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Posts Tagged ‘Spiritual Renewal’

Alligator Teeth and Pearls

The terms for the coming of God’s Kingdom are not for the faint-hearted or weak-willed.  Those who have experienced, or presently are experiencing, the coming of God’s Kingdom here on earth through revival and renewal already know the price that was paid for it to come.  Even Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful people have been seizing it” (Matt. 11:12).

It has often been observed throughout church history that the Kingdom of God has advanced and grown upon the blood of martyrs.  There always seems to be a terrible price to be paid in the natural realm for the spiritual realm to breakthrough and upon it.  Even a brief study of the lives of those used by the Spirit of God throughout the Church’s history to bring reformation, revival, and renewal will discover lives broken and poured out – Polycarp, Irenaeus, Tertullian, John Wyclif, William Tyndale, John Hus, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon, Dwight L. Moody, William Seymore, Katherine Kuhlman, and others of greater or lesser importance.  Who will be the ones to usher in God’s Kingdom in our generation?

The apostle Paul said, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Cor. 4:7).  Someone else rightly remarked that the problem is getting that “treasure” out!  I might add that sometimes it appears we are more “earthen vessel” than “treasure”.  Nevertheless, God promises to pour out His Spirit upon those who humble themselves, forsake their sinful and selfish ways, and spend their energies seeking His face and favor (2 Chron. 7:14).  The question for our generation is, “Who are the brave soldiers of the cross who are going to seize that promise and opportunity?”

Unfortunately, our American religious culture has led us into a “lazy-boy” style of faith that is not does require anything from us.  We enjoy being spectators to the “sport” of religion and “change channels” when we become quickly disinterested.  The average American’s spiritual life looks less like a disciplined journey and more like channel surfing.  Our attention span is short and the next spiritual high is sought out for its brief escape from reality.  From the comfort of our homes, we have become voyeurs to the spiritual journeys and experiences of others.  However, for all that we have witnessed and watched, we remain unfit for our Kingdom duties.

Washington State Capitol, July 2003

Washington State Capitol, July 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

When one travels overseas and witnesses the Church at large accomplishing so much with so little for the Kingdom of God, it challenges preconceived ideas about what is really important in God’s Kingdom.  God does not seem to delight in the “sacrifices” we enjoy offering – music, fellowship, pot-luck dinners, listening to good Bible teaching, along with an occasionally generous gift of cash in the offering plate.

No, God makes it hard for us so that only those who are really passionate and hungry get what they desire.  Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matt. 5:6).  David had it right when he said that what God wants is not more religious platitudes and practices.  What God desires is “a broken and contrite spirit” (Ps. 51:17).  How hungry and thirsty are you for God and His Kingdom to come to earth?

We know and understand even by human economy that those things that are truly of worth are costly.  How much more so of heavenly things?  There’s a great story of a lady tourist in India who noticed the necklace worn by a local Indian man.  “What is it made of?” she asked.  “Alligator’s teeth,” the man replied.  “I suppose,” she said patronizingly, “that they mean as much to you as pearls do to us.”  “Oh no,” he objected, “anybody can open an oyster.”  I have a feeling that acquiring the priceless treasures of heaven are more like getting alligator teeth than pearls.  It’s a costly journey that requires courage.

Our world is in desperate need of a people of God who “forcefully” take His Kingdom to their part of the world through their sacrifices of a dedicated prayer life, radical obedience, and brokenness over the world’s spiritual state.  What will it take to get the “treasure” God has put in you poured out for the benefit of others and His Kingdom?  How hungry are you for God to have His way in your life?  How thirsty are you for His righteousness to be at work in the world around you?  How much do you really want God kingdom to “come, on earth, just as it is in heaven”?  Be careful how you answer that!  It could begin a journey that you never imagined.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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On Mission

Every organization battles keeping its mission – raison d’etre = reason for being – the central focus of its business.  It is what drives corporate behavior and, in the end, makes it profitable.  We have seen the result of some American companies who have lost sight of their original corporate mission.

They got sidetracked into other endeavors and pursuits. Pretty soon, what they once were known for in the market place got lost to a competitor.  Not only did they lose market share, but they lost profitability.  You could name any of the U.S. automakers, banks, insurance companies, or even smaller ventures in the past 5 years or so and see the economic results from such missional blindness.

I do not believe it is any different for the Church.  It is an ongoing and constant battle to remind everyone the raison d’etre.  Why does the Church exist?  What is the Church here to accomplish?

