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

Thursday

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! ðŸ˜²

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.




Edification, Exhortation and Comfort: What Are They Really?

But he who prophesies speaks edification, exhortation and comfort to men.” - 1Corinthians 14:3

I’ve been chewing on this one for several months now. I’d like to invite you to process the verse with me.

At a fundamental level, this is the purpose of prophetic gifts: edification, exhortation and comfort, at least how it works under our New Covenant. (Old Covenant prophets were working from a different foundation, of course.)

When I studied the New Testament Greek in school, I learned that the last item in the series is the important one, the item that the language is emphasizing.

(Four verses earlier is a clear example of this: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” The most important one in the list is usually the last one listed.)

And that’s how we’ve handled prophetic gifts most of the time, particularly when we’re training folks to prophesy: “Keep your prophetic words in the realm of edification, exhortation and especially comfort.” Then we hastily add, “Avoid judgment and avoid prophesying relationships at all times.”

But let’s look at these three purposes of the prophetic gifts a little more closely.

Comfort” Paul uses the Greek word “paramythia,” and one of its key meanings is what we expect. It describes talk for the purpose of “calming and consoling.” And this is how we often teach it in the prophetic.

The other use of “paramythia,” particularly as used in other Greek writings, also includes the idea of “persuading, or of arousing and stimulating,” though we have to get that from Plato, Socrates and Josephus, as this verse is the ONLY place that the Bible uses the word, so we don’t get much help from looking up how it’s used in other passages. Comforting, persuading, arousing, stimulating. (Since this is on social media, I suppose it needs to be said: this has no sexual connotations whatsoever.)

Exhortation” comes from the word “paraklÄ“sis,” which is closely related to “paraklete,” the word the New Testament uses for the Holy Spirit himself. We usually translate that word as “Comforter,” though in the prophetic, it’s usually in the context of “a calling near, summons,” or “supplication, entreaty,” or “admonition.” In other words, this is an action word, not a warm & fuzzy word. “Come on, let’s go” would be an example of a paraklÄ“sis word.

Edification” isn’t a word we use outside of church these days, but we’ve figured out that “oikodomÄ“ ” talks about the desire and act of building others up.

All of this thinking is happening in the context (both in my own mind, and if I understand right, in the Corinthian church Paul was writing to) of getting away from using Jeremiah and Ezekiel as our models for prophetic ministry. Nowadays, we think in terms of ’Miah and Zeke’s example on one end of the prophetic spectrum, and Precious Moments merchandise for our example on the other end.

My take-away from all this is along those lines. I’m not disrespecting the Old Covenant prophets, nor the Precious Moments business model, but I don’t believe either is an acceptable foundation or model for New Covenant prophetic ministry. And yet both contain at least a hint of the right elements for us.

My conclusion (at least this week) is that New Covenant people are not in the business of fire and brimstone, and that sort of judgment does not belong in our prophetic expressions. In fact, I tend to get up and walk out on those sort of proclamations (which is pretty much metaphorical in the context of social media: I won’t submit myself to that spirit).

The other end of that spectrum, for which I use Precious Moments as a metaphor, strikes me as less harmful to its audience, though it presents an image of the prophetic that is no better.

Those who define prophecy by either example are deceived and badly shortchanged.

Rather, legitimate prophecy does include elements of comforting folks going through a hard time, but rather than a “There, there!” and a pat on the hand, it also includes (in the vocabulary of 1Corinthians 10:13) “a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” It is not at all without sympathy (or empathy), but it most definitely doesn’t stop with that. And it certainly does not get in the way of personal responsibility.

And while legitimate prophecy completely avoids any vocabulary of God smiting or hating folks for what they’ve done (which was not uncommon under the Old Covenant), the concept of “You can do better,” or “Here’s the truth to replace the lie you’ve believed” is very appropriate, and is a solid example of “edification, exhortation and comfort to men.

