Showing posts with label 2023. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2023. Show all posts

Thursday

Walking Into Inheritance

 Each of my children in turn has brought someone home to meet the family. In every case, they were wonderful people. In every case it was an interesting experience; I experienced something of a time warp. 

You see, I’ve been praying for my kids since I first learned that we were pregnant. Part of that – me being the responsible dad and all – included praying for their future spouses. 

So when my kids brought their intended home to meet the parents, several things happened. We celebrated, of course, we blessed the relationship, we continued developing our friendship with them, all the usual. 

But I also recognized that with that announcement that they wanted to marry my son or daughter, they were also stepping into decades of prayer for themselves. Kind of a time warp. Science fiction becomes real. It’s pretty cool, actually. 

It has been interesting, even exciting, to see how these good people are walking in the things I’ve prayed for them since before they or their spouse were even born. And of course, my prayers for them continue these days, but now I have the advantage of knowing who I’m praying for. 

Since then, my kids have been having kids of their own, so now there are grand kids to include in the prayers. I love declaring destiny, generally destiny I hear Father whispering, destiny I see in the Book, or even destiny I see forming in their skills, interests, passions. 

I’ve been enjoying praying for these wonderful humans who share a quarter of  my DNA quite as much as I enjoy lifting up their parents who share a larger share of my DNA. (I find these to be curious thoughts.)

The other day, I was out walking with Father, praying for my heirs and descendants, when I realized that I didn’t need to know exactly whom I was praying for any more than I did when I prayed for my little toddlers’ future spouses. 

So I kept going, speaking life to my great-grandchildren, and their children, my offspring whom I might never meet. Blew my mind a little bit. And then it set me into my place in history, in the grand scheme of goodness that God is in the midst of. 

And yeah, it’s a little like a science fiction time warp. But it turns out that it’s real. And in reality, there’s no reason that any of my (or your) prayers should ever have an expiration date. And if my prayers never expire, then I maybe ought to target those prayers in light of things (and family) to come. 

So as I prayed for every one of my grandchildren’s children, and about their children. Occasionally I would get a glimpse of an individual destiny in the uncertain fog of the future. That always gives me more focus for that (potential) individual. 

(By the way, this isn’t limited to my biological progeny. There are a few individuals who have adopted themselves into a relationship with my family. They get prayed for, too!)

Things get complicated quickly. The average Christian family today has 2.7 kids, I am told. That means  that in a few generations, I might be praying for dozens, maybe even hundreds of of descendants. That’s a bunch of people that I’ve never met (and might never meet), but who will eventually count me among their grandcestors. My blood (or a little of it) will flow in their veins, my DNA (or a little of it) shapes how they will be crafted, my history with God (or a little of it) cut the path that they will walk. 

I confess, it’s a little bit overwhelming. (And then I consider, what must it be like for God, the Father of Life? No, that’s too much; I can’t go there right now!) 

I try to approach prayer like I’m trying to approach most everything in my world: I pray for the people and destinies that I feel like Father is drawing my attention to. (My big brother said it this way: “I speak just what the Father has taught me.” I like his example.) 

So I’m just writing to explore the incursion of time warps into my prayer life, to help to make sense of this path that I’ve been walking with my Father for a while now. 

If this is helpful to you, feel free to step on this path with yourself, and discover what kind of time warps he has available for you and for your legacy. 

Whose Answer to Prayer?

For some time, I’ve been praying some pretty significant prayers about somebody close to me.

There were some changes that I thought would be healthy for him to make in his life, but I very much did not feel the freedom to talk to him about them.

So I went over his head, and talked to his Father.

(It’s probably appropriate to point out that part of my prayers were for healthy changes in his life, but the larger portion were about getting my will out of the way. I sometimes find it a challenge to pray for people’s choices in a way that still respects their free will for their lives ahead of my own will for their lives. And the more I care for them, the bigger that obstacle is for me. Sigh.)

Last week, my friend asked me to go for a walk with him, and as we started, he said he had something to talk about, and he did not want my advice or counsel. (I interpreted that as, “This is pretty serious for him!”)

Then he explained how he had come to some conclusions and abruptly made several of the changes that I’d been praying for. I barely kept from jumping and dancing around him, so happy I was about him. 

We walked for several miles while he vented and I listened. I asked a couple of questions, but otherwise didn’t hardly say anything: this wasn’t about me; it’s about him. Toward the last mile, we discussed some of his goals for how to walk out these changes, and how I could support him and his changes.

I spent several days rejoicing.

A few days later, as I was talking with Jesus about my friend, supporting his changes in prayer. 

And then I recognized something kind of dangerous in my thinking. I was praying for my friend’s success in the area of these changes, when God quietly uncovered some things in my heart. I was seeing this as about me: these were my prayers that were answered, and I felt a responsibility to reinforce the answers in continued prayer.

I became aware that yes, my prayers had some not-insignificant effect here (He never tells me how much), but this isn’t my victory. This is God’s victory that He s sharing (and working through) with His son, my friend. This is not about me.

I’m still invited to pray for my friend’s victory, but I’m not invited to take ownership of the change, to take responsibility for his continued success.


Lessons on Leadership from the Flock

I learned an interesting lesson from my chickens some time ago, from their pecking order. And then I realized something new about them just this week. 🤔

The chicken app the top of the pecking order is concerned about maintaining her position, her dominance over the rest. She has no interest in discovery or exploration, because she’s busy maintaining her power.

The chickens at the bottom of the pecking order have no power to maintain. Therefore they have the time and the energy to discover new things. (Unfortunately, they regularly discover new ways to escape from their chicken yard. But it's always the hens at the bottom of the pecking order who discover this.)