These are important questions and will define the activities of any church fellowship. Most importantly, it will not be defined by what its creeds say.  Neither will it be identified by any “mission statement” or “vision statement”.  These are all good tools and necessary.  Instead, the behavior of its followers will dictate what it really believes, values, and holds to be its mission.

There is the often told story of the life saving stations along the Easter seaboard of the U.S. They were originally built and organized to save people and sailors involved in shipwrecks off the coast.  During the lull in activities, however, they became popular meeting places for social activities.

Pretty soon, the focus on saving lives in emergency situations gave way to the social activities. So much so, that no one bothered any longer to be on the look out for shipwrecks.  When one did occur, members were put out by how the emergency upset their routine and messed up their finely decorated life saving station.  Pretty soon, other life saving stations had to be built to replace those who no longer functioned in that capacity but were there only for decoration and celebration.

This can be a parable about the Church too.  It is a challenge to keep the focus upon the saving of lives in emergencies.  It is a terrible disruption to our comfort and convenience.  It costs money, time, and energy to man an effective life saving station.  Is it worth the effort?  Those who are saved think so!

The same could be said of the Church in spiritual terms. Yet, how many of our churches end up existing to serve only the benefit, comfort, and convenience of its members?  How many have lost sight of its real raison d’tre?

Deep Lake and Mount Adams, Indian Heaven Wilderness, Fall 2001

Deep Lake and Mount Adams, Indian Heaven Wilderness, Fall 2001 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

I grew up in the Assemblies of God denomination.  When it was formed as a Pentecostal Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1914, its stated reason for forming and existing was “to be the greatest evangelistic movement the world has ever seen.”  Those gathered at that early meeting believed that the Pentecostal blessing being poured out upon its generation was to serve only one purpose: to proclaim the Gospel to every nation.

As an organization, its devotion was originally given only to world missions and evangelization. It was first and foremost a missionary sending agency.  And, so was launched one of the greatest missionary endeavors of the 20th century.  Nearly a hundred years later, that same denomination now finds itself struggling to recapture its original vision and mission or raison d’etre.

There are many Assembly of God churches that do not give anything toward world missions.  Friends of mine who answered a call to world missions and entered the Assemblies of God World Missions agency find it hard pressed to raise the funds they need for their budgets within 18 months so they can get to their field of service.  They are finding that many Assembly of God churches do not even have missionaries to their churches any more.  One friend of mine was informed by a former district official now pastoring that they do not have missionaries come to their church!  The denomination also now finds itself riding a wave of retiring missionaries with no new recruits in the wings.

The ministries of every local Assembly of God church, along with its District, used to be centered around fulfilling its mission to evangelize the world.

  • Women’s Ministry was called the “Women’s Missionary Council” and was an agency to engage women in the local church to sponsor and support missionaries.
  • Men’s Ministry had what was called “Minute Man” and M.A.P.S. (Mobilization And Placement Services) that placed resources and skilled laborers where they were needed all across the world.
  • The Youth Ministries were called “Christ’s Ambassadors” because they were considered to be the calling and sending place for young people into ministry and in particular to the missionary fields of service.
  • Children’s Ministries focused upon helping to raise funds for child evangelism and Sunday School for missionaries through its “Boys and Girls Missions Crusade.”  Every child had a “Buddy Barrel” that represented the barrels that missionaries would put their belongings into to be shipped overseas.

It is not that the names are or were important.  What was important was the raison d’etre – the centralized and focused mission of the whole church and denomination.  It used to be that hardly a month would go by without having a visiting missionary in a local Assembly of God church.  Now, months can go by.  And, if a missionary gets into a church service, they are given a “Missions Window” to highlight what they do.  This is hardly enough time to set a vision for world missions let alone give a call to people to answer the call to missions should the Lord want to work that way in their lives.

It is no wonder that the Assemblies of God is struggling to build its ranks of young people called to missions. There is hardly ever opportunity for them to hear a missionary, listens to God’s heart for his mission to every people group, and answer the call to missions.  Or, should I say, there is hardly a time for God to speak, show and reveal what he is doing and is wanting to do in his world to them?

This is only my experience in one denomination.  I am sure that the story could be repeated over and over again across denominations and churches.  I have heard the same stories among leaders of once dynamic mission agency churches – Salvation Army, United Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist.  A spiritual lethargy and blindness almost seems to have invaded the Church.

Thankfully, there are some bright spots and active church bodies within the Assemblies of God and across the whole Body of Christ. Today, more cross-cultural missionaries are sent from non-Western churches than the U.S. and Europe churches combined.  The emerging and growing churches in the rest of the world are now missionary sending churches!  Upon the rising tide of missionary activity in the rest of the world, what part will the American and European churches play?

