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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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Like a lot of people my age, I can say that I was raised in church. The Catholic Church to be exact.  And in those days my understanding of “the church” was a building where good, God-fearing folk gathered on Sundays, and other specified, “Holy Days of Obligation”.  As a child, I was told that it was “God’s House”, and so I just assumed it was where He lived, which is why we always needed to dress up to go there, and why my mom always insisted that we whisper, even when the service was over.  I did find that last part a little confusing, because I was pretty sure He could still hear us.  Even at a young age, I also recognized that our “church” was part of a larger institution known as the “Catholic Church”, thus my concept of church was largely steeped in the idea of buildings and institutions.

 

In that era, the “Body of Christ” was both the image on our crucifix, and the communion wafer that was such a prominent part of our Sunday tradition. One represented the suffering Jesus endured for us, while the other represented our way of staying connected to Him.  Indeed, participation in the sacraments was the key to remaining in good standing with God.  We had infant baptism to cover original sin, confession to cover our ongoing penchant for sin, and we had the Eucharist to cover our communion with God.  As near as I could tell, if I stuck with the program, God would remain relatively pleased with me, and my spot in heaven would be fairly secure.  For a long time, that seemed like enough.

 

But by the time I reached the doorstep of adulthood, both the internal and external forces at work on me had managed to reshape my reality. Though I can’t say that I ever stopped believing that there was a God, I had developed no real sense of connection to Him, and my ongoing participation in the sacraments didn’t seem to be making much of a difference.  Indeed, my struggles seemed very real, and my religious practice felt largely ceremonial.  So at 19 years old, as I left home to join the Navy, I unwittingly walked away from the tradition that had been such a big part of my upbringing.  Not because I was hurt, or angry, or even frustrated; if anything, I was empty.  I just left it behind like some old shirt hanging in my bedroom closet because it didn’t really fit anymore.

 

I offer this little testimony as an example of how devout religious upbringing/practice doesn’t necessarily translate into a genuine relationship with God. Of course, part of the problem was that I never really understood that was the goal.  Whether it is conscious or unconscious, institutions have the tendency to both preserve and perpetuate themselves, which keeps them at the forefront of your experience.  Even if I had known the importance of relationship, it would have simply driven me back toward the institution.  After all, I was taught that I needed them to tell me what the scripture said/meant, and to administer the sacraments, which could restore and maintain my relationship to God.  Some might read this as an indictment of the Catholic Church, but I would maintain that this esthetic exists throughout all organized religion.  Even ministers who’ll say things like, “it isn’t what happens inside the four walls of the church”, and/or “the church isn’t a building, it’s the people”, have a vested interest in the long term health of their organization.  That doesn’t necessarily make them evil or greedy, it’s just the practical reality of overseeing such an entity.

 

I did go on to build a life without much more than a passive reverence toward the idea of God, and a quiet admiration for people of faith. For a while, that seemed to be working out, as I attained some level of success in worldly terms.  But when the inevitable storms came, my good looking life collapsed into a pile of rubble.  That’s when I finally cried out to God in a way that I never had, and sought to know Him in a way I never did before.  I needed Him to be as real as my pain, and my fear, and my weakness.  It was a journey, and it didn’t change overnight, but I steadily felt drawn into something that was far more profound and genuine than anything I’d experienced before.  Indeed, I would testify that He made Himself real to me, and that radically changed everything.

 

In my desire to know Him more, I decided to take on the daunting task of reading the scripture for myself, and again, I felt as though God met me there. Though many of the individual passages were familiar, I emerged with a very different sense of who God was and what He wanted for me.  Instead of the thundering judge, demanding payment for sin, I saw the loving Father who yearned to be a part of His children’s lives.  Repeatedly, I saw Him create situations whereby He might connect with His creation, and repeatedly, I saw mankind thwart those arrangements.  With the perfect sacrifice of His Son, He finally accomplished what He’d been after all along, as His Spirit could now come and dwell within the hearts of His people.  No more bloody sacrifices, no more annual visits from the High Priest, no more middle men.  Without a doubt, this would be the “better covenant” of which the scriptures spoke.