I realized that this works for humans, also. People who are concerned about their position, people who need to keep consolidating or defending their position, are never the people who discover new things.

There is a key for leadership here, I think. Maybe several.

× If I am a leader, then I can either work to keep my position of leadership, or I can work to encourage and environment of exploration, of discovery. I probably can't do both.

× If I am not a leader, I can either work to become a leader, or I can work to defend my current position, whatever it is, or I can discover and explore. Pick one.

× If I am a discoverer, or an explorer, then I probably am not involved in jockeying for a leadership position. I am probably also not as ambitious for promotion as others around me either, if my goals are about discovery. (And my life may actually be more enjoyable, if possibly less “successful.”)

× If I am somebody who stretches to discover new things, new experiences, new ideas, then the people whose goals are about position, about power, probably don't understand me. They probably don’t value what I value, either. I probably should not look to them for encouragement in this area.

I was reflecting on this whole process here, when I realized something else. These principles were more true with my previous flocks of chickens. The current flock, well I raised these girls all by hand, feeding them by hand, cuddling them every day as they grew up. (Did you know that baby chicks are terribly cute and cuddly? 🐥 )

As a (surprising) result, this flock isn’t nearly as focused on position. There’s much less fighting over the pecking order, because they consider ME to be the one on the top of the pecking order.

So unlike previous flocks, these days when I walk into their chicken yard, they gather around me for petting and skritching and snacks and such; they don’t run away.

So there’s no “top of the pecking order” for them to fight over, because they know thats me, it’s my job. They trust that Ill do my job.

And they don’t spend as much of their days either maintaining power or looking for ways to escape their community.

I’m thinking there might be some lessons in this about being secure in our Father’s affection for us. 🤔 What say you?


God Takes the Blame

I have run into hundreds of Christians who maintain the view that if something happens in their life, it must be God’s will. They completely misquote Romans 8:28 as some sort of karma verse: if something happens, it must be God’s will for them; if an event occurs in their life, it must be God’s plan for them.

The verse says that God will cause the events in my life to work together for the ultimate goal of good, provided I love God and “are called according to His purpose.” It does not say that every single event is good (He seems to never comment on that), and the promise is completely void for those who don’t love God or aren’t walking in His calling. I’m bothered by the fact that the people most often abusing this verse are not God’s people. “Bad things happened in my life; it must be God’s fault, therefore I won’t love God.”

Grrrr.

This is such a blatant abuse of scripture that I find myself fairly angry when I hear people misrepresenting God’s word this way: exchanging what He said for what they think He should have said. And it bothers me when people assume that just because something happened (typically, something icky), it must have been God’s plan for them. Deliberately misrepresenting God’s heart is one of the best ways I know of to make a mess out of life. It’s one of hell’s favorite pastimes, accusing God.

Another thing that makes a mess out of people’s lives is their own poor choices. It seems that God was very serious when He gave us free will, though we often confuse the consequences of our free will – our choices – with God’s will. I know a man who committed several crimes and then blamed God that he was caught and put in jail, and a teenage mother that attributes her toddler to God’s will for her life rather than her night of passion with an eager classmate.

The funny thing is, God seems to take it all in stride. He accepts the blame for crud that happens. I have two primary examples.

1) The example of the life of Job.

The Book of Job is a long story about how Satan hit Job, but Job didn’t know it, and how Job responded. Job’s “friends” kept saying, “You must have sinned; this must be God!”, while Job, who was a righteous man, kept saying two things: a) to his friends: “No, I haven’t sinned; I’d know it!” and be) to God: “So God, why is this happening?”

Eventually (some 30 freaking chapters later!) God answers Job, and instead of saying, “Relax, Job. The devil did this, not me,” which would have been true, according to the first few chapters, God takes responsibility Himself for Job’s disasters, only answering Job with, “Look, son, I’m God and you’re not,” though He does restore Job’s fortunes. He also enters the record in the Bible for you and me to learn from. (Job appeared to learn his lesson: “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You.”)

2) Bible verses where He claims responsibility for troubles.

I’ve recently become amazed at the number of places where God takes responsibility for bad stuff happening. Here are a few:

Ezekiel 20:25: Therefore I also gave them up to statutes that were not good, and judgments by which they could not live;
Psalm 81:12: So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, To walk in their own counsels.
Romans 1:28: …God gave them over to a debased mind,….

In all of these verse, God is taking responsibility. He’s saying, “I did this,” but if you look at the context, each example was where people were making stupid choices and were experiencing consequences of those actions. I’m not saying God did not intervene; I’m saying that whether He intervened or not, the motivating force was the people’s unwise exercise of their free will.

In Ezekiel, for example, a dozen verses before God gave the people judgments “by which they could not live,” He described those same judgments as “if a man does them, he shall live by them.” So it wasn’t God’s judgments that were out of the reach of man; it was not following His judgments that kept them separated from life.

But God took the blame.

In the Psalms illustration, God gave the people over to their own stubborn heart after He laments, “My people would not heed My voice,” and then He immediately cries that this was not His plan. “Oh, that My people would listen to Me, That Israel would walk in My ways!”

And Romans 1 is famous as a downward spiral because “although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were they thankful.”

In every case, people made lousy choices and then bad things happened. I don’t know if they blamed God for the consequences of their actions, but God was certainly willing to accept the blame.

So while it irritates me that people blame God for foul things in their lives that come from the devil (in Job’s case) or from their (our) own stupid choices, God doesn’t seem to be too offended by it.

The first step to solving a problem, so the psychologists say, is to acknowledge we have a problem; the second step, apparently, is to identify it. If that’s the case, then I’m more likely to resolve trouble in my life accurately by correctly identifying the source of that trouble, particularly if the trouble comes from my choices.

