Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Getting Blown Away

In our family devotions this morning we were considering the temptation of Jesus after His baptism, and one point really stuck out to me today that I haven't spent enough time to examine before. The thing that I find so profound about this whole exchange is the reason why Jesus was out there in the desert in the first place. Jesus is my prime example of what it means to be a Christian, and the best picture I could ever have of what it looks like to be in 'ministry', so His reasons and motivations must be of prime importance to me.
The main thing that I took away from this is that Jesus didn't make a plan and then start praying and petitioning God to bless it, nor did He ask Holy Spirit to come along for the trip. The one thing that is clear from Jesus' ministry in this regard is the fact that He was constantly being led by the Spirit rather than His own volition. He went from one place to the next by this leading, and not even the strong hands of men could change this. His disciples asked Him to change his direction, the Pharisees threatened Him with violence if He didn't stop, those beloved women wept for Him to change His course, but none of these had any effect on Him. His face was set to the path that the Father had chosen for Him. Is this true of many ministries these days or are we following those who are following their own well intentioned plans? What are the marks of those who follow as Christ followed? I would put forth that they should be as scripture says of those who follow the Spirit in John 3:8. There is a mystery to their comings and goings. Is this true of the churches we attend, the ministries we follow (or lead), or can it be said that pretty much anyone who gives us a passing glance knows what we are up to?
It is so difficult to let go of the reigns and let God blow us about in His winds, but there truly is no other way. Jesus told His brothers that when they were going to Jerusalem for the Passover He would not come with them. In John 7:6 Jesus told them that their time was always ready, but His had not yet come. He was telling them that they were running by their own adgenda, and they were ignorant of heaven's plans. They were essentially doing what we so often do, and teach others to do; we make a plan for our direction and then ask Jesus to come along. How often does He end up coming along as He did with His brothers; in secret after they left. Does Jesus show up when we are doing our thing? Yes, many times He does. (I firmly believe that He is always with us, and plan to address this in a later post, but for this analogy let's just let it slide, ok?) Does this mean that He came with us? Not necessarily. The sovereignty of God's purposes may intersect with our purposes, but please let's not imagine that we willed, cajoled, or in any way coerced Him into it.
Perhaps it is time for us to subject ourselves and those who lead us to a more rigourous scrutiny regarding the reasons, motivations and means of what they are purposing to do. Seasons will come where we will be forcibly returned to this criteria by the very turns of the society that we live in. No more will we bow to the glitzy conference posters, virile videos, smiling faces, and the bearers of the microphone. Our very lives may depend on the spiritual integrity of those who are leading us. Remember when the people tried to lay hands on Jesus before it was His time, no dice. What if He had been choosing His own purposes above the will of the Father? No dice. The only question remaining is whether we will learn while it is easy or wait until we have no choice. If this happens in our generation we may be fortunate to have our good forced upon us, if it does not we may weep in the end for the loss of all we gained.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Time To Be BIG

I was talking with a friend today and during our conversation we discussed the pressures of being in ministries. It feels odd to even say this about myself, because I really don't see myself that way, but that doesn't change the daily pressures. The demands of ministry are ever present. They rest on your thoughts like an incontinent person on a commode, unmoving and always full. Maybe not the picture that you want for today so let's look at it this way. This thought dropped on me as I was typing to my friend on Skype. Ministries attract religion like a python to a pig in a pit. Once things grow beyond a few people doing exploits for Christ, being obedient to the call on their lives as individuals, to the point where they hang a name on the thing and a sign outside asking you to come in the stench of religion begins to slowly leak from every crevice.
The python wraps itself around the little piggies and starts to put on the pressure. He can feel their every pulse, their every wiggle, their every breath, and he wants it all. The breath enters against the crushing wall of the snake's power with the will to live screaming at the helm. The screams wither against the inevitable force of the remorseless animal power, and all our sense of duty, faith, and obligation crumbles while ministry awaits. Awaits the needful repose before the next attempt to gain oxygen. Awaits the inexorable grasp for life to empty the body cavity enough to cinch its grip ever tighter.
