Lessons From Philemon.

The book of Philemon (the last page before Hebrews) is a short letter with a big lesson for God’s revolutionary leaders today.

A little bit of background: Philemon, the guy the letter was written to, was a fairly wealthy Christian in the city of Colossae two thousand years ago. The book is a letter to him, from the apostle Paul, and about someone else: a slave named Onesimus.

Onesimus had belonged to Philemon, before he ran away from his master, which was a capital offense in those days. The moment Onesimus left, Philemon had the legal right to kill him as an example to the rest of the slaves in the household, so returning home was pretty much not an option for Onesimus: he’d burned his bridges; if he ever went home he’d be heading to the gallows.

Some time later Onesimus was arrested in Rome and thrown into jail, where he met Paul and of course Paul introduced him to Jesus. Onesimus gave his life to Christ, and Paul began – in the Roman prison – to teach him about the ways of the Kingdom. And as Onesimus grew in his understanding of God and His ways, he understood that he needed to go back to Philemon and make things right, even if it cost him his life.

Paul is a Onesimus’ spiritual father, and Onesimus is really helping him. Roman prisons are pretty ugly places (think medieval dungeon) and Onesimus – who was out of prison by now – is serving Paul, bringing him meals, relaying messages from believers outside, and generally making life bearable. But Paul sends him back to his rightful owner to resolve the issue of his crime of running away.

This letter went with him, a greeting from Paul to his brother Philemon, and it included some instruction for Philemon for this reunion. In the midst of that teaching, Paul reiterates how useful Onesimus has been, and he instructs Philemon on how to receive Onesimus (“…that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother.”). But he leaves the ultimate decision to Philemon. “I could order you to receive him, but I’m leaving the decision in your hands.”

There are two lessons here for today’s Christian leaders. (Please understand that I’m not talking about professional pastors; I’m talking about believers who lead or influence or mentor other believers, though that will include professional pastors.)

1. The people that minister with you or to you are not your people. They belong to another Master, and we need to be completely free with them; we must welcome their service and we must release them freely when their Master calls them to another place, regardless of what it costs us. Hopefully, we’ll send them to their next assignment as more equipped and able servants than when they came to us.

2. There are times when we know the answers better than those whom we’re mentoring; we understand what they need to do better than they do. And sometimes, we could functionally order them to do the “right thing.” But we must resist that! We must give them the freedom to make the decision for themselves, even if (even when) their wrong decision could hurt them and us. We can advise them; we can instruct them, but we cannot – we dare not – make the decision for them, else we make them dependent on us, not on Him. And woe unto us if we make someone dependent on us!

This was a tough lesson in Paul’s day. You can tell he really wants Philemon to make the right decision; Paul calls Onesimus “my own heart”; he really loves this guy, and he knows that he’s putting Onesimus’ life into Philemon’s hands, and if Philemon chooses what his world demands, what is legal and expected, Paul will lose a good friend, and the Kingdom of God will lose an important leader. But still Paul leaves the decision to Philemon. He still sends Onesimus back.

The Bible doesn’t tell the rest of the story, but church history does: Philemon did receive Onesimus back, and he went beyond forgiving him, and he freed Onesimus from his slavery. And Onesimus went on to become the apostolic leader over the church in the city of Colossae.

We can trust people to make the right decision, but even if it’s difficult, we still must make that choice: it’s their decision, let them make it, even if they make it wrong.

A Season Of Opening Old Wounds

Some time ago, I was working on a cedar picnic table, and I got a sliver in my hand. It was a busy day, so I didn’t get a chance to pull it out right away, and I forgot about it. Over the next several days, the spot swelled up and became painful until I got a sharp knife and cut the spot open and dug out the piece of wood.

Later, I cut my other hand, and I was “too busy” to stop and slap a bandage on it, so of course it got sawdust and dirt and germs in it before I was through with the picnic table, but the damage had been done. This wound also swelled up and got tender, and I had to open it up, but there was no chunk of cedar to pull out.

A lot of God’s people are like my hands were: we’re wounded, but the wounds are hidden, buried because we didn’t deal with the issues when they were fresh. We have two kinds of wounds: some have slivers in them, foreign stuff that doesn’t belong in our lives, and some are just infected with lies or accusations or bitterness.

