He liberated the prisoners of war and broke the taunting spear of slavery the enemy was dependent on. He restored the sight of the blind and broke open their prison doors revealing the brightness of his glory. He gently collected the fragile pieces of the shattered and carefully put them back together. He freed them from the crushing weight of sin and sickness. He not only liberated them, he also pardoned them, canceling their debt. Can we do any less?

The lame began to walk. The blind began to dance. The demonized began to worship. The dead began to live. Adulterers, tax collectors, prostitutes, and thieves began to listen to the Word of God and obey it. Miracles, healings, obedience, and growth in godliness began to take place at astounding speed in the most obscure places in Israel. Jesus illustrated a “Spirit-filled ministry” for all to see.

Perhaps we need to stop arguing about how it looks and start doing what Jesus did, the way Jesus did it. Imagine for a moment—if Jesus had argued about it with the religious experts of his day, we would have no example of what it should look like—but he didn’t and we do! Yet, the world is still looking for a viable, continuous example of what a “Spirit-filled ministry” looks like. Perhaps we should follow the example of Jesus and let everyone else argue.

Wordless Worship

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I am a wordsmith by birth and by calling.  As a child, I was a talker. My grandmother once remarked, as I burst through the door at a family reunion and unashamedly introduced myself, that I would one day become a preacher. Now as a pastor and a writer, words are my essential building blocks in the construction of concepts, ideas, stories, illustrations, and the unfolding of deep biblical truths that must be communicated.

But there are moments when I don’t have words, or for that matter need words. This happens most frequently for me during worship. Often I am speechless when I consider the wonder of God and his grace. No matter how skillful I might be in using descriptive adjectives or action verbs—I find no adequate words to describe his glory. In his presence I stand speechless—dumb and mute—unable to speak or convey the depth of my love for my God.

It is in those intimate moments of frustrated inability that my spirit must find some form of release that requires no words. Tears fill my eyes, chills clamor up my spine, my hands lift with palms upraised, or my feet begin to dance. Inability gives way to capabilities that are often hidden and closely guarded—yet available if I choose to release and use them.

My all-time favorite picture of worship and the one I often retreat into and emulate in my dreams is found in Luke 7:36-50. It is the story of the woman who anointed Jesus feet with her tears and the precious ointment of an alabaster vial. There is a great deal going on in that story, but in my visits all I can see is “go-for-broke” worship, yet not one word is spoken.

There is emotion. This is a once broken woman who has been restored through the grace of Jesus Christ. She has received worth and value through his ministry and now has a future. She cannot hold back the tears, though it seems they pour out in silence from a heart overflowing with joy. She does not hold back the emotions, yet without words she worships. True worship is filled with genuine emotions.

There is boldness. Once she realizes her tears are falling on her Lord’s feet, she steps out of the shadows from against the wall and quietly kneels while unpinning her long hair and using it to wipe his feet. She is exposed now—she has stepped from the safety of the crowd and courageously released the love of her heart without regard for what other might think or say. She is unashamed in her devotion and confident in her pursuit. True worship is always bold in its expression and sometime brash in the eyes of those who witness it.

There is surrender. This woman prostrated herself on the floor and gave the intimate gift of a kiss to the feet of her Savior. Not just once—but over and over and over. Her gratitude poured out like an uncontainable stream driven out of its banks by an unstoppable rain storm. Her position and her actions are the immutable signs of submission. True worship is characterized by total surrender.

And ultimately there is a cost. Sincere worship always carries an expensive price tag. It is never cheap—or if it is it ceases to be worship and becomes an empty religious ritual. This woman shattered her nest egg. She cashed in her retirement account—her only means of financial security—when she broke the seal on her alabaster jar of perfume and dumped the precious contents on Jesus’ feet. Her most precious possession was poured out as an offering of worship and thanksgiving—a sacrifice of faith. True worship always comes with a cost most are unwilling to pay.

This is what wordless worship looks like, yet its voice speak loud and clear!

The Lord of the Dance (Part 2 of 2)

imagesIt blows my mind to think about the fact that God is extending his hand in search of a partner who will accept and step out on the ballroom floor with him in this relational dance of life. Likewise, it boggles my mind to image what style of dance we might be doing.