If I’m failing at my job because I’m texting when I should be working, then blaming God may not help solve the problem; putting away the phone and doing the work may be a wiser course. Taking responsibility for our actions will be good for our well-being.

Some problems – like Job’s – aren’t from our poor choices, but from a demonic agenda, and these we may never understand.

I think we need to come to the same conclusion that Job did: He’s God and I’m not. There will be bad things that happen, and many of those I’ll never understand. But if I can know God, if I avoid building a wall of blame between Him and me, then whether I understand or not, I can – like Job – walk in the best available blessing.

Visible Answers to Prayer

This was an interesting line of thinking. Let me know what you think of it.

I was reflecting about prayer. I pray for a lot of things. But I don't see the changes, the effects of my prayers, as much as maybe I would like.

Part of that reason, no doubt, is because I pray for less-concrete things, and for people that are a long ways away. But for whatever reason, I was thinking about it, wishing that I was seeing more results, at least more visible results, from my prayers.

And since Jesus is my standard, I was thinking about him. He sure saw visible answers to his prayers in the stories the Gospels told, didn't he? I’m not trying to get big headed about it or something, but if Jesus gets to see the answers to his prayers so comfortably so quickly so easily, what's wrong with me wanting to see visible answers to my prayers quickly, easily?

So just thinking on that for a while (technically, that’s called “meditating”). I realized that the excuses I was given as a curious child had some truth in them: we don't actually see every single event that Jesus was involved in. It is maybe just a little bit presumptive to assume that every single prayer of his was answered quickly, visibly, dramatically.

So I consider that. And I realized, yep, it’s an excuse all right. It's an excuse for people who don't see miracles, maybe. Maybe it's an excuse for people who are tired of trying, or who never really tried hard in the first place. Or something. It’s a way of justifying not expecting to walk in the things we see Jesus, our example, walk in.

But the reality is that every single time that we see Jesus praying, we see dramatic, visible answers. We don't ever see his prayers unanswered. (Yes, there are some times that he prays that we don't know what he's praying for, so we can't tell whether those were answered or not. That’s not our issue today.)

So I was asking father if this desire to see visible answers quickly is appropriate, if this is a good thing to ask for.

Immediately, Romans 14:23b came to mind. “Anything not of faith is sin.”

When I'm asking a question and something pops in my head like that, I tend to assume that it is related, that it’s something of an answer. And I also try not to jump to conclusions, so I reflected: I thought about it some more.

And I realized something.

If I need visible answers to my prayers in order to pray with faith, in order to have confidence that father is hearing me and doing things, then that's not faith. If I need to see, then I'm basing my prayers, my life, on sight, not on faith.

Oops. There’s my answer.

Jesus got to see immediate answers to his prayers. That does not mean that his prayer life was based on what he saw. We know from the gospel stories that he took a fair bit of time alone with God, often in the wee hours.

I have had times where I knew the answer was coming before I encountered the situation. I’ve had many times when I knew what I was supposed to pray beforehand.

That certainly fits the facts as we know them: Jesus saw the answers in the spirit, by faith, when he was talking to Dad in the morning. When he encountered the situation during the day, his response was based on his encounters with father in the wee hours, not on what he saw in that circumstance.

So even though he saw the answers as he prayed, his prayers were not built on the foundation of what he saw. His prayers were on the foundation of his time with Father in the morning. He was walking by faith, not by sight, even though he could see.

The thought drifted across my mind, “If you always get to see the immediate answers to your prayers, would you be walking by faith? Or would you be walking by what you see?”

And as translated by Romans 14:23, that question is would I be walking by faith? Or would I be walking in sin?

So I am considering the idea that I need to be more intentional about seeing the answers that I am praying for in the spirit, in my private times with Father, before I look for them in public.

And maybe I need to guard my wishes. It appears that I might have been wishing for an easy way to walk in sin. No wonder Father doesn't want to answer that prayer.

So how do you see it? 

Fall Harvest begins in Spring

Last fall, I had a revelation about my garden, and its impacting how I prepare for this springs planting.

I was wandering through my garden last fall, cleaning out some of the plants that had finished: the tomatoes were winding down, the broccoli, cauliflower & cabbages were composting, the first crop of lettuce has gone and the second crop is winding down. The zucchini (there’s always too much zucchini) was feeding the chickens.

And I was inspecting the peppers and winter squashes and such that were still working on completing the produce that they’re working on. They were ripening nicely, getting ready for their own harvest shortly.

But there’s something of a problem, and this requires a bit of confession, and something of a backstory.

In the spring, I plant starts into my garden, but nearly all of the young plant starts come from my own greenhouse. In fact, I plant the pepper seeds around Christmas every year, and I plant the tomatoes and squashes later in the winter. I label them and nurture them as the seedlings grow into strong plants so they’re ready for a running start in my garden when the weather warms up enough for them.

End of backstory.

As I was wandering through my garden last fall, inspecting the results of my spring starts, and that’s where I discovered a couple of problems. I'm trying to learn from that lesson this spring.

One of the problems was pretty evident, and had been for a while: I hadn’t labeled the starts all that well. (And actually, the seed company that provided me with seeds also failed in this.)

I had a number of pepper plants that were labeled “bell peppers” that were producing a variety of other kinds of strange peppers. (That one is at least partly on the seed packager.) And I had a large number of tomato plants labeled as slicing tomatoes (my favorites are Brandywine and Cherokee Purple) that were producing thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of cherry tomatoes.

The other problem is where the real confession happens. We put pepper and tomato and squash plants out into the garden in May (we're getting close to planting season now!), but I'd been tending these little plants for many months, sometimes five or six months! These were my babies!