It will probably take another spiritual renewal and revival to bring the whole Western church back to being on mission for the Kingdom of God.  Rediscovering its raison d’etre will unite and activate its members toward something larger than social gatherings for like-minded individuals.  It will cause it to look toward the troubled seas of humanity again and to stand at the ready to seek and save those who are lost in the dark and turbulent waves of our time.  Truly, the hour is not too late.  The work is not yet done.  There is time to get back on mission.  Let’s  pray that we regain our sight to see the world as God sees it.  It’s not too late to get back on mission.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Let Us Make God In Our Image

The Bible uniquely positions God before and above all his created order.  This goes against the rest of the world’s religions who make God a part of the created order.  After God speaks his creation into existence, he declares that he will make one more unique being to set among his created order – humankind.  Genesis tells us that God said, “Let us make humankind (‘adam – “beings of/from the earth”) in our image.”

Humanity is then set into the middle of God’s creation to tend to it, watch over it and protect it.  We are not given a time-frame, but sometime after creation this idyllic life God established is marred and destroyed by the work of God’s enemy – the devil or Satan.  The first man and first woman are deceived by this wily, rebellious creature and choose to believe the words of God’s enemy over the word of God.  And, thus, begins humankind’s descent into bondage to sinful rebellion, the resulting separation from life with God and the continual struggle to return to and reclaim what was once theirs by privilege of God’s personal, God-breathed creation.

It this particularly human struggle to return to God that sets us apart from the rest of creation.  No other creatures on earth seem concerned about their Creator.  There is no creature that intentionally searches out, speaks to and communes with their Creator – at least to the level that our 21st century sciences have been able to detect.  To be sure, every creature and all creation speaks for God and reflects his image and glory; even “fallen” humanity.  Yet, it is only humankind out of all of creation that seems to agonize over knowing and understanding their Creator and returning to some fashion of intimate knowing.  It is a primal instinct and desire to return to the Garden of Eden.  It forever marks us as spiritual beings, not just material beings made up of evolving unintelligent matter.

This search and longing often brings humankind to two attempts:  a determinate attempt to return to communion with the Creator by ascending to where we believe God rests and resides or a creative attempt to recapture the communion that was lost with the Creator by imagining what God must really be like and want from his creation.

The Bible is a long history of the futile attempts of both approaches to God.  Humankind can neither ascend to where God is to meet him on his terms.  Nor can humankind correctly and accurately portray God in any image.  Both fail.  The reason is simple.  God is transcendent.  He is other than us and his creation.  While his creation reflects him, it does so like a landscape on a foggy morning.

Interestingly, millennia of human existence seems to have taught us nothing.  We continue to attempt to reach God and meet him on equal terms through our own efforts in knowledge, work ethic, spirituality and human “advancements.”  Such arrogance itself speak against any such work.  After all, if God can be approached by any human effort, then he ceases to be God – or a God big enough to be worshipped, let alone the effort to be known!

What makes God God is that he is completely transcendent.  The Bible continually portrays God in this light: “My ways are not your ways.  My ways are higher than your ways.”  In biblical history, God frequently refuses to explain himself.  When questioned by the righteous-ab0ve-all-men Job for a reason for his suffering, God puts Job in his place by reminding him that he never once sought counsel for Job and was not about to begin to do so now.  Job was smart enough to shut up.  God is transcendent and reveals himself when and how he pleases.  His is not like us.

Any futile search for God on our own terms should alert us to our own folly and foolishness.  However, that does not seem to be the case; even in the 21st century.  With so many millennium of trial and errors behind us, one would think that we would have evolved to a higher understanding of God’s existence.  But, alas, no.  Still, today, if we are not attempting to reach God on our own, then we are attempting to fashion him in our own image.

The renewal and revival of pagan religions in Western society is evidence of this continued human folly.  The neo-pagans and wiccans have cleaned up the old world religions and reduced them to user-friendly creation worship and moral codes.  Without animal or human sacrifices, though some admittedly still do practice these, they preach the morality of paganism and wiccans.  Not a few even like to link their neo-pagan morality to the teachings of Jesus to give them some credence, as if to say, “Look!  We believe and attempt to practice the same things Jesus taught and practiced.”

If spirituality is only about morality, then anything and everything is permissible in our society’s moral relativism.  After all, who is to be the final authority about what is right and what is wrong?  Without a transcendent being outside of humanity to clarify this, we are left to our own individual choices and moral devices.  One culture’s values and practices – headhunting and cannibalism – is no more morally wrong than the next – child-brides and widow burning.  So, it turns out that perhaps the ol’ serpent in the garden was correct!  We can be like God and make up truth and the rules for righteousness.  After all, God, as we imagine him, is just like us.

