Receiving Testimony

After Jesus died and was resurrected, things were different. And as that resurrected One, he joins the boys for dinner:

Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. (Mark 16:14)

So here’s the resurrected Creator Son of God, freshly back from kicking hell and death in the teeth, sitting down with the eleven survivors of his intense 3-year training. Functionally, this is their graduation ceremony: he’s just about to commission them to go into all the world and represent him. So what does he say to them?

He rebukes them! And he rebukes them, not for what they’ve done, but for what they’ve not done. So what is this big sin that they’ve done, big enough that it needs to take center stage at their graduation? It’s not believing the testimony of others who had seen him.

The previous verse is one example: the apostles didn’t believe the boys who had encountered Jesus on the Emmaus Road: two guys have an experience of Jesus that is both outside the apostles’ control and outside of their understanding of how Jesus does things. Naturally, they’re cautious about a couple of country bumpkins stumbling in well after dark, shouting, “I seen ‘im!”

They had already rejected the testimony of the ex-prostitute who first discovered his empty tomb. And after they had rejected these testimonies, Jesus appeared to them personally. Their reaction was marked by fear and unbelief.

I do not say this to my credit: I understand why the apostles didn’t believe. I know that place of emotional weariness, where I really don’t want one more strange person telling me one more strange experience; I just want to process the grief I’m overwhelmed with. And I know that place of pastoral caution, where I’m thinking violent thoughts about the next freak that feeds my sheep lousy food based on screwball experiences, and I’m about ready to pull an Indiana Jones on the guy. I understand why they didn’t receive the testimonies.

Jesus, however, is not so patient. He clearly expects better of them. He rebuked them for not believing the bumpkins and the ex-hooker.

Our translation doesn’t do justice to the Greek word “oneidizo,” which is being translated “rebuked” in this verse. Here are some of the definitions for the Greek word:
  • to reproach someone, with the implication of that individual being evidently to blame.
  • to speak disparagingly of a person in a manner which is not justified - 'to insult.'
  • to upbraid, to throw it in one’s teeth.
  • In a more literal translation, the same word is variously translated, denounce, insult, insulting, reproach, reproached, reviled.
My point is this: Jesus was pretty serious about the topic he was “rebuking” them for: this was a big deal to him; he was clearly chewing them out!

If Jesus is that serious about it, I probably ought to be. I observe a couple of principles from this verse:
  • The Head of the Church expects me to believe the testimony of experiences with God from disreputable people. Since Jesus’ birth was announced to shepherds and foreign astrologers, I guess we should not be surprised that he continues to use freaks and outsiders to tell his story.
  • But freaks and outsiders have other stories to tell than just God’s story. There is nothing in this verse – or in the rest of Scripture, as far as I can tell – that suggests that we need to believe every story. We still need to discern. We still need to eat the meat and spit out the bones.
  • I don’t like this one: If I reject the (true) testimony of freaks, then I’ll not recognize him and his work when it’s my turn for a powerful experience with him. The boys rejected Mary’s testimony, rejected the bumpkins’ testimony; it’s my opinion that this rejection led to their unbelief and fear when Jesus interrupts their grief-filled dinner party later.
  • But Jesus doesn’t leave them in that cold, scary place. He breaks into the party and corrects their mistake, which leads to:
  • Learning to learn from others’ testimonies appears to be preparation for fulfilling the Great Commission; note that verse 15 follows 14 in the same conversation in Mark 16.
One last note: I suspect that in the 21st century, discernment may be even more needful than the first century. Bumpkins and ex-prostitutes are mixed in with demoniacs, heretics and Pharisees online, and we can’t look for drool in their beards to identify them. But we still need to draw the sacred from the profane.


Choosing Your Course in the River

The current move of God, sometimes called revival, is often compared to a river. The illustration is that the “River of God” is this current revival, and we can get in the river, or we can stay on the dry land.

I think it’s time that we expand that metaphor. For those who have been in the river, it’s been good to be in the move of what God is doing. It’s certainly been exciting, fairly often, it’s been confusing, and it has not been boring.

One of the basic truths about a river is that a river never holds still. A river is always moving from its source to its destination. Sometimes, I fear that we’ve missed this truth about the River of God: it’s going somewhere. For this article, I will leave aside the very appropriate questions of whether we approve of where the river is going; I’m going to assume that if you’re in this river, you want to be in this river, and you want to go where it is going.

When I was a kid, my friends and I got some inner tubes, drove upstream, jumped into the local river, and floated down the river. We ended up terribly sunburned, bruised from bouncing off of things, very late to work (the river was slow that day) and altogether, kind of disappointed. I decided that day that floating out of control was not my favorite way to enjoy a river: the reality is that when you’re drifting in a river, like a piece of driftwood, you’re at the mercy of the river’s currents: wherever it goes, you must go. We ended up stock on sandbars more times than I could count.

If you want to be able to choose your position in the river, you must be paddling: forward or back, it doesn’t matter for the purpose of control (though it matters greatly for the purpose of progress). Being intentional give us freedom to choose; if we just float along with the crowds, well always go where the crowds go, and that is certainly not always a good choice. Remember the lemmings.

