Supreme Ambition Ministries

To Know Christ and to Make Him Known – Philippians 3:10

SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE?

So You Think You Can Dance?

The Essence of Covenant Community

Living within a culture where divorce is commonplace and single-parent homes are more the norm, it is difficult for those of us in the Twenty-first century to grasp the importance of a covenant relationship as it relates to Christian growth and discipleship. So, what defines a Christian community? It is possible that in taking a look at the Biblical concept of marriage we may shed some light upon the concept of covenant discipleship?
Marriage, a Spiritual Template

The heart of God is all about relationships. For that reason He placed humans in families. Therefore, the Christian concept of marriage is a marvelous template for covenant relationship, as well as growth and training in Christian discipleship. The divine plan for marriage is for one man and one woman to continue in their intimate relationship for life. However, since the invention of television and the influx of the digital revolution, human senses are brainwashed, and placed on overload, when it comes to what one might expect from a marriage relationship. Hollywood promises emotional fireworks and explosions of passion at every turn. Not surprisingly, it delivers poorly. Tinseltown’s answer to our disappointment with its failed promises is merely to find another partner. According to divorcerate.org, “The divorce rate in America for first marriage, vs. second or third marriage is 50% of first marriages, 67% of second and 74% of third marriages end in divorce.” Apparently, the entertainment industry’s predictions do not get better with multiplicity of partners.
Marriage in a truly Christian environment cannot be improved upon as a template for teaching people how to live in community. Mankind was not made to live in isolation. We function better in a setting where we have the opportunity to make one another better. The author of proverbs says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17, ESV). How disappointing it is when companions bail out on one another at the least provocation. Doing this defrauds the couple and the family unit of the ability to observe how to live and behave in the midst of adversity. Therefore, society misses the opportunity to have crack troops, who have weathered the storms of life, and who can pass down to all observers their secrets to victorious living. Of course, this does not take into account the relationships that are abusive, or hopeless for one reason or another. In those situations, the choices are often limited, and making informed decisions is difficult at best. Under normal circumstances, however, it seems that the experience of marriage can be a catalyst not only for the home, but also for the community at large, and for the Church in particular. The dissolution of a marriage, on the other hand, affects both the couple and those attached to them either through birth, or through other significant relationships. Scars cover the lives of countless numbers of people because of failed marriages. The branches of this poisonous vine weave their way through generations and leave traces of their irritation on the souls of friend, foe, and fellow without discrimination. Perhaps the most tragic realization that the Church must recognize is that the failure of marriage today is virtually equal to that of the world. It appears that most people enter into a marriage relationship with the idea that the person they marry will make them happy.

Contrarily, if a couple considers its marriage vows as something more than a simple ceremony with some colorful words, their declaration may be one in which they recognize they have entered into a covenant, not only with one another, but also with God. If they have entered into this covenant soberly, and determine that the promises they make to one another before God are binding, then the chances of their marriage ending diminish greatly.

Similarly, the new birth is a marriage ceremony of sorts. The decision a candidate for discipleship makes to cease living independently, and to begin living in a covenant relationship is as serious as the choice of a life partner. If divorce adversely affects scores of people, what is the effect upon the Church and the culture of people entering into a covenant relationship with God and his people unadvisedly, or lightly? Furthermore, if divorce stifles the emotional maturity of growing children, what does the severing of bonds among God’s people do to young Christian disciples? The spiritual aptitude of any local expression of Christ will not rise above the devout intellect and practice of the least mature member of that Body.

Remember the words spoken by the Lord Jesus, “If any two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name there am I among them” (Matthew 18:19-20, ESV). The root word for ‘agree’ is sumphoneo (symphony), and signifies a harmonious blending of musical instruments. Is there a better place to observe the symphony of true Christianity than in the relationship of two believing, married partners, warts and all, who passionately love their Lord and one another? There is a marked difference between the love of a middle school couple and that of a more mature couple after several years of marriage. The Bible says, “If any two of you agree . . .?” That statement, alone, implies negotiation, submission, and self-denial. For many, it assumes someone got his way, and someone else did not get her way. Truly, this would be the result, were it not for the fact of the dance, or the symphony. In a vital covenant relationship, either marriage or church, the issue is not whether person “A” or “B” gets what he wants, but rather, to what extent does each surrender to the dance (will of God)? Is fulfillment in life accomplished by one’s ability to accumulate the most toys before he dies? Is one’s relationship in marriage successful because her partner makes her happy, or because she finds mutual fulfillment with her partner as they lay down their lives in service for one another, for others and for the glory of God?