Hindu Gods in India, February 2007

Hindu Gods in India, February 2007 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

The Bible addresses humankind’s propensity to imagine God in our own image.  Isaiah humorously points out the useless of making images of God:  Take one log.  Cut it in half.  Use one half to split into fire wood.  Cook dinner.  While dinner is cooking, take other half of log.  Shape log and decorate it.  When meal is ready to serve, bow down to decorated log and declare, “You are my god!  You are my god!  Thank you for this delicious meal.  Amen.”  (Rev. Ron’s Paraphrase)  Sounds ridiculous?  We have not come too far since Isaiah’s day.

The Creator realized the result humanity’s rebellion would have upon its spirituality.  So, he warned, “Do not make an image of me to worship.”  This was so important, that he included it in his “Top Ten Things to Remember” as he launched the Israelites toward the land he promised them.  Moses called them, “The Ten Commandments.”  And we continue to violate this to our own detriment, forgetting that God is not like us.  He is completely transcendent – apart from this world.  He is beyond what we can imagine or think.

The temptation to make God in our image is not left to just pagans, neo-pagans, wiccans or those who use religious icons.  Christians have fallen into the same temptation; the ones who should know better, supposedly.  Throughout Church history, the followers of God through the Messiah Jesus have slipped into the same sin.

Icons that were meant to draw the worshipper’s attention to heavenly things and “the great cloud of witnesses” in the portraits of the saints, soon worshipped the created things instead of the Creator.  In reaction against such abuses, some attempted to rid the Church altogether of icons (iconoclasts); while others attempted to restore them to their proper place.  All such Church reforms and renewals have attempted to draw worshippers back to God, but it continues to be a problem.

The Bible, meant to be God’s written revelation to his people through various people in various times and various places, became worshipped in “bibliology”.  Reverence for the book took on greater importance than the Author.  Magic qualities were ascribed to not only its words but its paper and bindings as well.  Reverence for God’s Word became twisted into revering and worshipping a book; the content of the book not as important as its condition.

Music, meant to draw the hearts of God’s worshippers toward him, became more about style than content.  The chant, organ, piano, guitar, drum and musical style all vie for affections above that for the Creator.  We think that because we like it, the Creator must like it; that because it moves our hearts, it must move his also.  Of course, this is a fallacy.  He is transcendent above it all.

It is not the sounds he wants but the music of the souls in worshipful adoration.  Whatever harmony, whatever tonal equation, whatever vibrating sound, it is all music to his ears when the content of the heart is in tune.  Otherwise, it is only annoying noise amongst the more beautiful sounds of all his other creation.  He would rather listen to the whale song or songbird music, or other such creative sounds, as listen to the drones of humankind worshipping their music rather than the One who gave them music.

Biblical and historical examples are replete with examples of humankind worshipping the furniture and the house dedicated to the Lord rather than the One who  transcends it all.  In similar fashion, we shape our image of God by our doctrines and theologies, leaving no room for further exploration or understanding of God and his character and nature.  We deem anyone outside our theological group-think as deviant or heretical.  So, we use our systematic theologies to scientifically break down humankind’s understanding of God into phylum, genus and species like some biological specimen.  Still, we are no closer to intimately knowing or understanding God because he transcends such confines, boxes and buildings.

Jesus came as the image of God.  What God wanted to convey through his written word, he revealed fully in his son, Jesus the Messiah.  Jesus brought into closer proximity to humankind the very real nature and character of God.  Suddenly, the transcendent being became eminent in “Immanuel” – “God with us.”  The Transcendent One lived among us for awhile – in a house, in a family, among friends and all in real time and space.

Unfortunately, he did not meet humankind’s idea of what God would look and act like if he came to earth to reveal himself.  So, in our continued ignorance and rebellion we killed him.  However, defying death, he resurrected and continues to call humankind to himself through his followers.  Yes, some did believe.  Some still believe.  Meanwhile, others are still searching for the Creator.  Some are attempting to ascend to where the Most High resides.  Others have decided a more do-it-yourself approach.  “Hey,” they invite us.  “Let’s make God in our image.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Until All Are Free, None Are Free!

Years ago, a movie came out about the famous Scotsman, William Wallace. It has become one of my favorite movies to watch.  The movie, “Braveheart,” is also a great story that reflects the work of power structures at work all over the world even today.  I am not recommending watching the movie because of the violent images.  Nevertheless, the story is a powerful one even if the history has been shaped to fit a Hollywood movie.

