Showing posts with label 2021. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2021. Show all posts

Thursday

You're Not Immune From That, You Know

I had just started my walk with father the other day, and I realized I was feeling kind of strange in my soul. I examined my heart for a bit and realized there was a sense of unworthiness there, a vague sense of uncleanness.

What better time to discover these issues, I thought, than walking with God? so I began, as has frequently been my practice, to search my soul with him, to unburden my soul, to find whatever was amiss and 'fess up and fix it. 

I had been going at the search for a little while when I paused and recognized that Father wasn't joining in it with me. It was like he was just standing back, leaning against a tree, arms crossed over his chest, waiting for me to notice him. 

I stopped my search for my dirty laundry and gave him my attention. 

"Son, do you remember the counsel you give people about not treating your emotions as always truthful?" 

"Yes...." I replied. "The feelings are real, but they may not be telling the truth." 

"Yeah. You're not immune from that, you know." 

And I realized that he was telling me that my feelings were lying to me, that I didn't have sin in my heart. What I had  was  an accuser  telling me, lying to me, about sin in my heart. Oops. 

We talked about it some more, about how hard I've had to work to get past that lie that says that God can't relate to people who sin. He reminded me that any time his kids sinned, he was always, always out there going after them. 

"Sin doesn't scare me, Son. But I think it scares you. And sometimes, just the Accuser whispering about sin scares my children off. 

"Come here, Son. Let me hug you."

Test for Apostles & Prophets

Ephesians 2 says, "You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone."

Some among us are called by God to be prophets, and some are called to be apostles. Therefore this verse applies to these men and women.

Here’s a question for these folks: How are you doing at being foundational?

I sometimes wonder if this is one of maybe two key tests of the effectiveness of apostles & prophets: Are you being a foundation for others to build and grow on.

The other test, remembering Ephesians, chapter 4, is this: are saints being equipped, made more effective in their works of ministry after having been around you? Pretty similar work, wouldn't you say?

Observation: this seems to have little or nothing to do with how many conferences you speak at, how many people are in your network, or how many people greet you in the marketplace as Prophet Jered or Apostle Tiffany.

Success as a prophet or apostle doesn’t seem to be related to how many people you lead (not that it's insignificant), but what the nature of your influence is in their life.


Finish the Work of Church Discipline

I was part of a church one time, where one of the leaders developed what was seen as an inappropriate relationship with his female secretary.

He didn’t respond to counsel (he didn’t agree with their evaluation), and so Matthew 18 was brought out, along with 1 Corinthians 5:4&5 to bring him to repentance.
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For reference:
“...if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector....” [Matthew 18:17]

“...deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved....” [1Corinthians 5:5]
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This was a difficult gathering, when we obeyed these scriptures. It was, however, done tenderly and lovingly (I have seen these verses wielded in less loving ways at other times).

Over time, the gentleman in question recognized that he had been in error and repented. (Later, he testified that when we talked about “delivering him to Satan,” that it wasn’t a metaphor.)

It’s my observation that this sort of church discipline is exercised from time to time, whether with love or with a cudgel, by churches who value obeying the Scriptures.

I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of a church practicing the rest of that process.
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“The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.” [2Corinthians 2:6-8]
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It seems that pretty often, the church whose leader has failed morally is more focused on getting the stain off of their reputation than they are in restoring a fallen brother. And so “church discipline” when it goes this far, has come to mean that we’ll never see that brother again.

That’s not the plan.

The Matthew 18 passage instructs us to “treat him as a tax collector.” You might want to recall that the author of this passage, Matthew himself, was once a tax collector, until Jesus met him.

Or consider how Jesus dealt with the only other tax collector named in Scripture (“Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”). There was no shunning, no sweeping under the rug here.

The 1Corinthians passage goes on to say that the goal of that process is “that his spirit may be saved.” And if that weren’t enough, the apostle chews them out in his next letter for not going out of their way to restore the guy.

That’s how our Jesus does things: he restores folks. More specifically, he restores relationships with folks that the religious community has written off as embarrassing and inappropriate.

I’m thinking that Jesus is a good model to live up to.


Lessons From Samson’s Failure

This morning, I was watching a video that somebody posted online, a Bible teacher I had never heard of. And as I watched and listened, I realized that the things he was saying were not settling well in my spirit.

He was basing his teaching on the Bible, sort of. And he clearly had a gift, though it was negotiable as to whether his gift was teaching or gathering a crowd. 

