Showing posts with label 2010. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2010. Show all posts

Friday

The Feather is a Sign

I was at a prophetic gathering recently, where a man was painting a picture during the worship. The painting was of a feather in the Lord’s hand. I was sitting nearby and watched the painting form, watched the artist labor over it.

Toward the end of the conference, the keynote speaker took public note of the painting, commented on the feather, and offered prophetic perspective.

“First,” he pointed out, “my tongue is the pen of a ready writer. A quill is a pen. Many of you here need to be writing, writing out your experiences in God.”

Then he went on to tell the story that stuck with me; I don’t know whether he spoke of a real practice, or of a vision he had had. He told of an Eskimo who needed to feed his family in the winter, so he travelled out on the ice, where he found an air hole for a seal, the seal that he wanted to bring home to feed his hungry family.

He waited for the seal by the air hole, but he knew that the seal would see him waiting there, harpoon in hand, so he brought out a feather, and put it on the surface of the water in the air hole. The feather may distract the seal, or it may obscure his vision, but those are not the real purpose of the feather on the water.

When the seal came near its air hole, the feather would vibrate from the changing pressure in the water, from the bubbles under the ice of the seal’s exhalation as he prepares to inhale in his private air hole.

The Eskimo never needs to actually see the seal. He waits until the vibration of the feather indicates that the seal is right there, and he strikes without having seen the seal. Then he cuts the hole larger, pulls the seal out, carries it home and feeds his family. The prophet said that the feather was also a symbol that the “Lord’s family is really hungry; they’re starving. The Lord is looking for some seals to take to feed his family.”

The feather is also a lesson for us in trust. The Eskimo never saw the seal he was hunting until (and unless) the successful conclusion of the hunt.

I believe that we are in a day when we need to learn how to obey when God says, “It’s time to strike” even when we don’t see what we’re striking. It’s time for us to move forward with what God is doing in us, what he’s calling us to, even if we don’t know what that is or where it will take us.

Saturday

Knowledge Puffs Up. Love Edifies.

I have a principle, a value that influences me, that shapes me, in the area of knowledge and wisdom. The value is this: there are better tools that knowledge, than learning, to work with in accomplishing the goal of “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” This might sound controversial; hear me out.


1 Corinthians 8:1 says. "... Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies." This doesn't say that "secular knowledge puffs up" or “ungodly knowledge puffs up;” it says that knowledge, any knowledge - apart from love - brings a puffing up, an inflation, a pride that prevents useful ministry, useful relationship, or even a meaningful life: this comes from knowing, from building up knowledge.

It is not by chance that Father said, "Don't eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil." It isn't about good and evil; it's knowledge itself that kills. Knowledge of good and knowledge of evil are equal in this tree: the fruit of knowledge brings death. We were meant to eat from the other tree: We were meant for life, not knowledge. (Now, don't take this too far; don't assume that knowing stuff is bad. That is not where this is going.)

2 Corinthians 3:6 says "[God] also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." Same story: knowing - by itself, apart from the Spirit, even knowing the truth - that kills. It brings death.

We have a lot of knowledge in us. It's killing us, killing the people we minister to. To be fair, I have a great deal of knowledge in me; I'm beginning to learn how to exercise it in love, how to be led - really led - by the Spirit of God. I have a whole lot of un-learning to do; I'm getting a start.
There are some forerunners helping. When I listen to them, I'm listening for the life in their words, the Spirit in their words. Their knowledge is good, but it's knowledge: I'm allergic. I get all puffy with too much of it. It's not good.

The goal here, is to move from the tree of knowledge to the tree life. To move from knowing good and evil to experiencing life. To never (again) minister the letter of the law, the letter of truth, even the letter of the Word. There really is much done with the Word that brings death; a lot of it is online; a not insubstantial portion is done from pulpits.

I say again, knowledge is not evil. It's only evil by itself. With the Spirit, led by love, knowledge is a tool. Frankly, it's a minor tool, but not an insignificant one. There are other, more powerful tools. Paul disdained knowledge, even knowledge of the Word, choosing power instead, for his preaching of the gospel, and he valued love over power.

My purpose is not to judge them, these ministers of the tree of knowledge. Nor is my purpose to disdain or diminish the Word of God; it is the fount of our lives.

My purpose, instead, is to depart from the Tree of the Knowledge, to move to the Tree of Life, to minister the Word with life, but to minister love more.

Care to come with me?

Sunday

Learning with the Sadducees

Jesus taught the Sadducees some lessons about the Kingdom. Let’s learn from them.

I’ve been fascinated with the story in Mark 12 where Jesus schools the Sadducees. They came to test him (it seemed to be the popular thing to do in those days), to try to get Jesus to agree with their heretical doctrines. Unsurprisingly, Jesus didn’t play along. But His reply is worth learning from, particularly in these “Last Days” which Jesus himself described as “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.” The periphery of the Church contains so many self-appointed Guardians of the Truth, but many (or most?) of them seem to be speaking with the error of the Sadducees, or the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Jesus’ response here is a wonderful lesson on identifying Truth.

The fact that Jesus takes the time to teach the Sadducees, rather than rebuke them publicly (he wasn’t afraid of that; see Matthew 23 for a blistering example), indicates something significant, I think. There were two primary theological camps among the teachers of those days: Pharisees and Sadducees. The interesting thing here is that the Pharisees actually had the better doctrine: they acknowledged the resurrection from the dead, they acknowledged the presence and ministry of angels, they acknowledged spirits, and therefore the Holy Spirit. The Sadducees did not acknowledge any of these (see Acts 23:8).

But it was the Pharisees that Jesus blasted publicly, not the Sadducees. Here, the Sadducees come to test Jesus with a hypothetical scenario, and Jesus responds gently, and shows them their error. I observe that when Jesus points out the error of the Pharisees (for example, Luke 12:1), he does not address their doctrine, but their hypocrisy.