Here’s a secret I learned: some varieties of peppers apparently germinate at a higher rate than others. So I had a modest number of the bell peppers, particularly the baby-bell peppers that I value more highly (and many of those, thanks to mislabeling, weren’t actually bell peppers, but I’ve already groused about that one). Ghost peppers were particularly difficult to germinate (I use dried super-hot peppers as a pesticide: it keeps the squirrels off the bird-feeders pretty well!).

It turned out that fairly hot varieties, Lemon Drop peppers, Scotch Bonnet peppers and especially Sugar Rush peppers germinate really well. They also survive the first several weeks in a greenhouse at a better rate than baby bell peppers or ghost peppers.

So when it came to be time to transplant young peppers into the garden in the spring, I had a few bell pepper plants (far fewer than I thought I did, thanks to mislabeling), fewer baby bell plants, and only one ghost pepper plant (that turned out to be something else entirely). But I had dozens and dozens of the varieties that I only wanted one or two plants.

I had the same problem with tomato starts and squash starts: too many starts, and not the starts I really wanted.

But they were my babies. I’d already given away as many as I could find homes for. I couldn’t just toss my babies, whom I’d been caring for for so long into the compost. They’re like my children.

So I planted them in my garden, of course.

That was last spring. In the fall, I saw the error of my ways. It turns out that those fairly hot varieties (that I only wanted one or two plants of) are incredibly prolific. So I have dozens of huge plants bearing hundreds of fruits I’m not all that interested in that are crowding out the fewer (and smaller) plants whose fruit I really value.

And I realized that my choices to be “merciful” to those plants last spring had doomed my pepper harvest (and my tomato harvest, and my winter squash harvest).

And as I grumbled to myself, I heard Father clear his throat. “Ahem…..”

And suddenly I realized this is a life lesson. 

Somebody – and it wasn’t a gardener – once said, “Don’t plant seeds that you don’t want to harvest,” and a famous guy once said. “If you don’t like your harvest, change the seeds you’re planting.”

I need to change the seeds I’ve been planting.

But I can’t do that. Not now, anyway. That’s a change I need to make before I start planting my starts in the dead of winter. That’s a change I need to make when I’m getting ready to plant seeds in the dead of winter.

Fortunately, with the wrong peppers and wrong tomatoes and wrong squashes bearing fruit in my garden, that’s not a complete disaster. I can harvest them when they’re ripe and feed them to the chickens (chickens eat all sorts of things!) and then the chickens will give me good eggs all this year and great compost next spring.

But choices in my life, that’s a bigger issue. I’m still limping through the harvest of poor choices in previous seasons. I can’t change those choices back then, but I can learn the lessons and make better choices today and through this transition season that’s upon us.

If I don’t like my harvest, I need to change the seeds I’m planting.

Lessons About Prophecy From Ezekiel

I’m really thankful that I don’t live under the Mosaic covenant (the “Old Covenant”).

That messed-up covenant was about a priesthood between people and God and about obeying the rules (and getting punished if you didn’t obey them). It wasn’t the covenant that God wanted, but it was the only covenant that the people would accept, but that’s another story.

But even if we’re not part of that covenant, we can learn a lot from the stories that come from those days. We can learn a lot about the weakness of human intentions, I suppose, but the part that I find interesting is when God’s heart is revealed, even through that inferior covenant.

For example, this prophetic word about prophetic words,


This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing! ... You have not gone up to the breaches in the wall to repair it for the people of Israel so that it will stand firm in the battle on the day of the LORD. Their visions are false and their divinations a lie. Even though the LORD has not sent them, they say, "The LORD declares," and expect him to fulfill their words.” [Ezekiel 13:3, 5-6]


This rather talks about both the weakness of human intention and the tender goodness of the heart of God. I came across this passage, and I realized that there are lessons from this Old Covenant encounter that apply even to us who live in the New Covenant. Here are some lessons that stood out to me.

• One of the legitimate roles of the prophet is to strengthen the people of God for days of difficulty and opposition. (He uses vocabulary of repairing breaches [holes] in the defensive walls of the city, a pretty common metaphor.)

In New Covenant vocabulary, the prophetic gifts are for “edification and exhortation and comfort;” this is not news to us.

• In those days, there were “foolish prophets” who speak for God, even when God has not given them a message. He says they prophesy from their own spirits, and haven’t actually seen a vision from God.

I have great empathy for itinerant prophets these days. There’s real pressure on them to always have something to say, always have a fresh revelation, always be in the social media headlines, so that they’ll always have an invitation to minister, and therefore receive a paycheck. The desire to feed your family and pay the rent is pretty powerful, and it probably ought to be.

This is one of the reasons I believe that discernment is absolutely critical these days. God calls out this prophesying from their own spirit pretty regularly in the Old Testament; I believe it happens in our days as well. Which means we need to discern the prophetic words that are actually from God from the prophetic words that come from the prophet’s own spirit. (One tool from this passage to help judge a word: does it “repair the breaches in the walls”?)

• It’s probably worth pointing out that even if a prophetic word comes from the prophet’s own spirit instead of the Spirit of God, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s evil or demonic. If they have a good spirit, then words from their spirit won’t be bad. They may even comfort and encourage, but they won’t carry the power of God; they’re just words, empty words, even if they’re good words.

There were in those days – and there are in our days – declarations made that were not from God, but people expect God to fulfill the empty words. Both the prophet and the hearer are deceived into thinking that God is going to accomplish what was essentially wishful thinking or good intentions behind the “thus says the Lord” declarations. But he is not obligated by promises that come from anyone other than himself.

