An Underground Gathering

My information said that the meeting started at two o’clock or so, but I didn’t have the chance to get there for a couple more hours. Besides, I wasn’t sure about it, so I wanted to arrive after they were well under way.

By the time four o’clock rolled around, I was quite lost in the county roads trying to find the place: It was already dark, and I was looking for an old barn, maybe half a mile from the nearest paved road so finding it was no easy task. I backtracked, tried the turnoff that I’d passed by a couple of miles back, saw another truck pulling into a dirt road, and headed down the same way. The road ended at a place that was obviously not what I was looking for, but we turned off just before that, wound around some sharp corners, and emerged into a field full of parked cars surrounding a barn, looking in the dark like a flock of baby chicks around their mother hen. Out of the barn came the sound I was expecting, the sound I was looking for. When I heard it, I realized how much I’d been longing for it.

I parked my truck and walked through the parked vehicles towards the barn; I noticed some older SUVs, some fancy new cars; the variety caught my attention. There were a handful of other folks arriving, and we said very little as we approached the barn: words weren’t actually necessary. This was also the sound that they were looking for; their faces showed the same sense of expectation that I was feeling.

We slid the door open, and the sound washed over us. It was palpable, nearly physical, though it wasn’t all that loud. Inside were maybe a hundred people. Twenty or thirty of them were playing instruments, men and women, black, white and others, young and old. The instruments were equally diverse: guitars, keyboards, drums from America, from Africa, from Ireland, from Asia, from places I'd never heard of. Even a didgeridoo from Australia, wired into the sound system. There were young kids playing drums and rhythm instruments. Most of the sound came from the instruments and from the several people singing into microphones. There was a basic sound system set up, but it was obvious that this was no show.

Nobody but the handful that entered with me even knew that we had arrived. Maybe twenty people had their hands in the air, others were kneeling, still more were dancing or waving flags. Some were visiting together near the tables in the back, tables piled high with food and drink. Kids played on the dirt floor. They took nothing away from the music.

I worked my way to the back of the room. I was trying not to disturb the worshippers, but I needn’t have bothered: most of them were oblivious of my passage; those that were greeted me with the great bear hugs of old friends or the whole-hearted hugs of family; it didn’t seem to matter if they knew me before that day or not. The diversity of people struck me again: these were people from almost every imaginable background, age, race, socio-economic group, religious persuasion.

The music never took a breath. There were a couple of microphones set up where anybody could walk right up and sing along with the music; those mics were nearly always busy, with intricate harmonies and counterpoints accentuating songs that nobody had ever heard before. Before I realized it, four or five hours had passed.

There were a hundred people there, and people were coming and going throughout the night. But the audience had only One. His presence filled the room like birdsong in the spring, like a welcome home after a long journey. There were a hundred voices singing a hundred different songs, all blended into one glorious chorus, and our Audience roared back His approval.

This was worth getting lost in the backwoods county roads for. This was worth being part of.


A Season of Training for Supernatural Provision

I drive a little 4x4 truck. I love driving a 4x4 because I can take it almost anywhere.

Funny thing about trucks: they need tires. Mine needs tires. The tires on it now are steel-belted radials, and the tread is worn down so much that the steel belts are sticking out pretty badly on one back tire and not much better on the other one. The front ones aren't much better.

My truck has pretty large tires, and so they’re pretty expensive. I priced some discount tires, and a set of four cheap ones tires was $800.00. I really need all four, but I could get by with just two. But we couldn’t afford four tires or two.

As if that weren't complicated enough, I had found out when the tires were going to be on sale, and saved up most of the money for two tires. But then the truck needed a clutch, and that took all of the money I had saved for new tires. I felt thwarted.

So we didn’t buy tires. I’ve been praying about what to do for tires. I don’t trust the truck to go very far while the tires are messed up. I drive to work, to church, and to the grocery store, and I DON’T drive to anywhere else. I don’t go camping with those tires. I don’t drive to places God’s doing cool stuff. I don’t get to visit folks in other areas. It’s sad. I bought the truck so I could drive it interesting places, and I can’t go anywhere.

I’ve been talking to God about my tires. In fact, I’ve been fussing about our finances in general. Our bills are paid, but it bothers me that we can’t give generously, and I was rather complaining.

And God’s been reminding me that we’re entering a season where we need to be able to find money in the mouths of fishes, where we need to be able to feed a crowd with five loaves and two fish.

This isn’t a season of lack; it’s a season of training.

I’ve been thinking about that, and I think it’s right. We need to learn to trust God’s provision, and even learn to expect it.

So I’ve been thinking about this, about God’s provision.

Today, I needed to buy gas for the truck. I checked the account, and we can afford it, so I head over to Costco, and I’m on the phone with my friend (it’s OK, I have a Bluetooth earset). I pulled into line at Costco’s gas pumps; one line was shorter than the rest, so naturally, I chose that one.