The pressing problem with healing old wounds is that they must first be opened. If we’re looking at our wound or our soul, then we encounter the pain first; sometimes we feel all of the pain that put the wound there in the first place and sometimes we have all that topped by the additional pain of having remembered the wound, or feared its opening, for Lo! these many years. However, I believe that God is urging us to not focus our attention on the wound, but on Him, and as we do that, He’ll be our anesthesia: the wound will be opened, cleaned and healed, and we won’t have suffered the same debilitating pain again and again.

Let me prophesy this: we are in a season where God is opening up old wounds in His saints, bringing to the our consciousness things that we haven’t thought about for years or decades. Some, we haven’t ever dealt with, and some we have addressed, but God wants to get the last little specks out of them and clean the wounds.

God wants His warriors healed; He wants us able to fight the enemy without fear that a stray shot will hit our old wounds and knock us out of the battle. His goal is healing those hidden places, and it might hurt for a while, but he’s taking out the foreign stuff, cleaning out the infection.

There are three things that are needed to bring healing in these old wounds:

· First, we must let God take us there, but we look at Him, not at the wound. If He says to repent of stuff, we repent. If He says to forgive folk, we forgive. If He says to make declarations, we make declarations. We need to focus on what He has done, not on what He hasn’t [yet] done. Psalm 37:3 saysDwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness.” If we dwell on His faithfulness, it grows good things. If we dwell on our lack, it grows bitterness and offense.

· Second, we immerse ourselves in good input. This is more than just immersing myself in Spiritual or godly activities, it’s intentionally making place for Him to speak into my life. Worship is a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours. If I use worship to run from the work God is doing, it’s less wonderful, it’s hiding from God and the work He’s up to. But if in worship I open my heart to his scalpel, it’s more profitable for both Him and me. Immersion in the Word – sitting under Its teaching, not marking off pages or studying to teach – brings faster healing. Opening my spirit to anointed teaching CD’s or podcasts, or reading the blogs of radical God-chasing Revolutionaries will be helpful.

· Shut up and move on. OK, that was too blunt. Sorry. How about, “Let’s not complain about the process but instead, let’s position ourselves for growth by aggressively pressing forward into the good things of God.”

· Get over the blame game. We really often blame God (“It must be His will…”) or ourselves (“I must need to learn some lesson from this”). God pretty much never answers the “Why did that happen?” question, but He loves to answer the “How shall I respond?” one.

· Look for the profit. In the Bible, the standard is that stuff that is stolen from us must be repaid seven times. Your wounds, your losses can be seeds for a profitable harvest. But the thief never repays what was taken voluntarily; you must take it back, perhaps violently. It’s called plunder, and it’s yours. But that’s another story.

So don’t be surprised if old hurts come back in the weeks and months ahead: God is bringing an invitation to us: will we let Him clean the wound? Will we let Him heal us? Will we be healed so we can heal others?



Today, I prayed for a dead guy for the first time.

I was at a gathering of a bunch of God chasers, maybe a hundred, and we were in God’s presence, and we were making some declarations. God told someone there that He wanted to heal some folks, and gave some details about people’s intestines, and that person announced God’s intentions. There were some guys that recognized those details and stood up and we prayed for them, and God brought a pretty substantial measure of healing to their intestines.

Then we were worshipping some more, and Mike just got juiced up. A friend of his and mine was in the coroner’s office in another county, looking at the 25-year-old body of William, who was lying on the slab there.

What do we do? We say we believe in healing, and God had just done some of that. We say we believe in raising the dead, and we needed some of that. I know – I really know – four people who have raised the dead in the past, and I have always admired them, and their boldness is part of why I admire them.

So Mike calls our friend and asks him if he’s still there in the morgue (he was) and if it was OK for this company of people to pray for the young man (and it was). So Mike puts the phone on “Speaker”, and invites us to pray.

Suddenly, I’m overwhelmingly aware that I’ve never prayed for a dead guy before. I’ve believed this for decades, but I’ve never had a chance, and here I am, with a chance, and I don’t know what to do. I’m stormed with fears about my own issues, and I’m aware that that’s really not appropriate, so I ask God for compassion, and I go for it. All 100 of us went for it. For a long time.

