Thursday

Addiction of the Saints

It's been chewing on me for a while, now. Not sure why, but it's sure been good motivation for prayer.

I've had my attention drawn to the fact that the American church system (and possibly most of the church in western civilization) has an addiction problem. 

More specifically, I see two addiction problems.

First, I find myself seeing that the average church-goer is pretty seriously addicted to the church feeding them spiritually, wiping their noses, changing their stinky diapers; not really taking responsibility for themselves, and not really able to stand as a believer without the church and its staff and its programs propping them up.

Second, I find myself aware that - whether intentionally or unintentionally (and both are present) - the institution and leaders of the western church are encouraging and sustaining that addiction.

Sure, it's the addicts' tithes and offerings that fund the buildings, programs and salaries. But the attentive, occasionally adoring congregations are fueling leaders' insecurities and need for recognition and significance as well.

It's at this point that I see visions of Christians wanting to take responsibility for their own lives trying to leave, and running into high barriers and guards with dogs coming after them.

Like I said, this sense has been in my face for a while, and it's come out of the blue. This is leading me to ponder, to pray, and so press into Papa on behalf of the Bride.

Assisting During the Glory

During the Transfiguration (see Mark 9), we see this interaction:

“[Jesus’] clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Father showed me some more of me in this story, today. It wasn’t about Pete freaking out by his mentor glowing in the dark. It wasn’t about him consulting with a couple of (presumably) dead guys. That’s gnarly, but we’ve seen that for years.
 
We know that Pete proposed putting up some buildings because he was freaked out. But I’d never before noticed that the fisherman was proposing a construction project to Jesus who was a) a trained carpenter, and b) the Master Builder of … well, of everything. 
 
And I realized how many times I’ve done that: offered to do “something that I can do” to my king and mentor who a) can do it better than I can, and b) has seen this opportunity from before the foundation of the world, and already has a plan for taking care of it.
 
But I come toddling along, feeling kinda powerless in the situation, wanting to find SOME way to be useful: “Here, let me do that for you.” Kinda missing the point.
 
One of the main reasons for this whole experience was that JC wanted his friends to see this thing happen. He wanted to be more fully known by them. He’s not showing off; that’s humility: being known as he really is.
 
And another of his reasons for this encounter was that he wanted counsel from a couple of guys who had been trail-blazers in their own day, and who had already made their own way through death (in two completely different ways) to the other side. He needed their support.
 
And here comes Pete, toddling along, feeling kinda powerless in the situation, wanting to find SOME way to be useful: “Here, let me do that for you.” Kinda missing the point of what was happening there.
 
As I read the story from Pete’s perspective, I reflect on how he could have been less stupid here. Maybe he just shuts up and takes it all in. Maybe he waits until the meeting is over and shakes hands with Mo & Eli. Maybe he just makes a list of questions he wants to ask on the way down the mountain.
 
I dunno. I’m still working on that, because I want to learn how I can avoid cramming my foot in my mouth the way I’m good at doing (and the way Pete is good at doing).
 
I sure love Father’s gentle reminder: “Guys, this is where your attention needs to be: Listen to my Son!”
 
This is an awesome family relationship that I’ve been brought into. I’m loving he (hard) process of learning how we do things in this family. 

Edifying One Another


Have you ever been surprised by what a verse you’ve always known means more when you see it in the light of another verse.

We all know 1Thessalonians 5:11: “Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.” We know about our responsibility to comfort each other, to edify each other.

Today when I read this verse, I heard it in the context of 1Corinthians 14:5: “But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.”

There it is again: comfort each other, edify each other. And here, Paul describes this as the purpose of the prophetic gifts.

Two verses earlier, he commanded us, “Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” Again a command, this time to pursue prophetic gifts. One translation says, “covet to prophesy.”

Wait, what? You don’t mean to say that every one of us can prophesy, do you? That I can prophesy?

Yeah, I do. [cf 1Co 14:31] You can prophesy. You can comfort folks, edify [instruct or improve] them, exhort [encourage] them. In fact, that’s both part of your destiny and part of your instructions from God.

Wednesday

Consider John the Baptist

According to Jesus, John had a pretty solid ministry. The incarnate Son of God said this about him:
 
“But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. “This is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.’ “For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.”  [Luke 7]
 
It seems to me that if the Son of God describes you as the greatest prophet in the history of the world, that’s probably a ministry you can trust. But Jesus went further, calling him Elijah.
 
“For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.” [Matthew 11]
 
Jesus was identifying John as the fulfillment of Malachi 4: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet
Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD,” the prophet that the entire nation was waiting for.
 
This John the Baptist from Jesus’ point of view. Looking at his life from his own perspective, we see a different picture:
 
“Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”
 
“Then they said to him, “What do you say about yourself?” He said: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the LORD,” ‘ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
 
And they asked him, saying, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. “It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.”  [John 1]
 
A lot of people did not understand John the Baptist, and John himself was one of them.
 
John understood some of the role he was fulfilling. He knew that he was preparing the way for Messiah, but he didn’t recognize that he was fulfilling one of the more anticipated Old Testament prophecies.
 
In fact, John even questioned whether he had utterly failed at the part of his ministry he did understand, at one point sending his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” [Luke 7:19]
 
This is the man that the Messiah, the Incarnate Son of God described as, “Among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.”
 