I learn from this that I can be theologically sound, and completely messed up: I can have my doctrines correct, and earn the castigation and judgment of Jesus. Apparently, correct doctrine is not the highest and most valuable treasure to the Son of God.

The Sadducees must have had a more teachable attitude; they missed several key doctrinal points, but Jesus gently instructs them. Since I aspire to be teachable more than I aspire to doctrinal perfection, I suspect I can learn from his schooling of these teachable heretics.

The first thing that Jesus does in instructing these guys is that he completely rejects their whole foundation: they came to him with an elaborate hypothetical situation to convince him: he ignores it completely, focusing on the truth instead. I confess: I want to deal with the real world (as Jesus did here) more than with hypothetical situations which can only generate hypothetical theologies.

Before Jesus corrects their erroneous theology, he points out the source of the error: they’re mistaken (the word also means “deceived”) because they lack knowledge of two things: the Scriptures and the power of God.

It is an amazing thing to me that Jesus accuses the Sadducees of not knowing the Scriptures: these men spend their lives studying the Scriptures, and yet, Jesus says, they don’t really know them. Apparently it is possible to study the Word, to know theology, to earn advanced theological degrees (for that is what it meant to be a Sadducee), and still be deceived. Apparently book-learning isn’t enough.

The second thing that the Sadducees missed, which led to their deception, was that they didn’t have a working knowledge of the power of God. It makes sense that not knowing the power of God would be a contributing factor towards a theology that denies the supernatural. If you don’t ever heal the sick, or see people who do, then it’s easier to say, “God doesn’t heal the sick anymore.” I know of one seminary professor who declared, “Well, I don’t experience miracles, so God must not do miracles any more,” as he taught his poor students about the virtues of cessationism.

I believe that the reverse is also true: the reason that people come up with theologies – or excuses – to explain away the power of God is specifically because those people have not experienced the power of God in the way that Jesus expects us to.

For the scholars among us, the word “power” here is indeed the Greek work dunamis, the root word of “dynamite.” This is the same word that is used for healing (Luke 5:17), for resurrecting the dead (Romans 1:4) and for casting demons out (Luke 9:1), and which Jesus assigns, delegates, imparts to those of us who are His disciples (Luke 10:19). Jesus is describing signs and wonders when he describes the reasons for their deception: because they don’t know the signs and wonders of God, they are mistaken, in error, deceived: we must know the supernatural power of God to stay out of deception.

That leads us to a necessary corollary: we must use these two foundations in order to have our theology right: we must really understand the Scriptures – not just study, but letting the Author teach us – and we must have a working, experiential knowledge of the power of God. Indeed, a perusal of the Gospels will reveal that most of the time when Jesus taught the people, he then also healed them, or when he started with healing, he followed up with teaching. Theology teachers and Bible teachers whose ministry doesn’t include the power of God are – according to Jesus’ correction of the Sadducees – missing one of the two pillars of complete theology. Powerless theology teachers cannot teach theology well. That’s a scary conclusion, and it’s driving at least this teacher to pursue supernatural signs and wonders more passionately than ever before: I decline to fall into the deception of he Sadducees.

It is at this point in the conversation that things get really interesting. Jesus has explained what they were doing wrong that led to their deception; now he goes on to correct their theological errors. I’m not going to examine the theology that he’s teaching (it is self-apparent); rather, I want to look at the way he teaches it: He corrects their theology using the same two tools, the same two reference points – the Scriptures and the power of God – that he has just accused them of lacking, though he does so in the opposite sequence.

Second (I’ll cover the “First” in a second), Jesus refers to the Scriptures, using Moses’ reference to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to affirm the resurrection. While he’s using the Scriptures as his foundation, his interpretation and application of the Scriptures is prophetic, rather than the usual inductive or deductive tools more commonly used both then and now.

But first, he speaks as the Son of God, whose residence and throne are in Heaven, and he speaks to a situation that neither the Sadducees nor we have any way to understand apart from either a resident of Heaven comes to explain it to us, or us journeying to the heavenly realms to see for ourselves. Jesus’ declaration cannot come from earth when says, “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” He’s describing eternity from the point of view of someone who has seen first-hand what the resurrection is like. “This is what it’s like on the other side of death and resurrection.”

That knowledge, of course, is impossible apart from the supernatural. I can think of a few ways that I could have learned those things, but not a one of them comes from studying well. Paul (2 Corinthians 12:4), Jesus (John 3:13) and John (Revelation 1:10 and 4:2) appeared to travel to Heaven while on Earth, though there’s very little teaching on the topic in church today. A whole number of people had things explained to them by angels (beginning with Hagar [Genesis 16], and including Moses [Exodus 3], Balaam [Numbers 32], Manoah [Judges 3:17], Elijah [2 Kings 1:15], Zechariah [Zechariah 6:5], Zacharias [Luke 1:13], Mary [Luke 2], Cornelius [Acts 10:22], and of course, John [Revelation 17:7].

I make two applications from this fact: A) I need to get used to supernatural revelation of information – whether it’s my visiting heaven or angels instructing me. And B) I need to not be afraid of basing theology on that revelation: Jesus did, and he taught it as theology – not just as a testimony – to unbelievers, based on his own revelation of Heaven.

(Of course the usual caveats apply: don’t use personal revelation – or prophetic interpretation of Scripture – to contravene Scripture’s clear teaching [how many cults have started that way?]. But at the same time, don’t run from it either!)

Jesus, of course, has a fine conclusion to this brief teaching. Verse 27 says, “He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken.” He summarizes the whole conversation in a single, very obvious generalization of the nature of God: “He’s the God of the living.” If the Sadducees were as open to new understandings about God as it seems, then I can imagine two or three of them slapping their forehead and muttering, “Of course! Duh! God of the living! Why didn't I see that?”

