Thursday

Learning From the Past Year

It has been said that “Those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it.” If we apply this personally, we could say, “Those who fail to learn from their history will find themselves making the same mistakes all over again.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to not make those particular mistakes again. It’s not that I’m afraid of mistakes, but I’d sure like to learn from new ones, instead of repeating the old ones.

And so I try to reflect on the year behind me, and I try to learn from the year I’ve just finished, with the hope that I’ll actually be more mature, not just older, next year. If you’d like to join me, here are some questions you might reflect on. Hint: this is a great time to get out your journal and write:

What was your biggest triumph in the past year? What does God say about it?

What was your most costly mistake in the past year? What do you learn from it?

What was the smartest decision you made during the year?
  
What was the greatest lesson you learned during the year?

If you could repeat one day of the last year, what day would that be, and why?

If you could forever forget one day from last year, what day, and why?

What one bit of Scripture best describes last year?

What are you most happy about completing during the last year?

Who are the three people that had the biggest impact on your life? Have you thanked them?

Who are three people whose lives you impacted for good? Have you thanked God for them?

What area of your life have you best taken responsibility for?

What area of your life did you leave to someone else to be responsible for, and why?

What was the most loving service you performed? What effect did you see from it?

What was the biggest risk you took? How did that turn out? How could it have gone even better?
  
What important relationship improved the most? What made the improvement?

What important relationship took a hit last year? What can you learn from that?

What compliment would you have liked to have received?

What compliment would you like to have given last year? Can you give it now?

What else do you need to say or do to be completely finished with the year?


What would you like to say to your Father about last year? 

It’s Christmas Eve


It’s Christmas Eve. My home is filled with laughing children. My son is making something wonderful in the kitchen. My wife has forbidden any entry into the bedroom until the last few presents are wrapped. A video game is blaring in the living room, and power tools are finishing up a last-minute gift in the shop.

My home is a very busy place. And honestly, I love it.

But as much as this night is about family, it’s even more about a Birth. I stepped outside to visit with Father about it, to remember that Birth with Him.

Immediately, I had an image of Him, as eager as a grandchild would be, clapping happily, dancing from foot to foot: this is His Happy Dance!

For me, the laboring woman and her not-quite-husband are separated from me by twenty centuries. But as God is Lord of Time (among many other things), He is right this minute, dancing with joyful anticipation over this impending Birth.

God, being omniscient, knew of the failure of man in the Garden before He even spoke the words, “Let Us create man, in Our image…” Before he ever even scooped up mud and shaped it and prepared it to hold His Own breath, he knew that man would fail the test, would eat of the wrong tree, would submit to the wrong voice, and would be doomed to death.

But God, being the best in the universe at planning ahead, already knew that He, Himself, in the flesh and blood of humanity, would die a gruesome death in a backwater, occupied nation in the geographical armpit of that planet in order to establish a New Covenant with them. How he looked forward to that!

And He knew that before God could die for man, God would have to become a man. And this! He looked forward to this with such joy!
And tonight is the night!

The most patient Father that has ever existed has been eagerly, joyfully anticipating this night! This is the beginning of the Covenant that He’s longed for since the Garden: when he would have a nation of Kings and Priests who would know his Father’s heart and love Him as freely as He loves them!

The cross? That torture, that pain, that indescribable humiliation? That was nothing! Nothing! Less than nothing! He would pay ANY price for the privilege of whispering of his love to his wayward children. If there could have been a greater price that could ever have been paid, He would have paid it without hesitation for the children that He treasured above even His own eternal, omnipotent life!

And tonight is the night that it all began.

Tonight! As Mary is breathing hard and sweating heavily, as Joseph is wringing his hands and feeling nearly (but not quite) useless in the face of The Birth, God Himself is dancing with joy! Angels are ministering to the new mother and anxious dad, but God is laughing and jumping and shouting his joy to the heavens!

Tonight it begins. Tomorrow He gets to walk – well, to crawl first – among his wayward children! The beginning of the Via Dolorosa begins in this little, sweaty barn, on the unknown edge of a tiny, powerless nation. This is the beginning of walking among them, and even more, this is the beginning of setting them free from everything that holds them back!

This is the night! This is THAT night.

Do you feel his joy? Can you feel his anticipation? 


The Waiter

Imagine with me, please.

Imagine that you’re a minimum-wage waiter at a small, private restaurant. The owners are nice people, and it’s pleasant work, even though you don’t make much money. Most of the employees have worked there for a while, and know each other pretty well. The rooms are worn, but homey and comfortable. The food is not fancy, but it’s prepared well and served with pride.

Their banquet room stays pretty busy, with anniversaries and birthdays. Today, there’s a wedding reception, and it’s turned into kind of a rowdy bunch. In fact, a number of the guests are getting tipsy. They’re still nice, but their words are slurred and they walk funny. There’s been a line at the bar all night, and now there’s a line for the toilets.

The best man pulls you aside. “Yeah, we didn’t expect this many people! The beer is running out. Do you have a spare keg in your cooler? I’ll pay retail for it!” You check with your shift manager, and there’s no spare keg. The best man nearly panics. His eyes dart around the room.

At that point, one of the grandmothers interrupts. “Relax, John. I’ve got this.” She gestures for you to follow her, and walks off. John does NOT relax, but he’s got no options.

The grandma walks up to the young man who stands out among the crowd of rough men in the corner. You overhear a brief argument before she turns to you: “Do whatever he says to do,” and walks off. This is a woman you don’t argue with.

The guy – he might be thirty, and he looks rough, like it’s been a hard thirty years – turns to you and asks politely, “Where’s your dishwasher?” You lead him to the back.

“Excellent! Just what I was looking for!” He grins as he points at a stack of empty five gallon buckets draining on the drainage rack. “Fill all of these with water please. And this, too,” as he dumps the last pickle out of another bucket. He turns to continue his conversation with his friends.

You check to make sure all the pickles are out of the buckets and then you fill them from the dishwashing station. The guy is still talking. You tap his shoulder. “They’re full of water, sir.” You smell sardines on some of the guys.


“Perfect! Thank you! Now take this, please,” and he grabs a coffee cup from the dishwasher, and dips it into the pickle bucket, “to the best man, and ask him if it will do.” And he turns back to his buddies again.

You stare at the back of his head for a moment, mumbling to yourself, “Take dish water to the best man? Seriously? This guy’s not all there, is he?” But what else is there to do? The lady said to do what he told you.

The best man is behind the bar, nervously explaining to yet another bleary-eyed guest that *this* beer keg is empty, but they’ve sent someone out getting them another one. You tap on his shoulder and hand him the mug. “Will this do, sir?” He doesn’t even acknowledge your presence, but he takes the coffee mug from your hands while he repeats the same thing to a woman with smeared makeup.