I was reflecting on these statements about John recently, and I realized, “If John can miss it that badly, so can we. If John only figured out part of what he was doing, and wasn’t even sure about that, then how often, I wonder, do we misunderstand the impact that we’re having on the world, on the lives around us. Do we miss the big picture?”
 
The reality is that we won’t really understand – we cannot understand – our effectiveness in our life in this life here on earth, not until we see it from God’s perspective. I refer to that day as Big Screen Day, when we’ll actually see the results of our life’s work, and we’ll meet the people whose lives we have impacted.
 
Until then, we “see through a glass darkly,” and we lack the whole picture. My recommendation is that we don’t waste our time wondering about the efficacy of our ministry. He’s instructed us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
 
 

Thursday

We Were Born Onto a Battlefield

 

One of the things that we as Christians tend to forget is that we were born behind enemy lines. We were born onto a battlefield. 


From the moment we were conceived, we were a target: the enemy was trying to kill us.

 

We get comfortable in our tidy little Christian communities, and we forget that there’s a price on our head. We’re safer in the crowd of Christians, if for no other reason than the fact that we sense the King of Kings among us.

 

It’s easy to forget that our mission, should we choose to accept it, is not about keeping ourselves safe, not about staying out of harm’s way. 


Our job is to love, to serve, and by loving and serving, to change the world until the King’s rule is formed in every corner of the globe.

 

I’ve read the end of the book. It’s not the ones who stayed safe that he brags about and rewards. It’s the ones who overcome.

Do Not Think That I Came to Destroy the Law or the Prophets

I’ve run into several people recently who quote Matthew 5:17, and use that to say that the OT Law is still valid. 

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” [MT 5:17]
 
They’re saying “Fulfilled means it’s still valid. You’re still obligated.”
 
Others say, “No, Fulfilled means it’s done, it’s concluded. It did its job, and now it’s over.”
 
So I thought, Let’s see how that word is used in other places in the Bible. That should give us an idea of what it means here.
 
So here’s a list. This is just part of the New Testament list, but the Old Testament use of the word is similar. (See the links to the full list in the footnotes)
 
Suggestion: For each verse, ask: “Does ‘fulfilled’ mean ‘It’s still in power; you’re still obligated’? or does ‘fulfilled’ mean ‘It’s done, concluded, and here’s the result’?”
 
Mat 2:15
where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
 
Mat 2:17
Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
 
Mat 2:23
and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.
 
Mat 13:14
In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “ ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
 
Mat 13:35
So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”
 
Mat 26:54
But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
 
Mat 26:56
But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
 
Mat 27:9
Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel,
 
Mar 13:4
“Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
 
Mar 14:49
Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”
 
Luk 1:1
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,
 
Luk 1:38
“I am the Lord's servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
 
Luk 4:21
He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
 
Luk 18:31
Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.
 
Luk 21:24
They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
 
Luk 22:37
It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors'; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
 
Luk 24:44
He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
 
Jhn 17:12
While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
 
Jhn 18:9
This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”
 
Jhn 19:24
“Let's not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let's decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, “They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” So this is what the soldiers did.
 
Jhn 19:28
Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”
 
Jhn 19:36
These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,”
 
Act 1:16
and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus.
 
Act 3:18
But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer.
 
Act 13:27
The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath.
 
Act 13:33
he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: “ ‘You are my son; today I have become your father.'
 
Act 23:1
Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.”
 
--
Which is it?
 
Still in power; still obligated?
 
or
 
It’s done, concluded, finished?
 
-----
So here’s a list.
This is just part of the New Testament list (whole NT list: http://bit.ly/1MbLMaf),
but the Old Testament use of the word (whole OT list: http://bit.ly/1MbLMqF) is similar.
 

What Do We Do With the Cloud of Witnesses?

“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.” [Hebrews 12:1]
 
Given the context of this reference – immediately following Hebrews 11, the great Hall of Faith of past believers – it is not uncommon to consider that believers from previous generations are among the cloud of witnesses. Not an unreasonable assumption.  And it’s fair to ask, What is the purpose of witnesses, if not to testify? Hmm.
 
Some believers have had experience with individuals in this great cloud of witnesses, consulting with believers from years gone by, hearing their testimony, receiving encouragement or counsel.
 
Other believers have raised questions about the practice of interacting with the cloud of witnesses. They point out that Scripture forbids God’s people to consult the dead [see Isaiah 8:19 and 19:3]. “That’s necromancy!” they shout into otherwise peaceful conversations. Sigh.
 
There is real reason to question from a cultural perspective what the OT verses are saying. This principle is solid: Scripture cannot say to us anything that it did not say to its original readers, and I’m pretty sure that the things that are forbidden in Isaiah and other places in the Old Covenant are about “consulting mediums and spiritists,” and not actually about believers interacting with saints of bygone ages. But that’s another issue, and that is not where I’m going today. Moving on.
 
Rather, I’m looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith. I see two stories about Jesus in Scripture that look to me like they shed light on whether interaction with the great cloud of witnesses is approved of or forbidden by Scripture. 


1) Luke 9 tells the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. This is the fulfillment of Jesus’ statement in v27, where he says, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” The key point for this conversation is that Jesus himself is consulting with Moses and Elijah, two saints from many centuries earlier. Elijah may not have died [2Kings 2:11], but Moses clearly did [Deuteronomy 34: 5 & 7].  
 
“Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” [v30, 31] Apparently it was OK for Jesus to consult with previous generations of believers. Hmmm.
 
I observe that otherwise mature believers freaked out when Jesus did this, too [see v32 & 33], so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised when otherwise mature believers today freak out as well.
 
2) Luke 20 tells the story of Jesus being tested by the Sadducees and their make-believe story of seven brothers who shared one wife. There are lots of important lessons to be found in this interaction, but the one that concerns this conversation is verses 37 & 38:
 
“But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
 
Jesus is specifically teaching that believers who have gone before – and apparently that will include the great cloud of witnesses of Hebrews 12 – are not dead. “…for to him all are alive.”
 
It’s not unreasonable to point out that this was completely contrary to what the Sadducees, the first-century cessationists, confidently believed. Jesus turned their theology upside down with this teaching; it’s not unreasonable that it would turn the theology of some believers today upside down as well.
 
I still don’t know what I think about consulting with believers who have passed on. But I think that Scripture is very clear: this is NOT the thing that is prohibited in the Old Covenant. Jesus himself practiced it, and he very clearly taught that those believers are not dead, therefore consulting with them, as he himself did, cannot be consulting with the dead.
 
It looks to me like these are deep waters, and I surely don’t recommend the practice to immature believers. This is not “milk” [see Hebrews 5:12-14]. But I am convinced that this is not the practice of necromancy that some have accused it of being.
 
 

Withhold Judgment

I’ve been praying for a friend who is suffering from a formidable depression brought on by, among other things, the hysteria in the news, and the hysterical political voices it amplifies.

This morning, I wanted so badly to pray for judgment on the hysterical voices in politics and media. But I was reminded that judgment isn’t my job. Vengeance is not for me, and it was vengeance that I realized I wanted.

I changed my prayer, and withheld my judgment, instead referring them to Father for judgment. Then I offered an opinion. “I’d like to counsel you to consider judging these voices for their effect on my friend.” But I really, to the best of my ability, withheld my own judgment from them.
 
We were quiet for a bit. Then I had the sense that Father was feeling a measure of relief: now that I had chosen not to judge them, he was more free to work in their lives. Yes, he would judge, but not like I judge, and now I had freed him to do that work in their lives.
 
I’m thinking that we, the church, are keeping God from working in a number of areas by the judgment we hold in our heart. I’m still working out my prayers with the foundation of leaving the judgment up to him.

Growing Season

Think with me for a moment.

• Sometimes God’s plans for us are bigger than we are. So he needs to increase US before he can release those plans and dreams for us to walk out.

• That was true for Jacob (Israel) and the 40 or so members of his extended family. God had plans for him that called for a nation, not a family.

• Part of the purpose for their 400 years in Egypt was to make them big enough for what God wanted to give them.

• But while they were in Egypt, the enemy specifically targeted their growth: “Kill all the baby boys!” the enemy said. (That sounds a lot like the “kill all the black babies” that Planned Parenthood started with, or the “kill all the baby girls” that some cultures have practiced.)

• And yet, in spite of the opposition, God accomplished all the growth he had planned on.

As I reflected on all this, I felt God whispering, “Some of my kids are in a growing season, and they don’t know it. And sometimes the enemy is particularly opposing their growth. That is not going to stop me. The only thing that will stop me is if my children stop trusting me, stop walking with me.”

Is that YOU he’s talking about?

Let’s trust God, even when we can’t see what he’s up to.


Collateral Damage From Someone Else's Errors

In Genesis 14, the king of Sodom and some other kings went out to war, to oppose an invading horde that was conquering the region.
 
They lost, so the conquering horde plundered the cities of the losing kings. Sodom was plundered by the invaders: the riches (“goods”) of the town, and they hauled off the people to be their slaves.
 
As part of their plundering, they carried off Abraham’s nephew Lot, who lived some distance away from the cities in the valley. 

Abraham gathered up his own army, drawing heavily on his employees and friends, and defeated the invading horde that had just conquered and plundered the valley.
 
I’ve read this story (1) a thousand times. This morning, some new thoughts crossed my mind.
 
Lot was not part of the war, but he was taken in the plundering anyway. I’m feeling Father inviting me to look at the war going on around me: is it my war, or am I being plundered because of someone else’s war?
 
• Uncle Abraham wasn’t trying to rescue five kings and five cities. He was rescuing his nephew (2). It also happens that we experience breakthrough as a side-effect of someone else’s breakthrough. Those might be worth looking for, too.
 
• I observe that Abraham’s relationships based on relationship, rather than on gathering for warfare. (3) (They were “allies”; Hebrew: “Men of covenant.”) At least in this situation, the covenant relationship seemed to contribute to the victory in battle over what appeared to be superior forces.
 
• That happened to Lot a second time a few chapters later, but this time (thanks to Uncle Abraham’s prayers), the angels chased Lot & his family out of the city before the city was destroyed. This time, Lot was nearly destroyed by the consequences of someone else’s sins (4).
 
• When Sodom & Gomorrah were destroyed, that was “Because the outcry against [them] is great.” It was in direct response to somebody’s crying out over the city. (5)  The things we say about a city will have great consequences. In this vein, I’m tired of folks cursing New York, Washington DC and San Francisco. Personally, I guard my mouth against even casually saying things that, if taken literally, would result in “stealing killing and destruction;” that’s someone else’s job and I WILL NOT help him. (5½)
 
• It was Abraham’s prayers for the people of Sodom & Gomorrah that spared Lot & his family. I suspect that if he’d had the nerve to keep going, he could have averted the entire judgment, but that is only conjecture. Clearly God does look for people to cry for mercy. (6) It’s probably good to be one of the people that cry for mercy. God goes out of his way to find these folks.
 