It’s O.K. to daydream—to imagine —and allow the right side of your brain to run a little wild here. God created the dance as a passionate expression of worship, love, and joy. It was humanity that perverted it into a sexual exploitation and manifestation of self. So relax a little here—we’re setting that aspect aside and allowing our minds to imagine what it would be like to dance with God—the Lover of our soul. That fantasy might become a genuine reality if we can somehow click off those Victorian religious do and don’t systems we have wrongly saddled ourselves with in an attempt to define holiness. (Holiness is growing in maturity—becoming more like Christ, not ceasing to be human). Instead of exploring what God thinks for ourselves, we often allow others to interpret it for us through their restrictive lenses and filters.

Someone asked whether I thought this dance might be a waltz, a tango, or a rumba? I thought about this long and hard, and finally arrived at this place—whatever dance you can envision participating with God in is likely the dance you would be willing to do. If we can’t see it through the eyes of faith in our imagination, then it is highly likely it will never become a reality.

Perhaps you can conceive an elegant waltz spinning around and around the floor with fluidity and grace. Perhaps it is the precision and the passion of a tango in rapid tempo that leaves you with a shortness of breath and a flushness of the face. Or, perhaps is the slow, rhythmic movement of the rumba. Each of these requires an intimate partnership and a graceful flow of two becoming one in purpose and step. Any of these dances could be a beautiful metaphor of what our relationship with Christ was designed to be (a bridegroom living life with his bride). What your spirit can conceive here pales in comparison with the depths of Christ’s love for you (just read the Song of Solomon).

Forget about the crowd surrounding you. Clear your mind for a moment of all the portraits you’ve allowed others to paint of God.  Step away from the negativity and step into that quiet place where it’s just you and Jesus. Take his hand, close your eyes, and allow his selfless love and grace to embrace you.

And then…dance.

The Lord of the Dance (Part 1of 2)

imagesGod is looking for someone to be his dance partner. That is, men and women who will extend their heart and hand and take hold of his and dance with him. The dance is a metaphor for his grace and intimate relationship he longs to have with each of us.

Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Wait just a minute! Not so fast! Are you telling me God dances? That’s not what I was taught growing up. We don’t dance, we don’t chew, and we don’t go with girls who do! God dances…yea right!

I understand, I was told and taught the same thing. But…don’t always believe everything you are told or taught without doing some personal investigation. Most believers are familiar with the fact that God sings over us as Zephaniah 3:17 so clearly relates. We get excited about that but miss another characteristic of God. He also exults over us with joy. The word “exult” means to jump, leap, spin around, or dance with passion and emotion. God exults—he dances over us.

But—he also wants to dance with us. Life is not a solo dance; it is a dance in partnership with God similar to ballroom dancing. In ballroom dancing each partner has his or her responsibility. The man leads and the woman follows. The man provides the frame—the posture—and the woman must relax in his arms and allow him to move her across the floor in a series of choreographed steps to the rhythm of the music. She must relax and trust him. Her steps mirror his steps, but she must do them in reverse—often without being able to see where they are going. When this is achieved there is only one fluid movement of unity—the two dancers become one in purpose.

This dance with God is very similar. God leads and we follow. Otherwise all we have is a WWF wrestling match. When you or I refuse to allow God to lead it means we don’t trust him. Dancing with God requires an unconditional surrender—easy to write about but really tough to do.

As we surrender, God takes us in his arms and dances with us through life. This is an intimate picture of true relationship. God holds up close and in this loving embrace we learn to hear his heartbeat. If we become familiar with his heartbeat, we will understand his will. His plan for our lives begins to make sense and we begin to understand why this or that event happened the way it did. Eventually, if we draw close enough, we begin to see things from his perspective—through his eyes.

Dancing with God is not about learning all the steps or dressing up in spectacular outfits. All you have to do is extend your hand and surrender as you take his hand. He knows the steps. He does not need you to hit all the marks or keep perfect count in the rhythms or the beats. He only wants you to relax and let him lead.

This dancing, singing God longs for you to look up as he extends his hand to you. He yearns for you to take his hand and relax in his embrace. He desires to dance with you and lift you up out of those circumstances and situations that push you down. He wants to draw you close when danger is near. He longs to spin you around and around until you are so drunk in his presence and the powers of his grace that you can no longer stand and must be carried.

True, this may not be the Sunday School god of your childhood or the angry, wrathful god portrayed each Sunday in those eleven o’clock guilt and shame-filled homilies, but this is the God of the Bible—the genuine Lord of the dance.