Saturday

Mercy out of Control

It seems that the history of mankind can be described as a rush from one extreme position to another, like a pendulum gone. We’re doing it again.

For the past several decades, we’ve lost track of the promise at the end of James 2:13: “…Mercy triumphs over judgment.” For the past several decades, the church has earned a reputation as a house of judgment and intolerance, of narrow-mindedness and bigotry. Frankly, we’ve earned the reputation.

You’ve may have noticed, however, that the pendulum is swinging back, as is its wont. There are several changes that are happening in the church that reflect the pendulum’s return: one that I have observed over the past several years today is a rise, an increase, in the expression of mercy gifts among individuals in the church. It’s one reflection of the change in direction of the church: we’re becoming less judgmental, and more merciful.

We certainly need that change. The bad news is that the world has judged the church for being judgmental and out of touch, and that judgment has been appropriate. The good news is that the church is changing her heading, but it seems that we’re headed for increased turbulence with the corrections we’re making, not toward calmer waters.

The increase of the gift of mercy within the church, has not been well documented, and indeed it’s difficult to document and to analyze. You may or may not have seen what I have been observing for the past year; it is indeed subtle. Allow me to state my point fairly directly, and you can make your own observations.

Our text, then, is Romans 12:6-8:

“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”

First, let’s agree that mercy really is a gift, and by divine command, it is to be exercised with “cheerfulness” (literally hílarós, a root word that has become “hilarity” in English).

It’s my observation as one who has been a part of the church for a bunch of decades, that there are more people in the church now than there were a decade ago who are gifted with mercy, and the gift is more respected than it has been before. The church is more aware now than perhaps ever of the need to respond to sinners with understanding and empathy rather than a good clubbing with Old Testament Law. Our services often focus on meeting the needs of “pre Christians” rather than discussing sin and its consequences for “sinners.”

We have softened our approach to people-different-than-ourselves, and even many of our street evangelists are asking questions or meeting needs more than proclaiming judgment on street-corners.

That much is good.

The context for this growth in mercy, however, has been neither cheerfulness nor hilarity. The mercy that is growing in the church is growing without having been disciplined, it is mercy out of control, and it is becoming a destructive force in the church.

Pastors and other leaders are finding themselves confronted by their congregations for being too stern, too strict when confronting sloth or sin. Church discipline – ever the touchy subject – has become anathema: we’re afraid to go there.

Often, the confronter is motivated at least in part by mercy: let’s not be too harsh. But it’s mercy out of control, mercy without discipline behind it, mercy without maturity. The resulting of the conversation – a pastor afraid to speak the truth – is not normally considered a step toward maturity. This is mercy guided by ignorance or (worse) rebellion.

For example, a friend of mine leads a worship band, and her drummer was getting lazy. He’d use the same riffs for nearly every song, and his playing had gotten boring: he was stagnant and worse than that, he was content with being stagnant. As the leader, she had spoken to him a couple of times privately, and they’d agreed on certain goals, and on the means to achieve those goals.

Once during rehearsal, he drifted back into his old, stagnant patterns, and she needed to remind him of the standards they had agreed to. But when she did, she was surprised to find several other members of the band getting in her face about how she had “judged” him. The other members thought they were being “merciful” (and indeed, they are known to be merciful people), but because their mercy was un-tempered by self-control, it brought division, not unity to their band. This was mercy guided by self-indulgence.

In 1 Samuel 15, God sent king Saul to destroy the Amelekites, with specific instruction to kill everything:

“But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”

Saul musters the army and conquers the enemy, but instead of obeying God, he shows mercy:

“But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them.”

Sure, there were other motivations; greed come to mind, but the act was merciful, whether it was mixed with lesser values or not.

The story concludes with God judging Saul, not because he was merciful (who is more merciful than God?), but because Saul’s mercy was undisciplined, and the fruit was disobedience. Saul feared the people more than he feared God; God could no longer trust him as king, and He fired him and began preparing David to replace him.