He doesn’t look at the mug, but takes a sip, still talking to the bar patrons. You cringe: you know where that mug came from.

It takes a second to register, and you get ready to run. He pauses mid-sentence, and then he stops moving altogether, his eyes open wide. He looks down at the coffee cup, and you see that the water is unmistakably brown now. Oh no! It’s not even clean dishwater! You cringe again, as he slowly turns to look at you for the first time, his eyes bright.

“Yes. Yes, this will do very nicely! This is very good! Why did you save the best keg for last?” 

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Meditation on John, chapter two.
/nwp



Dealing With Bible Thumpers

Someone asked me how I respond to Bible Thumpers. Boy did that make me think.

Yeah, that’s a big issue. It’s big enough that Wikipedia has a definition of a Bible thumper (aka “bible basher”):

“Someone perceived as aggressively imposing their Christian beliefs upon others. The term derives from preachers thumping their hands down on the Bible, or thumping the Bible itself, to emphasize a point during a sermon.”

In my experience, this very often manifests as people blindly quoting scripture in conversation, mistakenly believing that this proves their point. Most people can tell when they’ve entered a conversation. And unfortunately, it seems to happen at holiday gatherings more and more.

I used to be a bible thumper. I’m in recovery now. Here’s how I try to respond to bible thumpers. I hope it helps bring freedom to you. It’s a tough one.

I can’t say “Here’s how to do it.” I can only say, “Here are some things I’m trying.” Some are working better than others.

* Make peace with myself about not needing to have all the answers. This one was huge for me.

* When I give answers, I try to speak from experience, including my experience with the Book and my experience with what went wrong, rather than just quote a platitude from the Book.

* If I have to quote a verse as if it were a platitude, I explain quickly how this applies in my world.

* I do not look to thumpers for help; I do not expect them to minister to the real issues of my heart, and I do not let down my defenses to let their religious spirit have access to my soul.

* If someone quotes verses at me, I sidestep the verse. “I’m not interested in your skills with copy and paste [or with quoting verses]. I want to know what you actually think.” Thumpers find this confusing, but a few get it, some sooner than others.

* Occasionally, if I sense it might do some good, I’ll try to bring some sense into the conversation, asking them to support the doctrine they’re proclaiming. Very often, just looking at the context of (verses immediately before and after) the verse they’re wielding is enough to take some of the wind out of their sails.

* If the thumper gives me permission, or if the topic is a big deal, and there are lots of people by the thumpage, I’ll attempt to correct their abuse, either by addressing the topic with more than verses and stale doctrine, or by talking about what actual conversation is like. I hate doing this because I don’t love confrontation, but some situations call for it.

* Then afterwards, I try to go out of my way to make conversation with the thumpers whose thumpage I have just upset. My goal is to hear what they actually think on the topic, and to engage them on why they hold that so strongly, but I’ll take small talk if that’s all I can get.

Note that I am absolutely NOT trying to minimize the effect of the Scriptures in my life, as some thumpers have accused me. Not at all. But I want the Scriptures to work in me, guided by Father’s hand as the living and active scalpel that they are (see Hebrews 4:12).

I’m not willing to submit to someone – anyone, really – wielding scriptures as a bludgeon on me, any more. And as far as I can make a difference, I’m not willing to let others bludgeon those around me either.


So. How do YOU respond to bible thumpers?


What about the Law and the Trials of the End Times?

People regularly quote Second Timothy Three: “You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times.” And Paul outlines much of the difficulties going on in the Roman Empire at the time. And people say, “These are difficult times! Paul must not have been talking about first century Roman Empire, but about twenty first century America (or Europe, or whatever). 

Paul offering pastoral advice to his young protégé. He’s writing from prison, which means he’s writing in AD66 or AD67. And he’s telling Timothy, “Here’s how to pastor this kind of person (verses 8-15, same chapter).

So If Paul is telling Tim how to pastor these people, then “the last days” that he’s talking about in AD67 must be AD70, when the Jerusalem was destroyed, when the temple was destroyed, and most importantly, when the genealogies (which showed who was qualified to be a priest or even a Levite) were burned. Destroyed. Gone forever. 

That was the “Last Days” that Paul was writing about. It’s not about now. It’s about the end of the Law.

Why in Heaven’s name would the apostle write pastoral advice for how to relate to a situation that was exactly what was going on in his day that minute, but give advice that would be about an event that wouldn’t happen for twenty centuries? That’s just silly.

Of COURSE he was writing to what was going on in Tim’s ministry right then.

---------------------------

So here’s the real question:

Given that the Law of the Old Covenant is dead and gone, given that the “Last Days” talked about in the Bible are generally about “the last days of the Old Covenant,”

HOW SHALL WE THEN LIVE.

Note: this is not a place to argue about whether you agree that the last days are behind us. This is an “If – then” question:


If the evil things and the “difficult times” that the New Testament writes about have already happened, what do we do with our lives?

That’s the question that really matters. If we’re going to focus on the days ahead, let's focus on what’s important. 

Do We Still Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem?

Recently, a friend asked me, “Are we still required to pray for the peace of Jerusalem?” (as Psalm 122:6 says). I stopped to think about that question, and about Zionism in general. Here’s how my thinking went.

When the Old Covenant was in place, it was between one family – the children of Jacob – aka Israel) and God. (In fact, they resisted being called a “nation” until the 20th century.)

When the Old Covenant was in place, that family was the vehicle by which God related to the rest of the world. We’ll overlook the fact that Israel failed miserably in that task: it was their task. (Note that “The Law” was the “terms & conditions” of that Covenant. Note also that Israel failed so completely at that, that God was required by the terms of that covenant [which the people proposed, it was not God’s proposal] that he was required to judge them and punish them for failing to keep their covenant with Him. See http://nwp.link/1Ggenc6.)

And because Israel was the one primary means by which God related to humanity, they were the victim of many attacks, both political and demonic.

In that context, praying for the peace of Jerusalem – Jerusalem being in proxy for the nation/family of Israel – was praying for peace in the conduit between God and man. If Israel was at war, then Israel could not well represent God to the nations.

The Old Covenant is now over. It was “obsolete and growing old [and] ready to disappear,” [Hebrews 8:13] two hundred decades ago. And it was completely obliterated, totally eliminated when Jerusalem was destroyed in AD70 (the mortal wound: the destruction of all genealogical records of who’s qualified to be priest or Levite).  

Fortunately, 40 years earlier, the Old Covenant was replaced by a New Covenant. In contrast, the New Covenant is not between God and one family, or between God and one nation, or between God and ANY nation. The New Covenant is between God the Father, and God the Son, and we’re included in the Covenant by being “in Christ,” in the Son.

