Ecstatic

In the “modern” Western Church, we live in a mostly non-ecstatic world. And most of it is of our creation. A good word to describe it is “bland”. I want to discuss our desperate need to be ecstatic in our life with God.

Ecstatic: feeling or expressing overwhelming happiness or joyful excitement; involving an experience of mystic self transcendence.

Can you remember the last time you experienced anything like what is defined above? If your answer is affirmative, most likely it was at a football game, a concert or a baby’s birth. Or falling in love. Here’s my question: was it at a church service? I would guess your answer is “No”. And if not, why not? Sadly, the vast majority of worship services held today steer as far away as possible from being ecstatic. Our well practiced, predictable, repetitive, well controlled meetings (our God is a God of order, brother!), placating our essentially ecstatic-free public gatherings are passed off as “meeting with God”. 

The Scriptures paint a very different picture of what people do when they meet with God. Think of how the Israelites react when they hear God’s voice at Horeb. Or how they sing, dance and shout in the Temple. And, the ecstatic experience we witness in Acts when the Holy Spirit falls upon God’s people – the list of Biblical examples goes on and on.

Let’s talk about “feeling or expressing overwhelming happiness or joyful excitement.” I have always wondered why it is that the same people who talk loudly and excitedly before and after a Sunday worship service calm down to an almost zombie like state once the actual service begins. Gone is the excited talk, hands and arms gesticulating in happy chattery, now replaced by angelic looks, followed by a subdued, expressionless visage as we “enter the throne room”. All brought abruptly to an end as suddenly we have to “now be seated for the announcements”. 

And what of “involving an experience of mystic self transcendence”? Transcendence means “beyond the normal or physical level”. Typically, the word is employed when referencing to a spiritual experience in which the individual is profoundly affected, often beyond their ability to control. When was the last time you experienced transcendence in a worship service? Or in your private quiet time with God? Friends, we have a desperate need for the ecstatic in our relationship with an infinitely loving and all powerful Creator and Father, beyond our simple, sinful human comprehension but knowable through the touch of the Holy Spirit.

I can think of two powerful examples from the Scriptures of transcendence: one is with Moses, the other with our lord Jesus. We learn from them both that to experience the Father’s presence in such a way as to transcend our earthly existence takes dedication, persistence and focus. In Exodus we read that Moses pitched a tent of worship outside of the Israelite camp where he daily spent time in God’s presence. 

Often, Jesus separated Himself from His disciples and His Kingdom work to spend time with His Father privately and unhurriedly. In Moses’ life, we see the culmination of his devotion when the pillar of cloud leading the Israelite nation through the wilderness comes and hovers over his own personal tent of meeting. It immediately makes one think of the time when Jesus takes three of Is disciples up a mountain to pray and they experience the transfiguration of Jesus. I would say that both Moses and Jesus had ecstatic experiences with God. I would also say that if they needed and enjoyed it, so should we.
I understand very well that we live in a world full of the ecstatic that is both false and shallow, and often sinful. But that should never stop us from desiring and pursuing “feeling or expressing overwhelming happiness or joyful excitement; involving an experience of mystic self transcendence” as we seek to be in His presence and know His power.

Give

I thought I was on the path, my road tried and true, I surrendered all and sacrificed even more.
But now I find that what I left behind wasn’t what You required.

And if You ask me if I have been true what do want me to say to You?
Should I speak and run away or coming to Your side, hide in it.

Is is true? Can I give myself to You?
Do I want to? Do I have to?

I know You see what I sell of me.
Is the price enough to cover all the stuff, and if I think I’m free am I still really me?

Now I see better than before what I am truly here for.
The words you spoke over me for which you paid so dearly could free me.

I can see that what You see is not the one I see, but who You are making me is You showing Yourself more freely.

And as I see myself in You, do you see Yourself in me too?

Leaning Now

If you abandon ship, by foot, hand and upper lip, losing sight of stubborn clip, would not the wind and waves of sea bury both you and me?

Running light and running free is not to say you run with he, who once was running too, yet running away from you.

He too stood tall on stubborn ship, setting sail with iron grip. Yet the waves are too walking away from you, wondering far from clip and strip.

Think quickly now with fear and dread, if abandoning ship is all you need. For should you step to southern shore, you may not see what came before.

The wind is strong and true I know, but light and love are stronger still. Take your place, with ready face, leaning now into loving grace.

Like Jesus?

You, like me, have at some point in your siritual jurney said, “I just want to be like Jesus.”