C. S. Lewis wrote,
“The idea that ‘being in love’ is the only reason for remaining married really leaves no room for marriage as a contract or promise at all. If love is the whole thing, then the promise can add nothing; and if it adds nothing, then it should not be made.”

The method people use in choosing a church today is typical of a society influenced by Post-modern thought. One chooses churches, marital partners, jobs, etc. according to how much pleasure one receives from the choice. Parents often choose a church according to the types and numbers of programs offered to them and their children. Of course, it is good for churches to offer options; however, if one’s experience in church is little more than a propositional one, the intimate connection with Christ and his community lessens. The Biblical ideal in marriage is for one to take his time in choosing his life’s companion. He must understand that his decision is for life, and that his commitment involves a covenant agreement. It should not be broken simply because he is not as happy as he had hoped. The bliss of marriage comes as two very different personalities share a common goal of allowing their marriage to be the dance of life that brings glory to God. They discover their mutual fulfillment as they ride the waves of frustration and experience the hills and valleys of joy and disappointment. Their individual experiences in the journey they share not only shape them into mature persons in Christ, but also mold their corporate existence as a family into a model for effective community living.

Even as Jesus found a ‘door of hope’ in the dark, gloom of a borrowed tomb, perhaps we, too, can find a window of opportunity in the difficult work of learning how to dance.  Remember when you were  twixt twelve and twenty and you went to that first dance?  Remember how insecure you felt about the dance.  As you and the object of your affection approached one another, then casually embraced one another, the awful thought struck you that you weren’t sure what to do next.  ”Who should lead?”  ”Who should follow?”  What if both wanted to lead . . . or follow?  Many people in all types of relationships make it no further in their communion than the approach.  Others ‘take the bull by the horns’ so to speak and take on a part of the dance that does not belong to them.  Sadly, all the observers see is two or more insecure people concerned more about how they look as participants than about the greater glory of the dance.  This, I fear, is a picture of our culture:  People who don’t know how to dance in their relationships.  The Bible offers us the best instructions for proper relationships but we’ll have to sacrifice to discover it.

This is a section of a soon to be published book, entitled, You Have Been Called: Revolutionary Discipleship Through the Covenant Family.   All rights reserved 2010.

June 22nd, 2012 Posted by | Christian Life, Church, Fellowship, Relationships, True Church LIfe | comments

NINE MILE: A MICROCOSM OF CHURCH

NINE MILE: A MICROSOM OF CHURCH

 

I am a part of a clan of Scottish decent known as Lewis. We are a proud lot, perhaps too proud sometimes.  However, even though I am nearing retirement, memories of my mother’s family flood my mind with a sense of well-being and gratitude for the good things that I inherited from being part Lewis.

 

Recently, I have been made aware that the Land upon which my mother’s parents forged a life for themselves and their children has been sold.  Many of my cousins are hurt and saddened by the loss of the land.  So am I.  Some feel the loss that their own children will never be able to run, work and play in the creek and hillsides, smell the fragrances of the spring flowers and freshly cut hay, even as we did as children.  Many emotions flood my own soul, even as I pen these words.  In my musings of days gone by, I have a lingering memory of one annual event that left a lasting impression upon me.  Furthermore, God has used that memory to give hope to me about something that has been lost in much of the church for 1700 years . . . Fellowship!

When considering the fellowship of the Church of Jesus Christ one must be careful to not be mistakenly looking for a utopian society; one which is devoid of problems. This is not the Church, at least not this side heaven. Rather, the Church is to be a society lived “in the world and yet not a part of it.” While I would be careful to press an unrealistic concept of Christianity too far, I can definitely relate with those who find a societal image that so captures their attention that everything else pales in comparison, and to which one’s life can be given, unashamedly, and uncompromisingly. Such is my quest for true fellowship in the Church.

