Tuesday

Some Assembly Required

During the Christmas season, the most dreaded phrase to any mom or a dad buying gifts for their family, are the words, “Some Assembly Required.”
Some years ago, I bought something from Ikea for a gift. For two evenings before Christmas, I had my workbench covered with odd shaped pieces of furniture, screws, nuts & bolts, and really odd steel connectors. It was an… um… interesting time.
The most valuable thing in my shop during those nights was a package of papers with the title “Assembly Instructions” on the front. In spite of my innate distrust of instructions (hey, I am a guy!), I found those pages to be very precious while I was assembling a gift was to fall somewhat short of its claim that it was “Easy to Assemble.” There were several parts to the instructions: a list of all the materials that had been included in the package and how they were used, a step-by-step guide to the assembly process, and an exploded view of the finished product.
Think of this: if you had a project where you absolutely needed the assembly instructions, would you want all of the instructions? If you needed to build something that you had never seen before, would you want to have the Assembly Instructions?
In the church, we do this on a regular basis. We read the beginning of our Assembly Instructions and then put even those preliminary instructions away. And then we wonder why this thing called “Church” isn’t working the way we wish it would, not to mention our private lives.
We have been given three parts of our assembly and operation instructions. We’ve not been using all three to their full capacity.
The first part of the instructions is the Word of God, the Bible. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” We must be taught, reproved, corrected and trained by “all Scripture.” We’re usually OK with this one.
But there is more that makes up our instructions. The apostles knew it; they wrote, “…it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” when they sent specific instructions to a group of believers in Antioch. I would argue that the rest of our Assembly Instructions are described here: the leading of the Holy Spirit and the counsel of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Speaking of the Holy Spirit, Jesus, who is the undisputed Head of the Church, taught us that the Spirit would “take of mine and declare it to you.” It is not a stretch to infer that one of the things that the Spirit will declare in the church is the leadership instruction of Jesus, or that He would declare instructions from our Lord and Savior to us individually. He was more direct when He declared that the Holy Spirit would “teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all things that I have said to you.”
Jesus modeled the principle: at his baptism, he was led both by the Word (“Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”) and by the Spirit (“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”).
The third part of our instructions is the input of our brothers and sisters, our friends in the Kingdom. Proverbs states it as a principle: “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety,” and “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But he who heeds counsel is wise.” Even when God made you and me, it was in community: “Let us make man in our image…” (emphasis added).
My point is this: if we are going to have better success, either in our personal lives or in our leadership responsibilities with the Body of Christ, then we need to be well and truly led by the Word of God, by the Spirit of God, and by the counsel of Godly men and women.
In many congregations, we are quick to declare that we follow the Bible’s instructions, though in reality, many of us don’t often read those instructions ourselves; we wait for a pastor or teacher or conference speaker or even a Facebook friend to instruct us in the ways of using that instruction manual. But we honor the Bible and acknowledge its authority at directing our private life and the life of the church. We are willing to be directed by the Word, sometimes to the degree that if we can’t find “chapter and verse” to support a statement or plan, then we reject it out of hand.
In other environments, we are quick to follow what we perceive the Spirit to be saying to us, often without questioning whether such “leading” is consistent with the other half of the instructions: the Word of God. My objection is not against being led by the Spirit (quite the contrary!) or even with the concept that His leading is sometimes unfamiliar or strange. My frustration is when we follow such leading without testing that direction against either the Word or the counsel of our counselors.
It seems that in this day and age, God is re-emphasizing relational ministry, re-emphasizing the value of enduring friendship in the Church. Of course it’s easy to see that being led only by the counsel of others is unwise. Adam found this out in the Garden of Eden. His excuse that “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” didn’t absolve him of blame as he had hoped, and it doesn’t today. “I was only following orders” is never an excuse.
Rehoboam serves as an illustration that we need counsel from leaders, elders (elders in the Biblical sense, not people who merely hold positions in church government), not just our friends and peers. At the same time, I have known congregations where individuals cannot take any initiative unless the “elders” (in the second sense) approve of it, regardless of what the Word and the Spirit say.
Here’s where I’m going with this: many of us – both as individuals and congregations – tend to focus on one of these three ways that God instructs us, and we tend to dismiss one or two of them.
  • Congregations and individuals who highly value the Word of God tend to functionally (not verbally) ignore the process of being either directed or instructed by the Holy Spirit. Some of them value counsel nearly as much as the Word; others overlook it. I find this attitude in congregations often; apart from the members of those congregations, I don’t often see this in individuals.
  • Individuals and congregations who highly value being led by the Spirit tend to value that leading so highly that it is above questioning, either by counselors or in the light of the Scriptures. I see this attitude in individuals and home groups more often than I see it in whole congregations, and the unhealthy emphasis seems to come from injuries sustained by members of the former group.
  • I am aware of a few folks who have difficulty making decisions without researching the opinions of everyone they know. They want the approval of every leader and as much prophetic input as they can find on the subject before taking action. To be fair, we’ve de-valued for so long this aspect of God’s input into the life of the individual and the congregation that there seems to be less of this error.
I propose that we work intentionally toward a relative balance of these three voices in our lives: that we sit under the Word, allowing it to speak to us; that we make time and opportunity for the Spirit to instruct us, and that we cultivate relationship with mature believers and that we invite them to speak into our lives. And I propose that we listen to the input of all three: that we take direction from them and that we learn from them.