In the New Covenant, there is only one commandment: John 15:12: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” That’s it.

Paul, expounding on our covenant, urged Timothy, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” This is, in his estimation, part of how we “love one another,” and he’s right.

So the question is: “Is Jerusalem part of “all men”? Are there leaders who qualify as “all those who are in authority”? Do they need prayer? In my perception, the answer is “Yes!” to all three.

So yes, we pray for Jerusalem, for the same reason, and in the same way that we pray for Tehran, or New Orleans, or Milan or Pretoria.

We pray “on behalf of all men,” and we pray “for kings and all those who are in authority.”

But really (and I suspect some people won’t like this), Jerusalem is no more special than your hometown, and Israel is now no more special than Iraq or Dubai. And simultaneously, no less special.



Judgement Day: Life in Review

This video is a reminder to me of a day that’s coming. I call it Big Screen Day. Some call it Judgement Day, but that doesn't fit so well for me. 

I don’t actually know if my what I envision is theologically sound. I developed this expectation during a season when I was being taught a lot of foolishness, but this part remains with me.

I expect that there will be a day that I will stand before my Maker, who is also my dearest Friend, and together, we’ll examine my life, my years on Earth, from His perspective. I imagine my life being displayed on the big screen in His family room. It will be an edited version, of course. There are things that I remember, which He has already thrown into the Sea of Forgetfulness. They won’t be shown that day, or any other day: they’re gone. I won't miss them.

In that viewing, I’ll finally learn of the effects of my life on others around me, and the effect of my life, through them, on the people they influence, people that I’ve never met.

I’ve invested part of my life serving some pastors and some churches. On Big Screen Day, I’ll meet the people that I helped them disciple into the Kingdom. I’ve spent part of my life investing in a generation of believers who are following where I’ve gone. On Big Screen Day, I’ll see the fruit of that investment, and I’ll learn where my investment has gone.

I can’t imagine what that day will be like. I expect there will be tears, of one sort of another.

This man, Sir Nicholas Winton, has a a small part of his Big Screen Day early. He gets to meet some of the fruit of his investment in this life. During the War, he invested a good deal of his life rescuing children from the Nazi death camps. Here, he gets to meet them, some of them. 

I can’t imagine what that must be like. I expect there were tears.



I try to make decisions in my life with Big Screen Day in mind. I try to live with Eternity in mind. I try to make choices that will make my Friend smile as we review my life. I try to choose things that won’t need to be edited out.

And once in a great while, I’ll turn to face where I imagine the Heavenly camera might be, and I’ll say some things to the audience watching that Big Screen, whether it’s just Him and me or whether it’s uncounted millions.

Have you given thought to that Day, the Day when you and your Maker will review your life? I’ll bet it will change how you live in this day. And if he’s your friend, I’ll bet you’ll love those changes.



Some Ways the Enemy Opposes God's Kids

In the last few days, I’ve had interaction with a wide variety of folks:

·         An author who insists that Christians are still obligated to obey the whole law, and how dare I declare that the Old Covenant is past!!!
·         Some folks who are angry at me because I teach that God is good and kind and well-represented in Jesus.
·         A friend who insists that the Resurrection was metaphorical, not literal.
·         Several “unbelieving believers” whose whole world view is built on their poverty spirit and whose theme song seems to be “I can’t! I need someone to do it for me!”
·         A “prophet” who is convinced that his job is pointing out fault in every congregation he visits (and who never visits a congregation a second time).

As I was reflecting on these, I felt Father’s sadness. “These are manifestations of the influence of an antichrist spirit,” he murmured softly.

I realized, that’s certainly not saying, “They’re the Antichrist!” or even “They’re possessed.”

It’s just acknowledging that these are some of the ways that an “anti-Christ” spirit works to influence God’s children. These are some of the accusations that the enemy makes against God, against Jesus, against the Cross.

As I reflected, the quiet voice continued, “How will you respond to them?” and I knew that my response must not include anger or rejection or resignation.

There is one thing that stood out in my heart in response. Sure, I must love them, but that’s not a real answer. The thing that stood out to me is that I need to be careful not to change my message in response to them. I must not react to them in anger, rejection, or resignation; I am not permitted to change my message because of them.

If I don’t speak of who God really is in me and to me, then it’s not really my testimony, it’s just empty words. If I soften the message in order to placate some, or if I sharpen it to make it hit others harder, then these voices that carry the echo of the antichrist have shaped my message, my heart. My message would likely carry further, but it would not carry the truth I want it to.

And then my voice would also carry a manifestation of the influence of an antichrist spirit. I’m thinking that this is not where I want to go. There be dragons down that path.

I'm working on keeping my message true. Your prayers - and your company - are invited.


On the Implications of Progressive Revelation

We preach it in church. We teach it in Bible School: God has progressively revealed more of who he is and how he works as history has progressed. King David knew God way better than Noah or Job or Abraham did, even though Abraham was God’s friend. 

In theological terms, “The progressive character of divine revelation is recognized in relation to all the great doctrines of the Bible. What at first is only obscurely intimated is gradually unfolded in subsequent parts of the sacred volume, until the truth is revealed in its fullness.”*

We’ve just forgotten that he’s still doing that, today. Think about it: we have more revelation today than Charles Finney did, or Martin Luther before him, or Augustine before either of them. 

And as heretical as it sounds, we actually have more revelation available to us today than did the Apostle Paul did in his day. And he wrote half the books in the New Testament! (Of course, whether we’re accessing all that is available to us is open to discussion.)

The principle of progressive revelation is not controversial. The application of that principle just might scare us. 

Two specific applications that strike me today: 

* If God is still revealing more of his character and his ways, then we shouldn’t be surprised if people discover things about him that we’ve never been taught in church or in Bible School. It’s stunningly egotistical to think that “I know all that God has revealed about himself in this generation! If someone thinks they know something that God hasn’t shown me, they’re in deception.” This is not clear thinking. 

* Having more revelation than Silas and Timothy the rest of the boys (the ones who didn’t actually hang out with Jesus during those three years), our expectations should be for bigger results, better revelation than what they walked in. Saying, “I wanna be like the early church” is kind of like saying, “I wanna wear diapers and suck on a bottle all my life!” This also is not clear thinking. We are expected to far exceed their exploits.

In addition to the growing revelation that God is pouring out, there’s just the basic principle that God is infinite: infinitely big, infinitely complex, infinitely beautiful, infinitely knowing (aka omniscient). Anybody who thinks their little mind can hold all there is to know about an infinite God (“That can’t be true! I don’t know about that!”) is on an elevator that doesn’t go anywhere near the top floor. 

Be ready, dear ones, to learn things about God that the guys who wrote the textbooks never imagined.