And you, like me, soon dscovered how easy it is to say and inredibly difficult to do!

To live like Jesus means simply that we study His words and example and then emulate Him. Practivcaly, we daily, constantly seek to think, speak and act as He did. We manifest this in our own unique ways as our imperfect lives are filtered through His perfect example. The Apostle Paul expresses this beautifully when he says, “Follow my example even as I follow Christ.”

Of course, living like Jesus is absolutely impossible without reading, studying and applying His Word, with the power of His Holy Spirit to enable us. It is His Word which tells us how to live like Him and it is the Holy Spirit who teaches, guides and empowers us to be like Him. Is it really possible to live like Jesus? Absolutely. Is it difficult? Yes, very much so.

The question is not so much can I do it but rather how do I do it. The Father expects us to become like His son. We read in Romans 8:29 that His greatest desire and intention for His children is that we all are transformed into the image of His Son. His heart is to have a heaven full of children who are like His one beloved and perfect son, Jesus Christ.

Being like Jesus is a lifelong goal and journey. It is a daily and constant practice made with choice and passion. It requires a change of thinking, feeling and lifestyle. Once you choose to attempt living like Him, it changes everything abut your life. Your time, energy and intentions are profoundly affected and the climb up the mountain becomes steeper and more demanding the higher you go.

But it is always worth it because the higher you climb the more spectacular the view becomes. 

Ecstatic

In the “modern” Western church, we live in a mostly non-ecstatic world, and most of it is of our own creation.

A good word to describe it is “bland”. I want to discuss our desperate need to be ecstatic in our life with God. Ecstatic: feeling or expressing overwhelming happiness or joyful excitement; involving an experience of mystic self transcendence.

Can you remember the last time you experienced anything like what is defined above? If your answer is affirmative, most likely it was at a football game, a concert or a baby’s birth. Or falling in love. Here’s my question: was it at a church service? I would guess your answer is “No”. And if not, why not? Sadly, the vast majority of worship services held today steer as far away as possible from being ecstatic.

Our well practiced, predictable, repetitive, controlled meetings (our God is a God of order brother!), placating our essentially ecstatic free public gatherings are passed off as “meeting with God”. But the Scripture paints a very different picture of what people do when they meet with God. Think of how the Israelites react when they hear God’s voice at Horeb. Or how they sing, dance and shout in the Temple. And, the ecstatic experience we witness in Acts when the Holy Spirit falls upon God’s people .. the list of Biblical examples goes on and on.

Let’s talk about “feeling or expressing overwhelming happiness or joyful excitement.” I have always wondered why it is that the same people who talk loudly and excitedly before and after a Sunday worship service calm down to an almost zombie like state once the actual service begins. Gone is the excited talk, hands and arms gesticulating in happy chattery, now replaced by angelic looks, followed by a subdued, expressionless visage as we “enter the throne room”. All brought abruptly to an end as suddenly we have to “now be seated for the announcements”.

And what of “involving an experience of mystic self transcendence”? Transcendence means “beyond the normal or physical level”. Typically, the word is employed when referencing to a spiritual experience in which the individual is profoundly affected, often beyond their ability to control. When was the last time you experienced transcendence in a worship service? Or in your private quiet time with God? Friends, we have a desperate need for the ecstatic in our relationship with an infinitely loving and all powerful Creator and Father, beyond our simple, sinful human comprehension but knowable through the touch of the Holy Spirit.

I can think of two powerful examples from the Scriptures of transcendence: one is with Moses, the other with our lord Jesus. We learn from them both that to experience the Father’s presence in such a way as to transcend our earthly existence takes dedication, persistence and focus. In Exodus we read that Moses pitched a tent of worship outside of the Israelite camp where he daily spent time in God’s presence. Often, Jesus separated Himself from His disciples and His Kingdom work to spend time with His Father privately and unhurriedly.

In Moses’ life, we see the culmination of his devotion when the pillar of cloud leading the Israleite nation through the wilderness hovers over his own personal tent of meeting. It immediately makes one think of the time when Jesus takes three of His disciples up a mountain to pray and they experience the transfiguration of Jesus. I would say that both Moses and Jesus had ecstatic experiences with God. I would also say that if they needed and enjoyed it, so should we.

I understand very well that we live in a world full of the ecstatic that is both false and shallow, and often sinful. But that should never stop us from desiring and pursuing “feeling or expressing overwhelming happiness or joyful excitement; involving an experience of mystic self transcendence” as we seek to be in His presence and know His power.

Measure

There are some questions in the Kingdom of God I find quite perplexing and difficult to understand.

