My Gratitude–in Retrospect

I’ve realized two disturbing things about my “Gratitude Quotient” recently: (1) I’m not nearly as grateful as I should be for how God has blessed me; (2) Many of the things I’m now MOST grateful for are past events I wasn’t grateful for at all  when they were taking place.

I call this second point “gratitude in retrospect.”

Perhaps you can relate. Have you gone through difficult times when it was extremely difficult to give thanks? But now, as you look back, you see that God was at work through it all. Gratitude (finally!) rises in your heart as you see how the painful events have been beautifully woven into the fabric of your life.

  • Maybe you had a relationship breakup that broke your heart…but it paved the way for God to provide someone much better in your life.
  • Maybe you faced a severe trial in your health…but it caused you to make lifestyle changes in your diet and exercise—and now you’re feeling better than ever.
  • Maybe you lost a job you thought you’d have until retirement…but God opened (or will open) a new door that’s a much better fit for your gifts and passions.
  • Maybe you’ve experienced a financial meltdown, such as foreclosure or bankruptcy…but you learned vital lessons that finally put you on the path of prosperity.

These are just a few examples of how “gratitude in retrospect” can occur. I first noticed this in my life a few years ago, when a friend suggested that I write a book about church splits. “That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard,” was my initial thought. “Even though I’m an expert on church splits, who would ever be interested in a book about that?”

But my tech-savvy friend pointed out that 8,000 people every month  do a Google search on the subject of church splits. “Wow. There must be a lot of people dealing with this,” I concluded.

As a result of that conversation, I wrote The Complete Guide to Church Splits: Prevention, Survival, and Recovery.

But this event sparked something much bigger than just a new book project: I discovered that God had been a lot more faithful than I had given Him credit for. And I became much more grateful for the difficult things I’ve experienced in life—even though my gratitude was mostly in retrospect.

I’m still troubled by my struggle to be grateful at the same time as my trials are occurring. The Bible instructs us to give thanks “IN everything,”  not just AFTER everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

I’m also sad that although I’ve given lip service to Romans 8:28 for decades, God’s amazing promise there is still not rooted as deeply in my life as it should be. Paul had gone through incredible trials (2 Corinthians 11:22-28), yet he said, “We KNOW that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

As the truth of Romans 8:28 becomes more a part of my life, I hope to become more grateful all the time—not just in retrospect. I want to become increasingly aware that God is always working to “connect the dots” in my life, creating a masterpiece I could never have imagined during my times of adversity.

So I pray you will join me in being grateful TODAY—no matter what the day brings…no matter what you may be going through. You may not understand it all today, but the Lord is working out His wonderful plan nevertheless.

 

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The ‘Greater Works’ Generation

As a Baby Boomer Christian, I’ve been privileged to see some exciting moves of God’s Spirit. I came to Christ during the Jesus Movement, and then came the Charismatic Movement, the Church Growth Movement, the Apostolic Movement, the Prophetic Movement—and probably some other movements I’ve now forgotten about.

No wonder I’m feeling tired!

I was reflecting on all of this recently and said to the Lord, “I think I’ve already seen it all…”  This was a depressing thought, to say the least.

God seemed to pause before replying to my lament, but I could tell He wasn’t happy with my perspective. “Jim, if you BELIEVE you’ve already seen it all, then I guess you are right,” He chided me. “But if you had MY perspective, you would realize that you haven’t seen anything yet!”

The Lord then took me on a tour through the Scriptures, and I could see that, in each new generation, He had greater  things in mind than in the previous generation.

  • Moses was a fantastic leader, but it was left to the next generation, under Joshua, to enter the Promised Land (Joshua 1).
  • In 1 Samuel 18:7, the women sang, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”  But instead of being excited that God was raising up David and a new generation, King Saul was angry and jealous. David, in contrast, embraced  the fact that his young protégés would slay more giants than he had (2 Samuel 21:15-22).
  • After the illustrious ministry of Elijah, his young pupil Elisha surprised everyone by doing twice as many miracles. He had received a “double portion”  of the spirit that was on Elijah (2 Kings 2:9).
  • Instead of feeling threatened by the rising popularity of Jesus, John the Baptist declared, “He must increase, but I must decrease”  (John 3:30). What a great model of how we  should respond to God’s favor on the next generation.
  • Jesus told His disciples, “He who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father”  (John 14:12). Jesus wasn’t threatened by this fact—He was delighted.
  • Jesus’ original disciples like Peter and John had a powerful ministry in the early days of the church. But Paul’s impact arguably surpassed  them, as a new wave of the Spirit brought numerous Gentiles into the kingdom.