As I look back over my life I am made aware that I was placed in varied atmospheres from time to time, which gave hints to the meaning of fellowship. One such realm was at the annual Christmas Eve celebration held by my mother’s family. Both my parents came from rather large families by today’s standards, and, due to the rural nature and economic conditions of the times my mother and her siblings formed a rather close bond with one another. Couple this with a basic Christian world view and the fact that all these siblings raised their families near one another and it is not difficult to see how a virtually spiritual relationship was forged within a biological unit. This was never more evident than when all these families came together for the annual Christmas Eve celebration.  This was a rather informal gathering in an old shanty-like house up the old Nine Mile Creek Road in the hills of West Virginia not far from a little town called Point Pleasant. My! What a time we had! The cousins played, making up games as we went. Some looked at pictures of far away places through the “view-finder”. Others shared war stories, or played Chinese checkers, while still others told the latest funny story. My grandparents little house was literally dancing with activity. The aroma of roasted turkey and country ham was married to the titillating smells of fresh baked pies and cakes. The women and older girls were in the kitchen and dinning room getting everything ready for one of the finest meals anyone ever had. Yes Sir! The old house was alive with all the sounds and smells that evoked a warmth and security that only enhanced the smell of wood and coal burning in the fireplace and the old pot-bellied stove.

Sometime during the evening Grandpa, who was a very educated but simple man, would pick up his tuning fork and a hymnbook and begin to sing a Christmas carol. We all joined in. Then the evening seemed to flow like an orchestra with the Conductor being that unseen Guest. No sooner had one song ended than another began. Interspersed between them, we children stood and said the “Christmas pieces” we had learned for our church programs, as well as poems by noted authors such as Edgar Allen Poe, and James Whitcomb Riley. Then, right on cue, the Divine Conductor seemed to stir Grandpa to pick up his Bible and give it to his oldest Son, Milton, who read Luke’s account of the birth of Christ. Maybe it was my age, or maybe it was because it was Christmas, I’m not sure. All I know is that when he read from the Bible on Christmas Eve the words seemed to dance within my head with life. Afterward, we gave the gifts we had gotten for the one in the family whose name we had drawn some weeks earlier. All too soon the evening was over, but I was left with precious, lingering, memories, and a longing to repeat that evening, or something akin to it, as soon as possible. Now, years later, and with over forty years in the ministry, when I think about what true fellowship in the Church should be, it is the memory of those Christmas Eves that floods my mind. You see, Christmas Eve with my mother’s family became for me a microcosm of the way things ought to be. It may even have been a hint from the Lord Himself as to the only effective way to live the Christian life and to do Church. Yes, this family Christmas gathering so many years ago became the seed of a search that was to fuel the fires of my ministry.

I join my cousins and our friends in the little community of Beech Hill, West Virginia in grieving the loss of something special, but from now and throughout all eternity each time I see their names, their faces, or hear their voices, I will smell the aroma of what God might call FELLOWSHIP.

March 28th, 2012 Posted by | Biographical, Church, Fellowship, True Church LIfe, Uncategorized | 8 comments

HOW HE LOVES US!

 

haitian-mountains-saint-ard1.jpgJust wanted you to know that I returned from Haiti last Friday night safe and sound. Our journey was a wonderful one. It was so good to see dear friends, many of whom I had not seen for a couple of years. Our time of fellowship in song, testimony, prayer and from the Word was delightfully refreshing. Sitting on the third story of the Pastors’ retreat center at the Mission compound at night and seeing the glory of our solar system, is always an experience nearly beyond words. Truly, ‘ the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof’…porch-fellowship2.jpg

The words sung in the video clip above by Kim Walker became sort of a theme for me (and, I’m sure, others) as we trudged our way through one of the most spiritually dark places on earth. The cry of the song is “Oh, How He Loves Us”. As we moved from one place to another the Spirit of the Lord moved ahead of us. Each step we took and each loving word spoken was one more beam of light displacing the thick darkness. It seemed each time we coporately followed the pillar of cloud and fire of his will there were showers of His precious love flowing like a stream of living water.

As is His Way, our Lord was with us to lead, encourage, anoint and use us in ways beyond our fondest dreams. We had thedave-preaching-at-thomas1.jpg precious privilege of sharing the Gospel through the Christmas accounts in a dramatic way with one of us telling the account and most of the rest of our 24 pilgrims acting it out. We gave gifts to a few hundred children and many prayed to allow Christ to be the Lord of their lives. For most of the children the little package we gave them will be all they receive that whole year. The standard of living in Hait is so much below our poverty level that words cannot tell. Survival is the mode for so many. Six out of 10 Haitian children die before the age of 5 or 6, many because they cannot fight off a cold or the flu. To look into their eyes is to see the desire to hope but the inability to do so because they must be concerned about food for the day. As we prayed with a Haitian man a few years ago on top of a mountain…He cried out to the Lord for a day when he would be…“no more hungry”. However, in the midst of all the suffering are the sounds of children playing, churches holding services and singing with all their might, knowing that the Sovereign God has prepared a place for them and all of His children in a Kingdom which has no end.

