Showing posts with label church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label church. Show all posts

Thursday

Blue Collar Jesus

My day job is what’s normally called a “white collar” job. Most American jobs are.

Recently, I was doing a lot of digging. Digging is more of a “blue collar” job.

And while I was digging, I was listening to the Bible, ‘cuz that’s what I do. I was listening to the Gospel of Matthew.

And because I was in the midst of so much manual labor at the time, I saw the parables of Jesus through more of a blue collar lens.

It surprised me, seeing them like that. For the first time I realized – really realized – that Jesus told blue-collar stories. I observe that while he hung out with white collar guys (like tax collectors and perhaps Lazarus, and the rich guys who sought him out for healing), he never told white-collar stories. He told blue-collar stories.

Yes, a larger portion of first century jobs were blue collar jobs. But this is more than that. Jesus is going out of his way to reach the scruffy folks, the one that didn’t matter as much as the good folks, the people with position and influence.

I think in these terms: if Jesus started his church-planting work among the calloused-handed working class, I wonder why our church-planting efforts do things differently. Do we judge His work as insufficient, or unworthy?

I observe that Jesus handled money so very differently than modern churches do. He had a few (presumably wealthy) patrons, and supplemented that with miracles (coins in a fish’s mouth, multiplying meals; I wonder how often he did that?). By contrast, we generally work to attract upper-middle-class folks and then preach tithing to them: guilt or obligation as the means of paying the rent.

Rent. Jesus never did seem to have a place that he needed to pay rent on. That’ll help keep the expenses in line. No building to support (though he did preach in synagogues when invited). And he didn’t draw a salary from the ministry.

I am reaching the conclusion that this blue-collar thing, this is who Jesus really was. When he humbled himself (Philippians 2), He went all the way. Jesus loves to reach the folks in the gutters because that’s who He was when He was on Earth. That’s where He lived.



The Fighter’s Regrets

Have you ever woken up with a song floating through the fog in your mind? Sometimes I think that’s just an echo of a dream or a memory, particularly if it’s a song I’ve heard or sung recently.

How about a song from your ancient history in your mind as you woke? I actually pay more attention to these; there’s less chance that it’s just my subconscious expressing itself.

I’d like to share one of these with you. You may find the process interesting, but I believe the lesson might apply to several of us.

Recently, I woke up with a song from my youth playing in my mind, and trust me, that’s from a long time ago. The song had nothing to do with the dream as far as I could tell, and I could only remember snippets of it – really only one phrase.

But that phrase kept replaying in my mind: that caught my attention. And as it replayed, my memory of the lyrics grew. This also suggested to me that this might be from God. So I spoke with Father about it, acknowledging that I thought he might be up to something; I asked for insight, and I paid attention as the memory of the song replayed and expanded in my mind.


Some themes began to stand out in the lyrics that kept playing in my memory. One of them definitely seemed to have the fragrance of my Father about it, so I meditated on that one. That is, I thought about it; I let it roll around in my mind to see what might come from it.

When my mind began to warm up (you know, I really appreciate the fact that God invented coffee!), I fired up Google and looked into it a bit more. And I realized that even after my memory had been playing it back for an hour or two, I had remembered only one verse out of five; the rest hadn’t come back to me, though those verses had actually been more important to me when the song was new.

Here’s the song: https://youtu.be/MYPJOCxSUFc. It’s called The Boxer, by Simon & Garfunkel. It was the last verse alone that spoke to me through the morning fog:

In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down
And cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains*

This verse had literally never made sense to me, but suddenly, there was a message in it for me.

It speaks to me, but I’d like to share it with you, because I suspect it might speak to other, too, and maybe that includes you.

I confess: I’m a man of fairly strong conviction. I stand up for those convictions, and it’s not inappropriate to say that I fight to maintain them. If I believe something to be true, I’ll fight to defend it.

Father gently pointed out that I, too, carry reminders of those fights, reminders, I suppose, every glove that laid me down or cut me till I cried out. I’ve paid a price to defend my convictions. Like the fighter in the song, the price has been paid in several areas of my life: in my memories, in my body carrying the stress, in the solitude that comes from having lost relationships.

Then he drew my attention to the fighter’s vow, and that I’ve made vows like that as well: “I am leaving, I am leaving” but I don’t leave. I remain. I still defend my beliefs, my convictions, and I’m still laid down and cut up sometimes. I’m still wounded from the fights that I am convinced are right and good. And they still bring the fruits of “anger and shame” into my life, just like they did in his.

(Didn’t someone say “You shall know them by their fruit”?  Hmmm....)

This is something that’s come partly from my character (I believe that standing up for “what is true” is important), partly from my youth (I was taught that truth is important and should be stood up for).

But this fight may have been fanned into the biggest flame from my years in Bible-believing churches. “This is what I believe to be true, so I must defend it at all costs.” We teach that, we believe that, in many evangelical churches, and while we defend different truths in denominational churches, we still defend them vigorously.

Think about how Christians respond when a movie comes that we don’t like out (remember Russell Crowe’s Noah?). Consider how Christians respond to “The Homosexual Agenda” or to political candidates, or to the abortion issue.

We’re taught to fight. And we do fight. Vigorously.

And let’s be honest. We don’t win these fights. Hollywood’s marketing now counts on “Christian outrage” as a publicity tool for their controversial movies, and they’re always right. Christians have not affected “The Homosexual Agenda” that we’ve stood against, abortion is still a very big business, and we’ve never once had an Evangelical believer in the Whitehouse, despite our fights on those issues.

