We had six pastors in Independence show up for coffee, fellowship, laughter, email changes and planning for next year’s ministry. It was great to watch the Baptist and Friends pastors give help to the Lutheran pastor regarding children’s worship. THIS is what it means to be a ministerial alliance! I only hope we have more next week. I was very excited about this and just wanted you to know. I pray good things are happening among the ministers in your town.
Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. . . Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. Numbers 20:1-13
I was walking out of Lowe’s a few years back when I saw a man who had left our church some months earlier. Not long after he left I merged our fellowship with another church in town and we were in the midst of remodeling our joint facility. As I happily explained to this former member all the good things that were taking place, I was also thinking, “Aren’t you just a bit jealous that your leaving didn’t cause our church to fold? Aren’t you envious that we’re doing better since you left? Don’t you want to come see our progress and tell me just how fine a pastor I am?”
I wasn’t in my truck two seconds when the Lord told me what a selfish fool I’d just been, and I was reminded of the story of Moses and the rock.
Moses, by the direction of God, guided the grumbling Israelites into the Desert of Zin, where they camped at Kadesh. In other words, they were exactly where God wanted them. Upon finding themselves without water, they did the natural thing – they yelled at Moses. Moses in turn turns to God, who tells Moses, “Speak to the rock over there, and it will pour out its water” (Num. 20:8). You noticed, of course, that God said, “Speak to the rock.” Did you also notice that Moses turned and struck the rock not once, but twice?
God the All-Knowing was not at all surprised by the action of Moses and says, “Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them!” God, of course, isn’t in the habit of sharing His glory with mere mortals (Isaiah 48:11). Continue Reading
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being (Hebrews 1:3)
A few years ago, a church I attended in Arkansas hosted a Thanksgiving service to raise money for the ministerial alliance. The alliance asked our church to lead in the praise and worship, and I played the piano on the worship team. Looking over the congregation, I noted a pastor from another church who, no matter what we sang, refused to either clap his hands or raise them in worship. He simply sat in his pew with his arms folded. That struck me as strange, because outside of church he was a happy, vivacious, demonstrative man.
I have never been known for my extreme subtly or bashfulness, so as we gathered for refreshments after the service, I questioned him his about posture. “Why, when Scripture instructs you to lift up holy hands to the Lord, and you have a chance to do so in a public service, did you sit with your arms folded across your chest?”
“Well, you see,” he began to stammer and laugh, “I’m a . . . .” and he named his denomination. I cut him off and said, “Are you a denomination first or a Christian first?”
At this point, he began to look around for help from the people who had gathered, including my pastor. He asked, “Is he always like this?” to which my pastor replied, “Hey, he’s going easy on you.” Everybody gathered around laughed.
It is sad that many church members (or goers) around the world are more concerned with offending their denomination and the people in the next pew than they are in obeying the Word of God. The congregation led by the pastor in my story will have trouble obeying Scripture because he was not setting an obedient example. In a simple sense of the word, this pastor lacked character.
Regarding His eternal relationship to God, Hebrews tells us that Jesus is the “exact representation of his being” (1:3). James Moffat says He was “stamped with God’s own character.” The phrase “exact representation” translates the Greek word charaktēr, which gives us our English word “character.”
Originally, this word meant to cut, to scratch, to mark. It indicated the tool or agent that did the marking, and eventually came to mean the mark or the impression that was made. It also indicated an impression made in a wax seal. Or, think of a coin: its image, numbers and letters bear the exact image of the raised numbers and letters of the original die from which the coin was cast. To see a dime or a quarter is to know exactly what the original die or stamp looked like.
Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the father” (John 14:9). This is true, because He was the “exact representation” of God, “stamped with God’s own character.” To see Jesus is to see God, for He is the exact image of God, the perfectly engraved representation of the very nature of God.
This brings up a very difficult question, especially for me: “If to see Jesus is to see the Father, then, when people see me, do they see Jesus?” As I was looking for the Christ-like qualities in that pastor, I began to wonder:
- When I am at my church, what do people first see in me — the Kingdom of God or a denominational version of God?
- Am I stamped with the very character of God?
- Do people see Jim or Jesus?
- As a disciple of Jesus, am I exhibiting the character of Christ the way that Jesus the Son bore the character of God the Father?
- When people see the church out working in the world, whose character do they perceive? Are they seeing the compassion, mercy, patience, and love of God, or do they see the values of MTV, ABC, Wall Street, Hollywood, Cosmopolitan, and Men’s Health?
We must all ask those tough questions if we are going to live the character of Christ and represent God in all we say and do. Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Now I want to be able to say, “Anyone who has seen me has seen Jesus.” Maybe one day, at my funeral, some kind soul will say, “Jim was the most Christ-like person I’ve ever met.” Then I’ll know I got character.
