Thursday

What Makes You Married?

Here’s an awkward question: what constitutes a marriage?

The Bible has lots of wisdom about how to make your marriage good, and a fair bit of discussion about whether marriage is the right choice.

But it never says, “This is what you do to become married.”

I know how people get married in my culture: there’s a marriage license from the state. You involve either a preacher or a judge or officiant of some kind. There are some vows, and a declaration of some sort. But not one of those is in the Bible, either as instruction or by example.

From a Biblical perspective, how do you actually become married? What do you do that makes you a married person now, instead of a single person?

I had reason to search this out a while ago. A good friend of mine, a person of faith, had begun to share a household with a woman he cared deeply about. That happens a lot, yes, and maybe we’re too quick to judge. I’m becoming convinced that being a Christian is more about loving people than judging them, so I focused on loving them, and not judging them, even in my mind.

And I saw things I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

The first thing I saw was that they had clearly chosen this relationship, and this was a relationship of love, not of convenience, not of sex, not of whatever.

Beautiful Wedding Couple, Bride And Groom Holding Hands Looking Stock Photo - Image of lovers ...Over the weeks and months that I knew them, I realized how committed they were to that relationship. They’d never done a ceremony, so nobody had asked them the traditional question, but I watched them live it out: “Do you promise to love her, comfort her, honor and keep her for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, and forsaking all others, be faithful only to her, for as long as you both shall live?”

They did that well.

In fact, I had to acknowledge that their relationship was a better illustration of what I think a marriage should be like than an awful lot of couples I knew that had gotten the license and the preacher and the service.

I had to confess that this confused me.

I couldn’t, in good conscience, refer to her as “your girlfriend,” because there was so much more than that in that relationship. Made-up terms like “significant other” or “partner” felt, well… made up, insufficient to describe this relationship.

Honestly, the word that fit was “your wife,” because that’s what she was in his life. Except that she wasn’t.

I was more confused now than before.

So I searched the scriptures. The question that drove me was “What is it that makes a couple ‘husband and wife’?” And the scriptures were remarkably silent on the topic. People got married all the time, and it talked about marriage all the time, but what they did to become married was never discussed. Genesis 29 shows a glimpse, but no more than a glimpse.

So the best I can come up with from the Bible is four components of creating a marriage. If you’re going to get married, as I see it in the example of the Bible (it’s not even mentioned in the teaching), you apparently have to do four things.

1) You have to make some sort of public statement. “We’re getting married” seems like it should be enough. In other words, this is something you declare in your community, not something you go off privately or do secretly.

2) Apparently, you have a party. There’s a bunch of people, they eat and drink and celebrate. If Jesus is around, apparently there will be good wine (see John 2).

3) You go to bed together.

4) Then you live together; you make a household.

I can’t find any more than these four in Scripture, which tells me that the other 99% of what we do in American culture is cultural: the best man, the bridesmaids, the ceremony, the “officiant” (whether preacher or justice of the peace), the certificate, the honeymoon. All of that is mere fluff. Some of it’s nice fluff, but it’s not part of what gets the deed done.


So I didn’t make a big deal out of it, but I began referring to my aforementioned friends using the word “husband” and “wife” where it felt appropriate. At one point, I explained that they did a better job of marriage than a lot of officially-married couples I knew, and we moved on. In other words, I blessed them in their relationship.

Some months later, he pulled me aside while we were all hanging out together. “So… would you like to do a marriage ceremony?” There was much rejoicing, a little bit of planning.

A few months later, in a gathering of their friends in the back yard, they spoke out loud the commitment that they’d been walking out for years.

Then we had a party.

More Thoughts on Job and His Sorry Friends

The more time I spend with Job, the more I’m impressed, both with the man and with the lessons that his book teaches me.

He started out as the richest, most influential man in the area. He was a godly man, and his godliness cam naturally; it wasn’t a performance.

Then disaster struck and took “everything he [had]” from him. What a mess. You can’t help but feel sorry for the guy.

Job starts out whining and feeling sorry for himself. His focus began as “Why God? Why me?”

Forty chapters later, Job still didn’t have the answers to that question, but he stood in respect of God rather than in accusation of God.

God’s response to Job’s “Why?” questions was essentially, “Son, this is above your pay grade.” I infer (and it is an inference; the Book doesn’t say it outright) that essentially Job didn’t know enough for the real answer to his “Why” question make any sense. I that’s true for me sometimes, too.

This morning, a couple of thoughts stick with me from Job:

• I find myself wondering if it would be wiser to bypass the self-pity and “accusing God” stage and just skip to the end: “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted…. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore … I repent.”

Still chewing on that one. I’m not sure that’s actually a real-world option when you’re actually in the thick of it. But it would have saved Job so much pain had he been able to go there. Which leads me to the next observation:

• When satan took “everything he [had],” he didn’t take Job’s three self-righteous friends with the funny names (“Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite”). And listening to how they were “helping” Job, I can understand why: they were part of his trials, not part of him getting over his trials. Their “counsel” was part of why it took Job so long to actually connect with God.

I have decided I don’t want to be one of that kind of friend any more.

Literal or Metaphor

I’ve found myself coming back over and over to Jesus’ conversation with Nick at night in John 3. I have realized something new about Nick’s communication, how it differed from Jesus’ communication, how that difference got in the way of Nick understanding what Jesus was saying, and how often I’ve done the same thing. made that same mistake, and not merely once or twice.