 

porch-fellowship.jpgOne of the most significant issues in Christianity is the privilege of corporate fellowship. It is a marvelous thing to not only observe, but also of which to be a part. One’s personal relationship with Christ is to be intimate with Him, but the greater part of that intimacy is to carry it into the corporate meeting. It is there that it is shared with the brothers and sisters and becomes pregnant and delivers more of the knowledge of Christ than can be obtained in isolation. Our worship experiences on ‘the porch’ were just that. How marvelous to experience this yourself but then to see a brother or sister awakening to more of Christ is to enhance Christ within oneself. Together, we took a journey into a ‘room’ of his kingdom and while there we saw things together, which are difficult, if not impossible to express. However, in an ‘earthy’ sort of way an attempt is made through the song above:“He loves us” which says, “earth meets heaven like a sloppy wet kiss and my heart turns violently in my chest. I don’t have time to maintain these regrets, when I think about the way that He loves us…” Yes, it is rather earthy. Maybe too earthy. However, for people who are not well versed in theology and don’t have the vocabulary yet to express the high things of God in a more ‘acceptable manner’, I say, ‘Go for it’! It doesn’t take long to run out of words when trying to express the passion God has for us and the passion we are to have for Him. God doesn’t cringe nearly as fast as some of us, who can express ourselves in a ‘better’ way. Rather, I think he may even smile. Will He take us on and grant us the ability to tell the story in a more acceptabel manner? Will we eventually articulate our experience with Christ in a better way? Maybe. I do hope that when we get to the place where we can say it better that we don’t lose the passion and experience of it. It’s one thing to read about a love story. It is entirely different matter to live it. As I review in my heart of hearts the journey I experienced just days ago, I am left with a deeper passion for my Lord and a deeper desire to fellowship with those who KNOW HIM AND WANT TO MAKE HIM KNOWN.


December 13th, 2007 Posted by | Church, Fellowship, Relationships, True Church LIfe | 2 comments

A Convenient God…A struggling Faith

Please view the video clip before reading my comments…

Whoa! That was powerful, huh? As I watched it I had a whole bushel basket full of emotions and thoughts that flooded my mind. I was thrilled as the young lady danced with the Lord and allowed him to provide for her needs. He seemed to give her what she needed almost before she knew she needed it. I became nervous as she allowed the demons and Luicifer himself to take her attention away from God with alluring temptations and then smash her hopes on the rocks of frustration and despair. I found myself wanting to warn her not to allow this enemy to sow into her sacred soil. I was thrilled as she tried to make her way back to God and I cheered as our mighty Lord rescued and restored her to his perfect will once again.

This, of course, could have been a microsom of each of us. How many times have we found ourselves in the glorious Presence of God with our vision in tact and our faith so strong we could move a mountain (or at least leap a tall building with a single bound). Then, almost without warning, the scene changes and we find ourselves in a dark spiritual cavern with hords of demons all around us, pulling us further and further away from the Lord we love. How did we get here anyway?

Life just isn’t fair is it? For what did you sign up, when you became a Christian? Did you think it was going to involve all this struggle? What kind of a God is it who allows us to go through such trials, disappointments and hurts? As I look at the state of the Church today and compare what we have with what the New Testament teaches, I find a large gap. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his classic book, “The Call to discipleship”, “When Jesus Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” How does that mesh with the convenient Christianity in our western culture? I ask, “In an effort to become culturally relevant with the gospel message are we in danger of losing the Christ of the gospel ?” I mused with the flock under my charge recently, “When was the last time you saw someone weeping over their sins, because they knew they had offended a holy God?” I dare say it is a very rare event. Rather, it is more common for people to simply want to add a little ‘Jesus’ to their life, so to speak. After all they don’t really think their life is all that bad, but could use a little boost in the right direction.