The world knows: Christians are fighters. They don’t win, but they sure will fight. Behold how much they fight.

Father hasn’t been talking to me at this time about the issues in themselves. He’s only been using them to illustrate the fight, to illustrate the blows and the cuts that so many of us have taken in the fights.

Then he drew my attention to the refrain:

“Lie-la-lie. Lie-la-lie-lie-lie-lie-lie, Lie-la-lie
Lie-la-lie-lie-lie-lie-lie, lie-lie-lie-lie-lie.”*

Oh my. It’s right there. I’ve sung this haunting refrain with Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, and I never saw it: there’s a lie here, and the refrain rubs my nose in it. That’s a lie, lie lie!

There’s perhaps some room for discussing what the lie is. The song itself identifies one:

“He cried out
In his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains.”*

And I’ve done that. I’ve declared that I’m quitting this fight. But I haven’t really done it. I’ve lied. I’ve gotten tired of being beaten up, tired of the anger, tired of the shame, and I’ve tried to quit the fight. And I’ve failed.

As Father comforted me in this, I realized that for a fighter, the fight is a choice. It’s an option, but only one of several options. I don’t actually need to fight.

As he held me and murmured his love for me, I realized that these are not fights that have helped me, or have helped the Kingdom, not even a little bit.

I occasionally have “won” a fight, but what was the result? Maybe I could say I won, that I defeated someone who believed differently. So what? Now they’ve been defeated, now they’re wounded, too. And now they resent me, and worse they resent my message, and they resent the truth that I fought for.

You know, I don’t think anybody’s ever been bullied into receiving the truth, have they? Oh, sure, we’ve bullied people into acting like they know the truth, but that’s just equipping them for hypocrisy. That’s not a win, not really, not for anybody.

For myself, I’m going to reflect on this for a while. I’m wondering if I might actually defend my beliefs better by walking them out than I would by fighting for them. I don’t know. I’ll think about it.

I may not need to be a fighter, alone in the clearing. I may not need to be laid down, cut open. I may not need to subject myself to the anger and shame.

The Kingdom is not about any of this, is it?

Lie la lie….

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* From "The Boxer," by the American music duo Simon & Garfunkel from their fifth studio albumBridge over Troubled Water (1970) ©1969

Remembering the Great Commission

We've misinterpreted the Great Commission, I think.

We're called to introduce people to Jesus, but sometimes it seems that sometimes we forget. Sometimes, we end up introducing them to our club, to churchianity. To religion. Ewww.

They're looking for real relationship, and Jesus offering real relationship, but we're offering membership in a Sunday Morning Club complete with its own foreign language and foreign culture. "Bring your friends to church!" we are exhorted, forgetting the "Go" of the Great Commission.

Coming to faith does NOT require leaving your culture, leaving your language, leaving your community, leaving your music behind. (Yes, it does involve leaving your slavery behind.) For example, there's no need for a pipe organ or Taylor acoustic guiter in a tribal church in order for their gathering to be legit. They worship with drums; you don't have to!

Here's a radical thought: Christian pop music is by NO means the only music that's acceptable - or desirable. Some believers like barbershop quartets! Others touch God in metal music or Dixieland or Baroque or dance music.

I even know of a church that worshiped with (shudder!) country music! They would line dance in church! What?!? (And they shared the building with a church that worshiped with grunge rock music! What's up with that?)

I get it that some folks often can't go back to the culture that enslaved them for years, but let's distinguish between the slavery that held us captive and the preference of music the enslavers enjoyed while they practiced their torture upon our souls.

And since music reaches people, the Great commission applies to music: GO TO THEM. Do NOT expect them to come to you. So bring the gospel to their music; not Gospel music, but the "Good News" of the Kingdom: that belongs in THEIR music, too. There's no need for them to leave their love for Italian operas behind in order to meet Jesus.

Our commission is to go to them, and to bring the good news of the Kingdom to them.

Our job is NOT to bring them to our culture, our little club.

When we disciple folks, we are to make them followers of Jesus, not into MiniMe's.

A Dream and its Sequel

May I share with you my dream, and its sequel? I’ve never been a big one for dreaming, and until this dream, I’d never, until this dream, received instruction in a dream.

The first dream: Many of us were on a large wooden ship. It was the size of a supertanker, but it was wooden. I don't know where it was going, and I don't think I ever did learn.

Below deck, on a very large deck, was a smaller ship: not a boat, a ship. As my wife was away, talking with crew or passengers, I was below decks, preparing that ship.

There were two things that were both heavy that I was loading up on. One was crowbars: not a "j" shape crowbar, but more of a "t" shaped crowbar. I loaded about 20 or 30 of them onto the smaller ship. I don't remember the other.

It seemed that I broke out a wall or a deck of the big ship in order to get the smaller ship out, and my wife showed up about that time to go with me. I woke up before we launched the smaller ship.

I had the dream during the time that I was enrolled in a dream interpretation class, so I shared it with my friends in the class. They agreed: The large ship is the Sunday Morning church, and truthfully, I didn’t really know where that was going. My small ship below decks was a heads up: God was calling me out of the established church into something more personal. The crowbars were preparation for me to help others into similar freedom.

What these good people didn’t know was that God had been calling me to do something I hadn’t done in nearly 50 years in the faith: to disengage from my local congregation, and to take responsibility for our own spiritual life, apart from a larger congregation: to become “unchurched.” It scared the stuffing out of me, which may be part of why Father affirmed it in a dream.