Here’s the passage:

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him." Jesus replied, "Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again." "How can someone be born when they are old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother's womb to be born!" Jesus answered, "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.'  [John 3:1-7]

Recently I realized that Jesus was speaking metaphorically, while Nick – not understanding metaphor – was trying to understand his words literally. No wonder Nick had such trouble figuring Jesus out.

“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?” [verse 10]

Then I recognized that those two facts are related: Nick did not understand how Jesus was teaching because he was Israel’s teacher: because he spent his days studying the scriptures. He approached scripture very literally, and that literal way of interacting with the scriptures kept him from understanding what God was doing right in front of him.

That has been me often enough. I’ve approached scripture so terribly literally that I have misunderstood my Father who speaks literally sometimes and metaphorically sometimes. I’ve prided myself for not being afraid to interpret scripture literally, and yet that very literalist approach has often kept me from seeing, from understanding what God was doing in me, right in front of me.

Because God does not always speak literally.

The Great Cloud of Witnesses: An Exercise


Here’s an interesting spiritual exercise if you’re interested.

Hebrews 12 begins with this image: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”


I’ve been reflecting on that great cloud of witnesses. This passage starts with “Therefore,” which means “Because of what we’ve just talked about....” All of Hebrews 12 rests on the foundation of Hebrews 11, the “Hall of Faith.”

The great cloud of witnesses, then, is all the saints of God that have gone before us: the famous ones, the great ones, the ordinary ones, the nobodies. By now that’s several billion witnesses that are watching us run our race. Some of them are my predecessors, though it may take a number of generations before I find the interesting ones.

• The exercise that I’m working on this morning is reflecting on specific “whos” that are among that great crowd. Most of these are family members that have gone before me. In my line, there were some preachers several centuries ago, and Sunday school teachers in more recent years, and I know of one or two forbears whose names show up in history books. I’m thinking of them.

• And I’m thinking specifically of them witnessing my race, my life, my choices. I absolutely reject the idea of making my choices because of how it looks to others, even to them, so that’s not it. But I consider their thoughts and feelings as their look on their great (or more) grandson. Are they embarrassed? (What would they be embarrassed about? Heaven has already blotted out my sins!) Are they cheering me on? They’re probably not bored!

• Most of all, I’m trying to look at my life from their perspective: They see the great plan of God. They see history from beginning to end as they’re watching me. What do they see in my life (which is different than what I see in my life) that relates to the great plans of God.

My encouragement then is to take some time and ask Holy Spirit to show me some of what’s going on as the great cloud of witnesses watch me, and specifically as these witnesses that I can think of are watching me, what’s their response to me? Are they cheering? Can they offer strength or encouragement?

This crosses my mind: “What do family members do when they’re watching one of their kids or grandkids running a race? Especially, what do they do when they are approaching the end of the race?” Why they stand up and cheer, don’t they?

Do you see them cheering for you? Can you hear them? Can you feel their joy in you? Their pride in you? Their excitement as your race is approaching that next interesting thing in the purposes of our mutual King?

If you try this, what do you experience? What do you see? What do you hear? Who’s cheering the loudest? Who’s poking the angels and pointing you out?

Testimony: Date Nights

Early in our marriage, we realized that marriage is work. If our marriage was going to be as good as we knew it could be, as we hoped it would be, we knew that it would take work. We needed to invest in our marriage: in the relationship.

So very early on, even before we had children, we started the practice of weekly date nights. We set aside one evening a week for a single purpose: strengthening our relationship, investing in our marriage.

We only had a couple of rules.

• Dinner together was a given; all else was negotiable. Sometimes we went and did a thing together, maybe a museum or a garden or a movie or play volleyball. Sometimes we’d buy a big basket at the grocery store, fill it with all sorts of good food, leave it on someone’s doorstep, ring the bell and run like the wind. Whatever we did, we did it together, and we enjoyed being together in it.  

• “Business” conversations were off limits. No making plans, discussing money, solving problems. Dreaming together was good, but not the work of making things happen. This was an investment in our future together, not fixing problems behind us. We had six other days in the week to work on those.

• We did not share our date night with anybody else unless both of us were completely on-board with the idea. Double dates were rare. Less rare was us showing up with a fancy frozen treat from the local dessert shop and knocking on a friend’s door: “We wondered if you could help us? This is too much for just the two of us. Can you help us with it?” Laughter was frequent.

When we started having kids, the subject (and cost) of babysitters came in to play and date nights became even more important. We preferred long-term relationships, so we tried to hire sitters by the quarter. “Yes, we’d like you to babysit our kids every Monday evening for the entire school year, please.” We declined to negotiate the rates down because of the long-term commitment.

Like everyone else, we went through seasons. We’d promised, among other things, “…for richer or poorer…” and we had both of those seasons. So sometimes our dates were at the local hospital cafeteria, or a bagel and a brick of Philadelphia cream cheese at the grocery store, or take a sandwich and go for a walk by the lake, but skipping a date night wasn’t an option.

The hardest year was probably when we were part of a poorly-planned church-planting team in another nation. We were a year into that experiment when I lost my job, so there we were: locked into what we considered an expensive lease on our home, not just unemployed but completely unemployable because of international law, and increasingly depressed at what we saw (what I saw) as failure all around us. We were broke!

We were facing the possibility of having to forego our date nights. Ouch.


In our work with the church, were trying to get a youth group going for the teenagers, and we were talking with the kids about what night of the week to try to do something. Several folks had several ideas, like humans do.

“Not Monday nights!” one of the girls said. “Oh, why not Mondays?” I asked. “Because Mondays is when I’m coming over to your house to babysit so you can have your date night!”