 

Yet, the same fallen nature which led to the forfeiture of Eden, and to the request that God not speak directly to the His people (from the mountain), and to the refusal to enter the Promised Land, and to the clamor for an earthly king (like everyone else had), continues to plague us to this very day.  Despite the fact that the veil was torn, affording every believer direct access to their Father, we cling to our time honored traditions, expecting someone else to go in our stead.  Despite the promise of His most Holy Spirit coming to dwell within us, we continue to search through the ruins of a torn down temple (as if that is the only way we might know Him) as we cry out for Him to send us something more (as if what He’s already given us is insufficient for the task at hand).

 

The word so often interpreted as church within the scripture actually refers to a people who have been called out by God. It was never meant to rest upon a building or an institution.  It points us to a living, breathing organism, not an inanimate, man-made object or system.  With the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, this body would now have the very real potential (and calling) to become the manifestation of Christ upon the earth.  But to become partakers of that divine nature, one must first be willing to allow the old nature to be crucified, and for most, that is too high a price to pay.  The Apostle Paul repeatedly spoke of the need to participate in Christ’s death, so that we might also participate in His resurrection, while Jesus himself told us to take up our cross and follow Him.  Without that, there is little chance of substantive transformation, and we are left with little more than rote religious practices.

 

While the scripture tells us that there is a form of religion that God ultimately views as pure, we must also remember that Jesus’ strongest rebukes were reserved for the religious elite of His day. He manifested amazing grace for sinners, but great ire towards those who purportedly knew the Torah best, and controlled the temple system His Father had commissioned.  While the Pharisees seemed impressed with their own sense of holiness, Jesus characterized them as a “brood of vipers”.  Indeed, practices that flow out of a vital relationship with God are vastly different from those rooted in trying to appease a God we don’t really know, much less trust.

 

Religion has a tendency to stir spiritual activity, and there is a demonic component that I will simply refer to as the “spirit of religion”. At its heart it is an Anti-Christ spirit that seeks to substitute just about anything for a genuine connection to the Savior.  Jesus taught us that those who abide in the vine (i.e. remain directly connected to Him) will produce fruit.  Without that connection, “the church” becomes indistinguishable from the world, and “Christianity” becomes just another murky philosophy.  It cannot hope to point people to a Jesus that it doesn’t even know itself.  The spirit of religion is fine with folks doing their daily devotions, or going to service three times a week, or partaking of the sacraments, or memorizing scripture verses, or listening to Christian music, or flowing in their giftedness, or any other religious practice, as long as it never really results in a meaningful relationship with the person of Christ.  When this spirit attaches itself to our aforementioned nature, men tend to build lifeless monuments to their own sense of righteousness, and feel good about their eternity.

 

In 2017, the Barna Research group published an article about a growing population of believers who, “Love Jesus, but Not the Church”. It characterized this group as being largely comprised of people who take their faith quite seriously, and who have a surprisingly orthodox belief system.  It cites their distinctive as being their negative views towards organized/institutional religion, and it refers to them as “dechurched”.  In my experience, this term is operative, as these are generally folks who’ve spent years within the institutional structures of Christianity, with the vast majority of them coming from positions of leadership.  They are not only disillusioned by the abuse and corruption they’ve witnessed within the system, they are convinced that the current blueprint (i.e. format/structure) followed by most denominations will never allow the people to reach spiritual maturity.  Because of this, they’ve parted ways with the traditional model for doing “church”.

 

For those who have experienced (and/or witnessed) serious damage done within the church system, the temptation to firebomb institutional religion is somewhat understandable, but the Lord is quick to point out that there are people He loves within those buildings and organizations. He doesn’t demand that they get their doctrine and theology straight before He comes, He meets them right where they’re at.  Those of us who were the beneficiaries of such grace, must also extend it to those who are still finding their way.  In His sovereignty, God uses deeply flawed vessels and vehicles to accomplish His will – ultimately those are the only kind He has to work with.