I was so proud of my troop. This company of people didn’t shy away when facing Goliath. Dead guys are scary. At least when it’s time to pray and they’re looking at you. It’s terrifying. It’s like he’s shouting that he’s taken this kid and he’s not letting go, and why don’t you just give up.

But we didn’t give up. We stood up to Goliath and we looked him in the eye and we spat in his face and we went after it. We didn’t have a clue how to raise the dead, but we went for it anyway. I was so proud of the group: they didn’t chicken out.

But the dead guy didn’t stir, at least as far as I know. (If I find out differently later, you’d better believe I’ll post it here!)

And I’m aware that young William paid the price for our ignorance, our unpreparedness. We were bold, but we were ignorant, and William stayed dead. Jesus commanded us to raise the dead, and our spirits were willing, but we were weak. Our gospel doesn’t have resurrection in it yet, not really.

I want to make this declaration: if we are going to be serious about following Jesus, we need to do what He did. We need to Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. We know how to worship. We know how to pray. We are learning about prophesy and about healing the sick and about casting out demons. We have to get better at all of that, and add raising the dead. We’re good at chasing after Jesus, and we need to get good at doing the stuff that Jesus did.

On the other hand, if I keep hanging out with a troop like this, we’ll get there. The dead won’t be safe in this town.

We gotta do what we talk about. Can we keep up the pace? Can we keep pressing into Him until we get there? Or will we quit early and keep leaving people dead on the coroner’s slab?


Are You In The Right Troop?

I grew up with a great dad. When my brother and I were young, he and a friend of his started a Boy Scout troop for their boys, primarily so they could take us camping a lot. For several important years as I was growing up, we went camping eleven months out of every year.

During the first few years, we were pretty enthusiastic, but not at all skilled. But before long, we developed some actual skill at camping. After a few years, our monthly camping trips got to be less of a trial and a whole lot more fun, our meals more interesting, and we no longer worried about coming back wet, cold and defeated, and we looked forward to the week-long 50- or 70-mile trip in the summer. We didn’t earn as many merit badges as some troops did, but we camped more, and probably had more fun.

One of my friends in the troop was an Assistant Patrol Leader named Bill. He was getting pretty good at cooking over a fire and converting a flat spot in the woods into a comfortable campsite for the weekend. But Bill was not content: his goal was to advance to the rank of Eagle Scout. We’d never had anyone in our troop who was real focused on advancement before.

Before long, Bill figured out that he was among a band of brothers who were fun to camp with, but who had different goals and values from his. He needed to either realign his goals to match his circumstances, or realign his circumstances to match his goals. He chose the latter, and Bill left our troop to join another one that didn’t camp as much, but which raised up Eagle Scouts by the dozens.

Before King David became king, he ran for his life from Saul and hid in the Cave of Adullam. But while he was there, a whole bunch of people left someplace else and joined David’s troop.

1 Chronicles 12:1-2,8: Now these were the men who came to David at Ziklag while he was still a fugitive from Saul the son of Kish; and they were among the mighty men, helpers in the war… Some Gadites joined David at the stronghold in the wilderness, mighty men of valor, men trained for battle,

It’s possible to look at this as disloyalty: “I can’t leave my own people and join with another group, because that’s abandoning my people.” We see wars built on “These are my people and they’re better than another people.” Think of Northern Ireland or Somalia or Iraq.

Sure, there will always be flakes – self-centered opportunists – who wander like cows from one pasture to another, always grazing and never leaving more than manure behind. Get over them. Jesus said, “You will always have the poor among you.” Those people are not “ours” in the first place, they’re just spiritually “poor” and unwilling to change. I’m talking about people who know who they are in Christ, and who have a clue about following His leadership.

If I’ve always been part of the chess club, and I begin to develop more of an interest in backpacking than chess, then maybe it makes some sense for me to depart the chess club and join with the backpacking club.

If my church fellowship is great on teaching the Word, but doesn’t care about worship, then maybe it doesn’t qualify as the be-all end-all supply of God’s resources for me. Maybe I can help them develop a value for worship. Maybe I can start a home group that worships passionately, and so fan the flame in my own heart. Maybe I can visit another group on Friday nights who worships passionately, and maybe I can help my church value worship. But if they decide that they’re happy the way they are and don’t want to grow or change, then perhaps I need to join a troop that values worship.

