The seventy came back triumphant. "Master, even the demons danced to your tune!"
Jesus said, "I know. I saw Satan fall, a bolt of lightning out of the sky. See what I've given you? Safe passage as you walk on snakes and scorpions, and protection from every assault of the Enemy. No one can put a hand on you. All the same, the great triumph is not in your authority over evil, but in God's authority over you and presence with you. Not what you do for God but what God does for you—that's the agenda for rejoicing."
At that, Jesus rejoiced, exuberant in the Holy Spirit. "I thank you, Father, Master of heaven and earth, that you hid these things from the know-it-alls and showed them to these innocent newcomers. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way.
"I've been given it all by my Father! Only the Father knows who the Son is and only the Son knows who the Father is. The Son can introduce the Father to anyone he wants to."
He then turned in a private aside to his disciples. "Fortunate the eyes that see what you're seeing! There are plenty of prophets and kings who would have given their right arm to see what you are seeing but never got so much as a glimpse, to hear what you are hearing but never got so much as a whisper."
Jesus would never be invited to a church development conference or a church planting training with the way he talks here. He seems to not understand what the purpose of rejoicing is all about. Jesus thinks that being changed, transformed, and included is reason for rejoicing not success in ministry.
What is he thinking?
“All the same, the great triumph is not in your authority over evil, but in God's authority over you and presence with you. Not what you do for God but what God does for you—that's the agenda for rejoicing."
Could you imagine if that was the standard for what constituted ministry success in America today? Every year I have to fill out an annual church report for our denomination. It doesn’t ask a thing about what Jesus seems to care about here.
The agenda for rejoicing in Jesus’ economy is about life change and presence. In the NIV it talks about rejoicing because “your names are written in heaven.” I think that the Message gets to the heart of it with this talk about “God’s presence with you.”
How would our churches and community life change or look different if we cared most about the presence of God? What if what mattered most was the transformation that was taking place in us?
Over the years I have become convinced of this: You are what you celebrate. In the church world we tend to celebrate the 3 Bs, “Buildings, bucks, and butts.” How big is your building? How big is your budget? How many people are in your pews on Sunday morning? These three things are what are celebrated. Why? Because they are easily measurable. The presence of God? How do you measure that? God being at work in the lives of people? How do you measure that? The things that matter to Jesus are not easily measured for a spreadsheet or a report.
So, we find what we think we can measure. We make those things the central focus of life and ministry.
Too many in the church care about reports, paperwork, and income/expenditures. Is it any wonder that we have seen a precipitous rise in the prosperity gospel? It is the logical outcome of the way that we actuall live. You become what you celebrate.
We need to admit that most of our churches are nothing more than religious businesses. If we can admit that we can begin to change. I know that many of you reading this just bristled. But, if you’re a church leader and sit on the leadership of your church. How much time is spent discussing the spiritual growth and well-being of the people who are part of your congregation?
The two building centered churches that I served in spent little to no time discussing that in leadership meetings. The discussion was almost completely about money and how to get more people to get more money. If not that, then it was about building maintenance and how to get the money for the maintenance, which cycled back into the previous conversation. The last main meeting emphasis was programs and how to get more people into the programs. There was little by way of wrestling with the state of the souls of those whom we served and how to help them grow.
My hunch from talking with other colleagues is that this is what is primarily happening in almost every building centered congregation. When you have bills to pay the worries of the world crowd out the more important things.
If we can own this reality then we can change. There is no reason that we have to “continue business as usual” in the church in America.
You are what you celebrate. Jesus celebrated spiritual reality of transformed lives.
What do we celebrate?