Who Do We Promote?

I’m impressed with the attitude and non-self-promotional behavior of Jesus in his ministry!

I was especially struck by Jesus’ attitude as I started reading through Mark’s gospel again recently. Mark begins by telling how Jesus was introduced by John the Baptist; he didn’t even introduce himself!

In the opening chapters of Mark’s gospel, Jesus “sternly” warns the people he healed, “Don’t say anything to anyone” (Mark 1.44, CEB). And, “Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down at his feet and shouted, ‘You are God’s Son!’ But he strictly ordered them not to reveal who he was” (Mark 3.11, CEB).

As things began to take off, Jesus refused to promote himself or even allow others to promote him. “He healed many who were sick with all kinds of diseases, and he threw out many demons. But he didn’t let the demons speak, because they recognized him” (Mark 1.34, CEB).

Once, after a day of tremendous ministry, “Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. Simon and those with him tracked him down. When they found him, they told him, ‘Everyone’s looking for you!'” (Mark 1.35-37, CEB).

This was a test. Jesus could have easily stayed in the area and rode out his “fifteen minutes of fame.” Instead, he said, “Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That’s why I’ve come” (Mark 1.38, CEB). Jesus stayed focused on his mission and refused to be derailed by his growing fame!

There’s a great deal of emphasis today on building your brand. Leaders and public figures do this. Churches do it, too. Bloggers focus on well-designed sites and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) in order to attract more readers. The internet and social media make the task of promotion easier than ever!

But, in the church, all of our promotion must be Christ-centered and mission-driven. It’s all about Jesus and the mission he’s given us. Back in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he gathered some followers, and said, “Come, follow me, and I’ll show you how to fish for people” (Mark 1.17, CEB). It centered around Jesus’ mission!

Now, there was a reason Jesus wanted to keep things under wraps early on (it’s often referred to as the “Messianic secret”). Today, we are charged to be witnesses of Jesus and to go and make disciples. It’s no secret. But, in sharing the Good News, we need to learn from Jesus’ non-SELF-promotional attitude, and keep the focus where it belongs—on Jesus the Savior, the hope of the world!

Paul & Silas Were Pot-Stirrers!

I’ve said before, Leaders are Pot-Stirrers. I’ve also listed 3 Ways Leaders Stir the Pot.

First-century church leaders were clearly pot-stirrers. In Acts 16-17, there’s a story that describes how Paul and Silas were pot-stirrers.

“These people are causing an uproar in our city” (Acts 16.20, CEB) … “These people who have been disturbing the peace throughout the empire”; other translations say, they have “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17.6, CEB).

Paul and Silas were pot-stirrers, holy troublemakers!

Of course, people can also be unholy troublemakers. That’s the case with the mobs in the story: “some thugs … formed a mob and started a riot in the city … This provoked the crowd and the city officials even more” (Acts 16.5,8, CEB). “The Jews from Thessalonica learned that Paul also proclaimed God’s word in Beroea, so they went there too and were upsetting and disturbing the crowds” (Acts 16.13, CEB).

If we want to be used by God to change the world, we must be holy pot-stirrers!

One of the best ways Christ-following leaders stir the pot is through prayer. Pot-stirring prayers include asking the Holy Spirit to CONVICT people of their sin and to CONVINCE them about the truth of the Gospel. As that happens, we, too, will turn the world upside down!

Stay Humble, Stay Hungry, and Stay in Tune With God!

When I pray some or all of our Core Prayers at Centre Grove, I often add the challenge to stay humble, stay hungry, and stay in tune with God!

I’ve written about the need to stay humble and stay hungry before. We must stay humble, knowing that we can do nothing apart from God. We must stay hungry, drawing closer and closer to God. We must also stay in tune with God!

I love the note in Acts that says, “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the regions of Phrygia and Galatia because the Holy Spirit kept them from speaking the word in the province of Asia” (Acts 16.6, CEB). God was able to guide them—and prevent them—because they were in tune with God!

If we ever stop being humble or hungry or in tune with God, we’re in big trouble. And, God’s work in us and through us will be hindered. We must stay humble, stay hungry, and stay in tune with God!

Stretch!

What do you do when you first get up in the morning? Stretch? What do you do when you get up from sitting a long time? Stretch?

Stretching. We talk about stretching our body. We talk about stretching our mind. I wonder if we ever need to stretch our spirit.

“Stretching our mind” refers to being challenged in our thinking; expanding our thinking. “Stretching our spiritual mind” does the same thing. As we go about our day, we can be influenced by the world — by the attitudes of others, conversations of others and through media. When we read the Bible, worship together, and study God’s Word together, we stretch our minds to hear God’s voice. What does God’s Word have to say about our experiences and our cultural influences? God’s Word challenges us to think differently; for our minds to be renewed.