• I confess that I find it a little uncomfortable that prophets can prophesy from their spirit well enough that they can’t recognize when God is speaking and when it’s just their own good intentions. But I see it happen all over the place.

And if the hearer has not done the work of discerning the prophetic word properly, they may attach their heart to words that were merely spoken from wishful thinking or good intentions, and as a result, be disappointed, even devastated when that which was promised in the flesh does not come to pass. I’ve known people who have walked away from God because of this stumbling block.

This is where Jesus’ warning seems to apply so clearly: Jesus said to his disciples: "Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. [Luke 17:1-2] That sounds like Jesus is pretty serious about this.

And this is the point in this article where I sometimes feel the need to come up with a snappy conclusion to what I’m writing, something about guarding our hearts, something about hearing Father’s voice for ourselves, something about purity of motives. But I’m cautious about my own good intentions here.

Instead, I’m going suggest a re-reading of the passage that started this whole thing, and taking a moment to open your heart and visit with God about it:

This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing! ... You have not gone up to the breaches in the wall to repair it for the people of Israel so that it will stand firm in the battle on the day of the LORD. Their visions are false and their divinations a lie. Even though the LORD has not sent them, they say, "The LORD declares," and expect him to fulfill their words.
” [Ezekiel 13]

Who’s Minding the Store?

I had an interesting afternoon. I was out for a walk in the rare spring sunshine, and I came on an area that was a mess. It was actually a parking lot for a large government office building.

There was some old vandalism, the detritus of where someone had cleaned out a stolen purse, a few bits of drug paraphernalia and a whole lot of litter. A lot of this mess looked like it had been there for a while. 

The context for this story is that I’ve been reflecting for a while on the value of beauty for its own sake. Beauty is good because it’s good. Beauty is good because it’s a characteristic of who God is and how he does things. Beauty is good because it communicates that there’s good in the world, and it’s within reach. 

Back to the messy parking lot. I’ve been trying to clean it up some, just because it feels better when it’s cleaned up. It crossed my mind that with all the personnel cutbacks and all the drama (there sure has been a lot of drama in our society in the last couple of years), that there was nobody responsible for cleaning the place up. I confess, I grumbled a bit.  

“That’s right, Son. Nobody is taking ownership for this.” And suddenly some lights came on, and I was in a very strange place. Suddenly I think I knew some things that I am absolutely certain I didn’t know before. 

I’m still in the place of testing these new things, but when the lights came on, when those thoughts showed up, they showed up with scripture used in an unfamiliar way to support them. 

I’m asking you to think these things through with me, test them with me. Don’t bother telling me “But that’s not traditional!” I already know that.  

Hold on. This might get bumpy. A bunch of thoughts showed up all together. I’ll try to sort out some of the key thoughts.

• Yes, beauty represents God better than a mess. That in itself is enough reason to clean up the mess as I can.

• I already knew that wherever hell has its way, there’s a mess: pain, confusion, squalor, deception. The physical mess here reminded me of hell’s work. 

• One thought that caught me off guard is that cleaning up the parking lot is a good way to make hell less comfortable, and to make the place inviting to the things of God. (Seriously? What?)

• And the big one: when a place has no ownership, it invites hell, it invites the demonic. 

And as that thought dropped into my mind, this verse came with it: 

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.” [Luke 11:24-26] 

We (correctly) use this passage to teach a number of good things. But one thing I think it teaches, or at least it was teaching me this afternoon, was that this person got into trouble the second time because they weren’t taking ownership for their soul. 

Yes, God had set them free and cleaned them up. But there was no real opposition to the return of the impure spirit and its seven “more wicked” spirits, so they just moved in. There was nobody taking responsibility for the clean and tidy soul. Nobody was minding the store.

And I wonder if something like that has happened with this government office building? It was all clean and tidy when they finished the mess of construction and took down the fences. It was swept clean and put in order. But nobody took ownership of it; nobody made it their responsibility to keep the place looking nice, to keep the bad things out. Nobody was minding the store.

So normal things happened, and bad things happened. People began parking in the parking lot, teaching their kids to drive in it (it’s a big parking lot), folks took shortcuts through the lot, and kids began hanging out next to the dumpsters after (or during) school, vagrants set up camp back inside the landscaping and used for their latrine. It was like a handful of demons were settling into the territory. 

To repeat: the principle that I’m working on sussing out here is this: when nobody takes ownership for a thing (a place, a soul, fill in the blank), then hell likes to waltz in and make themselves at home. Or so I suspect. 

As I write this, I am feeling a nudge that this might have broader implications than a parking lot. In fact, it doesn’t seem insignificant that this is a parking lot for a government office building. 

For a long time, it was religiously incorrect for believers to soil themselves by working for the government, or for big business. And so there was a lot less “minding the store,” as it were, by believers in the midst of the federal Government, in state and county government; there was a lot less “minding the store” in big business (like Signature Bank or Disney or Anheuser-Busch) new tech startups (like Google or Facebook or OpenAI or whatever). 

Sure, there were bureaucrats on duty, business executives paying attention to business, but there was nobody taking any real measure of responsibility for the spirits working in these organizations. 

So hell was comfortable waltzing in and making itself at home. And look where we are now. 

So where do we go from here? 

Sure, prayer is the easier part. Don’t get upset, I didn’t say it was easy; just easier than the alternative.

Part of the alternative is for believers to work – to work in positions of responsibility – in government or in business and on behalf of both the Kingdom and our employer to make decisions that are responsible. 

The rest of that alternative is to roll up our sleeves and get involved, to take responsibility for places and organizations and regions and such. To clean up the parking lot, to report the shoplifting, to set policy in the place. 

And when hell rolls up ready to get comfy, we get to say, “This is my turf; you’re trespassing. Out you go!” 

