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As this Corona Virus crisis began to ramp up a few of weeks ago, I tried to block it out. I’m not one who looks to interpret what God may be thinking by observing natural events; I’m more prone to see natural events through the lens of whatever He seems to be saying at the moment. But as events began to pile up, I started to get pulled into the conversation. I read credible Infectious Disease experts who said that this virus wasn’t much more hazardous than the seasonal Influenza virus, which also kills those with compromised immune systems, while other medical experts were speaking as though it was the return of the black plague. Like everything else in our culture, this virus soon became a political volleyball, which was being pounded back and forth across the net. As the preventive measures began costing people their jobs, and I saw people begin to suffer, I felt the frustration brewing in me, and stealing my peace. I found myself formulating an argument in my head, and it seemed to be pressing on my lips to get out. But before it was able to escape, the Lord broke in.

 

“What do you know?”

 

It wasn’t in a sarcastic or mocking tone. He was asking a simple and sincere question about what “facts” I had. There seemed to be credible voices on both sides of the argument, and everyone seemed to be speaking as though they knew exactly what was happening, and moreover, what was going to happen. But the Lord was challenging me, as a man who felt as though he had something to say, as to what I really knew. And in an instant, I knew that my words were of no value, and that my voice would just be more fodder in the trough. As I began to fully appreciate the degree to which I’d been sucked in, the Lord spoke again.

 

“What do you know?”

 

Though the words were the same, I sensed a different question. He wasn’t asking me what I knew about the Corona Virus, He was reminding me of the way He’s taught me to deal with the world. He’s given me “eyes to see” and “ears to hear”, so that I can live by every word that proceeds from His mouth. He was challenging me on what He’d said to me about this virus and/or pandemic, and as I pondered that, I realized that He’d not mentioned it one time. Again, a wave of regret washed over me, as I remembered that the “genuine Spirit of Prophecy is not only saying what God is saying, but it’s not saying what He’s not saying”. Indeed, if God wasn’t speaking about these things to me, what exactly did I have to say to anyone else. In the midst of my repentance, the Lord spoke again.

 

“What do you know?”

 

Again, same words, different question. This time He was striking at the depth of my soul. What is it that I “know” in my heart? “I know you Lord”, was all I could think to say. And with that, I sensed His loving hand on my shoulder, and I understood that this was all I would ever need to know.

 

Like everyone else, we are being impacted by what’s happening in our world. And now, more than ever, I find myself running back to the one thing that I know.

 

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Several years ago, an internationally known TV ministry sent one of its associate pastors to prepare our church for a visit from their senior pastor.  Everything about this man seemed to be an exact duplication of the senior pastor, his voice, his hair, his mode of dress, his mannerisms, expressions that he used…  He began his presentation by exclaiming what a great church we were and with a spiel about how he didn’t know what we were paying our pastors, but it was not enough, he didn’t know what kind of car they drove, but it ought to be a BMW…  Ironically, when the senior pastor arrived a week later, he began his presentation with a word for word rendering of that same spiel.

 

While it is not particularly surprising or even a problem that these two men would share certain characteristics, such a complete replication of someone else’s image edges dangerously close to a cult of personality. And in the midst of this, I felt like the Lord began to speak to me about the difference between “raising sons” and “producing clones”.

 

As a father of four children (two boys & two girls), I can attest that each of my children share some measure of similarity to me.  Though some of that is undoubtedly due to DNA, there is also the profound influence that comes from sharing life experiences together on a daily basis.  For example, how they see their mother and I relate undoubtedly helps to shape their ideas about relationship and marriage; just as our beliefs and attitudes about things like God, politics, patriotism, education… helps to form their conception of those things. A testament to the profound effect of this is that one of my daughters is not my biological child and yet I can see myself in her almost as clearly as I can in the other children.

 

But just as easily as I can identify the similarities, I can also see that all of them possess many other traits that we don’t share, and to be sure they are four completely unique beings.  They each have different gifts, fears, learning patterns, strengths, inspirations… I believe that this is a testament to the fact that while God may have used some raw material from their mother and me within the creation process, He created them to be far more than just an amalgam of the two of us.  He created them to go further than we’ll go, and to do more than we’ll ever accomplish. To be sure, we as parents must be diligent in helping them to forge a good foundation, but it is ultimately the “Master Architect” who designs what is to be built upon it.

 

There is a very natural temptation to want to duplicate the things that we view as being successful, but as the old saying goes, if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.  It is often what has been successful that causes us to become protective of what we’ve already attained and reluctant to venture into new territory.  Some leaders fall prey to the idea of leaving a lasting legacy, which on the surface can almost seem virtuous, but which in practice can often cause what was once a dynamic organization to become little more than a lifeless monument.