I gasped. I didn’t know that they even knew our situation. We started to argue, when her (single) mom came over and backed her up. “We’ve talked about this, and her mind is set, and I don’t suggest you try to change it. She’s as stubborn as I am.”

She went on to explain that they’d watched our relationship, and even though we’d never talked about it, our young family had been teaching them how to do relationships, just by being us. They wanted to give something back for all that we had (unknowingly) given to them.

So for the next year, this young lady came to our house after school. After dinner, she and the kids would get down to the serious business of playing, while my Lady and I headed out the door for a walk or an ice cream cone or something quiet together.

That was one of the most intense years of our lives (we had kind of a lot going on, doncha know); she may have saved our lives.

But God. God knew. Jesus understood something of what it takes to make a successful marriage with His own bride. Father understood how much work fathering actually is. And I think Holy Spirit just wanted to love on our kids and us.

At the end of that year, very large amounts of raw sewage hit the ventilating device, and we left with our proverbial tail between our legs. That experiment had cost us everything, every dime we had, every relationship but our marriage, and except for this one miracle teenager, it might have taken that too.

A decade or more later, completely out of the blue, back in America again and just beginning to get back on our feet, we answered a soft knock at the front door. Here she was again, now a happily married woman, introducing us to this strong man she had fallen in love with. The look in her eyes when she whispered “my husband” was golden. They had just stopped by to thank us for investing in them all those years ago.

We wept. Maybe it wasn’t all wasted effort after all.

God is SO good. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.




Thoughts on Being Pruned

Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

I spent the day the other day, pruning my tomatoes. It was really hard to not think about this verse in the process. So I gave in, and thought about it. I had some interesting thoughts. Keep in mind the Lord’s pruning of his children (that’s you and me) as you read this.

Pruning really is hard work. Pruning is not something you just do as you’re walking past in a few minutes, the few seconds that you have to spare. Pruning, particularly effective proving, takes thought, takes planning, takes endurance. In the parable, this would be God’s job. When he’s preparing us for effective, fruitful ministry it’s a lot of work for him. No wonder it feels like a lot of work for us too.

Pruning really is important work. This isn’t a case where if you get pruned, that’s nice, but if you don’t, that’s fine too. Rather, this is an example of Hebrews 12, where it says that set God trains, disciplines his children. Discipline is important work. Without discipline, will never accomplish anything in the Kingdom, or, frankly, in the world.

I can imagine that pruning a plant, cutting off branches, hurts the plant. I know for a fact that pruning branches, cutting off branches, is painful to the gardener. I am confident that when God cuts things out of our lives, particularly when he cuts things out that we enjoy, it hurts him. But he is so completely committed to our good if he is willing to do things that hurt him in order to make us stronger and better.

Pruning helps a plant focus its energy. Instead of a thousand tiny little fruits, each one nearly meaningless, a well pruned plant will produce a more modest number of excellent fruit, really nourishing. Sometimes you can tell people who have not submitted to pruning. They have a thousand little ministries, a thousand little interests, but they’re really not making a difference when you come right down to it. The people who have learned to focus their attention on one area are the ones who really change the world.

Different kinds of plants are pruned in different ways. Sometimes, the same kind of plant is prune in different ways if The Gardener has different plans for the plants. It seems obvious that the same is true for people. God sees us as individuals, relates to us as individuals. He trains some of us in one way, and he trains others of us in other ways.

Some plants are pruned in order to make them more fruitful. Some plants are pruned in order to make them stronger. Some plants are pruned in order to make them more beautiful. Not all prophets are trained the same way. Not all gift of Mercy are in the same category. One may minister to a thousand individuals. The other main Minister two groups of tens of thousands, or invest themselves into groups of three or four.

Pruning is more important when the plant is beginning to develop, than it is later on. That is, unless the plant has managed to avoid being pruned when it should have been. Similarly, young believers, developing believers, kit pruned more often, perhaps, then mature Saints. Though all of us, all of us, do get pruned by our gardener.
All About Grapevine PruningIf a plant is pruned regularly throughout its life, it will generally not need nearly as much pruning, not nearly as aggressive pruning, as the plant that has managed to avoid pruning for some time. That plant will get more cuts. For years, I managed to avoid the gardeners attention. And my life was unruly, hurtful, and unfruitful. I needed more pruning than I should have needed, at my stage in maturity.

Sometimes, a successful pruning will remove strong, healthy, even fruitful branches. This is for the best interest of the plant, the fruit, and the Gardener. Just because God removes something from our lives, that does not mean that it was a bad thing to be in our lives. Some of those things were good. But if we are going to be successful at changing the world, some things that are not part of our calling need to be cut away. If we are truly going to know and experience God’s heart for us, his heart for the world, then there may be much that we would have to say no to, good stuff that we will have to say no to.

At least with tomatoes, plants that produce big strong delicious fruit, are pruned more vigorously then plants that are designed to produce lots of little fruits. Slicing tomatoes get pruned more than cherry tomatoes. It would follow, then, that those of us who have a calling to greater things, bigger areas of influence are likely to need more times of pruning, and greater pruning. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with a handful of cherry tomatoes.

Sometimes, if a plant is not pruned by The Gardener in time, the plant will just let some branches just die off, simply because it doesn’t have enough roots, enough strength to support so many branches. This is not a healthy thing. Dead branches on a living plant or a pathway to pests, predators, and disease. Areas where things have died in our life, rather than been pruned away, are similarly dangerous, places where disease or bitterness can find root.