In our school district, very few students are “flunked” or “held back” because it’s considered bad for the student’s self-esteem. I’m all for being careful with kids’ tender hearts, but if a teacher feels pity for a capable-but-undisciplined student, and passes a failing student for whatever reason, that teacher is not doing the student any favors. If the kid can’t read his own high-school diploma because of well-meaning, but ultimately short-sighted policies, that student will still be illiterate and functionally unemployable, all because of his educators’ misguided mercy. This is mercy guided by short-sightedness, by fear of confrontation, or perhaps mercy without guidance at all.

For the past twenty years, the church has been getting used to the rebirth of prophetic gifts. We’ve seen Prophetic Schools and Prophetic Training Classes and Prophetic Conferences by the hundreds. All of this has been an attempt to teach the prophetic people how to minister their prophetic gifts: ultimately, it’s been aimed at producing mature prophets and prophetesses, who use their gifts responsibly: in other words, we’ve been breeding self-control into the prophetic movement, and I for one, am thankful for it. (Who wants to return to the prophetic firefights and free-for-alls of the late ’80’s? Not I, thank you very much!)

So consider this a call (perhaps even a prophetic call?) to arms on behalf of the restoration of the gift of mercy. It’s time for mercy to come to the forefront in the church.

And it’s time that we begin to expect, even plan for, maturity in the gift of mercy.

Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Mature mercy triumphs better.

Friday

Clean Refrigerator Prayers

I was visiting a friend the other day, and we were talking. She is rather an active person, and while I was sipping tea at the kitchen counter, she played the exciting and fun game she calls, “What’s that smell” with her refrigerator.

Her refrigerator is new and efficient, but it had developed a weird smell. It was full of good food, but every time she opened the door, this strange odor wafted out. It wasn’t terribly bad, but it was NOT a food smell, and it kind of turned my appetite off.

Here’s how to play “What’s that smell?”

First set aside some time: I’m going to do this; I’m not going to be interrupted.

In our version, you’ll want to prepare yourself. Call a friend. “I’m going in. Cover me!”

Then open the door, and start looking for the smell. Pick a shelf: start at the front, and open every container on the shelf. I usually start on the bottom shelf because that’s where my refrigerator is likely to have the most interesting colors and textures.

For every container: Lift the lid. Look at what’s inside. Then give it the Sniff Test. Is it nutrition, or is it a science project?

Somewhere near the back of the fridge, you’ll probably find something really interesting. My friend – who was cleaning her fridge while I sipped tea and tried to say encouraging things – discovered some candy she bought on a trip to Sweden. Two years ago. She didn’t remember it being that color. Or that slimy.

When you find the source of your smell, you win the prize! Put on heavy rubber gloves, take the prize container out, and throw its contents away. Sometimes it’s better to throw the whole container away still sealed. Then take the trash out immediately.

Now it’s time for a choice. You’re all dressed for the mess, and you’ve already won one prize. Do you stop there, or do you go for an extra bonus prize? Since you’re already prepared, maybe pick another shelf and keep looking: Lift the lid. Unwrap the tinfoil. Look at what’s inside. Then give it the Sniff Test. Is it nutrition, or is it a science project?

Doesn’t that sound like a fun game?

Let’s take a left turn for a moment.

Hebrews 12:1: Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us….

We want to run, but stuff is holding us back. Some of what is holding us back is sin. Some is just weight that hinders us. Some is buried wounds that have never healed. Some of the weight is made up of lies: lies from the enemy, lies that we've told ourselves. And some, we may never know what it used to be; we just know we need to get rid of it because it smells yucky.

How many of us are hungry for revival, and we want to be part of what God is doing, but we know we’re not really ready for it? We know there’s garbage in our soul that’s whispering to us, “Sit back down there. Who do you think you are, wanting to be part of a move of God like that?” Sometimes we’re already aware that there’s stuff in our lives that needs to go. Or some of us are thinking, “I’m already dying! How in the world am I going to keep up with a move of God?”

That’s who I’m talking about: we need to get rid of the stuff that’s weighing us down. Like I said: some is sin, some is woundedness, some is just weight. But there isnt any part of it we want to keep, is there?  So the source hardly matters, because the real question is how do we deal with it? How do we get from where we are, weighed down, to where we need to be, free from crud and ready to go?