 
----
Footnotes
(1) https://www.blueletterbible.org/tools/MultiVerse.cfm?s=000Mbf
 
(2) Genesis 14:14
 
(3) Genesis 14:13
 
(4) Genesis 19:15
 
(5) see also: https://bit.ly/2Tvx7hb
 
(5½)  John 10:10
 
(6) Ge 18:23-33. See also Exodus 32:10-14; Ezekiel 22:30; Isaiah 59:16; Jeremiah 5:1; Psalm 106.23
 
 
 
 
 

Mise en Place: Everything in its Place

Fathers, if they’re good fathers, often enjoy playing games with their kids, don’t they? It makes for time together, and it often strengthens the kids, physically, mentally and other ways, and it helps them grow and mature appropriately.
 
For the past several days, I’ve been waking up haunted by a strange phrase, a foreign phrase, in my mind. It’s not the first time I’ve woken up with words from another language in my mind; that’s one of the games that Father plays with me, kind of like hide and seek.
 
This time it was the term “mise en place.” I don’t recall ever hearing the term before, but suddenly, I’ve caught myself muttering “mise en place” under my breath a hundred times a day. I had to look it up.
 
It turns out that this is a French culinary phrase (pronounced “mi zɑ̃ ˈplas.”) which means “putting in place” or “everything in its place,” and it describes getting all the ingredients ready for what you’re going to cook (apparently assuming that you’re cooking in the kitchen of a French restaurant).

It often appears as a cart or a counter, completely covered with bowls or containers full of chopped, sliced or julienned ingredients for the chef in their cooking, and another set for the team making the plates look pretty before serving the guests. Even the bartender has their own “mise en place.”
 
It turns out that a high end restaurant will have a “mise en place” for their “front of house” as well: All the tables set “just so,” with the right plates, right glasses and silverware, even the flowers, lighting and decorations exactly as they want them, before the doors ever open to receive their guests for the service. Interesting thought.
 
In all these cases, the preparation of the “mise en place” is a team effort. Several cooks are cutting and chopping ingredients, several members of the service staff are setting out tablecloths and laying out the silver and the china. Bartenders are preparing syrups, setting out bottles, making sure the various glassware is within reach.
 
Since the phrase continues to rattle around in my mind, I’ve been meditating on it for some days: What is God hinting about here? I’ve been pressing into his heart to hear more: What is this treasure that he’s hiding for me to discover in this?
 
As I reflect on the phrase, I sense God’s Spirit resting on a couple of differing thoughts. I wonder if he’s whispering similar things to you?
 
• I sense Father encouraging me to get my ducks in the row, to get the details of what we’ve discussed into place in my life. There are some preparations that yet need to be made before I’m actually ready for what he’s bringing to me. If he begins cooking the meal he has in mind for me before the mise en place is ready, he’ll need to stop and prepare ingredients, or worse, serve the meal without some key ingredients.
 
• I also sense him whispering that, even with all the drama in the news, he does have his own ducks lined up: his mise en place is set up and ready to go. His house is ready for guests, and his place in his “front of house” – on the Earth in this case – is similarly ready. Everything is in its place for the next big event. (Side note: a goodly number of people have been involved in this chopping and slicing, in placing the forks and cups “just so” in preparation to receive his guests.)
 
• I’m reminded that “everything” is a big word. In other recent Easter-egg hunts, he’s been emphasizing “mille,” “thousands” to me: there are a LOT of details that he’s got ready for his plans. 

“Don’t under-estimate me, Son.”

Some Ways of God's Provision in the Desert

Point One: God has proven himself to be a skiled planner. If you look at the remarkable number (hundreds!) of advance plans (sometimes called prophecies) that he prepared in advance of his Messiah’s appearance on earth, details as far back as Genesis 3, you realize that God has some mad skills at planning ahead.
 
Point Two: God is good. That’s not negotiable. God is always (always!) in favor of his kids, always working for our good.
 
Point Three: In Exodus, God is pretty badass. His plagues confront the Egyptian “gods” and show them to be powerless. Then he leads a couple of million people out of slavery right on the schedule he had announced several centuries earlier.
 
And here’s where my ears seriously perk up.
 
God, the omniscient, omnipotent super-planner leads his people into the desert, famous for having neither food nor water. And what a surprise, the people have no water, no food.
 
So they complained. Like slaves do.
 
They wanted food (Exodus 16). So he fed them meat (quail: good eating!) in the evening, and bread (manna) the next morning (v12).
 
Then they complained about not having water (Exodus 17), and in the midst of their whining, they asked for water (v2). And God gave them water. He used a pretty epic miracle (v6) to do it, too.

And in these ways he provided for his children for forty years in the desert. (Hint: read Exodus again. What epic stories!)
 
We’ve all heard sermons about their complaining, and how that irritated God and really frustrated their leader, Moses. Reasonable lessons to draw from these stories.
 
I was talking to God the other day as we were going through Exodus. “You’re so good at planning. Why did you lead them into the desert without food or water?”
 