So as I was pruning my tomatoes, I was also discussing God’s pruning of me. I found myself inviting my master Gardener, whom I trust, to prune me as he sees fit, from his view in Eternity. I love partnering with him in the work of the kingdom, and I know that he can lovingly prune away the things that hinder my effectiveness, that hinder my fully receiving his love.

Not Calling Out Sin


I do not hold to the common Christian religious opinion that says if I see a sin somewhere, then I am somehow obligated to point it out or preach against it or otherwise required to be part of fixing the person involved. I am not.

That does not mean that I do nothing (that’s another conversation), but if I see a believer online doing or saying something that reveals sin, I am not going to feel obligated to rebuke them either publicly or privately. If I see someone in my town or in my neighborhood doing something that I consider sinful, I am not going to feel obligated to confront them.

I have a couple of reasons for this.

He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone”" by Daniel C. Fergus ...• The church, generally speaking, has well and truly earned her reputation as a judgmental busybody. The world views God as an angry, nitpicking judge, and we’re the reason; after all, we’re the only Bible many people read. I don’t choose to perpetuate that view.

• If I’m going to focus on someone’s sin, it’s going to be my sin. I am responsible – you are not – for my sin. You are responsible – I am not – for your sin. We forget this sometimes.

• I observe that the only people whose sin Jesus actually called out were the religiously self-righteous. So if I’m going to follow his example, I should call out the sin of the religious people who focus on other people’s sin. Yeah, that wouldn’t end well, would it?

• I don’t care to focus my attention on people’s sin. That is contrary to Scriptural instruction (Philippians 4, Colossians 3), so focusing on people’s sin is itself sin, which of course makes it hypocrisy. Not going there.

• We are commanded – I am commanded – to “set [my] heart on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” I find that I’m healthier and happier and more effective (not to mention more obedient) when I do that. So I’m going to focus on what’s good. I may even <gasp!> speak God’s blessing into the life of someone who’s not completely perfect.

• Frankly, I don’t have the time to deal with everybody’s sin. Sorry. I actually have a life. I hope to live it.

• And more importantly than all of that, a sinner – even a nice one like you or me - is accountable to someone FAR more loving and far more powerful than I am. This is waaaay over my pay grade.

Now, somebody will bring up Matthew 18 and use that as an excuse for calling out sin publicly: Not only did Jesus say you have to, he said how.

Yes, he did say how.  And the first statement he made there (before he said, “don’t do it publicly,”) was, “If your brother sins against you….”

There are two qualifiers in that:

1. This is only applicable if the person sinning is your brother: if they’re in close relationship with you. If they don’t call you brother or sister (and NOT in the religious sense!), you don’t qualify.

2. This is only applicable if the sin involved is against you. If it’s not against you, you’re meddling. Stop it.

And somebody’s going to say, “Well the prophets in the Old Testament called out sin!  So I can!”

It’s true. The poor people working under the inferior covenant that God never wanted did proclaim the judgment that is part of that covenant. That’s part of the form and function of that covenant that a fear-ridden people proposed instead of God’s covenant. That’s why that covenant is dead and gone. We live in the day of the New Covenant.

Personally, I think the world would be a better place if we focused on loving God and loving the people He loves. Best I can tell, that’s all of the people. We’re supposed to focus on loving people, not correcting people.

Don't Look At The Waves

Matthew 14 tells this story.

As soon as the meal was finished, [Jesus] insisted that the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he dismissed the people. With the crowd dispersed, he climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night.

Meanwhile, the boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them and they were battered by the waves. At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared out of their wits. “A ghost!” they said, crying out in terror.

But Jesus was quick to comfort them. “Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.”

He said, “Come ahead.”

Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!”

Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, “Faint-heart, what got into you?”

The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, “This is it! You are God’s Son for sure!”

----
That’s kind of the season we’re in, isn’t it? An awful lot of wind coming against us, battering us with waves of nasty stuff in the news. And us, trying to walk on the water to Jesus.

When we look at him, we’re in good shape. But when we look at the nasty stuff that the world is throwing at us, that the media is shouting at us, it’s easy to lose our nerve and to sink. We end up crying out for help.

But while that’s embarrassing (and we get incredibly soaked by the waves and scared) and uncomfortable, it’s not such a bad thing to get rescued by Jesus from sinking, I don’t suppose.

What Am I Declaring About Myself?

It had been a really tough night. Only got a few hours sleep, then had a long day, full of physical work. Really tiring.

I found myself whining to myself, “I’m so tired!” as I went back for yet another load.

Then it was as if Father cleared his throat. “Ahem….” My ears perked up.

And I realized what I had just declared about myself. Yikes. I repented.

Instead, I recognized that yes, I was physically tired, but that is not my identity. That is a fact: it’s true that I’m tired, but I don’t need to live under that fact. I choose to live under the fact that God is my provider, and that ALL good gifts proceed from him; none are missing.

So I rejected the curse of tiredness. I changed my mind, and I went about my work. I didn't deny pretend I wasn't tired. I just decided that that was not the whole story, not even the important part of the story. 

And you know what? The weariness went away. And the discouragement with it went away. And I got a lot more done. I took a break here and there (I don’t always remember to do that), and I realized, “I actually like this work. And I’m getting a lot done! I might not be getting as much done as I would like, but I’m getting a lot accomplished here!”

And I didn’t actually get it all done, but I got enough done, and I’ll have the rest of the week to finish it. But the work I did, I did as a victor, not as a victim. And I accomplished a whole lot more than I would have if I had given into the sense of weariness and quit. 

I didn’t stay under that weariness, that discouragement. I just repented, changed my view on the subject, and worked within my limits.