----- Interlude -----

Eighteen months later, I had left the Sunday Morning community, and my head was still spinning; this was something I’d never done before, something that I had regularly taught against, that I had prayed against. In that confusing season, I had the sequel to the dream, a dream that picked up right after the point the dream had ended.

In that dream, I had succeeded at launching the small ship out of the hole in the port side of the big ship. I watched as the big ship steamed on, unaware of our departure. When the great ship was out of sight over the horizon, I realized four things:

1) I suddenly saw my surroundings, and I realized that the only things I could see were waves. I had no idea where in the vast ocean I had departed from the great ship. I didn’t know where I was. I had no bearings.

2) Those waves had appeared as insignificant to the great ship. But now, in my small craft among them, they appeared much bigger. In fact, they were taller than our masts, though they did not threaten to capsize us. Suddenly, the waves captured a much greater portion of my attention; I was now far more aware of what was going on around me. (Note: both the sky and the waves were grey.)

3) I hadn't noticed this before. My small ship still had no sails up, and I'm not entirely convinced that I had sails on board. I had no means of moving, no means of steering my course. I was not anxious about that fact; in fact, in the dream, I was not attentive to it.

4) Everything was so quiet! I could hear everything: the seabirds, the waves slapping my ship, the wind in the rigging. 

As the dream ended, I realized that it perfectly represented my life in this season, where I was experiencing things I’d never experienced in my life before:

1) I was lost in a vast ocean: In truth, I didn’t actually know where I was in this great process that God is taking me through. I didn’t have any real reference points that mattered any more: experiential, social, psychological, theological. Everything was up in the air.

2) The waves appeared much bigger: There are issues around, issues that I never noticed before, that were now large and important to me. I had never really taken personal responsibility for my life and ministry before. Suddenly, I was aware of things God was emphasizing that I hadn’t even seen before. And now, I recognized gifts, particularly leadership gifts, on people outside of the traditional leadership positions, where I had never suspected them before.

3) I had no sails: It was absolutely clear that I now had no control over my life and ministry. I had no capacity to choose if I would be ministering, or where, or with whom. The most unusual opportunities kept opening up, and I had no control over them. 

4) Everything was so quiet: Without all the corporate noise in the background, suddenly, I was hearing Father’s voice so much clearer than ever before.

It was incredibly comforting to have Father re-affirm all that I was experiencing, to know that he had all this in hand. Even though it was new and unsettling for me, it was still completely in his hands.

I felt the need to share this experience (or this set of experiences) because I believe that there are others who are going through this kind of transition, or similar transitions. I want to say to you: Father knows what you’re going through, you can trust him. You can trust him to speak to you through dreams, and through your friends in the transition.


A Personal History with Unchurched Believers

I grew up in the church. Later, I met Jesus in another church during the Jesus People revolution. That was far more interesting than regular church!

For decades, after I’d graduated from Bible college, I got a real Bible education in a Bible-believing church. And I learned the importance of being part of a church, a local congregation. A campfire of only one log will quickly burn out; a campfire with many logs will burn long and hot: believers, I was carefully taught, belonged in the campfire with other believers, and that meant in a Sunday congregation.

Over the next few decades, as I worked as an associate pastor with several churches, and Father began giving me a heart for His children, and as I watched God’s children in churches grow up, I became more concerned for those children that didn’t have the advantage of a church family.  

I met a small number of disenfranchised believers in this season: men and women who were angry and bitter at the church, and sometimes at God, too. And I prayed more for believers who didn’t have a church to call home. I pitied them.

I remember one particular evening while I was praying for the unchurched believers. Father showed me two things about this group of people that I felt a burden for: First, there were more of them than I ever expected, and second, that he was going to do something – something that I call revival – among them. So I prayed for that revival! And I pitied them: lost sheep without a flock to call home.

I prayed for and pitied unchurched believers for years, and as I did, Father’s love for those poor people grew in my heart, fueling more prayer, and probably more pity as well.

One spring Saturday, a friend I respected held an event that I saw as a church service for people who didn’t fit in church real well. It was encouraging for several reasons, not least of which was that I wasn’t fitting real well in my own church at that time.

Unfortunately, when I returned home, I discovered I had left my jacket, with my wallet, behind, and I didn’t recognize it until I returned home, an hour’s drive away.

The next day, I brought a friend and a cell phone with me and drove back to the site of the event. It took more phone calls than I expected by finally someone was able to tell me that my jacket was probably with “Ken and Barbie,” well outside of town.  

Great. I really don’t need a Ken or a Barbie in my life right now: I don’t need pretend, doll-type people my life. It was only a Goodwill-type jacket; I considered giving it up for lost, but my wallet was in the jacket. I couldn’t give up my wallet; I guess I needed to go visit Ken and Barbie.

When I arrived at their well-worn farmhouse, I scratched my head: this wasn’t the type of house I expected for “Ken and Barbie” type people. We knocked cautiously and were greeted by one of the more un-doll-like men I’ve ever met. And I recognized as soon as we stepped inside the house that we were well and truly welcome. I described it later as a family reunion with family I didn’t know I had.

We spent four hours together with these wonderful and genuine people, hours spent sharing their hearts, our hearts, stories of our Father. I learned that Ken had been a pastor for a number of years, but made his living as a carpenter now. I realized that even though I was currently a Pastor, I wanted to be more like these people. So I asked what I always ask: “So what church are you guys part of?”

