Picture of the Week

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14 The Lord supports all who fall down,
straightens up all who are bent low.
15 All eyes look to you, hoping,
and you give them their food right on time,
16 opening your hand
and satisfying the desire of every living thing.
17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways,
faithful in all his deeds. Psalm 145: 14-17

We Were Created To Worship God

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8 “ ‘This people honors me with their lips, 

but their heart is far from me;

9 in vain do they worship me, 

teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” Matthew 15:8-9

When we worship, and I am talking a right worship spirit not fighting over forms and making it about emotions alone. Good God-pleasing worship depends on a right mental grasp of the way God really is, truth.

If we make worship an idol of our own creation, we are not really worshiping God. In the worship wars, there is a danger we are making worship into a God, instead of worshiping God. This quote below is eye-opening and deserves some deep reflection.

“How much church attendance and “Christian” activity preoccupy believers today with things they assume please God yet without ever really ministering materially or spiritually to the desperately needy people of our world? How much of our money is tied up in church buildings or spent only on programs and activities to make ourselves happy rather than caring for the hurting in our midst and across the globe? The more affluent sectors of Western Christianity frequently and frighteningly resemble the religion of the Pharisees as depicted here. God declares all such religion “vain” or futile (v. 9).” [1]

God created us to Worship Him.

True worship is based on a right understanding of the nature of God and coming before God valuing God’s worth. We get the honor to come together with a body of fellow believers and sing praises, offer prayers, hear accounts of God, of the history of God’s faithfulness; all to enhance our ability to treasure God above all things. This is true worship at its core, making God our crowning jewel of life, and lifting Jesus as the name above all names.

I love the words of A W Tozer, “Everything in God’s creation has its purpose. God created the silkworm to make silk; the bird was created to sing; the sheep for their wool. Throughout the Bible, the prophets and apostles all testify that God made us for a purpose and that purpose is to sing His praises before the hushed audience of all creation.

“The purpose of nature is to lead us to the Creator and to worship Him. The purpose of man’s feelings and emotions is to lead to the One who implanted those within the heart of man, to the Creator. Everything in all of creation is to point to the Creator and evoke within adoring wonder and admiration and worship. Wherever we go, we can worship.

“When God made the human soul in His own image, He did so that we might act according to that Divine nature. He never intended the virus of sin to infect that sacred place within man. Sin, therefore, is the unnatural thing. It is a foreign substance defiling man’s heart and life, repelling God’s gaze. Because of this [fallen] condition in man, sin is [now] natural, worship is unnatural; and so, few people really do it.”

Worship is a powerful way to connect us with the Creator. However, that worship is not limited to Sunday morning only. Every day our life is an act of worship. As Paul reminds us, “I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.[2]  ” Romans 12:1

 

[1]Blomberg, C. (1992). Matthew(Vol. 22, p. 239). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[2]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ro 12:1). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Other posts on worship:

https://revheadpin.org/2018/01/04/warning-if-you-track-church-attendance-the-numbers-are-lying-to-you/

https://revheadpin.org/2018/10/02/worship-the-what-and-why/

A Selfish Praying Church: Breaks the Heart of God

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Prayerlessness (James 4: 2b–3)

“You don’t have because you don’t ask. 3 You ask and don’t have because you ask with evil intentions, to waste it on your own cravings.”

I love this quote from John Piper on prayer. “God has established prayer as the means by which we receive his supernatural help. And without supernatural help, we cannot live a life worthy of the gospel. Everything that distinguishes Christians from the world in a Christ-exalting way is a work of God’s supernatural grace. And God has ordained that this grace flows to us through prayer. That’s why prayer must be central, not peripheral, in our lives and families and ministries.”

James points out this is lacking in the church in Jerusalem. It’s not an issue of no prayers, it is an issue with the nature and content of their request to the Almighty.

Warren Wiersbe describes their prayer life and sadly peeks into our prayer closets.