Sunday

The Family of God

I am a man of many talents. I can be many things at once. Simultaneously, even.
I am a husband of the most wonderful woman who has ever walked this planet. At the same time, I am the father of three of the most amazing children of this generation. And while doing both of those, I am also the son of an awesome man and his awesome bride of nearly sixty years. It’s an honor to be related to them.
In other words, I’m part of a family. It’s an odd family, really, though I suppose most families can make a claim of that sort in one way or another. Ours is a very diverse bunch.
This Thanksgiving, we had – sitting side-by-side at the dinner table – the (successful) campaign manager for a very liberal politician and a (successful) football coach with unrepentantly conservative political views. We had passionate proponents of the social gospel sitting with evangelical bible thumpers and next to others whose credo is, “eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” and still others who preach that any road is a road to whatever god you want it to be.
When we gather for a meal, we share the responsibility for giving thanks. More than once, I’ve watched some folks cringe as others prayed; I’ve done it myself, and I’m quite certain that family members have cringed when it was my turn.
But none of that gets in our way of being family. Grandma and Grandpa are the matriarch and patriarch of this clan, and the clan knows it. They have knowingly raised a bunch of “rugged individualists,” and they’re not ashamed of it. In this family, if you’re family, you’re family! Deal with it. There is nothing you can do to revoke your family status. One of the family divorced his wife, but she’s still family. She comes to the campouts and the gatherings, and she’s well and truly loved.
We’re family because, whether by birth or by marriage, we all have the same father and mother. We don’t need to agree to certain conditions to be family. We don’t need to believe the right things, join the right groups, vote in a particular way. We’re family because we have the same father.
I have another family: the Family of God, sometimes known as The Church. In this family, we all have the same Father (though the mother part has me scratching my head). I’m part of that Family because I have Father God as my Father. In this case, I was adopted into this Family, but His commitment to me is no less than the commitment of my biological family.
Similarly, I don’t need to believe the right doctrines, follow the right traditions, hang out with the right people in order to be part of that Family. I’m family because I am a child of the same Dad as the rest of the Family.
I’m part of another family too, a third one. I’m part of a local fellowship of believers, a local church congregation.
I would suggest that the same rules apply in this family as in the other two: I am not a part of this family because I believe the right doctrines, follow the right traditions, hang out with the right people. I’m part of the family because the guy who leads us does a pretty darned good job of fulfilling the role of a father in our family. It’s odd, because he’s a young man, young enough to be my son, or the son of many of the leaders among this group. Yet it’s clear: he’s the father here.
He’s not a hireling, selected and contracted by some committee in order to fulfill the requirements of a job description. He’s a father among us because God has placed him in our midst and given him a fathering anointing. He’s a good leader, and he’s growing to be a better one, but that doesn’t change his calling as a father among us.
In the natural, biological realm, it’s not possible to be a father unless you’re a male, and your children – if you have any children, are younger than you by a fair bit, usually by decades. In the Spirit, there is no male nor female, that’s not an issue.
The other isn’t an issue either: I don’t need to be older than others who see me as a “father” in their lives. I usually am (partly because I’m older than most people I hang around with, I suppose), but that’s not required. Paul told Timothy that his youth didn’t disqualify him.
I have come to believe that families gather around fathers. Religion gathers around beliefs, doctrines.
This is a big deal because unity is a powerful thing in the Kingdom of God. But I guess we have forgotten that “unity” and “uniformity” are not the same thing.
If you and I have relationship because we’re in the same family, because we look to the same father, then there’s nothing you can do that has to separate us. But if you and I have relationship because we believe the same things, then when one of us does something as small as question a belief, then we can no longer maintain our relationship. One of us has to go.
That is not the way of the Kingdom. We don’t accept or reject people because they conform to the right beliefs, the right doctrines. We don’t cease to be family because someone hangs out with the “wrong sort” of people. Heck, Jesus was famous for that. Messed up the religious folk in his day too.
We're in the middle of the "Holiday Season," when families gather together. So let’s be family. Let’s not be religious. Let’s love each other because we have the same Father, not because (or if) we have the same beliefs.

Saturday

Full Time Ministry

“Full Time Ministry.” What an interesting phrase.

I hear a lot about Full Time Ministry. I hear it from my brothers and sisters in my church, and in pretty much every church, every conference, every home group I visit. I hear it on many of the blogs and twitter streams of brothers and sisters that I follow. I hear it most often among those who are most passionate about their faith. I hear it explicitly and I hear it implicitly in many of our conversations.

And the thing that I hear is this: a consistent desire to be in Full Time Ministry (and yes, it’s spoken with capital letters!).

This is what I hear: I hear so many believers that are frustrated with the limits of how well they’re able to express their commitment, their appreciation, their devotion to God, in their secular workplace, and they’re looking to Full Time Ministry as a means of satiating that need. “When I’m in Full Time Ministry...” they say wistfully. Some of them are tired of dealing with “Non-Believers” (as if “believing” is the thing that defines us) and wanting to work among Believers so they can let down their defenses. But mostly it’s a longing to serve Christ better.

First of all, I understand the desire for more freedom in living out our faith; I understand the desire to have a job that allows me to express my joy in the One who ransomed me from sin and judgment during my work day; I understand the frustration with feeling like so many of my hours working are wasted in the sense that they are building something that will make no eternal impact.

And so we have a large part of a generation of the Church longing to be on staff at a church, wishing they could be part of a Christian missions group, thinking and planning about starting some sort of ministry so that they can be in Full Time Ministry.