Be ready to let God blow your mind a little bit. 

(He’s not a tame lion.)

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I Don't See It That Way

We confuse two very different thoughts, and I wonder if maybe we do this fairly often:

We begin with "I don't see it that way," and that's well and good. It might be “I don’t see why that baker wouldn’t bake the gay couple a cake,” or "I don't understand why a gay couple would come to a Christian bakery for a cake," or even, “I don’t see why Christians would want to drink alcohol.” It's good to be able to see things differently than others; that’s a sign of health, of our ability to think for ourselves and not just rely on the opinions of others around us.

But it’s easy to take that one step too far, to impose the way we see it on others, and we expect them to see the situation the way we do. This very seldom reaches the point of words, but it works out like this: "I don't see it that way, so they shouldn't either." or something along these lines. Fundamentally, it’s about “They need to think like me!”


I’ll be honest, I don't see how baking a cake or not baking a cake speaks of Christ. Either one sounds to me more like it speaks of flour and frosting. But those bakers don’t have the benefit of my perspective. They are working with their own conscience. And I applaud them for doing that; it happens so seldom these days.

This issue of “You should think like I think” is pretty rampant in our culture. Regarding the story where a Christian baker declined to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, the intolerance of certain members of the homosexual community were identified (by a lesbian) as “the Gay Gestapo.” But it happens in other realms as well. There’s an “Abortion Gestapo,” an “Evangelical Gestapo” and many others.

I’ve seen the cry, “You need to think like me!” in both sides of the homosexual movement, both sides of the abortion conversation, both sides of several race conversations. I’ve even heard evangelistic sermons based on this way of thinking.

Note that this doesn’t apply to every conversation in these areas. There’s a world of difference between “Abortion is murder, and I’m going to stand against murder,” and “This is the way I oppose abortion, and you should do it this way, too!”

I get it when the unredeemed think and act in unredeemed ways, like this. I don’t understand when Christians, particularly Christian leaders (who are supposed to be mature) tell each other, “This is the way I see it. You should agree with me!”

Fundamentally, this is an argument about which side is the right side on this issue. And fundamentally, Christians aren’t called to take sides, especially not political sides. We’re called to love people. We’re called to heal the sick and raise the dead, whether literally or metaphorically.

It’s particularly frustrating when Christian leaders declare “If you see it differently than I do, then you’re guilty of breaking the unity of the saints!” Not so. Unity doesn’t come from agreeing on doctrine (it’s about being part of the same family, but that’s another conversation).

But it’s just plain foolish when Christians expect non-Christians to think Christianly. (That’s called “hypocrisy,” people. We don’t like hypocrisy.) At no point does the Bible command us to make non-believers act as if they were religious. Let’s get over that right away, shall we? 
Instead of looking for the “the right side of the issue,” I’m going to recommend that when we find ourselves saying, “I don’t see it that way,” to follow that up with “…but you do, and I respect your thinking for yourselves. Look for a way to love those who don’t agree with you. (I think you’ll find that love converts more people than arguments, any day of the week!)

Or we could push for extra credit, and try to see it their way, try to understand why they see it that way, even if only for a moment. Seeing like they see is one way of loving them.



Does Love Mean Acceptance?

I’ve been challenged by some of my brothers. The context has been how to respond to homosexual believers, but the issue is bigger than that. This is about how Christians relate to unbelievers, to people who have sin in their life.

They have held that unconditional love does not equal unconditional acceptance: that loving them does not mean that I accept them or their lifestyle.

I disagree. Unconditional love absolutely DOES mean unconditional acceptance of the person you're loving. The two cannot be separated. Conditional acceptance is absolutely conditional love, which is to say, it’s not love at all. Maybe it’s manipulation or something, but it is NOT love.

Someone would probably point out that accepting the person is not the same as accepting their lifestyle, and that's TBI: True But Irrelevant. Accepting their behavior is never part of the issue of loving the person. Let me clarify:

I love people whose political views offend me. I love people who believe lies and who tell lies, about themselves, about others, and about God. I love people who haven’t admitted that they struggle with gluttony, or with manipulation, or who don’t know how to submit to anyone else. I love people who take advantage of me. (Let's be honest: if I loved only perfect people, I would never love anybody; I could never even love myself.)

In all of this, I don't interview people before I decide to love them: “Are they good enough for my love? Do they deserve my love? Is there something that they do which disqualifies them from love? Would people on Facebook be offended if I loved this person? Would it look bad on my resume?”

Bottom line: the VAST majority of the time, their sexuality, their pridefulness, their gluttony, or any other sin should not even be part of the conversation: that's their business; that's pretty much between them and God. There are two exceptions.

The first is that if they are a danger to me or mine, whether great danger or small, I suspect (I’m not actually convinced of this one – see Christ’s example) that I have the right to separate myself from them. Because I love to be alive, I don’t hang around mass murderers, and because God made me an introvert, I limit how much time I spend in crowds. That’s fairly straightforward.

The second exception is when we're in a covenant relationship together: when I have their invitation to speak into their life. Then I can talk about their sexual preferences and whether that's sin or not. But if we’re in covenant, then they can also speak into my life about my egotistical preferences and whether that's sin or not.

But under NO circumstances do I ever have the right to stand apart and either judge or reject another human being because of their actions, their preferences or their choices. I can choose whether to love them or not (though the Bible does not give me this choice, I can choose it nevertheless), I can choose whether to be in a relationship or not, but I may not declare them unfit for love based on their actions.

Seriously: how would it be if God decided to love us based on whether we were good enough? “Oh, this guy judges people, that woman has bad theology. I’m not going to love them. I’m not going to bear their sin on the cross. Sorry. Sucks to be them.”

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” – John 13:34

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8.



With Every Increase of Freedom...

This is quite a season we’re in with God. We’re seeing new freedom, new understanding of his ways, new revelation. The kingdom is making pretty significant advances right now.

And like every other time that we experience new freedom in Christ, there’s also a fresh resurgence of legalism trying to take away our freedom. I can’t remember ever seeing so many people pushing an agenda of “Return to the Law.”

You may have run into people online who warn you about “going too far” in experiencing the infinite grace of God. Some are concerned about holiness and believe that holiness is the result of their good works. Others appear to have invested so much of themselves in making themselves acceptable that they resent those who are made acceptable without the same effort.

I’m finding more books than ever, arguing for a return to an obedience-based covenant, some emphasizing dietary laws, others emphasizing whom you may associate with, others focusing on Sabbath law, or using Hebrew names for God, or celebrating Jewish holidays instead of the “pagan” holidays of whichever culture you live among.

