Thursday, June 3, 2021

Robin Hood and Jesus, the True King

 

Disney’s 1973 film Robin Hood is a classic tale of adventure, romance, and dispensation of righteous judgment. The film depicts a state of England where the de facto king at the time (named Prince John) is unfairly taxing the people of Nottingham to such a high degree that their very livelihoods are severely affected. Later in the movie, we see Prince John raise the taxes so high that he imprisons the people of the town who are unable to pay their abhorrently high dues. Everyone understood that Prince John was ruling unfairly, and that it was only a matter of time before his brother, the real king (King Richard), would return and resume his rightful place on the throne. Yet even though the people only needed to wait Prince John out, life under his rule was still exceedingly difficult for the townspeople of Nottingham.

In the midst of this state of affairs, we see the dashing Robin Hood, branded as an enemy of the state because he was robbing from the rich and giving back to the poor. While there is a subplot of Robin Hood pursuing his childhood sweetheart Maid Marian throughout the course of the movie, the greater path of the story follows the unfair imprisonment of the townspeople of Nottingham (due to the high taxes) and Robin Hood’s efforts to free the townspeople from the grasp of Prince John. At the end of the movie, not only does King Richard return and ensure that his people remain free, but we are also informed that Prince John and his minions are placed under arrest and Robin Hood is pardoned.

If viewed through the lens of Christianity, one can’t help but notice some similarities between Prince John and the behavior of Satan. First, we see that Prince John is a temporary king who everyone recognizes to not be the ruler with true power (He may be in power right now, but everyone knows that it won’t be for long, once the real king returns). If we compare this to Satan, we know that the devil may have some power now over this earth, but it won’t be forever and his ability to rule will end the moment that the true king returns (2 Corinthians 4:4; Revelation chapters 19-20).

Second, Prince John employs his sheriff and snake advisor and other guards to do his bidding, while he runs away when disarmed and, like a big baby, sucks his thumb out of raging jealousy at the mention of the true king’s name. We see this in the spiritual realm too, where the devil has an army of demons and appointed generals to do the evil biddings of the army of darkness, while he too cowers and runs away at the very mention of the name of Jesus Christ (James 4 :7-8).

Third, the taxation policies of Prince John are impacting the townspeople so much that they are unable to live their lives in a way that the true king would want them to be able to live. Once again, this is quite like Satan’s treatment of us on how the shame, the guilt, and the torment that we are now experiencing at the hands of the devil is not God’s desire for how we are to live our lives (James 1:17-18). In other words, this Prince John is a fake, pseudo-king who tries to bring judgment upon the people of Nottingham when in reality he holds no true power and is destined to not only fail but will also be shackled and condemned himself.

What if we looked upon the devil like we view Prince John from the 1973 Disney film Robin Hood, bemused at his raging jealousy while knowing in the back of our minds that his reign will be ending soon? What if we saw today’s spiritual warfare from the lens of eternity, where we know the fake king is imprisoned and the throne of the true king will inevitably be restored? It is here on this concept where we will pause and reflect. Throughout the span of the next few articles, join us as we will meditate upon the perfect judgment of Jesus Christ and how no other person in the earthly or spiritual realm (not even Satan himself) can come close to the power of Jesus Christ.


Wednesday, May 19, 2021

3 Ways We Can Hear the Voice of God

 

The topic of hearing the voice of God never fails to stir up the interest and conversation of fellow Christians (and at times, even from individuals of differing faiths or of no faith). Yet if you encountered a new believer who wasn’t quite sure of what to think on the matter, what would you say? In his book Hearing God, Dallas Willard eases his readers into such a conversation. In his wonderful book, he gives loose guidance that recommends checking three points of reference, sometimes referred to as the “three lights” which we can consult when determining what the Lord would have us do. He says that these are 1) Circumstances; 2) Impressions of the Spirit; and 3) Passages of the Bible. Let us briefly explore each of these three as an introduction to this noteworthy topic.

Circumstances
For us to believe that God is speaking to us through the events of our lives, then it seems likely that our circumstances are causing disruptions in our lives that are large enough for us to pause and ask, “Why am I here?” or “Is God trying to tell me something?” While it is also true that our circumstances could be markers or guiderails to help us make decisions that are more in line with the will of God, the circumstances we experience will inevitably provide God with more of an opportunity to show us His eternal perspective. While there is a slight pierce in the truth of his words, Henry Blackaby’s voice brings clarity to the matter, telling us that “when you face confusing circumstances, don’t blame God. Don’t give up following Him. Go to God. Ask Him to reveal the truth of your circumstances…When He becomes the Lord of your life, He alone has the right to be: the Focus of your life; the Initiator in your life; the Director of your life. That is what it means for Him to be Lord.”