 

The struggle for the “Dechurched” is finding an expression that more accurately reflects the New Covenant model, and allows people to step into the fullness of who and what God’s called them to be. Another challenge is not falling into the trap of misidentifying the system/institution as the enemy.  To be sure, there are inherent issues with any man-made structure or system, but if we battle not against flesh and blood, then it cannot become the focal point of the fight.  As many who’ve left the pews behind have already discovered, simply changing the venue and format doesn’t fix the problem.  Human nature, and the spirit of religion are just as comfortable in our living rooms as they are in our sanctuaries.

 

Sitting around and sharing stories about our bad church experiences will only perpetuate bitterness. It is not enough to simply leave behind a flawed system, it now becomes essential to step into something deeper and more authentic.  If all we do is free up our Sunday mornings, we are in real danger of becoming even less useful to God.  Any hope for a new and fruitful season must begin with an honest examination of our connection to the vine, but we also need to understand what kind of fruit to look for.  The fruit of genuine repentance is transformation.  Until people know us by the way we love each other, there is little chance that we will reach beyond our own small circle.  If the “Dechurched” simply fixate on the shortcomings of the institutional church, they will likely become nothing more than the new anti-institution denomination.  The Lord deserves better.  He deserves a glorious Bride, worth returning for.

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Growing up can often be a disappointing process.  When you’re 10, you imagine that becoming a “teenager” will change everything.  But a few days after your 13th birthday, you realize that things are pretty much the same.  Then you start dreaming about turning 16, and getting your license, which is cool; but again, you quickly recognize that it doesn’t make as much difference as you thought.  Even 18 is that way.  Yeah, you’re legally an adult now, yet you still have to turn in your homework and get up for school the next day.  But finishing High School is different.  Though you may not sense it immediately, the rules change dramatically.  Up to this point, there was a system specifically designed to carry you along.  There was a whole panel of adults (e.g. parents, grandparents, pastors, youth group leaders, teachers, coaches, counselors…) assigned to provide guidance, boundaries, bedtimes, wake-ups, rides, resources, and incentives to stay on the right track.  There were organized activities intended specifically for you, like sports teams, school plays, dances, and 4H club.  And there was an education system built to pretty much ensure your success.  As long as you cooperated (i.e. showed up with a decent attitude) with these processes, you were almost guaranteed to make it through.  But now, that all changes.  Adulthood is very much a give and take proposition.  Generally, you get out of it what you put into it.  Even staying in school changes.  Colleges and Universities are businesses.  You pay to take their classes.  If you don’t show up, the teacher isn’t going to come looking for you.  If you don’t turn in your work, they will not scold you, or even ask about it.  If you fail the class, they will happily allow you to pay them to take the course over again next semester.  The workplace, and relationships, and almost every other facet of life works similarly.  If you want to have a great marriage, a successful career, or even to live in an exceptional community, you need to invest yourself (i.e. time, energy, passion…) in it.  Simply showing up, empty handed, will no longer get it done.  Ultimately, life was never meant to be a spectator sport – if you hope to get somewhere, you’d better dive in.     

 

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This dates back to before I had a blog (2008-2009)

 

As someone who has been near-sighted since birth, I’ve never struggled with the concept of being able to see things that are in close proximity, while struggling to see things at a distance. But I must admit to being somewhat confused the first time I heard of someone being “far-sighted”.  In my young mind I reasoned that if your eyes were strong enough to see things at a distance, they couldn’t be too weak to see what was right in front of them.  It wasn’t until I first tried to focus a camera that I began to understand.  As I zoomed the lens in on a distant mountain range, I noticed that everything in the foreground had become blurry and I realized that it isn’t the strength of the eye that is the issue; it is the ability for it to focus.

 

I was again reminded of this concept by the lyrics to the song, “God of this City” (Chris Tomlin). Within the refrain it says, “For greater things have yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city”; which caused me to ponder all of the things that we’ve yet to see happen in our city.  I realized that at one time reaching the city for Christ had been the top priority, but that over time the desire to impact the nation and even the world for Christ had diminished the focus on that goal.  While it is certainly not wrong to want to impact the nation and ultimately the world for Christ, I felt like the Lord began to speak about becoming spiritually “far-sighted” and about the balance of things that He’s calling us to.

