Thursday

Are We Preoccupied With Warfare?

Some believers don’t like to talk about spiritual warfare. Recently, someone said to me, “There is not much of a battle when I flip the light switch on. Darkness is not presence, it is merely the absence of light. Is it me or is the religious earthly kingdom preoccupied with war?”

And honestly, he has an excellent point. And it is completely true so long as we're speaking in the theoretical realm, so long as everyone and everything submits to the rules.

But not everybody does. In reality, the Book talks about things that do not (yet) bow their knee to the authority of the Light. There are some beings, therefore, who do not yet yield to that supreme authority. Some of them are people. That, of course, means that some of them are not people.

Think with me for a minute: if Jesus, who is God incarnate, who is the Light incarnate, had to deal with intense enough warfare during his temptation that it required angels to come & minister to him, then it is likely that we-who-are-less-than-He may also encounter demonic opposition.

If Jesus had to regularly spend all night in prayer, and at least one time he sweat blood in prayer, then you and I also probably need to invest in substantial prayer in order to accomplish the purposes of the Kingdom in our area of influence on this planet.

The Bible uses warfare vocabulary to describe this process, so I will as well. In fact, Paul declares that “we are not ignorant of [Satan’s] devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11). This is not a place where “ignorance is bliss.”

Paul’s apostolic counterpart, Peter, exhorts us, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Someone seeks to devour me and mine? That’s not fair! (No, it’s not fair, but then, nobody promised that the devil who is a “lawbreaker” would always play fair! Sorry to burst your bubble.)

In the process of dispelling our un-blissful ignorance, Paul explains, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12).

In another place, he explains the war in more detail: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare [are] not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10).

Yeah, we’re involved in a war. In fact, we were born behind enemy lines, separated by a merciless enemy from the Kingdom of Heaven which is our heritage, which is where our Father is seated. It is God’s clear plan that we engage the war, and that we overcome the demonic enemies that are arrayed against us. And he has provisioned us for unquestionable victory.

I have learned that there is a word that accurately describes those who will not carefully and intentionally give attention to this warfare. It is "casualties."

Let us not be casualties, please.


What Does “More of him, less of me!" Really Mean?

John the Baptist once said of Jesus, “He must increase and I must decrease,” and forever after, religious Christians have murmured the same thing in holy tones, thinking that it was humility. Or we say it, “More of him, less of me.”

Humility is not thinking lowly of yourself. That’s religious garbage. That’s pride: “My opinion of myself is more important than your opinion of me.” True humility is being known as you really are. No pretense. Another way to say it is that true humility is agreeing with God, since God clearly knows you as you really are.

Frankly, the phrase is used not infrequently in the sense of, “Look at me. Aren’t I humble?” (Really, us decreasing wouldn’t even be part of our conversation if we were thinking of Him aright, because our focus wouldn’t be on ourselves.)

But we miss a couple more key points here.

First, most of the time, we seem to miss the detail that Jesus, the creator God, once had far less of you than he has now. In fact, he had none of you, and he didn’t like it. So he made you. And then [and *only* then] he said, “It is very good.”

So when we declare “He must increase and I must decrease,” we’re really saying, “God screwed up when he made me.” If that’s been your thinking, I invite you to repent, to choose a new way of thinking. All the evidence suggests that what God really wants is “More of him *and* more of you.” He’s made it pretty clear that he’s not doing this creation and redemption for his own health: it’s so he can have more of you (and me!).

What father, what parent, wanted their children to decrease so that they could increase? That isn’t actually a healthy model. Our Father is not trying to push us into obscurity so that he can have center stage all to himself.

Furthermore, John was the last of the Old Covenant prophets, and Jesus spoke of him that way (interestingly, in Matthew 11:11, since the number 11 speaks of transition). So John, speaking as the last Old Covenant prophet, declares that the Old Covenant must decrease, and specifically, Old Covenant prophets must decrease, and the Kingdom must increase. That’s a whole different statement than our holy tones expression of self-focused humility.

This is never a statement of humility, even if we mean it that way. More than anything, it’s an inadvertent confession that we don’t really understand the gigantic heart of the King of the Kingdom.

Suggestion: Let’s stop trying to avoid the good things that God has called us into. Let’s quit hiding from our true calling as sons & daughters, as heirs of the Kingdom.


Old Testament Prophetic Ministry (In Light of the New Testament)

I’ve met a number of folks who claim that they are Old Testament Prophets, who most of their time spouting condemnation and death. I’m not convinced that the Old Testament is the right place to find the standard for New Testament ministry, but certainly, there are outstanding lessons to be learned therein.

If you want to be an Old Testament Prophet, then may I encourage you to take Ezra 6:14 as your standard:

“So the elders of the Jews built, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they built and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the command of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.

This is a good picture of prophetic ministry: building the people up, helping them to continue what was a very long and arduous task (rebuilding the city’s walls under substantial persecution).

Let me say it more bluntly: the success or failure of the people of God can in many cases be *directly* tied to the success or failure of the prophets who are speaking into their lives.

If the people to whom you are prophesying are not more successful after hearing from you, more prosperous after your ministry than before, then you are not successfully performing the work of a prophet of God.

(It’s OK. If you’ve been spouting judgment and criticism, if people have withered under your ministry, then you can repent – change your way of thinking – and start over!)

Ezra 5:2 shows it from another point of view:

“Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Joshua son of Jozadak set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.”

I’ve known so many self-proclaimed prophets who seem to set them up to oppose the church. Some have been pretty clear about their opposition, while others, condemning every flaw and error, pretend that they’re helping the church. I must speak plainly: our job is NOT to accuse the brethren; someone else has that job description and his end is a lake of fire; I don’t wish to work with him, if for no other reason, I don’t wish to share in his reward!

Father has a great emphasis on this statement: “And the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.”

Prophets, it is our job, it is our duty, to be “with the church” and to be “supporting them.” Tearing them down doesn’t qualify. Descrying every fault & failure doesn’t qualify.

Note that this is *not* a call for a starry-eyed Pollyana view of the church or its leaders! It means that our ministry is to “be with them” and “support them” even if they’re as weak or error-prone as we are.

Our job as a prophetic people is to strengthen and encourage the Body of Christ so that they can do the job to which they are called. It is our job to be with them, supporting them, even if they are doing a work to which we, ourselves, are not called. We are called to support them as they obey their calling.

--
www.pilgrimgram.com


The Gospel of the Kingdom, or The Gospel of Salvation?

The gospel which we preach nowadays, which I refer to as “the gospel of salvation,” is largely about leading people to a salvation experience, typically in the form of “the sinner’s prayer.”

But such an experience is entirely lacking from the ministry of Jesus. Certainly, there’s nothing even remotely like a “repeat after me” prayer in scripture, but more, Jesus never called on people to perform any sort of act of conversion: no sinner’s prayer, no pledge card, no “with every eye closed, raise your hand.” Nothing.