A Christianity which fails to prepare a young believer for battles in life is a Christianity not worth having. To get someone to ‘grunt’ at a few theological statements, pronounce them saved and leave them to face the hords of evil by themselves is to place them in a worse state than they were previously. A six week course in ‘discpleship’ was not sufficient for the first disciples of Jesus and certainly will not suffice for us today.

The young lady in the video depicts most all of us, when we first become Christians. The birds sing more sweetly. The trees seem to blow more fervently in the breeze. We pray and our prayers are answered. It is so very easy to believe…But, there comes a time, when this loving God of ours allows us to be tested and tried. We pray and are met with silence. Instead of a gentle breeze at our back, we find gail force winds in our face. No robins or sparrows flitting around us now, but rather vultures swarm us, threatening to pick the last ounce of hope from our faith. In the beginning we had perfect fellowship with the Lord. He was with us all the time, but now, we can hardly sense him at all. WHY? Why does a supposedly loving God treat us this way? Why doesn’t he just ‘swoop’ down and defeat that which opposes our newfound faith? Why does He wait so long before rescuing us? I confess, I don’t know all the answers to those questions. I do know there is something important about the struggle of faith. It is important for us to come to the determination that we want God, his kingdom, his will, his way, no matter what. It is important for us to struggle long enough to know that we are absolutely unable to help ourselves. It is when we reach the end of our horded resources that our Father’s full giving has only begun.

So, is your god convenient? Does he do what you want him to do, when you want him to do it? Will you serve him, even when he disappoints you? Does he immediately rescue you out of all your trials? If not, hold on. You just might have the right God after all. Though He linger long He never cometh late.

August 23rd, 2007 Posted by | Discipleship, True Church LIfe | 3 comments

Passing the Torch

passingthetorch1.jpg     The story behind the statue in the picture is one of faith and endurance in the midst of trial, a vision for Christ and His Church in these last days, and promise for the blessed wedding between Christ and His Bride, yet to take place.

     There really is no good starting place so I will just begin with a vision for Church that is somewhat different than the typical “going to Church” system we have made for ourselves in Western civilization.  From my days on the campus of Marshall University in the late ’60’s to the present my vision of Church is more of an organic relationship between redeemed people, who love their Lord and express that love through their fellowship with one another.  I believe man is made in the image of God and a great part of that image is the desire of man to find his “counterpart” with which he can share life.  Since we are made in God’s image, it follows that God, too, has a desire for a “counterpart”, His Bride…the Church.  Since the early days of my ministry, I have been on a quest to find the Bride; those believers, who have a deep passion for their Lord and, who are not satisfied with the the status quo.

    My quest took me to Sarasota, Florida where I met Steve Coder. siesta-key-beach.jpg  Steve is the President of Hand to the Plow Ministries  , a  mission group with a heart for help, healing and hope.  We immediately had fellowship in the Lord.  His heart was as mine, longing for the Church to awaken and rise from the dead.

A short time later Kathi, Nathan (our youngest son) and I  moved back to West Virginia and began a House Church.  It was during this 3 1/2 year period that I began to question the vision of Church God had given me.  I wondered, if I was on the right trail or not.  Finally, in the summer of 1996 I put out a fleece and asked God to let me know by September 12, 1996, if my vision of the Church was the direction in which He wanted me to go.

      Steve called from Florida and asked if I would meet him in Atlanta, GA for the Open Church Conference.  A friend of ours was to be the keynote speaker.  I agreed to meet him there.  We arrived at a beautiful 5-star hotel with a winding staircase, waterfall, and green foilage everywhere.  After the afternoon session, I stopped by the book table and purchased a book by James Chen, a disciple of Watchman Nee.  The book was titled, “The Passing of the Torch”.  The gist of it is that there are times when God puts his hand on a group of people and uses them uniquely for a period of time and for a specific reason.  Mr. Chen further commented that just as surely as God puts his hand on a group he may also withdraw his hand of special anointing.  Chen reasoned, “Wise is the man and wise is the group, who recognizes when God has PASSED THE TORCH to someone else”.  Watchman Nee once said, “to be used of God once in a lifetime is worth a lifetime of living”.  What does one do in the ‘before’ and the ‘after’?  Our assignment is simply to love and serve our Lord and leave the special anointings and ministries to him…I digress…