Pray For Them, Not Against Them

I was at a big Christian worship-and-prayer festival at my state’s capitol campus. It was actually pretty good.

I should mention that my state politicians who work in that capitol building have demonstrated that they value politically-correct social whims over the well-being of the state. It’s pretty messed up. Yeah, they need prayer.

In fact, I really appreciated the corporate prayer for my state! If we’re going to change for the better, the change will be built on a foundation of prayer. I treasure that.

So I was surprised when I realized I was uncomfortable with the prayers that afternoon. They weren’t bad prayers; they were about “Stop abortion,” stop this bad thing or that bad thing. And those are things that need to stop.

But something wasn’t settling right in my spirit for the moment. I couldn’t have told you why.

Across the lawn, there was a counter-protest going on in reaction against this good gathering. A small group of satanists showed up in protest of the Christian event, offering to “un-baptize” people while they occasionally shouted “Hail satan!” at the worshipping crowd. They caught my attention.

There was a park bench near the counter-protest. The state had put up a pretty big barrier between the two groups, so I had to walk the long way around to get there. And I sat on that bench and visited with Father, just to watch what was going on, mostly.

The satanists were sure angry. Well, some of them were. Some appeared to be high, and they looked like they might be there just for the party. It seemed that there was a deep sadness among them. In particular, the angry ones caught my attention. So I watched and listened.

Thousands of Christians, just beyond that fence, were ignoring the satanists, were worshipping their God, praying against some of the things that these people valued. I could see why they were angry, why they were protesting.

I reflected that a lot of times when I visit with atheists, the god they don’t believe in is also a god I don’t believe in: capricious, judgmental, distant, self-centered. I figure that this might be part of why the satanists are angry at the Christian gathering (and the Christian God): because they see them the same way: capricious, judgmental, distant, self-centered.

That isn’t who I know God to be, and it isn’t what these people were like when I walked among them earlier, but I can understand the concern. I’ve been around enough to get an idea of where they got those untrue ideas. I could see why they might be angry.

Yeah, if I saw things that way, I might not want to celebrate those values either. As I began to understand a little bit of what might be their concerns, I began to feel compassion for them. So I talked with Father about them (in more religious vocabulary, I began to pray for them). And I learned some things.

As Father & I talked, I became aware that I was praying for them in much different ways than the prayer & worship gathering was. While the gathering was praying much for our state and our politicians and our people, the thought that came to my mind was that these people had had enough people praying against them. What they really needed was somebody to pray for them!

So I tried to turn that corner. I’ll be honest, it was a difficult turn. I’ve had decades of experience seeing “the enemies of God” as issues, as values, not as people, certainly not as individuals. I needed help to see these people as individuals, and if I was able to, to see them as individuals that Jesus died for, that Father weeps for, that Holy Spirit is drawing to himself.

Gradually, I began to see them less as “angry satanists,” and more as lost sheep, whom the shepherd was searching for.

That changed my prayers, I can tell you.

I prayed for individuals, that big angry guy with the demonic imagery on his black vest, that servant-hearted woman who needed more clothes on, that bouncy woman (?) with pink hair down to her knees.

I began to pray for peace, specific peace: that they would ind what they were looking for, even if they didn’t know they were looking. I prayed for success in their jobs, in their schooling, in their relationships.

I could go on. Actually, I did. For kind of a while.

I understand that hell is busy these days, and the political realm is one of his favorite places to wreak “stealing, killing, destroying,” and he’s having a measure of success. I understand that Father is still seeking saints who will “stand in the gap before me for the land;” I know a number of good people paying the price for that important work. I’m thankful for them.

At the end of it all, I am feeling a need to pray for people more than praying against them. At least, that’s what I’m feeling this week.


The Day of the Big Guns is Over


There have been several events this week that have reminded me of this prophetic word from a friend of mine:

On a Sunday evening in the fall of 1998, I was in a home meeting a friend's home. While we were worshiping, the Lord gave me a vision.

The picture was of a city; it had an enemy marching towards it, a large army marching in ranks. Inside the city there was a very large cannon, and the people of the city were frantically hurrying to crank the cannon up into position to fire, but it was going up slowly, very slowly. I found myself frustrated with how slowly it was moving.

Finally it came up to the right position and then started to come right back down. This happened again even more slowly than the first time, and with more frustration on my part. I wondered if this vision was really from the Lord.

Then the scene changed, and I became aware of movement to my left and then to my right. Small groups of people were moving forward, but no one said a word. These were small teams of warriors, moving purposefully, sometimes forward, sometimes sideways, sometimes waiting. I could see that their eyes were fixed on a common point ahead of them. There were several groups, and though they were was no communication between them, yet they were moving in coordination with each other.

As I saw them, I was aware that these warriors had come out of the desert, and that they had spent a considerable length of time there. They had learned to pay close attention to the One Who was leading them. I was then looked and saw that it was the eyes of the Lord that their gaze was fixed on. There was no need of talking for direction, for the Lord led them with His eyes. Their enemy was unaware of their presence, and unaware of which direction they would be moving.

Then I heard the declaration, “The Day of the Big Guns is over.”

I asked the Lord what He was saying in this. He said to me that we - the church - had been waiting for a very long time for God to bring a move of his Spirit by someone well known. But every time a big-name evangelist was brought in, nothing happened; the only result was unbelief. He said he was not going to use the “big guns” any longer. He was going to use those whom He had trained in the desert, those who had come to know Him so well that they would follow Him with just the glance of His eyes.

He was going to use people like us.


His Word as a Talisman?

I’m convicted this morning that sometimes we – that sometimes I – have used the promises of God as an incantation, his Word as a talisman.