Or should I stay there, ignore the paucity of spirit growing into spiritual apathy and complacency, simply because I have always been part of that group?

If I do leave the chess club and join the backpacking club (like when Bill left our troop to be part of the troop that understood about advancement) I will leave a set of established relationships and I’ll be starting over with new relationships. It’ll take years to develop good relationships. I’ll be leaving a house where I am known and presumably trusted, and I’ll be joining a group that I have common interests with, but no history of relationship. I’ll be starting over. That’s a real cost, and I need to weigh the cost.

But if the president of the chess club, or some of the young nerds in that club, were to prohibit me from leaving the club, that would be a problem. If I tried to keep Bill from leaving our troop to join the other troop, then I’m screwing up on several levels: I’m abusing Bill’s trust in me, I’m putting my interests above his and demeaning him. More than that, I’m condemning his dreams to the abyss. I may tell myself and him “Hey, our troop has more fun,” but his goal is not fun; it’s advancement, and frankly it’s a higher goal.

Obviously, I’m not writing about Boy Scouts or about chess clubs. I’m writing about the church. We can see the abuse clearly when we talk in terms of Boy Scouts or chess clubs, but sometimes we justify the same abusive behavior when it comes to churches. God is the Commander-in-Chief of the Church, and He has the right to re-assign His soldiers as He sees fit, and who in Heaven’s name do we think we are if we try to hinder His servants from obeying Him?

(Obviously, the question arises of whether the departing church member is in fact hearing God, and hearing Him correctly. I would argue that if we have taught her to hear the Master for himself, then we best not stand in the way of her obedience; if we have not taught her to hear God’s voice herself, then we’ve demonstrated our self-centeredness and affirmed the wisdom of her departure. It’s her decision: her opportunity to succeed or fail. That’s the main lesson of Philemon.)

Someone will bring up the question of the tithes of the family leaving, and since church budgets (and therefore pastors’ salaries) come from tithes, that’s a hot-button issue. “We can’t let them leave because I have a car payment and a kid in college.” Wait a minute, who is my provider? Is it this brother or sister who believes they’re obeying God in leaving, or is God my provider? And do I really believe that? What right do I have to put my budget ahead of her obedience to God?

Enough of the rant. This is a season when we’re approaching the front lines of the battlefield, and General Jesus is transferring soldiers – and high ranking officers – from one battalion to another. We’ve lived with separate streams for a while, and He’s cross-training among the streams now. He’s moving leaders from within a stream that’s strong in worship, but weak in mercy and he’s putting them in a stream that has a need to understand worship and the need for intimacy with God. He’s moving teachers to groups that understand intimacy, but lack a Biblical foundation.

When they (or you, or I) hear the call to a new assignment, certainly it’s appropriate to confirm the matter by the testimony of two or three witnesses. And if I just want to leave because this congregation is challenging me in a place that’s uncomfortable, then I’m in danger of becoming one of those cows wandering from pasture to pasture. That would be a mistake.

But when God is leading, let’s be quick to obey. And let’s encourage our brothers and sisters to obey. If we’re going to err, let’s err on the side of extravagant obedience, not on the side of timidity and security and fear. Let’s look at the bigger picture.

So are you in the right troop? Are they obeying their Master’s call? Can you help them follow their call? Can you become who God has made you to become while you’re there? Or has it just become comfortable? Are you being lulled to sleep?

Wake up! It’s time to be about His business! Plug in with people who are passionate about the stuff God is calling you to! If the people you're with aren't going where you're going, then don't go with them. Find a people going where you want to go, and go with them.



(This week's post is in outline form. That's just how it came out. Let me know if this works for you.)