It is EXACTLY this environment into which Paul writes Galatians 5:1: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” This is also the context in which Paul writes, “... some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.” (Galatians 2:4)

The apostle Paul was in the midst of the first great outpouring of the Spirit of God, the very first expansion of the Kingdom of God, and then, like now, there was a great surge towards returning to legalism, whether by circumcision, or by obeying Old Covenant rules about food or fellowship. The “Judaizers” who are promoting this legalism often call it a “restoration,” but the Bible calls it a “Yoke of Slavery.”

This is also the context into which Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)

This is a normal response of hell (often through people who don’t have freedom) whenever God’s people are moving in freedom: try to drag those who are escaping slavery back into slavery; if they can’t do that, then they’ll persecute the free ones and say all kinds of evil against them. Rejoice when that happens to you.

My encouragement is NOT to focus our attention on the people or the influences trying to drag us back into slavery. That’s an unworthy focus for our attention. Rather, be aware that some want to draw you back into their “yoke of slavery;” avoid them, as you avoid potholes in the road, while we “[fix] our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

As you follow Him (who IS worthy of our attention!), He’ll lead you “along the right paths for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:3) Trust the freedom that he’s leading you into; it really is for freedom that he has set us free!

Let us “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [us] heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

Our Turn

I don’t remember if I’ve told you this story. 

Revelation 5 describes the scene:

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!" Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!" The four living creatures said, "Amen," and the elders fell down and worshiped. - Revelation 5:11-14 

I was part of a worship team in a tiny church, and we were together on I think it was a Thursday night, rehearsing for Sunday. We’d all been through “stuff” that week, so we prayed together before we discussed our plans. And then we started singing. 

Understand that for us, we weren’t just rehearsing the music, we were rehearsing our worship of God. We cannot lead people in worship, we believe, unless we ourselves are truly worshiping; otherwise, it’s just cheer-leading. So we were worshiping.

I don’t remember who was leading the song (we passed that responsibility around), but I was standing facing the rest of the band, with my back to where the congregation would be next Sunday. And I remember feeling like we were turning a corner. We’d played this song a thousand times before, and many of those times had been really good, we’d really entered into real worship, but this was different. I glanced at some of the faces around me: some felt what I was feeling; others were lost in it.

I had the sense of movement behind my back, so I turned around, and as I did, in my spirit I saw a curtain being opened, and there beyond it was an enormous audience worshiping the same One we were worshiping. It seemed that this was the worship scene from Revelation 5, lost in adoration of the Worthy Lamb, and this was our turn to lead the worship in that gathering. 

To this day, I still can see the throngs of people worshiping Him who sat on that throne, though I only saw them for an instant, because then my eye was drawn to Him and I was truly undone. 

The experience in that place didn’t last long, but it was timeless. It happened some years ago, but I remember it as if it was five minutes ago, and my eyes still tear up as I do,

Let me just say it this way: from that day forward, we were changed.

Something in my spirit taught me that day: worship that comes from Earth is more precious than worship that comes from Heaven, because on Earth we have more to overcome, more distractions to push past before we can fix our eyes on the One. Worship on Earth is described as a sacrifice (Romans 12:1), and the sacrifice to worship here on Earth, in the midst of all that life is a more costly, a more precious sacrifice than to worship in Heaven, among the angels and the elders and the living creatures.

May I encourage us: when we worship, let’s fully worship, let’s not hold back. Sure, we’ll worship in Heaven, and it’ll be glorious. But it may not be quite as glorious as the worship that comes from Earth. 


The First Commandment is a Threat.

May I share something kind of strange? OK. Thanks.

I've been thinking (yes, again)! (I do that.)

It seems to me that the first of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3) isn’t really a commandment at all.

The commandment in question says simply, “You will have no other gods before me.” There’s no command in that verse. It doesn’t say “Don’t do it.” There is no “Thou shalt not…” in this. There’s actually no command in the first commandment.

What there is, however, is a threat.

It’s like this: “You ain’t ever gonna have other gods before me. If you set one up, I will knock it down. It will not succeed.”

This isn’t so much about what we must or must do. This doesn’t appear to be about us exercising our will power. This appears to be us being aware of God’s nature. If you enter into relationship with God, then God will be the big deal in your life.

I wonder if this might be why some folks get into trouble? I wonder if sometimes, other folks – and they themselves may not even know about it – put them on a pedestal, perhaps because they are open to being treated with reverence or with the kind of honor that really only belongs to One.

If I set up somebody as the authority in my life – maybe my pastor, maybe a famous author or conference speaker or maybe a godly broadcaster – if I listen to them for what I ought to believe, and how much money I should give and to whom, for the directions or limitations in my life, then I’ve set them up as a god in my life. Before the Lord.

And the threat is ready to be applied. God will need to remove them from the “before me” part of my life.

Now the real question applies: this is clearly an Old Testament / Old Covenant threat. Does this principle apply in the New Covenant? 



Maximize Your Strengths

We all have strengths. It's more effective to make maximum use of our strengths rather than trying to turn weakness into strength.

There's a line of thinking in the western education system that has also influenced the western church that says if we're not good at something (say, math), then we need to develop our skills at math until it's one of our strengths, which necessarily means we don't work at our developing the areas that are already our strengths (say, writing), so they don't develop so much.

We tend to think that it’s best to be a pastor or a teacher, because that’s what we see modeled. But if that isn’t you, then you have a choice: either try to fake it, or be who you really are, even if it’s something that isn’t as well recognized.

Exercise your strengths.
Consider the Seattle Seahawks. Applying that line thinking would teach us that quarterback Russell Wilson needs to learn how to block a blitz from 275 pound linebackers, that defensive corner Richard Sherman needs to learn to learn how to function as a quietly confident offensive lineman, or that “Beast Mode” Marshawn Lynch, the best running back in the league, needs to develop his public media and publicity skills, and stop focusing so much on running the football.

That’s pretty ridiculous, isn’t it?

What took the Seahawks to the Superbowl twice recently was each member recognizing that they have a gift that is different that others' gifts, and each member developing their strength, and trusting others' strengths in places where they are not strong.

You've seen how Marshawn treasures his offensive linemen? He buys them gifts, sometimes expensive gifts, because they do very well what he cannot, and it makes the way for him to do (very well!) what they cannot.

Yeah, that's how it works. We don’t ignore the gifts we don’t have, but neither do we focus on them. It’s absolute foolishness to ignore the gift that God has given us in order to develop what someone thinks is a more important gift.

Don't be a copycat.
It never works, anyway.
If the gift is from Holy Spirit, it’s as valuable as He is (that’s kind of a big deal). If the gift is from skill or practice or sheer determination, instead of from the Holy Spirit, then it qualifies as “wood, hay or stubble,” and it will make a nice bonfire in the day or reckoning.