The silence was deafening as Ken and Barbie glanced at each other, and I could see the question in their eyes: “How much should we tell them?” Eventually they admitted that they hadn’t been in church for more than a decade, and they told me their story of how God led them from “churched” believers to “unchurched” believers.

Then they told me about several of the folks I’d met and appreciated the day before, including my friend the event coordinator, and how they had also made the transition from “the churched” to “the unchurched.”

I was in a conundrum: I had believed that believers ought to be part of a church, but here were a whole lot of believers that I wanted to be like, whose life I aspired to, believers who – contrary to my training and my expectations – were solid and mature, and who were pillars of strength in their families and their communities. Here were believers who did not have the “advantage” of a local congregation, who were better believers than those that I knew who had that advantage. My head was spinning.

I needed to re-examine a belief that I’d held as unquestionable, and it started me asking a lot of questions about things I’d never questioned. Let me just summarize by saying that this was an exciting season in my walk of faith, and skip to the part where God confronted me about the church I was part of, where I was the associate pastor, where I was on the worship team, and where I was one of the primary preachers on Sunday mornings.

“When are you going to stop working in another man’s field, and start working in your own?” I knew it was time to leave the church, to leave that church, and to leave the church community in my city. I questioned whether I was supposed to “plant” my own church, but realized that that was just a distraction: we were to become part of the “unchurched” community.

I had a couple of dreams in this season: one before we left, clearly describing our preparation for leaving, and the sequel, after we left, where he warned me of three things:

1)      I would be disoriented, not knowing where I was, or where to go. And
2)      I would be powerless to steer my life, anyway, even if I did have an idea about where to go. But
3)      I would be able to hear Father’s voice substantially better, now that I was outside of the busyness of church, better, perhaps, than ever before.

He was, of course, correct: these were accurate descriptions of our life. He brought some excellent fellowship into our lives, often into our living room, and nearly always centered around a meal. And I found excellent fellowship online, of all places! That one really surprised me!

Curiously, our fellowship is better now that we were “out of fellowship” with Sunday morning congregations. That one surprised me, too. We are still people with imperfections, and we are still in relationship with people with imperfections; there’s no perfection here. We still deal with misunderstandings and stuff. That’s part of life.

But our place in the Body of Christ is more of what it should always have been, now that we’re no longer part of a congregation: better friendships, less judged, more received for who we are, more free to exercise our God-given gifts. In other words: church outside of “Sunday morning church” has been a substantial improvement.

Now, let me explain: I’m not writing this in order to give you a model to follow, or a standard to measure your life by. I’m writing this only as a testimony: this is the confused and real-life experience that I had; perhaps it might encourage you wherever you are in your own walk.

And let me encourage you in this: God is very much able to take you through whatever you’re going through, and to bring you out the other side in extreme and overwhelming victory.


Avoid Evil, not the Appearance of Evil

The Bible doesn’t actually tell us to avoid every appearance of evil.

First Thessalonians 5:22 says to avoid evil, not the stuff that looks like it might be evil. We avoid the evil itself. 

Yeah, the translation from 400 years ago (King James) mis-translates yet another passage. The language today is different than it was in 1611; the words mean different things nowadays. (This is why I cannot trust any teaching that relies on the KJV to support it.) This is one place where that change makes a difference. 

Four hundred years ago, “every appearance” was kind of like “every kind” of evil. Our instruction is to avoid evil stuff. Avoid evil when it appears: avoid the appearance of evil: avoid every appearance of the evil.

And that’s how EVERY other major English translation of the Bible presents this: “Reject every kind of evil,” (NIV) or “Abstain from every form of evil” (NKJV and NASB). Even the King James usually translates this word “shape.” “Avoid every shape of evil.”

We’re called to avoid evil. The call is not to avoid anything that looks like it might be considered as evil by somebody. Don’t be fussing about stuff that might look bad. Don’t be fussing about your reputation.

Jesus surely didn’t. He hung out with porn stars and filthy rich tax thieves and the most unacceptable people of his day. He went out of his way to connect with Zacchaeus the tax collector and all his tax-collector friends.

He wasn’t afraid to have a rich hooker spend thousands of dollars worth of perfume that she massaged into his bare feet, wiping them with her prostitute hair and kissing him all over his feet. When she was done, he smelled very much  like a hooker, and he defended her actions!

Jesus avoided evil. He never sinned. But he spent so much of his time with the sinners that offended the “good Christians” of the day, that his reputation was “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” Jesus had a reputation as a party-goer.

The reputation that Jesus had was that he was the favorite guy of the people who were stuck in sin.

That’s our call: to bring life to those people. These are the people who need what we’re carrying! 

Our call is NOT to avoid the appearance of evil and hang around with the good people. Church kids surely don’t need the grace that we’re carrying quite so much as the untouchable people who are caught in their sin.


That’s why he said, “Go ye, into all the world!” Because it’s all the world that needs what we’re carrying. 

Returning to the Glory of the First Century Church

Every so often, I hear someone moan wistfully, “If only we could return to the glory days of the first century church! If only we could be as full of faith as they were!”

I think if I hear that again, I’m going to scream.

