Tuesday, May 8, 2007

“Can I get a little cooperation here?!?”

Matt is having a difficult time, in his family, at work and even with folk at church. “Nobody is listening to me.” He wants to be a good father to his kids, who seem to do the opposite of whatever he advises. Those at work don’t really take his business seriously. And he’s had this project at church that he’s wanted to start for some time, and nobody seems to get on board with him. Frustrated, he wonders why he gets no cooperation from God or man.

To answer Matt’s question, “Why can’t I get any cooperation?” I first want to say, that Matt is a reasonable fellow. He isn’t demanding his friends and community to help him expose evidence that the last five U.S. Presidents were really disguised Reptilians from the planet Zorkon. Matt has legitimate concerns for his family, for his work, and to see God’s kingdom grow. So why is he getting no cooperation?

This is probably an authority issue.

After college, I was working at a group home for emotionally disturbed teenagers, and I loved my job. The kids seemed to like me, and I sure enjoyed working with them. I was attending church. A relatively new believer, my goals were changing, my priorities were changing, and many of my habits were definitely changing.

There was one particular habit that didn’t seem to want to change. I repented and repented and it just hung in there. In time, I did something I knew I shouldn’t. I “wearied in well doing.” (Gal. 6:9) I knew according to scripture, that I had not done all I could to stop (Heb. 12:4), but I was tired of feeling bad about this constant failure. Wanting to be happy again, I simply put this sin on the back burner, and told myself, “God will just heal me of it in His good time.” Sounds nice, huh? And so I just went on; continuing to read His word, enjoy fellowship, and well, um, continuing with this particular sin.

Then I hit this wall at work. After having such a fun start, for two weeks in a row now, it seemed I could do no right. The kids were being sneaky, and bouncing off the walls. It was very frustrating! Fights broke out, and I lost my temper more than once. I felt ignored. “What happened, Lord?” I didn’t like this at all!

Then Sunday at church, the preacher was talking about the Centurion who had come to Jesus, wanting healing for his servant. Jesus had marveled at the man’s faith, after he’d explained how he recognized Jesus’ authority over demons. The Centurion knew authority when he saw it, and knew Jesus had spiritual authority to make his world right.

Then the preacher said, “So, if things are out of control in your home and at work, it may be that you don’t see God’s authority!” Immediately, I remembered my putting that sin on the back burner. Ignoring God’s authority over my actions and thoughts, how could I expect the kids who were under my authority now, to listen to me? Then and there, I told God I was so sorry for ignoring His authority and repented again, of my sin. And yes, the very next week at work, was just wonderful!

Centurions were amazing people! They have a perfect track record in scripture. Matthew 8 tells us about the Centurion just mentioned. Jesus was “amazed” at his faith. In Matthew 27:54, it was again a Centurion who, when Jesus died on the cross said: “Surely, he was the Son of God!” Later, when Pilate wanted to know if it was true that Jesus had died, he sent for someone he could trust; a Centurion. (Mk 15:44)

Peter marveled at a Centurion too. Cornelius was a Centurion. He was such a man, that God sent an angel to him, saying: “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.” (Acts 10) God directed Peter to Cornelius’ house, so that Cornelius and everyone in his household could hear the gospel, be baptized, receive the Holy Spirit, and be saved. This Centurion was the first of the Gentile church.

How about Paul’s experience with Centurions! Look at the way they work! In Acts 22 and 23 and 27, you will find Centurions who really recognized authority, both on earth, and spiritually. One Centurion is commanded to flog Paul. When Paul asks if it is right to flog a Roman Citizen, the Centurion thinks first, then goes to his commander and presents Paul’s case, thus keeping his boss out of trouble. He honored those in authority over him!

Julius was a Centurion who could both think, and who could recognize spiritual authority. When Paul and other prisoners were being transported on a ship as prisoners, Paul and the ship’s pilot disagreed on when to travel. Julius sided with the pilot. Why not? Paul made tents, after all, and the pilot knew the sea. Well, it turned out that Paul was right. An angel then spoke to Paul, and Paul encouraged everyone. Then, next time Paul and sailors disagreed, Julius heeded Paul, and as a result, all on the ship survived. Paul was Julius’ prisoner! Julius recognized Paul’s spiritual authority. He later stopped the soldiers from killing all of the prisoners, “because he wanted to spare Paul’s life.” (Acts 27)

Centurions were a carefully selected stabilizing force of the Roman army. Career soldiers, these were men who, over years, had moved up in the ranks. Entering the military at age 16, they couldn’t become a Centurion until the age of 30. They knew how to be under authority, and could only become Centurions with high recommendations. Centurions were officers, and depending upon the strategic importance of their troops (they commanded anywhere between 80 and 120 men), they were ranked similar to what modern day army lieutenants or captains are. Some more seasoned centurions would be like our lieutenant colonels or even colonels.

Centurions were in charge of training their soldiers, and they fought alongside their men in battle. Centurions awarded the good soldiers and punished those who proved unfit for service. A Centurion could be punished himself, just like any solder (for instance, if found asleep at their post, or for having poorly trained troops).

A Centurion had to be a good communicator. They needed to be able to read messages and battle plans sent from their commanders. They had to be able to communicate clearly to both those under and those over them in rank: To take orders and to give them well, in other words, to cooperate with everyone.

Centurions had considerable earthly authority. Yet, what impresses is that they had the eyes, humility and wisdom, to recognize spiritual authority where present, even in carpenters, fishermen, and inmates. And doing so, they were blessed by God.

When people God has in my life, don’t listen to me, and when nobody is cooperating with me, I need to check my place in the line of authority. Am I aware of who is in authority over me? Am I in right relation with them? Is God over everyone else in my life? Or are my leaders or parents above God in my estimation? Am I honouring and respecting my parents, elders, and those in spiritual leadership over myself? Am I making demands of peers, as if I were in authority over them, when in fact, I am not? Centurions were men who knew their place. And God seems to really enjoy working with that. Remember Jesus' reaction to the Centurion. Wouldn't we love that to be God's reaction to us?

American culture, with equality being so emphasized, can sometimes keep us from recognizing those in spiritual authority, or from us taking authority where God wants to give it. This same principle may apply, if we don’t take authority when we are in it. (Parents who want to be just friends, be warned). Things can get out of hand either way. The easiest way to get more cooperation, is to make sure you esteem God as the highest authority in your life. With God being honoured on His throne, the rest will fall into place.

Trust me on this. I haven’t spent the last eight centuries observing you people from the mother ship, for nothing!

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