Here in America, we have a tendency to define ourselves by our jobs, our careers. We talk about “Pastor John” or “Dr. Miller” because of that force. When we introduce ourselves, there’s very often a need to describe what we do for a living, because that’s how we know each other in this country. It’s not the only way we define ourselves, but it’s a bunch of it.

And so we have a second motivation for wanting the Full Time Ministry position: it defines us publicly as someone who’s committed to Christ, who’s given themselves to the furtherance of the Kingdom of God. It’s not that we’re looking for public recognition (well, not usually), but that we want to see ourselves that way: I’m committed to the gospel, because I’m in Full Time Ministry.

I say again: I understand and I applaud the desire to serve God with our whole day. I need to make that clear because of what I’m going to say next.

Every time I hear about people wanting to be in Full Time Ministry, I want to grab them by the shoulders and shake them and shout, “You’re aiming too low. Aim higher!”

Yes, it’s true that for most of us, working 40 hours a week for a Christian cause would represent a larger fraction of our lives spent in furthering the cause of Christ. Assuming we get an hour a day in our “Quiet Times”, and that’s almost 50 hours a week! Fifty hours a week with God; what a wonderful thought!

Again I say, “You’re aiming too low. Aim higher!”

The standard that we’re given in the Word, the example modeled for us by Jesus and Paul and the rest is that we don’t limit ourselves to serving the cause of Christ a mere 40 or 50 hours a week. Fifty hours a week is an improvement, but it’s not our goal. Our goal is … (let’s see… 24 hours a day x 7 days a week…) our goal is serving Christ 168 hours a week. Every breath we take, every word we speak, every relationship, every conversation, every email, everything we do is part of our life in Christ.

My relationship with Christ is about who I am, not about how I spend my time. A friend of mine put it this way: we were made to be Human Beings long before we began to be humans doing. I am a Christian not because of what I do with my day, but because Christ lives in me, because I am in Him. Which means that all of my day is His.

When I worship, that’s an expression of the Kingdom of God, of course. When I help church volunteers overcome their technical challenges, that’s an expression of the Kingdom; I understand that. But when I talk to the mechanic who’s fixing my truck, I’m an expression of the Kingdom, because I am the ambassador of the Kingdom, perhaps the only one he’ll talk to today. When I go grocery shopping, or pay my bills, I’m doing the work of the Kingdom, because I am a king and a priest in this Kingdom. I’m not an ambassador only when I’m talking God Talk or doing God Things. I am an ambassador. That’s who I am. That’s who you are.

Let me be more direct: I don’t need to be doing something expressly “Christian” to be doing the work of the Kingdom. I am not an ambassador, a king, a priest because I happen to be talking about Jesus or about my church at this moment. It’s not about what I do. It’s about who I am.

The other end of the spectrum, then, is also true: when I snarl at my kids, when I grumble at the guy who cut me off in traffic, I am still doing that as a king and a priest of the Kingdom. Which leads me to change my behavior, but not because I need to do the right things, but because of who I am. I am a king, a priest, an ambassador. I need to live like that. I need to make choices based on who I am, not on what’s right and wrong. (We’re still eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, aren’t we?)

So here’s my encouragement: live like you mean it. Be who you are, you ambassador, you. Live in Christ 24/7 and be an ambassador in all you do.

And quit settling for the goal of only Full Time Ministry.


Friday

Weeds in the Garden!

Have you ever grown a garden? Do you know the joy of preparing the ground, planting the seed and coming back to harvest your supper from the garden? There’s something special about a garden; that’s probably why God created Adam & Eve in a garden.
I sometimes look at a garden as a metaphor of my life: if I want God to have a harvest of good things from my life, then He and I need to prepare the soil that is me and plant good seed in it.
Preparing my soil is not often easy, but it is simple. There’s hard stuff that needs to be plowed up, often (but not always) through difficult circumstances. There are things that need to be removed from my life through a process of purification or refining. There’s order that needs to be built into my life.
Then there’s the planting of the seed. That’s another process. It’s worth examining, but I’m looking at something else today.
If you’ve ever grown a garden, you know about weeds. No matter how well you prepare the soil, no matter how good the seed you use, weeds always seem to get in to spoil the perfection of your garden. Jesus had the same problem: tares grew among the good wheat
Following the metaphor, weeds grow from the seeds planted by “the world, the flesh and the devil” in the garden of our lives. Weeds are messed up thinking, wasted or unfruitful choices and other things that don’t come from God’s seed and don’t produce a harvest that either he or I would choose.
I hate weeds. They seriously mess up both the beauty and the fruitfulness of a garden, and they do it in several ways.
First, weeds consume resources supplied for the legitimate fruit. In the natural garden, they consume the nutrients in the soil, the water, the sunshine. In my spirit, they consume the time and energy that could be more profitably spent. (Don’t get me wrong: rest is not a weed. But squandering time is.)
More than that, weeds create a false, fruitless beauty. A field covered in blackberries and nettles is actually fairly pretty, but it’s not fruitful. That’s the same in my life if I have lots of activities that look good, but lack the power and presence of God in them. I know people who have started dozens of “good things” for God, but haven’t done much “with God.”
Weeds make room for other invasive pests. They are not part of the weeds themselves, but the weeds make it comfortable for other nasty stuff to feel right at home. Under the berries and nettles are rats, cockroaches, slugs, ungodly beliefs, discouragement, hopelessness. I don’t want to be making room for those kinds of things.
Weeds make it hard to see what God’s doing. I don’t know why it is that weeds – both natural and metaphorical – are substantially better at commanding attention than the quiet fruit-growing plants beneath them.
So my goal is to submit myself to God, to identify and repent of the weeds He shows me, and to make myself ready for good seed.