 

In truth a legacy is not something that we ourselves can create, it is simply the byproduct of how others perceive us.  As much as I hope to leave a legacy of faith for my children, the danger in them asking themselves how I might handle a given situation is that they may never bother to ask God what He would have them do.  As we seek to “empower” the leaders of the next generation, we must ensure that they understand exactly where that power comes from.  We’ll know that we’ve genuinely “empowered” them when we allow them to draw different conclusions than we have, and when they are allowed to pursue visions that didn’t come from or through us.

 

As I considered the scriptural representation of these issues I thought of Moses and Joshua.  To be sure, Moses was an amazing leader, with an unparalleled record of achievements and yet it was God who ordained that Joshua would be the one to lead His people into the Promised Land.  There is nothing in scripture that seems to indicate that Joshua did anything to imitate Moses and I’m sure that it isn’t a coincidence that Joshua’s introduction to leadership began with a very definitive proclamation from heaven, “Moses is dead”.  That pronouncement seemed to signal the end of one very painful era and the beginning of another, more fruitful one.  While some might suggest that Joshua could never have done what Moses did; I would suggest that it is equally true that Moses could not have fulfilled Joshua’s mission either. In ways that may have only been known to God, Joshua was just the right man, at just the right time.

 

Those who count themselves as fathers need to be mindful that their children’s destiny is to be transformed into the image of Christ. If we are being effective in the discipleship process, they will look more like Him than us. He created each of His children to be a unique representation of who He is, and not one to be a replica of a person who happened to come before them.

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The members of an orchestra don’t come together by taking their cues from each other, they do so by fixing their eyes on a singular person and responding to the promptings of that Conductor. And so it is with the Body of Christ. We will not achieve genuine unity through increased dialogue or simple cooperation. It will only happen when we collectively succumb to the guidance of the One, who is the Author and Finisher of our faith.

 

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Make no mistake, there is a world of difference between the pursuit of happiness and the pursuit of God. One is rooted in the temporal, while the other is rooted in the eternal.  One is about gaining your life, while the other is about losing it.  One is centered on edifying self, while the other is centered on dying to self.  One is endlessly elusive, while the other comes with the promise that if you seek, you will find.

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Exposing the counterfeit is of little value unless we go on to manifest the genuine.

 

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There is no doubt that life is a long journey, made up of a countless number of moments. Most of them, good or bad, eventually dissolve into a mist of vague memories.  But there are others which distinguish themselves in such a way as to become watersheds, where the very flow of our lives can be altered.  These instances ultimately come to define our journey, and often times can significantly impact the way we see ourselves and/or the way we are perceived by others.  Such an occasion is commonly known as a “defining moment”.  Just as significant as the moment itself, is how we interpret it in real time, and the lens through which we choose to view it in retrospect.

 

An example of interpretation can be found in an experience I had in elementary school. As the youngest of three boys, I struggled mightily in school, while my older brothers were both model students.  My beleaguered parents were constantly being called in for Parent-Teacher conferences, which isn’t something they had to deal with previously.  So when I managed to go for an entire 9 week period with no significant issues, and brought home a solid report card (A’s and B’s), they decided to reward me with a new Harlem Globetrotters lunchbox.  All they were trying to do was acknowledge my progress and encourage me.  Unfortunately, I was keenly aware that both my brothers had straight A’s on their report cards, and that they were getting nothing for their efforts.  Thus, I interpreted my parent’s gift as an implicit acknowledgment that I was their stupid child, which completely diffused the virtue of their intent.  Instead of encouraging me, the lunchbox became a symbol of my inadequacies.

 

This faulty reading of my parents gesture was rooted in both my habit of comparing myself to my older siblings, and the conclusion I had already drawn about myself, which was that I was in fact stupid. Because that was the lens through which I viewed the situation, it clearly colored my perception of reality.  Though my parents never openly compared me to my brothers or belittled my intelligence, I felt woefully inadequate whenever I was around them, and thus I came to that judgment on my own.

 

There is no doubt that what we believe about ourselves is far more consequential than what others believe about us, and once we draw such a conclusion, it becomes nearly impossible for anyone else to change our mind. For me, it took becoming an adult, moving away from my family, and learning to stand on my own merits, before I could gain a new perspective.

 

While we are not in control of many of the things which befall us in life, we do bear some responsibility for how we choose to respond, and we do have a choice about which moments will ultimately define us. Remaining focused on the most painful moments of our lives, pursuing people who reject us, while ignoring those who value us, seeing ourselves through the lens of our greatest weaknesses and failures, holding on to bitterness and unforgiveness for those who’ve hurt us… are all recipes for misery.  People will define us by whatever measure they choose to use, but they do not have the power to control how we define ourselves.  When we blame everyone else for our present condition, we have unwittingly forfeited the power to change it.

 

No one gets through this life without some amount of adversity, pain, and struggle. We can see ourselves as a victim, or a survivor, or maybe even an overcomer.  I believe that we have far more control over this than most of us understand.  If we don’t like the moments that have defined us thus far, it is up to us to change our course.  I have a sister-in-law who was once an addict, a convict, and judged by the courts to be an unfit parent.  She made the decision to change her life, and though it took some time, she is now a sober, loving wife and mother, raising her family.  Not long ago she was seen as being beyond help, but today, she is an inspiration.  She is living proof that if you don’t like your story thus far, you can rewrite the ending.