May I speak plainly? That’s one of the stupidest spiritual-sounding things we could say in this day and age. I make the assumption that people who say that mean well, but come on! Let’s think about this a little bit:

The first century church, the church in the book of Acts, was a wonderful beginning. But they were only a beginning: this was the baby church, in diapers, as it were. I can tell you that I have no interest in going back to diapers. That would be such an epic failure, for the church of today to return to the “glory days” of the first century church! What was for them glorious success would be the worst of failures for us.

● “But,” someone will moan, “There were three thousand saved in a day!” That’s pretty good for rookies. Today, that’s less than an hour’s work in the Kingdom, and some reports suggest that’s closer to 20 minutes’ work.

Let us note that it only happened twice in the Book of Acts that three thousand were saved in a day. Today, more than three thousand people come to faith every single hour of every single day of every single year.

I’m thinking that’s an improvement.

● “But there were signs and wonders!” Somebody is seriously not paying attention. There were fewer than 20 miracles reported in the book of Acts, though there were repots of “lots of miracles.” Nowadays, we have lots of miracles on a regular basis.

I know one group that has a 100% success rate at healing the deaf, and nearly as good success healing the blind. I know two groups that won’t let people become elders unless they’ve raised someone from the dead. I know a group that legitimately calls themselves “The Dead Raising Team,” and they’re successful at it. I can’t tell you the number of successful healing teams I’ve heard about! They’re everywhere, and best of all, NOT just among the leaders, like the book of Acts.

Bethel Church in California reports thousands of documented miracles every time they send their students on outreach. And have you talked to the Healing Rooms movement recently?

Besides, I’m not sure I want more “Ananias & Sapphira events.” It’s my private opinion that even when that happened in Acts, it was an error, and not the will of God, but that’s another story. Surely it won’t be best for folks to fall dead in our meetings, when nobody can agree why it happened!

● “But they had all things in common!” I’ll grant that this is an area that we have room to continue growing in. But I am also aware that we’re talking about completely different cultures here. In that culture, if you couldn’t work, you starved to death. In our culture, the homeless guys on street corners make a (meager) living that in most of the world (or in the first century church) would be considered unmitigated wealth. (http://nwp.link/1s8woOt)

This does NOT mean that I propose that we stop helping the poor! Heaven forbid! This means I propose that we quit berating ourselves simply because we still have poor people among us: Jesus said we always would! (Matthew 26:11)

● “But they sold their homes! That’s dedication!” Well, some of them sold their homes. That was just good business; these were smart Jews! Jesus had clearly declared that the city would be destroyed shortly. It’s just good business to sell a house this week for full price that’s going to be destroyed with the city next week and be worth nothing! And clearly, if they “met house to house,” then not everybody sold their homes.

For the record, I know a bunch of people who’ve sold their homes for the ministry, several more than once. I know of others who sold themselves into slavery so that they could bring the good news to those in slavery, and they died in slavery. Most of these folks haven’t had books written about them, so they’re not known as well. But then Jesus taught us to keep quiet about our generosity, yes?

We could go on.

It is NOT my intent to disparage the excellent start that the Church had, as reported in the book of Acts. That was glorious.

What we have now is substantially more glorious. And that, too, is what we were promised. (See Isaiah 9:7)


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Staying Current with Spiritual Technologies

Here you see the nearly 18,000 vacuum tubes and 6,000 switches of the ENIAC, the first electronic computer.

This was once considered the pinnacle of technological perfection! The first machine that could calculate. How very impressive. It was the best thing EVER!

This device was very expensive, took up an entire room, generated an immense amount of heat, and, based on vacuum tubes, it was nonfunctional about half the time.

While it was the fastest calculating device available on the planet at the time it was made, it is so no longer. The handheld calculator my daughter used in junior high school (it cost $7.99) is faster – much faster – than this behemoth ever dreamed of being.

In like fashion, the computing power in a $19.95 wristwatch is greater than the computers that supported the first moonwalk. That, too, was the fastest computer of its day, but its day has long since passed.

The engineers who were (rightfully) so proud of those machines are no more than curators of museum pieces now.

In some ways, there is a tendency for the church to function like this. Father gives us a new gift (or brings back an old one that was in every day use in the Book of Acts), and we’re all excited: “This is the best thing EVER!” we declare, and we blog about it, and hold conferences on it, and a few very brave souls take it to the streets.

But the Spirit is not through moving. Just like there are newer and better computers available every few months, there are newer and better insights, strategies, gifts from Holy Spirit real regularly as well.

If we intend to stay current with the computer world, we would need an upgrade every few months. That’s overwhelming: it overwhelms my mind and my budget! In reality, I don’t need to upgrade our personal computer every time a newer and better one is available. I just need to make sure that the one I’m using is current, that it can run the current software that I need, and I need to stay in touch with where the world of computer development is going, so I know when it is time to upgrade.

If we intend to stay current with what Holy Spirit is doing in the world today, we’d need to fully embrace every new thing he does every week or month or so. That would be overwhelming! It would overwhelm any individual’s capacity for change. I don’t need to be personally involved with every jot and tittle of what Holy Spirit is releasing in the world today; I just need to make sure that I’ve invested myself in what he’s doing, that the move that I’m involved in is the right move to accomplish the task that He’s given me. And I need to stay in touch with the bigger picture of what He’s doing, so I know when it’s time for me to upgrade.