“Sometimes we use prayer as a cloak to hide our true desires. “But I prayed about it!” can be one of the biggest excuses a Christian can use. Instead of seeking God’s will, we tell God what He is supposed to do; and we get angry at Him if He does not obey. This anger at God eventually spills over and we get angry at God’s people. More than one church split has been caused by saints who take out their frustrations with God on the members of the church. Many a church or family problem would be solved if people would only look into their own hearts and see the battles raging there.”[1]

James’s people allowed prayer to become another thing that caused divisions and fights among the body of Christ. They were wanting the wrong things as they came to church. They were wanting their own desires gratified. And when God refused to grant their requests, the vitriol was so destructive they committed murder in their hearts for each other. “You long for something you don’t have, so you commit murder. You are jealous for something you can’t get, so you struggle and fight.” James 4:2

Because these members desired the wrong things, they could not ask God for the right things. People’s wrong motives led them to ask God for the wrong things, they were not receiving anything from God. “You do not have because you do not ask,” James says.

This was not only a terrible indictment of the Jerusalem Church, but it is also a terrible indictment of us.

Ever wonder why does God not answer our prayers? The reason: When we come to God superficially seeking his glory, and we end up seeking our own, offering as our pleas those things that will make life more comfortable and convenient for us. That posture in prayer is rejected.

Jesus teaches us about the proper approach to prayer in Matthew 7, “Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you.8For everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door is opened.9Who among you will give your children a stone when they ask for bread?

The heart of what is causing fighting in the church is we are selfish and self-centered. Satan loves to have us focus on ourselves and our wants and needs. Dwight Moody says, “God sends no one away empty except those who are full of themselves.” The church needs to unite around prayer. Prayer for the mission of God, the advancement of the Gospel into the hearts and lives of the communities we are called to serve. And for the upbuilding of the saints and sinners under our care.

[1]Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary(Vol. 2, p. 368). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

More from the Book of James;

https://revheadpin.org/2018/09/27/an-argumentative​-church-breaks-the-heart-of-god/

 

 

Worship: The What and Why?

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What the worship wars have done to good faithful pastors and congregations is take the focus off the purpose worship. In this series, it is my goal to lead us back. As a parish pastor, I spent the bulk of my week working with my small team of musicians and lay leaders designing worship services to help members have a service that reminded them of the work and teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

What worship wars and conflict has done to the unity of the church is troubling. It has caused church and leaders who use a modern or contemporary style to question every service they design that is not right out of an approved hymnbook. And on the other side of that has given comfort to those who use a hymnbook only, but I have seen those services conducted with little thought or careful preparation. Do not misread this opening. Or get the idea I am pushing for a worship service all about emotions. Because emotions without a purpose (a thankfulness for grace), a direction (offered to the One who gave His life for us), is just emotion. When I was a parish pastor the bulk of my week was spent designing a worship experience to keep that sense of awe that A. W. Tozer mentions in the quote below.

 

What is Worship?

“What is worship? Worship is to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring awe and astonished wonder and overpowering love in the presence of that most ancient Mystery, that Majesty which philosophers call the First Cause, but which we call Our Father Which Are in Heaven.” – A.W. Tozer, quoted in D.J. Fant, A.W. Tozer, Christian Publications, 1964, p. 90.

I wonder if part of the disconnect today is a matter of our definition of worship. A friend shared that same sentiment.

“My question is if the English word “worship” creates the problem. We come together to do something for/to God. The Norwegian “gudstjeneste”, German “Gottesdienst” is helpful, because we then more clearly see that the purpose of coming together is not to do something to/for God, but that God brings His people to do something to/for us. He is to feed and nurture us with his means of grace (Holy Communion and Holy Baptism). We really have nothing to offer God that He could not get much better and nicer from his angels. The only thing we have to give him that He does not have, and cannot get from anyone else are our sins. As I see it in Gottesdienst, God is serving us, giving us Grace, and receiving sin, and praise.”– Rev. Torkild Masvie

Rev. Masvie points out what the Psalmists sings.

The Lord is my solid rock,

    my fortress, my rescuer.

My God is my rock—

I take refuge in him!—

        he’s my shield,

        my salvation’s strength,

        my place of safety.

3 Because he is praiseworthy,

    I cried out to the Lord,

    and I was saved from my enemies.- Psalm 18:2-3

God is not some weak, needy, nor insecure heavenly being who needs the likes of us to come to feed a desire to be honored. Instead, the amazing, merciful, love God invites us to come to is worship for our benefit. He knows we have short memories. That we are beaten down by the world, by sin, by defeat. So, God invites us to come to worship to be refreshed, reminded of His love and grace. To be offered the gifts of forgiveness and life. It is not about the form as much as it is about the gifts, the forgiveness, the power of the Word, and the forgiveness in the Holy Meal, the washing away of original sin in the waters of Baptism. People of God come to worship and praise God for what He has done for us in the past, is doing for us in the present, and what He has promised to give us in a future glory with Him through faith in Christ’s death and resurrection.