Wednesday

Treasure in the Wilderness

I've abandoned the vocabulary of "mountains and valleys" to describe the variations in the Christian life. It seems that the seasons (in my experience, maybe) are more of "seasons in the wilderness" and "seasons of fruitfulness." (Graham Cooke describes seasons of hiddenness and seasons of manifestation in a similar way.)

Fruitfulness is when we see the cool things happening: our prayers are answered quickly, our ministry thrives, we are seen for who we are in Christ and welcomed (or not). These are seasons of fruitfulness, and as we all love bearing fruit, we tend to love these seasons. We tend to know a fair bit about these seasons because we're always praying for them: "More souls!" "More revival!" "More provision!" are all praying into this season of fruitfulness.

Wilderness seasons, sometimes called desert seasons, are where the foundations for fruitfulness are built. And while many of us have never been taught to expect wilderness seasons (I certainly was not), pretty much all of the great saints had their seasons.

  • Moses: Tried to fulfill his destiny, but it really didn’t work out, so he fled to the wilderness. Met God in a Burning Bush in the desert. Then he took three million people with him back into the wilderness, where he was led by pillar of fire/cloud for 40 years. When they got thirsty, he brought water from the rock. Twice! And they ate “What’s that?” (AKA “manna”) for supper every day for 14,600 nights! Moses is famous for making the “Tent of Meeting,” and later the tabernacle: the wilderness is where he learned how to do that, and more important, he learned how to hear God.
  • David: He was anointed by God to be king, and immediately went back to tending sheep in the hills. He killed Goliath (using methods he learned in the wilderness with the sheep), served the king for a little while, and then fled to the wilderness when the king tried to kill him. There he learned how to encourage himself in the Lord, he wrote powerful & intimate Psalms, and he trained an army, and went raiding with them in order to kill Israel’s enemies and feed his friends.
  • John the B: Luke 1:80: “And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.” He’s famous for eating grasshoppers, but in the wilderness, God taught him his assignment (forerunner for the Messiah) and how to recognize him.
  • Jesus: Jesus didn’t “flee,” but Mark 1:12 says, “the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness.” Of course, it follows up with Luke 4:14: “Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region.” Something good happened to him out there.
  • Apostle Paul: Here’s another guy that tried to walk out his calling, but ended up fleeing for his life into the wilderness where he was trained by God. 2 Corinthians 12: describes part of what happened there: “I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” He later taught doctrine both from the Old Testament and from the revelation he acquired in the wilderness (for example, 1 Corinthians 11:23).

I see some common trends here:
o A season in the wilderness regularly precedes being released to do what God has called us to do.
o God provides for us in the wilderness, but it’s usually not what we wish his provision would be. For the Exodus, it was 40 years of “What’s that?”; for Elijah, it was water and roadkill (1 Kings 17:6). John had grasshoppers, and for Jesus, it was 40 days of fasting.
o The wilderness is the place where God teaches us how to hear Him. Most of us relate to God through other people (pastors, friends, leaders) until we visit the wilderness, where we learn to relate to him directly as sons.
o It seems that the wilderness is where we learn God’s strategies for the things he’s called us to do later in life: Moses learned how to hear God; John learned that the Messiah would be the one that the Spirit lands on like a dove; David learned to lead powerful soldiers; Paul learns doctrine.

I have begun to see the wilderness through the eyes of Hosea 2:14: it's there that God allures me. It's quiet there. There are burning bushes in the wilderness, and water from rocks, visions of the third heaven. But mostly, God is there, and if I listen carefully, he teaches me his ways: things that I'll need when I next go back to the city. I have learned to love the wilderness!

Don't get me wrong: the wilderness is difficult, but there are treasures there. For me, the difference was perspective: once I learned about the treasures, I began to treasure my seasons in the wilderness.

Thursday

Beware Gypsy Presbyteries

“Beware gypsy presbyteries!”

It has been fifty years since the warning was prophesied to the church in that city. It was one of the larger cities of the greater Pacific Northwest region, and the prophet declaring the word was known by the church of that city, and was respected. “Beware gypsy presbyteries!” he declared.

I’ve been thinking about that word, and I’m hearing God breathing on it for my region. In fact, I believe God is re-breathing that word to the entire Pacific Northwest. He’s probably saying it to more than just our region, but I have confidence that this is the season for the Northwest to hear it. Fifty years ago, the church didn’t hear, or they didn’t understand, and there was a price that was paid for their failure, but that’s not the story I’m telling here.

But before I tell the story, I need to be clear about the position that I tell it from. I am not opposed to traveling ministries; I am not opposed to prophetic ministries. In fact, I have good friends in both camps, and I serve ministries that are in both camps. What I am about to say is not a declaration that such ministries are in error. That would be an untrue accusation. In fact, the very prophecy we’re discussing here was delivered by a traveling prophetic minister.

Think with me about that simple sentence: Beware gypsy presbyteries:

· Beware: watch out. There’s danger here. Be careful here; don’t get caught in it.
· Gypsy: in the less-politically-correct times of a half century ago, a gypsy was “a member of a people with dark skin and hair who speak Romany and who traditionally live by seasonal work and fortunetelling.” They traveled from place to place, with no roots in the places they visited, and no accountability in those places.
· Presbyteries: Bill Hamon defines a prophetic presbytery: when two or more prophets and/or prophetic ministers lay hands on and prophesy over an individual, a body, or a region, to minister a prophetic word, to identify gifts and placement in the Body or in leadership, to impart gifts and callings, or for ordaining to an office of ministry.

It’s probably worth mentioning that this a metaphor: I am not suggesting that there are either individual prophets or groups of prophets wandering from town to town performing fortune telling under the guise of prophetic ministry just to make a living. I’m sure that does occasionally happen, but again: that’s not the primary warning here.

These days, we have a large number of traveling prophets, visiting town after town, prophesying. I would expect that, like the gypsies of old, they were tempted to declare what people wanted to hear in order to generate better offerings, but again, that’s not the primary warning here.