     I purchased the book, which, incidentally, had a picture of one passing the torch to the other on the cover. Steve and I decided to go to the deli in the hotel to get a sandwich.  While sitting at the table.  I suddenly realized it was September 12th and it was nearly dark and I had not heard from the Lord about the direction for my life.  I said to Steve, who had been praying with me, “Well, brother, I can’t tell that God has said anything about direction for my life”.  Steve said, “It’s not over till it’s over.”  When he said that, I looked up and coming down the beautiful, winding staircase was a bride and groom in full wedding apparel.  I looked at Steve and he at me and he said, “Do you need any other sign?”  Embarassed

     The wedding couple walked past us and out the door into a beautiful garden.  Steve and I followed them.  But as surely as the anointing of God was on them in the hotel, it left and we were drawn to continue walking.  It was then that we came upon the statue seen above.   I had just purchased a book by the title of “Passing the Torch”.  God had confirmed mine and our vision of the Bride of Christ and now he seemed to be saying that we were among those who would take this message of passion and organic commitment to some measure of the Body of Christ.  The torch has been passed to us.  For how long I do not know.  Who passed it to us?  Don’t know that either.  But I do know this is a vital part of Supreme Ambition Ministries.  I stand in that knowledge today and run with perseverance the race set before me.   Would you run with me?

August 16th, 2007 Posted by | True Church LIfe | one comment

Where Does the Church Live?

Where does the Church live? Now, that is a strange question. However, I believe the answer to it or at least the effort to do so may be just the antidote needed to put the fullness of life into the Body of Christ.

I just recently saw the “youtube” video clip of the Battle at Kruger. If you have not seen it yet, please take time to view it now (click on the arrow or URL above). It is well worth the effort…As I watched this clip I was moved deeply by the actions I saw the herd of Cape Buffalo take in rescuing the little calf. Having watched the clip you now know that their were a small group of buffalo, who were separated from the herd and were attacked by a Pride of lions. The lions singled out a young calf, tackling it into the water and were preparing for a feast when a crocodile felt he might join them for lunch by clamping down on the hind quarters of the little calf. A tug of war ensued between the crocodile and the lions with the calf as the ‘pull-ee’. The lions won the tug of war and the little calf looked as though he would be lunch for the feline pride.

buffalo.jpg Suddenly, the entire herd of Cape Buffalo (approx. 100) make their way back towards the “lunch table” and they have one thing on their minds. They are going to rescue the calf. What follows is perhaps one of the most beautiful pictures of unity I have ever seen. The Herd against the Pride. The lesser against the greater. The vassals against the crown. However, you might like to put it, the buffalo forgot all fear and with calculated abandonment they proceeded to make the hunter the hunted. They gouged, kicked, chased and snorted at the lions until…they let go and the little calf just simply stood up and disappeared into the herd of buffalo. WOW!!

As I watched the event unfold I gave pause to something. I thought how the safety of the herd was in their ability to stick together. I mused about the fact that lions live in prides, sheep live in flocks, wolves live in packs. The safety of each of these animal groups is in direct proportion to their place within their environment. With that in mind I thought, “What is the environment of the Church? Where do the people of God live? We don’t live in herds, coveys, or prides. Maybe until we find our proper living environment we will have great difficulty getting the living of the Christian life right. Then it came to me, Jesus established the Church as the environment and realm where Christians live. Now when I say church I do not meanchurch-building.jpg but rather the people of God, you and me…us…we…from every tribe, nation, language and race.

Jesus’ overriding prayer in John 17:21 was “that they may all be one as you, Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (ESV). In order for that to take place we will have to do similarly as did the herd of buffalo. We must surrender to the will of the Alpha (Christ). We must love Him, our environment (church), and we must live in utter abandonment to Christ and His purposes. We must find ways to move together organically. We must live together, function together, die together and live together. When we do, the culture around us will say, WOW!! Until then, we will continue to be just so many Christians caught between a lion and a crocodile. We will be lunch for any and all predators.

