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Just a few weeks prior to my visit, an itinerant seminar leader told church members: "The Lord wants to reveal your new name, your name that is written on the white stones in the book of life. Just pray, and God will speak this new name to you. He calls some of you 'Apostle,' some of you 'Evangelist,' and some of you 'Servant.'" 36 THE THRONE ROOM COMPANY During the conference, a young man approached me who was a spiritual son to the pastor. In a deadly serious tone and with the "prophetic stare"—one eyebrow pointing straight up and both eyes penetrating mine—he spoke as if he were about to share with me the mystery of mysteries.
The young man announced: "The Lord has given me a new name! I saw it on my stone. The Lord calls me 'Prophet!'" My reaction was immediate. I honestly wish I had acted differently, but I did not. I laughed—not in a mean way, but I laughed all the same.
The young man's face contorted, showing his displeasure with my sudden outburst. I knew the situation could easily get out of control if I didn't talk first. So, I instantly responded, not sure if it would get me in more trouble with him than I was already: "I have to be honest with you. The Lord wouldn't call you 'Prophet' as your name. That's like calling you 'My precious refrigerator'. The word prophet is a function, not an intimate name of a friend."
I could see that he was about to defend himself. Clearly I had wounded something deep inside his heart. So I continued to try and explain. "Do you really think the God of Heaven looks at you with such a lack of personal affection? Do you think He would name you after a spiritual role that won't even exist when Jesus comes back?" "Plus," I continued, "don't you think if God were naming people in this way, it would be sad when you went to Heaven and over a million people would respond when Jesus called out, 'O, Prophet, where are you?' God thinks much more highly of you than that. Consider how He named each person in the Bible with so much care."
However, in an effort to shift his focus toward his relationship with God, I had assaulted this young man's new "identity." So he left angry and hurt. Fortunately his pastor was more mature and later thanked me for my thoughtful rebuke.
Searching for Significance THE IDENTITY QUESTION 37 After people receive salvation, the Church asks: "What has God called you to do?" Or, "What ministry role will you fill in this church?" In a similar way that society says "Your job equals your value," the Church says "Your ministry equals your value to us—and to God." This is the same old covenant mindset that defined Adam's role as a laborer.
If our value before God is defined by what we do in ministry or for a church, then we land in a very deep pitfall. We begin to believe that we can earn the respect of Heaven by what we do on Earth.
We need to realize that our value comes from deciding to embrace God's love, submitting to the work of the Cross, and its manifestation in our lives. Nothing else.
How do you imagine the apostles have answered the spiritual identity question? Throughout the early Church, leaders functioned via titles that reflected their responsibilities. Their roles were not designed to organize a natural kingdom or to build a self-sufficient community set apart from the rest of the world.
Jesus' followers didn't expect to be on the Earth for very long;
they were Heaven-bound. Their aim was to prepare people through signs and wonders, teaching, healing, deliverance, and prophecy for Jesus' return.
The apostles helped to promote unity among the believers of Christ, and they focused on sustaining the issue of God's love.
Manifesting God's love came first. Church structure was secondary. This is why the Church grew so quickly. People unified in their passion for Jesus, eagerly awaiting His return together.
First-century Christians were regarded as true aliens in this world, rejecting the traditional religious structures of their day— which made them very unpopular. They were filled with awe, praising God daily. Scripture records they were so unconcerned with material success that they shared everything, selling their possessions and goods and giving to those with needs (Acts 2:44). In so doing, Jesus' followers were promoting love more 38 THE THRONE ROOM COMPANY than economic or systematic stability.
1. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
2. Have you ever assessed your spiritual value by your performance?
3. Take some time and bask in God's presence and affection.
Ask Him for more of His love. What is He showing you about Himself?
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he ashed him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is
SOMETIMES AS I THUMB THROUGH WELL-KNOWNChristian magazines, I am amused to see all the titles people use before their names: "Apostle," "Bishop," "Reverend," "Prophet," "Worshipper," "Teacher," etc. Although the use of a title is not wrong in itself, at the same time I wonder if putting such a value on titles in Christian life could become idolatrous!
When there is pressure to use titles to define spiritual authority, is it because the title has become part of the community's value system? In the Bible, title defined a function, not an identity. Likewise, spiritual authority cannot be defined by a title; it comes from the Lord.
I think this is a very important distinction, because when people cannot separate themselves from their titles, their heart and value system seem tied to "position." Again the mindset becomes "What we do is who we are." Value is equated with position.
Realizing this, we can see how the Church reflects society, rather than influencing it. As followers of Christ, we are called to bring into the world a higher standard, "pressing on toward our heavenly goal of Christ."
This fundamental deception regarding titles reaps significant consequences in the Church.
The First Consequence Our identity becomes tied to our obedience to Christ's "second command" before we fulfill our role within the "first."
In Luke 10, Jesus Himself prioritized two laws:
Very few people have a paradigm for ministry that does not view the second commandment (loving others) as the fulfillment of the first commandment (loving God). Few full-time ministries seem valuable to our Church culture unless they spend the majority of their time focusing on getting others closer to God.
But Scripture is clear. Our preoccupation with the first commandment (loving God) produces the second commandment (loving others). When we focus on loving Jesus, the virtue of His love floods us, enabling us to love others with Christ's very love.