Thursday

It's Reasonable

I have found myself thinking about my thinking processes recently. I’ve been thinking about how my thinking fits in with the Kingdom.

I grew up in a very intellectual community. My family treasured thinking, reading, and a college education. My education was all about rational thinking: find the evidence, and think about what it means: if it can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist. My church taught that scripture is to be interpreted through the theology that I hold.

I was taught that the opposite was blind faith, which was ridiculed.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I was taught poorly. I’m sure they had intentions that they considered to be good intentions, and this is not going to be a diatribe against the people that taught me. Rather, it’s an admission that I’ve learned some things new.

As a man that was taught to know, to understand, I read an interesting verse in that Book that I consider authoritative in all things, and it said,


Acts 1:7-8 It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…

It’s written in red letters: this is Jesus himself speaking, and he’s speaking to the disciples who are trying to understand what’s going on, what God is up to. They’re trying to make sense of a move of God that is way outside their boundaries. (Doesn’t that look familiar?) Since I’m in the same place, it would be hard not to read this as speaking to me, personally, in my own struggle to understand what God is up to in this season.

I struggled for a bit with that first phrase, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons.” More specifically, I stumbled over “It is not for you to know.” I looked for a loophole: maybe it’s not for me to be confused about? But alas, the Greek word, ginosko, means it’s not for me to “learn to know, come to know, [or] get a knowledge of … understand, perceive” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon).

It is not for me to know, to understand the times or the seasons.

I’ve grown up in a culture that’s fascinated by the study of end times. I know people who have made a career out of studying and talking about end times prophecy. And here, the Son of God says that’s not my job. Don’t waste your time on that.

As a result of this verse, I stopped reading the Left Behind series of books, back when everybody was reading them. I wasn’t real impressed with the books anyway, either as theology or as literature, but I was reading them because so many people I knew were reading them. But it’s not for me to know, to understand, to perceive the times or seasons – and he was specifically addressing questions about the end times when he made this statement.

But at the heart of this statement is a value, a principle: knowing is not as important as other things. Here he says it’s not as important as receiving power. Not as important as receiving? But I can’t control receiving! I can only receive what someone gives, and that’s beyond me. I can control knowledge by studying and arguing and becoming learned.

“It is not for you to know.”

But as big as those red letters are, this is only one verse, and maybe I’m jumping the gun. Maybe this is an isolated thought in scripture.

This morning I was reading what I thought was a safe passage where Jesus and the boys are talking about lunch as they’re sailing across a lake. And there in the middle of that conversation, Jesus makes this statement:

Mark 8:17-19 Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember?

Again with the red letters: Jesus’ own words. And again, he’s rebuking them. He’s saying that in this situation (“We forgot lunch!” or “We don’t have enough provision!”), “reasoning” is a sign that my heart is hard, that I don’t perceive or understand.

The lesson is blindingly clear: when I’m with him (and where else would I want to be?), the means to my provision is not my ability to reason. Exercising reason in that situation illustrates that my heart is hard.

Again, what does he offer instead: see; hear; remember.

In the ensuing conversation, he reminds them of previous circumstances where he miraculously provided for them (the feeding of the 5000 is his first example).

So again we have come to another circumstance where reason fails me, where knowledge is insufficient: when I have a need.

Instead, he commands me to see, to hear, to remember. I can almost hear him now.

“Come on guys. If you can’t trust God’s provision for you, then at least look at (remember) His provision in other times. If you can’t see, then can you hear other peoples’ stories? If you can’t hold still to hear their stories, then at least remember what He’s done from way back!”

So I am working on making that change in myself. They call that repentance: changing the way I deal with things. I don’t know if you’ve noticed that times are difficult right now, particularly in the realm of provision. There’s this little thing called a recession going on. It’s hit us pretty hard, and it’s probably hit you or someone close to you as well.

My goal is to pray, yes. But instead of trying to figure things out, instead of “reasoning because [I] have no [provision],” I think I’ll try to soak myself in testimonies. I’m going to try to see, to hear, to remember what God is doing, and what He has done, in order to be able to walk in confidence for what He will do.



How Are Your Figs?

The other day, God challenged me from his parable of the fig tree in Luke 13. “What fruit have you borne me,” He asked me. I feel the need to quote the parable.

He also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ But he answered and said to him, ‘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.’

His question caught me completely off guard. I’ve spent so much of my time and energy working on being faithful to the obligations before me that I haven’t paid attention to the fruit of my faithfulness. I’ve been working hard in my garden. I’ve been planning and planting and watering and planting some more, and tilling and weeding, and planting some more. It never occurred to me to see if there were any veggies for me to pick.

What kind of a gardener never picks his veggies, never looks to see if he has veggies to pick? Hmmm.

God describes Himself as a gardener, and He makes it abundantly clear that He’s looking for fruit. Remember the other fig tree? When Jesus was coming into the city, He was looking for figs, and He was pretty upset when He couldn’t find any. He took out the fig tree. He killed the tree because it wasn’t producing any fruit.

Now I already know that most commentators talk about how that other fig tree was a prophetic picture of how Israel had lost its place of fruitfulness to the new work that was “coming into the city”: the church. Yada yada yada. My point is that He’s looking for fruit. He’s expecting fruit.

I’m raising some spectacular kids, but they’re bringing some remarkably ugly philosophy home from the public schools. One of the worst is this: “You don’t have to be concerned if you can’t do it, you just need to try your best.”