 

August 9th, 2007 Posted by | True Church LIfe | 5 comments

Who’s the Boss?

accountability.jpgIn these days of the Church where there seems to be an awakening towards the Biblical concept of Body life and every member ministry, it becomes more imperative than ever that a concise account be developed on the subject of both corporate and personal accountability. Without such a foundation the Church would be doomed to ultimate destruction, since every member would be an end unto himself, and there would be virtually no way of “discerning the spirits” to see if they be of God (I John 4:1). Interestingly, this problem does not seem quite so prevalent within the more liberal parts of the Church, but rather poses a question among the more conservative and evangelical branches. Interestingly, among the charismatic renewal groups and those who claim total independence from any protestant denomination, and where the gifts and callings of the Church are expanded to include such offices as: Apostle and Prophet, the concept of submission and authority has become a subject of paramount importance. Unfortunately, such a teaching in the hands of men can easily become a tool to be used to “feather one’s own nest”, and to get others to do what one wants them to do. It is a known axiom that “absolute power corrupts absolutely”, and never has this been more true than within the perimeters of the Body of Christ.

     All across the earth and throughout the ages it has been proven beyond any doubt that men cannot handle very much power. Most ministers of the gospel begin with the most sincere of intentions, but with every step of freedom comes the added responsibility that one must also take steps to insure the gifts given by God are used strictly for His glory and not for the building of one’s own kingdom. In that great and glorious “Day of the Lord”, those who have been given much are also those of whom much is required. Sadly, I fear many of us with this awesome responsibility are in danger of failing our accountability, because our concern has been more with our performance than with His glory. The Old Testament concept of the authority of the man of God is a marvelous example of respect for authority. Saul’s awe of Samuel, and David’s fear and honor of the same laid the groundwork for the New Testament authority of the Church. Commands such as: “Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm” (Ps. 105:15), or “Honor my prophets and you will prosper…” add to the weight of evidence that the honor and treatment of “the man of God” invokes the pleasure of God. Conversely, to treat such ones with disrespect may incur the displeasure of God. Such was the case with Miriam, the sister of Moses, when she was stricken with leprosy because she felt the power of God ought to be dispersed among others rather than resting upon just one man. One might say that Miriam was ahead of her time. It was not that she was wrong in her concept, but her motive was wrong. On another occasion, Eldad and Medad were prophesying in the camp of Israel. Joshua, defending the authority of Moses, asked that they be rebuked. Moses’ response was to offer a wish that “all of God’s men were prophets…” It was vital that a proper respect for the authority of God’s representative be laid in the Old Testament.

      Although the New Testament certainly teaches that, persons of God are to be honored, I believe the more weighty evidence rests with the corporate Body rather than the individual. However, for the corporate Body of Christ to function in a proper manner, it is necessary that each individual view himself/herself as a part of a whole rather than an isolated unit. Just as a burning ember removed from the roaring fire soon looses its energy, so does the Christian isolated from the rest of the Body become ineffective and self-serving. One need only look at the life of Jesus to find evidence of the importance of accountability. When dealing with Jesus, one would think that surely here is one who would not be required to answer to anyone. True! However, within the sovereignty of the Godhead a decision was made that though equal, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit would also be mutually responsible to one another. This is evidenced in scripture in many ways. While conversing with the Pharisees on one occasion, Jesus said, “…By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me…” (John 5:30). Earlier in the same conversation He told them, “…the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”(John 5:19). Here we have a divine illustration of mutual submission, with which Paul was later to challenge the Churches at Ephesus and Philippi. To the one he said, “Submit to one another…” (Eph. 5:21), and to the other he instructed, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves…” (Phil. 2:3). These are powerful evidences of the voluntary accountability of both our Lord and some of the earliest of New Testament Churches.

     Additional examples from the life of Jesus are found in such passages such as John 2:4 where Jesus speaks to his mother concerning the shortage of wine at the wedding at Cana, and says, “Woman! What have I to do with you?” He, who had been perfectly obedient to his parents to that point in his life, identified a greater one to whom he must now be accountable. Of course, no discussion on the subject of accountability would be complete without Jesus’ experience in the Garden of Gethsemane, when dealing with the fact of separation from his Father and the taking on of sin he said, “…not as I will, but as you will…” (Matt.26:39) In addition, it would seem that Jesus left some of His most powerful words until the final hours of His life. Upon leaving the upper room and walking the rather short distance to Gethsemane, He paused to bring to the hearts of his confused disciples the essence of His message and the key to the Christian life. Looking at a vine growing in a vineyard, Jesus called to mind the historical significance of Israel as a “vine”, and her failure to bear the fruit of her calling. In John 15, He illustrated the interdependence of the disciples’ lives when he said, “I am the true vine…and you are the branches…” It is this interdependence that would best characterize the ecclesia of God. The point of the matter is that the entire universe is made by Him and for Him, and dwells within Him (Col.1:15-20), therefore, for man to establish his independence from God is futile at best. Furthermore, the fact that we all are a part of the vine predicts mutual responsibility and accountability. Jesus said, “Without me ye can do nothing…” (John 15:5).