It’s time to play “What’s that Smell?”, but this time, we play with the help of the Holy Spirit, and we play in the confines of our own soul.

Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to live in us, but He doesn’t come as a quiet house-guest, sitting around, bored, waiting for you to entertain Him.

John 16:7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. 8 And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin , and of righteousness, and of judgment.

One of the specific assignments the Holy Spirit has before Him is to convict us of a number of things. That conviction is the smell we’re looking for! That nudge of the Holy Spirit is what we’re going to be looking for. “Holy Spirit, show us, teach me: what can you show me that’s slowing me down? What can I get rid of? Help me find it and jettison it. Convict me of every weight, and of the sin, every lie, every piece of crap which so easily ensnares me please!”

I find that praying in the Spirit for a while as I begin the process is helpful for establishing a fruitful context for these soul-searching prayers.

There are a couple of things we’ll probably find as we allow the Holy Spirit to search our soul, as we sniff through every possible container of our heart:

Nutrition: Quite a lot of what you find will end up being testaments to God’s grace: Memories of His provision, places where you’ve cleaned out former messes and been forgiven, lessons learned. These, we keep. We might even organize the shelf so we can remember them better.

The Leftover Leftovers: Some of the interesting smells we find will be just the residue of life: little offenses we need to forgive, or things we weren’t paying attention to that we need to repent of. If we don’t go looking for them, we’ll never find them. They're not "big deals," but we want to get rid of them anyway: like the "little foxes" of Song of Solomon, they’ll spoil our tenderness if left unchecked.

The Slime: Sometimes, there’s just stuff that gets us: we just get slimed. We didn’t go looking for sin, it came and jumped us when we weren’t looking. And just like that green slimy gunk that grows in the back of the fridge, it needs to get washed away.

False Advertising: the enemy is pretty good at slipping lies in among the food. And if we’re honest, we're not so bad at it ourselves, telling little lies to keep from dealing with the real issues that face us. These gotta go!

The Science Projects: the hidden things in the back shelves of the fridge that stink – these are the weights and the sin that so easily entangles us. It’s in there somewhere, and it might be disguised as food, or it may be surrounded by a cloud of green spores, but it’s something we don’t need to carry with us.

The solution for whatever we find is pretty much the same: repent. Change the way you see that thing.

If you find a place of sin that you haven’t seen in yourself before, then it’s easy to repent; now that you know what it is, you can choose to go another direction. As long as we’re there, we might want to repent for letting our guard down, for not keeping watch over our soul, for not catching this earlier. This is a good place to cheat: to ask, "What more can I repent of here, Holy Spirit?"

If you find a place of unforgiveness there, we can repent for holding on so long to the offense, and we can choose to forgive.

If you find a place of hurt or woundedness there, we can repent for holding on, for believing the thing that holds us there. We can also forgive the one who hurt us, and ask God for healing. We can’t ever change what they did to us, but we can change what it did to us, how we react to it. 

The goal here is to find the smell. Wherever the funny smell is, go looking there. Ask the Holy Spirit to bring His conviction, and show us all of the details that we need to know in order to repent well.

Press especially hard into the places where your soul says, “I don’t want to go there” or “It hurts to look at that.” Those are the really rich places. Look into those places, not away from them. The degree that your flesh resists looking into something indicates the potential for God’s healing and grace that we get to have when we press through the resistance, with His help, of course!

Give everything the sniff test: is this nutrition, or is it a science project?

So. You’ve probably figured out that in the end, this is all about repenting, changing how we think. We don’t just wait for the Holy Spirit to tackle us on the big and ugly issues that need repenting: because we believe that repentance brings forgiveness, cleansing and other good things, we go looking for places where we get to repent. There are two reasons I love repentance:

Cleanliness: The more we find, the more we experience forgiveness. The more forgiveness we walk in, the cleaner our heart is, and the more that God can trust us with His secrets, His treasures. And the more we receive His forgiveness, the more we can walk boldly in Him: no condemnation, no worries, no “if only’s.” We’re free.