Saturday

Testimony: The Covid “Vaccine”

A Little background:

 
• The Covid 19 virus is a real virus. People are dying from it.

• But the virus is being blown way the heck out of proportion, and most of the deaths attributed to Covid are actually people who had the virus dying from something else. (CDC has acknowledged it..)

• A fair number of people are scared silly of the virus. (This is not a time for judging.)

• There are a few vaccines for the virus. Except that they’re not vaccines, they’re “experimental therapies.”

• A fair number of people are scared silly of the vaccines/experimental therapies. (This is not a time for judging.)

• The federal government and a good number of state and local governments are working overtime to convince us that we need to get the vaccines/experimental therapies. (Ironically, as I’m writing this, I’m getting text and email notifications working to persuade me to get the treatment.)

• The attempts to manipulate/convince the public are primarily based on either bribes or threats; they are mostly not based on logic, research, or science.

• It’s pretty well documented that the medical community has opportunity to make a lot of money from the government for promoting the Covid “vaccine,” for treating Covid symptoms, for reporting Covid deaths. (NB: It’s my policy to place a lower value on the opinions of people who are being well paid to have and to convince me those opinions.)

• A fair number of people are scared silly of the government’s intentions. (This is not a time for judging.)

• The Bible is pretty clear: we don’t actually have reason to be afraid, and in fact we are commanded to not fear.

• A fair number of people are afraid to trust God when our health, our life or our government is on the line. (This is not a time for judging.)

OK. That’s the background. (Note that I’m not interested in arguing about these points. If you feel that urge to fuss about these, go somewhere else to do it.)

TESTIMONY. This is my own story; fair warning: it might be long and rambling.

I’m a fairly strong, fairly healthy adult male with a solid immune system. I’m not actually afraid of the virus. I’ve walked with Jesus long enough to know that he’s serious about his ability to take care of me, and I know that it’s true that “whether I live or I die, I am the Lord’s.”


I’ve heard first hand reports from medical professionals, from people who have taken the vaccine; I’ve read the manufacturers’ statements about them (and their disclaimers of any liability for their product).


Based on what I’ve read (and I’ve read the original CDC & other reports, not just the news reports about them), I don’t see any reason why I personally need to take the vaccine/experimental therapy that they’re so aggressively promoting. I don’t judge those who take it, but I am comfortable concluding that it’s not for me.

But there are people around me who are scared of the virus, some more than others, of course. Many of these are MY people, people I would die for, people who would die for me: people I love.

These people are scared for me, and they believe they have reason. They consider me higher risk for more than one reason, and the reports agree with them. Some of these people trust the vaccine/experimental therapy, and they want me to “protect myself” and take it. Some of them want me to take it as protection for themselves. (This is not a time for judging.)

So this put me in a tough place. I was confident that I didn’t need the vaccine/experimental therapy, and that in fact, I would be wise to avoid it.

But people who love me were paying a price for my choice. That wasn’t comfortable for me. There were people, people I love and whom I love to be around, that weren’t comfortable being around me. That’s not comfortable for me.

That’s been a hard place. And when I find myself in hard places like that, I try to remember to take these to my Father, so I brought this awkward, confusing, emotionally-charged mess that was in my heart to him. He listened quietly for a while (or at least I assumed he was listening, but he sure was quiet). I poured out my concerns and confusions to him. I wasn’t OK with this divided heart thing going on.

We spent a while here, days, maybe weeks, not minutes or hours. But eventually, his peace did what it does, and it settled my thoughts and emotions and drew my attention back to my Father’s goodness where it belongs.

And in that process, he drew my attention to Mark’s version of the Great Commission, and to one clause in particular: “If they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them.” He wasn’t giving me a direction in the midst of the options, he was just reminding me: “This is the way I am with you, Son.”

As I kept praying (I cannot tell you how many times I’ve stopped listening too early!), I felt his affirmation that I could trust him, I could trust this promise, whichever way I chose to go, but this was my choice to make; he wasn’t going to make my choices for me here.

I still believe that this virus isn’t a threat for me personally, and I still believe that I don’t need the experimental therapy that’s being promoted.

So I signed up to get the experimental therapy, confident that it will by no means hurt me. That was long enough ago that I had to work really hard to get it; it was really awkward, really uncomfortable, really irritating to jump through all the hoops. (The notifications I’m getting now announce that some places have it available for walk-ins.)

After several weeks, I made it to the front of the line and it was my turn. They had me sign a raft of papers (and were really confused when I insisted on reading what I was signing), and the nurse who gave me the injection confessed that he didn’t believe we needed “a ‘vaccine’ that is 95% effective against a disease with a 99+% survival rate.” We laughed about it together.

When it came time for the second injection, people crawled out of the woodwork to tell me their horror stories of how bad the second one was, and how dangerous it was, and how that’s where people got sick from the second one. Thanks folks!

So I reminded myself pretty aggressively of Father’s promise. “If they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them.” My version went this way: “If I am injected with anything deadly, it will by no means hurt me.” It was kind of hard work to agree with him instead of all the fear-driven testimonies.

The next morning, I woke up feeling “off,” and the doubts whispered into my ear: “See! I told you you’d get sick! Now it’s happened to you!”

So I had a conversation with my soul. “If I am injected with anything deadly, it will by no means hurt me.” I kind of had a shouting match inside my soul for a while, but eventually my soul gave in, the symptoms vanished, and I had a great day. That was a month or two ago, and I haven’t been sick for a day since.

