Tuesday, November 30, 2010

George Barna Survey: “Accountability” by Stephen Crosby

In the results of a recent survey by George Barna, he states that only about 5% of Christians believe their church does anything to hold them behaviorally accountable. There is general “bemoaning” of these results. Indeed, they are sad, but not for the reason most would expect. I think part of the problem is in the wording of the question:  Does the “church” do anything to hold you accountable? The question is based on some faulty presuppositions.

I don’t think  the “church” should hold anyone “accountable.”

Genuine Christianity only “works” on one platform:  relational one-anotherness (animated by His resurrection life). I do not look  to the “church” to hold me accountable. I look toward brothers and sisters with whom who I walk, to love me, and care for me, not “hold me accountable.” Love is  expressed by care, including rebuke and discipline, not by reporting in to my “accountability  partner.”

Since the American Constantinian church is intrinsically  individualistic and independent, it is only logical that real care of a quality of Jesus’ kingdom,  will be unlikely. We expect some nebulous system of “church” to police me, sheriff  me, to make sure I am being a good boy according to the performance  metrics of whatever group I belong to.

Every group has it’s articulated and unarticulated behavioral expectations. They often have no relationship whatsoever to any biblical mandate, but merely reflect social and cultural sensitivities, priorities and preferences, of the group.

I can be utterly accountable behaviorally, and be a  complete relational fraud with God and humanity.  It’s called . . . faking it for the incentive of reward that my particular group metes out for those who  play according to the behavioral expectations of the group. I can check off my weekly do and don’t do list, to perfection, report in to my accountability group or overseer, and be relationally alienated from God and humanity. Since relational integration is the definition of the fulfillment of all righteousness (Mark 12:30 ff., Luke 10:27, John 15:12),  our behavioral “accountability” means nothing, in and of itself. A cultist can have biblically impeccable behavior, and have neither right relationship with God nor humanity.

Right relationships will manifest in right behavior (because I am “others” aware), but right behaviors do not categorically  produce right relationships. If perfect behavior was the path to right relationship, Jesus’ incarnation would not have been necessary. Humanity’s condition is one of relational alienation manifesting in sin. Humanity’s problem is not at its root a behavioral one. It is a relational one. We needed a Savior to be restored to right relationship.

So when Barna asks the question, we point  at the deficiency of the “church,” not realizing that we are the  church and the reason no one is holding me accountable, is my own fault  because I am not walking in relational reality with anyone, just paying my weekly homage at the shrine of conservative Constantinianism.

I know it may be fussing with terms, but accountability is a “non-biblical”  term. As I said in my books (Authority, Accountability, and the Apostolic Movement, The Silent Killers of Faith), it’s a poor attempt of the Adamic  nature to try to accomplish through monitored performance metrics, what only  Spirit-empowered discipleship and relational one-anotherness can accomplish, as  we embrace his death and resurrection life . . . one with another.

So, the data is sad, but not for the reason most would  think.

Copyright 2010 Dr. Stephen R. Crosby www.drstevecrosby.wordpress.com. Permission to copy, forward, or distribute this article is granted as long as this copyright byline is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Visionary Advancement Strategies Newsletter November 28th, 2010

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Loving people requires the desire to see the living Christ among them and to love them in His agape love. This is true for the poor, the oppressed, and the forgotten ones, as well as leaders, the proud, and those who are well known. This love doesn't mean agreeing with everyone's ideas or behavior. On occasion, it even means confronting the attitudes and actions of others.

It is easy to love the humble and brokenhearted, and sometimes very difficult to love the proud, and those who operate in control and manipulation. Move in His love and trust in the power of His presence in your own life, and the miraculous changes that can take place in others through love, prayer, and the receiving of the grace that God gives.
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Thankful Giving by Robert Ricciardelli
An unthankful heart cannot give or receive love or mercy. A thankful heart can see God and can give selflessly to others in His love, mercy, and goodness. When we thankfully receive all that God has done in our lives, we can powerfully serve others in bringing them towards an awakened and thankful existence. May grateful and joyful hearts in God bring forth heavenly blessings, this day and everyday!