But his first and strongest message was “Repent [which means “change the way you think”], for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand [which I interpret as “within reach”].” And then for three and a half years, he both taught on and demonstrated what the Kingdom was like.

And since He demonstrated it, regardless of what we think of His teachings, we have to admit that “the Kingdom” includes healing the sick and raising the dead. We watch Him in the Gospels, and it *looks* like it involves hanging out with tax collectors and “sinners” more intentionally than going to “church” (in his case, Temple).

And apparently, judging from the way he announced it, it involves thinking differently. Since he was talking to arguably the most religious people in history, apparently it meant “think differently than your religion.”

Adding His teachings into the description, the “good news” [“gospel”] of the Kingdom appears to also include loving people outside our comfort zone, and replicating ourselves (“bearing fruit”), and being treasured by God (as in the Pearl of Great Price).
It may be of some benefit to just look at every place that the Kingdom is mentioned in the gospels (follow this link: http://bit.ly/KingdomGospels), and see what the Holy Spirit shows you. But take your time; there are 119 verses in that link, each with some revelation on the Kingdom. And I very much encourage you to discuss what you learn with Holy Spirit, and let Him separate the meat from the bones!

Does that offer any help understanding the difference between Jesus’ term “the gospel of the Kingdom” (Matthew 4:23) and our unscriptural term “the gospel of salvation”? 

Borrowing an Anointing in Rizal Park

There’s a principle in prophetic ministry: even people with no real prophetic gifts can prophesy when the Holy Spirit is present and manifesting that gift. The clearest example I can think of is King Saul, and it hit him twice: in 1 Samuel 10, and again in chapter 19. When he was around prophets, King Saul flopped on the ground and prophesied. “Therefore it became a proverb: “Is Saul also among the prophets?”

It appears that it happens with other gifts as well. I’m not really gifted as an evangelist, but let me tell you about one time that I was numbered among the evangelists. There’s no great lesson in this; it’s just a testimony.

Some years ago, I was part of a YWAM evangelistic outreach in Manila, the Philippines. If ever there was an organization with an evangelistic anointing, they would be included on that list.

Coming into this “Outreach,” I’d been praying for an anointing for whatever I was going to do. I was assigned to be one of the “street preaching” team, and occasionally part of the drama team. Everybody was on the personal evangelism team.

My friend Connie was there. Connie is an evangelist. She looks across the restaurant and you can hear the sobbing break out. (OK. That’s an exaggeration. A little bit.) She has flaming red hair, and she lives up to it.

One afternoon, we were sharing testimonies of what God had done, and Connie shared this story: she’d led a college student, we’ll call her Kim, to faith early in the outreach, and now, she was discipling her; they met every afternoon after Kim’s afternoon college classes.

The second day, Kim shows up an hour early: it turned out the college professor hadn’t shown up. Connie asks, “Does that happen often?” “Yeah, fairly often.” Connie’s eyes sparkled. “May I go with you to your class tomorrow?”

So Connie accompanies Kim to class, and sure enough, the professor doesn’t show up. And now Connie has a captive audience of 30 college students. She stands up, calls for their attention, and launches into the good news. As she was finishing, before she could ask “Who wants to believe in Jesus?” the professor comes in, sees someone else – a white woman! – speaking to her class. Of course she demands to know “What is going on here?”

Connie says, “Just a moment, please. I’m almost done,” and explains that they need to believe, but rather than praying with them, she instructs those who want to follow Jesus to speak to Kim and tell her.

The next day, Kim brought 28 other students with her to be discipled in the ways of Jesus.

I heard that story, and I’m thinking, “I wanna be successful, too!” so I ask God for effectiveness in evangelism.

The next day, we take an outreach team to Rizal Park, downtown. The team outreach was structured in four parts: three songs, one drama showing the gospel, a 3 minute “sermon” presenting the gospel, and Bam! Everybody splits up to share one-on-one with someone, hopefully leading them to faith.

I didn’t really know what I was doing. My attention was drawn to one old guy, in a group of old guys, seated on some planters. I asked his permission, and then shared the basic gospel story with him again. In those days, some of the people really wanted to please foreigners, so I explained the gospel, and then I outlined the costs of following Jesus. Twice. And he was old, so I had to speak up while I did it, so he could hear me. He kept looking down, as if the ground were more interesting than what I was saying.

When I couldn’t put it off any longer, I asked, “Would you like to follow Jesus? Would you like to give your life to Jesus?” And for the first time, he looked up, he locked his eyes on mine, and he said in a shaky, but strong voice, “Yes. Yes, I will follow Jesus.” 

I cleared my throat, and prepared to lead him in that great Evangelical theological pillar, the Sinner’s prayer, but before I could get started, the guy next to my guy looked at me. “Could I follow Jesus, too?” Oh! Oh, yes!

And then the next guy tugged at my sleeve, and pointed to the three guys with him. “We’d like to follow Jesus, too.” And then several more guys sitting on the next planter over, asked if they could as well.

I shared the gospel, quite hesitantly, actually, with an old guy that wasn’t interested. But rather than judge him myself, I kept going. That afternoon, I led nine men in the sinner’s prayer, and then introduced them to a local pastor who was traveling with us.

It’s my opinion that it worked because I was “under the influence” of a group that had a substantial evangelistic anointing. And because I was faithful to do what I really didn’t feel like doing.

When I returned home to the USA, I was, I confess, rather impressed with myself. I headed out onto the streets of my city one Saturday afternoon, fresh from successes like that one (and yeah, there were others).

And I “shared the gospel” with a whole bunch of people. Actually, I attempted to share the gospel, but they saw me coming, and dodged me before I could talk with them. I didn’t lead a single person to faith. Actually, I didn’t even have a serious conversation with even one person that whole day.

I’ve ministered under that anointing again since then. I joined the Full Gospel Businessmen in a booth at the regional fair, and watched God move powerfully. I joined with some gifted evangelists in the same city where I had failed, and watched God move semi-powerfully, but way better than I had done by myself.

Nowadays, I teach people, if you want to move in what I call “the juice,” then go be with someone who has what you want. If you can join them in ministry, then by all means do, but if you can only stand next to them, and learn from them.

For myself, it’s only worked when I’m with them. But when I’m with people who are evangelists, I can exercise that gift. And when I’m not, I’m embarrassing. 



Whole Lotta Shaking Going On

Hebrews, chapter 12 has been rather a seminal passage for many of God’s people in recent days.

For a long time, we were focused on verse 7, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children…” and we comforted ourselves that rather than always expecting to be comfortable, God’s children might need to expect to be trained, disciplined.

And more recently, we’ve had our attention drawn to verses 1 and 2, paying attention to the “great cloud of witnesses” that are watching us, and “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” Living our lives with heaven in view has been a great focus.