Another way of describing that change of focus when calling people higher is this: “Don’t declare the problem. Anybody can do that. The evening news does a pretty good job. That takes no faith. Declare the solution. Declare the Good News. Declare God’s point of view of “a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)


Praying to Stop an Untrustworthy Person

I was praying recently about a man who has shown himself to be untrustworthy and whose efforts to control the world around him have caused a lot of harm to a lot of people. It could have been any of a number of folks, I suppose.

“Father, stop him!” I prayed, and as soon as I said it, I knew I’d missed his heart.


Two things came quickly into my mind:

• The principle I’ve held for a few years that it’s easier to pray for the storm to change its path than to stop it altogether,

• The image of a man on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians getting knocked off his ass and turned from a persecutor into a preacher. “I didn’t stop him,” Father whispered.

And I realized that I need to change my prayer from “Stop him!” to “Change his path,” and even “Redeem him.”

As I considered this some more, it occurred to me that my Father is awfully good at redeeming irredeemable people, and bringing good through them who formerly brought evil.

I realized, not for the first time, that when I pray against people that Jesus died for, I’m doing it alone, not with my Father; that a much wiser path is to pray for the people and for their redemption.

I have permission to pray against their work if it’s hurting folks, but I have his presence and even his partnership as I pray for their redemption.


The Miracle Car

May I share a testimony with you?

For years, I’ve had an older Toyota sedan. Recently, through circumstances that aren’t part of this story, the car died, and we replaced it with the same model, but a year or two newer. (What can I say? I like some of the classic Toyotas.) I hadn't had a chance to sell the busted one yet.

Then the newer one died. My daughter was driving her sister home in it, and suddenly it seemed that the engine exploded: steam and smoke and scary noises burst from under the hood; the girls jumped from the car, steered it into a parking lot and called me to come rescue them.
 
I was able to drive it home, but just barely. It was horrible: it chugged and snorted and belched great clouds of white smoke and threatened to die on the half mile trip home. A friend looked at the engine and hung his head: “Cracked head,” he murmured, and shook his head. I was horrified: that wasn’t worth repairing.

Father whispered to me: “You’ve learned to trust me in circumstances where My provision comes before the problem does. Now can you trust me where you see the problem, but you don’t yet see My provision?” Hmm. This might be interesting.

Then we had a brainstorm! We could use the cylinder head from the dead car on the new car! That might work! Let’s look closely, and see if we can figure out how to do that!

So four of us gathered around to examine it. Only two of us had experience working on cars: one on a Honda, the other on a Volkswagen; the third guy & I could maybe change the oil, if we were desperate.

We lifted the hood. There was rust spattered all over the engine like blood, and I was sad all over again. “Well, let’s see where it’s cracked.” and we stuck the garden hose to the empty radiator. The idea was to fill the radiator, start the car, and see where the water leaked out: that was where the crack would be.

But before we could start the engine, we found the leak: a long crack on the top of the radiator! That was a much easier repair.

The four of us ran to the old car and checked: yep! Same size radiator. So over the next several hours, we removed both radiators, tested both radiators, and installed the one from the dead car into the living car, and filled it up. We started the engine: the same chugging and snorting and great clouds of smoke belched from the exhaust. How discouraging.

But then one of the guys pointed at the loose wires on the distributor, and asked, “Would that make a difference?” Two of the cylinders weren’t even firing. We re-attached those spark plug wires, and started the car again: it purred like a happy kitten.

I was floored. We’d gone from a completely dead car to a completely happy car in half a day, without spending a single dime. I’ve never seen that happen before!

Then Father reminded me: “Son, I’ve told you that I am your provision. Do you believe me?”

For the record: No, I don’t get every need met that way. The first car was still dead. And no, I don’t get all of my needs met in the way I want them met (like getting my classic car repaired for no cost at all!). But yes, I’m learning.

Prophets of Doom or Comfort Porn Prophets

Somebody asked me recently about whether if a prophet speaks of a trouble, are they a prophet of God or a prophet of doom? “It worries me,” she said, “that some people spend so much time promoting these ‘words’ that they become self-fulfilling.”

Fair enough.

From my viewpoint, this really is a legitimate concern. 