Yes, there’s some room for grace when we’re dealing with little kids. But we hang onto that mentality: It doesn’t matter if I succeed or not, as long as I’m doing my best. (This is best when said with an indulgent smile, almost a sneer.)

That attitude makes good garden fertilizer.

What employee among us would keep our job if we continually said to our boss, “I gave it my best, boss, but I just couldn’t do it.” What coach would keep us on the team if we continually made excuses for why we weren’t keeping the other guy from outscoring us?

And yet we say that to God all the time. And unlike the boss – who will fire us – or the coach – who will kick us off the team, we expect God to not only keep us on His team (which He will) but to give us His best blessings! Fortunately, our relationship with the Creator and Redeemer of All Humanity is not based even a little bit on what we can produce.

On the other hand, a relationship grown in grace doesn’t give me permission to not produce fruit. The excuse of “I gave it my best” doesn’t work with Him. He doesn’t want my best anyway. He didn’t pour the resources of Heaven into my person so that I could ignore the Power of the Almighty and use my pitiful little muscles, my pitiful little will? (Someone has said, “Do you believe that my being stronger or faster has anything to do with my muscles in this place? Do you think that's air you're breathing now?”)

I can hear the boss now: “Son, why isn’t that foundation prepared by now/” “Well, Sir, I just couldn’t dig that well. The soil is so hard, and my hands hurt. I tried my best!” “Son, why aren’t you using my backhoe for that? And I’ve already assigned Fred and his bulldozer to help you. Why are you not making use of him?” I’m guessing that I wouldn’t keep that job too long if I held that mindset.

And He doesn’t seem to care if we think He’s being fair about it. There's another fig tree that He killed because it had no fruit: it wasn’t the fig season, and yet He seemed to think He could expect figs. In the parable of the talents, He says this about Himself: “… I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed.”

So God is challenging me about fruit. If I am not producing fruit, it is because I am either using my muscles, or I am not doing the work for which He has called me, or I am not paying attention to what’s growing on the vine where I am working, perhaps.

So what’s the consequence of not bearing fruit? “So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. ‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Yikes. If I am not bearing fruit, then the things that God has given me, the seed (to return to the metaphor of the garden) will be taken from me and given to someone who actually produces fruit. I’m afraid to look too closely into that “weeping and gnashing of teeth” phrase, but I can tell you that I don’t want to see it first hand!

Fortunately, fruit-bearing is not a case where the final exam is 100% of the final grade. In the Luke 13 passage, the Master comes looking for figs – for the third year in a row- and finds no figs, no fruit. Since this is the third year of fruitlessness, he’s upset because the tree is using up the ground and giving nothing in return. He issues orders to cut the tree down, but the Gardner, Jesus, interrupts Him and says, “Hang on, let me till around it and see if I can get some fruitfulness out of it this year. Otherwise, let’s cut it down next year if it’s still fruitless.”

So I have a chance: if my garden shows lots of activity, but not much fruit, then I have opportunity to clean some things up and take another run at fruitfulness. If I haven’t brought much into the storehouse yet, if Father hasn’t been pleased with the fruit He finds on me, I can submit to Jesus’ digging around my roots and filling it with crap (which He calls fertilizer) and I can grow some fruit. I can pull my talents out of the ground and find someplace to invest them. I can begin looking at my garden for fruit, not just work to do.


Sunday

Who’s in Control?

I should probably begin this with a disclaimer, a warning: this is not politically correct, not religiously correct, and may be offensive to a lot of folks. It’s offensive to me. You probably don’t want to read this.
What? You’re still here? Well, you’ve been warned. Proceed at your own risk.
A few months ago, I posted something on the topic of “Trust, Don’t Lean,” a lesson for this season from Proverbs 3. I can’t get away from that topic.
I believe that this is a season for us to trust Father God instead of leaning on our own understanding. I also believe that this is a much subtler issue than I have realized before.
I hear so many of my brothers & sisters praying the way that was so very common for me, until I realized the rebellion that it represented in me.
My favorite way to pray for guidance from God was along the lines of “God, show me what to do, and I’ll do it!” It sounds good, right?
But what was really in my heart had a slightly different interpretation. The way I walked this out was more along the lines of “If you’ll show me what you want, then I’ll make a decision about whether I want to do that.”
The difference is subtle, and it’s huge. It’s every bit as big as the difference between Him leading me and me leading Him, because that’s what it is.
If I insist on knowing his instructions before I obey, or if I want to understand before following, then I’ve changed the authority in my life. If I have reserved the final approval for myself, my own authority, then I am the “lord” of my life, and God has become my counselor.
In less subtle language, it would sound like this: “Look, you give me all the advice you want to; I’ll decide whether I’m ‘feeling led’ to obey it or not.”
That sounds harsh stated bluntly like that, but this is the way many Western believers follow God: “You advise me, but I’m making the decisions!”
A few years back, there was a popular bumper sticker: “God is my co-pilot.” Then another one came out to rebut it, and it captures something of what I’m trying to say: “If God is your co-pilot, change seats!”
If I am asking God to tell me what to do, then I choose to obey what he’s saying, of necessity, this means that I am the king of my own life, and God is reduced to my advisor or assistant.
In the same way, if I need to understand what is happening before I walk forward into it, then I am choosing to be master of my life. If this happens when I’m facing a room full of unfamiliar people, there is great wisdom in this approach. But if I’m waiting to understand what God is up to, then I’m back to making him my Heavenly Concierge again.
I wouldn’t bring this up, except that I see it in so many Western Christians: “When I understand what God is doing, then I’ll trust him with my life.” I see many believers sitting on their hands, “waiting on God” to understand what he’s doing in their lives before moving forward in obedience.
“Is this the season, Lord, where you fulfill all my grandest dreams?” If they feel an answer in the affirmative, they risk hoping in those dreams; otherwise, they don’t go anywhere.
I would argue that if God says, “Step forward!” then it’s time to step out. It’s not time to ask what will be the results of my stepping forward? “Will my sister ‘get saved’ if I step forward, and you know that it would be really good if she did!”
There’s room for this argument: “But how can I obey if I don’t know what I’m going to obey?”
It seems to me that asking the question reveals the disease: the folks who have God in the Number Two seat tend to be the ones who ask that question.
How do we obey without understanding what it is that we need to obey? I keep having to ask, why do I need to understand before obeying? Here are some of the questions that this leads me to:
  • What benefit does understanding provide to my ability to obey? I find that my understanding is limited by my capacity to understand, which is – as hard as this is to believe – noticeably less than God’s capacity to understand. He can see the relationship between my obedience and my sister’s salvation whether I can or not.
  • When I ask for understanding, have I already chosen to obey and even begun to obey, or is my decision to obey going to come after I understand, if I understand?
  • What do I do if God has a different plan for my life than I do? What if “success” in God’s mind is the thing that we call “failure”? Jonah will work as an example here. He wanted to live the comfortable and well-regarded life of a prophet in Israel. God had other plans: “Go to Nineveh!” Later, Jonah reveals his agenda. “You’re doing exactly what I didn’t want; that’s why I went the other way! Go ahead: kill me now!” (Paraphrased from Jonah 4:1-3.)