There’s a third part of the chapter that’s capturing my attention. Late in the chapter, the author writes, “now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.”

I find that my own attention is drawn to these statements from two directions.

First, many of my brothers and sisters are having their lives shaken pretty formidably right now.

I think of filling a container with something that is not liquid (perhaps cereal, or spices, or nuts and bolts). When I’m filling the container, I pour into the new contents into it, until it begins to over flow. And then I shake the container; I might bang it on the counter once or twice. Inevitably, after shaking, there’s more room in the container now, so that I can pour more in. Shaking makes more room in us, to hold more of God, to care more for others, to understand (and experience) more of his kingdom.

I also think of paint. When I buy paint, they add the colorant to make the paint match the architect’s plans. And then they shake it, so that the architect’s influence is permeated throughout the paint, so that everything it touches conforms to the architect’s plans. Shaking makes us more consistent throughout our lives.

And I think of quality control testing. When I build a cabinet, to hold my tools and such, I often pause during construction and shake the cabinet pretty aggressively: I’m testing to see how well it’s been built. If it is going to come apart, I’d rather it did it early in the process – and this is why buildings are earthquake-tested during the design phase – so that I can correct the defects, and have an effective cabinet to hold the tools that I use. Shaking reveals weaknesses, not to draw attention to the, but to correct them.

The second reason my attention is drawn to these verses about shaking is because a number of the prophets I am in relationship with are hearing God use this passage to explain the season we’re in. We’re in a shaking season.

Add 1 Peter 4:17 into the conversation (“For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household…”), another verse that prophetic people have been hearing for a while. We could make a number of inferences about our churches, our culture, and our nation, based on this combination, but that’s not my primary goal here.

The main focus I’m coming away with is this: if you’re following God, you’re either being shaken, or about to be shaken. It’s for your good, it’s to make you more like him. Don’t freak out when it happens. Celebrate your advancement in the Kingdom.



Walking in Authority

The scene was an AA Allen meeting, back in the day. At Allen's tent meetings, he regularly had demons manifesting. So it was his policy to set up a second tent, where his assistants would take the people manifesting demons and get them delivered, out of sight of the main meetings.

One day, the young men had delivered everybody of their demons except one old cuss, whose demon obdurately refused to leave. They tried everything they knew, prayed every prayer they ever heard, quoted every scripture, and still the demon mocked them.

They’d been at it for hours, determined to see this man set free. The main meetings finished, and people left, and still the demon resisted them. They determined to keep at it – all night if need be – until this poor man was free.

Finally, the last car leaving the parking lot stopped by the deliverance tent, and out stepped AA Allen himself. In a glance, he saw what was happening, and walked over to the demoniac. He bent over, and whispered a sentence, and the demon fled, screaming. Allen stood up, and walked back to his car.

The young men were astounded, and one ran up to him. “What did you say? What authority did you use? How did you do that? Why couldn’t we?”

Allen paused. “I said, ‘My name is AA Allen. Now get out!’” and he stepped into the car and drove off.

There’s a reason that we’re told to walk in the authority Father has given us. Some of us handle Father’s authority like it’s precious china, or like it’s an expensive and complicated tool: we must be careful and we must use it exactly right!

And Father is calling us to just walk in the authority: we’re his kids, so of course we carry his authority. It’s not something we do, it’s not about the right words, the right prayers, as if they were incantations.

It’s about us being his beloved children: we speak and we don’t even need to mention his name: all of heaven and all of hell already knows that when we speak, we’re speaking in his name.


Help Discerning the Move of God

God’s people have been rebuked with a couple of phrases plucked out of the Bible more times than I care to recount: “Decently and in order, Brother! God is not a God of disorder, but of order. You need to settle down.”

I have to keep reminding myself that Acts 2 - where people are accused of being drunk - is God's idea of “decently and in order.”

And evidently Hannah was “in order” when she went to Shiloh to ask the Lord for a child; she certainly found favor and Samuel was born to her. But she also was mistaken for a drunk, by Eli the priest, the one man who was most qualified to be able to recognize the workings of God in His people at the time.

Do you remember David’s wife Michal when David danced before the Lord?

Apparently there is a long history of religious people mistaking spiritual passion (or being influenced by God's Spirit) for drunkenness. Also apparent is the fact that they’re often wrong when trying to identify what is God moving on his people, and what is the flesh at work.

We could also discuss more recent events: Azusa StreetTorontoBrownsville, and others, and we’d find the trend continuing. I cannot tell you how many times I was warned that “God is not in that disorder!”

I was warned by my pastor to stay away from such places: “You never know what a crowd of emotional people will do! They’re out of control! It could be dangerous!”

This leads me to an awkward, even politically incorrect conclusion: when God is doing something with me, particularly when it’s something that seems strange to me, there is evidence to suggest that my church leaders may not be the best people to ask for help understanding it.

If their job is maintaining the organization of a Sunday morning fellowship, they have a vested interest in not rocking the boat. They have a vested interest in people not being “out of control” in their experience of God. It’s real difficult to condone your experience, if your experience creates ripples among others in the congregation. A few pastors can do it.

It may be better to ask Father to show you himself, what has happened in your life. It will also be good to ask him to introduce you to others who have had a similar experience, perhaps some who can help you understand.

Are there dangers? Are there freaky people out there? Sure there are. Welcome to the deep end of the pool. Eat the meat and spit out the bones.

As Jesus’ best friend wrote: “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit – just as it has taught you, remain in him.” (1 John 2:27) This is not just theory. This is the Word of God instructing you about how to be instructed. This is the real thing.

This is why we follow God. This is also why we don’t follow people who follow God, but we walk alongside them. 


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Four-Letter Praise

I received an unspeakably great honor recently.

I was at a bible study with folks less than half my age, unchurched folks. After the study, we began to pray, and the shaggy, pierced kid to my left began to pour out his heart to God. He was declaring his love, and at the same time, asking God’s blessing, He was doing it in his native language. And his native language was thick with four-letter words.

Immediately, something rose up inside me: I was offended! But just as immediately, Father drew my attention to the heart that was pouring out that stream of “profanity.” Quickly, I saw it from His perspective: how tender, how sincere, how transparent, how beautiful. I felt Father’s joy, delighting in that prayer which offended me so badly. And I began, just barely began, to understand, and as I did, tears formed in my eyes.

This was “love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5) This was exactly what he was looking for: someone worshiping him “in Spirit and in truth.” God was delighted with this prayer from his beloved son!

And I’ve had to admit: “cuss words” are just noises. It’s the heart behind them, it’s the intent, that gives them meaning. God is not offended by noises. Maybe I shouldn’t ought to be either.

Now, having said that, having rejoiced at being present at such an intimate outpouring of love in four-letter vocabulary, I should probably add: this isn’t my language; it doesn’t justify my using that fellow’s language to communicate, either with God or with man.