The warning is to guard against depending on prophetic words from traveling prophetic ministries who have no root, no stake in this region. There is good that can come from visiting prophetic ministries, even from ministries that we don’t well know; the warning is against depending on those.

And this is a warning to the church; I am confident that this is a warning to the church in my region; I suggest you ask the Holy Spirit if it’s a warning to the church in your region as well. Fundamentally, this is a warning that the primary prophetic voice in our region must not be from traveling ministries. Our primary prophetic voice needs to come from the prophetic people of our own region.

Thirty years ago, there were a relatively large number of traveling evangelists. They’d come into town, hold a week or two worth of meetings, collect that many offerings, and move on to the next town. A few people came to Christ, more folks renewed forgotten vows, and some of the saints were encouraged. Sometimes.

But it was not an uncommon occurrence that the evangelist would say some things that confused some of the sheep. In my community, the departure of an evangelist would leave uncertain saints worrying about “Can a Christian really have a demon?” or “Can I really lose my salvation?” “Am I really in danger of hell after all these years?”

Pastors would talk with respect about some of the evangelists; others, they said, would “Blow in, blow up, and blow out!” and the pastors would be left to clean up the messes, soothe their worried sheep and answer their difficult and sometimes unnecessary questions.

In our generation, we have more prophets than evangelists blowing into town, declaring a prophetic sermon, prophesying with varying degrees of accuracy over several people in the audience, collecting the requisite number of offerings, and blowing on to the next town. Again, the pastors are left to clean up the messes, soothe their worried sheep and answer their difficult and sometimes unnecessary questions. These days, the questions include, “The prophet said this would happen; why isn’t it happening?” and “Why won’t the pastor recognize me in the role the prophet said I am called to?”

In other words, there are a number of pastoral problems with the church depending on traveling prophetic ministers. In order to deal with the pastoral questions, there is a temptation to reject the traveling prophetic ministry; I’m not sure that’s the right solution.

But there are also significant apostolic problems when the church depends heavily on travelling prophetic ministers, particularly when she depends on un-connected gypsy presbyteries. Some examples:

· If we don’t stand up and take responsibility for hearing what God has to say for our region, then why should we expect people who have no investment in the region to labor to hear God’s heart for our region?
· Prophetic words often don’t come to pass by themselves; we need to labor with them: fighting for the promises, fighting with the promises. Prophets who blow into town, declare a word (even a good word) and then are gone to the next town cannot labor to birth the word that’s been declared.
· If we depend on guest speakers for our prophetic declarations, then what happens when we need to hear from God and there is no guest speaker in town this weekend?
· When a church, a region, depends on others to bring the word of the Lord for them, then they have no motivation, no reason to raise up their own prophetic community. The church is justly famous for teaching on the gift of encouragement, the gift of giving and others; recently, the church has begun teaching on the gift of prophecy and how to hear God’s voice, but how often has either a congregation or the church of a region taught the people of their own region about how to walk in the difficult office of a prophet?
· If there are no prophets raised up and recognized in the region, then how will the church of the region recognize and stand up to the agenda of darkness and declare, “You shall not pass!” As a result, the region stands with weakened defenses.

If we are to be a healthy people, we need to develop a measure of strength in all of the gifts in our region. We will do well to welcome traveling prophetic ministries, but we need to develop lasting relationships with them; fortunately, in this generation, it’s very possible to build lasting, distant relationships.

I believe the Spirit of God is calling for maturity in the prophetic (in all of the gifts, really). It’s time to raise up mature prophetic communities in our region, communities that have the maturity to declare the word of God to our region, both to the church and to the “secular” community, communities that are self-replicating, raising up their replacements, communities that can discern and judge the declarations of the gypsy presbyteries.

Saturday

Hands on!

I was reading through Acts 6, and my attention was drawn to verse 6. 

The story is the appointment of the first deacons. Our verse:

Acts 6:6: They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

The next verse points out “So the word of God spread, and the number of disciples multiplied.” There was a connection between this action and the spreading of the gospel. This is a powerful thing.

The New Testament Model


The Bible is thick with examples of God’s people laying hands on folks. Matthew 19:13 is the first NT example of someone laying hands on: “Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them.”
  
Mark 16:18 says that we will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.
Acts 13:3 speaks of the commissioning of the world’s first missionaries: So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.”
Acts 19:6-7 shows another application for laying on hands: “And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.”
  
So the Bible shows us we lay hands on people for four purposes:
  
1. Imparting a general blessing, such as our modern practice of baby dedication.
2. Healing the sick. In fact, Mark 6:5 suggests that healing is easier if we lay hands on in the process.
3. Commissioning people to an office, or consecrating them to that service or office. This one appears to be more dangerous than others (see below).
4. Imparting an increased manifestation of Holy Spirit’s presence and gifts. See also 1 Timothy 2:8 and 2 Timothy 1:6.
Luke 21:12 talks about a fifth kind of laying on of hands, but I don’t think we want to adopt this practice: “But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you.”
  

The Danger of Laying on Hands

Some will correctly point out that the Bible gives a warning to the topic as well:

1 Timothy 5:22: Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others.This appears to reference #3 above: commissioning people to an office. And of course, a warning against laying hands on someone hastily is also an affirmation that while we must not rush, we are expected to lay hands on them.

There are members of the Body who – out of fear of error in this matter – have become unnaturally cautious, perhaps fearful, about laying on of hands. As a result, we have, intentionally or otherwise, come to the place where it is not acceptable to lay hands on an individual and consecrate them to service without at least a Bachelor’s degree in ministry. Preferably this is combined with a number of years of successful ministry, where “successful” is defined as “without significant moral failure.”

It is not my intent to minimize the danger. It is also not my intent to react out of fear and miss out on what appears to be a powerful weapon available to the sons and daughters of the Kingdom of God. I understand that there is a real danger; let us not fear to use the weapon because of fear of the danger.