The ruthless king of England, Edward Longshanks, ruled with an iron grip, including the Scottish lands.  The Scots were unable to throw off King Edward’s rule because they themselves were warring with each other.  Plus, they were divided over the heir to the Scottish throne.  Robert Bruce was a prince of the Scots and an heir to the throne, but he was cowered by King Edward and refused to confront him.  As a result, other Scot clans wanted to put forward their own prince and heir to the throne to lead them.

The politics, land ownership, and multiple heirs to the throne make for a complicated situation that paralyzed the Scottish rulers so that they remained under the cruel and wicked rule to Edward Longshank’s court.  They were prisoners in their own lands while at the same time, lived in relative comfort and security apart from the common people who suffered more greatly under the oppression of unjust rulers.

William Wallace, a national hero in Scottish lore, was a commoner who stood up to the English rulers.  He challenged them by rallying his countrymen around a bigger picture of what true freedom could offer them.  He reminded them that at any time their enemy could return.  He painted for them the possibility of complete victory over the enemy.  He also challenged the princes of Scotland that their positions, lands, and possessions were not just for their own personal comfort and enjoyment but also for others’ freedom.

The tension between Robert Bruce and William Wallace arose when Prince Bruce wants to do everything to protect the rights and positions of the Scottish nobles.  He was careful to make the ‘politically correct’ moves and not take too great of risks.  On the other hand, William Wallace, who has no position and no power, raised his voice for the ‘common’ people and their bondage.  He challenged the nobles to not just consider their own relative freedom, but the slavery that their fellow Scots bore.  He cried out for a courageous leader, even believing that William Bruce could be that leader if he so dared.

Both men face risks differently and face different risks.  One had everything to lose, the other nothing.  One saw only what there was to lose, the other what there was possibly to gain.  One saw the pain and price to bring about the change; the other saw the pain and price to bring about a new future.  William Wallace challenged Robert Bruce by defining what “noble” really means.  He called him to make the ultimate sacrifice for others and to personally lead the charge.

Hood Oranmentation, Cool Desert Nights Auto Show, Richland, Washington, 2009

Hood Oranmentation, Cool Desert Nights Auto Show, Richland, Washington, 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

This is a story that reflects the struggle of the most power structures at work in the world today.  It also portrays what goes on in many churches and denominations.  Those that have been around awhile are at times too comfortable with their present position and possession.  They have come to think that it all exists for their own personal comfort and safety.  Those who have gained positions of influence and experience are locked into doing what does not require much risk.  As such, they have lost sight of the threat of the enemy.

What the church needs today are courageous servants and leaders who are willing to take risks for the good of others who are suffering under bondage and slavery to the enemy of their souls.  It needs a bigger picture of freedom, not just for personal comfort and safety, but for those still under the rule of a cruel taskmaster.  This will mean using position of power and possessions enjoyed in the world to gain freedom for others.

Does your life reflect a Robert Bruce or a William Wallace?  Does your heart cry out for your brothers and sisters still in bondage to our common spiritual enemy?  Is your rallying cry, “Until all people are free, none of are free?”  What risks are you willing to take to bring someone out of slavery to poverty, addiction, and unjust social structures?  What cost are you willing to pay to help someone grow in their freedom in Christ?  Let the cry of God’s people be heard for all those in bondage to sin and Satan: “Freedom!”

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Wells Deep Enough To Get Living Water

During his ministry here on earth, Jesus was always a lot harder on religious people than he was on the spiritually lost and forsaken.  His ministry was frustrated more often by the attitudes of the religious people around him than those who were far from God and synagogue.  Sometimes, he could not perform miracles among them.  For the most part, his mission and message was not accepted by them.

The ones who should have known better and been most ready to receive his works and words rejected them and him.  In other words, the religious folks who thought they could see were really spiritually blind and didn’t know it.  Alternatively, those in spiritual darkness and blind were the ones to “see a great light” as it “shown upon them” (Isa. 9:2).  The irony of this should not be lost to us today.

I often wonder what kind of reception Jesus would receive among the religious folks who inhabit our churches today.  Would we be ready for him or miss him?  Would we recognize him?  Would we accept his challenging words and unconventional works?  Would he find faith and freedom among us to work miracles or a place where he “could not work any miracles” (Mark 6:5)?