Whenever I bring this topic up, there’s always someone who angrily responds, “But the Bible says to not use filthy language!” And it does, but in the same sentence it says to put off anger.  Hmm.  And anger is also encouraged, even commanded (Ephesians 4:26). Hmmm again. Maybe this isn’t as “black & white” as I thought.

The word for “filthy language” here is “ασχρολογία,” which is literally “ασχρός [aischros] words.”  And aischros words are words that are dishonoring, shameful: he’s speaking about the heart (no surprise there), not about the sounds coming out of the larynx.

Aischros is also the “filthy” part of “filthy lucre” which is more commonly translated “dishonest gain.” Again, the command is not about certain sounds, certain noises, that are off limits, but the heart behind the sounds. We foolishly think that as long as we don’t make those particular sounds, we can tell people off (perhaps in Facebook comments?), we can cut people off in traffic, point out others’ mistakes, tell shady jokes and leave lousy tips. All of these are violations of the same intent: dishonoring, shameful, dishonest gain. 

Renowned Greek scholar, Richard C Trench, concludes that aischros “includes therein every license of the ungoverned tongue employing itself in the abuse of others, all the wicked condiments of saucy speech,” and adding, “the context and company in which the word is used by him going far to prove as much; seeing that all other sins against which he is here warning are outbreaks of a loveless spirit toward our neighbour.”

Other principles apply, though I hate to reference principles, knowing how quickly they’re wielded as laws. Paul outlines some of them in his first letter to believers in Corinth:

§         “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12)
§         “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” (1 Corinthians 10:23)

It seems that there are three appropriate questions to ask here:

1.      Is this practice profitable?
2.      Is this practice mastering me?
3.      Does this practice edify or build people up?

In the case of four-letter vocabulary, asking these questions – particularly as they relate to the next generation – gave me some surprising answers. I’ll get different answers, of course, when I ask them related to churchgoers, but I expected that.

But then he suggested to me: “Now ask these questions about the practice of correcting other people’s four-letter vocabulary.” Oh my. That one failed all three. 

I find myself drawn to these conclusions: Four letter vocabulary is not my language, but I’m not going to condemn myself over my language choices when I hit my thumb with a hammer. And my offense at others’ use of a language that is not my own appears to be far more offensive to God than either their language or mine.

Insights from the Book of Job

One of the most useful insights from reading the Book of Job is seeing the difference between what went on in Heaven, and how it manifested on earth, in Job’s life. (The worst use of the book is learning theology from Job’s “friends.” What a train wreck!)
  
Job never knew about the dialog between God and Satan. In fact, Job (and Job’s whole culture) didn’t really know about Satan, so they believed that God did all this bad stuff, when the Book *clearly* says it was Satan. (It’s embarrassing how many Christians believe the same way today.)
  
Job blamed God for the disasters that had struck him, and called him throughout the book to account for why he’d done such evil to him. The oddest part, from my perspective, was this: God took the blame. (I observe that at no point, did Job ever ask God, “Did you do this?” or even “Who did this?” Maybe that would have been useful.)
  
At no point during God’s several chapters of response to Job’s accusations did God ever say, “That wasn’t me. That was the devil.” In fact, God’s reply can reasonably be summarized as, “Job, this is above your pay grade. You don’t even have the capacity to understand what went on in this.” 

God took the blame for the devil’s destruction, knowing he was innocent. 

How many other times does it happen in scripture: the devil wreaks havoc, but we blame God for the destruction. 

We have *got* to read the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus, who was the “exact representation” of God’s nature. If we don’t see death in destruction in the ministry of Jesus, then death and destruction is not part of God’s character or his job description. 

Maybe it would be useful to look at the stories of the Old Testament through the revelation that is Jesus, and ask the question:“Who did this?”

Africa! No! Not Africa!

Africa?

It was a quiet day. I was a quiet evangelical man, doing my quiet evangelical duty: I was in the middle of my "quiet time" with God, something I did every morning, because that's what good evangelical men did.

I had dutifully read the appropriate chapter in the epistle I was working my way through, and had dutifully opened my journal to record my dutiful response when it happened.

God spoke.

"What would you do if I told you to go to Africa?"

I sat there, frozen; stunned.

First of all, God didn't speak to me. Didn't he know I was an evangelical?

But Africa? Don't be ridiculous. I hated Africa. It was filled with jungles and deserts and diseases and dirt. It was completely untidy.

Africa? Don't be ridiculous. What on earth would I do in Africa? I worked for a giant department store, selling fine china and luggage to wealthy residents of our community. I was painfully aware that these were skills that would not serve me well among lions and tigers and bears in Africa!

Africa? Don't be ridiculous. I had been taught - I had taught others - that God's direction always confirmed what was in your heart anyway. "He will give you the desires of your heart!" I had not one iota of desire for Africa.

But the question still hung there, in my soul, resonating. It had only been that "still small voice" that everybody talked about, but nobody (among my tidy evangelical friends) ever actually heard. The fact that the voice wasn't actually spoken into a marble cathedral did nothing to still its startling echo in my soul.

God asked me a question! Ohmigosh! WhatamIgoingtodo? (I had never known that it was possible to so completely panic while sitting quietly in my big "Papa chair" in a quiet house. This was a new experience.)

Ohmigosh! Ohmigosh! I have to answer him! Ohmigosh! What am I going to say?

It was (painfully, oh so painfully) clear to me that the one thing I could not say with any integrity was, "No, Lord." If nothing else, it's an oxymoron, but I was afraid if I told God "no" that I'd burn in heck for all eternity. (Dutiful evangelical men don't use that other, coarser word.) I couldn't say, "no."

But Oh! how I wanted to say no. I wanted to jump up on my comfortable chair, there in my comfortable living room, before I walked to my comfortable job in the comfortable store! I wanted to jump up and shout in God's face, "No! Not Africa! I won't go to Africa! You can't make me!"

But the problem was: he could make me. And besides, there's that "Lord" thing. You don't tell your Lord and King, "No." It's just not done. Especially, it's not done by dutiful evangelical men who dutifully tithe to their dutiful little churches.

I sat there, stewing in my own juices, until it was time to go to work, and I left God behind as I rushed out the door to go to work. I told myself that I needed to focus on selling fine Lenox and Wedgewood china, and fine Hartman leather luggage to fine local dowagers.

I didn't forget his question, try as I might. I very seldom pulled it out of the shadows and worked intentionally on it, but I knew it was always there, reverberating in my soul, waiting patiently for my submission, like a vulture waiting for me to die in the desert.

It took weeks, even months, for me to get fed up enough with the tension. One morning, I determined to face the cursed question head on. Let's do this! You’re going down, buddy!