And right there in front of me, a man was stepping out of my truck’s twin to pump gas into it. His truck was identical to mine, except I have a canopy on mine and in the back of his, he had four large tires on four wheels.

I felt a small nudge in my spirit: “Those are for you. Go get them.” I hung up the phone and got out of the truck.

“Say, those tires aren’t for sale, are they?” and I eyed the tires closely. They looked to be the right wheels to fit my truck, and the tires were about the right size. The tread on a couple of them looked real good. I'll bet they'd fit my truck.

“No, not really. I was going to sell them to a buddy of mine for twenty bucks.” Oh well. It was a nice idea while it lasted. “But he never showed up.” Say what?

“Uh, I’ll give you twenty bucks for them.” Uh… do I have twenty bucks? Oh! Yeah, I do. Hey, that’s weird.

“Hunh? Oh. Ok. I’ll meet you right over there, after you fill up. You’ll be able to find my truck.”

So I tanked up, and drove over to where he was. I backed my truck up to his, and rolled four tires from the bed of his truck to the bed of mine: they are exactly the same size as the tires on my truck. I handed him twenty dollars, shook his hand and drove off, shaking my head at my Father's loving provision.

I had just bought at least $400 worth of tires for twenty bucks. They were my tires. I just needed to recognize them. And go get them.

Thanks, Dad. I love you too.


Principles for the Prophetic Study of the Bible

In the business community, it is said that the three most important factors in the potential success of your business are “Location, location and location.”

In the world of studying the Bible, the three most important factors in the potential interpretation of a verse are “Context, context and context.”

Biblical context is described a couple of ways:

· Immediate Textual context: What do the verses before and after the one in question say? The paragraphs before and after the verse in question? Knowing the whole thought from which this one verse is taken is a key part of understanding the meaning of the verse.

· Larger Scriptural context: What does the rest of the Bible have to say about the subject that your verse is discussing? Always use scripture to interpret scripture.

· Cultural context: What did the statement in that verse mean to its first readers, its intended audience? If you’re looking at a verse in an epistle, what would it have mean to the people that the epistle was addressed to? Understanding the cultural context is important to understanding the current meaning of the verse.

I knew a woman years ago who was not a Christian. She liked the Bible, but didn’t like how Christians behaved. Her favorite illustration was a preacher who didn’t like the hairstyles of the day, so he preached Matthew 24:17 (“Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house.”) and declared, “top knot go down” decreeing that bee-hive hairdos were unbiblical. That strikes me as an abuse of the principle of context, in all three forms. She was still bitter against preachers because of that.

Slight change of direction: When studying the Bible, there are, I was taught, two ways to study it: I can study deductively, they said with a frown: I can bring my presuppositions, my theology and my pet doctrines to the Bible and look for verses that support what I already believe. Deductive Study is inferior, they said, and I’m not sure they were wrong.

Or I can study it inductively, and this was encouraged: I can lay aside all of my preconceived ideas and doctrines and let the Word teach me: I sit under it, and let the Word be my teacher, and as it teaches me, I develop my ideas and doctrines. I don’t know anybody who teaches Inductive Study who follows it completely (they all also study doctrinal texts), but it is certainly preferable than the “proof-texting” of deductive study. Inductive Study is good, of course, and it’s “the right way” to study the Bible.

I find myself torn here. These are valuable principles! I was taught these principles in my training, and they have helped me immensely. I’ve taught them to many others, presumably to their benefit. If their founders had practiced these principles, many cults and heretical groups would never have gotten started. (If their followers had practiced these principles, they would not have been led astray.)

These are valuable – nay: essential – principles for serious study of the Word of God. This is the good stuff here.

The only problem is that the Bible itself does not consistently follow them. Time and time again, the Bible takes itself out of context. Time and time again, the New Testament approaches the Old Testament with a method that is neither deductive not inductive.

Any readers that have been through Bible College will quickly label me as a heretic or worse, so I offer some illustrations:

In the first chapter of Acts, the apostle Peter blows up these principles:

"For it is written in the Book of Psalms:
'Let his dwelling place be desolate,
And let no one live in it'; and,

'Let another take his office.' --Acts 1:20

Peter is quoting from two places in Psalms in order to justify filling the position among the 12 apostles which Judas had abandoned. He starts by quoting Psalm 69 where David is writing, yet again, about “his foes”; then he quotes Psalm 109 where David is whining about the “wicked and deceitful men” who oppose him. Neither psalm is considered a Messianic psalm.

The Gospel of Mark begins with a couple of Old Testament verses to explain John the Baptist’s entrance on the scene:

1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the Prophets:
“Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,
Who will prepare Your way before You.”
3 “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the LORD;
Make His paths straight.’” --Mark 1:1-3

The first quotation is from Malachi chapter 3, and it is about the coming of the Messiah in the usual Old Testament vocabulary that mixes his first coming as a suffering servant with his second coming as a conquering king, but it is a Messianic passage: the context (according to the traditional rules) say that the verse quoted is indeed about the one who is coming before the Messiah. All is well and good.