And suddenly, my mind was taken back to The Magician’s Nephew, CS Lewis’s book about the beginning of Narnia. Polly and Digory were on a mission for Aslan, the Christ figure, and they were hungry:
 
“Well, I do think someone might have arranged about our meals,” said Digory.
“I’m sure Aslan would have, if you’d asked him,” said Fledge.
“Wouldn’t he know without being asked?” said Polly.
“I’ve no doubt he would,” said the Horse. “But I’ve a sort of idea he likes to be asked.”
 
And Father whispered to me, “I wanted them to ask me, so I could answer them.”
 
I realized that God was training them how to come to him to meet their needs: his goal is relationship, a relationship of trust.
 
Someone smart once said, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” God works on our behalf to teach us that faith, how to relate to him in faith.
 
He’s good that way.
 
 
  

The Ministry of the Winnowing Fork

John said of Jesus: “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” [Matthew 3]

I used to think of this – I was taught to think of this – as a description of the judgment of people, the “turn or burn” kind of statement. It was often included in evangelistic threats... er... sermons. “Raise your hand or face unquenchable fire!” Ick.
 
I don’t think that way any more. I’m not saying there is no judgment of individuals; clearly there is (though we’ve misunderstood it most of the time).
 
But wheat is produce, it’s fruit. This is talking about what we produce, the fruit we bear. This isn’t Revelation 20, it’s 1Corinthians 3:12-15.
 
In fact, I don’t think this is something to run from; I don’t think this is a threat. This is an offer of help. This is priceless.
 
I can’t speak for you, but for myself, I have to admit that there’s stuff in my life that’s not helpful. There’s stuff that gets in my way, stuff that slows me down, stuff that distracts me. There’s chaff in my life. I’m OK with that being removed from me.
 
And one of the earliest and most foundational descriptions of Jesus is all about that: keeping the good, the nourishing, getting rid of the useless, the distraction.
 
And if I think about it, that’s the essence of Jesus’ first sermon: “Repent [change how you think], for the Kingdom of God is within reach.” Get rid of the thinking that keeps the Kingdom out of reach. Hmm.
 
Invitation: if you feel like it, invite Jesus to point out chaff in your life, in your memories, in your values, in your ways of thinking. And invite him to take his winnowing fork to you, and to remove those things.
 
And trust him to do it kindly. Cuz that’s who he is.

Examples of Mystical Experiences in Scripture

I’ve been thinking about whether it’s reasonable to ask whether  mystical experiences should be normal for Christians. So I dug deeper into the Bible to see more of what the Bible has to say about them.

I was raised to think these were foreign to Christianity, contrary to the Bible, and were only experienced by people oppressed by demonic influences.
 
It turns out that our heroes in the Bible experienced some pretty significant “mystical experiences”:
 
• Daniel, Peter and Paul experienced trances. (1)
 
• Jesus and Paul took day trips to Heaven. (2)
 
• Folks burst out prophesying unwillingly (3)
 
• Philip, Jesus & Elijah were transported from one location to another (4)
 
• Visions were common for God’s people throughout the Bible. (5)
 
• Many people had God appear to them in a dream. (6)
 
• Many people heard the audible voice of God. (7)
 
• How many people in the bible had encounters with angels? (8)
 
• I’m reminded of people who walked with God (9)
 
These are just the easy ones to find. How many people experienced his comfort, his presence, whether in their souls or in their natural senses. How many believers have had conversations with God, been given knowledge or instructions by God.
 
“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” [Jesus, in John 14:2]
 
“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” [Paul, in 1Corinthians 11:1]
 
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” [Paul, in 2Timothy 3:16-17]
 
I’m thinking that we should be learning from the example of Scripture and stop fearing “mystical” or other supernatural experiences and maybe even embrace them. We can be confident that these experiences are indeed Biblical. We are indwelt by a supernatural God who loves mystery, after all.
---
 
Footnotes:
1.      Daniel 8:18, 10:9; Acts 10:10; Acts 22:17; 2Corinthians 12:2.
2.      John 3:13; 2Corinthians 12:2
3.      1Samuel 10:11, 19:24; Numbers 11:27
4.      Acts 8:39, 40; John 8:59, 12:3; 1Kings 18:12
5.      Genesis 15:1; Psalm 89:19; Isaiah 1:1, 6:1-10; Matthew 17:9; Luke 24:23; Acts 10:3, 10:11-17; Revelation 1:12ff
6.      Numbers 12:6; 1Kings 3:5; Matthew 1:20, 2:12, 2:13, 2:19,
7.      Exodus 3:5; Deuteronomy 4:33; 1 Samuel 3:4-11; Mathew 3:17; Mark 9:7; Acts 9:4; Revelation 1:10, 4:1
8.      Genesis 21:17; 2Kings 1:15; 1Chronicles 21:30; Matthew 1:20, 28:5; Luke 1:13, 1:30, 2:10
9.      Genesis 3:8, 5:24, 6:9; Micah 6:8, 2Corinthians 6:16

Wielding Your Imagination With God


What part of your being do you engage in order to think things through? We're talking about study and fact-finding and evaluating details, here. What do you do that work with? Your mind, yes? A lot of us engage the world primarily through our mind; American culture teaches us to do this.

What part of your being do you engage in order to feel things? That's the emotions, right? We talk about engaging people's emotions when we write or speak, and for many among us, this is the primary way that they relate to life; American media teaches us to do this.
 
