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All posts for the month March, 2011

This past weekend I spoke at Westside on Ephesians 4. The last service I said a lot more than I did in any other service. For instance, i think I may have said to the Christians in the room, “Either start changing or get off the boat.” It came out in light of the reality that there is very little that distinguishes Christians from the rest of the world. And as a result, the word of God becomes null and void. If His word doesn’t have the power to change our character then what are we doing?

I mentioned a guy named Josh who has struggled with anger (itsonlymeJosh.wordpress.com) and my past struggle with losing my temper. My testimony is that God has changed me and is constantly helping me and Josh become more like Jesus.

So, in what way is God changing you?

Have you ever wondered why there are so many different denominations and types of churches? There is every flavor of baptist, Pentecostal, episcopal and so on.

When we planted a church in Sisters, Oregon over a decade ago, one of the first questions we were asked by a Christian was, “Why are you starting another church? Why don’t you try and get all the churches together instead?” It was an interesting observation. In a town of less than 5,000 people we were the 11th church. But there were still at least 4,000 people who needed Jesus.

But what’s with all the different churches?

1 Corinthians 1:13 says, “Has Christ been divided into factions?” When you look at all the different segments of Christianity and how little we actually do together, you can start to wonder if we have fractured Christ into our own little pieces.

When we started the church in Sisters, it was popular to use a slogan something like, “we are not like other churches.” We chose not to define ourselves by what we were not, but by what we were. Still, the temptation was present to divide even more.

I’m not a proponent of getting rid of denominations. With so much diversity in our culture we need “different strokes for different folks”, but when churches and Christians intentionally set themselves apart or above other Christians, it’s wrong.

We set ourselves apart by our theology and consider people ‘less than’ if they don’t believe everything exactly as we do. We set ourselves apart by highlighting the weaknesses that exist in other churches, as if the church we are a part of is somehow perfect.

Can we stop? Can we begin to build each other up rather than tear each down? Can we root for other churches and believers and pray that God will continue blessing them? Can we occasionally put our wallet where our mouth is and give to other churches that are hurting financially (and I’m not talking about in another city).

My prayer is that we would stop increasing the fracture and start building unity, by what we think, say and how we live.

As Jesus’ followers started going around and preaching the good news, Jesus worked through them, and confirmed what they said by working miracles through them. Mark 16:20 says, “And the disciples went everywhere and preached, and the Lord worked through them, confirming what they said by many miraculous signs.”

What confirmation follows my preaching? The idea here is that the miracles established the teaching as true. So what establishes the messages I bring as true?

Here is a list of some things that I think confirm my message and most of American preaching:

1) Presentation – solid presentation helps
2) Humor – if the message has some authentic humor people seem more apt to listen
3) Creativity – don’t be dull or boring
4) Personal stories – has it impacted me already

Not on the list is “power”; the move of God through one’s life that brings about healing and revelation.

Some say that God needs to confirm His word in different ways within our culture; that miracles would actually have less convincing power than a good story, just because our society is much more critical about the miraculous. There might be something to that, but maybe that’s a cop-out? Am I contending for the power of God? The apostle Paul wrote that he did not come with eloquent speech, but he came in power.

So, will this verse, this post, actually change the way I do life and ministry? Or will I try to justify my powerless preaching? I know that this is overstated. I believe every message I preach has something of the power and presence of God in it. If it didn’t I would stop preaching. But there’s another level.

In a church, like Westside, I’m not convinced every preacher needs to work in the miraculous. But I believe our church and our messages should be known, established, and confirmed by the powerful workings of God.

So, Jesus, I’ve kind of let the cat of the bag, so to speak. It would be much easier to not look at this part of the ministry and my preaching. But I can’t shake it. What I read in your ministry and the ministry of the early church, was that your truth was accredited to us by signs and wonders. It confirmed everything you said as true. In the pluralistic society I live in, I recognize the need to have some umph behind our message that distinguishes it from all the other noise and discussions out there. Your power would give us the much needed credibility to be heard. Here is my dangerous prayer: Lord, work your power through me every time I open my mouth. Let your power be on display in my life and in my church. I won’t settle for anything less.