I still shake my head (sometimes when my soul gets out of line) at how much this changes the hearts and the choices of some of the people I love, but then I remember, “I did this for you, because I love you.” I can’t generally tell them that, of course, because they think I was convinced of their opinions when I saw the error of my ways because of their insightful presentation of the media’s hysteria.

And I feel my Father’s comfortable pleasure with my choices here. It was my choice, your choice might be completely different. But this is how I dealt with it.

I hope my story is helpful to you.

Thursday

The Chef's Knee

I was raised in the church, but I was raised by a couple of left-brain, logical thinkers: by a school teacher and an engineer. They taught me math and science and the occasional Bible story, but we knew nothing of the power of God. We prayed for every meal, but it was a routine; we did it because that’s what good Christians did.

The church we were part of explained why nothing supernatural ever happened and why the miracles that the Bible talked about weren’t really what they seemed to be, and how science explained them.

Many years later, after I came to a real and personal faith and began to pursue Jesus for myself, I discovered that the gifts of the Spirit were real and that there was actual power present in them. I’ve spent the last half century pursuing knowing my loving King and learning all I can about the tools that he’s given us to run this race well.

The son of a schoolteacher doesn’t have any trouble studying the Book, and the son of the engineer has got some natural advantages applying the wisdom of that Book to his life. But power? But the supernatural? Now wait just a doggone minute here. It’s harder to overcome the natural and logical mindset that I was raised with.

Fast forward a few decades. I’ve taught hundreds, maybe thousands of people about the love of God, the gifts of the Spirit, and even about how to heal the sick. I didn’t have much personal experience actually healing the sick, and the voices from my childhood kept explaining away any healings and miracles that I did see.

So one Friday night, I’m with a team of friends hosting a large meeting, when all of a sudden, one of the group gets up and announces to the auditorium that God wants to heal everyone tonight, “If you need healing, come forward.”

I was confronted with my unbelief. So I kicked into administration mode and connected people who needed prayer with people to pray for them (“Just like we’ve talked about,” I reminded a few of them), but there were so many of them!

Among the last to arrive was the chef in charge of the kitchen at that facility, and he was bearing down on me, and he was limping. We had talked a few times; maybe I wasn’t a complete stranger. I looked around for someone with a healing gift. Not a one!

So here I was, acknowledging that God heals, but full of unbelief, and I was expected needing to heal this guy’s torn ligaments. I was doomed.


So we found a place out on the edge of the crowd where he could sit down and where I could get my hands on his knee. He explained how he needs to be on his feet all day, every day, and the stress weakened his knee, and then he stepped wrong or fell or something (I wasn’t paying as much attention to his situation as I should have been, being much more attentive to my immanent unmasking as a healing fraud).

 I laid hands on the knee, and quietly complained to Father that this wasn’t fair! He wasn’t impressed with my panic.

Eventually, my adrenaline levels dropped enough that I remembered to ask Father how to pray, and I had an impression, so I prayed in that direction. I prayed hard in that direction. I prayed every little detail I could think of in that direction, and in the direction next to it just to be safe.

Eventually I had to come up for air. “How does your knee feel? Stand up and test it.” I tried to sound confident.

He tested it, and sat back down with kind of a scowl on his face. “It feels warm inside, but I’m not sure it’s any better.”

My heart didn’t really have any further to fall, but I figured “warm” was a good sign. “OK, let’s pray some more.” It was clear he wasn’t in a hurry.

Over the course of the next hour or two, I threw every prayer I knew and six or ten that I didn’t know at his knee. I wasn’t going to fail because I’d given up: I was going to go down fighting. Every ten minutes or so, we’d check it again, and every time it was a little better. “Not a lot better, but yeah, it’s a little bit better.”

It must have been the nine thousand and twelfth time we stopped to check his progress that he bent and stretched and matter-of-factly announced, “Yeah, I think that did it!” I picked my jaw up off the floor and thanked him for his patience. We were nearly the last ones out of the room.

I had reason to return to that conference facility several times, for several different kinds of events, often including meals, and every time he saw me (he never once missed me!), he’d come out of the kitchen, wrap me in a bear hug, squat down and bounce back up and announce, “Yep! It’s still healed!” (You should have seen the looks on the faces of some of my business associates at the tech events there! I remember that feeling, when I first heard that healing really was for today.)

Healing is still not one of the primary tools that I use in the ministry Father has me involved in. And every time that I slap hands on someone for healing, hell rubs my nose in that fact. “You don’t have that gift!”

“No, but I know a Guy!” and I remind him of the chef’s knee. Shuts ‘em up every time.

It’s still a challenge, still a battle every time I go after healing, and I mean that literally: when we heal the sick, we’re conquering the works of hell (both in the natural and in the minds of those we’re healing): hell is fighting (unsuccessfully) for survival; of course there’s a battle.

And no, not everybody I pray for is healed, not by a mile or six. But I have a testimony to keep me going.

A Measure of Faith

Romans 12:3b: “God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.”

Measure: μέτρον Metron. “determined extent, portion measured off, measure or limit.”  This is the same word that describes our “sphere of influence,” also a limited extent.

We learn several things here:


• Our faith is “dealt” or distributed to us from God. We are not the source of our faith. Ephesians 2:8 affirms this.

• God has dealt faith to each one of us. Nobody is left out.

• We’re given a measure of faith, a certain amount. No one among us has infinite faith. It’s possible to increase our capacity for faith, of course, but I’m thinking in other directions right now.

If we reference the mustard seed in Matthew 17:20, we know that a little bit of faith goes a long ways. But if we have a measured amount, it is possible to spend it all, whether a little bit at a time, or in great big battles. This suggests that it’s possible to run out of faith.