 

As in the natural sense, both near-sightedness & far-sightedness are spiritual impairments as well. Spiritual near-sightedness will keep us focused on ourselves, our circumstances; our perceived lack… and will likely keep us from ever extending ourselves beyond our own self-interests.  In this condition the church can simply become a place for God’s people to hide from the evil of the world until Jesus returns to rescue us.  While this is a serious problem, it should be a fairly easy condition to diagnose; whereas spiritual far-sightedness may not be quite so apparent.  This latter condition is likely to occur in active ministries, where there is visionary, goal-oriented leadership and where there is a general understanding of the fact that God has commissioned His children to have an impact in the world.  Often the only indicator that there is a problem is that the church is having a minimal effect on the spiritual condition of the community around it.

 

I’ve heard it said that if you want to measure the spiritual health of a church you shouldn’t look at the congregation itself, but at the community that surrounds it; and I believe that to be a valid point. Throughout the New Testament there is a sense that we are first called to reach out to those people that God places us amongst, before reaching for the uttermost.

 

As Paul talks about the qualifications for leadership (1 Tim 3), he says that one must be an effectual leader within the context of their own family before they are fit to oversee matters within the church; Jesus speaks of our need to show ourselves faithful over a few things, before we will be entrusted with greater authority; and in perhaps the most pointed example, we see Jesus initially turn down a Canaanite woman’s request for help, because His first obligation is to the lost sheep of Israel (Matt 15: 21-28). He goes so far as to say that it would be wrong for Him to give bread that belongs to the children to the dogs.  Though this woman’s faith eventually caused Jesus to comply with her request, this story seems to substantiate the principle that our first calling is to those that He puts within arms reach of us.  While for an individual that would most likely be his family & neighbors; for a church, it would likely be the community in which it is planted.

 

In praying about this far-sighted condition, I don’t sense that it develops because a church is apathetic toward their community, but because in many ways it is more difficult to reach the people who are closest to us than it is to touch someone who is half a world away. Anyone who has endeavored to reach out to a lost relative, an unbelieving spouse or a rebellious child would likely testify to the same.  Even Jesus Himself experienced this in His hometown; causing Him to conclude that “A prophet is never honored in their own town” (Luke 4:24).  I would guess that in many cases this condition develops after long seasons of outreach to the community fail to bear much fruit, which perpetuates the concept that it is ultimately more productive to find some other field in which to plant seeds.  While it is not difficult to understand how we might arrive at that conclusion, such thinking can result in a church becoming like a minister whose platform ministry is enthusiastically embraced, but who goes home to a completely dysfunctional family.  While I don’t believe that we have to conquer the community for Christ before we can reach out beyond it, I would suggest that our efforts to impact the community must remain at the forefront of the local church’s’ mission.  Though the local church is often viewed as vehicle for ministry, it is first and foremost a community of Believers.

 

As the church seeks ways to impact the culture, there is a temptation to view culture in broad and distant terms (e.g. Entertainment = Hollywood, Government = Washington DC…), but the Lord impressed upon me that the place He’s called us to (e.g. family, neighborhood, community, workplace, school, city, region…) is the culture that He’s calling us to impact first.  He reminded me that while Jesus most certainly came to impact culture, He wasn’t born in Rome (i.e. the epicenter of Roman culture) or even Jerusalem (i.e. the epicenter of Jewish culture); He didn’t spend time trying to engage Caesar (or Herod) on altering their public policy and that His disciples impact on the world did not come through positions of power within the cultural infrastructure.

 

Ultimately Christ’s influence is most effectively conveyed on a personal level and to those with who we are in relationship with. As I queried the Lord for an example of what 20/20 spiritual vision might look like, He reminded me that Jesus said that He didn’t do anything that He didn’t see the Father do first and that we have been counseled to fix our eyes (i.e. focus) upon Jesus, who is the Author and Finisher of our faith.