I was out of bed before my alarm rang, teeth violently brushed, hair disheveled, and I slammed myself into that chair, and slammed my Bible and journal on the arm of the chair, and I addressed the One who had confronted me, me! with such an outlandish question!

His presence was there, and instantly, I cowered before him. A dutiful evangelical man does not get in God's face like that. What was I thinking?? It was all clear to me now. It was all over.

And as I cowered in my chair, alone in the dark room, I whimpered my submission. "OK, Lord. You win. I'll go wherever you send me. Even." I took a deep breath. I let it out slowly. "Even.." I shuddered. This was hard! You can do this! "Even.. . even Africa."

And now it all suddenly all relaxed. The pressure hadn’t been him, anyways. The war had never been with God; it had all been in my mind, and now it was gone.

But he wasn’t gone. I felt him waiting there, waiting for my attention. I gave it to him.

“Thank you.” I felt the words as much as heard them in my spirit. There was healing in his words.

“Thank you. Now go to Hawaii.”

And I kid you not: he sent us to live in Hawaii for a season.

And do you want to hear the funniest part? While we were living in Hawaii, a love for Africa began to grow inside me. And now I’m looking forward to the day that he really will send me to Africa.

Thoughts About he Word of God

In areas subjects of theology, even a small change is formidable, and I believe we’re encountering the beginnings of such a change in how the people of God (or at least, for many of them) see the Bible.

And I’d appreciate you hearing me out
before you start picking up stones and coming after me. I’m reporting what I’m seeing. If you’re not seeing them, that’s cool. (Now, if you’re not willing to look, that’s another story, perhaps.)

Now before we talk about what the Bible “is not,” it might be best to remember what the Bible IS.

First, let’s acknowledge that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and IS  profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the servant of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The Bible is the profitable foundation for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and for instruction so that we may be complete.

It is our only Sword of the Spirit, and is the best conceivable weapon against the enemy: it was for Jesus, and it is for us. It is a pillar of our faith, the indescribably precious treasure to all who walk in faith.

But there are some things that the Bible is not, which we have let it become. It seems to me that Father is correcting some of these errors in these days.

The first thing that I’m seeing happen is that the Bible is being removed from its traditional place in the Trinity. I know several denominations who have behaved (not taught!) that the Trinity was made up of Father, Son, and Holy Bible, that the Bible is itself, divine. They spoke and behaved as if their primary heavenly relationship was with the Bible, not with the person of God.

That’s actually a mistake, of course, and stopping to think about it will reveal the truth is that the Bible is not a person of the Trinity; it is not in itself, God. Rather, the Bible is about God, it leads us to God, and it speaks for God, which is to say that God speaks through it.

The Bible says of itself, as quoted above, that it is “given by inspiration of God.” Another translation reads “God-breathed.” Theologically, we say it’s “inspired writing.” Another way of saying that is to say that the men who wrote it were inspired by God when they wrote.

But let us acknowledge that while it is “profitable for teaching,” we might want to be careful what we teach and how we teach it, when we teach from the Bible.

There’s a fair bit of the Bible (most of the book of Job comes to mind) are accurate, inspired, infallible records of what people said, but the things that they said, though accurately recorded, are foolish lies about who God is and how he works. I advise not teaching theology from the lies that are accurately recorded.

A friend of mine – and probably some of yours have done this, too – once tested the “profitable” status of the Bible. She opened the Book randomly and plopped her finger on the page (I call this “Bible Roulette”), and read the verse she was on. It read, “and Judas went and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:5) Since she couldn’t find anything useful in that, she flipped some more pages, and dropped her finger again, this time on Luke 10:37: “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise’.” She didn’t try that again. The Bible is not a fortune teller.

The point is this: while all of the Bible is inspired, and all of it is profitable to teach, it’s not all profitable to teach all things. My friend figured this out, and, fortunately, she chose not to go and hang herself.

I’m going to use a politically incorrect analogy. I am a huge fan of the glory that is embodied in the female half of our species. I’m constantly amazed by the richness of the difference between men (well, at least this man) and godly women. Women seem to have a better handle on gifts of mercy, of discernment, of encouragement. I’ve learned mountains from women pastors, women prophets, women intercessors, and at least one woman apostle. We could go on and on.

But there’s a phenomenon in our culture that does to women what much of the church has done to the Bible: we’ve objectified them. In our culture, the objectification of women shows up in glossy skin magazines, in a thriving porn industry, even in the use of unrelated pretty faces to get our attention in movies, advertisements, and the like.

If I may take a stand on that trend, I will say that this is NOT the right way to treat women, and for a whole lot of reasons. Not least of which, is that it completely denies the vast majority of the magnificent riches that women have and are. Brethren, it ought not be so!

But we do pretty much the same thing with the Bible. We look to the Bible to be our “quick fix.” We paste out-of-context Bible verses on pretty pictures and cover our Facebook walls. When we’re feeling needy, we look for fast answers from its pages; when we want direction, we search those pages for answers with the same attention that the followers of horoscopes search their own pages. Brethren, this, too, ought not be so.

It is not actually heresy for me to declare that the Bible is not a destination. God never planned that we’d use the revelations of his written Word as a replacement for a relationship with himself! That’s actually idolatry, or if you prefer, Bibliolatry. It’s a serious error.

The Bible is always a means TO an end. It’s a roadmap to understand God’s heart. It’s a love story from him to us, drawing us to him. It’s a garden, where we can sit with him under the apple tree and gaze into each other’s eyes. It’s a treasure map, showing us where to search out the treasures that he’s hidden, like Easter eggs, for us to find. It’s full of instructional stories, showing how many our brothers and sisters, our forefathers and foremothers discovered the riches of relationship with their eternal lover, or how they failed and fell short. All these are for us to learn from, not to be studied or memorized as a substitute for our won love relationship with God.

It is my hope that we’ll catch ourselves when our search stops merely at his Book, as wonderful, as powerful, as necessary as the Book is, and use the rich treasures of the Book to lead us to deeper relationship with its incredible Author.


Beggars Can’t Be Choosers. But We're Not Beggars

There’s an old saying: “Beggars can’t be choosers.”

Sometimes, it’s actually right. If you’re living on hand-me-downs, you don’t get to choose what kind of fashion statement to make. Whoever’s handing it down to you got to choose that. You’re stuck with their decision. If you’re begging for food on the street corner, then you can’t choose if people will give you something, or if they do, what they will give. The most you can do is attempt to look more pitiful than other mendicants, so that you’ll get more donations, but you still can’t choose.

I’ve known a number of people who have “lived by faith” and it’s looked like that. Heck, I’ve done it myself.

But that principle is only true for beggars. It’s only true for people who have no provision themselves, who must depend on the generosity of others for their food and drink and the roof over their head. It’s true for slaves, too: a slave only gets what his master gives him.