  

The Invitation to Lay on Hands 

  
We are, in fact, clearly expected to lay hands on people in order to manifest the kingdom of God in them. I consider it similar to “painting the target” in modern warfare: “Holy Spirit, this is where to strike!”

Acts 6:6: They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

As I read the verse, I had the distinct impression that Holy Spirit was saying that we’re authorized to use laying on of hands more than we have been, and that we’re missing out on a fair bit that God wants to do in us, and on a fair bit of what we want to accomplish in him, because we’re missing out on the resources available to us.
  

Multiplication From Laying on Hands

  
I have been observing that the church is finally making a wonderful transition. For many years, we would work on increasing the effectiveness or range of our gifts. Evangelists would travel to more cities and host larger events. Pastors gathered larger churches. Teachers spoke to those larger congregations, and then to television and radio audiences, and then began to distribute tapes and CDs of their ministry.

It was a season of effectively adding to their ministry to increase the good things that were being accomplished in God’s name. More recently, churches, leaders and ministries have been offering training schools to raise up a new generation of leaders, to multiply their ministries. Growth always happens faster by multiplication, of course, than by simple addition.

The Book of Acts, the beginning of the Church, started the same way: “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47) When the twelve apostles laid hands on seven deacons, the next verse points out “So the word of God spread, and the number of disciples multiplied.”

This is actually the second time the New Testament speaks of the number of disciples multiplying: the first was verse 1, which led to the appointment of the deacons. It was because the crowd was multiplying that they started laying hands on others, and it was because of laying hands on others that the numbers were multiplied.

It is clear that laying hands on individuals is both a response to revival and a means of maintaining it. From this point forward in Acts, the spotlight moves from the apostles who had been doing the miracles to the deacons who were now the focus of the miracles. The twelve were not removed from the picture; they continued to teach (that was their main reason for appointing the deacons), and they governed the burgeoning megachurch. Later, the focus moves to the apostle Paul, who was healed and commissioned through Ananias laying hands on him.

The church grows when we lay hands on.

Thursday

The Hidden Goodness of God

If God is good, how do we explain all the evil that happens to good people? How do I as a believer respond when my family, when godly people, are struck with unspeakable evil.

In the book of Job, we as readers get to peek behind the scenes of Job's torment, and we see what he does not: that it is Satan who does the work, and that he is inspired to do it by God's boasting of Job's righteousness. The book ends with the un-enlightened Job accusing God of the evil done to his family, and demanding an explanation for that evil. God's evasive answer is very enlightening.

God accepts the blame.

At no point in the book does Job learn that it was not God's hand that killed his family and destroyed his livelihood. God's answer can be boiled down to two arguments:

1) Job, you aren't big enough to understand, and

2) as a sovereign God, don't I have the right to take sovereign action?

It was only when Job understood those points that his fortunes were again reversed.

I conclude that I, like Job, am not big enough to understand all that goes on in the heavenlies. I know my Father is good. I know that He will bring something that His omniscience defines as "good" out of the tragedies that hit my life and the lives of the Cassie Bernals of the world. And I know that no matter what goes on, I can trust Him, even if I don't understand: justice will one day be done.

Oh yeah: I also know that when Satan steals from me and from mine, he owes me at least double for that theft. I don't need to stand there and suffer: my Daddy and I can fight back, and because we win when we fight, we can grab all the plunder I can carry from Satan's stinking, twisted fingers!!

God is good, but sometimes we have to apprehend that goodness by faith, not by our understanding.

Saturday

Whose Spy Are You?


Now [the 12 spies] departed and came back to Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the children of
Israel in the Wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land.
Then they told him, and said: “We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the South; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the mountains; and the Canaanites dwell by the sea and along the banks of the Jordan.”


Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.”


But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.”


-- Numbers 13

Twelve spies were sent to spy out the inheritance God had provided for them. Two returned with good news, ten feared the worst. I see this kind of division in our day.

It’s apparent: God is on the move; Aslan is on the prowl. He’s saying to his people something very like he said to Abram in the beginning: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” (Genesis 1:21)

God is clearly calling his people into action, and he’s saying very little so far about what he’s bringing us into. He’s clearly following the principle of Romans 14:23: “whatever is not from faith is sin.” If he were to tell us too much, we could not respond in faith. So he says, “Come to the land that I will show you. Eventually.”

One of the key principles for the day is that we must follow what he is saying now, not what he has already said. By way of illustration, we look at Abraham again: God gives him a son, then some time later he commands, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22) Had Mo held onto that word, a true word that God truly had spoken, Zack would have been a corpse on top of the mountain; but because Mo did listen, he saw the ram, the provision from God, and sacrificed the animal instead. Zack’s life depended on Moses listening for the “now word” of God.

Likewise, if we follow what God has said rather than what he is saying now, we will miss what he is doing now, and we will suffer great loss. Therefore one of the day’s key lessons is to learn to follow his still, small voice. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) It’s time for us to live up to those words.

It goes without saying that we listen to his voice; any other will lead us badly astray.

A second opportunity for growth comes this way: many believers are reporting that the season in which we live is an intense season; the pressure is heavy and is increasing, the pace is fast and picking up. The pressure is a temporary phenomenon, but the completion of the lesson is different than what many of us have experienced or hoped for. I believe that the season will end, not with the lifting of the pressure upon us, but with our growing to the point where the pressure is no longer a hindrance to us. It is we who will change, not our circumstances.

So our second lesson is about responding to difficulties. The lesson is about how we respond to pressure: do we respond with growth or with complaining? Do we notice what God is up to? Do we celebrate where we see his hand, where we hear his voice? Or do we notice the difficulties first? Do we fix our eyes on the obstacles in front of us? Do we notice the growing darkness more than we see the growing light?

If we recognize the darkness first, then whether we mean to or not, we are aligning ourselves with the ten spies that spoke out against what God was doing, who led the people in the rebellion that cost every last life in the community except Josh and Caleb.