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I definitely need to preface the presentation of the following list with the understanding that I’m not saying that these traits are ungodly or undesirable; but as the church in America has in many instances veered dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality, I think it is important to understand that these characteristics are only worthwhile to the degree that they are brought into submission to Christ Jesus, and the power of His Holy Spirit.

 

  1. Knowledgeable: Though warnings about the danger of being led astray by our emotions seem to be more prevalent in the church today, the scripture puts a far greater emphasis on how our thoughts and ideas can pull us off track.  The Bible cautions us that knowledge can puff a man up, warns us not to lean on our own understanding and reminds us that even in the best case scenario our perspective will only be a partial piece of a much bigger picture.  In Jesus’ time, the Pharisees were the most knowledgeable authorities on matters of scripture and yet they were unable to discern the very One those scriptures pointed to, even as He stood before them.  Though I’m not an advocate of empty-headed theology, we cannot put our hope in what we know and/or understand. In fact, Jesus said that anyone who will not receive His kingdom like a little child will not enter it.
  2. Practical: While I tend to be a fan of what most people refer to as “common sense”, my enthusiasm is tempered by the understanding that God’s ways are much higher than ours and thus what He wants may not always make sense to me.  The Bible goes so far as to say that there is a way which naturally seems right to a man, but that it will ultimately lead to death.  In the well known Bible story of Mary and Martha, we see Martha take the more practical approach with her guest, only to have Jesus tell her that Mary had made the wiser choice.  We too can fall into that same trap, as we endeavor to serve God when we really need to be cultivating our relationship with Him.
  3. Confident: Undoubtedly God wants us to be confident about some things, but I’ve noticed that those things are always centered on Him. He wants us to know that we can come “boldly” before His throne of grace; that He will never leave us, nor forsake us; and that He works all things to the good of those who love Him and are called to His purposes.  The problem with confidence is when it drifts from who He is and what’s He’s accomplished for us to who we think we are and what we want to accomplish.  While God has indeed given us good gifts, our confidence cannot be in the quality of those gifts, but in His willingness to work through them.  A common term for misplaced confidence is pride, which inevitably invites God’s resistance.
  4. Charismatic: One of the most misleading images in all of Christendom is the representation of Satan as a little horned creature with a pitchfork.  The Bible says that our enemy comes disguised as an angel of light; that false prophets, performing signs & wonders, will deceive many; and that when the Anti-Christ comes, he will initially be perceived as a man of peace.  The idea that evil will present itself in a way that is repugnant to us is foolishness and yet there seems to be an increasing willingness in our culture to place our confidence in those whose appearance is attractive and whose words seem compelling.  Recent history is littered with examples of persona and personality eclipsing issues of character; but character is at the heart of God’s plan for us.  The Bible says that it is the destiny of every Believer to be transformed into the image of Christ and that the fruit of God’s Spirit dwelling within us is Christ’s character being revealed through us.  For a follower of Jesus Christ, an attractive appearance, an engaging personality and a persuasive argument, are hardly qualifications for leadership; ultimately it is the character of Christ that is the essential trait.
  5. Goal Oriented: As with all of the other traits on this list, setting goals certainly has its place within our lives; but the danger in becoming “goal oriented” is that our goals can take on an unhealthy prominence within our priority system.  Goal oriented people often seem willing to sacrifice people and relationships for the sake of attaining their desired outcomes; and their focus on goals often seems to impair their ability to maintain a healthy perspective in other areas.  The Bible tells us that we need to fix our eyes on Jesus, who is the Author and Finisher of our faith.  It also says that the fulfillment of God’s law is found in loving Him and loving other people.  Goals that are unrelated to these priorities threaten to be little more than distractions.