In fact, it works as a test. If I hold the perspective that I’m stuck with whatever someone else will give to me, then that’s a good indication that I consider myself a beggar or a slave. If I believe that the only way that I’ll ever be provided for is if I can persuade other people to provide for me, then that says that I see myself as a beggar.

And of course, that suggests that some of the TV preachers – those who are regularly asking for money – have the heart of a beggar inside them.

There are alternatives, of course. Being a beggar isn’t the only choice before us.

We could choose the Older Brother Syndrome: “I have to work for anything I’m going to get.” We all know (heck, some of us ARE) people who expect that nobody else will provide for them, so if it’s going to happen, they’ve got to make it happen. But this isn’t the choice I want to recommend.

I think the place we need to get to is the place of sonship. Galatians 4:7 says, “Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” We are not beggars, not slaves, and not even employees, working hard to provide for ourselves.

We’re heirs to the Kingdom. And as heirs, the wealth of the Kingdom is ours to use for the purposes of the Kingdom. (A son of the Kingdom doesn’t spend the Kingdom’s wealth on his own pleasures, but provision for the sons and daughters is a major purpose of the Kingdom’s wealth.)

That is not to say that we never work. Sons of the Kingdom work! We just don’t work in order to be fed. We work to administrate the Kingdom. In fact, Paul indicated that work is a principle of the Kingdom: “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10) And this is not just talking about “ministry work.” Paul’s own example was building tents for a nomadic people (Acts 18:3).

And of course, there’s the difference between theory and practice. There’s the minor detail that, as Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” So there will be a correlation between how much we’re in touch with the Kingdom and our ability to draw provision from that Kingdom to this world.

Beggars can’t be choosers. But sons are required to choose.


Handling The Power of the Tongue

One of the reasons I teach Hebrews 12:2, Philippians 4.8, Ephesians 1:18, Matthew 6:22-23, etc so very much is because I experience them so powerfully in the everyday. (The Philippians verse will illustrate the theme: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”)

The wisest man in the history of the planet once said it this way: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” That's not a metaphor.

If I am involved in a conversation that's filled with reports of problems, of failure, conversation that’s focused on the work of the devil, then that conversation wounds me, like a knife or bullet would. The closer I draw to the heart of my Father, the more these reports hurt me, rather than the opposite.

I've figured out that there's a terrible and powerful reason why Jesus and the Boys teach us to guard what we see, what we hear: it’s the difference between life and death.

This is one of the reasons that when I teach people to prophesy, I teach them to prophesy the solution. “Anybody can prophesy the problem in this day and age. Even the evening news does a pretty good job of that.”

If we’re prophesying, and we hear of a sin in someone’s life, Holy Spirit did not tell us that so that we could accuse them of that sin. Accusing the brethren is someone else’s job, and our job, like Jesus before us, is to destroy his works. So we prophesy the solution. We don’t pretend, and tell the adulterer “You’re faithful.” We declare God’s heart, “God’s call on you is faithfulness. He’s given you an anointing for that.”

And if we have a vision or a dream of destruction, then our job is not to prophesy death and destruction, panic and mayhem. Our job is to change the future. Speak to the storm: “Peace, be still.” Don’t shout, “Aack! A storm! Run for your lives!” There’s no faith in that, and as Romans 14 declares, “whatever is not from faith is sin.”

This is also one of the reasons that when people want to know how I’m doing, I don’t immediately barf on them about the things that are not going my way. (Or I try not to. I don’t get it right every time.)

Sometimes, I’ve been accused of not being in touch with reality, because I won’t follow the evening news, because I don’t want to hear all the reasons for every “prayer request.” I want to ask these accusers, “Which reality do you want to be in touch with, anyway?”

For myself, I live in the physical world, but I am a citizen of the Heavenly one. I choose to be more in touch with, I choose to extend the reign of, the Kingdom of Heaven.

Which means that I will listen to the news from Heaven’s point of view, not from the accuser’s perspective. I will choose to respond to people from the perspective of Heaven, not from the accuser’s view. And I choose to fill my mind with the things that Heaven’s Instruction Book tells me to fill my mind with.

I choose to see Heaven manifested. I can't do it all, but I intend to do my part.

Monday

A Cold & Delicious Lesson in Trusting

Very recently, I had a series of strange experiences.

It began when I was getting ready for my work day. As I was picking up keys and wallet and such, I saw a $20 bill on my nightstand. That’s not the strange thing; I knew why it was there; it had been there for a few weeks.

But now, all of a sudden, I had a clear sense, not a strong one, that I needed to pick up that $20 bill. I didn’t understand why, but I picked up the bill, kissed the treasure of my life, and went to work. This day, I was working on some incredibly technical things: complex calculations, complex systems design. And I was working away, “in the zone” (the nerds among us may know what I mean), and I was suddenly distracted. “You know, good ice cream is getting awfully expensive in the stores.” What?? Where did that come from?

A little later, another thought hit me out of the blue: “And you never know what kind of things they put in your ice cream.” Hunh? Wha?? Back to the calculations.

Smoke was beginning to pour from my ears when the third interruption came: “Wouldn’t some ice cream with dinner be really good tonight?”

Well, He had me on that one. I do enjoy good ice cream.

“You need to buy a small ice cream maker.” No I don’t! We have a big ice cream maker. Somewhere. We haven’t used it for years because it’s big and awkward and messy, but we already have one. “No you need a small ice cream maker. Go look on Craigs List.”

Well, ice cream for dessert did sound good. And what harm would it do to just look? 

And there was a brand-spankin-new ice cream maker on Craigs list: the quick and easy kind (you know: 20 minutes from “Doesn’t ice cream sound good?” to “Would you like seconds?” That kind of easy!). And what do you know, they were asking exactly $20.00. And the seller was almost within walking distance of my home.

I felt set up. But I stopped by after work and bought myself an ice cream maker. And you know, it really was delicious with dinner that night.

But the whole thing confused me: why in the world would God put me through such a runaround to get me an ice cream maker? Wouldn’t it be easier just to tell me “Go get one,” or to send someone to give me one?

I was sharing the story with my friends this evening (er… as we were eating fresh and delicious ice cream, of course), and one of them said, “Oh. God’s teaching you to trust his voice, to follow in the little details, even when you don’t understand!” And I heard Papa smile: “Now you’re getting it, Son! Good job!”

So I have an ice cream maker. And I have a daddy who loves me.

And not all the lessons involve ice cream, but I’m thankful that this one did. 

Who Is the God of the Bible?

I’ve been thinking about the God of the Bible. Particularly God as he is revealed in the Old Testament.

Who is this God? What is he like? No, what is he really like?

I’ve done my homework here. I understand that the right place to establish my foundational theology of who God is comes from the clearest revelation of God’s nature and character in the Bible: we always interpret the less articulate passages from the more articulate ones. And of course, the best revelation of who God is and what he’s like is in the person and the teachings of the incarnate second Person of the Trinity: Jesus Christ.