Those ten had no expectation that they were condemning an entire people to death with their words; they believed that they were simply reporting the truth as they was it. But the truth that they saw, the spirit that empowered their words, brought three million people who believed them to an early grave.

The question is about what we speak about, what we meditate about; it’s about the words we use with each other. Jesus said, “… those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.” (Matthew 15:18) If our words are about darkness, then our lives will be defiled by the darkness about which we speak.

Does that mean we should bury our head in the sand and pretend that there is no evil? Come on, you’re smarter than that: of course not. We don’t pretend the evil is not present; we simply don’t give it our primary attention; we don’t talk about it, we don’t empower it.

When we measure the darkness, we fail the great test of our day. When we celebrate the Kingdom and it’s King, we pass the test, we overcome the darkness, we fulfill Jesus’ prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”

So what are you reporting about?

Thursday

The Revival at the End of the Age?

Many people are declaring something along the lines of, "The greatest revival the world has ever seen is just ahead. The greatest miracles, the most wonderful wonder-working Church the world has ever seen is near." This is a wonderfully encouraging word.

The value of such a word, however, is determined not by how happy it makes us feel, but by the fruit it brings in the lives of those who hear it.

First, I need to clarify: I am neither denying or affirming that such a revival is coming. What I am doing is questioning the nature and the timing, and the results of these kinds of proclamations of it.

It is clear that the church has a consistent history of taking our strong wishes, presuming their truth, and building wonderful theologies of wishful thinking upon them. The above statement, and many more like it, was made more than half a century ago, and that might suggest that, at a minimum, his ideas of "just ahead" may not be the same as we normally mean by "just ahead.” The statement, while hopeful, has missed its mark.

It seems that every generation since the original Pentecost has believed that they were the final generation. So far, every single one of them has been proved wrong. Hope is a wonderful error, but it remains an error: hope built on an assumption is not hope built on God. Hope built on wishful thinking is a false hope, and false hope is my concern.

And this false hope has very serious consequences: the assumption that that we’re on the brink of a sovereign revival, then the human species tends to back off, to slow down in our part of the labor. It was a problem in the first century church (read 2 Thessalonians 3), and it remains to this day.

This complacency leads to (at least) two results:

1) Since the return of Christ is predicated on our success at certain tasks (Matthew 24.14), this false hope in fact delays the return of Christ. If we're not getting our part done, then we are delaying his part, his return. and

2) Because, many hopeful Christians have, over the centuries, complacently sat back and rested because of such a false hope, the result has apparently been that millions of individuals did not hear the gospel from their testimony, and presumably many of them are now suffering in hell, simply because some of those who were called to preach the gospel to them were waiting for the sovereign revival we’ve been declaring for so many generations.

I am suggesting that this is a problem: our focus on a sovereign revival is delaying the triumphant return of the Messiah, and is condemning people to hell. I repeat: I am not challenging the belief that such a revival is coming. I am challenging our response.

Nor am I suggesting that we deny hope to people. A hopeless church is an inactive church. Yet historically, a church motivated by false hope has also been a less active church. So what can we do?

Perhaps the answer is in avoiding either extreme position. Perhaps the answer is better found in honestly acknowledging, “Yes, God is going to do something dramatic. No, we don’t know when." Perhaps instead of focusing on what He is going to do, we can focus on what He has instructed us to do.

Jesus commanded that we pray, and gave us a model that includes praying, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on Earth.” He’s commanded that we go “to Jerusalem, Judea and the ends of the Earth.” He’s commanded that we preach the “Gospel of the Kingdom” (which is not the same as “the gospel of salvation”). He’s commanded that we make disciples “of all nations” (not “in” all nations). And he’s commanded us to “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” And he’s commanded that we do this with Himself, “Lo: I am with you always, even to the end of the Age.” There is a lot for us to do!

The end of the age will involve Jesus doing some things and it involves the Church doing some things. If the Church will focus on the person of Jesus rather than that part of the work that is His responsibility - if instead we will focus on doing the things that are OUR responsibility - then the work will be done sooner, and better, than it has been over the past couple of millennia.


Monday

It’s Time To Negotiate a New Contract

Most professional sports begin with a training camp of some kind. And many training camps begin with a level of controversy: very often, there are a few individuals that don’t show up for the beginning of camp. They’re often some of the best players, and they’re holding out in order to negotiate a better contract.
There are benefits and drawbacks for that renegotiation. The good is that a new agreement can be created, one without the assumptions of the previous season.
The drawbacks are plentiful in that kind of a negotiation. Chief among them is the fact that this quickly becomes an adversarial negotiation: opponents, each trying to get their own way.
And contract negotiations that impose on the sports season are always a distraction. They distract the players, those men and women who are preparing themselves for the upcoming battles. They also distract the fans, the people who are watching from the sidelines, including those that play the game at another level (whether PeeWee ball, or high school or college sports programs).
Any professional contract, for example a professional sports contract, is an agreement; the terms of my contract will spell out what I will do and what you’ll do. Generally there’s a correlation between how successful I am and how well I’m rewarded.
Michael Jordan had an amazing contract with the Chicago Bulls. He was paid handsomely, and he earned it: he was arguably the best player in the history of the team, both in terms of how he played (and won) the game, as well as his impact on the business: more fans bought tickets because Michael was playing.
Michael serves as an interesting example. In 1993, he quit playing basketball (he called it “retiring” to honor the terms of his basketball contract) and started playing minor league baseball. Suddenly Michael was playing a new sport. I’m not privy to Michael’s finances, but while “the best player in the history of the team” may earn a multi-million dollar paycheck, a very lanky outfielder in a mediocre minor league baseball team probably doesn’t get the same reward.
When the game changes, it’s time to negotiate a new contract.
That was surely true for Michael’s move from basketball to baseball, but that’s also true when a player moves from college ball through the draft to the world of pro sports. Matthew Stafford played football for Georgia for a few years, and he did quite well. College football players don’t When the Detroit Lions drafted him, they gave him a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $42 million.
When the game changes, it’s time to negotiate a new contract.