When we focus primarily on ministering to people, the focus on loving God takes a secondary place in our heart, or sometimes even a lesser place.
Many ministries have codependent relationships with those to whom they minister, because they are completely absorbed in the role of an old covenant laborer. They work to produce a harvest they can see, as opposed to imitating Jesus and living a life of loving God, which bears eternal fruit.
Also, this focus on others can leave us wanting, if our identity becomes tied to helping others. Helping others may then dictate finances, personal happiness, and fulfillment as a man or woman. It is impossible to live under the law and have true fulfillment as a Christian. This misplaced focus is where much of the breakdown happens in relationships, businesses, and ministries.
I have ministered to many leaders who are suffering in ministry, which causes a great suffering in their home life. Their family should help strengthen them during times of strain.
Instead, the family falls apart because the relationships have become secondary to the leader, even to his or her ministry. He or she may claim this is not true, but when things begin to break down, it becomes glaringly obvious to everyone. In this way, the Church puts its identity in serving its household even above 42 THE THRONE ROOM COMPANY serving God.
When we study the priesthood in the Bible, we discover that the primary role of a priest is to worship God for His beauty and offer prayers focused on Him. Priests had very real responsibilities to serve people, but they could only do this through their highest role of ministering to the affections of God.
The priesthood was not just a set structure to meet people's needs in relationship with God; priests were called to minister to God's needs on behalf of the people. This is how the identity of leaders in the Church can become healthy again, by becoming a holy priesthood.
The Second Consequence Because our identity is tied up in the second commandment, ministry, we receive glory for what we do—God doesn't. If my identity is in my ministry, it can become a form of idolatry. I work for it, I produce it, I fulfill it, and I reap from it whether or not the virtue and character of Jesus flows through my life.
Religious work that invests first in people can be done through human power, with or without regard to God. As a result, we as ministers form our identities not in Jesus, but in our ministries. When I cater to other humans who appreciate my work and can express thankfulness, I naturally feel more honored and fulfilled.
But a dilemma emerges when I am fruitless for a season. I will experience the pressures of having done a bad job and wonder if God is unhappy with me. Or if I can build things based on skill, talent, spiritual gifts, and desire, then I may be required to maintain what I build.
One of my spiritual fathers, a prophet named Bob Jones, quips: "If you build it in the flesh, you have to maintain it in the flesh." To me this means we can build many things based on skill, talent, gifting. But if we are not anointed—a product of our union with God—to build these things, and we do it simply based on our desires, then we will have to spend time CALL IT IDOLATRY 43 maintaining them.
A second dilemma emerges as I work within a ministry system. Merely armed with a set of principles, a person can scale a corporate ladder. In a matter of years—with the right politics, the right language, the right look, and the right attitude—an employee can become an essential part of the corporate structure.
The Church often reflects a similar upward mobility. A member who learns the system can, in a brief time, become an influencer. Because the line seems so thin between serving God's will and human will, Christians become more involved with their "image" in a ministry role than with how they please or displease God.
I remember a painful journey when God took me out of what was most valuable to me—the system of ministry. If you build as a community member without, foremost, maintaining a truly loving heart for God, then you will become addicted to the community, which is unhealthy.
So many people become confused by this. A thin line exists between serving God's will and serving the will of people. If you don't make a clear distinction, your value will exist in your role with people, not with God.
When you are involved in the religious system, there can be so much affirmation from people. It is hard not to feel good about what you are doing. But, remember: Where your treasure is, there lies your heart.
God does not summon us to build a good religious structure on Earth. Instead, we are called to wrap up God's inheritance as a gift to Jesus, without having a selfish claim or ownership on those purposes in which we are laboring. Furthermore, the Church is not called to build impressive religious structures here for its own glory.
The Third Consequence Our devotion and day-to-day relationship with God is either unfocused or hyperactive. A Western mindset can influence the 44 THE THRONE ROOM COMPANY Church to the point that even our day-to-day devotion to God is tied up in service that is carefully designed by us to gain esteem in the eyes of others.
Drawing our identity from Christ's second commandment to love our neighbors, we lock ourselves into the box of servanthood, and we miss the freedom of a relationship with God as His children. This attitude is the number one reason people in the Church go through periods where their hearts faint or they become burned-out.
Too many people look for fulfillment in their family, job, ministry, etc., expecting if they give God their best service, He will "bless them." Many Christians define this "blessing" as anything from earthly prosperity to a fulfilled marriage or even being anointed to minister within religious structures. This mentality is almost a Christian version of the American dream: If you work hard enough and find favor with people, then you will live a fulfilled life with a house, two cars, and two-point-five kids!
However, such thinking contains both truth and deception.
God does reward our labor, but only if it's in obedience to His design for our lives. We can do many good acts, but we should only strive to do the perfected works.
If we don't have a full perspective of God's intentions for us —to be obedient to His voice for our lives individually—then this mindset will cause disappointment with God and others. It will breed false expectations. "Do good, and you will be good" is actually an Eastern religious philosophy linked to karma that has no part in the Gospel.
The Bible is full of stories of God asking for a person's sacrifice, promising a reward in Heaven but not guaranteeing it on Earth. God asks a high price from us on Earth so that He can richly reward us in Heaven.