For example, there are a bunch of things that I’m aware that Holy Spirit is doing on the earth today (and I’m confident I’ve not seen it all!). The development of the prophetic gifts has been going on for a few decades, and is now approaching a measure of maturity. The development of apostolic gifts is newer, arguably more complex, and necessarily less mature. The healing movement is in full flower right now, ready to bear good fruit! Father is pouring out immense new understanding of his grace: but the grace movement is still relatively young and unsure of itself. There are signs that God is beginning to release gifts such as are found in Acts 8:39 and 2 Corinthians 12:2; won’t that be exciting!

But the real question is, will we upgrade our gifts, the gifts from Holy Spirit that we exercise, that we have proficiency with? Will we upgrade in order to stay current with where Holy Spirit is moving in the earth today?

Or will we be content with our current gifts, our current grace, our current expertise, becoming stagnant and nearly irrelevant to what God is doing today, sitting in the padded seat of honor on the platform, criticizing the new gifts, the new spiritual technologies? “Who needs those newfangled things? An ‘eye-pad’? What in tarnation is an iPad? If vacuum tube computers are good enough for me, they’re good enough for you! iPads and Androids are HERESY, I tell you!”

It’s a scary thing: moving from being expert in a gift that is not as needful today, since nearly every believer is walking in that gift, moving into the place where I’m as much a beginner as anybody else! The guy on the platform really often resists moving from “the anointed man of power, with the word of God for the hour” to a mistake-prone rookie, the same as any other mistake-prone rookie, nothing special anymore.

I invite us to press in to the newer gifts, not leaving the old behind, into the newer moves of what God is doing on the Earth! I invite us to guard against becoming complacent with the gifts that we’ve become expert in, and become a mistake-prone rookie as we learn new ones! I invite us to guard against criticizing our brothers and sisters who are becoming expert in gifts that are different than the ones that we’re becoming expert in.

And I invite us to pray for those around us who have been the big names, the leaders, the people on the platform with status: they need our prayers and our friendship in this season more, perhaps, than others do.

But regardless of who goes with us, or who stands behind criticizing, let us press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus. Let us upgrade, always upgrade, our giftings as he offers them!



Homosexuals And the Move of God

There’s been a lot of talk about an increase in the movement of God on the earth, and how this is the beginning of a new “wave” of God’s interaction with this planet.

Recently, someone asked me a good question: “Where do gay people fit in the next wave? I heard one prophet say they will be a part of it, and they won’t necessarily be delivered, but that they too can walk with Jesus and be filled with the Spirit. Will the next wave deliver them, empower them wherever they are at, help them live single, or something else?

I’ve heard testimonies of Spirit-filled homosexual churches. I’ve heard prophets and evangelists testifying that they’ve been among churches that come from the homosexual movement: not “ex gays ministering to homosexuals,” not “former homosexuals,” but “churches made up of people in the homosexual community.”

The testimonies, from reliable sources, are of churches, filled with the Spirit of God, among the homosexual community. (The testimonies, like the churches themselves, are not in the public eye because of all of the wrath they have received from the religious community.)

I’m committed to learning from others’ testimonies (http://j.mp/WUa9gS), so I will not reject these testimonies. In point of fact, they are fulfillment of prophetic words from myself and others, and fulfillment of God’s promise that he would call people to himself from the ends of the earth.  

So where do homosexual churches fit into this next move of God? For right now, I’ll employ a new phrase that I’ve only just learned: “I don’t know.” (Whew. It feels good to say that.)

I’ve spoken out publicly about two characteristics that I (believe I) know about the coming wave:

1) It’s going to be so different than what we’ve experienced before and what we expect, that it will be hard for most of us to recognize.

2) It’s going to be so big that it’s kind of overwhelming.

When you combine those two, it makes for a real mess: outspoken church leaders who are overwhelmed by things they don’t understand or recognize. That ought to be interesting. Perhaps MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” conference was a representation of that?

But there’s a third thing that (I believe) I’ve seen: this wave, this move of God, being so big, and being so different, will carry with it things that we’ve always considered heresy, wrong, unclean. (Tsunamis are very seldom sparkly clean.)

This is where I put the reports of God moving freely among gay churches: I know (I’ve seen it in visions) God is going to breathe life into the homosexual community, and I hear reliable reports that he has begun to do this already. But wait! Shouldn’t they repent? Yeah, but I didn’t repent of all of my sin until I understood it was sin, and some of that was decades after I was saved and filled with the Spirit. And I guarantee you that their repentance is not my responsibility!

This is also where I put the (equally credible) reports of the New Age movement coming to Christ. I know God is going to breathe life into the New Age community, and I hear reliable reports that this, too, has begun to already. But wait! Shouldn’t they repent? Yeah, but see above.

So yes, the grace of God convicts God’s children of sin, and leads them to cleansing and repentance! Yes! Yes! But He clearly does that in his own time, not in mine.

So how will homosexuals and New Agers fit into the next move of God? I don’t know. I expect that they’ll be involved, but let’s see what God does, shall we? And let’s welcome those He brings into his house!


An Expanded Understanding of Corporate Worship

In my experience with God, coming to Him in worship is a glorious thing, and there are several interesting things that happen when I'm in his presence worshiping.

One of the things that I've observed that happens in that place is what I am calling freedom in creative expression. I noticed it first when playing an instrument in a worship band: it's like I'm a better musician in His presence than I was ten minutes before. It's certainly easier to sing spontaneously in that place, and my instrument is more responsive to me there, too.

In some places, we've recognized that other creative expression is released in worship, and some worship events now have artists painting during worship. Occasionally a dancer will be part of the worship ream, too.