We can say it in spiritual terms:
When there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law. Hebrews 7:12
We’re in a season when the game is changing. Have you noticed the changes? God is on the move. For the last couple of decades, He’s been restoring the prophetic gifts to the church. In the last couple of years, he’s been taking it to the streets. For the last decade or so, He’s been restoring healing gifts to the church. In the past year or two, he’s been taking those to the streets. (Have you seen the videos of healing breaking out at Disneyland?)
I might even go so far as to suggest that we’re experiencing a change of priesthood.
Two thousand years ago, there was a fairly significant event that turned our relationship with God on its head; as a result, no longer are we under the law, but we are under grace. I suppose every generation needs to grasp that for themselves, that the church is not a minister of the law, of rules, of expectations, but it’s a place where we’re beginning to experience “the priesthood of believers.”
For generations, the pastor of the church has been “the minister,” and they meant it: he’s the one that studies the word and on Sunday morning, he presents it. He’s the one who visits the sick and prays for them, who welcomes visitors to the church.
In the past several years, we’ve watched as the body of the church step up out of our pews and begin to do the work of ministry. We’ve moved from “Pastor as minister” to “the body is the minister.”
When the game changes, it’s time to negotiate a new contract.
Finally, many of us as individuals are experiencing a transition to, for lack of a better term, a new level in God. We’ve outgrown the old; like in a video game, we’ve pretty well beaten the bad guys on our level, we’ve picked up all the plunder from the level we’ve been on for the past few years (or decades). Now we’re going through the awkward and uncertain phase of stepping into new role to which God is assigning us.
When the game changes, it’s time to negotiate a new contract.

So we are in a new game. The rules have changed. It’s time for a new contract with the team we play for. Besides, we didn’t change the game. God has changed the game. He’s ready for the new contract as well, though in the Bible, He called them covenants. I guess that’s what Jewish sports teams call their contracts. Bible scholars talk about the Adamic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, the Davidic covenant, the New covenant. Lots of covenants.
Just as in professional sports, or with union contract negotiations: we can continue to work under the old contract if we choose, accepting less reward than is our due. A friend of mine said it this way: “That the old contract is up, the one where we had to accept 3 pennies for every dollar that we are worth”
When we negotiate our new contract with the Captain of our team (Human sports have the coach on the sidelines; ours is on the field of battle with us!), there are some principles that still apply:
First, we do not negotiate from an adversarial position, but from a position of favor. We don’t need to fight to persuade him to grudgingly give us the kind of reward that we are worth: he’s the one who is arguing, “No! You’re worth more than that! Ask for this as well!”
Then, knowing that God is your Daddy, your advocate, and that you’re his favorite kid, ask what you should contend for in this season: your kids? Your finances? (Yes, that’s legal!) Your marriage? Your community? Your region? Your nation? Another nation? An area of freedom in God? A new realm of ministry?
This is the part of the contract where you’re negotiating for what you’re going to get cheap on yourself here? What is it you really want? What are you willing to contend for, for that’s the third part: what is the work that you are willing to do to on your part?
Michael Jordan didn’t get paid his gazillions of dollars just because he was a nice guy. He earned it by playing the most amazing basketball that we had ever seen. He put on his jersey, marched out onto the court, picked up the ball and did whatever it took to put it through the hoop on the other end.
In our realm, we have some very valuable skills. We intercede and God changes things. We declare things, and they come to pass. We stare down the enemy with the praises of God in our mouths and all of Heaven breaks loose to destroy that bit of hell.
In times past, we’re told of worshipers who marched around cities, ahead of armies and in the courts of hostile kings. Today there are mountains in Korea, covered with tiny caves, each filled with praying believers. I know a man who has fasted forty days twenty times; he watches limbs grow out and gold dust form on his hands when he prays for the sick. I know another who fasted 120 days and saw the world change around him.
This is absolutely not a case of earning the rewards that we’re asking for: our families, our communities. But there is reason to suggest that if we are not willing to fight for our dreams, our children, our marriages, then who is? If those dreams don’t move us to passion, why in heaven’s name should we expect that they’ll move God or His angels to passion?

And so I counsel you to negotiate your contract for this new season that we’re entering: determine in advance what you want to have happen, and what you’re willing to do in order to lay hold of those dreams. Determine how you will respond to the favor of God that is calling you to pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”


Guarding How I See the Church

I've had to make some adjustments to how I see ... no, ... how I look at the institutional or denominational church.

You see, I’ve made a change. For those who read this blog regularly, you may not find this surprising, but here’s my change: I’m not entirely convinced that everything about the institution of the church in North America is completely inspired by Heaven. Shocking, I know. (What’s really scary: there are some folks who would take issue with that statement.)

I live among a people whose passion it is to pursue God. Some among us have left behind the participation in Sunday morning traditional church meetings. Many more of us have a sense in which we have transcended them: we still participate in local church meetings, but our first loyalty is to our Heavenly Father, and our second is to our relationships among the Saints; only after that comes the local church gathering. (And no, Sunday morning church is not synonymous with relationships among the saints.)

In every move of God I’ve seen (and I’ve seen several), there are two things that are pretty consistent: a) the people who are still embracing the last movement are the primary persecutors of the present move (and the new move often comments on this), and b) the people who are embracing the current move often define themselves by the last move: “We’re not like this; we’re not like that!” (We don’t notice this as often.)

Unfortunately, often “We’re not like that!” turns into permission to complain about all the things wrong with the old movement, with the previous traditions, with the way others do things. That’s not appropriate. Often enough, the complaints themselves are legitimate: they may be the very reason that there is a new movement, the reason the last one no is no longer as fresh as it once was. But permission has not been given us to publicly point out the failure of others, except in a very few circumstances. (See Matthew 18 for details.)

I have discovered that I have had to make some adjustments to how I look at the institutional or denominational church.