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Robert's Quotes for the Week (#24) by Robert Ricciardelli

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Loving God's Family by Robert Ricciardelli

Loving Church as an organization often seems close to impossible. Still, we must remind ourselves of all the people within them that God loves and has called us to love and seek to become one with. They are all part of God's family and He dwells within them regardless of whether they are known, unknown, liberal, or conservative. Drawing people to God's love begins with our love for Him, and then loving each other.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Father of All of Creation by Robert Ricciardelli

How are we viewing God's creation? Do we relate to it as a place full of people and things we can use to help fulfill our desires, goals, and agendas? Or do we see creation through the heart of God's love, and the beautiful revealing of Himself to the world? When we understand God as Father over all of creation, we can truly worship Him while appreciating and valuing the beauty and uniqueness of all of His handiwork.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful Giving by Robert Ricciardelli

An unthankful heart cannot give or receive love or mercy. A thankful heart can see God and can give selflessly to others in His love, mercy, and goodness. When we thankfully receive all that God has done in our lives, we can powerfully serve others in bringing them towards an awakened and thankful existence. May grateful and joyful hearts in God bring forth heavenly blessings, this day and everyday!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Word, Spirit, and Life by Robert Ricciardelli

The sky and earth will pass away, but The Words of God will never pass away. God's Word has the power to transform hearts and minds and lead them into His Kingdom. The Words of Spirit and Life flow through our minds and into the depths of our heart. As our hearts open up to the Word, a dwelling place is formed for the Spirit of God to Live, Move, and Have His being. Let us remain in Word, Spirit, and in His life.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Eating the Bread of Life by Robert Ricciardelli

The words of Christ gives us the strength and confidence to overcome in the midst of challenges. When darkness surrounds us His Words encourage us and give us life even when everything around us speaks of death. Jesus' words are food for our eternal journey. They are far more powerful than concepts, and inspiration. When we keep close to the Word, we will enter even more deeply into the everlasting love of God.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Living to Leave a Legacy by Robert Ricciardelli

We are called to pursue a legacy, a deposit of our life into the lives of others we loved and served. Many people accomplish tremendous things later on in life, so we must never quit in allowing God to grow us, and flow through us to others. Many have chosen to change little and remain in what they know. That won't build a great life or legacy. Every living moment should be moments of growing and sowing with God.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Seek Godly Intentions by Robert Ricciardelli

God has a plan for you that is unique and specific. Seek after His Kingdom, live in His nature, and He will reveal His plans for you. Talk to him about the things you may have on your heart before you pursue them on your own. Are they desires He has placed in you, or has authorized for you to go after? Before you prayerfully declare them, ask the Lord if it aligns with the intentions He has designed for your life.
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A Higher Calling by Greg Austin

Acts 6 contains the intriguing story of the selection of “seven men, of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom”  to care for the Hellenistic widows in the daily distribution of food.

Stephen appears for the first time in scripture and is described as a man “full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” 

Abruptly, we discover that even as Stephen is signing up as a waiter, men are preparing for his execution.

The Rolling Stones made famous the line “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Few who heard those famous words caught the next line in the song: “And if you try sometime you find you get what you need.”

I would argue that the spirit of the world has so infected, so contaminated what we have known as “church” that the standards used by Christendom for determining even such spiritually exclusive elements as “anointing” are secularly and not spiritually derived.

The Criteria of Victory; Faithfulness, not Success

In a religious culture that gauges success in Christ in terms of spiritual victories, increasingly large numbers of followers – the crowds played to, name familiarity, achieved prosperity, good health, good kids, good wives, good husbands and good graces, God judges us according to our faithfulness.

And while victory and prosperity are not standards for success in the eyes of a watching, heavenly Father, conversely, neither are the myriad difficulties, challenges and troubles that come uninvited into our lives an accurate measure of our spirituality. Instead, problems and challenges are merely opportunities for faithfulness to shine.

In Stephen’s brief resume in Acts 6, we discover that he was a gifted administrator, a capable teacher and a talented communicator. He bore the reputation of faith, wisdom and grace. The Holy Spirit of God infused and enabled his ministry.

As we consider these gifts and abilities, we expect to find in Stephen a rising star in the galaxy of the apostles: Surely, he will rally men to the cause of Christ and lead them into all the world to preach the gospel of the Kingdom.

But in stark contrast, God has a position prepared for Stephen far from the lights of the stadium or the elevated platform of international notoriety: God calls Stephen to be a servant; a food distribution manager at the local Senior Center for Displaced Widows.

In comparison with the conspicuous gifts Stephen possesses, the calling to wait tables seems somehow unglamorous and unspectacular; not what we expect from our talented brother.

He’ll never grace the cover of Charisma Magazine or be asked to appear on anybody’s Christian Television Network. What conceivable interest could a table waiter be to the Body of Christ? We want a “winner” to talk to us; we want flash and shine and a story that will blow our minds. Too often, what we call “anointing” is little more than showmanship. To the less than discerning heart, what we call “charisma” may actually be theatrical performance; a stage presence carefully developed and presented.

But the Greek rendering of Stephen’s ministry contains a familiar word, diakoneo  (the verb form of diakonos), which we recognize as “deacon:” One who, by virtue of his assigned office cares for the poor. A waiter, one who serves food and drink.” Matthew, Mark and John each contains, in the Greek texts, the same word, used by Jesus in reference to those who would follow Him, but also used as an intimation of Jesus’ own position in the Divine order: He came as a Servant to you and to me; “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

To be intentionally redundant: The perpetual pollution of the church by the toxin of worldly standards has sickened the church until we crave that which is at best, superficial and at worst devilish. We hunger and a thirst for the charismatic-appearing, the “beautiful” and the “special” among us. We want charisma, regardless of its true source. With Israel of old, we desire a king as other nations.  