Physical stretching increases blood flow to the muscle. Perhaps spiritual stretching can increase our spiritual blood flow. When I think of blood flow, I think of the heart because the heart is what pumps the blood. We also refer to the heart as the seat of our emotions (i.e. “I love you with all of my heart”). Prayer, God’s Word, and worship are a few things that increase our spiritual blood flow. They stretch us by leading us to love God with all our heart. They stretch us to love with God’s love. They stretch us, challenging us to serve with compassion, and to speak in love and humility.

Physical stretching improves flexibility. Spiritually, improved flexibility means we are ready for whatever comes our way. Yes, there are surprises for life, but we serve a God who knows all things and is in control of all things. God teaches us to be more flexible, relying on him in his great power and love for us.

Lastly, one article on physical stretching says, “Don’t consider stretching a warm-up.” Morning devotions are not a warm-up. They are a solid part of starting your day and sustaining and leading you through your day! Morning devotions are the way to take God with you, acknowledging his presence with you, all the day long. Physical stretching, like any physical exercise, is a discipline. That’s why we call spiritual things like morning devotions, prayer, Bible reading and study, worship, and even serving, “spiritual disciplines.” We discipline ourselves to practice these things regularly … and we are stretched.

Let God stretch you! Perhaps you need to stand up right now and stretch your body, and at the same time stretch your spirit by saying a sentence prayer to God.

Here are four suggestions

  1. “Thank you, Jesus, for this day.”
  2. “Jesus, help me with this project, or this relationship, or this circumstance (name it before the Lord).
  3. “Thank you, God, for your great love for me; let me know your presence in my life.”
  4. God says: “I am the Lord your God.” (Introduction to Ten Commandments, Exodus 20)

Protecting Your Church

On Sunday, I challenged our church family to protect the church. I read several statements from The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren.

Warren begins, “It is your job to protect the unity of your church.” He notes …

Unity is the soul of fellowship. Destroy it, and you rip the heart out of Christ’s Body. It is the essence, the core, of how God intends for us to experience life together in his church. (161)

Unity in the Body of Christ matters. Warren contends …

Nothing on earth is more valuable to God than his church. He paid the highest price for it, and he wants it protected, especially from the devastating damage that is caused by division, conflict, and disharmony. If you are part of God’s family, it is your responsibility to protect the unity where you fellowship. (162)

Warren offers six pieces of practical advice

  1. Focus on what we have in common, not our differences.
  2. Be realistic in your expectations.
  3. Choose to encourage rather than criticize.
  4. Refuse to listen to gossip.
  5. Practice God’s method for conflict resolution. (Matthew 18.15-17)
  6. Support your pastor and leaders.

On criticism, Warren suggests, “It is always easier to stand on the sidelines and take shots at those who are serving than it is to get involved and make a contribution” (164). He writes …

The Bible calls Satan “the accuser of our brothers.” It’s the Devil’s job to blame, complain, and criticize members of God’s family. Anytime we do the same, we’re being duped into doing Satan’s work for him. (165)

Warren defines gossip as “passing on information when you are neither part of the problem nor part of the solution.” He warns, “Listening to gossip is like accepting stolen property, and it make you just as guilty of the crime” (165).

Warren concludes the chapter with the challenge, “What are you doing personally to make your church family more warm and loving?” He states …

There are many people in your community who are looking for love and a place to belong. The truth is, everyone needs and wants to be loved, and when people find a church where members genuinely love and care for one another, you would have to lock the doors to keep them away. (168)

How strong would the church be if we all took our responsibility of protecting it seriously?

Every Stronghold Must Come Down!

We sang many songs in worship at Centre Grove on Sunday. Some words from “Victor’s Crown” really resonated with me …

Every high thing must come down. Every stronghold shall be broken!

We don’t want anything to prevent us from experiencing and accomplishing all that God desires!

There are spiritual forces at work. Paul writes in Ephesians 6 …

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. (Ephesians 6.10-13, NLT)

We have spiritual enemies. They are not flesh and blood. Rather, they are “evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world.” They are “mighty powers in this dark world” and “evil spirits in the heavenly places.”

But, God is greater than our enemy. Jesus told Peter, “upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16.18, NLT). Paul writes, “Our weapons that we fight with aren’t human, but instead they are powered by God for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Corinthians 10.4, CEB).

If we want to be victorious, we must be “strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” We must “put on all of God’s armor.” We must stay connected to Jesus and “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5.17, CEB)!

If we do those things, “we (will) win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us” (Romans 8.37, CEB).

Yesterday was a pretty intense day at Centre Grove. We have a sense that some strongholds did indeed come down. If so, I truly look forward to what God will do next, in us and through us!

Please pray for us!

Think You’re Safe?

Yesterday, I read through Jeremiah 7, and I thought about people who think they’re “safe” because they go to church, or something like that, but really don’t walk with God or obey God.

The prophet Jeremiah says on God’s behalf, “Don’t trust in lies: ‘This is the Lord’s temple! The Lord’s temple! The Lord’s temple!'” (Jeremiah 7.4, CEB).