Impressions of the Spirit
Feeling an impression of the Spirit is hard to describe with words. Yet, once we begin to recognize the voice of God, the movement of the Spirit can be almost unmistakable. Similar to how a child is able to discern their parents’ voices amid the cacophony of noises on the busy playground, we also can develop a keen ear to know when the Lord is reaching out to us. Rather than expecting a constant stream of theophanies like the burning bush in Exodus 3, Willard explains that such impressions of the Spirit are actually the most common path for hearing from the Lord for those who are living in harmony with God. He continues, mentioning that “as we become used to the idea that God is friendly and helpful, that He desires to straighten, inform and correct for our good as well as to comfort and encourage and that He really does love us, then we can begin to pray heartily with Psalms 139:23” (“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”, NIV).

Passages of the Bible
Available on-demand for any person who has a Bible nearby, the Word of God remains as an inerrant and consistent source of truth for the Christian faith. Willard annotates that while our modern interpretations provide more scholarly insight than centuries prior, we must refrain from depending upon the human translation to be a replacement of the voice of God. Indeed, he says that “our dependence as we read the Bible today must be on God, who now speaks to us in conjunction with [the Bible] and with our best efforts to understand it” (emphasis mine). Legendary evangelist Smith Wigglesworth shares in his book Faith that Prevails a quote that I could not break apart or shorten, for it was just too good and needed to be read in its entirety: “A man gave this remarkable testimony concerning the Word: ‘Never compare this Book with other books. Comparisons are dangerous. Never think or never say that this Book contains the Word of God. It is the Word of God. It is supernatural in origin, eternal in duration, inexpressible in value, infinite in scope, regenerative in power, infallible in authority, universal in interest, personal in application, inspired in totality. Read it through. Write it down. Pray it in. Work it out. And then pass it on.’”


Thursday, May 6, 2021

Stop Overfunctioning In Your Youth Ministry

 

In her book Leaders Who Last, Margaret Marcuson highlights the importance of balance within our lives and within church ministry. Through her book, she recommends that we dodge the tendency to become what she refers to as an “overfunctioner,” or in other words an individual who does not regulate themselves and who takes on too much responsibility for the various tasks at hand. Are we guilty of being overfunctioners within our own youth ministries? One can’t help but wonder if this may indeed be an important conversation to have when considering that the average tenure of a youth pastor is commonly recognized to be between 2 and 4 years. Let us explore more of what Marcuson has to say on the topic to help us achieve a healthy balance of work and life within our lives.

What is Overfunctioning?
Overfunctioning occurs when we have an unhealthy tendency to dive in and do the majority of the work ourselves in order to complete the items that need to be addressed. Marcuson explains that the cause of this overfunctioning oftentimes occurs when we lack the patience and maturity to wait. Perhaps caused by a growing frustration that something isn’t moving as fast as we would like it to progress within our ministry, it isn’t long until the youth leaders, volunteers, and students become accustomed to the youth pastor saying that they’ll take care of all of the odds and ends associated with running the youth ministry. Finally, after a few short years of intense and demanding youth services, we suddenly are surprised to find ourselves in a state of burnout.

What Causes Overfunctioning?
If we look to a church’s adult ministry as an example, the head pastor cannot tackle every single need that may arise within a given service or throughout the administration of the church. Rather, trustworthy men and women of God are appointed over key ministries such as worship, tech, prayer, etc. The good news is that youth ministry can operate in a similar manner. However, if a model such as this is not implemented within the church’s youth ministry and if an increasing number of tasks are being left for the youth pastor to complete, then it may be an indicator that the ministry’s vision is not clear or not clearly communicated. It’s no secret that volunteers and students are eager to be a part of a movement that positively impacts the kingdom of God. Yet outside of Spirit-filled revival, it is typically only when the churchgoers and lay leaders buy into a church’s vision that real movement and transformation both begin to take place within the community. So instead of rolling our sleeves up and oiling every squeaky wheel or setting up every single PowerPoint slide, it may benefit us more in the long run to take a moment and recast the vision of the youth ministry for those who have been placed in our care. Marcuson agrees, highlighting that when we rush in to do the work that is necessary, we are not only robbing ourselves of our own precious personal time, but we are also robbing the opportunity for someone else to have the chance to serve the Lord with the spiritual gift(s) that they possess.