Intimacy: The process of partnering with the Holy Spirit to accomplish His heart’s desire is an inherently intimate one. In my experience, Clean Refrigerator Prayers are a great way to develop a powerful intimacy with the Spirit of God.

Saturday

Some Thoughts on Regency and Marriage

The church has been aware for some time that God is calling us, His church, out of a slave mentality, and into the fullness of our inheritance as sons, heirs, co-regents with Christ. Some of the scriptural foundation include:

Galatians 3:29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Ephesians 1:20:…He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.
Ephesians 2:6: …and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

The current common understanding is that the time is nearing when we the church will not be begging God as if we were servants, and not persuading him as if we were friends, but speaking to the mountain and commanding – not requesting – that it be hurled into the sea. We’re seated with Christ on His throne at the right hand of the Father, above all of the demonic garbage and all the circumstances that plague us. Our job – the job of anyone on a throne – is to accomplish the purposes of the kingdom we represent by issuing decrees, judgments and proclamations in the name of the King.

This is a world-shaking paradigm shift, really. For centuries, the church has held on to the perspective that the Lord is our master, and we are his servants, that we wait for Him to reveal His will and we submit to that will. Yes, there is a measure of truth in that, but it is stunningly incomplete, and in this season, God is re-emphasizing the royalty of His bride, not her servanthood. (I’d go so far as to say that who we are is royalty; what we do is servanthood.)

The new metaphor is that when we’re joined with Him, when we’re seated on that throne with Him, when our hearts have become one, then He is as interested in our will as much as we’re interested in His. We’ve been waiting for God to take initiative. God waits for the church to take initiative.

Several years ago when the prophets began speaking of this, it met with some resistance in the believers; not so much now: we’re beginning to understand that even if we aren’t there yet, that’s where we’re headed: we’re co-regents with Christ.

(If you aren’t on board with this point, you might as well stop reading now, and go back to whatever you were doing; my whole article today depends on this: we’re moving beyond servanthood to co-regency. We may not be living it out very well yet, but that’s our destination.)

Recently, I became aware that this has significant implications on the “Christian” concept of marriage. Ephesians 5 has been a key passage for defining and understanding the relationship of husbands and wives:

Ephesians 5:22-24: Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.

For the last several generations, the church has looked at her paradigm of “Christ is the master; the church is the slave” (or “Christ is the master, and I am the slave”) and applied that to the relationship of husbands and wives: “The husband is the master; the wife is the slave.” We men have softened the blow by declaring that the husband’s job is to serve and raise up his wife through sacrifice, as Jesus did, and it’s true, but we’ve missed the point.

Just apply the new metaphor of co-regency to the relationships between husbands and wives, between men and women in the church. If Jesus really is looking for a Bride that will join with Him in ruling the Kingdom, then we have completely misinterpreted and misapplied Ephesians 5 to the marriage relationship. If Ephesians 2 is true that we’re seated with Christ, then Ephesians 5 would declare that the wife is seated with her husband (not underneath him). And if Ephesians 1 declares that both of us are seated with Christ – no, in Christ – at God’s right hand, which means men and women are both part of the regency: we’re both rulers.

We could go further: we’ve already discussed how in some measure, Jesus is staying His hand, waiting for the church to take initiative. That would suggest, if we will follow His example, that husbands need to step back somewhat in order to encourage the emergence of our brides into the forefront, that male church leadership needs to shut up, and cheer on the women apostles and pastors and prophets as they rise up and take their place. This bride wears army boots: get out of her way, brethren!

The practical implications of this are substantial in both the Christian marriage and in the leadership of the body of Christ. Fortunately I think most of the church has already begun to let go of the old (and occasionally well-intentioned) theologies that kept women out of leadership roles, out of full participation in the family and in the church. Maybe it’s time to become more forceful in laying aside old religious baggage in favor of following God into His purposes for our generation.

So, bottom line: it's time for the women to step out of the shadows and into the limelight, and it's time for the men to help them do that.