The religious leaders that pressed for Jesus’ arrest and eventual crucifixion, did it out of envy. It says in Mark 15:10, “For he realized by now that the leading priests had arrested Jesus out of envy.”

Jesus was a popular figure. He was getting the attention of the people. His teachings were fresh and life-giving.

In this day of large churches and charismatic leaders and speakers, does envy exist for Jesus or for those personalities? What I mean, is that we may be in danger of receiving the acclaim that is meant for Jesus. Now, I know that many times people will put preachers on pedestals, and sometimes they can’t change that. But how do we live, talk and preach in such a way that people will focus on Jesus and not us? How do we make Jesus famous and not ourselves?

I was talking with a couple guys after church at the south campus yesterday. One of them said something about how we have “owned” the Spirit. That we have manipulated the things of God to get a certain response. And often we do something like this to make ourselves look more spiritual. Rather than constantly making Jesus famous, we let the accolades come to ourselves and our ministries.

One pastor friend of mine told me once, “Always end your message with Jesus.” The idea was that, regardless of what topic or scripture you are focusing on, always come back to the author of it all.

A life that gives glory to Christ will make Jesus famous.

Something jumped out at me today as I read Mark 14. In vs 5 a young woman is rebuked for pouring out very expensive oil on Jesus’ feet. Her decision to give something very valuable to Jesus was unappreciated by many (interestingly, Jesus was fine with it). In vs 11 there is another kind of gift given. Judas was paid to betray Jesus. There was no dispute or rebuke. Judas was appreciative of the gift.

It is interesting that our culture will often dispute giving to the church, but stay silent on how much we spend in other parts of our lives. I find myself doing the same. I will often conserve my resources when given the opportunity to help the poor and then spend that same amount on unimportant things.

Have you ever thought when faced with giving to the poor, or the the church, or to a non-profit, “I really don’t have money to spare.” I have. The problem with that, is I know I have money to spare for coffee or maybe a new gadget. Something doesn’t add up.

I’ve been challenged today to be a giving person. To not hold onto to whatever resources I have or don’t have, but to be ready to give.

We have a Wednesday night service at Westside, the first Wednesday of every month, called Kurios. This past Wednesday, one of our pastors got up and had the single moms raise their hands so we could pray for them. Then, before he prayed, he told the rest of us to take out our wallets and give something to those who raised their hands. Come on! I was so moved as I saw people, with joy, get up out of their seats and give. It was so cool to be a part of that and it felt right.

I’ve thought about this quite a bit.  Forgiveness is so counter-intuitive.  And hard.  I can feel it in myself when I watch a movie in which bad guys beat the crap out of good guys or strong bad guys abuse weak and helpless good people (or dogs!) and something very fundamental to my nature wants to see and rejoices to see the bad guys get what they deserve.  And in my story, I’m pretty much always a good guy! So you know what that means when someone does me wrong!

But I see that there is more and there is other.  I’ve seen it and am walking forward toward the spot where I got the last glimpse of it.  I get these occasional glimpses of it in scripture, in people, in Buddy the Dog, and in me.  I’m going there.  I’ll get there or die on the way.  In the big picture, I think either of those counts about the same.

In a sense, some sense, I think unforgiveness ties me to a time, place, person, emotion, situation, in the past and keeps me from ever moving on.  From ever moving on at all!  Even though I think I’ve moved on.  Still tied to that X in my past.  Forgiving cuts the tie.  If it’s been a long time, then there’s a lot of catching up to do to be where I could/need/want to be.  But the freedom to move forward is immediate and accelerated! I think.  But then what do I know!?!

I know the present moment is the right time for whatever is the next right thing.

Another note from my journey,

Jim Stephens – Pilgrim
Jimastephens.com