I have decided that, in this adventure in the river, I want to make progress: I want to choose my path in the river, rather than drift lazily from place to place, I want to avoid the (many) obstacles, and while I am thoroughly enjoying the trip, I really am eager to reach the destination: I want to make choices that take me there quickly. This isnt about control (though some make it that); this is about choosing responsibility over leisure or slothfulness.

Years ago, when I was a young buck, I went on a very real river adventure. A group of us from my college, with a professional adventurer as a guide, went on an expedition in the far north reaches of Canada. Over the course of seven weeks, we canoed 1400 miles (and carried the canoes overland on 40 portages!) over five river systems up near the arctic circle in the territory now known as Nunavut, Canada.

This was back in the day before cell phones: we were pretty well stuck in the arctic north until we made it to Hudson’s Bay, and the little village (eponymously called Eskimo Point) there. There were several dangers from living in the arctic, but the greatest dangers may have been from the rivers themselves. Powerful things, rivers are; they can wrap an 18’ Grumman aluminum canoe around a rock in a river in about half a second. Knowing that danger, we all studied the river very carefully, and we chose our course down the river very carefully.

In reality, there were several dangers that could cause us real troubles in the rivers. All of them came from choosing our course poorly. There were some basic principles we used for choosing our route down the river.

  • When you’re coming up on obstacles in the river, steer clear. The spiritual principle is straitforward: as we travel through this revival with Jesus, there will be obstacles: there will be things that can offend us, thing that are done wrong, mistakes that are made. We have a choice: get out of the river or steer clear of the mistakes, and instead focus on the good things that God is doing in you here. If you want to find problems (and some people do), then you’ll pay a serious price for your labors.

  • There are two places in the natural course of a river, where the river actually flows backwards. Both are dangerous. The first is behind rocks in the middle of river, where the current can draw you in, under the water pouring around the rock and sink you quickly.

(It's curious that the place of “moving backwards” is connected with the obstacles, isn’t it?) The other is along the edge: there are very strong eddies where the water swirls backwards. If you’re not careful, they can flip your canoe in an instant. I know: I’ve done it. Principle: There are some people in the river that are not moving forward in God. There are some folks that have “tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,” but have not moved forward in God. These are also to be avoided. Wherever God is moving, there will be people resisting his move. That does not need to be us.

  • When you’re coming up on multiple rocks in the river, the water forms a “V” between them. Keep to the deep water in the center of that “V”. Even a tiny rapids, if handled poorly, can sink a canoe in seconds. I did experience this one first hand. It was … uncomfortable. Principle: stay in the deep places in God. Don’t snuggle up close to obstacles or offenses: stay as deep as you can in what God is doing.

  • I’ve already mentioned the danger of the current wrapping a canoe around a rock. I’ve seen that done (it didn’t happen on this trip!), and it is very much NOT pretty! Principle: When we are in the River of God, there is real danger from the obstacles. Our ability to participate in the river may be destroyed if we get hung up on the naysayers, on the problems, on the religious spirit that loves to destroy what God is doing.

  • Some rocks never cleared the surface of the water. Just below the surface, they lurked, ready to tear the bottom out of our aluminum canoe. Principle: There are dangers you don’t see. Use your gift of discernment to avoid things that ‘seem’ OK but really aren’t. Failure to discern may hurt you badly.

  • We could get hung up on a gravel bar, or a sandbar. If you don’t watch where you’re going, you may end up watching the rest of your party disappear around the bend while you and your mates jump overboard and get completely cold and wet, as you wrestle your boat off the sandbar and back into the real current. Principle: A wise man once said, “Major on the majors and minor on the minors.” The trick to avoiding the sandbars is to stay where the river is deepest: to train yourself to watch ahead where the deep places are and stay in the deep waters. Those who don’t watch carefully will be the ones stuck on the sandbar.

  • When the river turns, the inside of the turn is shallow, often filled with sandbars or gravel bars. The deep water is toward the outside of the turn, but not the very outside of that turn. The inside of the curve is the sandbar: a wonderful place for a picnic, watching others make progress while you are not. The outer fringes are dangerous: rocks, trees, roots and other freshly exposed obstacles are in the way of your progress. The deepest place is just inside the curve from those obstacles: stay there. Principle: Haven’t we heard this before: Stay in the depths. Stay in the heart of what God is doing and saying. Avoid the fringes. Avoid the shallows. Don’t go there: focus on staying in the depths.

  • There are times when the rapids get too strong, too tumultuous. In times like that, staying to the shallows is a fine way to travel. Principle: there are times when revival is overwhelming. I know a number of people who have gotten burned out on 7-day-a-week meetings, or who have lost their families because they were always following every little thing that God might have been doing. Principle: When things get intense, relax. Don’t feel like you need to be in the middle of everything. Sometimes, being in the middle of everything will kill you.