That leads me to some questions:

○ Is this the reason we feel depleted after a great fight: we’ve spent a lot of our faith?

○ I wonder if this is why some folks wander away from the faith? Maybe they’ve just run out of faith. Perhaps they’ve squandered it?

○ Does this suggest that maybe we want to be frugal in our spending of faith? (For example: sure we can believe God for every dollar we need, but if we get a job, we spend less faith, so we have more faith to invest in other areas.)

○ Is faith refillable, like my truck’s gas tank? When the gauge is reading low, just go fill it up, remembering that faith is dealt from God. (No pat answers please.)

○ Is faith sharable? It’s awkward to siphon gas from my truck to put into your gas tank, but it’s possible. Can that be done with faith too? Can faith be rented out?

I think we’ve got rather a ways to grow before we know it all. 



Maintaining the Garden


I had an interesting train of thought this morning in the … er… Library.

I have some plants and some starts that will go into the garden when the weather stabilizes (around here, that’s traditionally Mother’s Day). I had already brought many of those out of the greenhouse into what may actually be sunshine at some point in the day; it’s a good idea (in my view) to get plants ready for their new environment before I plant them there permanently.

I’m really looking forward to the growing season. I’ve got a fair number of plants ready to go, the garden beds are ready to go. The soil has been turned and amended with fresh compost. The weeds are gone (except for one: I want to know what it will turn into), and I know where each plant will be going. I have a few seeds in the ground (mostly salad things), and I know where more will be going.

And Father ambushed me on that topic. “You keep your garden up-to-date, don’t you?” and he reminded me how I try to keep it weed free all year, how I add plants and fertilize plants and how I water it regularly.

“Yeah, I do. It is a better garden if I take care of it.” I’ve had gardens in the past that I haven’t taken care of very well. They had been overtaken by weeds and grass and their produce was small and scarce.

Then he shifted gears on me; he reminded me of the investment I make in my marriage. “A good marriage takes the same kind of work that a good garden does, doesn’t it?” He reminded me that a marriage needs fertilizer and needs weeds removed just as much as a garden does.

I am (we are) pretty intentional about keeping the relationship healthy. We talk things out, we regularly express our love with words and touches and time together and such. We have maintained a delightful discipline of taking date nights, just for our relationship, every week (or more often) for more than 30 years.  

I reflected on the different joys that my marriage and my garden bring me.

“A relationship with me takes similar investment, you know. And it will bring you similar joy.”

He’s right, you know. (I say that kind of a lot. I’m not going to change that. He is. :) ) A relationship with another person – a marriage relationship, a friendship, a family relationship, a relationship with my creator – takes maintenance. Since we’d started with the metaphor of the garden, I’ll stick with it: it takes adding things (seeds, young plants, fertilizer, water) and taking things away (weeds, birds who want to dig up the seeds and eat the young fruits, cats who are thankful for a clean sandbox) to make the relationship thrive.

I think I’ll be meditating on this for a bit. How can I best invest into my relations with God and with the people around me? 

Friday

Sometimes we fire blanks.

Sometimes we fire blanks.

Oh, we don't mean to. We think we are firing powerful weapons of war, kicking ass and taking names.

But sometimes, sometimes we're actually firing blanks.

Jesus modeled for us a way to pray that was more about telling the situation how it needs to be, rather than about us whining at God to pleeeeease make it be that way. We are learning to command, to declare, rather than to ask politely. Or impolitely.

That much is good.

The problem is, so often we just fire blanks.

We read the Gospels oh, and we observe how Jesus did it. He said, Lazarus come forth! And Lazarus came forth. He said, I am willing, be cleansed. And the leper was instantly healed.

We look at the model of Jesus, and we make it our model. But we are only looking at part of the model that Jesus gave us. We're looking at his Harvest, not his labor.

I am a member of a few prayer groups. I am embarrassed to tell you how many times, in response to a really dire need, somebody pipes up, blithely commanding all demons to go to hell, smugly decreeing bones and skin and organs to line up, happily commanding this and that, and wrapping it all up with a grin of self-congratulation.

And of course very little actually changes. Nobody really expected it would. I think even that the enthusiastic intercessor himself didn't expect it. And why would he? We get so that we’re commanding everything nowadays, and nobody points out that it's not really changing much of anything. The emperor has no clothes on, but everyone is afraid to mention it.

Yeah, I know. I’ve overstated it in order to make a point. You know this goes on, at least some of the time.

I have been reflecting on how much of Jesus’ life is hidden from the casual reader of his biographies in the Gospels. I suspect that this is on purpose. If we really want to know the secrets, he wants to go find them for ourselves, to do the work of learning, to make the knowledge our own.

The gospels are quick to tell his hero testimonies, how he healed this person, raised that guy from the dead, all before lunch, and without raising a sweat.

That's the part that big, flashy, and easily captures our attention. But it's only the end of the story. We miss the beginning and the middle. And I think that if we don't follow all of Jesus’ example, the beginning, the middle, and the end, we will probably not have the results that Jesus had.

I have been involved in a lot of spiritual war. I have friends who have been in so much more than I have. Some of it has been successful; some has been less successful. Ultimately, I think that Winston Churchill may have had it right. War involves blood, sweat, toil, tears. And healing the sick, raising the dead, these are acts of War. It’s not a quick declaration of victory and move on.