I’ve got more important things to do than prepare for Heaven’s bonfire. So do you.

Use the gifts God has given you, even if you don’t know another soul with those gifts. Be you! God doesn’t need copycats.

Insight About Heaven’s Resources

Maybe you’ve had this experience. You’re praying, usually praying protection, for someone – perhaps ourselves, more often we’re praying for someone else. And then it happens: you see or feel the angels that are guarding them. 

Those angels are never wimpy little things, are they? No, the wimpy little things are the demons opposing you, or at least most of those demons are wimpy and little; a few are more capable and are worth another glance before banishing them.

I remember praying for a friend who was facing some legitimately frightening circumstances. We slapped hands on him and began to pray for God’s protection for our friend, Greg. 

As we prayed, it seemed as if Father was chuckling quietly. “Protection?” he murmured, as he opened the veil between realms so we could see the protection that was already in place. Our eyes were drawn up, and up, and up.

Greg is not a small man, but as we beheld the angel that protected him, suddenly Greg appeared minuscule. Standing tall, he didn’t reach beyond the calves of the angel who guarded him. Greg was already very well protected, indeed.

Since that day, I’ve “seen” the guardians of many, many people, and not a one of them is a wimp. And that’s consistent with the nature of the One who assigns these spirit-beings to protect us: He does not do things halfway. If He’s going to send an angel to guard his children, it’ll be a formidable protection!

That’s where I’ve been for years: thankful for these mighty defenders. But the other night, it changed.

In my dreams that night, I was facing a formidable assignment, something I needed to do, that I had no idea how I could ever accomplish that: it was way beyond my abilities, beyond my realm of influence, beyond my… and suddenly Father interrupted.

“I’ve given you a powerful advocate.” He said. “This task is not beyond his resources.” The invitation was clear, but that was the moment that I woke up, with those words ringing in my spirit: “I’ve given you a powerful advocate. This task is not beyond his resources,” and the sense that I needed to share this exhortation with the saints.

God has given you a powerful advocate. Don’t shy away from the dreams He’s given you, just because they’re beyond your own skills and abilities. Heaven’s resources are with you. You’ve seen them act for your protection. Now, don’t get all cocky about it, of course, but they’re working with you for your success, every bit as much as for your protection. This is no longer beyond you. 

Let’s take up the assignment, the dreams he’s laid before us, shall we? For we do not work alone.

Remembering the Great Commission

We've misinterpreted the Great Commission, I think.

We're called to introduce people to Jesus, but sometimes it seems that sometimes we forget. Sometimes, we end up introducing them to our club, to churchianity. To religion. Ewww.

They're looking for real relationship, and Jesus offering real relationship, but we're offering membership in a Sunday Morning Club complete with its own foreign language and foreign culture. "Bring your friends to church!" we are exhorted, forgetting the "Go" of the Great Commission.

Coming to faith does NOT require leaving your culture, leaving your language, leaving your community, leaving your music behind. (Yes, it does involve leaving your slavery behind.) For example, there's no need for a pipe organ or Taylor acoustic guiter in a tribal church in order for their gathering to be legit. They worship with drums; you don't have to!

Here's a radical thought: Christian pop music is by NO means the only music that's acceptable - or desirable. Some believers like barbershop quartets! Others touch God in metal music or Dixieland or Baroque or dance music.

I even know of a church that worshiped with (shudder!) country music! They would line dance in church! What?!? (And they shared the building with a church that worshiped with grunge rock music! What's up with that?)

I get it that some folks often can't go back to the culture that enslaved them for years, but let's distinguish between the slavery that held us captive and the preference of music the enslavers enjoyed while they practiced their torture upon our souls.

And since music reaches people, the Great commission applies to music: GO TO THEM. Do NOT expect them to come to you. So bring the gospel to their music; not Gospel music, but the "Good News" of the Kingdom: that belongs in THEIR music, too. There's no need for them to leave their love for Italian operas behind in order to meet Jesus.

Our commission is to go to them, and to bring the good news of the Kingdom to them.

Our job is NOT to bring them to our culture, our little club.

When we disciple folks, we are to make them followers of Jesus, not into MiniMe's.

Insight from Gandalf the White

In The Return of the King, Denethor, Steward of Gondor (the realm of men) says of himself to Gandalf, “Yet the Lord of Gondor is not to be made the tool of other men’s purposes, however worthy. And to him there is no purpose higher in the world as it now stands than the good of Gondor; and the rule of Gondor, my lord, is mine and no other man’s, unless the king should come again.”

To this Gandalf responds, “Unless the king should come again? Well, my lord Steward, it is your task to keep some kingdom still against that event, which few now look to see. In that task you shall have all the aid that you are pleased to ask for.

“But I will say this: the rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward. Did you not know?”

I suppose that it’s not completely unimaginable that I sometimes find inspiration in Gandalf's insight. I love this image: it is our job, the job of men, to rule, but it is our ultimate destiny to submit our rulership to the True King who is yet coming. Ultimately, our job is stewardship.

Even more, like Gandalf, our task is stewardship of “anything … that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower….” This includes stewardship of our world, our influence in that world, our fellow human beings, and of the planet that we now call home.

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.” ~Matthew 18:23


(Many thanks to Kriston Couchey for provoking this line of thought.)

Outraged at Outrage

Our world, and especially our media, are obsessed with outrage. If we are outraged, others pay attention to us and join in the outrage. We feel empowered when we are outraged, like we are making a difference. We are deceived.

We all know what outrage is. Outrage is defined as “an extremely strong reaction of anger, shock, or indignation.”

Let's be outraged by the death of a wild animal. Let’s be outraged at the loss of our constitution. Let's be outraged about killing babies and selling their body parts to the highest bidder.

And the silliest of them all: Let's be outraged that people aren't outraged by what gets me outraged.

With the obvious exception of the last one, most current targets for outrage are legitimate issues, legitimate problems. And they deserve legitimate solutions. They deserve change.

The problem that I have with outrage is that it betrays us. Outrage lies to us.

First, outrage betrays us by pretending to be an appropriate response. It convinces us somehow it is socially conscious to feel powerful emotions, to shout at others with those powerful and controlling emotions, and to post snarky statements and memes online. And if I manage to get others to join me in my powerful emotions and snarky online posts, I’ve improved the world. That’s not actually change, is it?

Outrage betrays us by substituting bitter words and indignant feelings for actual action. I’m not saying the feelings are inappropriate or that strong feelings are an error. I will say that if the words are focused on finding fault or pointing out foolishness, that yes, I do consider that to be inappropriate.

But the reality is that as satisfying as those emotions and those witty memes are, they don’t change anything. There will be people who kill animals, people who abrogate constitutional rights, and people who kill babies in order to sell their body parts for profit. My powerful emotions won’t change that.