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The further I walk with the Lord, the less inclined I am to offer an opinion. Indeed, everyone has an opinion, and I doubt that mine smells any better than anyone else’s.  The scripture encourages us to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God, and so I try to remain focused on the things He’s speaking at the present time.  Because of this, I’ve never really written much about the “five-fold ministry”.  Though I’ve heard and seen a lot of teaching on the subject, the Lord hasn’t spoken directly to me about it until very recently.  To that end, I wanted to share the things I felt like He showed me.  This is in no way intended to be a comprehensive overview, in fact, it may actually spur more questions than it answers.  But I feel as though there are some strong words of caution within, and so I offer them for your consideration.

 

Part of what makes this subject contentious is the issue of authority. Western ethos in general, and American culture in particular, seems to have a love / hate relationship with authority.  Within Americanized “Christianity”, it is not uncommon to see either strong rebellion against any sort of limitation or boundary, or to have people exalting those in leadership into positions God has reserved for Himself.  Some will get up and walk out of the room, while others will likely bow down and worship a mere man (or woman).  Without a doubt, neither of those responses is appropriate.

 

Despite the tremendous freedom we have in Christ, it is difficult to argue that there should never be titles, ordered structure, or positional authority. The scripture clearly states that He has called some to be apostles, and prophets, and teachers…, and He sets about an order within marriage, the family and the church.  The fear of all these things is rooted in what men have historically done with these positions and with this authority.  The current landscape of “Apostolic” and/or “Prophetic” ministry” hasn’t done much to dispel those concerns.  Too much personality, too little character.  Lots of networking, not much community.  Way too much sensation, and way too little transformation.

 

Jesus made the Father’s intentions clear when He told us that He is the vine and we are the branches. No more bloody sacrifices, no more annual visits from the high priest, and no more middle men.  After attempting to walk with them in the garden, and trying to speak to them from the mountain, and wanting to be their King from afar, He would finally have the direct connection that He always desired.  With the perfect sacrifice of His Son, who was both King and Priest, He tore the veil that separated them, and made them a temple of His Holy Spirit.  Now His sheep would know His voice, they would listen, and they would follow.  And He would give them an anointing that would teach them all things.

 

This priesthood of the believer is what Paul envisioned as he spoke of Christ being the head, and of a whole body, made up of many parts, which is supported by every ligament. As each one stepped into their fullness in Christ, they would come to maturity as the body of Christ upon the earth.

 

It was with these points as a backdrop that I felt like the Lord began to speak to me.

 

Paul clearly states that the purpose of the five-fold ministry is to help equip members for service, and ultimately to build up the body of Christ. It is meant to undergird and support the priesthood of the believer.  These ministries are in no way meant to replace, or diminish the headship of Christ, or the leading of the Holy Spirit for each individual believer.  Ministry that infringes upon this relationship has overstepped the bounds of its authority.  Indeed, “The friend of the Bridegroom never steps between Him and His Bride”.

 

Much of the confusion related to apostolic ministry is gathered around the notion that apostles are intended to become something like CEOs of the church, and that is a distortion of the truth. While the Lord has given apostles an important role, it is a very specific role, and not intended to give them limitless authority.  He has not ordained them to become brokers between Him and His children.  The body of Christ will only become fully functional when every member is directly connected to the head (Christ Jesus), and empowered and led by His Spirit.

 

The hallmark of a genuine apostolic grace is humility. It is only when knowledge encounters humility that it can become wisdom.  Without humility, knowledge simply puffs up a man.  Paul spoke of how this calling will “expose the motives of the heart” (1 Cor. 4).  In that same vein, I sensed the weightiness of these issues, the stricter judgment that comes with this role, and the resistance God feels toward the proud.  Even those who are called, and have a pure heart will have to resist the people’s penchant for wanting an earthly king, and be diligent in ensuring that none of His glory is found buried beneath their tent.  Functioning in this role will demand more than just wisdom and experience, it will require a supernatural grace.

 

I was also reminded of Paul’s warnings about “deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ” (2 Cor.11) and sensed that there are many who have simply placed this mantle upon themselves. Some have become notable for their extensive “networks”, but the Lord says that they are drawing people to themselves instead of to Him.  I felt like the Lord showed me that in the infancy of this move He is being patient, but that there is a coming age of accountability.

 

Finally, I sensed the Lord say that the first century church is not the model for where He wants to take His Church, and that though we see them as being particularly fruitful, they never walked in the fullness of the things He ordained for them. As in all things, Christ is our model, as He walked in perfect fellowship with both the Father and the Spirit.  It is His desire to do abundantly more than we could ever ask for, or imagine.

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