I decided not to continue under his influence and switched him off. And I kept thinking about it, about the dynamics going on here.

Later, I was working my way through the Book of Judges, and I came across Chapter 13. (Interestingly, the term “Chapter 13” in US law often refers to bankruptcy.) This is where the story of Samson begins. As I listened, it came alive for me. I love it when He does that.

My attention was drawn to the fact that Samson had a real, legitimate gift from God. What he did not have was a discerning heart. Samson’s character was bankrupt.


Samson was a Nazarite. A Nazarite had only three limitations, three vows:

 1. No wine or fermented alcohol.
 2. No haircuts.
 3. No contact with corpses or dead things.

I have no idea how Samson did with the first vow. 

He's famous for obeying the second, at least for a while.

I find it fascinating to observe his complete disregard for the third vow. 

(It is beyond the scope of this meditation to consider why obeying his second vow was so important to maintaining his gift, but obeying the third vow was apparently insignificant.

At one point Samson kills a bunch of enemies with the jawbone of an ass: that is just a chunk of dead animal. Another time, he scoops honey out of a dead lion and casually shares it with his mom and dad.) 

Sammy was unquestionably gifted by God, clearly the most gifted person of his generation. But he was really stupid.

It appears that he let his gift cloud his judgment. 

More than once he put himself into nasty situations with the enemy, excusing it by rationalizing that his gift would get him out of trouble.

More than once, the pretty girls he was hanging around work were clearly working for his enemy and were intent on his demise. They told him so. And yet Sammy did not guard his heart, he did not guard his gifting.

Delilah asked several times how to bind him, how to take him captive. He gave her false answers the first few times, but he should have figured it out when every time, his enemies tried that false answer on him. Clearly she was giving all of his answers to his enemies.

And yet he was so confident in his gifting that he ignored the danger.

That arrogance cost Sam his freedom, cost him his gifting, and even cost him his ability to see. It left him a slave, working for his enemies.

As I was meditating on these chapters, it seemed to me that it's pretty easy for gifted men and women of God in this day and age to fall into the same sort of failure that Samson fell into. It seems that hell is still using these tactics against God’s folks.

I believe that we as gifted believers can and should rely on our giftings. But clearly, there is a limits to that. When we listen more to our gifting, when we listen more to our desires, than we listen to either the Spirit of God, the Word of God or the people of God, that's when it gets really messy.

I don't actually know if the gifted preacher in the video I was watching this morning is falling into Sam’s trap, but as I meditated on this, I found myself praying for that preacher.

I know several people who have gotten seriously sidetracked by their very real, very powerful gifting. Some were famous, some were not. But I have observed these principles in their lives.

Some of them clearly relied on their very real gift to get them out of questionable circumstances. Some of them relied on the very real revelation they were getting more than the revelation of scriptures or the counsel of brothers and sisters in the faith.

Most of them have crashed and burned; some of them are still in that process. It’s not pretty. It is clearly not God's will for their failure, but I observe God's mercy working in it. If nothing else, it stopped them from continuing down that twisted path and compounding their failure.

I suspect that this is a season where God is refining his people. I suspect that He is keeping his gifted sons and daughters on a shorter leash than in previous seasons.

I don't have gifts anything likes Samson or like the men and women that I have watched crash and burn, but I have gifts. Just like you do. I want to be careful with mine. 

So I find myself intentionally sharing more of myself with the men and women around me. I find myself intentionally asking God to search my heart. I know that I am not immune to the temptations that took out Samson or the others.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

This morning, I was watching a video that somebody posted online, a Bible teacher I had never heard of. And as I watched and listened, I realized that the things he was saying were not settling well in my spirit.

He was basing his teaching on the Bible, sort of. And he clearly had a gift, though it was negotiable as to whether his gift was teaching or gathering a crowd. 

I decided not to continue under his influence and switched him off. And I kept thinking about it, about the dynamics going on here.

Later, I was working my way through the Book of Judges, and I came across Chapter 13. (Interestingly, the term “Chapter 13” in US law often refers to bankruptcy.) This is where the story of Samson begins. As I listened, it came alive for me. I love it when He does that.

My attention was drawn to the fact that Samson had a real, legitimate gift from God. What he did not have was a discerning heart. Samson’s character was bankrupt.

Samson was a Nazarite. A Nazarite had only three limitations, three vows:

 1. No wine or fermented alcohol.
 2. No haircuts.
 3. No contact with corpses or dead things.

I have no idea how Samson did with the first vow. 