Plundering the Darkness
Your Reward for the Battle
Imagine a bet: I come to you and I offer a bet:
If I win, you pay me $1000.00
If you win, I don’t pay you anything.
Who’s up for a bet like that?
Imagine a war: One country attacks another (say, the war in Iraq)
If our army wins, you submit to us, we establish the government we want, etc.
If your army wins, we’ll just pretend this never happened.
Who can imagine a war like that?
Imagine a spiritual battle: the enemy attacks us in some way.
If the enemy wins, he gets some level of dominion; something comes under the control of hell.
If I win, nothing happens. I just wait for the next battle.
Often, the church has had this picture of spiritual warfare:
We’re on the defensive.
If the enemy wins, we lose ground.
If we win, we don’t lose ground.
Not losing ground is a good thing.
But that’s not all that’s at stake in this battle.
We’re battling for revival
Revival in our own lives
Revival in our families
Revival in this region.
Ultimately: for “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”
The Principle:
1 Corinthians 15:46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural , and afterward the spiritual.
“First the natural, then the spiritual”
First the Natural:
Joshua 8:24-27: And it came to pass when Israel had made an end of slaying all the inhabitants of Ai in the field, in the wilderness where they pursued them, and when they all had fallen by the edge of the sword until they were consumed, that all the Israelites returned to Ai and struck it with the edge of the sword… 27 Only the livestock and the spoil of that city Israel took as booty for themselves, according to the word of the LORD which He had commanded Joshua.
2 Chronicles 20:22-30: Now when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated.... 25 When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take away their spoil, they found among them an abundance of valuables on the dead bodies, and precious jewelry, which they stripped off for themselves, more than they could carry away; and they were three days gathering the spoil because there was so much.
(see also 2 Chronicles 14:12-13 & Numbers 31:7-11)
There’s a line in the movie Pirates of the Carribean where two pirates are talking. Their salute is this:
“Take all you can! Leave nothing behind!”
Why should I be concerned about plunder? I just want to live my life quietly.
Three Reasons:
1. The enemy will steal from you. Do you want it back?
What do you have that you’re willing to be stolen from you?
What part of your life are you willing to have destroyed?
Look around you:
· Pick out the ones that you want to leave to the devil’s captivity?
· Who are you willing to let the devil destroy or kill?
2. It brings praise to God
My spirit just can’t help it: when I hear about someone healed of cancer, or set free from bondage, I can’t help but worship.
Free people worship better than people enslaved.
3. It freaks out our enemies.
Think of David after he defeated Goliath.
He took Goliath’s sword, killed Goliath and cut off his head. Then he fought Philistines. Afterwards, he reported to King Saul
He was still holding Goliath’s Head! The enemies saw the one who killed their champion. He was carrying their champion’s sword in one hand. He was carrying their champion’s head in the other, and he was chasing them. How do you think they felt?
What is plunder?
There are 3 types of plunder :
Let’s think about this for a minute:
· When the enemy comes to fight against you, these three things come with him.
· When you win, these three things are lying on the ground, waiting to be taken as plunder.
· Your job is to take them.
People: They took slaves: usually everyone who wasn’t a warrior. Sometimes women & children. Sometimes only women. Sometimes none at all.
· Have you known people that just won’t come to the Lord no matter what happens?
· Is there an area of your own life that you just can’t get under control, no matter how hard you try?
Provision: They took gold and silver, cattle and sheep, fine clothes and weaponry.
· Do you know someone that no matter how faithful they are, they can never get ahead?
· Have you been faithful in your tithes and in your finances, but you’re still broke or in debt?
Places: They took cities and farms, entire nations.
· Do you know cities or regions where darkness seems particularly sticky and present?
· Do you want to have authority in your community? Maybe your name will never be in the newspaper, but when you pray for your neighborhood, it always happens?
So are there any New Testament examples of plunder?
Matthew 12:28-30
28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can one enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.
According to Jesus, what do we do when we encounter the strong man?
1. We bind him. (We overcome him & we defeat him.)
2. We plunder his house. (We take back the stuff he has held captive)
Who is this strong man?
This verse is in the context of deliverance ministry: Jesus is casting demons out of people. It is not the devil himself. This strong man is whatever demon or stronghold you are facing right now.
How do you take plunder?
So you have defeated the enemy. Now how do you get your hands on his plunder?
Principle: First the natural, then the spiritual: In the natural, how do you get plunder? Do you finish off the enemy, and hold your pocket open, waiting for his riches to fill it? No, you take plunder. You look for what is there, and you take it!
** Principle: Plunder is never given; it is only taken **
In the spiritual:
I can’t give you an outline on “here’s the way you pick up plunder in the spirit,” but let me share a couple of stories:
· People:
o David Andrew and the spirit of homosexuality. After his deliverance, the local “gaydar” expert boasted, “I can tell a gay person instantly; no gay people here!”
o Jill and her miracle daughters (you’ve heard her story)
· Provision:
o I could tell you story after story about people who give extravagantly, and they seem to get into a giving-competition with God: provision is rich and abundant.
o Steve: In debt, wanted to get a big TV for Christmas. God said “no more debt”. 3 days later: same size TV for 40% less money, and God provided the money. Result: a surprise blessing on his finances: he paid off 2 credit cards and nearly paid off his car loan.
· Places:
o Drug dealers on V Street. After prayer, they all mysteriously vanished.
o Town in Argentina (Transformations Video). When they turned to God, they experienced 65% to 92% of the town becoming Christians, incredible prosperity instead of poverty, and the jails closed down because there was no crime.
What if I don’t win the battle?
Romans 8:37-38
37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
1 Corinthians 15:57
57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
If you’re afraid of losing the battle, you need to read your handbook.
If you’re not winning, then you’re not fighting your battles the way God says to. He always wins.
Ask your brothers and sisters for help.