One of them is this: why is it that no matter how hard they pray and work, some leaders are not able to grow their church or ministry beyond a certain point? They attend the leadership seminars and conferences; they read the latest books; they visit larger churches to learn what they could possibly do to improve and grow their ministry.

But it seems that regardless of what they do, their ministry doesn’t grow beyond a certain point.

I think of the good men and women I know who do everything right but what I have written above is their story. Although I certainly do not claim to have the answer, after two decades in ministry I think I may have some insight into this question which I share in the hope that it will help and encourage you. Maybe even free you!

I had the privilege and joy of being the Lead Minister at Calvary Tabernacle Church in Schenectady, NY, for fifteen years. When I arrived at the church, they had just been through a very painful split and the remaining congregation – approximately a hundred and twenty strong – were in need of much care and good leadership. When our leadership and I announced to the church that in September 2012 that I would be stepping down from my Lead Elder role to pursue the Father’s mandate for me to lead Shakaba full time, we were averaging seven hundred in attendance on a Sunday. Our finances were strong, our Missions program was humming, we had a quality staff and leadership team. Most importantly, we were deeply involved in our local community. And I still believe our worship was of a depth and quality I have not experienced anywhere else since.

But the truth is that for the two years before I left, the our numbers had plateaued and although my preaching was better than ever, and our team was attending the Leadership Summit, etc, we just couldn’t seem to grow beyond a certain point. If you ask the leaders who are now in charge (and the Staff) I’m sure they – as I do – will have many opinions on why this was the case, good and bad. However, after all is said and done, I think it is simply this: I had reached my measure for that particular God-given task.

I now believe that when a leader reaches their God-given measure – what I also call their “grace space” – no matter what they attempt, they cannot grow beyond it because the Lord won’t move you beyond the parameters He has given you.

Let’s consider the life of the Apostle Paul to better understand this

In the book of Romans 12:3 & 6, Paul says, “3 For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. 6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them.” Again in 2 Corinthians 10:13, Paul refers to his measure when he says, “We, however, will not boast beyond measure, but within the limits of the sphere which God appointed us.” What interesting language. He teaches us that God has dealt to each one of us a measure of faith, a measure of grace, and a sphere – or scope – of service.

Faith (in every sense of the word) to believe, know and trust Him for the task, grace to do it, and a sphere to do it in. In Ephesians 4:7 we read, “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Our individual measure is a manifestation of a portion of Christ’s own measure, as He determines it.

Christ determines the purpose and size of His gift (actually, Himself) in us and through us.

We can do nothing to change the measure God has given us or the scope of the work He has called us to. What we can and must do is discover it, understand it, and then express it in the Spirit’s power, to the fullest measure possible. Paul even goes so far as to make himself incredibly vulnerable for the sake of helping other leaders to understand the importance of serving within your measure when he confesses that God has a plan to make sure he doesn’t exceed his measure. And it isn’t a pleasant plan. Paul admits in 2 Corinthians 12:7, “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.” He repeats the words “lest I should be exalted above my measure” as if to stress the importance of this message.

Can you imagine? God is allowing Paul to suffer in order to prevent him form going beyond his measure. Why? because it would be harmful to Paul for him to do so. Either he would boast and God would need to humble him, or he would endanger himself and possibly derail his ministry, thereby never fulfilling his God-given measure.

In other words, he and the Kingdom would suffer loss, not to mention those who would not be reached because of his over-reaching.

Looking back over many years in the pastoral ministry, I now see more clearly that when I operated within the measure of faith, grace and scope the Father had ordained for me, all was well and we were favored by God. However, when I attempted to operate outside of my grace space, things didn’t go well – for me or those I was serving. I understand now that so much of who I am and what I do is included in my God-given measure.

I am by nature loving, innovative, inspirational, exploring and constantly in need of a lot of stimulation. This was reflected in the culture of our church. We were loving, constantly updating everything, highly missional, etc. Why? Because God’s measure for me shapes those he has included in my scope of ministry. I was supposed to grow the church to seven hundred and then hand it over to someone with a larger measure who could take it further. God’s measure in me helped us to become a creative, missional church with a highly relational culture. Why? Because that’s what Calvary Tabernacle needed at that stage of her development in God.

I understand now that in a similar way my God-given measure will shape Shakaba and the Global Family in ways they need to be shaped. And one day, once I reach my measure in this mandate from God, I will need to hand them over to someone with a larger measure.