To compound our error, this unholy and unhealthy elevation of celebrity is passed on to ensuing generations until our Bible Colleges and Theological Seminaries become manufacturing plants for more of the same cookie-cutter replications of today’s “hero” ministers.

The “waiter” is ignored, relegated to the soup kitchen or to the anonymity of an obscure mission field: We want “star power!” And too many young, Spirit-filled and energetic men and women find their models among the “beautiful” and not the truly useful.

Stephen’s acceptance of such lowly estate guarantees he will receive no “Dove Award” or “Medal of Honor” by the church. Yet God considered him worthy of higher honor: He will be lifted by a loving God into the balcony of the Martyrs.

As followers of Jesus, we are not afforded the luxury of choosing what we will do for heaven. We are not offered choices from a full color catalogue of potential ministries. We are called to hear and to obey when the Father bids us “come.” 

In immediate reaction to Stephen’s unabashed preaching of the Cross, religious rulers are “cut to the heart” and they “[gnash] at him with their teeth. In moments he will be seized upon, led out of the city and stoned. “But he being full of the Holy Spirit gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”

He will call on God and say, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He must have been nearby, near the Cross on the brow of the Hill, on the Day when his Savior suffered similar abuse, for Stephen will “kneel down and cry out with a loud voice, Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” 

Stephen’s ministry is brief. He will not sit as an old man and pen his memoirs of a long and multifaceted ministry. His service to God is measured in hours, not in decades. Yet Stephen was no catastrophe; instead, he was faithful.

God is not interested in our success or failure, neither is He especially concerned whether we are treated fairly or unfairly in this life.

Were we to complain about our difficulties, He might testify of His Son’s experience, being “despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief . . .”  Men lied to the manifest Truth, they falsely accused and murdered the only One Who did no wrong.

In a court of justice God’s Son’s testimony far surpasses our little complaints at life’s unfairness.

Neither the accolades of this world or the trophies of the success of men mean anything to God. But how we bless His heart with the wounds we bear from the persecutions we endure.

We struggle and clamor to get other people to see how wonderful we are, how talented, how anointed, how unique: How much better to reveal the limp, to bare the scar, to manifest a life of being faithful, in small things and large.

With all the uproar in charismatic circles regarding “open heavens,” perhaps Stephen knew the true secret: In his steadfast faithfulness to the heavenly vision, he “saw heaven opened” and Jesus, “standing” there, His own scars evident.

Such a vision would stop our need for worldly, religious success, for what others may think about the product of our lives and produce in us a thankfulness for the scars of faithfulness – no matter what life may bring us.

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How To Prepare Yourself by Bob Gass

So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. (Ruth 4:13) 

Look at the instructions Naomi gave Ruth for approaching Boaz, her future husband, and you'll see that there's a certain protocol involved in walking with God. Once you understand it, the things you've been waiting for begin to happen. So:

1) Be sure it's God's will for you. Ruth wasn't looking for just any man, she had a specific one in mind. And because Naomi had done her homework, she was able to tell Ruth where to find him: '... he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor' (Ruth 3:2 NKJV). Research what you want from God before you start claiming things in prayer. Be sure it's what He wants too! If your name's not on it, don't pursue it. Don't go after something because it looks good in someone else's life. God has a plan for you-one that's unique and specific. Seek Him and He will reveal it to you. 2) Deal with your past. Naomi said to Ruth, '... wash yourself... ' (Ruth 3:3 NKJV). 

In order to gain acceptance with Boaz, Ruth couldn't approach him looking and smelling like Moab, the famine-stricken place she'd come from. She needed to settle her past so it didn't sabotage her future. God will open the door for you, but until you've resolved your old issues you won't be able to walk through it. You can't receive what He has for you now if you're still contaminated by what you went through then. Whether it takes six months or six years, sort out your emotional baggage. God says: 'Forget the former things... I am doing a new thing... I am making a way... ' (Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV).

In order to prepare Ruth for meeting Boaz, her future husband, Naomi taught her two important principles about succeeding in life:

1) You must have the right attitude. Naomi said to Ruth, '... anoint yourself... ' (Ruth 3:3 NKJV). In Bible times people anointed themselves with oil in order to be refreshed and renewed. So Ruth was, in essence, adopting the right attitude. If you're praying for a good job or a suitable partner or a favourable outcome in a particular area but it hasn't happened yet, don't automatically blame Satan-check your attitude. 'Let God re-make you so that your whole attitude... is changed' (Romans 12:2 PHPS). To get the right result, you need the right approach. 2) You must be willing to stand out in the crowd. Naomi instructed Ruth, '... put on your best garment... ' (Ruth 3:3 NKJV). But why get dressed up for something that hasn't happened yet? Because God blesses prepared people! When your time comes you must be ready. 