Robert Beringer, in Turning Points, tells the story about a little boy who got separated from his parents in a large shopping center.  The Security Department quickly located the child and took him to an office, while the frantic parents were paged over the public address system.  One of the security guards got a large ice cream cone for the boy.  When his parents arrived at the office, there was their little son happily eating his ice cream.  Suddenly, as his parents embraced him, the child burst into tears.  One of the security guards said, “Gosh, I guess he didn’t know he was lost until he was found!”

Beringer goes on to point out, “There are many who are bored, burned out, lonely, and empty.  Many people have tried to substitute the accumulation of things for good relationships, but no matter how much they get, something is still missing in life.  Their pipe does not go down deep enough to draw living water, and they feel lost.”

Sadly, that describes too many people in the church today: “bored, burned out, lonely, and empty.”  In our materialistic society, we have been duped into thinking that filling up our lives with more things or filling our lives with more activities will bring satisfaction and substance to our lives.  Meanwhile, Jesus is left standing on the periphery at our hearts’ doors knocking.  Like the little boy, we do not know that we are lost.  Like the religious people of Jesus day, we do not realize what we are missing because of our spiritual blindness.

Orange Rose Bud, 2009

Orange Rose Bud, 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

In the apostle John’s book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, two of the letters written to the seven churches are telling.  To the church in Ephesus, Jesus condemned them for leaving their first love.  He invited them to “remember, repent, and return” (2:5) to loving him first so that their spiritual light and life would continue in the world.

To the church in Laodicea, Jesus condemned them for their spiritual apathy and arrogance.  They thought that they had it all together – “rich, successful, and in need of nothing” – when they were really “pitiful, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17).  Jesus invited them to be “zealous and repent” (v. 19) because those he loves he will “rebuke and chasten” (v. 20).

This challenge to the church today became even more real to me when I ministered in India near Visakhapatnam and Rajamundri.  Before I left, there were many Americans who wanted to know if it was true that miracles were easier to witness overseas.  They carry the nagging feeling that somehow the mission field of America is more difficult than the mission field elsewhere in the world.  I do not believe it is.  I believe that there are no barriers for the work of God to be done except for the zeal and faith of God’s people.

If the work of the Gospel and its accompanying signs, wonders, and miracles are more prominent in other places; it is because the church there goes “down deep enough to draw living water.”  They are still vitally and vibrantly connected to the “Source of Life”.  At different times in its history, the American church has had the same connection to her Lord and Savior.  Like the American church, the church overseas struggles against the same declination towards spiritual apathy and arrogance that causes spiritual blindness.

However, in India, for the most part I saw a church strong and vibrant.  I believe it witnessed the Lord confirming his Word with signs, wonders, and miracles because it “dug wells deep enough to draw Living Water” by:

  1. A regular practice of “waiting upon the Lord” in prayer.  Like the church in the book of Acts, believers in India devoted themselves to prayer – lots of prayer and waiting upon the Lord.  Then, fearlessly offering prayer for anyone in need and willing.
  2. A regular practice of proclaiming the Gospel in market places.  Like the New Testament church, believers in India boldly preached and shared the Gospel in the public market places – even right in front of Hindu temples!  They regularly invited their neighbors over to their houses to share Jesus and love them.
  3. A regular practice of serving the orphan, the widow, and the poor.  They are more than will to prove their ministry through their generosity to the saints and everyone else (2 Cor. 9:13).  Their ministries of compassion open doors of opportunity to not only preach Christ but pray for the sick and oppressed.

These things place the Indian believers in a position where God’s grace and power must show up.  Then his Kingdom is built on nothing but his Word and his power.  There is a simple desperation in the life of the church that depends upon the Word and power of the Lord.  Ministry is simple: prayer, preach, and provide for the poor.

Wherever the church puts their faith into practice like this; the Lord shows up to work among his people – whether in India or America.  The American church’s nagging sense that it has lost something in connection with the Gospel of Jesus Christ may be the Lord knocking at the door just as he did in Ephesus and Laodicea.

The question is, will we return to our “first love” and the works we did at first – such as devoting ourselves to prayer, sharing the Gospel in the public market places, and providing for the poor?  Each of these practices places us in a unique position where we need the Lord to answer, show up, and provide.

On the other hand, are we too rich, too full, and too satisfied to hear the knocking at our door?  Whether Jesus shows up depends upon us.  It may be time to dig our wells deeper to draw upon the Living Water the Lord offers to those who are spiritually thirsty.  Perhaps we can take some “well digging” lessons from our brothers and sisters in churches such as those I visited in India.  Now is the time to start digging!

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr.  (2010)

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This is a re-post of thoughts about worship that I had posted to my Facebook page this last summer (06-07-09).  I was going through old files on my computer and came across this again.  It  struck me as still so very appropriate for my life.  Before deleting it off my files, I thought I would post it here.