     Students of the Bible quickly recognize the voluntary submission of Jesus. For example, note Him who was God of Very God, and who had all authority in heaven and earth making a statement such as: “I only do what I see my Father doing…” (John 5:19), or “I only speak what I hear my Father saying…” (John 5:30). The Apostle Paul adds greater weight to the theme of accountability in Phil.2 saying that Jesus, “who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with god something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…and became obedient to death…on a cross…”

     What does all this have to do with accountability in the Church? What does Jesus’ humility and submission have to do with me being accountable to my brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ? The answer should be obvious. If He, our Lord and Master, has made himself accountable to the Father, should we not do the same? Of course, there will be those who fear the confrontation of the Self and, who wish to answer to no one but God. While this has the initial sound of deep spirituality, it fails the tests of the Laws of love, and humility. It was James and John, who got their mother to request of Jesus that they be permitted to sit on the right and left hand of Jesus in His kingdom, betraying the utter selfishness of their hearts and identifying them as ecclesiastical climbers rather than partners in service. It was in dealing with situations such as this with the disciples that Jesus taught them that the greatest of them would be the servant of all of them (Mark 9). In doing so He was laying the groundwork for their interdependence. The letters of Paul establish for us the foundation of Biblical New Testament government as well as any writings of the Holy Scriptures. According to Galatians, one of the earliest of New Testament writings, Paul sets the standard by which all Christian leaders should measure themselves and their ministries. Paul wrote to these young believers in the faith because his “thorn in the flesh”, a man or a group of men dedicated to requiring believers to follow the works of law rather than the gift of grace, was saying that Paul was not a legitimate Apostle. Paul first established the fact that His message of grace was given not by men but by “revelation of Jesus Christ”. He said he initially did not consult any man concerning his preaching, but after three (3) years he went to the Jerusalem elders and presented his gospel, “for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain. (Gal.2: 2). Here we arguably have the greatest of all the apostles, who recognized himself as a part of the Body of Christ and voluntarily submitted himself and his teaching to other brothers.

     On another occasion he was writing to the Church at Corinth concerning the offering being taken for the saints in Jerusalem. In 2 Corinthians 8:20-21 Paul says we want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. 21” For we are taking pains to do what is right not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.” Certainly this would seem to be a perfect example of accountability for every believer in every calling and in every generation to make himself accountable for the protection and the testimony of the gospel. The early Church lived the life of accountability. Paul purposely programmed his churches with the method of personal and corporate accountability built into the very fabric of her existence. The Christian life is best lived in community with the brothers and sisters being mutually responsible to one another. For that reason, Paul commanded the believers in Ephesus to “(submit) themselves one to another in the fear of God.” This method recognizes God as the final arbiter in all things, and requires the Christian family to place themselves under His authority. Since the Church is the earthly fullness of Him (Eph.1: 22-23), and since behavior towards the Church is tantamount to behavior towards Christ (Matt.25: 40; Acts 2:47; Acts 9:4), and since the Church is the Body of Christ, it would seem foolish for one part of the Body to try to act apart from the other parts. Rather, the more perfect testimony for our Lord is for the world to see the Body of Christ flowing in perfect harmony and beauty with the abiding result that “the world might believe…”(John 17:21). This has been an effort to give a brief defense for the unity of the Church and to offer some alternative to the dangerous emphasis being place upon callings to the exclusion of the more paramount message of the centrality of Christ and the unity, ministry, and service of His Body. Gifts and callings are essential to a healthy Body of Christ. However, to emphasize the hand as of more value than the foot is nonsense, since both are needed and both must work in concert with one another to make the body move as a unit. So it is with Christ. Let us, who live and dwell inside of and make up the Body of Christ, consider one another of more value than ourselves, and let us consider the more excellent way of love and voluntarily submit ourselves to Christ. When we do, we also submit ourselves to one another.

August 4th, 2007 Posted by | Authoritarianism, True Church LIfe | 2 comments