He's famous for obeying the second, at least for a while.

I find it fascinating to observe his complete disregard for the third vow. 

(It is beyond the scope of this meditation to wonder why obeying his second vow was so important to maintaining his gift, and why obeying the third vow was apparently insignificant.

At one point Samson kills a bunch of enemies with the jawbone of an ass, which is just a chunk of dead animal. Another time, he scoops honey out of a dead lion and casually shares it with his mom and dad.) 

Sammy was unquestionably gifted by God, clearly the most gifted person of his generation. But he was really stupid.

It appears that he let his gift cloud his judgment. 

More than once he put himself into nasty situations with the enemy, excusing it by rationalizing that his gift would get him out of trouble.

More than once, the pretty girls he was hanging around work were clearly working for his enemy and were intent on his demise. They told him so. And yet Sammy did not guard his heart, he did not guard his gifting.

Delilah asked several times how to bind him, how to take him captive. He gave her false answers the first few times, but he should have figured it out when every time, his enemies tried that false answer on him. Clearly she was giving all of his answers to his enemies.

And yet he was so confident in his gifting that he ignored the danger.

That arrogance cost Sam his freedom, cost him his gifting, and even cost him his ability to see. It left him a slave, working for his enemies.

As I was meditating on these chapters, it seemed to me that it's pretty easy for gifted men and women of God in this day and age to fall into the same sort of failure that Samson fell into. It seems that hell is still using these tactics against God’s folks.

I believe that we as gifted believers can and should rely on our giftings. But clearly, there is a limits to that. When we listen more to our gifting, when we listen more to our desires, than we listen to either the Spirit of God, the Word of God or the people of God, that's when it gets really messy.

I don't actually know if the gifted preacher in the video I was watching this morning is falling into Sam’s trap, but as I meditated on this, I found myself praying for that preacher.

I know several people who have gotten seriously sidetracked by their very real, very powerful gifting. Some were famous, some were not. But I have observed these principles in their lives.

Some of them clearly relied on their very real gift to get them out of questionable circumstances. Some of them relied on the very real revelation they were getting more than the revelation of scriptures or the counsel of brothers and sisters in the faith.

Most of them have crashed and burned; some of them are still in that process. It’s not pretty. It is clearly not God's will for their failure, but I observe God's mercy working in it. If nothing else, it stopped them from continuing down that twisted path and compounding their failure.

I suspect that this is a season where God is refining his people. I suspect that He is keeping his gifted sons and daughters on a shorter leash than in previous seasons.

I don't have gifts anything likes Samson or like the men and women that I have watched crash and burn, but I have gifts. Just like you do. I want to be careful with mine. 

So I find myself intentionally sharing more of myself with the men and women around me. I find myself intentionally asking God to search my heart. I know that I am not immune to the temptations that took out Samson or the others.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.


An Embarrassing Testimony

I have an embarrassing testimony. But God used it to teach me a lesson.

More than a month ago, I had been consulting with a liturgical church about some rather complex topics. And in that (online) meeting, I had made some commitments to them. 

And then I spaced on them. We had some holidays in there, and I spent a few days sick, and then the shenanigans in DC captured my attention, and what with one thing and another, the liturgical church completely slipped my mind.

The other morning, I woke up thinking about them. Oh, my. I’d better get working on those commitments. I paused. I wonder what commitments I had made to them. I seriously could not remember.

I looked in my notes. Nope. Nothing there, either. Aargh.

I began to pray.

I had a meeting with some of that team. I asked them what they remembered. They were just as blank as I was, but ironically, while we were talking, the folks from the liturgical church were leaving me a voicemail. “We’re ready to move forward with your proposal now. Please call me back.”

I felt really bad. I recognized a fair bit of shame in the mix, and because of it, I really did not want to call them back. I wanted to pretend that the meeting a month ago had never happened, and just go on my way.

I prayed more fervently.

And I recognized that the only honorable thing I could do was to call them back and explain my failure. I hung my head and dialed the number.

It was a wonderful conversation. She reminded me of the two options we discussed, over the course of twenty minutes, we settled on one of the options and planned out the next several steps.

I felt like a superhero. Well, maybe no red cape, but it felt a whole lot better.

Later in the evening, I was doing some mindless garden tasks and thinking (because that’s what I do), when Father reminded me of two great messes: the first was this one with that liturgical church situation, and the second was some of the messed up things in DC that had been on my mind.