Here in the western church, we’re big on the concept of God as “Daddy” and our “best friend.” Those concepts are true, but we overlook the less comfortable concept of God as “King of Everything” (the technical term is “sovereign”) who has the inherent right to do any thing he darned well feels like with our lives. We are fortunate indeed that his plans for us are always (as in “100% of the time”) in our best interests, but his commands are no less commanding simply because they’re good for us.
I was whining about martyrs to God one evening long ago. He let me go on for a while, and then when I stopped my pity-party long enough to draw a breath, he interrupted: “Do I not have the right to spend the lives of my servants as I see fit?”
I realized that I had done what I’m writing about here: I had judged his plans by my tiny little brain, and because I couldn’t see the connection between “the blood of the martyrs” and any tangible benefits, I was judging his plans for ruling the world, for leading the Church as inferior to “the way I would do it.”
God the Father is indeed my Daddy and Jesus really is my Best Friend. But more than that, God really is omniscient: he really does know what will come of my obedience. He really is sovereign: he has the right to tell me “Go here” or “Do this” and he may give me an explanation or not as he sees fit. In fact, as my friend, he is very likely to explain things to me.
But for me to demand an explanation before I obey is not obedience. It’s rebellion of the highest order.
“Why Lord” is illegal until after we have declared “Yes Lord!” in both word and deed.

All Things


Let me tell you some stories.
First story: I was talking with a friend recently, and he told me an interesting story.
This friend is a musician. He lives & works in the California desert, but he had no air-conditioning in his office. Someone gave him one that didn’t work. He described to me how he was encouraged (someone had thought about his needs) and frustrated (so close, but it still doesn’t work!).
That’s when the story got interesting. He was thinking about the AC unit and since he’s pretty handy with fixing things, he was trying to get it to work, but without success. As he was grumbling about his lack of success, he heard the Holy Spirit whispering to him. “Try this” he said, and showed him a picture of some accessories for his monitors: these are components for a sound system. Oh, and he just happened to have that part in his pocket.
He applied it as the Holy Spirit suggested and it worked: impossibly and perfectly, and it has been running for several years now.
Together we chuckled: it appears that God is an expert in HVAC repair. That’s somewhat outside of the box that we had had Him in.
Second story: Another friend was out hunting one recent winter with a buddy. In addition to his hunting rifle, he carried a pistol, but this time he had brought a favorite: one that had been a gift from an important friend who had carried it as an officer in a recent war. During the creeping-through-the-undergrowth part of the hunt, the pistol fell unnoticed into the snow and was lost.
His hunting buddy, a good friend of mine, tells this story: frustrated by the loss of our friend’s pistol, he went back to the same hunting grounds, where he prayed. His prayer was well beyond anything he’d prayed before, but “What’s life without a little stretching?” he said.
“God, you know where that pistol is. Would you please show me?” Before he had a chance to entertain second thoughts about his unusual prayer, he felt a nudge: go this way. He spent a couple of hours wandering through the forest this way and that, following the little nudges that he felt, far from any trail or road. It was unusual enough that he had to work hard to quash both the doubts and the excitement that he felt rising.
Then the nudges went away. Stopped altogether.
“Father, would you please show me where the pistol is?” Nothing. Silence. He prayed several more times. Still nothing.
Frustrated and confused, he turned to head back to his truck, but his toe bumped something. He looked down, and there was the pistol. It was a little rusty from spending the winter under the snow, but only a very little as our friend had always kept it well oiled. As you might imagine, he was pretty happy about finding the gun, but even more excited about his adventure with God.
Third story: Corrie TenBoom tells the story of her father’s watch repair business:
There weren’t many repair problems he hadn’t encountered. But occasionally one would come along that baffled even him. And then I would hear him say: “Lord, you turn the wheels of the galaxies. You know what makes the planets spin and You know what makes this watch run….”
The answers to these prayers seemed often to come in the middle of the night: many mornings I would climb onto my stool to find the watch we had left in a hundred despairing pieces fitted together and ticking merrily.
The other day, I stumbled across a verse that I’ve read a hundred times:
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. John 14:26
In this verse, one of many places that He instructs us on the Holy Spirit, Jesus teaches that He’ll do two things: one is that he’ll remind us of what Jesus has said to us.
But the first thing Jesus says here is that the Holy Spirit will teach us all things. All things.
I’ve been thinking about that recently. The Holy Spirit teaches me all things. That sounds too good to be true.
I looked up “all things.” You’d never guess it, but it actually means “all things.” Strong’s concordance describes it as “all, any, every, the whole”; Vine describes it as “every; every kind or variety”; Kittel says it’s “an inclusion of all parts”; Thayer says, “any and every, of every kind”; Balz says it’s “all things/the All (in the broadest sense).” It sounds pretty conclusive to me.
We tend to think of the Holy Spirit teaching us about spiritual things, or at least about things that the Bible commands us to do: raise our children, love our neighbor, help the poor.
But apparently “all things” includes fixing air conditioners, finding lost firearms and repairing broken watches. That would probably extend to astrophysics, gardening, auto mechanics. I could tell you stories about how much He knows about fixing sound systems!
I propose that we let the Holy Spirit teach us, particularly that we let Him teach us about subjects that we don’t discuss in church. We’ll be far wiser people!