Having said that, to completely avoid any mention of trials, to become only a “warm and fuzzy prophet” (prophesying “comfort porn”) is equally errant. Both ditches are problems. And there are other “ditches” I suppose. 

Yeah, there are a *whole lot* of publicized “words” that seem to me to be motivated by marketing, by a need to be “relevant” or “cutting edge,” or are merely coming from what appears to be a wounded soul.
Fake news among the prophetic community?

Yeah, that’s why God gave us the gift of discernment. It’s probably more needful now than ever before.

I observe, however, that many Biblical revelations did, in fact, acknowledge coming trials. It’s easy to find this in the Old Covenant, and it’s easy (and often appropriate) to write many of those warnings off as ministering under an inferior covenant.

At the same time, most of the prophetic words to Paul during the latter part of the book of Acts fit that category as well; Agabus is never even hinted as being a false prophet. Even Jesus prophesied warnings; have you read Matthew 24 recently?

If a “prophet of God” is legitimately speaking about troubles, I’d argue that there are some ways to discuss that topic that are more appropriate than others. “The spirits of prophets are subject to prophets,” after all.

It seems that prophets need to speak what God is actually saying, not from other (lesser) voices/motivations. But those who hear the words have no less need to hear God as we discern those words.

The Pendulum Swings to Mercy

It seems that the history of mankind can be described as a rush from one extreme position to another, like a pendulum gone. We’re doing it again.

For the past several decades, we’ve lost track of the promise at the end of James 2:13: “…Mercy triumphs over judgment.” For the past several decades, the church has earned a reputation as a house of judgment and intolerance, of narrow-mindedness and bigotry. Frankly, we’ve earned the reputation.

You’ve may have noticed, however, that the pendulum is swinging back, as is its wont. There are several changes that are happening in the church that reflect the pendulum’s return: one that I have observed over the past several years today is a rise, an increase, in the expression of mercy gifts among individuals in the church. It’s one reflection of the change in direction of the church: we’re becoming less judgmental, and more merciful. 

We certainly need that change. The bad news is that the world has judged the church for being judgmental and out of touch, and that judgment has been appropriate. The good news is that the church is changing her heading, but it seems that we’re headed for increased turbulence with the corrections we’re making, not toward calmer waters.

The increase of the gift of mercy within the church, has not been well documented, and indeed it’s difficult to document and to analyze. You may or may not have seen what I have been observing for the past year; it is indeed subtle. Allow me to state my point fairly directly, and you can make your own observations.

Our text, then, is Romans 12:6-8:

“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”

First, let’s agree that mercy really is a gift, and by divine command, it is to be exercised with “cheerfulness” (literally hílarós, a root word that has become “hilarity” in English).

It’s my observation as one who has been a part of the church for a bunch of decades, that there are more people in the church now than there were a decade ago who are gifted with mercy, and the gift is more respected than it has been before. The church is more aware now than perhaps ever of the need to respond to sinners with understanding and empathy rather than a good clubbing with Old Testament Law. Our services often focus on meeting the needs of “pre Christians” rather than discussing sin and its consequences for “sinners.”

We have softened our approach to people-different-than-ourselves, and even many of our street evangelists are asking questions or meeting needs more than proclaiming judgment on street-corners.

That much is good.

The context for this growth in mercy, however, has been neither cheerfulness nor hilarity. The mercy that is growing in the church is growing without having been disciplined, it is mercy out of control, and it is becoming a destructive force in the church.

Pastors and other leaders are finding themselves confronted by their congregations for being too stern, too strict when confronting sloth or sin. Church discipline – ever the touchy subject – has become anathema: we’re afraid to go there.

Often, the confrontation is motivated at least in part by mercy: let’s not be too harsh. But it’s mercy out of control, mercy without discipline behind it, mercy without maturity. The resulting of the conversation – a pastor afraid to speak the truth – is not normally considered a step toward maturity. This is mercy guided by ignorance or (worse) rebellion.