Monday

In the Gardener’s Care

In Luke 13, Jesus tells a parable of a fig tree. The parable is a warning that we need to be fruitful, and I’ve written about it before. I need to revisit the topic.

It strikes me that Jesus uses the parable to evaluate a single detail: are we bearing fruit? There are probably several ways to measure fruitfulness, but the issues is that either we are fruitful or we are not. (Some people measure fruit in souls saved, baptized or discipled, and others measure fruit in terms of character – the Fruit of the Spirit. I’m not picky: either one is good; the lack of either one is the problem we’re addressing here.)

Let’s think about our fruitfulness. If we aren’t fruitful, Jesus is promising help:

Luke 13:8 Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.

I see three options here:

1) no fruit with fertilizer,

2) no fruit and cut down, and

3) fruitfulness.

Let’s look at each.

Option 1: The Stink of Fertilizer

If we aren’t producing fruit, we can expect a bunch of fertilizer dug in around us for an extended season. I have a vegetable garden, and my wife has several flower gardens. We fertilize those gardens fairly regularly. I don’t know of a single fertilizer that doesn’t smell bad, and some of them are really awful.

Let’s think about first century fertilizer for a minute. They don’t have Lilly Miller or DuPont to make chemical fertilizers. Fertilizer comes from the cows, the camels, and the donkeys. When Jesus digs into your life to plant fertilizer, He’s inserting a bunch of crap into your life. He’s bringing people and circumstances that stink into your life. So the next time you’re thinking “I don’t have to take this sh*t!”: well, yes you do, if you want to be fruitful.

Think about the fruit of the Spirit.

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Where do these grow best? Where, for example, does the fruit of the Spirit of longsuffering come from? Doesn’t it grow in places where we have to suffer long? Doesn’t peace grow in places where it’s real hard not to worry? That’s the same for all of the fruit of the Spirit: they grow in circumstances where Jesus has dug into our lives and shoveled in a bunch of crap. Let’s be thankful for the crap in our lives, and for the fruit that it produces.

Because if we don’t develop fruitfulness during the season of crap, our fig tree is cut down and thrown away:

Option 2: Complete Destruction

If we continue not bearing fruit when we’ve had our season of fertilizer, then we get cut down.

I’ve learned something interesting about fig trees: cutting down a fig tree does not kill it. If you need to kill of a fig tree, and you take a chainsaw to it and burn if for firewood,, then next spring, you’ll have sprouts coming up. In fact, the experts say that the stump – even if you cut it down to ground level – will “sucker profusely,” and any one of those suckers can, if pruned carefully, grow into a new fig tree. Any of those suckers can be grown into a new tree, or they can be cut off and transplanted (carefully) to produce several more trees. The process is sometimes called “Rejuvenation pruning.” (“Rejuvenation” means “to be restored to a former state; made fresh or new again.”) This kind of “prune it to ground level” is very drastic, but sometimes the new growth is more fruitful than the old tree was.

If you really want to kill a fig tree, you have to do more than just cut it down. So when the Lord is threatening to cut down the fig tree that is me, He is not talking about killing me, or writing me off, or anything that smells like He’s giving up on me. (This is the guy that said, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” remember?) When Jesus cuts our tree down, he’s allowing complete destruction to come to our life, in order that we ourselves may be saved. This is not a foreign thought to Him: He’s willing to sacrifice anything in order to rescue us.

If I resist bearing fruit, even when Jesus digs into my life to bring the manure of circumstances and relationships that bring fruit, then He allows complete destruction to come to my life, as a last resort, so that I can start over again, and this time, maybe I can be fruitful.

Option 3: Pruning the fruitful branches

As I read this parable, I thought to myself, “Well, I’d better be fruitful if I want to avoid all that nasty stuff.”

John 15:1,2: "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

Sorry. Not gonna happen. If I am fruitful, then I will be pruned. If the tree – or in other parables, the branch – that is me is bearing fruit, then Jesus promises to prune me. Technically, the term is “Pick Pruning”, where each branch of my life is evaluated: should this one be cut or not?