Prophetic expression, which I would argue is also a creative expression, is also freer when in association. That's why Elisha said "Bring me a minstrel," when he needed to prophesy to an ungodly king, and why prophetic ministry often comes during or after worship.

And that's about as far as I've ever seen it taken, at least publicly.

The question occurs to me: why should the musicians (and maybe a painter or prophet) get all of the fun? Do we think that the other gifts don't count as much, or that they wouldn't benefit from the anointing as much?

Occasionally, I've taken it a little further. Sometimes during corporate worship, I've snuck off in a corner and drawn on the anointing that is in God's presence with my writing, or in study, wielding my teaching gift. I'm sure that others have done this, too; I've just never met them. (I know: now my secret is out!)

I'd love to experiment with: how far could we take the idea of exercising whatever gift we happen to have as an expression of worship?

What would happen if we blessed teachers and scribes and writers and poets to worship in the corporate gathering with their gifts, too? What if we made room to experience the results of their gifting, like we listen to the work of the guitarist's and the drummer's giftings?

What if we gave space to tattoo artists, to graffiti artists, to mimes, to potters and sculptors and chefs and jewelry makers and leather workers and wood carvers and pipe makers and hair stylists and massage therapists? Who was it that decided that their gifts weren't appropriate to worship our Heavenly Father with?

Obviously, I'm just letting the thoughts run free here (as I'm worshipping, actually), but I can't get away from the question: how far can we take this? How many more people can we release to worship God in the community with the gifts that God has given them?

(Curiously, as I sat in a small corporate worship environment, compelled to write these thoughts on a mobile device, at the same time a prophet friend of mine, a writer, was outlining the same topic, having been drawn into it unexpectedly in a private time with God.)


Wednesday

What is an Apostle?

One of my favorite things to do on a fine, sunny afternoon is sit with a friend at the edge of a meadow and watch the clouds. I always see interesting shapes in the clouds (Look! There’s a puppy!), but my favorite friend (who still wears a ring I gave her some decades ago) generally sees different things than what I see (No, that’s a flower!). And as we watch, the cloud shifts slightly, and it’s no longer what I saw or what she saw; it’s something else entirely, except that what she sees now is still not the same as what I see. And a couple of minutes later, it shifts again, and again, and again.
  I’ve been asked by a friend about “What is an apostle?” I’ve decided that the question reminds me of watching those clouds with my sweetheart: a good working definition of an apostle is hard to see; it changes fluidly and consistently, what you see depends on your viewpoint and expectations, and it doesn’t really matter what you think you see: that doesn’t change what it is. The clouds are really water vapor, not a puppy, floating across the sky, no matter how loudly I declare that it’s a puppy!
  Because of some unusual circumstances in my life, I know a couple of dozen apostles personally, and a couple dozen more at a distance. And I’ve worked on that exact question for several years, long before my friend brought it up. All the apostles I know are completely different from one another. What is it about them that defines them as an apostle?
  Fair warning: this document is not intended to be a treatise on apostles; it’s thoughts about apostles, and it’s written from the perspective of “very early in an apostolic age.”
  I have studied this topic intently for a while, and I’ve been gathering input for a decade or two, so some parts will come from memory; many others will come from observations. Some fresher portions comes from watching and interacting with apostles.
  What Does Not Make an Apostle?
  First, here are some things that I have rejected as signs (or even requirements) of an apostle:
·         Church planter. Most church planters I know (I know several dozen) are pastors, teachers, or pastor-teachers.
·         Pioneer. Often, apostles pioneer new works, yes, but not always.
·         Head of a network, ideally an “apostolic network.” Bah, Humbug. Many heads of networks are ambitious, not apostles.
·         Famous. Most apostles I know are not famous. A few are. Most shy away from it.
·         Strong willed. Hmm. Often. Not always. I think.
·         Leaders of mega-churches. Most leaders of mega-churches are successful businessmen, excellent administrators, or, in those that are in the Calvary Chapel movement, gifted bible teachers. I have known only a couple of real apostles who led large churches, and for them, their large church was an accident.
·         Miracle workers. Some argue that miracles accompany a true apostle. I won’t argue, but that doesn’t make them specialists in miracles, nor does it make them famous for miracles. People who do miracles and draw attention to the miracles are often either evangelists, or they’re self-seeking. Apostles don’t seem to seek the spotlight, unless they’re also working under an evangelist’s anointing (some do). Some apostles use miracles regularly; many don’t. I will say this: I don’t know a single apostle who shies away from miracles or refuses to start something just because it would take a miracle to complete it!
·         Experienced. Nope. Nobody’s mature when they start something, and we’re just beginning the Apostolic Age. There are a lot of rookie apostles out there. A lot of them don’t even know the calling on their lives. Some do, and run screaming. A few embrace the calling and want to know why they aren’t suddenly experienced.
·         Clear or powerful vision. Often. Not always. Most with strong vision are merely ambitious. Paul – the prototypical apostle – had only the vision of “preach where no-one has preached before.” Other than that, he pretty much stumbled into his ministry trips.
·         In the Marketplace. For a long time, almost every successful Christian Businessman in his 50s was considered a “Marketplace Apostle.” Most of them weren’t apostles. Some knew it. Paul was a successful businessman. Peter, James & John left their business behind to pursue Christ.
·         Missionaries (cross cultural). A few are. Most are not. Evangelism is a more useful tool to most missionaries.
·         Male. Yeah, the mindset of “only men can be apostles” still exists in some circles. Heidi Baker ought to be enough to kill that little heresy, all by her little lonesome.

