I have become convinced that the single greatest weapon the enemy uses to thwart the cause of Christ has nothing to do with the Seven Deadly Sins or any other sin of commission. The forces of darkness, no doubt, rejoice when a pastor resigns following an extra-marital affair, when a CFO at a Christian university is let go for having embezzled funds, and when well-known Christian leaders turn their hubristic rhetorical venom upon each other in public or cyberspace arenas.
These are major victories for the enemy, to be sure, but equally helpful to Satan’s cause are the results of his more-subtle efforts to whittle away–daily, even hourly–at believers’ understanding of our identity in Christ and value in the Kingdom. If he can knock us off stride, even a bit, he can cause us to miss divine appointments, to be inward-focused at times that call for outward-focused behavior, and even to doubt our calling.
Indeed, although I acknowledge how destructive dramatic sins of commission are, in my own journey and in that of many friends and spiritual mentors (known or admired from a distance), what discombobulates us more often is, rather, a sin of omission: our penchant, in our weaker moments, for believing the enemy’s lies about us. To wit, we have been told in Scripture what we are to believe about ourselves. As the wonderful book TrueFaced reminds us, in Ephesians alone we are told that we are blessed (1:3), chosen and holy (1:4), adopted (1:5), forgiven (1:7), favored (1:7-8), close to God (2:13), promised great things (3:6), loved in exorbitant fashion (3:17-19), and cherished (5:29)! And yet–again, in our weaker moments–we choose not to believe these truths.
In my own ministry as director of Judson University’s Center for Worship in the Performing Arts (CWPA), we are, by God’s grace, in a real season of plenty, when God’s hand of blessing is very evidently upon us. We have record numbers of music and worship arts students; close to 100 in the JU Choir ranks (with opportunities last year to open for Sanctus Real, The Digital Age, and Citizen Way and to co-lead worship with The Brilliance–with more opportunities for major collaborations in the days ahead); a CD project by a student band, Mass Anthem, that Worship Leader magazine said (in the July/August issue) “stands up to any major label release in regards to theology, musicality, and production”; and so many irons in the fire for the coming months and years that, as never before in my 30 years of being associated with my alma mater, in the words of our President, Gene Crume, “It’s a great day to be a Judson Eagle!”
And yet this has been a tough year at times. Part of it can be attributed to watching my dad die a slow death from dementia. This hero of mine, from whom I took so many cues about life (“You reek of Dad,” my brother once told me), who in his prime could hold 700 music appreciation students at the University of Cincinnati’s tony College-Conservatory of Music in the palm of his hand, helping them to see value in music to which they couldn’t relate prior to taking his class, and lecturing them without notes for hours, now can’t string a cohesive sentence together. That’s been rough.
Part of it is the aftermath of turning 50 in March, complete with the attendant physical strains and psycho-emotional angst that typically accompany this calendar milestone. It doesn’t help that my “clientele,” as it were, consists of college students in the prime of their lives; my lack of comparative youthful vitality stares me in the face daily. (My wife works as a physical therapist, mostly with geriatric patients with serious medical conditions. She usually feels young and chipper by comparison.) And part of it probably relates to our being quasi-empty-nesters now, a dynamic whose emotional, sucker-punch potential I underestimated heretofore. (By the way, I highly recommend Emptying the Nest for those in a similar circumstance.)
But part of it, though, can, without doubt, be attributed to the very vocation-related success, noted above, for which I am so grateful. Say what? Things going so well translates into mild depression? Well, sometimes. Recall the fallout from one of Elijah’s greatest victories, as recorded in 1 Kings 18-19. Almost immediately after Elijah serves as the conduit through which the power of God is made unmistakably manifest in the confrontation vs. the prophets of Baal, and just four verses–four verses–after he has been given supernatural, Usain Bolt-like speed to run ahead of Ahab’s chariot to safety, Elijah, despairing for the future, asks the Lord to take his life! God, in His grace and mercy, sends an angel to minister to him, and Elijah is strengthened for the tasks ahead.
Friends, we have the opportunity to be angelic ministers of Christ if we will look intentionally and with great intensity for ways to encourage each other. Encouragement is one of the most powerful, under-utilized Kingdom weapons in our arsenal, and regularly blessing our fellow believers serves as a wonderful example of “horizontal worship,” the idea that our worship must, in the spirit of James’ discussion of works in chapter two of his epistle, at some level lead us to bless others in addition to God, or it is not worship at all. In the days ahead, I hope to share five tangible ways we can BUILD each other up for the Kingdom’s glory. The Lord be with you!