Ruth's story teaches us that it's those who are willing to stand out in the crowd who get noticed. Any time you dress for where you're going, there's a good chance you'll look out of place where you are. That's okay. Your highest priority should be God's approval, not man's. You must know you have a definite destination, otherwise you'll be tempted to make excuses and try to explain why you're so different from everyone else. When you know where God is taking you, you won't care. The truth is, when others look at your preparation they should be in no doubt as to your destination.

Observe two more things Naomi taught Ruth, in preparation for meeting Boaz:

1) Make sure you're in the right place. Naomi told Ruth, 'Go down to the threshing floor' (Ruth 3:3 NKJV). Why? Because that's where Boaz was! To receive what God has for you, you must be in the right place spiritually. Satan will tell you you're unworthy. He will try to convince you to stay where you are and to listen to those who'd keep you from where God wants you to be. He will make you feel out of place even when you're in the right place. Don't believe his lies; when God calls you He equips you, empowers you, and uses you for His glory. 

2) Understand the importance of timing. 'Do not make yourself known to the man until... ' (Ruth 3:3 NKJV). Ruth had waited a long time for this moment; now she had to learn to be quiet because the person God planned to bless her through was sleeping. It's hard to be all keyed up about something nobody else is excited about; you want to get them excited too. But sometimes God says, 'Wait.' Stop working to make things happen before their time! Don't try to promote yourself. 'The vision is yet for an appointed time... 

Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come' (Habakkuk 2:3 NKJV). God may not respond when you think He should, but His timing is perfect. He has blessings with your name on them, and no matter how many others want them, when the time is right He will give them to you.

The Active Word by Dudley Hall

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.  Hebrews 4:12-13 (ESV) 

This text originally addressed believers who were having a difficult time accepting the radical nature of the present word of God. They were part of a culture that had grown up around the partial revelations of the Old Testament era. Now Jesus had come fulfilling the shadows of previous days with the substance of his own life being transferred to believers. Those who simply refused to consider the new day were persecuting those who had begun the journey of belief in the word as defined by Jesus. The author reminds them that when the word is given, it divides. Those who respond to it are changed. Those who neglect it are hardened. It is a serious thing to have the word of God given.

In our day we face a similar situation. We have been marinated in the culture of American Christianity, which has more in common with the American Dream than the New Testament Gospel. The word of God is sounding out to us, and it is distinguishing between the two. It is also dividing those who respond from those who choose to remain in the clutches of tradition.

There are at least three contrasts being exposed. First, the American gospel promotes prosperity as the primary goal and measuring stick of success. It takes the principles of the Old Testament that define success in physical, natural, and material terms and makes them primary. Noting that God blessed Israel with physical, natural and material assets when they were obedient, the conclusion is that our success is measured in those terms. But the New Testament transforms the shadows of the previous era into the substance of true son-ship. The great blessing of eternal life is knowing God through Jesus. Being aware of God as Father releases us from striving to make a name for ourselves as well as from making a fortune for our security. Material wealth in the New Testament is a tool for demonstrating the love of God to others, but the message of the Gospel is prized as the only real solution to mankind's dilemma.

Secondly, The American gospel focuses on improvement while the New Testament Gospel focuses on transformation. In the first, God and his teachings are used to make us better so we can feel better about ourselves and show that we are successful through our progress. Prizing progress as a sure sign of success, we all must be getting better at all times. If we are not growing and improving, we are failures. But in this paradigm we are still focused on ourselves. The New Testament Gospel, in contrast, offers us a chance to stop focusing on ourselves once and for all. We find a greater vision and lose ourselves in worship to an almighty Father and service to those he loves. We do get better, but often we aren't even aware of it. Others will notice and might mention it, but it brings no sense of pride. We have identified with the crucified Lord and now are obsessed with his resurrected life.
Thirdly, as American Christians, it has become normal for us to spend our energies in accumulating. Fifty years ago it was almost unheard of to have rented storage space. Now large and small cities alike are dotted with thousands of storage units for the stuff we don't have room for in our spacious homes and garages. We boast in how much money we spend on ourselves. Men and women are respected by how much they have accumulated. Not so for those who have truly embraced the New Testament Gospel. Jesus told of a man with the attitude of accumulation and how tragically he died in neglect of his soul. The New Testament exhorts us to give. There is no premium put on poverty or on wealth. There is, however, high value to those who display the nature of their Father by giving when it requires sacrifice.

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.  They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (I Timothy 6:17-19)
The "today" word of God is being heard. It will divide the false from the true. Let us hear and obey.