Jesus taught, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” In other words, “I’m like him. He’s just like me.” The author of Hebrews describes Jesus as “the express image of His person.” In other words: this is the best picture of who God is that we’ve ever had. And Jesus is undeniably, relentlessly, unswervingly good. He never once hurt anybody, never smote anybody, never spoke harshly to his mommy, never stepped on an ant. He didn’t even damage the guy that he knew was stealing from him and his friends, the guy who was the direct cause of his own torturous death.

The only people he did speak harshly to were the religiously self-righteous, but he didn’t even smite them. He just got in their face about their stubbornness, hypocrisy, and inability to see the answer to their prayers who was right there in their faces.

The lesson is clear: God is undeniably, relentlessly, unswervingly good. The Bible is remarkably clear about that. God doesn’t, according to the stunningly clear revelation of God-in-the-flesh, hurt, maim or kill people.

He clearly has no patience for religiously self-righteous people, but he doesn’t even smite them.

So I take this understanding, this clear knowledge, that God is good, and I go look at the God of the Old Testament, the guy with the Bad Reputation.

People tell me over and over about this God’s judgments, generally describing him in vocabulary that justifies their particular vitriol against their particularly hated sin. When God’s people sin, they tell me – forget that; when anybody sins – they can expect a good smiting. (I have to admit, some (not all) of the people telling these horror stories sound a lot like the Pharisees that Jesus was so consistent about castigating; but perhaps that’s not the real issue here.)

One of their favorite stories is Sodom & Gomorrah, for example. There was a particularly bad night in Sodom (Genesis 19) that gave the town a justifiably nasty reputation. But a thinking person, while acknowledging that it was a serious sin, could not reasonably justify destroying two cities in fire and brimstone.

I don’t throw out a doctrine, any doctrine, just because it doesn’t make sense. But in this case, the Scriptures don’t actually describe that particularly sinful night as the cause for the destruction. God himself, talking with Abraham (Genesis 18:20) declares the reason for the visit to the place: the second reason: they have a reputation for sin, but the first reason: “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great…”

Somebody has been crying out about the cities: this destruction did not start with God getting fed up with sin, as I’ve been taught repeatedly. It started with someone, presumably a human someone, crying out to God. This is the result of humans speaking against the city, not the result of an angry God.

In fact, the biggest judgment that God proposes as he’s talking with Abe: “I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.”

That’s it. “I’ll know about it.” That’s the judgment proposed. That’s all the “smiting” that God proposed for the city with the great reputation for sin.

And we all know about Abe’s negotiation with God over their sin: Abe assumes a greater judgment, and tries to talk God out of it, but chickens out before he finishes the job. That passages teaches well about prayer, but most of the time, people are either implying, or outright declaring that God was out to kill ’em all! No! That’s not what the Book says!

We build our theology on the clear passages, not on our assumptions from the very earliest understanding of God’s nature. God says the judgment comes from someone’s outcry, not from his own “righteous anger.” (I’m not saying there’s no such thing as righteous anger. I’m saying that’s not what went on in Genesis 18!)

There are indeed other passages, stories told later, where God is named as the source of that destruction, in contradistinction to God’s own declaration in Genesis 18. I have heard the argument that “The people of that day didn’t understand that God & Satan were different, so they attributed Satan’s actions to God!” and frankly, I find that to be quite the compelling argument.

Change of venue: By now, most people know about the parallel accounts that describe David’s numbering of Israel (found in 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21). There’s a serious problem here. We have to ask, “Why does 2 Samuel 24:1 state that God ‘moved’ David against Israel, while 1 Chronicles 21:1 says that it was Satan who ‘stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel’.”?

It’s the same thing. In our day, we understand a decent bit about the creature, Lucifer, sometimes called Satan. Our greatest source for that knowledge is found primarily in the gospels and epistles that were unknown in earlier times, and so the one event is described by one author as from Satan, and from the other author, not knowing any better, as from God, who ignorantly equates the two.

But we know better. We have the revelation of the life of Christ. We’re smarter than that! God is not, as demonstrated by “the exact representation of God,” in the smiting business.

But some people still go there. “What about Ananias and Sapphira! [Acts 5] God killed them! And that’s New Testament!”

That shows me how little some people actually read their Bible. Read that passage again. Yes, the passage is in the New Testament. But nowhere does it even hint that God did this. From the text, it’s possible that they were killed by the power of Peter’s curse against them. It could be that Satan did the deed, having gained access to their lives through their sin. Only if you haven’t done your homework, only if you believe God is a killer, could it be God who did it. The passage is anything but clear! And unclear passages are not what we build theology out of.

But you and I have done our homework. We come to this unclear passage, having already settled ourselves on the matter of God’s goodness, which we’ve gotten from the clear passages, from the example of Jesus: God is good. Therefore, their murderer couldn’t be God. So do your best with your guesses, inventions, imaginations and assumptions: the Bible doesn’t actually identify the murderer, but we know from previous study that it ain’t God!

Then someone will bring up the story of Elymas the sorcerer who was smitten blind in Acts 13. Again, I suggest people actually read the passage, and read it remembering what we already know about God’s good character from the unmistakable revelation of the Son of God.  The passage says, “Paul said” and then it happened. Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit when he said it, so some people assume that it must not have really been Paul who said it, because when you’re full of the Holy Spirit, you can’t say anything on your own. Really? That’s kind of a stretch, isn’t it?

But the reality is that the text never says that God did this; it says Paul did this. And we, having done our homework, already know that God is good, because Jesus, who was revealing God’s nature, was always good, know that this unclear passage is not consistent with the clear passages, and therefore must be representing something other than an angry, vengeful God, because we know that God is not angry or vengeful.

We could go on for hours. Let’s not do that. Let’s learn the lesson: Jesus is the best representation of what God is like, and Jesus always did good; the worst he did was get in the face of the religiously self-righteous. So God, who presumably is also not pleased with the religiously self-righteous, is nonetheless, consistently good.

It’s the enemy who is consistently accusing God’s nature before us. Let’s not fall for his accusations. We know better. We know Jesus.

The Judgment of God on His Children

This may be my favorite picture of the terrible judgment of God:

In the book of Exodus, when the Hebrew children chickened out, rebelled against God, when they steadfastly refused to go into the Promised Land, God had to judge them for that rebellion!

And this is how he judged them: He supernaturally fed them miraculous meals that nobody else on the planet got to taste, for more than 14,500 consecutive days, because they were helpless to feed themselves in a desert.

He led them safely through the most dangerous desert in the region, continually keeping his presence in the middle of them, in a pillar of cloud guiding them by day, and a pillar of fire warming their feet and scaring off both mosquitoes and desert marauders by night.