 

Future Worship Posts

Vibrant Faith– encouraging our flock to remain connected to Jesus and His word.

Engaging Sermons – the preaching of the Word of God is key to worship.  Besides balancing Law and Gospel properly what should sermons attempt to communicate?

Have we underemphasized the Mystery – sacraments, faith, movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives in worship?

The Sending aspect of worship: At the end of the day we are sending people out into the mission field.  It is a movement of people to mission. Equipped through Word and Sacrament we are moving people from worship to be salt and light in their community.

 

Other blog posts on worship:

https://revheadpin.org/2018/01/04/warning-if-you-track-church-attendance-the-numbers-are-lying-to-you/

https://revheadpin.org/2018/10/09/we-were-created-to-worship-god/

An Argumentative​ Church: Breaks the Heart of God

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I remember it like it was yesterday.  I graduated seminary with this childlike understanding of the work I was called to do. “Go, Teach, and Baptize.”  Sharing Christ with a group of fellow sojourners and those yet to become a part of this collective we call the Church Universal. Idealistically I believed we are all part of the same team, that my fellow pastors and I would be taking on this fight against the forces of the Evil One together.  Maybe I should have paid more attention to the words of James. He is one of my favorite writers. James is a tell it like it is kind of disciple.  No sugar coating things in his letter.  He takes on the church’s issues head-on.  Four lessons start today from this hard-hitting apostle.

The church is supposed to be united.  It is supposed to come together to advance the cause of God. We are called to do all we can to raise godly children to love and serve God and continue the legacy of faith established by a great cloud of witnesses.   The church has been sent on a mission by our Lord and King to share the Light of the Word with our friends and neighbors.

But far too often what the church has become is a place of unrest, internal fighting, envy, jealousy, we have started a different “Me” movement, the “MeFirst” movement.  If someone were to conduct a survey you would find that many believers do not appear to have a common belief. Oh, we may claim to be in accord, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, but our actions, our conflict makes a very different confession.

James peers into his audiences’ heart and soul and sees three things that were holding them back. If we take off the rose-colored glasses we see the same things in our churches.

 Argumentative Spirit (vv. 1–2a)

What is the source of conflict among you? What is the source of your disputes? Don’t they come from your cravings that are at war in your own lives? You long for something you don’t have, so you commit murder. You are jealous for something you can’t get, so you struggle and fight. You don’t have because you don’t ask.

You have to imagine what James saw in the church breaks the heart of God.  He looked at the church and saw a shocking and disturbing thing, a church divided.  I see that same church today.  The church should be united around the truth of God and the mission. The church should be united in worship and service. Sadly, this is not the reality of what the church was that James saw on display.  He saw a divided church. James experienced ongoing hostility, mixed with brief outbursts of antagonism.

What was feeding this quarrelsomeness spirit? People were going to church for the wrong reason.  A “MeFirst” attitude driving their attendance. Members were not there to help the church and advance the mission of Christ, but to advance themselves. Each wanted to be known as somebody. Each was seeking his or her own good instead of the good of brothers and sisters in Christ.

Their lust for notoriety led them to ‘murder’ one another. Things didn’t get to the actual level, but the deep hatred led to inward murder.

Can you imagine being in such a spiritual setting?  Maybe you can.  It is possible you are or were in one and that has turned you off to Christianity.  A church filled with anger and strife lacks the credibility to preach the gospel.  It invalidates its own message. How can you ask those unconnected, disengaged members of society, ‘Come to church and meet a Savior who will change your life’ and see believers behave in such a godless manner? My response would be “no thanks, I see how it has changed you. I will pass.”

Jesus simplified the commandments for us on the night he was betrayed.

34 “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. 35 This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”John 13

 Next week we pick up the other issue in James chapter four, looking at the absence of a prayer life. And we will conclude this series with the issue of worldliness and what is the pathway back for the church.  Stay tuned.