Leadership Brings Emotional Freedom and Flexibility
One of the noteworthy quotes from Marcuson’s text is that “perseverance is one of the chores of leadership.” Such wisdom reminds me of James 5:10-11, where Scriptures say that “we call blessed those who showed endurance.” She explains that leadership is moving from controlling others to managing ourselves; that leadership is when we continue to define ourselves and our goals; that leadership is when we balance individuality and togetherness; and that leadership is when we are clear, calm, and confident in communicating the direction of the vision that we are casting. However, even with these truths established, we still must have maturity to understand that culture change is almost always evolutionary instead of revolutionary. It is when we have this realization that we’ll be able to achieve what Marcuson calls “emotional freedom and flexibility,” where we are “less in a position of blaming them and more in a position to appreciate what [volunteers] give [us] and their strengths” (instead of focusing too much on feelings involved with running the ministry). As we move from resentment of incomplete tasks to gratitude of what our amazing volunteers are already providing, it can help us to become more understanding of others’ spiritual journeys and how our ministry’s vision can fully employ the giftings and strengths of those who the Lord has led to be a part of our team.


Thursday, April 22, 2021

Breaking Through Spiritual Languish

 

Last month, the world recognized the 1-year anniversary of the start of a global pandemic, where life as we all knew it suddenly came to a screeching halt and our lives would be forever changed. Now after 13 months, the initial shock of a changed lifestyle has faded, and a different feeling has now begun to creep into our day-to-day lives: languishing. Organizational psychologist and best-selling author Adam Grant recently wrote an article for the New York Times that explores this feeling and what we can do about it. Today, we will review its findings and discuss how applicable this also is to believers within the church.

What is Languishing?
To help us understand more about this feeling of “bleh” that we might be experiencing, Grant explains that languishing is “a sense of stagnation and emptiness,” where you’re not experiencing burnout or depression, but instead a feeling that is “somewhat joyless and aimless.” He unpacks this further, highlighting that “when you’re languishing, you might not notice the dulling of delight or the dwindling of drive. You don’t catch yourself slipping slowly into solitude; you’re indifferent to your indifference.” Our work days become affected as our ability to focus slips; our desire to plan any travel with the family fades as we wonder if any bookings or flights made will soon be disrupted by the ebbs and flows of active Covid-19 cases; our friends who we often kept in touch with begin to drift further away as the days melt together and we find ourselves forgetting to call them once again. I was surprised by how much of the article resonated with me as I began to take inventory of my own personal outlook of the current season. And while this all could certainly be noticed within my work and family life, I couldn’t help but also wonder as to how much this was impacting my faith walk as well?

Working Towards Spiritual “Flow”
To help answer the question of what we can do about this feeling of languish, Grant proposes for us to try and work towards a state of “flow” within our personal lives, a concept that he declares as “that elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts.” In the church, this means that we find an opportunity to utilize our spiritual gifts. Grant adds, “Getting more done isn’t just good for performance at work: We now know that the most important factor in daily joy and motivation is a sense of progress.” This means that despite the heaviness or the disinterest that we may be feeling, we step forward and sign up to serve at that upcoming church event, regardless of the level of languish that we may be currently slogging through. It means we sign up for a small group that commits to meeting on a scheduled basis so that we can support one another and live life together. Or perhaps it could mean that we commit to attending church service more consistently and picking up our Bibles to read once again. Whatever it might be, what is important to acknowledge is that these actions likely won’t start with us wanting to do them; the devil won’t allow such things. After all, he knows that once we start to make moves for the kingdom of God, it will lessen his ability to use this feeling of languish to his advantage. To break out of a state of spiritual languish, the commitment to engage must come first before the desire to engage.

No More Waiting
While much of 2020 felt like a waiting game where we were supposed to ride out the storm until things returned to normal, it is growing increasingly apparent for us to acknowledge that we will not return to the church of 2019. Is this pessimistic to hold such a view? Perhaps. Yet the solidification of a new world ahead is becoming more and more affirmed with each passing day. Similar to how air travel was completely redefined after 9/11/2001, our society’s methods of interacting with each other are also in the process of being redefined and forever changed (whether we like it or not). And while we would not want to fault anyone for their desire to continue waiting for a return to the good ol’ days of 2019, the spiritual reality here is that such a stance could negatively impact to the spiritual growth of those around us. Indeed, the devil absolutely delights in keeping us in a Laodicean state of lukewarmness (Revelation 3:14-17). Breaking out of this state requires intentional effort that we will need to be held accountable to.