For example, a friend of mine leads a worship band, and her drummer was getting lazy. He’d use the same riffs for nearly every song, and his playing had gotten boring: he was stagnant and worse than that, he was content with being stagnant. As the leader, she had spoken to him a couple of times privately, and they’d agreed on certain goals, and on the means to achieve those goals.

Once during rehearsal, he drifted back into his old, stagnant patterns, and she needed to remind him of the standards they had agreed to. But when she did, she was surprised to find several other members of the band getting in her face about how she had “judged” him. The other members thought they were being “merciful” (and indeed, they are known to be merciful people), but because their mercy was un-tempered by self-control, it brought division, not unity to their band. This was mercy guided by self-indulgence.

In 1 Samuel 15, God sent king Saul to destroy the Amelekites, with specific instruction to kill everything:

• “But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”

Saul musters the army and conquers the enemy, but instead of obeying God, he shows mercy:

• “But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them.”

Sure, there were other motivations; greed come to mind, but the act was merciful, whether it was mixed with lesser values or not.

The story concludes with God judging Saul, not because he was merciful (who is more merciful than God?), but because Saul’s mercy was undisciplined, and the fruit was disobedience. Saul feared the people more than he feared God; God could no longer trust him as king, and He fired him and began preparing David to replace him.

In our school district, very few students are “flunked” or “held back” because it’s considered bad for the student’s self-esteem. I’m all for being careful with kids’ tender hearts, but if a teacher feels pity for a capable-but-undisciplined student, and passes a failing student for whatever reason, that teacher is not doing the student any favors. If the kid can’t read his own high-school diploma because of well-meaning, but ultimately short-sighted policies, that student will still be illiterate and functionally unemployable, all because of his educators’ misguided mercy. This is mercy guided by shortsightedness, by fear of confrontation, or perhaps mercy without guidance at all.

For the past twenty years, the church has been getting used to the rebirth of prophetic gifts. We’ve seen Prophetic Schools and Prophetic Training Classes and Prophetic Conferences by the hundreds. All of this has been an attempt to teach the prophetic people how to minister their prophetic gifts: ultimately, it’s been aimed at producing mature prophets and prophetesses, who use their gifts responsibly: in other words, we’ve been breeding self-control into the prophetic movement, and I for one, am thankful for it. (Who wants to return to the prophetic poo-flinging and free-for-alls of the late ’80’s? Not I, thank you very much!)

So consider this a call (perhaps even a prophetic call?) to arms on behalf of the restoration of the gift of mercy. It’s time for mercy to come to the forefront in the church.

And it’s time that we begin to expect, even plan for, maturity in the gift of mercy.

Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Mature mercy triumphs better.

I’ve been thinking about something.

Sometimes when I need to think (“meditate”) on a topic or a verse, it helps me to do it “out loud.”

Some days, I go for a walk in the woods, and I teach on that topic to the trees and bushes. But it’s raining enough that the squirrels are marching two by two, so I’m using my other favorite method of “thinking out loud”: writing. 

Hold still. Thinking might happen here. This might get messy.

Part 1: Our words carry power. We’re made in the image of the Creator God, who used his words to do all his creating. We carry some of that.

Part 2: God is in the business of blessing, not in the business of cursing. We’re in the family business (see above), so there’s a reason he has commanded us to “bless and curse not.”

Part 3: If we’re honest, there’s a lot of stuff around us, a lot of people around us, that maybe have earned their fair share of cursing. Some bad people doing bad things.

Observation 1: Take #1 above with #3 above. I suspect that the reason some cities (and increasingly, states) in America are so messed up is because Christians are cursing them so much. Think about the times you’ve heard Christians talking about Washington DC or Chicago or San Francisco. What is usually the topic of those conversations. When was the last time you heard Christians actually blessing Joe Biden or Donald Trump or Nancy Pelosi?

And as a result of Christians (and others, but it’s the Christians’ words that are the big danger) declaring curses, these cities, these people are targeted by hell. And you can see it. Just look at them: they’re not actually doing well, are they? Hell is having a heyday with them.