Sure, people died. Over the course of a generation's time, a generation of people died and were buried, and life went on. That would have happened even if they had followed him into the promised land, so we certainly can't call that judgment!

But as part of his judgment, "They lacked nothing; their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell." (Nehemiah 9:21) That'll show em!

Wow. This is my Father. This is the family I'm adopted into. 

Romans says that we should "Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God." If this is his severity, then what on earth is his kindness like?


The Gadarene Swine Fallacy

We hear it preached quite often that if a Christian isn’t in fellowship with others, she is in greater danger from the various enemies of our soul. We preach (and I, myself, preach) that believers are stronger, safer, and more alive when we’re in relationship with other believers.

But there’s more to that story. It isn't that simple.

There’s an argument that appears in the “Logical Fallacy” section of common logic textbooks, called the “Gadarene Swine Fallacy.” Simply defined, “The GSF is the fallacy of supposing that because a group is in the right formation, it is necessarily on the right course; and conversely, of supposing that because an individual has strayed from the group and isn't in formation, that he is off course.”

When Jesus visited the Gadarene demonic, there were some key players in the region:


  • One man, alone in the tombs, filled with demons and despair. 
  • Local swineherds and their local herds of swine (pigs). 


If one was to assume that “be in fellowship” is the highest truth, one would have to predict that the community of swine was the safe place to be, and the lone demoniac would be lost to eternity.

But that’s not what happened: the tormented man, alone among the tombs, was the only one who had the encounter with Jesus. The swine did have an encounter, but it was with the legion of suddenly homeless demons. He lived. He thrived (as ambassador for the Son of God to the Decapolis). They died a rather ignominious death.

In this case, and this is not by any means normative, the one by himself was in the right place, and the herd of swine – which may not have been appropriate on the outskirts of a kosher community anyway – were off course.

“In particular, it is of fundamental importance not to confuse the person who may be 'out of formation' by telling him he is 'off course' if he is not. It is of fundamental importance not to make the positivist mistake of assuming that, because a group are 'in formation,' this means they are necessarily 'on course.' This is the Gadarene swine fallacy.”

I still maintain that Believers are healthier in community. But if the only choice available is either life alone, among the tombs, or a community of swine, it may be healthier alone – though there may be (literally) a hell of a price to pay for solitude – than at home in a community of swine.

Of course, the healthiest place is neither among the tombs or among the swine. A small group in my home is infinitely preferable solitude among the tombs, and even community online (now that it is technologically feasible) is better than life with a legion of demons, or a herd of swine.

The Father's Love

Have you ever had someone go out of their way to be mean to you? Maybe they spat in your face, or kicked you in the crotch just for fun. Maybe they drove down the street shouting curses at you, or made fun of your ears or your grades or your accent. Maybe you were just in the wrong place when someone got mad and they took it out on you. 

How often did their meanness make you want to get to know them? How many times did you want to spend time with your attacker after he punched your teeth in and shouted drunken insults at your mother? I don't remember my history books reporting a large influx of black Americans into the Ku Klux Klan after the massacre of black men, women and children just for their skin color. Maybe I missed that lesson.

Here's a really radical thought: God doesn't use those practices to get to know the precious children for whom he personally was beaten, accused, mocked and killed. The God who was murdered for their sins probably won't be judging people for the very sins that he just paid for, won't be hating the men and women he loved enough to die for, won't be killing your daughter with cancer and then demanding, "Love me, trust me, or burn in hell for eternity." 

We've believed some pretty stupid things over the years. Let's not do that any more.

There's a Reason We're So Secure

I've been reflecting on our secure position: we're hidden in the rock, engraved in the palm of his hand. That's pretty secure!

If you are responsible for someone precious to you, but they're in absolutely no danger whatsoever, you take no special precautions. It's only when you're going to be in dangerous places that you put the leash on the toddler, the bulletproof vest on the officer, the rope around the waist of the mountain climber. You don't wear a seat belt in a church pew, or a life vest on your La-Z-Boy in front of your high-definition wide-screen TV. 

God has secured us more surely than any of those. This suggests that he expects us to "Go ye" into more dangerous places than those folks go. We're held securely so that we can go to uncertain places, so that we can stand up in dangerous times and cry, "Follow me! I know the way out!" 

We have the safety line keeping us from drowning, from falling. We have the great and precious promises. What's the worst that can happen: a welcoming party in Heaven. 
It's interesting that the only time that anybody in the Bible walked on the water was during the storm, the only time a box lunch was multiplied for thousands was when facing thousands of hungry people. The only time the dead were raised was when God's representatives were around dead people. The only place that the incarnate Creator chose to go to redeem mankind and pay for their sin was into the middle of the sinful and rebellious world. 

I’m thinking that if we don’t occasionally go places that make our knees knock, we’re missing the point. We need to have days where we’ve got to wash off the slime and the stink from the world, because we’ve been among them, carrying the love and the grace of the King in our bearing, in our words, in our smile, in our hugs, into the very darkest, smelliest, most un-welcoming places we can find. (Most of the time, thats not in another country; probably not even in another city, but I assure you, it’s not in our comfort zone.)

If we don’t spend time in harm’s way, we’re not living up to our calling. And we’re not bringing the Lamb who was slain the full measure of the reward for his sacrifice. 

I want a crown worth throwing at his feet. 

Whose Limits? Whose Understanding?


“You can have a life of understanding and live in a small world, or you have heaven’s peace and live in a world without limits.” Bill Johnson, Redding

I’ve been reflecting kind of a lot on this: If I insist on understanding, staying in the realm where I do understand, then I am limited to a world the size of what I am able to understand. I’m a pretty bright guy, but I am not all that!

The alternative is to trust someone who’s so foolishly in love with me that he died horribly and wrongly accused, just for the opportunity to woo me, someone who really is  all that, someone who doodles in the sky while he’s thinking about me, and creates a masterpiece of a sunset. Sometimes, he doodles at night, and creates a masterpiece of the stars. I’d use the word “lovesick” if he had the capacity to be sick.

The cool thing about that is this: when I trust his understanding instead of my understanding, then we’re working with the kind of capacity that’s labeled, “omniscience.” There are no  gaps in his knowing. 

On top of that, it’s tied in with a little thing called, “omnipotence,” that completely outshines my own capacity to deal with the few things that I do understand.

And if that weren’t enough, when I trust him with the storms that I call “my life,” then he takes personal responsibility for peace in my life, at least insofar as I will let him. He provides for me a great big overwhelming mountain of peace, of His grace (and it's a beautiful mountain), just for me, so that wherever I walk, I get to be in the midst of Heaven, in his own presence; wherever the sole of my foot touches this planet, Heaven itself is planted and grows, if for no other reason, then just to make a place of sufficient glory for his son to walk.

I think I’m impressed. I think I’m in love. 

I think I’ll trust him and live in his world, even in this world.