To help us progress, Grant encourages us to “try starting with small wins.” Practicing this strategy through the lens of Christianity can be encouraging. Rather than thinking that we can win the war against Satan through our own efforts, we employ the power of the Holy Spirit and focus on winning the skirmish that is front of us. We start with one battle. With each victory notch that we can declare on our spiritual warfare belts, the devil appears weaker and weaker as we look back and see his inability to win over the long haul. This week, take inventory of your mental health. Ask for the Holy Spirit to empower you to put something on your calendar that will move you in the direction of a healthy state of spiritual flow.

“We cannot return to the past, but we can learn how to treasure relationships as ends rather than means, and we can recapture a transcending biblical vision of commitment and community that will make us more human and less controlled by our culture.”
~ Kenneth Boa


Friday, April 9, 2021

Small Group Prayers that Spark Inner Healing

The Word of God will forever remain as a testament to the powerful ministry of Jesus Christ. While His divine role as Lord and Savior will continue to impact this world until the earth passes on, His brief period of in-person ministry also gives us an inside look to the divine nature of who the Son of God is and how the Spirit can move within the physical realm. Through actions like teaching, casting out demons, forgiving sins, and conducting miraculous healings, Jesus showed us a tiny glimpse of what the kingdom of God can do when it intersects with our world. Yet apart from His miracles, we understand that many of Jesus’s actions were not conducted solely because of His divinity. After all, many of the apostles and disciples went on to execute similar healings, exorcisms, spirit-filled teachings, and other power encounters that contributed toward the establishment of the early church. Rather, Dr. Terry Wardle postulates in his book Healing Care, Healing Prayer that Jesus’s ability to accomplish these moments of ministry was instead based upon the intimate relationship that He had with the Holy Spirit.

Our Role in Inner Healing Prayer
This spiritual truth is something that we can be excited about as well. Indeed, if the disciples were able to facilitate powerful moments such as these, then, by extension, we too have the same potential when we make efforts to minister alongside the Holy Spirit within our own respective ministries. One such ministry opportunity that we might be able to take part in is what Dr. Wardle describes as “inner healing prayer,” or where “a caregiver partners with the Holy Spirit and humbly positions themselves to be an instrument of His powerful touch.” By doing so, the caregiver is able to facilitate “an encounter with the Living Christ, precisely where the broken have been severely wounded and deceived.” He goes on to explain that “inner healing prayer is a ministry that brings a broken person before the Healing Lord, where they can experience love, acceptance and freedom. The caregiver has the privilege to serve as a bridge that joins a ravaged heart with a Ravished Heart.”

Catered Ministry Through Groups
By being in a small group, individuals can get to know one another over a longer period of time and cater transformative prayer to each members’ specific needs. Wardle agrees, explaining that inner healing prayer is best applied when we can see and identify the interrelationships that are occurring within the life of the hurting individual. Oftentimes such connections can be made in our groups as we engage in the type of heartfelt conversation that builds one another up and encourages one another to remain accountable. It is here why we had initially explored what small group members and small group leaders can do within the journey of inner healing. When small group members and small group leaders first take the time to exhibit a tangible Christ-like love and acceptance toward a fellow group member in the physical realm, it can help to create a wider roadway through which the Holy Spirit can transmit the same level of care within the spiritual realm as well.

Being Conduits for the Spirit
Prayer in this type of group environment is not simply just a list of things that are brought to God. Rather, the prayers offered within this setting can be similar to a Romans 8:26 “sigh too deep for words,” where those in the group who may have experienced inner healing in the past can take on the role of the "wounded healer" and intercede for those who are currently in need. Wardle describes this as the essence of inner healing prayer, where it is “a ministry of the Holy Spirit that moves through a Christian caregiver and brings the Healing Presence of Jesus Christ into the place of pain and brokenness within a wounded person.” Let us serve one another and be a blessing by helping our fellow group members take one step further in the journey of healing. Let us be instruments for the Lord and invite the Holy Spirit into our group settings so that He is no longer impeded by any obstacles. Let us partner with the Spirit by encountering Him within this powerful ministry of inner healing prayer.