Outrage also betrays us, because it’s a tool being used to manipulate us. Talk show hosts and producers intentionally manipulate their content in order to entice outrage in their audience, so that they’ll remain a loyal and participative audience. Advertisers use outrage to sell you their products. Political groups use outrage to persuade you to fund their groups, but even more, they use outrage to direct your attention away from the things that they don’t want you to see. It’s this last one that really irritates me.

Yes, it is legitimately sad that a lion was killed somewhere in Africa. It’s sadder that the hunter who killed him is the target of so much hatred that his life, his family and his business have been destroyed. Personally, I find it saddest of all that more people get more upset about a dead animal than about the murdering-babies-and-selling-their-body-parts industry. I don’t think they deserve the same attention.

But that’s the success of outrage: there are people who support the business of killing babies, and they don’t want to be the focus of this much media attention, because then their secret might get out and their billions of dollars of income might be reduced a little. So let’s focus everybody’s outrage on an animal that was literally on the other side of the planet, in a nation that none of us has ever visited, and that was hunted and killed legally (at least by local law), and let’s get everybody to focus on that dead cat so they’ll stop asking questions about our profitable baby-murdering business.

And it’s working, isn’t it? (And it’s working so well that I’ll bet I get people outraged over the lion who defend their outrage in the comments.)

I'm really tired of outrage. I’m tired of being emotionally wound up. I’m tired of being manipulated by the purveyors of outrage. I’m tired of having others tell me what I should feel strongly about. I’m tired of reading snarky and self-serving accusations and character assassinations of people who think differently than we think they should. I’m tired of having complex issues reduced to black-and-white caricatures so that they produce increased outrage.

Forgive me, but I won't be participating in any outrage this week. Please don't be offended that I won’t be joining you in yours.

“So what could we do instead of willingly volunteering to be emotionally manipulated? Is there an alternative?” I’m so glad you asked. Yes, there are a number of responses to things-that-are-wrong other than mere outrage.

The most important first step, I suppose, is to decide which issues are worth your attention. Don’t let the news media or social media tell you what you should care about. You decide. Cheat if you want: its OK to pray about this decision. It’s an important one, partly because this decision is the beginning of you taking the control of your emotional responses away from those who have delighted in controlling your emotions for you.

Second, I recommend sorting your emotions out. What are you actually feeling, and why does this issue trigger those emotions? Which emotions are actually yours, and which have been sold to you by others? And listen to the emotions: what are they suggesting needs to be done?  I’m not saying “don’t feel emotions.” I am, however, saying “don’t stop with feeling emotions.”

I recommend asking the question, “Is this actually any of my business?” If it isn’t, then this isn’t the place for you to get involved, except perhaps by prayer. And some will argue that our prayer might be less effective in causes that are none of our business. But that’s none of my business, so I’ll move on.

And once you’ve decided that there is an issue worthy of your attention, then take action. Here I’d argue that prayer is an excellent first action to take, and that may be the extent of your action regarding this issue. If you go no further than to pray, then you can at least know that you’ve freed yourself from being manipulated by others for their own, possibly nefarious purposes, and you’ve brought God’s attention to the matter. That’s not insignificant at all.

And further action may be appropriate after you’ve prayed. I recommend considering where your greatest influence lies (Consider which of the Seven Mountains your influence reaches the most) and take action in that arena. But take thoughtful action, don’t just write or shout outraged words: leaders of industry, government, culture know that outraged words are meaningless, and they are generally ignored, if they don’t respond with attempts to further manipulate us with outrage.

This is my attempt to respond in a method other than outrage to what appears to me to be an outrageous error in our culture. This is my attempt to bring some attention to the actual problem (the futility of being emotionally manipulated by people who don’t have your best interest in their minds) and to offer an alternative (choose what to be moved by, and how to move in response).

So now it’s your choice. You can be outraged at my suggestions. Or you can actually make a difference. It’s up to you.



A Dream and its Sequel

May I share with you my dream, and its sequel? I’ve never been a big one for dreaming, and until this dream, I’d never, until this dream, received instruction in a dream.

The first dream: Many of us were on a large wooden ship. It was the size of a supertanker, but it was wooden. I don't know where it was going, and I don't think I ever did learn.

Below deck, on a very large deck, was a smaller ship: not a boat, a ship. As my wife was away, talking with crew or passengers, I was below decks, preparing that ship.

There were two things that were both heavy that I was loading up on. One was crowbars: not a "j" shape crowbar, but more of a "t" shaped crowbar. I loaded about 20 or 30 of them onto the smaller ship. I don't remember the other.

It seemed that I broke out a wall or a deck of the big ship in order to get the smaller ship out, and my wife showed up about that time to go with me. I woke up before we launched the smaller ship.

I had the dream during the time that I was enrolled in a dream interpretation class, so I shared it with my friends in the class. They agreed: The large ship is the Sunday Morning church, and truthfully, I didn’t really know where that was going. My small ship below decks was a heads up: God was calling me out of the established church into something more personal. The crowbars were preparation for me to help others into similar freedom.

What these good people didn’t know was that God had been calling me to do something I hadn’t done in nearly 50 years in the faith: to disengage from my local congregation, and to take responsibility for our own spiritual life, apart from a larger congregation: to become “unchurched.” It scared the stuffing out of me, which may be part of why Father affirmed it in a dream.

----- Interlude -----

Eighteen months later, I had left the Sunday Morning community, and my head was still spinning; this was something I’d never done before, something that I had regularly taught against, that I had prayed against. In that confusing season, I had the sequel to the dream, a dream that picked up right after the point the dream had ended.


In that dream, I had succeeded at launching the small ship out of the hole in the port side of the big ship. I watched as the big ship steamed on, unaware of our departure. When the great ship was out of sight over the horizon, I realized four things:

1) I suddenly saw my surroundings, and I realized that the only things I could see were waves. I had no idea where in the vast ocean I had departed from the great ship. I didn’t know where I was. I had no bearings.

2) Those waves had appeared as insignificant to the great ship. But now, in my small craft among them, they appeared much bigger. In fact, they were taller than our masts, though they did not threaten to capsize us. Suddenly, the waves captured a much greater portion of my attention. (Note: both the sky and the waves were grey.)

3) I hadn't noticed this before. My small ship still had no sails up, and I'm not entirely convinced that I had sails on board. I was not anxious about that fact; in fact, in the dream, I was not attentive to it.

4) Everything was so quiet! I could hear everything: the seabirds, the waves slapping my ship, the wind in the rigging.

As the dream ended, I realized that it perfectly represented my life in this season, where I was experiencing things I’d never experienced in my life before:

1) I was lost in a vast ocean: In truth, I didn’t actually know where I was in this great process that God is taking me through. I didn’t have any real reference points that mattered any more: experiential, social, psychological, theological. Everything was up in the air.