 

More on this series on the Book of James:

https://revheadpin.org/2018/10/04/a-selfish-praying-church-breaks-the-heart-of-god/

Four Ways to Overcome Complacency as a Church

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In a 2013 Washington Post article that issue was addressed from a business perspective.  What is interesting is that if you didn’t know it was addressing the workplace you would swear Jesus wrote this blueprint.  Over the next two weeks, I will discuss how we overcome complacency in the church.

  1. Stay on guard.
  2. Share the mission. …
  3. Recognize exceptional service. …
  4. Correct poor performance. …
  5. Avoid routines. …
  6. Ask for feedback. …
  7. Reward employees. …
  8. Strike a balance. [1]
  1. Stand Guard.

In Matthew 25 Jesus compares the Kingdom of heaven to ten virgins, some were ready and prepared others were complacent and not ready.  Here is the end of that passage, 10And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11Afterward, the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

When we talk about what is missing in the church today it is this sense of readiness.  We have fallen asleep at the wheel.  The church has gotten too comfortable.  I visit many churches and rarely do I get that sense of urgency like the mission is urgent, the opportunities are fleeting, time is short. There is much long-range planning or very little planning at all.  Imagine how this attitude would avoid taking ministry and the work of the church for granted.

  1. Share the mission.

97% of the world has heard of coke-a-cola

72% of the world has seen a can of coke-a-cola

51% of the world has tasted a can of coke-a-cola

Coke has only been around 124 years (1894).

If God had given the task of world evangelization to the Coke company it would probably be done by now. – Source Unknown

It is important to remember all people matter to God.  To keep our people and God’s church focused, lift up the mission often. What a powerful message we have for the world. “However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead because of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace!”Ephesians 2:4-5

3.   Recognize exceptional service.

Exceptional service to God and His kingdom begins with the right heart attitude.

  • Self-righteous service comes through human effort. True service comes from a relationship with the divine Other deep inside.
  • Self-righteous service is impressed with the “big deal.” True service finds it almost impossible to distinguish the small from the large service.
  • Self-righteous service requires external rewards. True service rests contented in hiddenness.
  • Self-righteous service is highly concerned about results. True service is free of the need to calculate results.
  • Self-righteous service picks and chooses whom to serve. True service is indiscriminate in its ministry.
  • Self-righteous service is affected by moods and whims. True service ministers simply and faithfully because there is a need.
  • Self-righteous service is temporary. True service is a lifestyle.
  • Self-righteous service is without sensitivity. It insists on meeting the need even when to do so would be destructive. True service can withhold the service as freely as perform it.
  • Self-righteous service fractures community. True service, on the other hand, builds community.

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, “The Discipline of Service.”

  1. Correct poor performance.

During the American Revolution, a man in civilian clothes rode past a group of soldiers repairing a small defensive barrier. their leader was shouting instructions, but making no attempt to help them. Asked why by the rider, he retorted with great dignity, “Sir, I am a corporal!” The stranger apologized, dismounted, and proceeded to help the exhausted soldiers. The job done, he turned to the corporal and said, “Mr. Corporal, next time you have a job like this and not enough men to do it, go to your commander-in-chief, and I will come and help you again.” It was none other than George Washington.- Today in the Word, March 6, 1991.

I drove my congregations nuts because I never settled for poor performance in the parish.  My rationale was this work that we are called to do is too important, the mission too critical, the One we serve demands and deserves more.  After all, this Ancient of Days gave us His very best to redeem us, out of love for Him I want to give excellence back.  So, when I found people struggling to serve, I first came alongside to find out why?   Then I either helped them to improve or found a place better suited for their unique gifts and talents.

A December 2011, article in USA Today analyzed a surge in a group of Americans called the “spiritually apathetic.” They aren’t atheists. Instead, according to the article, “They simply shrug off God, religion, heaven, or the ever-trendy search-for-meaning and/or purpose. Their attitude could be summed up as ‘So what?'”

The article pointed to the following statistics from recent surveys:

  • 44 percent of respondents told a Baylor University study that they spend no time seeking “eternal wisdom,” and 19 percent said, “It’s useless to search for meaning.”
  • 46 percent of respondents told LifeWay Research that they never wonder if they will go to heaven.
  • 28 percent told LifeWay that “it’s not a major priority in my life to find deeper purpose.”
  • 18 percent denied that God has a purpose or plan for everyone.