I've been thinking about the topic of rest recently. God is constantly inviting his people to a place of rest. Not a place of doing nothing, a place of doing much, but doing it from the place of resting in him. Kind of a foreign concept to most of us, I think. But it wasn't foreign to Jesus. Jesus seemed pretty big on working from a place of rest. I’m beginning to learn the value of this.

And Jesus was always getting away with Father. Sure, we have our “quiet times,” and that’s a great starting point, but it seemed that Jesus spent all night in prayer sometimes. All night, getting to know what Father was doing and thinking.

In fact, there was one time he spent much of the night in prayer, and it was hard work. He sweat blood. We talk about that in the context of the Easter story, but as he said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Paul kept up the theme. “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.”

I’m not saying that blood is the signifier of a solid prayer life. I’m saying there’s work involved, hard work, if we’re aspiring to declare with the kind of power that Jesus’ declarations had.

There is one more secret, I think, that we need to lay hold of. In John 5, Jesus revealed this secret: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”

The last secret (for this moment) of Jesus’ amazing record was that he was only doing what he saw Father doing.

A whole lot of our failing comes from our making our declarations about things that are in our heart and mind that are not actually things that Father is doing. They may be things that we wish he was doing, things that we think he might want to do, or things that we ourselves want, and we’re maybe just putting God’s name on them.

That’s a whole lot different than seeing what God is doing, or seeing the situation - really seeing it! - in its completed state, and then telling reality to line up with that vision.

This is a hard one to ‘fess up to. But we kind of have to separate our desires from his, separate soul from spirit, as it were, in order to walk how Jesus walked.

I’m so thankful that we’re growing up into Him. We’re going to change the world. In him.

Thursday

Learning to Pray Wisely


The church is learning a lot about declarative prayer in recent years, prayer that issues decrees and declares what shall be, (as differentiated from prayer that begs and sometimes whines).

Like anything that we are just beginning to learn, we’re not terribly good at it yet.

 We have (many of us) figured out that Jesus didn’t generally ask God for stuff when he prayed. He generally commanded something to happen (John 11:43) or decreed the result that he wanted (Matthew 9:29). Even at his most extreme circumstances, his prayers were declarative sentences, not interrogative ones (Matthew. 26:36–46). 

 As a community, we’ve begun declaring and commanding pretty much all the time. It’s baby steps, and it’s really cute. (Don’t get me wrong: I’m part of this community of baby steps, too!)

 I’ve been reflecting on this transition recently. It’s being a good thing, for a bunch of reasons that I’ve discerned:

 • We’re beginning to take responsibility ourselves for the things that he’s given us responsibility for (see Genesis 1:26). Much of what we pray about is actually our responsibility, not his.

•Slaves ask or plead. Sons, heirs, might ask, but they surely expect  (consider Romans 15:13 or 16:20); or they may not ask, they just take what they need and go.

You and I, we’re not slaves, not servants.

• It appears that while God respects servants who ask, more seems to get done by sons who declare.

 On the other hand, when sons are young, they require more parenting than they do when they mature. Dirty diapers are no more fun in the Spirit than they are in the natural. They’re normal, even healthy for a while. They’re still a mess, and no more than a starting place. But they’re a normal, healthy mess for an infant.

For example, I’m part of some prayer groups (side note: please do NOT add me to more groups!), where folks post their prayer requests, and the community prays for them. You learn a lot from groups like this. Here are some things I've learned.

There are a bunch of folks whose prayer requests are more a list of what all is wrong in their lives than a description of what we’re actually praying for. Some of those diapers need changing desperately.

Some responses are in the “Oh Jesus, please help ‘em!” category.

A growing number of responses are attempts to command all the bad things become good.

Far too many declarations are not much more than self-centered, wishful thinking. “I want this, and therefore I’m going to declare it as if it were God’s will.” And then they get disheartened when the world doesn’t conform to their empty but optimistic words.

 Honestly, it’s a beautiful thing. Just like when my little granddaughter takes her first, wobbly steps. That’s a wonderful thing, too. It’s growth! But it surely isn’t maturity yet. And it’s cute when she takes a couple of steps and then plops down on her wet diaper, making that interesting sploogy sound.

 I was reflecting on our wobbly growth recently, and I was reminded that when we watch Jesus commanding sickness or demons to flee, we’re only seeing half of the story. We’re only seeing the half that happens in that moment, the part that’s visible to the gospel authors.

 But Jesus did tell us the other half of the story himself:

John 12:49 “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.”

 So apparently, if we’re going to (If I’m going to) be successful at commanding sickness and demons and death away, I need to speak what Father commands me to say and to speak. Declarations out of my own wishful thinking are a wasted effort. At best.

 Since the gospels never show the story of heaven opening and the Almighty shouting from heaven, it makes me wonder, “When and how did Jesus hear Father tell him what to say?”

 I think there were at least three answers to that, and neither one was a mystery.

The first is that I’m pretty sure the still small voice of the Holy Spirit gave him instructions from time to time (in John 2, compare verse 4 with verse 7, for example).

Second, verses like Mark 6:46 and Luke 6:12 tell us that he spent extended time away, just him and Father alone. I’ll bet that’s a clue. There’s a reason he encourages us to search out matters, maybe.

I think the third is more rare than we wish it was. When you’ve walked with God a long time, you begin to think like he thinks. You do that long enough and the line between “my thoughts” and “his thoughts,” between “my words” and “his words” gets thin.

 I’m thinking that it’s good that we, the saints and heirs of our Almighty Lover, are learning to hear from Heaven, and declare those words. Declaring what Father-who-sends us gives us to declare, those are going to be the more world-changing declarations.

Listen first. Then speak.