God challenges this idea, saying …

No, if you truly reform your ways and your actions; if you treat each other justly; if you stop taking advantage of the immigrant, orphan, or widow; if you don’t shed the blood of the innocent in this place, or go after other gods to your own ruin, only then will I dwell with you in this place. (4.5-7).

God tells the people what they can do with their so called acts of worship: “Add your entirely burned offerings to your sacrifices and eat them yourselves!” (7.21).

God corrects the people …

On the day I brought your ancestors out of the land of Egypt, I didn’t say a thing—I gave no instructions—about entirely burned offerings or sacrifices. Rather, this is what I required of them: Obey me so that I may become your God and you may become my people. Follow the path I mark out for you so that it may go well with you.” (7.22-23)

Instead of being teachable, repenting of their sin, and experiencing transformation, “they didn’t listen or pay attention. They followed their willful and evil hearts and went backward rather than forward” (7.24).

And, God laments …

From the moment your ancestors left the land of Egypt to this day, I have sent you all my servants the prophets—day after day. But they didn’t listen to me or pay attention; they were stubborn and did more harm than their ancestors. When you tell them all this, they won’t listen to you. When you call to them, they won’t respond. (7.25-27)

May God forgive us when we are stubborn, when we become blind, and when we stop listening to God’s guiding voice! May we always remain teachable so that God can continue to lead us and form us!

What Happens When Jesus is Moved With Compassion

Recently, I was reading in Matthew 20 where Jesus asked two blind men, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.”

I love what the Scripture says next: “Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him” (Matthew 20.32-34, NET).

Mark tells about a man with leprosy who “came and knelt in front of Jesus, begging to be healed.” The man said, “If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”

Again, Scripture reports, “Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be healed!’ Instantly the leprosy disappeared, and the man was healed” (see Mark 1.40-42).

There are other similar occurrences in Scripture. Each time Jesus feeds the multitudes, we’re told, Jesus “had compassion on them” (e.g., Mark 6.34; Mark 8.2; Matthew 14.14).

Often, when Jesus saw crowds of people who seemed lost, he was moved with compassion.

I’ve always loved Matthew 9.35-38

35 Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 He said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is great, but the workers are few. 38 So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.’

Jesus compassion always leads to action, whether healing, feeding, providing, or calling others to serve!

What would it look like if we too were moved with compassion?

God, break our hearts for what breaks yours!

10,000 Reasons to Give Thanks

Inspired by Psalm 103, worship leader and songwriter Matt Redman cowrote the song, “10,000 Reasons” with a Swedish friend, Jonas Myrin.

In Psalm 103, David lists several reasons why his heart is full of worship for God. So, Redman and Myrin made a list of their own reasons and noted they were barely scratching the surface of God’s worth. Redman explained to Worship Leader Magazine …

If you wake up one morning and you cannot think of a reason to bring God some kind of offering of thanks or praise, then you can be sure there’s something wrong at your end of the pipeline, and not his. We live beneath an unceasing flow of goodness, kindness, greatness, and holiness, and every day we’re given reason after reason why Jesus is so completely and utterly worthy of our highest and best devotion.

In this month in which we observe the national holiday of Thanksgiving, may you set aside time each day to say “thank you” for God’s blessings in your life. You may even want to compile your own list of reasons to bless the Lord. May your heart be lifted to God anew in worship and thanksgiving for his many blessings!

You can read more about the song here, or watch the below to learn more.

Leaders Go First

“Leaders go first.” It’s a fairly common phrase. I thought of it the other day as I was reading 1 Chronicles 29.

King David, nearing the end of his life, is preparing the nation for its new king, his son, Solomon. Specifically, David is making preparations for the building of God’s temple. The temple was David’s dream, but God wouldn’t let him complete the project. It would have to wait until Solomon’s reign.

David said to the people …

My son Solomon, the one whom God has chosen, is just an inexperienced young man, and the task is great, for this palace is not for man, but for the Lord God. So I have made every effort to provide what is needed for the temple of my God, including the gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, as well as a large amount of onyx, settings of antimony and other stones, all kinds of precious stones, and alabaster. (1 Chronicles 29.1-2, NET).

Then, David modeled the kind of investment he would invite others to make. He said …

Now, to show my commitment to the temple of my God, I donate my personal treasure of gold and silver to the temple of my God, in addition to all that I have already supplied for this holy temple. This includes 3,000 talents of gold from Ophir and 7,000 talents of refined silver for overlaying the walls of the buildings, for gold and silver items, and for all the work of the craftsmen. (1 Chronicles 29.3-5)

And, finally, after all that, David challenged the people, “Who else wants to contribute to the Lord today?”

I love that. This is what I’m doing. What are you going to do?

David went first. He set the bar. He modeled for others the kind of commitment and ownership he was looking for. Then, he made the invitation and gave the challenge.

Leaders go first.