Once you find the plunder:
Take all you can! Leave nothing behind!


The Miracle Truck

I drive a miracle truck. Here’s how it happened.
I’ve been looking unsuccessfully for a truck for about the last nine months. I’ve checked all of the car lots, watched the papers, had professionals look for the right truck. I’ve even prayed extensively for a truck. During an extended time of prayer one weekend, I told the Lord specifically what I wanted in a truck, and I listed about fifteen very detailed specifications that were on my heart. I was specific about the year, the mileage, the engine size, the bed size, the number of seat belts (5), and even the color.
After two years of this, I concluded that this desire for a truck was not God’s desire; that this was my flesh rising up. So I confessed it, repented of it, and renounced the desire. I expected the desire for the truck to leave.
No such luck. The desire grew. The more I renounced it, the more the desire grew. Aargh. I couldn't get away from the desire for a truck. THIS specific truck on my prayer list from months earlier.
One day, I was trying hard NOT to observe this nice truck that fit most of my specifications, and I heard a little voice say in my mind, "I can give you a truck like that." Now, I didn’t know God's voice as well as I thought I should, but that did NOT sound like His voice, so I rebuked it in Jesus Name, and asked God to shut the mouth of the devil. Besides, that wasn't the kind of thing God would talk to me about! ...Was it?
About this time, God began speaking to me about my prayer life. He instructed me to pray a little less along the lines of “Oh God, would you please….” and more along the lines of, “Move! In the Name of Jesus, you’re coming down!”
You know, this didn’t settle all that well with my Calvinist upbringing. But I wanted ALL that God had for me, so I began to seek Him about it. The more I prayed, the more I felt like I ought to at least TRY praying that way before I wrote it off. I was willing to risk my understanding of "How God Does Things" if that was what He really was asking me to do.
So one afternoon, I got a little bold. Amidst many prayers of “God, if this isn’t of you, don’t hold it against me, OK?” I decided to try this kind of "commanding prayer." I had several things on my mind to pray for, some that were real significant eternally, and that I felt that I wanted to pray for. If this was going to work, I wanted to use it on something Really Important. But it seemed that God was leading me to pray for a truck. THE truck. The truck on the list.
So I did. I commanded the truck to be released, in Jesus’ Name, from whatever was holding it back. It wasn’t their truck anymore, it was mine, and it was time for me to take possession of it!
Ok. That was wierd. But as long as I was experimenting, I added, “And I want it here by Friday!”
In the intervening days between then and Friday, I had to wrestle doubts to the ground a couple of times, and that was a challenge. On Friday morning, I realized that I hadn’t specified a price. Then I reminded myself that if God had a truck in mind, He’d know my budget, too. And if He didn’t have a truck in mind, then I’d know that I had bigger problems with my theology than I did with my finances.
To make a long story short, I bought the truck on my lunch hour that Friday. It matched EVERY ONE of the specifications on my list--even the color!
That was several years ago. I still can’t get into the truck without thanking God for His faithfulness!


The Curse of the Bell Curve

I have come to resent the bell curve. No, that’s not strong enough. I’ve come to loathe the bell curve.

The bell curve itself is unworthy of my wrath. It’s merely a chart, a tool to handle information and present it in a way that makes some sense out of a subject as complex as the human being. Psychologists love bell curves; come to think of it, that may have something to do with my opinion of the thing.

