Showing posts with label 2022. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2022. Show all posts

Thursday

Adversity as a Test

 Chewing on these verses from Hebrews 3 today:

“So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness.”

I’m drawn to the phrase “the time of testing in the wilderness.” When was that time of testing he’s referring to, anyway?

The first time the word appears in Exodus is shortly after the people escaped Egypt into the wilderness:

“When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, "What are we to drink?" Then Moses cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink. There the LORD issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test."”
[Exodus 15:23-25]

The people needed something, and what they found on their own was not suitable to meet their need, so rather than ask God (or his designated leader at the time), they complained.

God calls it a test. It was a pattern they continued all the way from Egypt to the promised land: they had a need, so they whined, but God came through.

It occurs to me that the whiney people, freshly delivered from slavery, didn’t recognize the tests. I understand why they didn’t recognize the first one: they’d never been tested by God before.

But it happened over and over and over. Every time they had a need, they could have looked to God who had already met every single need they had for escaping slavery and surviving in the wilderness, but they focused their attention on their needs instead. And they whined.

Hebrews interprets this whining as them hardening their hearts. They had the choice in the test: do we trust God, or do we harden our hearts and whine?

I admire God’s patience as the whiny people tested his patience. (Yes, Scripture is clear: they tested him, too.)

Then I realized that when I am faced with a need, that’s probably a test, too.

If God is my provider, he’s going to provide for my needs.

(Note that not every want qualifies as a need. God has not promised to provide for everything I want, just for my needs. I may need to discern the difference.)

So every time I encounter a need in my life, I’m faced with the same choice: do I use this as an opportunity to bring my need to my Father, which keeps my heart soft toward him?

Or do I look at my need, focus on my need, whine about my need, and harden my heart toward my Father who loves me, and who is using this as an opportunity for softening my heart?

Fear As an Expression of the Imagination

Walking with Father recently, he brought up the subject of fear.

There are some things in the world where a healthy respect is appropriate. That’s not the issue here.

We as a species have the ability to imagine what might come about, and, if we want to, to fear that. The fear that begins with, “But what if….” is real.

That’s what Father brought to my attention this morning: the process of imagining what might happen, what things could maybe turn out like, even what surely will happen except for something trustworthy intervening.

The picture he showed me a picture of a very high, transparent bridge. A man on the bridge had suddenly looked down and saw nothing between him and the river hundreds of feet below. He freaked out.

That fearful man didn’t have all the data, but he was responding at least an approximation of reasonably, based on the limited data that he had.

Then Father took a left turn.

“That man on the bridge was imagining what would happen if there really was nothing beneath him.”

I scratched my head and thought about it. We walked in silence for a while.

After a while, Father reminded me of my (not insubstantial) skills at imagining what may happen and responding to those imaginations with fear or regret. There are maybe a lot of us that are pretty good at that.

He kept turning left. “These people who imagine what might happen and respond with fear, these people have a powerful imagination. That’s a powerful gift.”

I confess that I haven’t had much patience for myself or for others when one or the other of us imagines a “what if” and responds in fear. That process has really irritated me, and sometimes I’ve responded in anger or frustration or legalism or some such.

But today, Father showed me the other side of that situation.

I’m going to have to reflect on this a fair bit. Now it’s time to learn to use that powerful tool for the kingdom.

Imagination is a tool. Use the tool for good.

God's Practical Beauty

One of the coolest things about God is that he creates beauty in just about everything he does.

This is glorious. I think of it as God finger-painting on the sky. But he only does it in the most unpopulated part of the planet, in the middle of the night when nobody’s looking.

Even when there’s nobody there to appreciate it, he makes beauty.

But this is more than that. The Northern Lights were out recently.  These beautiful decorations in the sky are the evidence (yet again) of his tender care for those of us that inhabit this planet.

The light show we see from the ground is caused by 

electrically charged particles from space entering the Earth’s upper atmosphere at a very high speed, the charged particles (or “plasma”) from the eruption on the surface of the sun we read about last week. (That explosion on the sun was actually larger than our entire planet!)

Most of these particles are deflected by the Earth’s magnetic field, and continue their journey into deep space. A small percentage of particles leak through the Earth’s magnetic field and are funneled downwards towards the safe spaces around the Earth’s magnetic North and South poles, where they’re discharged safely.

It’s this light we see when we look at the Northern Lights. It’s God protecting us from the explosive radiation of the sun. Mars doesn’t have a magnetic field, and that’s why Mars has almost no atmosphere. It doesn’t need protecting: people don’t live there.

But even here, as God safely detonates the plasma from the sun’s eruption, he does it with beauty.

God seems to be a big fan of beauty.



Leveling Up in Authority

 Papa took me to school the other day.

I was driving somewhere or the other, minding my own business chugging down the freeway on cruise control. I was thinking about stuff. I do that.

Along comes this little white sports car; it passed me, and pulled right in front of me and slowed down, not a lot, but enough that I needed to drop out of cruise control and change lanes. So I did.

Then it sped up again, pulled in front of me again, and slowed down again. I wrestled with the temptation to say some things, but about that time it turned off onto the exit lane. I wrestled some more, and George Carlin’s quote came to mind (“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”).

I understand that Carlin was describing human judgmental human nature, not human driving, so I decided not to call the driver of the white car any sort of names; I recognized that whatever things I called him would function as a curse, cuz words do that, so I restrained myself. That’s not Dad’s way. I just kept driving. No big deal.

It was then I “heard” a video game “be-doop” noise in my spirit, and had the sense that I’d just “leveled up.” OK. That was interesting.

“Now I can trust you with authority in your words more, Son.”

Wait, what? That was a test? I had no idea!

I had a million questions, but he was patient with me. (That’s not actually uncommon.)

He reminded me of the parable of the Talents and its lesson: if I’m faithful with whatever he gives me responsibility for, the reward is more of it, and specifically more authority in the Kingdom (Matthew 25: “I will make you ruler over many things!”).

He explained that the principle was true with my words as well. As I’m faithful with using my words in ways that extend and expand the Kingdom, I’ll find that my words will have more effect.

I thought you might enjoy sharing my lesson here.


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.
-----

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]
-----

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.
-----

“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]
-----

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.

Assisting During the Glory

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

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

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

Wednesday

Consider John the Baptist

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

Thursday

We Were Born Onto a Battlefield

 

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


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

 

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

 

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


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

 

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

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

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

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

What Do We Do With the Cloud of Witnesses?

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


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

Withhold Judgment

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

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

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

Growing Season

Think with me for a moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that YOU he’s talking about?

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


Collateral Damage From Someone Else's Errors

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

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

Mise en Place: Everything in its Place

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

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

“Don’t under-estimate me, Son.”

Some Ways of God's Provision in the Desert

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

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