“Son,” he said gently. “I took care of the liturgical church. I can do the same thing for the mess in DC. You can trust me with this.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. I knew he was right. And I knew that he probably wouldn’t show me what he was doing in DC, but that didn’t affect whether I could trust him in that.

We have a really good Father, don’t we?

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.

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.


Tuesday

Scripture Interpreting Scripture: Eternity

You know how some things are better when they’re together? There’s more goodness when the right things come together. Cookies & milk are like that. Red wine & good cheese. Garlic & onion.

I always enjoy finding new combinations of things that belong together, that I had never considered together before. Sometimes that happens to me with Scripture. This is called letting Scripture interpret Scripture, and it’s known to be a good way to interpret the Bible.

When two or three passages are put together, sometimes they mean more than they did when they were apart. And since “all Scripture is God breathed, and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” we can be confident that it’s a legitimate use of the Bible to use all of it for teaching or correcting our understanding of God.

For example, consider Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

That’s kind of a big statement. It’s basically just a big list of stuff that cannot separate us from the love of God. There’s a lot of comfort in those verses.

Recently, two of the items on the list stood out to me: the first one (“death”) and the last one (“nor anything else in all creation”) also cannot separate us from the love of God. That’s a big deal.

And as I was reflecting on how we can’t be separated from God’s love by death or nothing else, another verse drifted through my mind. (It had my Father’s fingerprints on it.)

“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” [Revelation 21:8]

Wait, what? If death can’t separate me from the love of God, then the second death, the “fiery lake of burning sulfur” cannot separate me from the love of God.

But wait, there’s more! recently, God has been speaking to me through John 12:32, so let’s bring that one into the mix. “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” How many people is he drawing to himself? It doesn’t say, “I will draw some people,” or “many people” or “144,000 people” to himself. It says “all.” Whoa.

It also does not say, “I might draw” all people to himself. It says, “I will draw,” and we studied that word to discover it was indeed a forceful drawing, like drawing a sword, or drawing a bow, or drawing a boat up onto the shore. “All” is a big word.

We can certainly argue that the promise of Romans might be only for believers; I know because I’ve done it, trying to make God exclusive. But God isn’t terribly exclusive (though his people certainly are), which makes that application difficult. Possible, but difficult.

And we can certainly argue that the warning of Revelation only apply to unbelievers; I used to teach that too, though if I’m honest, I know believers who fit every one of those qualifiers for the fiery lake, which kind of messes up that argument.

But John’s verse, now that little word “all” throws a pretty epic wrench in that whole “us vs. them” thinking.

So here’s where this whole line of thinking leads me: if there are people in the lake of fire, then the love of God is there with them, right there in the fire with them, doing what the love of God does: drawing people to Jesus.

That’s an unnerving conclusion. At this point, I cannot set this down as “What I Believe.” I can’t say that I’m confident this conclusion is an accurate representation of God (though I’m pretty confident that my previous beliefs were drivel and malarkey, only suitable for fertilizing the tomatoes).

All I’m saying is that if the whole Bible is true (and it is), if all scripture is God breathed (and it is), then I need to consider this carefully, seriously, in the light of the “whole counsel of God,” [Acts 20:27] and also in light of “the exact representation of [God’s] nature” [Hebrews 1:3].

My tentative conclusion is that God is not nearly so interested in smiting as we’ve tended to think he was. No, let me say it another way: God sure appears to be way more committed to the people he loves, and I think that might be everybody.

I think I’ve believed too little of him.

Thursday

Conditions On Inheriting My Promises


I’ve been reading in the Book of Numbers recently. The story of the twelve spies.

Moses Sends 12 Spies to Canaan - Numbers 13, 14:1-38 - Bible StoryToday I was struck by the fact that all twelve of them saw the same information. And all twelve of them agreed that what they saw was indeed awesome.

But most of them listened to the fears, and concluded “We can’t do this.” And God said, “OK. You can’t.”

God had brought them all this way specifically to fulfill this promise for them, but because they were moved by their fears, their words really did limit them, and they could not inherit, could not enter the promise.

They died in the wilderness, having been kept out of the promise, ultimately because they listened to their fears.

The other two, Joshua and Caleb, heard the same fears, but they didn’t listen to them. They listened to their trust in the God who had made the promise. They declared “We can do this!” even though they didn’t know how yet. And God said, “OK. You get to do this. But because the other ten wouldn’t believe me, you’ll have to wait until they die before you get the chance.”

• I observe that my ability to inherit God’s great and precious promises is dependent on my willingness to listen to him, to trust what he says, even when the media is shouting fears and anxiety at me.