Almost any way you examine the human species, most of us fall in the middle, and less of us are exceptional either in the positive or the negative. The vast majority of us are of average intelligence. There are a few exceptionally brilliant ones and a few that are were paying attention to something else when God passed out reasoning ability. That’s what the bell curve measures: how many of us are average and how few of us are exceptional, whether ahead of the curve or behind it. The vast bulk of our species is somehow in the realm called “average” and then there are the leftovers that don’t fit into that group.

The Bell Curve Theory says that all points on the chart – both the masses in the middle, and the tiny quantities at the fringes – are legitimate: it’s not “wrong” to be on the cutting edge, or the trailing edge, any more than it’s wrong to be in the vast middle ground.

I don’t know that I’ve ever met a truly “average” person, and so I question whether the bell curve is all that accurate at describing our species, but that’s not my primary problem with the thing. Nor is my antipathy based on its reduction of a complex and beautiful species down to a handful of simple statistics. Rather, my frustration with it is much deeper. Let me illustrate.

I am the proud father of three spectacular teenaged examples of what’s good and right with the human species. My children are all wonderful, but they are as different from each other as I can imagine. I used to think this was merely the wonder of my own offspring, but my sister has five children, and they are equally diverse; I’m coming to the conclusion that kids are human beings – not an opinion I’ve held my whole life, I’m afraid – and they are as unique as the human species is.

Of necessity, I am also the father of three examples of the product of my community’s educational system. And this leads me to the heart of why I despise the bell curve. In our community, the school system is designed for the “average” student, their programs and teaching styles designed to fit the bulk of kids that fit in that vast middle ground o the bell curve. Since my kids are not “average”, they’ve had to adapt themselves to the school’s methods in order to benefit from its lessons. One daughter learns best, for example, when she can talk through the process one-on-one, and when she can work with her hands; another daughter took the toughest classes the school had and still wasn’t sufficiently challenged. The school makes room for neither.

As a teacher, I understand the benefit of kids adapting to the methods of the teachers. As a father, I resent the requirement that they must change or else be excluded. But the school system has become an education factory, and of necessity must adopt factory methods, and these require addressing the bulk of the bell curve.

The same problem has infiltrated the Church, and this is where the bell curve really irks me. The overwhelming majority of churches – local congregations, large and small – are built for the bell curve: the majority of churches cater to the majority of Christians, those who are “average.” And just like the school system, if I hope to gain something from my association with the church, I need to learn to adapt myself and my needs to the “average” ministry that is being provided by my church. That is never stated, but it’s true nevertheless: I must learn to conform to the way they offer church if I want to receive from their offerings. I must meet when they meet, I must learn from the lessons they teach in the way that they teach them, I must benefit from the spiritual gifts they manifest, and I must find someone to trust among their limited circle of people. It’s almost as if the church were becoming a factory, too.

This strikes me as a question of integrity. I can conform, and fit into the “average” mold, but that sacrifices the man God made me to be for the sake of conformity, or I can maintain my integrity, but sacrifice my ability to relate to my church and the resources God has there for me.

It seems to me that part of the reason is that churches have fallen into something of a pragmatic mindset: “How can we reach the largest number of people with limited resources?” (If, however, the church contains the presence of the infinite God, then perhaps there’s room to question the “limited resources” issue, but that’s another conversation, isn’t it?) It is awfully appealing to look at an established budget of time and money, and look at that bell curve, and realize, “I can start this program which will be meaningful to 5% of the population, or that program, which will be meaningful to 60% of the population, but I can’t do both. Where do I want to spend my budget?”

Jesus has been quoted as saying “A bruised reed [I] will not break, And smoking flax [I] will not quench.” He promises to take each of us as we are and rescue us, equip us, and unleash us into an unsuspecting world. The key phrase here is “as we are.” Even if we don’t fit “average” we belong in the Church.

I could go on about how much of the Church is embracing the values of the business world in making spiritual decisions, but that won’t solve anything. More to the point, how shall I respond myself? What can I do to fight the curse of the bell curve? How do I maintain my own integrity and still be part of a congregation that doesn’t mean to, but nevertheless does require conformity to function? Beyond that, what can I do to address the needs of the people at the fringes of the bell curve, the ones who are functionally overlooked by the local church? What can I do? Oh, wait. The Infinite God lives in me too.