I Want To Do It All
“So Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him” – Genesis 6:22
I stumbled upon this verse while I was writing a study on Hebrews 11. Verse 7 says that Noah “obeyed God . . . and received the righteousness that comes by faith” (NLT). The Genesis account says he did everything God commanded him. It seems that Noah, even if he did have a soft spot for a nice Merlot, was still a righteous man.
This got me thinking. I wonder if anyone will quote Genesis 6:22 about me at my funeral. “Jim did all that God commanded him.” It would also be a fitting inscription to have on my gravestone. Part of me doubts this could ever be true, that I’ll never attain such a life of faith, for I’m well aware of my past (and current) tendencies toward sin and selfishness.
However, I will make a vital mistake if I equate faithfulness with moral perfection. Continue Reading
The following is an excerpt from my book Taking Off My Comfortable Clothes, which is available now. The book recounts my thoughts during the four years I was an Assemblies of God minister and a monk with the Brothers and Sisters of Charity.
- A few years ago, my wife and I visited a church to determine if I wanted to become their new pastor. We drove to the church early on that warm, October morning, full of hope and expectation. When we walked into the small fellowship hall, it was obvious we were the visiting pastors, for new, younger faces are easy to spot in this small, elderly congregation. As we passed through the fellowship hall on our way to the sanctuary, one lady gave us a short glance, quickly scanned Barbara up and down, and walked by us without saying a word. Little did we know we had just committed a cardinal sin in this small church: we were not appropriately attired.
We didn’t mean to be under dressed; it just happened. Yes, we were fully covered, but not in their eyes. You see, my wife made the horrible mistake of wearing a pretty black dress that did not fully cover her knees. That didn’t bother me — I kinda like her knees. But it obviously bothered this woman. A lot. Furthermore, I chose to wear a suit and a silk pullover shirt but no tie. Strike two. The odds were stacked against us and we hadn’t even introduced ourselves. It was going to be a long day.
When I look back on it, I see that Barbara and I had a different definition of holiness than the saints of this small congregation. Without knowing our hearts, some pre-judged us as Christians based on nothing more than what we were wearing.
For four years I was an Assemblies of God minister and a monk with the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at the Little Portion Hermitage. This is an excerpt from my book Taking Off My Comfortable Clothes: Removing Religion to Find Relationship.
We had just entered the chapel for the noontime prayer called the Angelus when John Michael said, “Jim, go ring the Angelus bell.” Great, I thought, another chance to be obedient in a tradition I disagreed with. But John Michael asked me to do it, and when you’ve taken a three-year vow of obedience, it is a little difficult to say “No.”
The Angelus is a short devotion at noon honoring the Incarnation. It involves three repetitions of the Hail Mary and is prayed in conjunction with the ringing of a bell. So, even though I was sure I was that didn’t want to do it, but at the same time not quite sure how to get out of it, I walked out of the chapel and down the little path that led to the bell.
Having arrived at the bell, the full impact of the quandary I was in began to take hold. The Angelus is a prayer followed by one bell, followed by another prayer and another bell, a third prayer and a final bell. Now, since I couldn’t hear the prayer in the chapel, I had to recite the prayer with the community in order to ring the bell at the proper time. After the first ringing of the bell, the prayer goes like this:
“The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary: And she conceived of the Holy Spirit. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of
our death. Amen.”
“Behold the handmaid of the Lord: Be it done unto me according to Thy word. Hail Mary….”
“And the Word was made Flesh: And dwelt among us. Hail Mary. . . .”
Now, the tricky part was saying the prayer along with the community so that I didn’t ring the bell while they were still reciting the prayer, nor wait too long so that they sat in silence waiting for me to ring the bell before they started the next phrase. Having sat through many an Angelus, I knew this was a tricky thing to do. Continue Reading
“Jesus went with his disciples to the village of Nain . . . a funeral procession was coming out as he approached the village gate. The young man who had died was a widow’s only son. . . When the Lord saw her, his heart overflowed with compassion” – Luke 7:11-17 (NLT)
I like this story because it shows how Jesus sees opportunities when others don’t even know He is there. It also shows Jesus is prepared to meet the needs of those around Him, and is even looking for people He can touch. And that’s where this story starts to bother me.
I sometimes think I took too many psychology classes in college. One of the primary teachings among counselors is you cannot help a person unless they want to be helped. And for the most part, this is true. Some people do not want help, and trying to help them anyway ignores Jesus’ teaching about throwing our pearls towards pigs and our sacred advice to dogs who will only bite us back for our efforts (Matthew 7:6).
Still, Jesus saw the opportunities to minister when they presented themselves. Even though the widow may not have known who He was, and may have thought He was just another face in the crowd, Jesus knew this was a divine moment. The widow never begged and groveled and tore at the hem of Jesus’ garment, pleading with Him to raise her one and only son from the dead. Nevertheless, Jesus stopped the procession and ministered to them both.
When you read the Gospels, you’ll see numerous times Jesus seemed to be on the lookout for opportunities to show His love for people by His actions. Continue Reading