And there are a relatively smaller portion of the population that engages life through their will: through choosing, through following through with their choices. I hate to say it, but an awful lot of American religion teaches us to emphasize our will and our choices.

You can often tell which of these components of their soul that people use most, relate most with the world, by listening to them talk for a bit. Sooner or later, you'll hear about "I think this," "I feel like," or "I did this."
 
Those are all well and good. In point of fact, a healthy human being will use all three components in their everyday life. It's my own understanding that the best choices are made, not with the emotions, and also not with the mind, but with the will, counseled by both mind and emotions, but that's a conversation for another day.
 
I want to talk for a minute about how to make use of the tool that God has given us called our imagination. I suspect that this is one of our more precious gifts from the God in whose image we're created.
 
I'll go so far as to say this: there are jobs that we are called to do which are far easier, far more effective to do with our imagine than with any other part of our being.
 
Let's clarify: this is not the same as daydreaming or wishing or fanciful creating imaginary worlds. Those are very often the result of an undisciplined, untrainned, lazy imagination. "I'm imagining myself winning the lottery!" Yeah, that's not it. Let's put our big kid pants on and look at the work of disciplining the imagination.

This list is NOT complete:
 
×  Dreaming with God. What a wonderful thing it is to share hopes and dreams with God. Absolutely, we need to share our hopes and dreams, if for no other reason than to hear his opinion and solicit his help bringing them into reality. That's a valuable use of our imagination.
 
But we also need to hear his hopes and dreams. This is a normal and healthy part of a love relationship. We learn so much more about his heart, his values this way. I suspect this one alone is worthy of several books!
 
×  Hearing God's voice. Yeah, God does speak audibly once in a great while, where we can hear him with our natural ears. And certainly, he speaks through Scripure, where we hear with various tools (our spirit, maybe our mind or our imagination, etc). But if we're ever going to get to that place of actual conversation with the Almighty that we all long for, we will hear him most of all through our imagination. It takes practice, training is helpful, but this is within reach.
 
"My sheep hear my voice," Jesus said, "and they follow me." Are you his sheep? OK, then either you hear his voice, or he made a mistake. Or you haven't learned how to exercise your imagination to recognize his voice. I know several books have been written on this.
 
×  Dreams and visions. Look, if you don't want to have dreams and visions, I'm sorry for you, but get out of our way. The rest of us want to experience all that we can with God, and this is part of it. Trances, too (see Acts 10:10 and 22:17).
 
In fact, if you look at the effects of these experiences in Scripture, you'll see where God revealed major revelation, where people saved their lives (and the life of the Christ child!), had formidable gifts imparted, all through dreams, visions and trances. Seriously, go look for it; it's actually hard to miss, once you're looking for it.
 
×  Snuggle Time. OK, that's not a scriptural term, I admit it. But God wants to manifest himself intimately with you even more than you are looking forward to resting intimately with him. Snuggling. Or call it whatever else makes you feel more comfortable. (Read the Song of Solomon. When you're alone.)
 
But this sort of very real experience with God happens through the means of your imagination. Logic just ain't gonna get you to this one, I'm afraid.
 
Somebody's going to worry here (thinkers, I'm looking at you! Heck, I Am you! This was my issue for decades!)
Yes, there are some dangers with exercising our imagination with God. Let's be honest: we can get into trouble with just about anything if we misuse it; why would our imagination be any different?
 
The solution is simple: don't be stupid. Well, that and learn to wield the gift of discernment that he already gave you when you first came to faith. You have that gift for a reason: use it! (See Hebrews 5:14.)
 
But just because you're afraid of your imagination (some people are), or because you don't know how to use your imagination as a tool (that's a whole lot of us Western Christians), or because your imagination is out of your control and runs off with your mind and your emotions without your permission (like mine used to be), that's no excuse to not learn to exercise self-control here.
 
You know how to communicate with God with your mouth. You know how to interact with God and his word with your mind. You know how your emotions experience things with his Spirit sometimes. You know when you need to make right choices.
 
Let's become as skillful with interacting with our Daddy who loves us with our imagination as we are with our other communication skills. 
 

The Manipulation of Outrage

Offense does not make you powerful. Offense to the point of outrage does not actually grant power. If you become outraged, if you are offended, you don't actually have any more power did you get before you were offended. You still don't get to choose for other people. You still don't get to deny others their rights, their freedoms, their choices.

There are some environments, some groups, that want you to believe that outrage gives you power. They are mistaken.

What outrage does give you sometimes is a attention and maybe irritation, not unlike how the toddler's temper tantrum in the grocery store gives the child attention and embarrasses her parent.  (It's worth noting that a child who is sick or well past nap time is a whole other issue.)

The outrage, the temper tantrum, does not actually imbue power; that screaming toddler cannot actually force her parent to comply with her wishes. But the attention and the irritation that the outrageous temper tantrum displays might actually succeed in manipulating a tired Mom to give her what she wants in order to shut her up. The power is a lie.

Outrage is manipulation. And like all manipulation, it only works if you allow it work on you.

The reality is that when someone is trying to wield outrage against you, it is you, not they, who has the position of real power. Their power is only the temper tantrum, attracting attention and deploying irritation in their bid for power.  But you hold the real power. You hold the power of choice.