One professor of religion concluded, “The real dirty secret of religiosity in America is that there are so many people for whom spiritual interest, thinking about ultimate questions, is minimal.”

Here is the real problem with complacency, it is not limited to the church, the unbelieving world has not only stopped asking questions about eternity, no they don’t even care.  Church, it’s time to wake up and realize that people will not start flocking back to your doors.  You have to get re-engaged and go after the unconnected and disinterested. The mission is outside our walls, among a people who feel they have no need for God.  The opportunity is great, the mission urgent.

[1]https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/capitalbusiness/career-coach-complacency-in-the-workplace/2013/01/25/9e852cd0-6586-11e2-9e1b-07db1d2ccd5b_story.html?utm_term=.2237f04b062a

It is Time to End the Worship Wars and Just Worship

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 “the sea, which he made, is his
        along with the dry ground,
        which his own hands formed.
6 Come, let’s worship and bow down!
    Let’s kneel before the Lord, our maker!
7 He is our God,
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    the sheep in his hands.
If only you would listen to his voice right now!” – Psalm 95:5-7

I can’t speak for what It is like in your church or your church body but in mine the hot-button issue is worship. If you want to start fireworks just mention worship in a mixed crowd and stand back. To add more fun and intrigue but an adjective in front of the word worship and see what reaction you get. Here are conversation starters, Vibrant Worship, Engaging Worship, Traditional Worship, Contemporary Worship, and this one is my favorite, Classical Praise Worship. No one knows what to expect at the service. What gets lost in the worship wars is worship. When I asked the question recently of the people in the pew why do you come to worship the answer range from a guilt response, “I am supposed to be there,” to a grace response, “I need the gifts God offers freely at church.” For about four months I have toyed with doing a blog series on worship but stopped short many times from developing it because who needs that kinds of pain in their life. Unfortunately, God has given me prophet Jeremiah gene and I can’t shut up. Over the course of the month of October on Tuesday’s, I will highlight different aspects of worship. As a tease in November, I will release a series on Equality and Justice. A preview of things to come.

Complacency Damages Faith, but Jesus Restores​

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And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.”[1] 

In Mark 9, we have an interesting lesson in complacency. While Peter, James, and John were experiencing the glory of God on the mountain of Transfiguration, the other nine disciples were involved in a faith crisis. A desperate father brought his demon-possessed son for the disciples to heal, but they could not cast out the demon. Jesus had not left them without the ability to perform this miracle, but they had taken their eyes off the prize. In Mark 3:15 Jesus had given them this power. “And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.[2]

They could not deliver the boy from his demonic entrapment. You can imagine the religious leaders were having a good time arguing with the disciples and used this public failure to discredit them before the people.

We often missed the point of why the disciples failed. The answer often lands on the closing words of our Lord, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”[3]But the disciples failed because of their unbelief. Matthew 17:20 makes this clear,“Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”[4]Due to their lack of prayer and discipline, in the Lord’s absence, the men had grown careless in their spiritual walk. 

The Lesson for us

 Complacency can be deadly for our walk of faith. A Chaplain shares this memory of his service in Iraq, “One of the most sorrow-filled times as a chaplain in Iraq was seeing how soldiers who’d become complacent weren’t checking their weapons as they should, weren’t keeping things where they ought to be kept, were not paying attention to warnings and precautions, would get injured, and some, in fact, more were killed by complacency than the bad guys.”

We come to God with the words of the distressed father. “Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief.” In the Formula of Concord, the church fathers wrote this, “Worthiness does not depend on the greatness or smallness, the weakness or strength of faith. Instead, it depends on Christ’s merit, which the distressed father of little faith (Mark 9:24) enjoyed as well Abraham, Paul, and others who have a joyful and strong faith.” (FC SD VII 71). When confronted with this complacency in our walk with God, like the disciples we turn to the work and sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and we pray as the Father prayed, “I have faith, Lord help my unbelief, help my lack of commitment, help me appreciate the gifts you have given me to strengthen that faith and forgive me when I have strayed.”

[1]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mk 9:16–19). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mk 3:14–15). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mk 9:29). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[4]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 17:19–22). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Jesus’ Moves The Focus from Internal to Global

 

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Churches naturally have a members-only attitude. The systems and ministries we plan and design are meant for the members. I am not saying that is a bad thing, but it is something to think about when we wonder why outsiders are not flocking to our events.