  • Some places are so dangerous, or are so shallow, that the only thing you can do is get out of the river and carry your boat and all its contents to another place in the river, or to another river. Principle: A revival is the move of God among human beings. It is entirely possible that the humans involved can go completely “off the deep end,” or they can steward the revival so carefully that the whole thing peters out. When it stops bringing life, stop giving your life to it. It’s completely OK to quit participating in something that has been taken over by religion, or that has had all the life choked out of it.

There’s the secret about river travel: if you want to make progress fast, stay in the depths. The riverbed has a profile: there are deep places and shallow places along the entire length of the river.

In a relatively young river, or near its source, the river is likely to have more obstacles, more dangerous rocks and snags. As the river ages, or as you move out of the mountains into the flatlands, the river is less dangerous, but you have far more curves to deal with, along with the erosion that comes with them.

If we commit ourselves to the depths of what God is doing, then we’ll make the best progress, we’ll grow up the fastest, we’ll reach maturity as quickly as possible. It’s true: we’ll miss out on the sandbars, on getting hung up on obstacles, on being destroyed. Won’t that be a shame?


Upgrading Worship

There’s a wonderful worship song that sings about “Take me into the Holy of Holies.”

Take me past the outer courts
Into the secret place,
Past the brazen altar,
Lord, I want to see Your face.
Pass me by the crowds of people,
The priests who sing Your praise;
I hunger and thirst for Your righteousness
And it’s only found in one place.

Take me in to the Holy of Holies,
Take me in by the blood of the Lamb;
Take me in to the Holy of Holies,
Take the coal, cleanse my lips, Here I am.
Take the coal, cleanse my lips, Here I am.

By Dave Browning
©1986 Glory Alleluia Music CCLI #19272

I was in my quiet place, worshiping with this song this morning, giving voice to my desire to lay aside other things and draw close to him, and I was enjoying his tender response to me: I could feel his presence responding to my cry and snuggling close with me. Since I was in a public coffee shop, it was kinda weird, but who cares? God & I were connecting; when that happens, everything else is superfluous!

And in the middle of all of that, God interrupts our reverie together. “That’s Old Covenant. Aim higher.” There was no sense of condemnation or rebuke with his words, but a clear invitation to more.

Hunh? What? Um… Tell me more….

And he did. He began by pointing out that the whole imagery of the song is from the old covenant, from the Tabernacle of Moses and from the Temple of Solomon: the Holy of Holies was a kind of a secret room where one priest went, on one day out of the entire year, into the place that was supposed to hold God’s presence. The intent of the song is really good: “I want to be in your presence!” but the theology is weak, the goal is too low. The song is crying for God to take me to a place on earth, in a man-made, off-limits, structure, where God promised to put his presence from time to time. In fact, that’s kind of how we talk about God’s presence sometimes: kind of off-limits, hidden away, and sometimes we get access there on a special occasion.

He went on: “Why would you still want me to give you access to the special place on Earth when I’ve already given you access to my very presence in Heaven?” He was offering to upgrade my worship. By this time, I’m pretty excited. Yeah? Tell me more! Please!

  1. You’re aiming to enter a place on Earth I used to visit sometimes. I’m not like that; really, I never have been like that. I encourage you to come to the place in Heaven where I am always present.

  2. You’re asking me to do it for you. Don’t do that. I’ve already made the way available to you, any time you want! New Covenant is ‘Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.’ That’s what I want from you.

While we talked, he seemed to focus on the second point. When I was a child, it was really appropriate to ask my Mommy or Daddy to take me where I wanted to go. But I’m not a child any longer, he gently reminded me, and he’d rather relate to me as a mature son, as a co-heir of the Kingdom of God, seated with Jesus.

It’s not his job anymore, he explained, to bring me in. It’s my job to come in. The imagery was from my own life: my son has grown up and moved out and made his own home, and has his own responsibilities, but he’s always welcome in my home. If we’re going to visit together, it’s not my job to drive to his house, pick him up, bring him to my house and carry him through the front door. Let’s face it: that would be weird.

But that’s what I was asking God to do with me. I began to understand why he demurred.

I don’t know why, but I am often hesitant about intruding on others’ space. And I have friends that are freaked out by the thought of “taking trips to Heaven” to visit God. Yeah, that’s not commonly taught. But Father pointed out, “Jesus did it. He even talked about it. Interesting, isn’t it, that so few hear him say it.”

“No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man” – John 3:13

Apparently Jesus, in his private prayer times, would – in some way that is available to me – visit heaven. Oh wait, Paul did it. Enoch appeared to do it (He didn’t come back!). And it was kind of normal for John. There is precedent for this.

So I am feeling challenged, provoked, to upgrade my worship in 2011:

  • I want to worship – at least some of the time – from Heaven, not from earth toward heaven. I’m seated there, I can do that.
  • I want to worship as a mature son, not dependent on Him or others for my entry into his presence. I want my visits to be characterized by “coming boldly.”
  • I want my life to be characterized by the fact that – while I’m walking around on the dirt down here – I’m also seated with Christ at the right hand of our Father’s throne: I’m also actually in heaven, while I’m on earth. I want that to infuse my life.

How will you upgrade your worship this year?