The second passage is from Isaiah 40, and it’s clearly speaking to a discouraged nation as it tries to cope with a conquering army from Babylon knocking down their front door, preparing to haul them into captivity. The only way to know that Isaiah is talking about the Messiah is by Mark’s completely-out-of-context interpretation of it.

In these two passages, the apostle Peter and Mark, the disciple of the apostle Paul, both break the rules that I was taught about studying the Bible. They quote verses completely out of context. They interpret those verses in a way that is neither Deductive nor Inductive.

There are dozens more. John 12:17; John 10:25; Luke 2:46; Matthew 26:31; Luke 20:17….

I’ve come to describe it as Revelatory Interpretation. Looking at these passages Inductively, it appears that the Spirit of God occasionally takes verses, sentences, even brief phrases out of context and breathes new meaning, new application to them that their author never imagined.

I had an odd experience a few months ago. I was walking through my woods, on my favorite trails, and I was talking to God. OK, what I was doing was more like whining at God. I’d been going on for quite a while and when I stopped to take a breath, He interrupted me: "Are you done yet?"

It startled me. He didn’t comment about anything I had said (or whined). Rather, He reminded me of the parable of the Prodigal Son, and then He completely re-interpreted it for me in ways I’d never considered, never heard taught. It completely defused my whining, and the self-pitying attitude that was behind it, and frankly, that lesson has changed the course of my life.

He did the same thing to me that He’d done to Peter and Mark (and no, I am not comparing myself to them, other than the fact that we’re all under His teaching): He re-interpreted the Word in a way that was neither Deductive nor Inductive, in a way that disregarded context. He defied all the rules that men had taught me about interpreting the Bible, but He brought Life to it.

I am not arguing for a wholesale abandonment of the principles of sound Biblical interpretation! There is great wisdom in them, and they are tools both powerful and useful. When I have opportunity, I teach many of these tools because they’re helpful.

Rather, I am proposing that we implement those principles differently. Let us, as the Inductive method teaches, sit under the Word to learn from it, but let us also sit under the Author of the Word, and let Him teach His Word to us. If we lock ourselves in to what the Book says, then we’re perhaps in danger of becoming the right-wing kooks that the world already thinks we are. But if we treat the Word as “living and active” then it becomes “…useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

And He doesn't always respect context.

Discover, Develop, Deploy

A great portion of the work of the church can be described in these three words: Discover, Develop and Deploy.
We like the “discover” part. It includes evangelism and other tasks related to tracking down the people God is calling to Himself, and to identifying the work that He is doing in them. I love the expression of “discover” that happens in parks, on street corners and “in the marketplace.” The evangelists and pastors love bringing sheep into the fold for different reasons: the evangelist loves finding sheep, and the pastor loves shepherding them in the fold.
We even like the “develop” part. So many churches nowadays are led by men with a teaching gift, and we interpret (incorrectly, I might add, or at least incompletely) that teaching is functionally accomplishing the command “equip the saints for works of ministry.” So many teachers are excited to find audiences to teach. As a man with a teaching gift myself, I understand this snare.
But we generally overlook the “deploy” part of the equation. We miss it in three ways:
1) Our church leaders are so focused on bringing people into the church that they miss the part where we’re supposed to send them out too. We understand the metaphor of a shepherd and his sheep, but we miss the other metaphors, such as the military image that Paul uses so often in the New Testament.
2) Both church leaders and “we the sheep” are also heavily focused on the process of development. Somehow we’ve developed this perfectionist mentality that says “I need more [fill in the blank] before I can be deployed.” Maybe that’s in the form of “I need to be healed” or “I need more training in evangelism.” The goal of development is not perfection: the goal of development, of any training, is deployment.
3) We miss the ultimate point. Most Christians know of the Great Commission (“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”). How often do we overlook the first command here: “Go”! The verb is not “be sent”; it is not “be perfect”; it’s not a “be” verb of any sort.
My point is this: the ultimate responsibility for our deployment lies with us. In fact, once we come into relationship with our Commander in Chief, all three areas are my responsibility. It is not my pastor’s job to discover my giftings, my calling, my passion, the places where God’s anointing works best on me. It’s fine if he helps, but it’s not his job. It’s not my church’s job to see that I’m equipped; though doubtless the church will be part of the equipping, it’s my responsibility.
And it’s my job to hear my orders from my Commander and obey them. Since I am in relationship with my church, no doubt they’ll be of great help in my obedience, but the responsibility is mine, not theirs. The command is “Go”, not “be sent”. I am the one that “goes”; they don’t “go” for me.