The goal of pruning a fruit-bearing tree is twofold: The first is to produce more fruit, and the second is to improve the quality of the fruit produced.

I live in Washington, famous for growing apples: lots of them, and really good ones. When orchardists prune an apple tree, the goal is to remove the branches that aren’t bearing fruit so that the fruit-bearing branches can produce more apples. The tree consumes resources (water, nutrients, sunlight) to produce more apple tree. Those resources are consumed – in some measure – by every branch on the tree, fruit-bearing and non-fruit-bearing alike. If the tree that is me is spending a portion of those limited resources on non-fruit-bearing activities, then the removal of those less valuable activities leaves me with more time and energy to produce fruit.

Fruit happens in seasons, in our lives, just like in the apple orchards or the fig tree in the garden. There are seasons where the only thing going on is deep inside, like fruit trees in winter. And there are seasons where it’s reasonable to expect fruit. The goal is not to be producing fruit every day, but as we make our way through the seasons of life, we have regular seasons where we’re producing fruit.

Choices, Choices

We could look at it this way: if I’m fruitless, I get His spade, digging His fertilizer (which I call “crap”) into my life. If I continue in fruitlessness, I get a chainsaw. And if I choose to be fruitful, I get Heaven’s pruning knife.

So make your choice: do you want a sharp knife working in your life, or a spade full of manure, or a chainsaw?

Personally, I’m beginning a season of fruitfulness right now. I like it; it’s certainly more fun than the dead of winter. But because I’m making fruit, I can look forward to a season of pruning, and I’m really looking forward to it. I feel like my life has way too much stuff in it, much of which takes energy away from the fruit of making disciples and the fruit of character. I’m looking forward to the Wise Master Gardener examining each branch in my life and making a judgment call: does this one stay or does it go? I need some stuff to go.

Heart’s Desire

It would be easy enough to look at this as “something God’s doing to me in order to accomplish His plans for me” and feel backed into a corner. Most of us (the healthy ones among us, anyway) prefer to avoid pain when we can.

But think about it: who among us aspires to meaninglessness? Who wants to look back from the end of their life and boast, “I had absolutely no effect on anyone!”? If we were to look at fruitfulness as God’s issue for us, as His plan for our lives, that would be correct, but it would be correct only because it’s really our own heart’s desire. One of the most desperate searches of any human being, and that would include you and me, is the search for significance; God is – yet again – making plans to fulfill the deepest longings of our heart.

How Do I Avoid Troubles?

So given that we’re facing three painful options, how do we go about avoiding hurting in this process?

The short version: Give up. You can’t. Any way I live my life, I’m going to find that God is doing something toward the goal of making my life count for more than it does now. If I bear fruit, I get pruned to bear more. If I haven’t borne fruit for a while, I get manure dug into my life so that I can bear fruit. If that doesn’t work, he cuts me off at the ground and takes one of the branches that grows up from the roots in the spring to train into a new tree, and the process starts all over again.

It seems to me that the “pruning” of fruitfulness is a lot less troublesome than is “cut it off and start over” of fruitlessness. But that’s not really the main reason I want my life to be fruitful: I have a Master Gardener who loves me. I want to please Him. I want to introduce others to His faithful work. I want Him to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” not just to me, but the ten thousand wild fig trees that I’ve introduced to His masterful care. And I want the fruit from my branches to feed thousands of others who need nourishment.

Oh yeah, and His pruning knife hurts less than the chainsaw. That’s good too.

Friday

Growing in Authority

I’ve been thinking recently about some of the various levels of authority revealed for believers in the New Testament. I’ve found three: Servants, Friends and Sons.

· Servants beg favors from their masters. They have confidence that their master has the capacity to answer, but often have serious questions about whether the master has any inclination to answer.

· Friends make requests of their friends. They have confidence that their friend can meet the need, and they know that if properly encouraged (or nagged), the friend will stir themselves to meet the need.

· Sons issue commands from the family’s authority. They have confidence in their authority, and in their ability to back up that authority with power if necessary.