Observation #2: Personal experience: whenever I have asked for prayer for an ill-favored person or place, the curses (“Oh, they’re a bad person!” or “They sure need to repent!”) outnumber the prayers by about two to one. (I suspect that this illustrates our need to grow in the Spirit’s fruit of self control.)

Hmmm #1: If we hear about “God is going to judge this city” (or state, or whatever), we often think of running away from that place. I’m thankful there have been fewer of these awful curses recently, but they make me think of Abe’s conversation with God in Genesis 18, where Abe argues for both mercy and justice. “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

Hmmm #2: I wonder if it might be a healthier response, when we hear a credible declaration of impending doom, for Christians to rush to that city or state. And maybe echo Abe’s conversation in the process. “Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you!”

Hmmm #3: If that’s a reasonable thought (and so far it seems to make sense), would the same apply to individuals? If we see someone whose actions make them a target for hell (or “judgment” or whatever), is it more Christ-like to get ourselves far away from them, or to get close to them, to bring God’s mercy to them?

Hmmm #4: What would that look like?

Hmmm #5: How would God look on that? How would the world look on that?

As I write these thoughts, a verse comes to mind. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not comprehend it.” I love the thought of confusing the darkness, but I like the idea of shining light into the lives caught in the darkness even better.



The Power of Listening

One of the more challenging skills in the age of social media is listening.

Listening is more than reading or hearing their words. It’s not a tool for finding fault with their statements or for winning arguments. In fact, listening reduces the need for actual arguments.

I was in a situation where someone and I saw things differently.

Well, that’s hypocritical,” I muttered under my breath.

Well, that’s one option,” Father whispered back. “What are some other options?” 


 
(I hold that when God speaks, power is released in his words. So, among other things, when he asks me a question, I now have more power to answer the question than I did before he spoke.)

So we discussed other possibilities for why people do things I don’t understand.

Yeah, hypocrisy is an option, though it’s probably less frequent than I imagine.

• Lack of knowledge. They may not know the things I know, so they are unequipped to come to my conclusions.

Lack of awareness. This is a big one. Sometimes people have access to the data I have, but their attention is on other things. I confess I had to fight back the response of “How dare they!” but I quickly realized that their focus is almost certainly different than my focus.

Different personal issues. The things going on in them, through which they consider the issue, are likely different than my issues. I know some folks who are tough to reason with before coffee. Or when they’re hungry. Or when their emotions are high.

Different core beliefs. I believe (very intentionally) that God is good, that the best explanation of what he’s like is Jesus. Other people don’t know this yet, and so they’ll interpret “acts of God” much differently than I will.

The lesson is: listen and you might learn something. You might understand someone. You might end up wiser than you were before you listened.



Issachar, the Cat

Oh my. God's using my cat to teach me a lesson again. Awkward.

Our cat gets a healthy breakfast. Then she gets lunch at 1:30 or 2:00. (She's a very well-fed cat.)

I don't eat breakfast. They call it intermittent fasting; I have breakfast at noon. (It keeps me from being a "very well-fed" human.)

So I was in the kitchen at noon the other day, chopping up the toppings for the personal pizza I was going to have for breakfast. And the cat saunters in, all affectionate, assuming that since I was in the kitchen, I must be preparing lunch for her.


I scritched her neck and she purred. Then she started to yowl when I didn’t get the hint, so I walked away. We repeated the cycle two or three times before she gave up and walked away and sulked. I went back to slicing peppers and shredding cheese.

Then I heard the whisper. "It's easy to misunderstand what time it is if you depend on someone else for that information."

Immediately 1 Chronicles 12:32 came to my mind. "...from Issachar [came] men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do."

Personally, I believe it's more important in these days than ever before in my own lifetime at least, to understand the times and to know how to respond in the midst of these days.

And I cannot (I MUST not) depend on somebody's prophetic word, or what my pastor preaches about, or what that person on Facebook writes about. I must understand the times from knowing my Father, from walking with Jesus, from listening to Holy Spirit.

It's awkward when I get misled by gifted saints who are walking in step with God. It's awkward when I follow what they're proclaiming rather than what Father is whispering.