These Bible parallels bring us back to the situation today. When the Jesus Movement broke out in the late 1960s, the “old order” of church life was on the decline. New wineskins were needed, and God provided them in abundance.

But now the Baby Boomer churches are likewise on the decline. We once took pride in being on the cutting edge of God’s purposes, but now we are the old order. New wineskins are needed once again.

As Baby Boomer Christians, we have a choice to make. Will we embrace the new generation and believe God that they will accomplish “greater works”  than we have? Or will we be like King Saul, holding on to our own position and power—and missing out on the next move of God’s Spirit?

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Equipping Giant Killers

I recently had the great privilege of speaking to a group of 80 giant killers. They don’t all realize  they are giant killers, but they truly are.

Before I spoke, God spoke to me very distinctly: “This will be the most important message you’ve ever given!”

“Wow, Lord,” I replied. “So this will be the BEST message I’ve ever preached?”

“No, Jim! I didn’t say that,” He replied. “I said the most important  message—there’s a difference.”

He explained that it would be my most important message because some of the most important people  would be in the room—people who were hungry to hear the Word of God and change the world for Christ.

This is not a “church” group. They’re just a bunch of young people who meet in someone’s basement every Saturday night. People start arriving at 7:30 p.m., and the hosts have to kick everyone out at around midnight.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that revival is starting to break out. Lives are being changed. People are being set free from drugs and other addictions. There are testimonies of physical healings and of demons being cast out.

I hope my message to these giant killers was an encouragement, but I KNOW the group was a great encouragement to me. In fact, I think it’s given me a new vision for my life. Instead of knocking my head against the wall trying to change my fellow Baby Boomers, I want to find ways to pour my life into the coming generations.

There’s a Biblical principle here. We all know the Bible story about how David killed the Philistine giant Goliath (1 Samuel 17), yet that’s not where the story ends.

You see, there were more  Philistine giants down the road, and they surfaced many years later. However, by this time, David was “weak and exhausted”  (2 Samuel 21:15)—just like many of us Baby Boomers may be feeling today.

Things were looking bleak when one of these giants cornered David and was about to kill him. The old slingshot apparently wasn’t available anymore.

But never fear—God was raising up a new generation of giant killers. One of David’s young protégés, named Abishai, came to his rescue and killed the giant. No problem.

After that, David’s men told him he needed to remain in a support role,  no longer on the frontlines of giant-killing. So, while the enemy giants continued to rise up against Israel, the young giant killers continued to rise up as well. Although none of them gained the fame of David, people like Sibbecai, Elhanan, and Jonathan killed their  giants too.

What about you? Perhaps, like David, you’re feeling a little too old to slay giants like you used to. Yet I have good news: God can still use you to help raise up the new generation of giant killers.

Do you see how exciting this can be? When Goliath taunted the people of God, only David was available to slay him. But toward the end of David’s life, there were multiple  giant killers ready for service. So, Baby Boomers, get ready for your new role—equipping giant killers for the thrilling work ahead (Ephesians 4:11-12).

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Charred Stones & New Wineskins–Which Are YOU?

It’s an oversimplification to say there are only two kinds of Christians in the U.S. today, but let me try to make a case for that view nevertheless.

On the one side, there are “Charred Stone Believers,” most of whom are Baby Boomers like me. The “charred stone” imagery reflects the cynical words of Nehemiah’s critics: “Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap—and charred ones at that?”  (Nehemiah 4:2)

I meet these charred, burnt out Christians all the time. They typically came to Christ during the Jesus Movement or charismatic renewal, with exciting dreams of God restoring the church to its New Testament glory. Although they’ve had some great spiritual experiences from time to time, they’ve also been burned by disappointing circumstances and unfaithful leaders.