First, I have to not look too much. I am not a member of the institutional church. I don't aspire to be. I have no ambition to train people to be good at being obedient institutional members of an institutional church, so I don't need to look too much, and that's good, because when I look, I have more ability to criticize, and that also is not my goal.

I have a good Friend who said, "I will build my church," and I've come to understand that he's serious. Inductively, I observe that he is the only person he expects to build the church. I observe that "will" is not conditional, so the building is a certainty. And I observe that he uses a possessive pronoun: he considers the church to be his. Since I want to impress this friend, I've tentatively concluded that criticizing his "work in progress" is not conducive to favorably impressing him. Besides, I really am in favor of his church being built up. All of it!

Third, I've observed that the more I criticize when someone else does it wrong (or what I think is wrong), the more difficulty I have in doing it right. It doesn't matter what "it" is: if I focus on the errors, I don't have as much capacity to live rightly, or to help others live rightly.

Fourth, if my public message is about the failure of another group, how is that going to help that other group to grow, to improve, to overcome their challenges, whether I’ve seen them aright or not. Who among us has been encouraged to grow and change by continually being torn down? I believe that when I stand before God, I will be accountable for the effect of my words on those I lead, as well as on those I do not lead.

Oh, one more: I have become convicted that the institutional church that I see the faults of is not real: it's a caricature. I see what once was, back in the day when I lived among them, which is not who they tend to be now; and I see their worst, because that's what stands out the most. Moreover, the time between "back then" and now, coupled with my complete lack of God's anointing to remember their failings, has led to a skewed and incomplete memory.

I understand that when I look at “The Institutional Church,” or “The Last Move of God” or whatever group I am no longer part of, I am going to see things that I no longer believe in, and probably a few things that I have never believed in. That’s fine, but my job is not to point out the errors of those I am no longer among. My job is to follow God in the ways that he’s leading me and to train those around me to do the same.

And my job is especially not to complain about the Church for whom my Savior died.

Sunday

The "Logic" of the Gospel


Do you remember that old evangelism tract, The 4 Spiritual Laws? It is accurately described as one of the most effective evangelistic tools ever developed. Millions of copies (one report says billions of copies) have been distributed in all of the major languages of the world. Millions of people, possibly tens of millions of people have given their lives to Christ through this tract.

I am very thankful for that tract, and for how God has used it. It has been a powerful tool.

I'm coming to the conclusions that evangelism based on the 4 Spiritual Laws is inferior and that such a method of evangelism is becoming rapidly irrelevant in our culture. The tract worked fine in the 60s and 70s (it was written in 1956), but the 60s and 70s were a long time ago.


Let me explain, because this feels like the kind of statement that might trigger a response. My complaint is not with that tract, nor with using it to present the gospel. My complaint is with the the gospel that the tract supports.

I've used the 4 Laws a lot, and I've led many to Christ with that tract. It's a good tract, but it's still a tract. But it is fundamentally a logical argument to present the logic of the gospel: here are the reasons why you should pray this prayer and receive Christ. I believe that a logical presentation of the gospel is an inferior presentation because of this: anybody that I can logically persuade of something (for example, the gospel) can also logically be persuaded away from that position. There are too many men and women who were logically persuaded have experienced that and are no longer following Christ: they've been persuaded again.

And it's my observation (and if you watch American advertising, they’re convinced as well) that our culture is less interested in logic, less compelled by argument; hence my conclusion that the 4 Laws is less relevant: we no longer live in a logical culture.

In its place, I would suggest an encounter with the supernatural power of God might be a fine introduction to a God who loves them.


I know a man, a chef named Tom, who is pretty excited about Jesus because God healed his left knee that had been hurting him for many years. Every time he sees me, he tells me again that his left knee is healed, and he's still excited three years later. He's excited about God not because he's been persuaded, but because when God healed his knee, it spoke to something deeper than his intellect, deeper than his logic.

I have a close friend that had been faithful in a solid church. My friend, also Tom, was faithful, but dying on the vine. (Some would argue that "at least he was still on the vine" and there is merit to that argument.)

Only because of the encouragement of a friend and mentor, Tom and his wife Pat went to a meeting where a prophet was visiting. The prophet "busted him": spoke to the deep hidden issues that he hadn't shared with anybody but his wife. The prophet gently and lovingly told Tom the questions that he had been hiding, and then he answered them. Tom and Pat are changed people. For the 5 years since that encounter, they've been very excited about God, about the Word, about fellowship, about knowing God, about introducing others to God, about caring for lost sheep. They're so excited, they've written a book about their supernatural encounters with God.

I have, if anything, a higher regard for the Word than ever before. I studied the Word and I studied exegesis, and I use those skills and techniques regularly today. I teach the Word, and I teach how to study the Word (among other subjects).

But, you know, Jesus never persuaded anybody about his message. Logic had no part in His version of the gospel. Never once did he point out, "because of this and this, therefore you know I'm the Messiah."

What he did was healed the sick, cast out demons, multiplied lunch. Pretty much every time he taught, he also did miracles. And pretty much every time he did a miracle, he used that to teach. Jesus did not use logic, He used signs and wonders. He healed the sick and cast out demons, and then declared that to be who God is.

I had been taught (I don't know if you got stuck in the same place I did) that knowing and obeying the Word was the answer. It’s valuable; and it’s not the answer. But it would be easy to foolishly go to the opposite end of the spectrum and say that knowing and obeying the word is irrelevant. That would be complete hogwash. The answer is (in my opinion today) that the Word is the best tool we have for knowing God. But it's only a tool; it's not the goal; the goal is that relationship; the goal is knowing God.

The message that Jesus brought was also not about the Bible of His day. He didn't ignore the Word; He used it. But the message He brought was "Follow me." It was "The Kingdom of God is at hand." It was about "I am the Way." The gospel that Jesus brought was focused on Himself. And Jesus used signs and wonders to introduce people to God.

Our presentation of the gospel should be the same.