Sharing Power

It seems that God has always been about sharing power.

The first thing he said to the freshly-created Adam & Eve was sharing power: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” [Genesis 1] That’s sharing power.

Even earlier, as he was thinking about it, he was already clear: “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” [also Genesis 1] That’s sharing power.

He reminds us of it later: “The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD's; But the earth He has given to the children of men.” [Psalm 115]

God is about sharing power, at least on this planet. But this planet is (for now) the only place we live, so that’s not much of a practical limitation.

God has always been about sharing power with us. Or call it sharing authority. For the moment, the difference isn’t significant here.

That triggers some ugly stuff in my religious history. For a while in my history, I lived among believers who seemed to think that it was up to them to do things, and if God wasn’t busy, maybe he’d help out a little. And then I spent a whole bunch of years among a “God is all-powerful and I’m only a worm” crowd.

But the idea of God sharing power with us shoots both of those down pretty well, doesn’t it?

Do you remember the parable of the minas [Luke 19]? It’s a picture of his reward system, and the biggest reward? “Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.”

He’s sharing power again: authority over cities.

For a few years, I’ve been working on the belief that God doesn’t want to relate to us as a master and slaves. He’s a Father, for Heaven’s sake, he wants to relate to us as children, and since he’s a good Father, he wants mature children. Mature daughters and sons who can co-reign with him.

It’s been right there in black and white since the very first page of the Book. He never made a secret of it.

OK, that’s pretty well established. Today, we went off into the weeds a little:

If God is sharing power (on Earth), how much of his power does he share, and how much does he keep for himself?

I get that it’s reasonable to assume that everything that we do as his sons and daughters, well he’s in us, so he’s doing that work, not us. Stop it! That’s religious double-talk. He NEVER said, “We’ll let them think they have authority over creation, but we’ll keep it all for ourselves and just let them pretend to be kings and priests.”

That’s a pretty ugly accusation against a loving Father. I should know; I thought that way for quite a while.

For the moment, let’s assume that when God says, “...he earth He has given to the children of men,” that he meant it.

The question I’m pondering right now is more about how much: How much of the authority on this planet does he keep for himself and how much is he delegating to the human species (that would be you and me, you understand)?

Some have argued that he started the machine running, but nowadays, it’s largely up to us. (“The earth He has given to the children of men,” remember?)

Some propose that we don’t have any authority of our own, but we just get to hold his hand while he does kingly stuff sometimes. (“In him we live and move and have our being.” [Acts 17:28])

I’m thinking that sharing means sharing. He has some, we have some, but mostly, we both have our hand in the pot. If we’re smart, we’ll invite him to come with us when we lead and we’ll go with him where he’s leading.

How do you figure that works out? How do you see it? 

Balaam’s Presumption

I’ve been reflecting on Baalam son of Beor recently (Numbers 22 – 24, I believe).
Balaam was known as a prophet whose words carried power (“...For I know that whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed.”).

A local king (Balak, king of Moab) saw the horde of people on their way from Egypt, heading to the Promised Land, and he was afraid for his life. He had reason to be. This mob of former slaves had just wiped out the neighboring kingdom (21:25).

So he decides to hire the local prophet, and here is where things get interesting. This is what stuck out to me this morning:

Balak tries to hire Balaam to curse the invading army (22:6). Balaam answers, “I’ll check with God.” (22:8)

God tells Balaam “Do not go with them.” Balaam tells the recruiters, “Go back to your own country, for the LORD has refused to let me go with you.” (22:13)

So far so good.

But Balak is determined. He offers more cash, more status. Balaam knows God has already said no. That should have been the end of it. But he goes back to check with God again.

It occurs to me that an awful lot of prophets I know (NOT all of them!) have some measure of insecurity in them, and with reason. People who speak for God are not often welcome into polite society: prophets encounter rejection more than some folks. This seems to be a tender spot for Balaam.

And this is where things go haywire. God defers to Balaam’s free will, lets him go with them, but says, “...but do only what I tell you.”