In the public arena, when the media gets involved, things shift a little, but the principles remain the same. We've seen far too many times when the media focuses their not insubstantial attention on the children having the temper tantrums in congress or on the streets, amplifying the attention, amplifying the irritation and embarrassment adding to and working hard to justify the manipulation.

It's still our choice about whether we ourselves will succumb to that manipulation. It is not, on the other hand, within our power to choose whether the rest of society will chose to resist the manipulation, or whether they'll succumb to it. The best we can do is help them to see it for what it is.

It is my observation that outrage is the argument of choice primarily when reason or sensibility don't bring the desired result. It has been said that "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." Outrage surely must be the last step before the violence, and in the news these days, the two seem to be operating hand in hand.

In fact, it seems apparent that if outrage (or, for that matter, violence) is the argument employed to persuade, then it is a pretty reliable conclusion that whatever they're trying to persuade us about should be examined very closely, as the folks selling it clearly don't believe in the cause enough to trust their case to a reasoned appeal.  If they have resorted to outrage, they already know their argument is not rational.

It has not escaped my attention that I am writing for a community of people who are not generally found throwing temper tantrums in public. (I have observed an awful lot of believers, however, amplifying the outraged temper tantrums of others on their Facebook or Twitter feeds, more's the pity.)

My reason for writing this is to give us the opportunity to recognize outrage when we encounter it personally, to see it for what it is - an attempt at manipulating our will to do what the outraged want, and to choose to make our choices ourselves, not on the basis of manipulated emotions or fear of embarrassment or violence.

If someone describes their offense, engages their outrage toward you, stop and recognize that either they are too immature to communicate like an adult, or they're too injured, or they realize that their argument won't stand up to a reasonable conversation.

Recognize their attempts to manipulate you. Resist the manipulation, and choose for yourself.  Make up your own mind.

Never give up your free will to choose for yourself.

Wednesday

Which Gifts From God Don't Need God's Power?


There are three lists of spiritual gifts in the New Testament.

The list that gets most of the attention is the list of gifts from the Holy Spirit:

“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit [of all]: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another [different] kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.” - 1 Corinthians 12:7-11

A lot of people are more comfortable with the gifts that Father gives:

“For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think [of himself] more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. ... Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, [let us use them]: if prophecy, [let us prophesy] in proportion to our faith; or ministry, [let us use it] in [our] ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” - Romans 12:3, 6-8

And then there’s the gifts that come from Jesus, from God the Son:

“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. ... And He Himself gave some [to be] apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” - Ephesians 4:7, 11-13

I was out walking with God recently, and our conversation drifted to the subject of teaching, since that’s one of the gifts that I work in. We were talking (well, I was talking; that’s how these conversations go a lot of the time) about how teachers come up with the material for their teaching.

I was raised in a couple of traditions. I grew up in a fairly liberal denominational church, where you could preach on whatever you wanted to; it was nice if you could justify it from the Bible, but it wasn’t necessary.
                                                             
Then I was trained in inductive exegesis (let the Bible teach you what it says; teach on that) in a solidly evangelical tradition. In that tradition, if the Bible didn’t say it (and twisting scripture to make it look like it was saying it was verboten!), then you shouldn’t generally teach it.

Since those years, I’ve discovered that God actually speaks to his kids, and he is not unwilling to speak to me. The most un-nerving is when he teaches me truths that I can’t easily find in the pages of Scripture. For some decades, I was warned against the dangers of teaching from personal revelation; “That’s the way cults are started! <gasp!>”)

[Bunny trail: I’ve since gotten over that. I’ve discovered that a good bit (not all) of the New Testament epistles come from Paul’s own personal revelation. And he worked to make sure my revelation is consistent with the teaching of Scripture, never contrary to it. That seems like a solid standard.]

I found myself reflecting on how some teachings can be intellectual or emotional in its foundation, and other kinds of teachings (and here I reflected on prophetic revelation) requires more: it requires a supernatural element that other kinds of messages don’t.

And this is where God brought me up short.

“Hang on there, Son. Just which gifts and abilities from a supernatural God don’t actually need supernatural power? Which of these gifts do you think you can accomplish all on your own, anyway?”

Oh dear.

If I’m honest, I’ve considered that gifts like prophecy and miracles need to be supernatural, but a whole lot of others just need to be well-trained. In fact, while I’ve seen hundreds of training tools for various gifts (I remind you of my history), only a few gave more than lip service to the idea that supernatural empowerment was actually for the gifts they’re training.

In reality, I think the church is getting past the idea that the gifts of God, even the “less spectacular” ones like serving or teaching or evangelism, can function from skill, rather than from the power of God. But the idea is still ingrained in at least a few of us.

I need to say it a couple more times just to make sure I’m getting it:

• The gift of teaching, without the direction and empowering of the supernatural grace of God, is a mess. It would be a work of the flesh, and that would lead people towards a fleshly destination.

• The gift of pastoring, without the direction and empowering of the supernatural grace of God, is a mess. It would be a work of the flesh, and that would lead people towards a fleshly destination.

• The gift of mercy, without the direction and empowering of the supernatural grace of God, is a mess. It would be a work of the flesh, and that would lead people towards a fleshly destination.

• The ministry of helps, without the direction and empowering of the supernatural grace of God, is a mess. It would be a work of the flesh, and that would lead people towards a fleshly destination.