Instead of seeing the glorious end-times church they once envisioned, my fellow Boomers often feel like their Christian lives are now piled on a rubbish heap of broken promises and unfulfilled dreams. As Nehemiah’s detractors pointed out, burned stones must be “revived” if they’re going to be of any value as building materials (NKJV). Some of these charred believers have dropped out of church life altogether, while others have resigned themselves to sitting on the back row, with little ongoing ministry in the body of Christ.

However, I’m also beginning to meet another category of Christ-followers, which I call “New Wineskin Christians.” This new breed comes primarily from younger generations. Feeling little sense of obligation to attend “church” in the traditional sense, they would much rather BE the church. They’re rightfully bored and unimpressed with our focus on Sunday morning meetings instead of 24/7/365 spirituality.

Young generations like the Millennials are looking for reality and community, not showmanship and hype. Life is about transformation and relationships rather than endless programs and pointless activities. They are yearning for a sense of purpose, but they’re skeptical that their purpose can be fulfilled within the four walls of a church. They’re usually more motivated by the prospect of being salt and light in the marketplace.

Of course, there are phony  new wineskins too, just as Satan always  tries to counterfeit the work of God. An authentic wineskin is something organic and flexible. It stretches as the new wine ferments and expands. In contrast, some of our modern church wineskins seem more like plastic imitations. If you’ve ever tried to put fine wine into a plastic bottle or Styrofoam cup, you get the picture.

Authentic wineskins are the creation of God, birthed by a move of His Spirit in people’s hearts. Fake wineskins are man-made knockoffs.

Thankfully, God is faithful to raise up genuine  New Wineskin Christians in every generation. In fact, once upon a time, those of us who are now charred stones were enthusiastically heralding that we were God’s new wineskin.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe there is hope for the future—both  for the Charred Stone Believers and the New Wineskin Christians. Through His resurrection power, God can revive the charred stones, making our later days even better  than our former days.

It’s also important for the New Wineskin Christians to recognize their need for the charred stones—not to control things, but to offer perspective and wisdom. Having gone through the fire, we’ve learned a few things along the way. Like the aged Simeon and Anna in the temple (Luke 2:25-38), God wants to use us to affirm and bless the new breed of Christ-followers He is birthing. As the old saying goes, it’s not time to retire,  but to re-fire.

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God Isn’t in Your Box

Peter meant well when he offered to put Jesus in a box (Matthew 17:1-8). His proposal wasn’t meant as any kind of disrespect. In fact, he thought it would honor  the Lord to build Him a proper memorial.

When Peter saw Moses and Elijah with Jesus, he got so excited that he thought it would be a great idea to put them in boxes too. He assumed Jesus would be quite pleased to have equal billing with such dignitaries.

It took a voice from heaven to show Peter the error of his ways. Along with James and John, he fell face down to the ground, and “they only saw Jesus”  when they got up (v. 8).

Only Jesus.  That’s the kind of revelation we need as well–a revelation that rids us of all the religious clutter, so Jesus is no longer eclipsed.

But throughout human history, people have tried to put God in their boxes. Sometimes this is overt, and several cultures today openly build “spirit houses” to house their myriads of gods.

But for most of us, the effort to confine and control the Almighty is much more subtle. We put Him in a Sunday morning box, a denominational box, or try to confine Him to the four walls of our church building. We forget that the kingdom of God is much bigger than any church meetings or programs. It’s a 24/7/365 sort of thing, after all.

Over and over, we must be reminded that “the Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands”  (Acts 7:48). Even when the Israelites had the Ark of Covenant in sight, God’s presence wasn’t confined within the box. His glory continually filled the holy of holies and often filled the entire tabernacle or temple. It led the Israelites by a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire by night.

It’s the height of arrogance to think we can keep God tucked away in our boxes. Whenever we try to do that, if we’re courageous enough to open the box and look inside, we find that He’s GONE!

I’m wondering if this is what happened to the church in Laodicea, described by Jesus in Revelation 3:14-22. They had they become lukewarm and spiritually blind, but that wasn’t the worst part. Things were so bad that Jesus was on the outside,  knocking on the door for permission to come back in.

Perhaps the Laodiceans thought they had successfully confined Jesus to their tidy box of religious rituals and programs. Yet all the while, He had escaped—as He always does when we attempt to confine Him. Fortunately, there was still time to hear His voice and have fellowship with Him again. Do you hear Him knocking today?

 

 

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