For years, most of the church has approached God from the perspective of servants begging favors from their master. We’ve begged God to answer our prayers, and like Dorcas’s friends, we try to justify our requests. “You need to do this for them [or me or us] because they [or I or we] have earned it.” We very seldom put it in that vocabulary, but that’s been the way we’ve prayed. “It would be so great if Suzie got saved because she could ….”

We know how to approach God as a servant. We’ve practiced servanthood, extolled servanthood, and prayed from a servant’s perspective for centuries. We’ve preached servanthood, and I think it’s been appropriate: we are not born as servants; we’re not born again with a servanthood instinct.

A servant’s life is pretty much without responsibility, doing whatever comes to the master’s mind. The servant is the guy that hides behind the curtain waiting for the master to snap his fingers and command him. Servants often love their masters, and certainly we’ve had a Master who is easy to love.

But servanthood is not where we belong today. It was a good revelation in times past, and it was necessary. But we learned that lesson. We need to move on.

We followers of Christ have talked about the fact that – theologically – we already are sons; we just need to exercise that authority. That’s true, but we don’t live in that revelation yet: I don’t know a single person who walks in the authority that our big brother and example Jesus did. Sonship is still a theory, albeit a good and true theory, and it really is where we’re headed.

But we’re not there yet. We’re on the road there, and we can see it around then next bend, and we’ll be there soon. We are right to look forward to it and to talk about it, provided that we don’t miss the place that we’re passing through now.

Right now, most of the church is just beginning to really walk in the friendship mode with God. A friend (where we are arriving) is not the same as a son (where we’re going ultimately), and it’s also substantially different than a servant (where we’ve been).

Jesus, of course established this friendship relationship: “14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15)

The friend takes a measure of responsibility in the relationship; a servant does not. A friend takes personal initiative as well as responding to his friend’s wishes. Friends don’t always drop everything when their friend says, “jump” like a servant does for his master. A friend may help us do the things on our heart, or they may try to talk us out of it, though they care deeply for their friend’s needs.

As a friend, we might say things that a servant never would. Things like “Hey, let’s do this. David did that. So did Mary. Sometimes, our friend might say, “Nah, let’s do this instead.” He did that to Paul.

A brief rabbit trail: since God is not a single personality, but three, I believe that we’ll find that we’ll have three relationships: our relationship with Father will be different than with the Son and different still than our relationship with the Holy Spirit. Personally, I find that my relationship with Father is (surprise!) a fathering relationship: comforting, affirming. My relationship with my Big Brother Jesus is a challenging one, like relating to my Captain or to a mature apostle who knows and likes me. I rather enjoy my relationship with the Holy Spirit the most: perhaps because I can’t figure Him out I have the fewest limits on what I expect in that relationship. I don’t know. I do know I relate to them differently.

So how shall we respond to the friendship of God? I offer three suggestions:

1) Acknowledge the friendship. Talk with Him as a friend. Talk with each aspect/person of God. Share your hopes and disappointments with Him. Find ways to have fun together. (Yes, that’s allowed!) He loves your time together more than you do, you know!

2) Take initiative. Make suggestions. “Hey, Jesus, somebody ought to do this. Why don’t we do it?” “You know, Father, I’ve always wanted to try this. Do you think we could do it together?”

3) Listen to Him. Ask Him what’s on His heart? What are His hopes and disappointments? What would He like to do today? Does He have a better idea of how to do that thing you’re thinking about? Real listening usually involves asking a question and waiting for your friend to answer. Yeah, I know: it sounds “religious” or “fake”. But just because other folks do it wrong, doesn’t mean you have to be weird about it.

Now one final warning before I wrap this up: we are not leaving the place of servanthood behind as we move into the place of friendship. We take it with us. We are His friends, and we need to live like it, but we are still servants of the Most High King. And when we begin to inhabit the place of sonship, we still won’t give up the place of servanthood, nor the place of friendship.

But it’s time that we stop living as if we were only servants. Let’s build a friendship with Father, with Jesus our Brother, and with the Holy Spirit. And then let’s let our friend reveal to us what it means to be a Son.