This reality is only one challenge the church faces. We also have our insider code language and Christianese. Often this language, created over time is specific to each congregation. For example, during church when the pastor sends off the little ones tothe‘Martha Schmidt Room.’ Or invite men to come to join ‘The Sons of David’ group which meets on Wednesday mornings at our usual location. We only add another layer of exclusion. It sends a subtle message this is not for you. At the beginning of Mark chapter seven, this exclusiveness has gone so far Jewish leaders have devised a new man-made law to ceremonially wash the filth of the outsider Gentiles from them to not be corrupted by having contact with outsiders. Jesus refused to honor that law and came into direct conflict with the religious leadership.

Jesus’ response to the Jewish leaders was twofold: the leaders invalidated God’s laws in order to keep their human traditions; and sin is a matter of the heart, not the diet.

So, Jesus explains what does make us unclean.

And he (Jesus) said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”  Mark 7

Jesus would explain the religious leader’s hypocrisy through the practice of “Corban.”  Corban was an Aramaic term for his Gentile hearers.  It was a special offering to God which could remain in place during the giver’s lifetime but could not be used for any other purpose, like caring for their needy elderly parents.  This would be like an irrevocable living trust.

All of this is important because it leads us to Jesus and the two interactions in today’s text. Both Gentiles, both outsiders, both excluded from the minds of His Jewish readers.

Background

Mark’s accounts of the events in Jesus’ ministry is telling. He shows the irony of the religious traditions and how even though well-intentioned, lead believers far from the heart and mind of God. In the miracle performed in the life of the Syrophoenician woman, Jesus tries to right the ship. The healing comes immediately after Jesus overturns the beliefs of what makes us clean and unclean. Much like the titanic shift God makes in the heart of Peter in Acts chapter 10:15-16 through a dream.

The voice spoke a second time, “Never consider unclean what God has made pure.” This happened three times, then the object was suddenly pulled back into heaven.

There is clearly a veiled parallel between the way the scribes and Pharisees approach Jesus, arrogantly (7:1–23) and the way this woman comes, with unwavering faith (7:25–26).

As Anderson’s commentary notes, the evangelist has set forth Jesus’ emphatic declaration that “the old way of the law is passé.” The story of the Syrophoenician woman “suggests that only on the basis of new insights from outside the pale of Judaism does faith arise.”

Why did Jesus Call her a Mutt?

In fact, a woman whose young daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard about him right away. She came and fell at his feet. The woman was Greek, Syrophoenician by birth. She begged Jesus to throw the demon out of her daughter. He responded, “The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

But she answered, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

“Good answer!” he said. “Go on home. The demon has already left your daughter.” When she returned to her house, she found the child lying on the bed and the demon gone.

Why Is She an Outsider?

A woman in the text is alone without a husband. From that, we can glean that she is a widow or has never married. However, she has a little daughter with “an unclean spirit.” The woman was a “Gentile.” Which is someone of any nationality who was not Jewish? She encounters our Lord with three strikes against her. 1) she is a woman in a male dominant society and a single mother to boot. 2) She attends the wrong church is the wrong religion. And 3) she is the wrong race since “Syrophoenician” was an unsavory racial term. In addition to all those problems now she is bringing to Jesus a demon-possessed girl.

With all those factors working against her, Jesus points out what the crowd is thinking. How dare this outsider, this dog of society come and ask anything of this Rabbi?

Jesus’ response to the Syrophoenician woman has an un-Jesus like harshness that leaves us uncomfortable. You expect a compassionate savior, not a rude one. Jews used “dogs” as a derogatory term for Gentiles whom they regarded as unclean as “muts” searching streets for garbage. It is not the cute little puppy that holds the honor of a family member in many households.  No, this “mut” does not share the family status of a valued child.

The Inclusive Savior

Jesus proves to those watching and listening He is a Savior for the world. Jesus stands in the gap of cultural norms, of religious exclusivity, tradition, and bridges the gap caused by sin.  He is there to help us all no matter our station or position in this world. He is not surprised or intimidated by your situation. In fact, Jesus voluntarily put himself in what seemed to all a hopeless situation when he went to the cross. His victory over death made certain that there is hope for the world and that there is hope for you.