Balaam saddles up his donkey and heads to Moab with the royal recruiters.

And along the way, an angel tries to kill him three times. 
His talking donkey saved his life. (22:28)

Interpreting this Old Covenant story through the newer, more complete revelation (Hebrews 1:3), it’s clear that it’s not God trying to kill the rebellious prophet. I suspect that rather his rebellion against God’s clear instruction (22:13) gave fallen angels (or demons) the right to go after him. A digression.

That’s what sin does, of course: it gives hell permission to beat on us. God says, “Be holy” for a reason. (Leviticus 11:44,45; 19:2, & 1Peter 1:16) (Fortunately, his command to be holy also releases his power for us to choose holiness successfully.)

I come away from this thinking that free will really is a big deal. Our free will is so powerful, it will let us defy the will of God. Of course, there are some formidable consequences to that choice, but it is still a choice.

It’s not that hard to talk yourself into doing what God said not to do. And God will let us do it. There have been times that I’ve asked him not to, but free will seems to be a big deal to him: he generally insists that we make our own choices.

Note that in the end, Balaam did attempt to curse Israel, but God turned it into a blessing (Deuteronomy 23:5), but he ended badly (2Peter 2:15 & Revelation 2:14).

I don’t want to be like Balaam. His words carried power. His prophecies all came to pass. But he was damned fool about it: he disappointed God and nearly got killed by an angel. (But he got to hear a donkey talk! That’s kind of cool. An ass talking to an ass, I guess.)

Let There Be Light, and Other Divine Commands

Think with me for a minute.

It’s pretty clear that when God gave commands in Genesis 1, those things happened.

“Let there be light!” and Bam! There’s light.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so.

There’s a principle illustrated here: When God gives a command, power is released in that command to accomplish what is commanded.

For years, I misunderstood this. I heard (for I had been taught) “Be holy as I am holy” as instruction for how I needed to direct my own efforts.

God says to be holy, so you need to follow all these holy rules in order to accomplish holiness. The best you can.”

God says, ‘Go and sin no more,’ so you need to know all the Do’s and Don’ts and make sure you follow every one carefully for the rest of your life.”

I’ve since learned that this is complete hogwash. And it’s an insult to God.

God gives me a gift, “Be holy, son; and here is the ability (and the desire) to be holy!” But I had ignored his gift and tried to come up with the same “holy” result through my own legalistic efforts.

What a nightmare.

But once I quit focusing on the list of Do’s and Don’ts and just focused on my Father, once I gave my heart freedom (gasp!) to love him, my desire for sin left, and with it, my choice to sin.

I began to experience holiness. In my life. Mine! My own!

I’ve been reflecting on this process (with substantial thanksgiving!) recently, and then in this context, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2) came to mind.

“Transformed” means changed, in structure, in appearance, even in genetics. Literally.

So how would I even recognize it when that transforming happens to me?

“Think about Easter, Son. Where was Jesus before dawn on that first Easter?”

Jesus was in the grave. He might have been preaching in hell, but he was between death and resurrection. (Around here, we call that “dead.” As in, “Jesus was dead.”)

But Jesus went into the grave as one kind of a man, one kind of flesh-and-blood, and came out another. If nothing else, he could walk through walls, afterwards. I’ll bet there were other changes, too.

He had been transformed, after. So right then, in the grave at that first Easter weekend, Jesus was being transformed.

At that point, my mind was spinning with religious thoughts like “dying to self,” and “being hidden away, cocooned,” and “renewing my mind,” in order to “be transformed.”

Father interrupted my thoughts. “What makes you think I’m not transforming you right now, right here as we talk? As we walk together every day? This isn’t something you do, Son. This is something I do.

“And if I can transform Jesus, even while he was dead, don’t you think I can transform you while you’re not even dead? “Trust me, Son.”

I’m a grateful son. I’m thankful.

And then it hit me: that’s the secret. The sentence continues: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Choosing to be thankful, even excited, for who he is and what he’s done and well… maybe just living thankfully, that’s the key that he works through. Or at least one of them.