There have been times that I have quoted the promises written in the Book at my problems as if quoting the promises written in the book would change my circumstances. While those recitations have occasionally worked change in my attitude, I cannot recall that those words alone have ever changed my circumstances.

On the other hand, there have been times that I have used those promises in discussion with my King, times that he and I have wielded those same promises on the problems that were facing me, and the problems have bowed their knee.

I am reminded this morning that it is not the words on the paper that carry power. It is not the noises that come from my mouth that are imbued with his authority, no more than noises from any other part of my anatomy.

It is he himself that is the word of God, and while he inhabits me, while he lives in me and with me, if I use his words apart from him, if I unintentionally leave him as a bystander or cheerleader during my fight, well then he can stand by, he can cheer me on, I suppose.

But if I intend to move in the power of God, I need to move with God, in God. And that’s not a challenge, it’s not difficult. I’m not convinced that it’s automatic either.

I’m not above chewing out an oblivious driver who endangers my life and my vehicle. I’m not sure those words are imbued with the power of God; in fact in hindsight, I hope not!

I’m not perfect in my relationships, and I’ve said hurtful or insensitive things, more than I care to remember, actually. If those words carried the power to move mountains, we’d be in real trouble, I can tell you.

There have been times I’ve declared, “I forgive you” with no more power than my mutterings at the oblivious driver. And there have been times when those words carried power and presence enough to change a life. Apparently it takes more than just the noises from my mouth.

But there are times where my words have been in harmony with his words, words like, “Come out,” “Be filled,” “Be healed,” “Be blessed,” and what I spoke changed reality, became reality. When I spoke with him.

The alternative is to be with him. To be with him when we speak.

There is a New Year Before Us

It has been said that “Those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it.” If we apply this personally, we could say, “Those who fail to learn from their history will find themselves making the same mistakes all over again.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to not make those particular mistakes again. It’s not that I’m afraid of mistakes, but I’d sure like to learn from new ones, instead of repeating the old ones.

And so I try to reflect on the year behind me, and I try to learn from the year I’ve just finished, with the hope that I’ll actually be more mature, not just older, next year. If you’d like to join me, here are some questions you might reflect on.

Hint: this is a great time to get out your journal and write:

  • What was your biggest triumph in the past year? What does God say about it? (Go ahead! Ask him!)

  • What was your most costly mistake in the past year? What do you learn from it?

  • What was the smartest decision you made during the year?

  • What was the greatest lesson you learned during the year?

  • If you could repeat one day of the last year, what day would that be, and why?

  • If you could forever forget one day from last year, what day, and why?

  • What one bit of Scripture best describes last year?

  • What are you most happy about completing during the last year?

  • Who are the three people that had the biggest impact on your life? Have you thanked them?

  • Who are three people whose lives you impacted for good? Have you thanked God for them?

  • What area of your life have you best taken responsibility for?

  • What area of your life did you leave to someone else to be responsible for, and why?

  • What was the most loving service you performed? What effect did you see from it?

  • What was the biggest risk you took? How did that turn out? How could it have gone even better?

  • What important relationship improved the most? What made the improvement?

  • What important relationship took a hit last year? What can you learn from that?

  • What compliment would you have liked to have received?

  • What compliment would you like to have given last year? Can you give it now?

  • What else do you need to say or do to be completely finished with the year?

  • What would you like to say to your Father about last year or your last season? 


Father's Heart on Christmas Morning

I have to say that this year’s Christmas was something special.

I was sitting in my “Papa Chair” with generations of my family scattered around the house Christmas morning.

Over the past few decades, my family has grown up, moved out, married well and “gone forth and multiplied,” both by marriage and by birthing more of us. It had been a fair number of years since we’d all been able to celebrate Christmas together, and we were enjoying it immensely.

That morning would be an excellent illustration of the phrase, “tumultuous cacophony!” There was noise and energy everywhere, and it was beautiful! There was an immense quantity of laughter, from children and parents alike, with wrestling, story-telling, coffee-making, snack-sharing and eventually, distributing of gifts from under the tree to the locations where everyone might eventually settle down. If they ever would sit down.

For half a century and more, our tradition has been to begin with the youngest among us and then to take turns opening a gift apiece. If it is clothing, it must be worn. If it is food, it should be shared. There was no need to remind any one to give thanks, as thankfulness and laughter and joy flowed freely. Gifts were not particularly extravagant, but they were heart-felt, personal and loudly celebrated. They never did settle down, and it was good.

During the gift-opening, the tumultuous cacophony didn’t stop, didn’t slow down; it simply drifted vaguely in the direction of the living room and of the presents. Coffee cups were refilled continuously, glasses were regularly topped off, more snacks were shared, more photos were taken and shared, more stories told, more laughter, more rejoicing, more fun….

And suddenly it seemed like everything froze for a mere eternity-long instant, and my eyes were opened briefly. Suddenly I saw so much better.

In a moment, I saw that all the images and vain imaginations of what I had assumed about Heaven were oh-so-terribly inadequate. For a brief moment I saw through Father’s eyes, and I saw that this was at least part of what he’s been looking forward to about heaven: the family gathered around, loving being together, filled with love and joy and celebration for the family, including the head of the family.

And I realized that Father has a bigger family than I do, a much bigger family. But being omniscient, being omnipresent, he can completely rejoice with every single individual of his billions of sons and daughters as I was with the dozen or so rejoicing together in my noisy living room.

I got a quick peek of the Father’s family, full of joy and generosity and celebration, his own mighty heart rejoicing with them all, and for the first time perhaps, I think I might have begun to understand the Heavenly worship swirling around the throne that John tried so hard to describe in his Book of Revelation.

