Monday, September 30, 2013

Containers and Contents

In the church today we tend to confuse methods and message, style and substance, or container and content. The issue of style in church has been a contentious one for a long time. It even goes back to the very public condemnation of Isaac Watts as a heretic because he wrote his own words to be put to music instead of limiting himself to the common practice of putting music to the words of the Psalms.

I want to put this discussion into the terms; container and contents. Imagine a person dying of thirst coming to your front door with an empty gourd, the container they have always used to carry water, and asking to fill it with water. Your response is to say, "We don't put water in gourds around here. We believe it is wrong to drink water from anything other than a glass." You send them away thirsty, unwilling to give them water in a gourd.

This seems like a ridiculous story yet I believe it illustrates the way many churches respond when they are confronted with a new way to deliver the gospel. When we make the container too important people die of spiritual thirst because of our stubborn pride concerning the container we have always used.

On the other hand some churches are flexible with containers but the contents are tainted. They have taken the gospel and colored it and sweetened it so that more will drink it. In the process they don't realize that the contents they have offered has become poison Kool-Aid.

The contents are the important thing. Presenting the pure gospel, being faithful to the word are the contents where life giving water is given. In fact the Word Himself, that is Jesus, said,
" ... but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." John 4:14

We come to Jesus with all kind of containers, gourds, glasses, ladles, bowls, even open hands to receive the living water. Lets stop arguing about who has the best, most correct container and be happy that people are receiving life giving water in any container!!!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Power of Weakness

"`...Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty." Zechariah 4:6b

I looked over the pasture with a hoe in one hand and a pail in the other. I had been given the task of eliminating thistles from this pasture. My dad hates thistles and there were way too many of them on the hobby farm we had recently moved to. The task seemed insurmountable. I was paid five cents per thistle. It was hot and I was thirteen years old. In the end it was more efficient and effective for my father to use other methods to eradicate the thistles in his pastures.

We have all had circumstances that set a seemingly impossible task in front of us. In my experience the most common ways of dealing with this kind of thing is to say that because it is impossible for me to do, it must not be meant for me to do it.  Zerubbabel was facing such a situation when he was tasked with rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. The prophet was given this word from, God to give Zerubbabel as both exhortation and encouragement that the completion of the temple wasn't dependent on Zerubbabel's natural abilities or resources.

It seems many churches will go one of two directions here. On the one hand a church - or believer - will look at what God is asking them to do and say, "its too big" or "we're  too small" or "its not in the budget". The emphasis is not on what God can and wants to do but on the ability of a church or person to accomplish it. At the heart of this is either a belief in a small, weak or unwise God, or, that we will only do what we can receive credit for. If all that is ever done is limited what humanity can naturally do, humanity will always get the credit. I read an author several years ago who said something like this, "Unless it is impossible for man to do, God will never get the credit." This leads to what's on the other hand.

Sometimes we can see God's provision in an endeavor and we can watch as the Holy Spirit moves in equipping and enabling  for His purpose. However, in the end, as others admire the results, it is way to easy for us to take at least some of the credit thus diminishing the glory God gets.

The apostle Paul was faced with this when he asked God to remove a "thorn in the flesh" three times. God answered him by saying,

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
(2  Corinthians 12 : 9a)

Paulinstead of whining like I usually do, responded with the following statement,

"Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
(2 Corinthians 12:9b,10)

How cool is it that it is when we are weak, when the task seems too big, that God's power, through the Holy Spirit, rests on us and we can do whatever it is that He calls us to. What a comfort to know that what God wants to accomplish doesn't depend our competency, ability or resources. He just asks for our willingness to take part in what He is doing and allow His Spirit to use us for His glory!!!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Lessons from a Computer Game?

Finally, I made it to level 9 in Bubbletown. For a long time I have not been able to get past level 7. Today I not only got past level 7, but level 8 as well. As I leave the game I am reminded of how our spiritual lives can be similar to that of a computer game.

Have you ever felt 'stuck' on a certain level spiritually? I know I have. There are two ways we can respond when we find ourselves in this position. The first is that we simply become satisfied that we have gone far enough. This is like saying that because I have completed level 2 of my game I have completed the game all the while denying the fact that there are 8 more levels to the game. The writer of 'Hebrews' addresses this response when he says,

"For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil." (Heb. 5:12-14 ESV)

The writer's audience had become satisfied. They apparently didn't want to admit that there was another level. The writer tears away their smug contentedness by referring to them as immature children who fall far short of what they should be as teachers. We all need that challenge, not to be satisfied. This brings us to the second response.

The Apostle Paul helps us here when he describes his response this way,

"Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way." (Philippians 3:12-15a ESV)

Paul's response is to 'press on'. He says that pressing on has two parts. First we must forget what is behind. Whether it is a level of achievement or certain failures we must stop being preoccupied with them and look to the future. Then we must strain forward toward what is ahead. This approach doesn't leave us the option of being casual or nonchalant about our spiritual life. It requires both effort and intention. An athlete can intend to be great but without effort it will never happen. Without intention there is no need for effort.

Every endeavor has a level of 'press on' connected to it. At what level in our growing relationship with our Savior and Lord can we say we no longer need to 'press on'? Do we recognize the value of the prize, being everything that God intended us to be to be, as great enough to motivate us to keep 'pressing on'?

Which response are we choosing when our spiritual life seems stagnant; satisfaction or pressing on?
Tomorrow, level 10!!