Friday

Prophesying Judgment?


I have heard a number of prophetic words recently that have carried a tone of judgment in them. That concerns me.

This is one example. I did eventually publish it on Northwest Prophetic, but not until I’d run the word past a number of prophets with whom I have a relationship to add their discernment to my own, and they are correct, this word adds a large dose of hope at the end, after the disasters are declared. But it really made me think.

Words of judgment bother me. I was discussing that with a new friend recently, and it made me think about why it bothers me.

If I were to sit in the judgment of 1Corinthians 14:29 over this word, I would say that this is definitely from God, this is definitely from the heart of the Father, and in that sense, it is both prophetic and accurate. But I think I would suggest that this legitimate and no doubt powerful prophetic experience might have been intended as a call to that prophet to intercession for the cities she spoke about, not as a declaration or calling-forth of judgment on them.

One of the principles that God is reinforcing in this season is the power of the prophetic declaration. It’s the means by which God performed the work of creation: “And God said …. And it was so.” Job 22:28 captures it clearly: “You will also declare a thing, and it will be established for you.”

I can tell you of a prophet I know (Kris Vallotton, Bethel Church, Redding CA, and he shares this publicly), who was visiting with a couple who wanted desperately to have kids, but were medically unable; the doctors had given up hope. God whispered to Kris, “Tell them that this time next year, she’ll be holding her son in her arms.” Kris argued with God, “I can’t say that!”, and God answered, “If you don’t say it, I won’t do it.”

I can also tell you of times that I have made declarations and seen circumstances change, sometimes literally overnight; unfortunately, not all of my declarations were as well informed as they were well intentioned, and so not all of the miraculous power released through them ended up bringing praise to God. There were expensive lessons there.

One reason I hesitate so much to declare prophetic judgment is because I have learned that accurately declaring a sinful state that does in fact exist only releases power to strengthen the sinful state. I can find chapter & verse to support the concept, but I have enough experience that has taught me as well.

One of the most powerful parts of a prophetic call is the call to be with God: without intimacy, we can’t speak intimate words. He pointed out to me one time that there are a whole lot of things that my wife speaks to me in our intimate moments together that I would never think of sharing publicly, the vast majority of them in fact. So it is when He and I are intimate: many, perhaps most, of the things that pass between us in those moments are not intended for public conversation. Not everything that God reveals in private is to be declared publicly.

Occasionally, He has revealed someone’s sin to me so that I can pray for those caught in the sin. Other times, He has shown me failure so that I learn His ways better (“This is what grieves me, Son”). And other times, he reveals failure to me as a warning to me personally: I must guard myself if I don’t want to go the way that some of the “huge” ministries you spoke of will go. He has never revealed someone's sin to me so that I can tell people about that sin.

I'm convinced that the vast majority of the time that God shows us something of judgment, something of sin, something about someone's problems, He is not giving it to us to declare, to prophesy, to talk about it. He's telling us of the things that break His heart so that they'll break our heart, so that we'll pray.

He reveals His heart in Ezekiel: "I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it..." His goal is that he "would not have to destroy it." His goal is mercy, because mercy always triumphs over judgment!

So please allow me to encourage the prophetically gifted among us: don’t prophesy the problem. Pray until you can prophesy the solution.