Understanding How to Support The Important Men in Your Life

TD Jakes makes some good points about encouraging the men in your life.  To balance out that video here is a biblical reminder of the leadership role men play in the family.

Loving Leadership

Like Christ, Ephesians 5: 22-29

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 5:22–29). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

  1.  Paul describes more than simple authority, he defines the nature and scoop of said authority.
  • Like a physical head; supervises nourishment, care of the body.
  • Doesn’t run off on own. Constantly concerned, aware.
  • Dedicated to providing for your wife’s benefit, the model is Christ love for the church. You put your wife’s well-being and her safety above your own.  This is the testosterone gene kicking into full gear.
  1. Wives cannot submit to someone who she does not trust and believe he has their best interest at heart.  And the word submission means to yield ones will.  It does not put the wife on a lower level than her husband.  They are still one flesh, they are a ministry team. Understanding this makes submission easier, though never easy. Cf. Isa.40:10-11.
  2. Should generate love in return, Rom.2:4, I Jn.4:19.
  3. Misunderstandings:
  4. Such love guarantees a wife’s love and submission. Cf. Christ.
  5. Husband’s authority contingent on his Christ-likeness, I Pet.2:23 3:1.
  6. Excludes commands, I Cor.14:37 (Some afraid to exercise authority).

 

 

Jesus Models How To Pray For Other People

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Prayer is such a difficult spiritual discipline.  We often find ourselves with our heart in the right place but the words to say come with lots of difficulties.  I found this illustration funny.

A mother listening to the evening prayers of her sleepy little daughter is astonished and amazed to hear the following:

“Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep,

And when he hollers let him go,

Eenie, Meenie, miny, mo.”

—Balance Sheet[1]

As we continue to go deeper into this series on prayer, it seems only fitting to take a look at one of Jesus’ most famous prayers.  This prayer in John is referred to by many as Jesus’ High Priestly prayer found in John 17.  Over the next two weeks, this will be our focus.

This prayer was for special people. “My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me because they belong to you”(v. 9).  In reading this beautiful prayer through, one big question comes to minds; Who are the people described as “them,” or as “they?” Who are these favored individuals?  Those who share a Savior’s prayers and are recognized by a Savior’s love?  Who have their names written on the stones of his precious breastplate? Who have their characters and their circumstances mentioned by the lips of the High Priest before the throne on high? The answer to that question is in the words of our text.

The people for whom Christ prays are an “unearthly people.” They are a people somewhat above the world.  “They are not of the world.”  Just like our Savior, not of the world.  They were a people set apart for a holy purpose which we will get into more next week so stay tuned.

A Prayer for Security – (v. 11-13)

Now I am departing the world; I am leaving them behind and coming to you. Holy Father, keep them and care for them – all those you have given me – so that they will be united just as we are. During my time here, I have kept them safe. I guarded them so that not one was lost, except the one headed for destruction, as the Scriptures foretold. “And now I am coming to you. I have told them many things while I was with them so they would be filled with my joy.

This section is unique because it is the only place in the Gospel of John where we find Jesus using the term “Holy Father.”   One Bible scholar, Darby, suggests that Jesus uses this term because he wants God to watch over us like a Father would.

I love that image of an Almighty God with all his power and might watching over each of us with the affection of a loving Father.  That should give us a great sense of peace and calm.  When all else around us is uncertain and at times scary, we have a Father protecting us, with a never sleeping watchful eye.

For those asking the question, “But some Christians under attack and have not some died? Where was the Almighty God when those atrocities happened?”

The prayer is not that God would stop evil from ever happening to Christians, it is to protect them giving into the darkness around them.  Jesus expresses this in his request, “Holy Father, guard them.”  Christians are in direct contrasts with the world which is unholy.  The request for God to protect or guard is in harmony with God’s will. We see that God defends the disciples against all unholiness while they are still in the world. God is holy in that he is absolutely separated from and actively opposed to all sin. God seeks, by his grace, to save men from sin, to separate us from the world and keeps us set apart for himself, separate and holy. Jesus prays to the Father, “…guard them in your name, which you have given me.”

There are two different forms of the word “keep” used in verse 12.  One meaning more “I preserve” the other meaning more “I guarded”.  Jesus is only reminding the Father:

“While I was in the world, I guarded them as a means to their preservation.  Now I am no more in the world, and I come to you, Father to preserve them in your name.”