The real snake will eventually crush the life from its prey, and will, with no malice whatsoever, devour its meal. Kind of like me eating barbequed pork ribs; no malice, but the pig's going down. The spiritual snake however bears the most malevolent malice imaginable, and it feeds not on the final lifeless carcass, but on the gasping, grasping struggles for life. It depends on this. Once it has coiled about our hapless souls it imagines days and weeks of slow, succulent, striving. Its fattened form flaunting its power in our fearfully contorted faces. The reticulated ministry snake takes it rest with the victim ever at the edge of death.
As I typed this analogy in a brief text I wondered to myself how one can be free of this thing. The snake analogy left only one option. The option that I have never heard of in all the stuff I've seen or read about how to deal with ministry burnout. What do you do? When you try to fulfill the demands of ministry it takes everything from you, and like the snake it becomes an immovable wall upon which we must expend every available energy. Like the snake it never leaves you able to recover what is spent. The snake uses brute strength while ministry uses guilt, manipulation, and shame in rhythmic cycles. What do you do against this? This time the answer came clear and true. You die!
You die not to the, nor for the, ministry. You simply die. The power any ministry wields is based upon religion. If indeed a ministry needs to wield some power over its people, them religion will swiftly rise to the need. Religion's power lies in its ability to focus us on ourselves. It will focus on what we can do, and what will happen if we don't do. It will inject every line of life breathing scripture with the insidious taint of performance. It will feed on your struggles for life and your guilt ridden misery should you abandon it all in despair and bitterness. What it cannot do is feed on a dead carcass. Jesus knew this. Jesus let the beast of religion nail Him to a cross. Religion did not know that instead of its greatest victory being achieved it was instead forever revealing the path of freedom from its deadly coils. Death is swallowed up in victory.
Be a dead man walking and see how people react to the smell. Heh heh heh!
(2 Cor 2:16!)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Ok, no spring clean this time, just some straight up thoughts about us Christian folk. What is the deal with us anyway??? I am so perplexed at this point in my journey that I feel as if my brain is doing some weird mentalist yoga contortions. Perplexed, but not as in not being able to figure out the reasons for the negative kinds of actions we are capable of, but rather perplexed by the mental gymnastics necessary for our continuation of said actions. The justifications and acrobatics that keep our little boundaries from washing away in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary are the stuff that Cirque de Soliel can only dream of.
Ministries are particularly susceptible to these machinations of the mind as they twist themselves around the skewer of truth like a snake on a stake. Almost any tactic becomes usable as they strive to protect the sanctity of their roots in past glories so that present realities do not distort the image they have narcissistically held before their eyes. There can be no outside views heeded to because the history of the ministry is not theirs, and they cannot hold the views that have been formed over the many seasons of service to the cause. Only by submitting to a leadership that may not be questioned in any way but childish simplicity that needs to be set straight can one function with any sense of personal worth. Guilt, manipulation, and suppression are the only way that these entities can continue their existence without being exposed.
The amazing thing about all of this is that God stills sees fit to save and reconcile people to Himself in spite of these conditions. If anything more clearly, in an empirical sense, pointed to a Calvinistic point of view I do not know what it is. If we are given the full reigns of control over the flow and output of any given ministry we can be sure of only one thing, we WILL screw it up. The fruit comes solely from God who will not be hindered by the messes caused during our maturation and efforts at sustaining past glories. He moves on and does His work in spite of us many times. Paul the 'Super' apostle even said that he would rather to glory in his failings than his successes because the failures more clearly pointed to the true Source than any success ever could.
I love this about God. He is never hindered in his will by our actions. How could He be. The real question is whether we are truly willing to live as if this statement is true. Could we stand the immensity of the freedom that flows from this truth???