2) The waves appeared much bigger: There are issues around, issues that I never noticed before, that were now large and important to me. I had never really taken personal responsibility for my life and ministry before. Suddenly, I was aware of things God was emphasizing that I hadn’t even seen before. And now, I recognized gifts, particularly leadership gifts, on people outside of the traditional leadership positions, where I had never suspected them before.

3) I had no sails: It was absolutely clear that I now had no control over my life and ministry. I had no capacity to choose if I would be ministering, or where, or with whom. The most unusual opportunities kept opening up, and I had no control over them.

4) Everything was so quiet: Without all the corporate noise in the background, suddenly, I was hearing Father’s voice so much clearer than ever before.

It was incredibly comforting to have Father re-affirm all that I was experiencing, to know that he had all this in hand. Even though it was new and unsettling for me, it was still completely in his hands.

I felt the need to share this experience (or this set of experiences) because I believe that there are others who are going through this kind of transition, or similar transitions. I want to say to you: Father knows what you’re going through, you can trust him. You can trust him to speak to you through dreams, and through your friends in the transition.


A Personal History with Unchurched Believers

I grew up in the church. Later, I met Jesus in another church during the Jesus People revolution. That was far more interesting than regular church!

For decades, after I’d graduated from Bible college, I got a real Bible education in a Bible-believing church. And I learned the importance of being part of a church, a local congregation. A campfire of only one log will quickly burn out; a campfire with many logs will burn long and hot: believers, I was carefully taught, belonged in the campfire with other believers, and that meant in a Sunday congregation.

Over the next few decades, as I worked as an associate pastor with several churches, and Father began giving me a heart for His children, and as I watched God’s children in churches grow up, I became more concerned for those children that didn’t have the advantage of a church family.  

I met a small number of disenfranchised believers in this season: men and women who were angry and bitter at the church, and sometimes at God, too. And I prayed more for believers who didn’t have a church to call home. I pitied them.

I remember one particular evening while I was praying for the unchurched believers. Father showed me two things about this group of people that I felt a burden for: First, there were more of them than I ever expected, and second, that he was going to do something – something that I call revival – among them. So I prayed for that revival! And I pitied them: lost sheep without a flock to call home.

I prayed for and pitied unchurched believers for years, and as I did, Father’s love for those poor people grew in my heart, fueling more prayer, and probably more pity as well.

One spring Saturday, a friend I respected held an event that I saw as a church service for people who didn’t fit in church real well. It was encouraging for several reasons, not least of which was that I wasn’t fitting real well in my own church at that time.

Unfortunately, when I returned home, I discovered I had left my jacket, with my wallet, behind, and I didn’t recognize it until I returned home, an hour’s drive away.

The next day, I brought a friend and a cell phone with me and drove back to the site of the event. It took more phone calls than I expected by finally someone was able to tell me that my jacket was probably with “Ken and Barbie,” well outside of town.  

Great. I really don’t need a Ken or a Barbie in my life right now: I don’t need pretend, doll-type people my life. It was only a Goodwill-type jacket; I considered giving it up for lost, but my wallet was in the jacket. I couldn’t give up my wallet; I guess I needed to go visit Ken and Barbie.

When I arrived at their well-worn farmhouse, I scratched my head: this wasn’t the type of house I expected for “Ken and Barbie” type people. We knocked cautiously and were greeted by one of the more un-doll-like men I’ve ever met. And I recognized as soon as we stepped inside the house that we were well and truly welcome. I described it later as a family reunion with family I didn’t know I had.

We spent four hours together with these wonderful and genuine people, hours spent sharing their hearts, our hearts, stories of our Father. I learned that Ken had been a pastor for a number of years, but made his living as a carpenter now. I realized that even though I was currently a Pastor, I wanted to be more like these people. So I asked what I always ask: “So what church are you guys part of?”

The silence was deafening as Ken and Barbie glanced at each other, and I could see the question in their eyes: “How much should we tell them?” Eventually they admitted that they hadn’t been in church for more than a decade, and they told me their story of how God led them from “churched” believers to “unchurched” believers.

Then they told me about several of the folks I’d met and appreciated the day before, including my friend the event coordinator, and how they had also made the transition from “the churched” to “the unchurched.”

I was in a conundrum: I had believed that believers ought to be part of a church, but here were a whole lot of believers that I wanted to be like, whose life I aspired to, believers who – contrary to my training and my expectations – were solid and mature, and who were pillars of strength in their families and their communities. Here were believers who did not have the “advantage” of a local congregation, who were better believers than those that I knew who had that advantage. My head was spinning.

I needed to re-examine a belief that I’d held as unquestionable, and it started me asking a lot of questions about things I’d never questioned. Let me just summarize by saying that this was an exciting season in my walk of faith, and skip to the part where God confronted me about the church I was part of, where I was the associate pastor, where I was on the worship team, and where I was one of the primary preachers on Sunday mornings.

“When are you going to stop working in another man’s field, and start working in your own?” I knew it was time to leave the church, to leave that church, and to leave the church community in my city. I questioned whether I was supposed to “plant” my own church, but realized that that was just a distraction: we were to become part of the “unchurched” community.

I had a couple of dreams in this season: one before we left, clearly describing our preparation for leaving, and the sequel, after we left, where he warned me of three things:

1)      I would be disoriented, not knowing where I was, or where to go. And
2)      I would be powerless to steer my life, anyway, even if I did have an idea about where to go. But
3)      I would be able to hear Father’s voice substantially better, now that I was outside of the busyness of church, better, perhaps, than ever before.

He was, of course, correct: these were accurate descriptions of our life. He brought some excellent fellowship into our lives, often into our living room, and nearly always centered around a meal. And I found excellent fellowship online, of all places! That one really surprised me!

Curiously, our fellowship is better now that we were “out of fellowship” with Sunday morning congregations. That one surprised me, too. We are still people with imperfections, and we are still in relationship with people with imperfections; there’s no perfection here. We still deal with misunderstandings and stuff. That’s part of life.

But our place in the Body of Christ is more of what it should always have been, now that we’re no longer part of a congregation: better friendships, less judged, more received for who we are, more free to exercise our God-given gifts. In other words: church outside of “Sunday morning church” has been a substantial improvement.

Now, let me explain: I’m not writing this in order to give you a model to follow, or a standard to measure your life by. I’m writing this only as a testimony: this is the confused and real-life experience that I had; perhaps it might encourage you wherever you are in your own walk.

And let me encourage you in this: God is very much able to take you through whatever you’re going through, and to bring you out the other side in extreme and overwhelming victory.