Unexpected things may over take you when gathered in worship of  the resurrected Messiah Jesus.  It does not happen often but, when the unexpected happens in the midst what is regularly expected and routine, a person cannot help but feeling that God revealed something special.  That is something of what happened to me this past Sunday.

Now, I have had opportunity to lead church services – more than I can number.  In fact, for the past several years, it has been a rare thing for me to be just a part of the congregation.  Lately, however, my worship experience has been as a non-leader, giving me an appreciation of the “other side of the pulpit”.  I sing amidst the congregation now.  I admit that I’m enjoying the freedom from always having the “leaders hat” on.

There, however, is a draw back from not having to lead week in and week out.  Duty supersedes attitude and feelings for the leader who models worship of God to the congregation.  As such, a positive reinforcement of worship because of leadership position is placed upon the worship leader.  In other words, I’ve come to realize that the position of leading and “performing” worship for others is good.

The tricky part is the expectation of pastors and worship leaders to think that the average person in the congregation will have the same sense of duty.  We spuriously expect everyone to have the same commitment and service towards worshipping God – week in and week out.  In fact, without the restraint of a leadership role, I’ve noticed that my attitude and service of worship can be lacking from one week to the next.

This past Sunday was a particularly “down” day in my worship performance.  The worship team at my church was doing a wonderful job.  Extremely talented, their love for God shines through their voices, instruments, and raised hands.  So, the fault was not with the choice of songs, bad instrumentation, or distracting performance.  I take the blame – 100%.  I was just in a spiritual funk.  Then the Lord gently shook me in two ways.

First was the young man next to me.  He is a developmentally disabled young adult.  He is a definition of kinetic energy with his constant jerks and twitches.  During the greeting time, he turned to me and loudly said, “Hi!  Good to see ya’!”  And, before I could return a kind, “Good morning!”, he was already turned around and greeting other people with the same brevity.  I smiled.  It was probably more of a condescending grin that offered some pity for the poor young man who lacked acceptable social graces.

We were returned to our places with music and invited to stand for singing worship to our Lord and Savior.  The typical high-energy first song rang out.  Somehow, it just didn’t capture my attention or heart.  I sang the song.  But the words tumbled out of my mouth hollow and lifeless.  Something was missing.  Nevertheless, I continued standing and following along with the rest of the congregation.  It is what we do after all.

Rarely in a contemporary worship service is a song sung just once through.  Our worship team played the bridge and we started a second time into the song.  It was at that moment that my pew neighbor broke out with enthusiasm in song.  Mind you, he cannot carry a tune; at least that I heard.  Yet, at the top of his lungs and with both hands shot into the air he sang worship to God.  He was giving it his all, to say the least.

Our worship team continued on with their next songs.  My friend, accept for regular moments of distraction and uncontrolled movement, lifted his hands into the air with others.  He sang with all his heart.  I’m sure that more finely tuned musical ears around me thought the sound was painful.  For me, it was convicting.

A developmentally challenged young man, for whom a moment before I pompously felt pity, schooled me in worship.  He wasn’t leading, but he was following.  And he did it with all his heart, all his strength, and all his mind.  I could not muster as much.

It was then that the Lord shook me the first time and said, “That young man loves me – a LOT.  How much do you love me?  What will you bring me to show your love?  What sacrifice do you have to give in worship?”  I was humbled.  I began to follow the example of my young personal worship trainer sent from the Lord next to me.  In that moment, I understood that in the Kingdom of God, he was the whole one.  I was the spiritually developmentally disabled one.  I stirred my own heart in worship to God.

Towards the end of our worship time, I felt renewed.  I sensed the presence of the Lord and his great love.  Our pastor came to the front to lead us into Communion – the Lord’s Supper.  He gave instructions and the invitation to receive the bread and juice.

Moss and Fungus on Tree, Walhalla, North Dakota, October 2004

Moss and Fungus on Tree, Walhalla, North Dakota, October 2004 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

In our church, the congregants come forward to receive communion.  The communion servers work in teams; often as husbands and wives, but not always.  The first communion server breaks off a piece of bread and hands it to the worshipper saying, “This is Christ’s body broken for you.”  Then, the second server holds out the cup for the worshipper to dip the bread into the juice saying, “This is Christ’s blood shed for you.”  The worshipper then eats the juice soaked piece of bread and returns to his or her seat.

It is not unusual to see emotions shared during communion.  So many people receiving it once again experience the grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love of God.  It can be overpowering.  It often moves more than one person to tears.