• I observe that if I listen to the fear, if I speak from the fear, then I keep myself out of the promises that God is getting ready to give me.

• I observe that if I listen to the fear, if I speak from the fear, then I also prevent the people around me from experiencing their promises, at least until my fears and I get out of their way.

The good news is that we get to choose what voice we listen to. Free will really is that powerful!

“We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

Reflecting On Rules


I was thinking about the rules. God didn’t create the covenant with all the rules. He wanted something much better (Exodus 19:6).

But the people used to slavery rejected that proposal and substituted their own, based on a priesthood and obedience (Exodus 20:19 & Deuteronomy 5:27).

15 Personal Finance Rules You Should Know by Heart | The Motley FoolI was thinking that Jesus was not all about “Keep the rules better, dammit!” He didn’t reveal an angry god ready to smite miscreants, not even a little bit..

Instead, he was all about “come to me,” “love one another,” “he appointed twelve that they might be with him.” That kind of stuff. 

Jesus was all about relationship (Hebrews 1:2&3). He still is, I think.

I have learned that I have really misunderstood about sin. I think the idea that God doesn’t want us to sin is solid, but why? Why does God not want us to sin? I think I’ve had that part wrong.

I grew up thinking that it was because a grumpy God was concerned about the rules and the smite stick. I think I was deceived. Frankly, I think I was deceived by people who didn’t know any better. They had grown up with grumpy god theology, too.

Rather, God doesn’t want us to sin because sin breaks relationship. Sin opens the way for the world, the flesh & the devil to come between Him and me. It doesn’t really (Romans 8:35), but we think it does, so we run and hide from God (see Genesis 3:8). And always God comes looking for us.

Dad doesn’t want anything between us. Even “We want to sit at your right and left hand” (Matthew 10:37-40) is too much separation for him. It seems that the Creator of the Universe would rather die than put up with a damaged relationship with his favorite part of creation.

So he did. It seems he really is that much in love with us.



Rethinking What God Drawing Us Actually Means


I’ve been looking at how the Bible uses the Greek word, ἕλκω, helkō. It’s an interesting word. Fundamentally, it’s about “to draw by inward power, lead, impel.”

Here is the word in use:

• He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to *haul* the net in because of the large number of fish. [John 21:6]

• When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and *dragged* them into the marketplace to face the authorities. [Acts 16:19]

• The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they *dragged* him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. [Acts 21:30]

• But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are *dragging* you into court? [James 1:6]

• Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, *drew* it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. [John 18:10a]

Pretty forceful word, isn’t it?

Think about these examples, the force that’s involved. These are all involving a fair bit of force,
aren’t they? Yanking people or things from where they were to someplace else, without their participation. Interesting. . .

Think about who is wielding the power in these sentences; who’s making things happen here?

Now buckle your seat belt. Let me draw your attention to the ONLY other verses that use this same word that’s used for “haul” and “dragged” above:

• “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will *draw* all people to myself.” [John 12:32]

• “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me *draws* them, and I will raise them up at the last day.” [John 6:44]

I’ve always looked at this statement as if Jesus were talking about gently wooing folks, like warm and fuzzy marketing campaign, or like a young mother with a toddler. “Come on, all people, you can do this! Here we go! Upsy daisy!”

But that’s not the word used here. The word used here is a forceful word. It’s the word that is used in every other situation to describe yanking people or things from where they were to someplace else, without their participation, without asking their permission.

I’ve always been a huge supporter of the idea of free will: God gave us a mighty gift when he gave us free will. But these statements remind me of how powerful God’s pursuit of us is.

I think this might change how I pray some. I might be asking Father to helkō some folks, rather than just gently persuading them.


What Makes You Married?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They did that well.

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

I had to confess that this confused me.

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

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

I was more confused now than before.

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

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

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

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

3) You go to bed together.

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

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


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

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

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

Then we had a party.

More Thoughts on Job and His Sorry Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Literal or Metaphor

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

Here’s the passage:

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

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

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

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

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

Because God does not always speak literally.

The Great Cloud of Witnesses: An Exercise


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testimony: Date Nights

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

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

We only had a couple of rules.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Thoughts on Being Pruned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Calling Out Sin


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

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

I have a couple of reasons for this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are two qualifiers in that:

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

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

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

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

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

Don't Look At The Waves

Matthew 14 tells this story.

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

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

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

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

He said, “Come ahead.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Am I Declaring About Myself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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