I think I might have caught a glance of “the joy that was before him” that carried the Son of God through the torment of the Cross and the grave. I think I might have glimpsed just a little bit of what God was looking forward to when he said to himself, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”

This was a celebration he was anticipating. My living room was the tiniest foretaste of what the psalmist described as, “You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

There were other insights, too; the experience was a little overwhelming. I glimpsed even tinier views of Father’s heart for those who were not in the house that morning, but that was not the lesson of the day. The morning’s lesson was about joy that the Father’s family brings his Almighty heart.

I saw from Father’s eyes for just a fraction of a second, a tiny stretch of eternity, and then reality crashed again on my shores and I was swept away by the joy of my own family, and of their joy of being together, of giving and receiving gifts, of celebration and laughter. The joy continued for a long, long time.

And it was good. It was very good.

Israel has Sinned. That’s Why They Cannot Stand

In my reading today, this stood out to me. I suspect that there’s a principle for me here. Maybe for your too.

Joshua 7: 11 “Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.”

I don’t know about you, but I was taught that sin is bad because it scares God off from me. “God cannot look upon sin,” they said, completely ignoring the fact that “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

As my attention was grabbed by Joshua 7, I realized (yet again) that the big deal is the effect that sin has on me, NOT the silly idea that sin has an effect on God.

To summarize: “Israel has sinned; That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies.” In other words, sin let failure into their lives, sin let their enemy beat them up, sin opened them up to what the enemy was doing, sin made them victims, not victors. 

God doesn’t like sin primarily because of the mess that it makes in our lives: it separates us from (in this example) victory, from our destiny as overcomers.

So when God says, “Be holy,” he’s not laying down the law. That’s largely about, “Position yourselves in the cross-hairs of my blessing!”

Jesus Freaks Out the Disciples

I've been reflecting on Hebrews 1, which tells us that Jesus is the best representation of God's nature we're ever going to get.

In that context, I'm thinking about Mark 6:48-50, yet another place where Jesus is representing Father’s nature.

"He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened."

This, too, is Jesus representing Father to us.

I observe some things here:

• Jesus saw his best friends straining at their work, because circumstances were against them, and he did not stop the events raging against them.

• Jesus let his friends struggle all through the night.

• I remember the aphorism, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.” So in the darkest part of the night, Jesus came to his friends. He still didn’t take the storm away, but he brought his presence to them in the midst of the storm. I love how he does this.

• He walks “out to them,” but “He was about to pass by them.” God does that sometimes: he comes to me, but … There are a hundred sermons in this line, but the bottom line is that he came “to them,” and he came close enough to see, but he was not stopping for them. That’s worth thinking about. “He was about to pass by them.”

• But his appearance scares them silly. God’s presence can be terrifying, if I’ve been focusing on the raging storm.

• He didn’t actually get in the boat with them until “They cried out.”

• We know from the other gospels that in here somewhere is the bit where Pete walks on the water, but it’s not in this particular gospel. While that’s a really exciting story (especially for Pete!), apparently that’s not the important lesson here.

• When Jesus gets into the boat, the storm dies down. Isn’t that how it goes?

• They were completely amazed. Duh. This one is not surprising!

• But the reason for their amazement, and maybe for their terror earlier, was because they didn’t understand God’s provision; they “had not understood about the loaves,” the story earlier in the chapter where Jesus “he had compassion” for the crowd of 5000 and taught them and fed them.

Apparently my not knowing God’s compassionate goodness leads to me being freaked out at circumstances, freaked out at his presence showing up unexpectedly, and leads to me being amazed when he changes things.

The last line teaches me that if I misunderstand God’s goodness, my heart gets hardened, and I’ll misunderstand what he’s doing. I might want to guard against this.

And the best way I can think of to guard against this is to be persistently thankful when I see him doing things. If nothing else, it helps me pay attention to what he's doing (so I’ll actually see what he’s doing), and it helps keep my heart in a healthy attitude toward him.

Led by Scripture?

This story has been bugging me:

Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here. "For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you,' "and, 'In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.' " And Jesus answered and said to him, "It has been said, 'You shall not tempt the LORD your God.' " - Luke 4:9-12

I’ve been taught, and I’ll bet you have too, to base my choices and my requests on Scripture. If I can support it from the pages of the Bible, I’m safe.

This passage puts the lie to that. In this story, Luci asks Jesus to do something, AND HE SUPPORTS IT WITH SCRIPTURE! This is the secret code we’ve been taught to trust blindly, and the devil is using it to tempt Jesus! 😲

In this story, it’s pretty clear that obeying this scriptural request was very much not God’s will:

Luci (the debbil) was the one making the request.
JC had a better understanding of the whole counsel of Scripture, and recognized that this use (with scripture!) violated the bigger issues.
Jesus only did what he saw Father doing (John 5:19), and apparently Father wasn’t showing off by skydiving from a clifftop, waiting for God to rescue him from the law of gravity and from the consequences of his own choice.
We could add that the quote (from Deuteronomy 8) was out of context, but the worst out-of-context quoter of Scripture that I know is Scripture itself. (But that’s another conversation).

I realize that I’ve done this. I’ve done this: I’ve taken verses as approval for my wishes and choices, and expected God to jump through my hoops. And then I’ve gotten angry or disappointed when he didn’t.

Principle: just because I can find somebody doing it in the Bible doesn’t mean it’s God’s will for my life. Or that it’s safe.

Principle: Yes, look for what Scripture says on the topic, but don’t stop there. Engage Holy Spirit, involve mature brothers & sisters.

Most importantly, know your Father’s heart, so when somebody tries to use Scripture to pull you away from his heart, you’ll know better and not follow that slimy trail.