Think about this for a moment: in all Creation, the only One with a perfect and unlimited measure is our Lord Jesus Christ. And right now, through the Holy Spirit, by His Father’s will, He is working out His measure through each and every one of us in order to bring as many as possible to know His Father and be with Him for eternity.

The issue is not the size of the measure but whether you and I are expressing it properly and fully.

I pray you will take the time to discover and understand your measure. And that you will have the humility and courage to accept it, whether it be large or small. One thing you can rest and rejoice in is the knowledge that our perfect, loving Father created you in your mother’s womb with perfect knowledge to be able to contain the measure He would be giving you for your life of service to Him.

Your measure is not a mystery to be solved, but rather a wonder to be uncovered and expressed for His glory and the benefit of others.

Find out more at lorenzoagnes.com

Cover

Do you remember how safe and loved you felt as a little child when you would be lying in your bed shivering because it was cold and your mom would come into your bedroom, pull the blanket over you and then give you a long hug to warm you up? These precious memories are so still so powerful to me today it’s as though they happened yesterday.

We know that one of the deepest drives humans have is the need for safety and security. It begins in the womb as the developing miracle feels the safety and warmth of it’s mother’s protection. The truth is that all through our lives we need to be covered, to have a loved one “pull the blanket up over us”, whatever stage of life we’re in.

Unfortunately, the world can be a cruel place. It is filled with too many of those who are more interested in uncovering others than caring for them. You and I have this choice to make daily: will we cover others with our language and actions, bringing safety and security, or will we uncover them, causing harm? The Bible says we must do to others what we want them to do to us … that we reap what we sow.

Take some time today to cover the ones you love. And those who may be a stranger to you but you can see they need someone, for today, to pull up the cover over their situation and bring them warmth.

Growing Up

Ephesians 4:13-32

You may have heard or used the phrase, “Growing up is hard to do”. It sounds trite but is profoundly true.

Those of us who are a little older possibly understand this reality a little better because we have had decades to learn that growing up is in fact extremely hard to do. And in many ways it is not an automatic, guaranteed progression. You cannot live our life believing that growing up comes with age. It doesn’t work that way. In fact, growing up – becoming mature – takes an enormous amount of intentional, focused effort, based on a correct understanding of what our Creator defines maturity to be.

In the book of Ephesians, we see a glimpse of the Father’s definition and expectations of growing up.
Ephesians 4:15,16 “.. but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”
What an interesting, challenging, difficult piece of truth. We see that growing up comes from and is made possible by love. Love is the cause, the motivation, and the goal of maturity. Of course – because God is love and if we grow up into Christ, we will grow into and by love. One can say that the ultimate proof of maturity is the ability to love as Christ does.

The goal of growing up is explained to the Church in the verses preceding these. In Ephesians 4:12,13 it says, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”. We must grow up so that we, the saints, can do the work of the ministry. What is this ministry for? The edifying of Christ’s body, the Church. How long must we do the works of the ministry? Until we all come to the unity of the faith, meaning until we all understand Who Jesus is and how His Kingdom operates. Remember that verse 15 clearly states we must grow up into Christ. We don’t mature simply for the sake of it or as a natural, physiological progression of some kind. We mature so that we may become like Jesus and bring His Father greater glory.

It goes on to say we must grow up until we come to knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect (mature) man. These are incredibly difficult words. They should make us cringe. The knowledge of the Son of God is a lifelong journey requiring our fullest and deepest commitment to Him and His Church. And then it says we must grow up to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. These are seemingly impossibly difficult words, and they prove that God’s expectation of our growing up has as it’s primary goal our becoming like His Son. (I encourage you to take hold of your Bible and meditate on these Scriptures, asking yourself honestly how you measure up to these God given expectations).

You may be wondering how it’s possible to even begin this journey of growing up into Him who is the head. We have some clear direction given to us in Ephesians 4:25-32 “Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another. “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil. Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

In these verses, we are given instructions to obey which will result in us growing up. They deal with our hands, our lips, our minds and our hearts. These expectations are very practical and very doable. Do you do any of the things listed here? If you do, the Bible says you need to stop being immature and grow up by ceasing these behaviors. Why? because they do not reflect the Christ we serve, who saved us in order to transform us into His likeness. And they do not serve His Body, who He purchased with His own life.

The dictionary definition of “mature” is: ripeness; full development; perfected condition. Friends, as Christians, this is our journey. To develop more fully, aiming for that perfected condition of becoming like our Perfect One. Let us be diligent in growing up into Christ, serving His Church, and bringing the Father greater glory.