However, on this occasion, I could not but help noticing one of the servers.  She could not stop weeping as she broke off tiny pieces of bread and said, “This is Christ’s body broken for you”.  “This is Christ’s body broken for you.”  Over and over again.  Worshipper after worshipper.  The tears flowed as she broke the bread.  She understood the significance of the simple act she was going through – person after person.

It was then that the Lord shook me the second time and pointed out, “That daughter of mine understands the cost of this supper.  Because of that, she loves me – a LOT!  Do you love me that much?  How will you show me that you love me?  How thankful are you for what I have done for you?”  Once again, humbled by the example before me and the Lord’s gentle prodding, I was reminded that what I bring to worship the Lord is as important when I’m following the leader as when I’m leading the followers.

Both worship and communion were served fresh and made new to me this past Sunday.  I am thankful the Lord shook me awake so I didn’t miss any of it.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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I have come to believe that the most powerful spiritual transformations usually do not take place on Sunday mornings between 10:30 am and 12:00 pm.  Do not get me wrong.  I believe public worship is important.  I think it is powerful when God’s people gather to worship the Lord and hear his Word proclaimed.  I abide by the biblical injunction to “not forsake the gathering of yourselves together.”

Nevertheless, it is not always that brief period of time devoted to Sunday worship services that always dramatically changes us.  If we are honest with ourselves, most of us wouldn’t know what to do if God really did “rend the heavens and come down.”  When God’s Spirit does work in someone’s life during that time, we are pleasantly surprised.  I have often joked that the modern American Evangelical has changed the old hymn from “I Need Thee Every Hour” to “I Need Thee One Hour.”  Perhaps we are missing something.

I think we are more like the little girl in church listening to her pastor begin his sermon.  “Dear Lord,” the minister began with arms extended toward heaven and a rapturous look on his upturned face,  “without you, we are but dust.”  He would have continued but, at that moment, the very obedient little girl (who was listening) leaned over to her mother and asked quite audibly in her shrill little girl voice for the rest of the congregation to hear, “Mom, what is butt dust?”

The preacher might as well have laughed with the rest of the congregation and closed in prayer.  Anything he said after that would have been forgotten.  He was trumped by an inquisitive little mind caught in a misunderstanding.  Yet, how many times does that happen to us as adults?  When I was a pastor, I cannot count how many times I had people share their thoughts on a sermon I am certain I did not preach but a few minutes earlier.

Yes, public worship is important and the preaching of God’s Word is paramount to being a fully “Bible-believing” church.  Nonetheless, I have seen deeper and longer lasting spiritual change take place in the lives of God’s people when…

  • they obeyed God at work among unbelievers.
  • they sought his presence and wisdom in a quiet moment of personal devotions.
  • they took a risk to step out in faith and serve in Jesus’ name when they were not sure whether they would meet success or failure.
  • they walked with someone else through a tragedy or trying time with prayer and personal presence.
  • they served out of obedience others who could or would never repay their kindness and devotion.
  • they taught, mentored and discipled others who needed help, guidance and instruction in their spiritual journey.

I have seen ‘spiritual giants’ raised up in living rooms and at kitchen tables.  I have seen ‘wise biblical counselors’ grown in small groups.  I have observed ‘strong servant-leaders’ recognized and promoted while they served ‘the least of these’ among us in small classrooms and nurseries.  I have witnessed growth and spiritual maturity take place in individuals who bravely stepped out and served their community in jails, pregnancy centers, food banks, and homeless shelters.  On the other hand, I have yet to see any of these emerge in an individual who just came and occupied a seat for public worship on Sunday mornings.  In fact, as a pastor/spiritual guide, I have been humbled by the work of the Spirit that did not involve me or my input.

Cara on the Cape Alava Trail boardwalk

Cara on the Cape Alava Trail boardwalk ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

Are you longing for spiritual transformation? Do you want to grow in the wisdom and knowledge of the Lord?  Does your heart yearn to learn God’s ways and find favor with him?  Do you find yourself stuck in the same place on your spiritual journey?  Is there a sense in your spirit that what you need to grow spiritually is a spiritual challenge that requires a risk and step of faith?

It might be that you will need to move your Sunday worship from 10:30am to 12:00 pm into other areas of your life.  Live a life of worship at work.  Make his ‘praise glorious’ among a group of friends you can grow with spiritually.  Learn to serve Jesus by serving ‘the least of these’ in the world around you.  Go ahead.  Risk putting yourself in a position where God must show up and work through you.  You may be surprised at where that journey will take you.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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