• The gift of teaching, without the direction and empowering of the supernatural grace of God, is a mess. It would be a work of the flesh, and that would lead people towards a fleshly destination.

• The gift of giving, without the direction and empowering of the supernatural grace of God, is a mess. It would be a work of the flesh, and that would lead people towards a fleshly destination.

Everybody should know that there’s a reason that “The Love Chapter” [1Corinthians 13] is smack in the middle of Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts: we need to use our gifts with love. Which also leads us to:

• Love, without the direction and empowering of the supernatural grace of God, is a mess. It would be a work of the flesh, and that would lead people towards a fleshly destination.


Friday

It's Just Like Riding A Bicycle


Do you remember when you learned how to ride a bicycle? Your world changed that day.

Before you knew how to ride a bike, you were a pedestrian. You had to walk (or run) everywhere, or have someone else take you where you wanted to go. You were limited.

After that day, you could still choose to walk (or you could still ask someone to take you), but you had a new choice: you could ride your bicycle! You had access to new forms of transportation. You were powerful.

And ever since, you’ve had that ability. We even use it as an aphorism: “It’s just like riding a bicycle,” we say, when we want to describe a skill that you never really lose.

Father used that illustration with me recently. “It’s just like riding a bicycle. Once you’ve got it, you never really lose it.”

Let me back up a bit.

Have you ever had a particularly intimate or especially satisfying experience with God?

A friend of mine has had some remarkable experiences with God in what appears to be a garden. I’ve had some encounters in a big paneled library. Others have met him in worship, on quiet walks or in other experiences with him.

Pause for a moment, and think back to one of those times when you experienced God in a special way. Hold that memory in your mind. Have you got it? Now consider:

That was not merely an experience to be remembered (though it was memorable). That was an invitation to come back to that place again and again.

There’s a very real sense in which “It’s just like riding a bicycle.”

In my early experiences of this kind, they happened at God’s initiative. I was just minding my own business in prayer, doing what I regularly do, and the experience or the vision just showed up. It was all his initiative.

Recently, however, my sense has been that this is more up to me now. “I showed you what’s possible. Now it’s your turn.”

And the more I think about the nature of God’s relationship with his children, the more I see him training us for participating with him in the Kingdom we are inheriting with Jesus.

For example, Hebrews 12:8: “If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.” Remember that the word for “discipline” is” παιδεία paideía, pahee-di'-ah: tutorage, i.e. education or training; by implication, disciplinary correction.”

So he initiates the encounters with us the first time or the first few times. But he wants heirs, partners, not servants or perpetually-immature babies, so he invites us to initiate our encounters with him.

Since this is part of God’s training of us, I draw these assumptions (and they are assumptions) from the lessons:

• It’s going to be more difficult for us to initiate those meetings than it was when he did it for us. (See Hebrews 12:11.)

• It will get easier the more we practice. We will eventually get good at it.

• He’s still very eager to meet us. But he’s so committed to our maturity that he’s not going to short-cut the process; that would not be for our good.

So here’s some practical counsel:

○ Review your memories of your favorite or most profitable encounters with God.

○ Exercise your will, and probably your mind’s eye (not unrelated to your imagination) to re-visit that place; not the event of the encounter that you remember, the place. Look for a fresh encounter in the same place.

○ Don’t give up when it’s difficult, or when your experience isn’t what you are really wanting there. Keep pressing in.

○ By my counsel, I’d say stay verbal in the process. Keep talking with God throughout the process. Be transparent (“OK, this feels weird,” is healthy conversation).

○ If this is the first time you’ve tried this, do NOT let yourself be discouraged if you mess up, or if others accuse you of messing up. That’s the joy of a God like ours: we run TO him, we don’t hide from him, when we mess up.

Remember, It’s just like riding a bicycle.


Thursday

Prayer Isn't Enough


I’ve been hearing an awkward phrase for a while now.

“Prayer is not enough.” I think I’m hearing it from God. “Declaration is not enough.”

This morning, he went on:

• If you sit around the house all day eating bonbons, praying for weight loss, do you think I’ll believe you?

• If you pray for finances, but don’t go looking for a job, shall I take you seriously?

• If you pray for godly leaders, but don’t expend the effort to research and vote, do you really mean what you’re praying?

• If you fill your mind with the ravings of the fearful, then ask me for peace in your soul, I will question your sincerity.

• I could think of a thousand other illustrations.

The thought was, “If you don’t take your prayers seriously, why should I?”

Nepal and Baltimore: When Prayer Isn’t Enough – The HaystackIt seems that God is more interested in invested partners, in full heirs in the kingdom, than in needy, dependent toddlers.

If we’re heirs in the Kingdom of God, then we’re participants in the exercise of the rule of the Kingdom. He wants to work with us, not against. He is more willing to work with us than against us.

Our words have power, yes. But our actions are also powerful. Best to have them working together.

For a long time, we thought our words were powerless but we’re learning better now. It appears that we’re swinging too far in the direction of relying on our words.

That’s a truth, but it’s not the only truth. If we want to live as mature sons and daughters, we need to know more than just one truth.

The saying is, “Prayer works,” and it’s true. But it goes both ways. Prayer accomplishes things.  But prayer sometimes has work to do. Not instead of prayer; in addition to prayer. As part of the prayer.

We’ve got a job to do.

-----

“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ “
‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing.
He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. - Matthew 21:28-31