  6. Empowered: To be sure, it is God’s intent to grant His children access to the power of heaven, which He accomplishes through the in-dwelling of His Holy Spirit, but I believe that it is important to realize that there is nothing virtuous about the pursuit of power. The world loves power, Satan loves power, our flesh craves and responds to power.  While we may rationalize that the pursuit of Gods power is somehow different, I would submit that isn’t necessarily true.  The Bible warns that the heart can be deceptive and I believe that it is essential that we continually check our motivation.  While we serve a God of power and while His power is inherent in the gifts that He’s given us, I don’t believe it was ever meant to be the object of our pursuit.  Our pursuit needs to be after the person of Jesus Christ and of a loving, meaningful, personal relationship with Him.  The fact that this power comes infused within His very being indicates that it was never His intent for us to implement that power apart from Him.  Those who attempt to apply spiritual authority (i.e. power) in areas or ways that God has not ordained are at risk of unwittingly deriving their empowerment from “other” spiritual sources.
  7. Visionary: In our culture, the word “vision” can mean many things; it can mean how well we see (i.e. our visual acuity); or it can refer to a dreamlike state, where images permeate our conscious mind; or it can refer to our long term goals and the strategies for achieving them. Just as the term vision has multiple contexts, so has the term “visionary”.  Whereas there was once a very spiritual connotation to the term, it now seems that anyone who has an active imagination or the ability to “visualize” their ideas can be viewed as a “visionary”.  The problem with such visionaries is that they can tap into any number of sources for their vision.  Visions that are not birthed from the Spirit of God, but are instead derived from observations, imaginations, aspirations… would probably be more accurately called wishes, dreams or fantasies.  Proverbs 28 (NIV) addresses the idea of fantasies when it says, “one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty”.  In view of this scripture, it would seem vital that we discern the origin of a “vision” before we choose to embrace it.  I believe that apart from divine inspiration, a “visionary” will inevitably just build a monument to themselves
  8. Proactive: It is commonly held that God helps those who help themselves, but that’s not something that God chose to say about Himself (in scripture).  In fact, the Bible says that they that wait on the Lord are the one’s who renew their strength and rise up as on the wings of eagles.  It could be argued that the Israelites were being proactive when their attack on the Philistines caused them to lose the Ark of the Covenant; just as it could be said of Peter’s efforts to protect Jesus from the Temple Guard in the Garden of Gethsemane.  While being proactive is generally viewed as an essential element of what we consider to be good leadership, for a “follower” of Christ, responsiveness (i.e. to God’s direction) is the greater virtue.
  9. Experienced: It has been said that with age comes wisdom and hopefully if we endeavor to learn along the way, this should be true. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed certain patterns in life, which makes it easier to anticipate what might be around the next bend.  But the walk of faith differs from our natural journey in that God isn’t necessarily bound to work in the same way twice.  Throughout the Old Testament we see Him orchestrate victory for His people through many different means.  In one case He brings Joshua victory through Moses upheld arms; in another the walls of Jericho fall to the shouts of His wandering tribes (Joshua 6); in yet another case the angel of death wipes out 185,000 enemy soldiers in their sleep because of Hezekiah’s prayer (2 Kings 18 & 19); while in still another instance their enemies turn on each other as Jehoshaphat leads the people onto the battlefield while praising the Lord (2 Chronicles 20).  The danger for those who have experienced victory in their faith journey is that they might come to presume that they have found the formula for success with God.  Today’s Christian Bookstores are filled with books (& other media) that have been built on the premise that, My Experience + God Moved = This is How to have Success with God.  Since faith is an essential element for God’s pleasure, it seems unlikely that He would honor any sort of rote approach.  Experience in our walk with God is only valuable to the extent that it convinces us that He is our only source, our only hope and our only goal.
  10. Open Minded: Jesus said that we must love God with all of our heart, soul & mind (Mat. 22:37); and that He wasn’t willing to do anything that He didn’t see the Father do first (John 5:19). This is not a picture of a mind that is open (i.e. receptive) to just anything, but of one that is reserved for a single purpose.  The scripture also says that we must test everything by the Spirit (1 John 4:1); taking every thought captive, making it obedient to Christ; and demolishing every argument & pretense that exalts itself against the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:5).  This is not a picture of an open door, but of a guarded gate.  The open mind looks for “new truth”, while the Christ-centered mind seeks a greater revelation of the truth that has always been.

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