You almost see this from a parent’s perspective.  You raised your children, kept them safe.  Now they are about to go off to college leaving the safety of your house.   You guarded them while they were with you.  Now you are asking God the Father to protect them because you can’t do it anymore.  That is the essence of what this prayer is capturing.  “Lord, watch over the ones you have placed in my care. I can no longer protect them.”   We see in this prayer the loving heart and concern of our Savior, Jesus Christ. What an abundant blessing our prayers lives could be if we prayed for others with the compassion of Jesus.

 

[1] Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (p. 1044). Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.

Other blogs in this series on Prayer:
https://revheadpin.org/2016/07/13/how-prayer-can-be-like-eating-healthy/

 

Three Steps to​ Become a Leader Your People Love to Follow

lightstock_401639_medium_byrene_haney I learned early on as a leader that being popular cannot be my end goal. The nature of leadership means you must make the tough call, the courageous hire, the unpopular firing, and the willingness to stand alone. If my goal at the end of the race is to just be loved I won’t have the boldness to do what is right for my flock or my organization, my ministry, even my family. During the leadership summit, Craig Groeschel asked an insightful question, “How do you become a leader that people love to follow?” This post is the fruit of that presentation.

So how do we become leaders that people love to follow?

There was a Forbes article. In that article Employers and employees were asked the same question, “What do employees need from a boss to become better?” Surprisingly, there is a big disconnect between what bosses’ think is important and what their employees expect and need.

The bosses were focused on 2 things.

  1. Better at finances
  2. Better at technology

While

Employees said 2 things…

  1. Leadership: Where are you taking me?
  2. Emotional Intelligence: How are you treating me?

Craig Groeschel said, “As a leader, there is a big difference between being respected and being popular. You may be popular if you are respected, but you will never be respected if you are only popular.”

If you have a desire to be the kind of leader your people love to follow you must create a culture that allows your people to flourish.

Three Things You Feel Under a Good Leader

  1. You feel valued

Often the issue with creating value in people is seeing them as God created them. We miss the true gems working alongside us. Here is a great illustration.

A story is told of a man who loved old books. He met an acquaintance who had just thrown away a Bible that had been stored in the attic of his ancestral home for generations. “I couldn’t read it,” the friend explained. “Somebody named Guten-something had printed it.” “Not Gutenberg!” the book lover exclaimed in horror. “That Bible was one of the first books ever printed. Why a copy just sold for over two million dollars!” His friend was unimpressed. “Mine wouldn’t have brought a dollar. Some fellow named Martin Luther had scribbled all over it in German.” – Our Daily Bread, June 7, 1994.

Craig Groeschel shared one way he shows value to his staff, Gold Star Friday. Every Friday, Craig gives members of his team little “gold stars” to let them know they are appreciated.

  • Appreciate people more than you should and then double it.
  • Some leaders will make you think that they are really important, but the best leaders will make you know that you are important.

Are you the kind of leader who undervalues your team? Are you missing the rare talent right under your nose?

  1. You feel inspired

There is a big difference between inspiration and motivation. While motivation is pushing people to do something they don’t want to do. When you inspire your team, you are drawing out of them what God has already placed there. Workers who describe themselves as inspired are twice as productive.

Key learnings from Craig, “Humility inspires. Pride discourages. Follow-through inspires. Be a leader who consistently does what you say you will do. Centered Leaders: The presence of a centered leader inspires. A centered leader is secure, stable, confident, guided by values, driven by purpose and obsessed with vision. Passion transforms a job into a calling. When passion meets inspirations, an obsession is born.”

  1. You feel empowered.

Empowering leaders know how to unleash the best in their team. You bring out the best in your teams and get higher performance through empowerment, not command and control. “You can have control, or you can have growth. But you cannot have both.” Leaders need to learn to delegate authority, not just give people more tasks. Allow your people ownership of the ministries they are tasked to oversee and sit back and watch your people soar. Give them freedom, allow them to fail. We celebrated failure in my congregation. Through failure, we grew and developed trust, and had no fear of innovation.

Best quote on this by Craig Groeschel, “If you don’t trust your team, you’re either too controlling or you have the wrong people, either way, the problem is yours to solve.”

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