Sunday

Spending Power


There’s an interesting story in Mark 5:
25 Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years, 26 and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. 28 For she said, "If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well."
29 Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction. 30 And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, "Who touched My clothes?"
I rather love the fact that this woman was healed. I love that she was healed by her faith, and that her faith was focused by her words and activated by touching Jesus. I love that she immediately knew that the condition she’d lived with for twelve years was instantly healed. All that is well and good.
I’ve been reflecting on a single concept, quite apart from all that glorious stuff: Jesus knew that power had gone out of Him.
That’s an interesting thought, or rather, an interesting group of thoughts, for it says several things:
1. Power (greek dunamis) had been transferred.
2. The transfer was out of Jesus.
3. The transfer of power was discernable.
4. The transfer was a surprise to Jesus, or at least a mystery.
Jesus was walking along in the midst of a crowd of people (v31), minding his own business, and suddenly he knew (or “perceived”: epiginosko) that power had gone out of him. It’s interesting that the Lord didn’t say “power has come from God and gone through me.” He said, “out of me.” Strongs describes the language as “a primary preposition denoting origin.” It means “out of.”
His behavior (“Who touched my clothes?”) suggests that he didn’t even know where it went, though that may just have been an invitation for the woman to declare herself. It is was simultaneously acknowledging both ignorance (“Who did it?”) and familiarity (“This happened through touching my clothes.”). I wonder if it had happened before in one of the untold stories of Jesus.
Power (dunamis) is always an interesting subject. Here it manifested as an instantaneous physical healing. Other places it manifests as deliverance, and it was the stuff that came upon Mary that made her pregnant with Jesus. I tend to look on power as the energy from Heaven that accomplishes the work of Heaven on Earth.
It seems to me that if Jesus could have power drawn out of himself when he was not expecting it, then is it not possible that you and I could have power drawn out of us when we weren’t expecting it. Have you ever known people that are so hungry for more of God that it’s nearly impossible not to prophesy over them? Or people that so desperately need a father that it’s difficult not to father them? Or a new believer that is so eager to grow that you find yourself talking about the ways of God while they listen with rapt attention? Or have you ever been those people? I know I have.
Or even when we are expecting it, when we impart something of God into the lives of someone else, power is spent. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:20 that the kingdom of God is ‘not in word but in power’: in other words, power is what this kingdom is about. Our job is to handle power, to dispense power, so that there is more God-like stuff and less stealing, killing and destroying stuff when we’re done. I must walk in power!
Here’s where these thoughts have taken me: if this woman was able to draw power out of Jesus, and people are able to draw power out of me, then where does that power come from, and what happens to me when the power is gone? If doing the stuff of the kingdom spends power, then what happens when the power is spent?
I can see three options here, and I’m not sure I like the implications of some of them.
Option One: Hoard. We don’t spend power; we keep it ourselves. I’ve seen people who don’t seem to spend any power, for whatever reason. Whether they’re hoarding it, or whether they just don’t have any, they don’t spend power: people’s lives are not changed; healings (physical, emotional…) just don’t happen. I’ve been concerned lest I find myself here.
Option Two: Powerlessness. When the power is all spent, then it’s gone, and we’re done; we’re out of business. When we’re out of power, we find ourselves in option one: we got nuthin to give.
Option Three: Reload. We go get more power. Once we have spent what we have, we go back and get more.
There are only a couple of places where the New Testament talks about power on the increase.
· After his temptation in the wilderness, “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee….” (Luke 4:14)
· The disciples were encouraged, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me” (Acts 1:8)
· God told Paul in his weakness, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect (teleióo: accomplished, completed) in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
It’s easy to fall back on lazy theology and say, “Well, it’s God’s power, so it must come from him!” TBI: That’s True But Irrelevant: it doesn’t answer the real question; it just throws religious vocabulary at it. Let’s dig a little deeper: what does the Book say about how to increase the amount of God’s power in us and available for use? Let’s make some observations from these few verses:
1) Power comes from the Holy Spirit: it comes from relationship with God that lets Him be in charge.
2) Power is connected to my being a witness to Jesus (note that “witness” is something that I am to be, not something I do.)
3) I receive His power. It comes to me. I’m not just a mindless tool in this process; I’m a participant in it. One could say that it’s His power, but I wield it.
4) Power is an expression of God’s grace: the free stuff God gives for accomplishing His will on earth.
5) His power shows up best or most when my weakness is evident.
Some of the appropriate conclusions here are easy: if I want to have the power of God working in my life & ministry, I need to be in a very fresh relationship with Holy Spirit and I need to live a life that is a witness to Jesus.
I sometimes hear sermons about the power of God. I don’t often hear it preached that the purpose for the power of God is to accomplish that thing that we pray mindlessly in unison in thousands of churches: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” It’s not for me. It’s for Him, for His will – though His will includes me.
Another conclusion that I haven’t often heard taught is that one of the best ways to lay hold of the power of God is to practice weakness.
One of my mentors was a man who, for nearly 30 years now, has worked at nearly minimum wage as a part-time teacher in a child care center. His shift starts at 6:30 in the morning, but he’s usually there a couple of hours early to pray for each staff member, each child, each classroom. I suppose it wouldn’t be surprising that he has changed the lives of hundreds of fellow teachers and thousands (more likely tens of thousands) of kids. Wherever he goes, there is peace, there is perspective, there is wisdom. Wherever he goes, fear flees, hopelessness gives up, love thrives.
I have another friend who has lived surreptitiously as a client in a recovery house. Officially, she’s there to clean up her life. In point of fact, she pastors the other women in the house. She’s chosen a life of weakness, of brokenness, and as a result, her life is full of miracles, to the point that the women there regularly ask her why she has so many miracles.
My personal application for this is a change of my own perspective (as good a definition for ‘repentance’ as any). As an American, I’ve been taught to seek my own will, my own good, my own strength. As an American Christian, I’ve been taught to use my own will, my good standing, my strength to help “those less fortunate.”
Rather, I hear here to abandon those goals entirely: instead, seek the lowest places, the places that make room for others to be esteemed, not abandoning what’s good for me (certainly not persecuting myself!), but making room for weakness in myself – and not hiding it. In those places, I can expect the power of God to work for His purposes.