  “Apostle” in Ancient Culture
  Studying the original language for “apostle” is an interesting exercise. It was a word that was well used before it was ever used in the Bible, so the best tools for understanding the concept are often secular tools. It was never used for religious purposes before Jesus co-opted it for the twelve.
  In fact, the word is so unique, that we haven’t even translated it into English. The Greek word is “Apostolos” (ἀπόστολος). All we did was spell the Greek word with Roman letters.
  The concept of an apostle was something that was invented by the Phoenician empire and used heavily by the Romans. When the Roman army conquered a new nation, a new culture (something they did with remarkable regularity!), the Emperor would send an “apostolos.” It was the name given to the lead ship in a fleet of ships sent from Rome to the new land, and especially for the man – one man – who led that fleet. The fleet – and that man – were carrying the embodiment of Rome with them to the new territory.
  The apostle’s job description in Roman culture is functionally the foundation for the apostle’s job in the Church: to bring the home civilization to the new territory. In Rome’s day, the apostle brought Rome’s legal system, education system, language, government, financial systems, entertainment, culture. His job was to make the new culture fit into the Roman empire, to become Roman, to the degree that when Caesar arrived, he’d feel at home in the new territory.
  In our day, a Christian apostle is probably the spearhead of God’s answer to the prayer that he taught us to pray: “on earth as it is in heaven.” The apostle’s job is to see heaven, to understand what he sees enough to cause it to be done on earth: to manifest heaven on earth, to the degree that Jesus will feel at home in the territory.
  How’s that for vague? Pretty good, eh? Now let’s try to make some application from that. This is where it gets really interesting!
  Apostolic Ministry
  So the apostle observes what’s going on in heaven, draws on heaven’s resources, and works with heaven’s strength and strategy to accomplish change on earth. In my experience, the biggest changes are needed in the ways we think, so an apostle’s job often involves a new, heaven-based worldview, one that emphasizes the spiritual realm and de-emphasizes the natural realm. So apostles often teach, but they teach from revelation as often as they teach from straightforward study. I think.
  The teaching includes foundation-building: this is what the Kingdom of God is like. But the teaching of a true apostle will often involve strategies: this is what God is emphasizing right now, and that changes. Bill Hamon teaches – and the Bible illustrates – that occasionally, and under limited circumstances, apostles may find themselves teaching new doctrines from revelation rather than from scripture. No, they won’t teach doctrine that isn’t supported by the written Word of God. To be honest, this one scares me, but I recognize the validity of the principle.
  Seeing spiritual realities, apostles often confront strongholds, though that may be a casual confrontation, or it may be “collateral damage” when they’re going after something else. Since apostles are fixated on Heaven (and with Him who sits on Heaven’s throne), their idea of warfare is often God-focused; since they’re in touch with God’s plan for people, they may also be mercy-driven, and American Church culture doesn’t know what to do when spiritual warfare is driven by mercy.
  The power of God is present to support the work of an apostle, though it may not manifest dramatically. I know one woman who hated harsh language, but couldn’t rid herself of it. She said, “Oh crap!” around a young apostle. He replied, “No thanks. Already did,” and she was delivered from her “addiction” to swearing. Accidentally, really. Was that power? Yes. But it didn’t fit in the “normal” way we expect to see miracles.
  The apostle Paul always travelled with a team, and the apostles in Jerusalem were a team. I want to say that apostles generally work well with a team, but I don’t think that’s true of all the apostles; Apollos doesn’t seem to have travelled with a team. It may be God’s intent, and they’re not connecting with his means. Or it may be completely fantasy.
  I’ve had some really frustrating interactions with people who have called themselves apostles; some are frustrated religious businessmen and others are fresh bible-school grads. It’s probably superfluous to say, but it still needs to be said: not everybody who calls themselves an apostle is a true apostle. As an apostle friend of mine has said, “It takes more than a business card to make an apostle.”
  Since there are both bad prophets (inaccurate ones) and false prophets, it is likely that there are both bad apostles and false apostles: the first are unsuccessful at building the things of heaven (or successful at building things of flesh); the latter are building things from the realm of darkness; I believe they’re rare.
  Apostolic Relationships
  I’ve been frustrated by apostles’ difficulty relating to other folks sometimes, but again, that’s not consistent. Some don’t relate well to anyone; others relate best to other apostles, or other 5-fold people. I’ve never known an apostle that fit into a crowd well: they pretty-much all have been kind of other-worldly a little, not completely at ease with social skills like an evangelist or a pastor is.
  Since they see things from heaven’s perspective, sometimes apostles see better where individuals fit in the strategic plan of things: they can see, “Oh, you’re a prophet,” or “Your gifts would fit better here,” or “You and you should think about working together.” Again, not a focus of their ministry, and not exclusive to apostles (prophets do this too), but sometimes.
  Apostles and prophets work pretty well together. But again, it’s not consistent. I know some apostles who are themselves prophets (I think of Harold Eberle and Jonathan Welton), but there are others are paired with prophets (I think of Bill Johnson with Kris Vallotton, Dutch Sheets with Chuck Pierce).
  Apostolic Function
  The work of an apostle has already been outlined by Paul in Ephesians 4:11-12: “And He Himself [that would be Jesus] gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…” So the work of apostles, like the work of prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, is to equip the People of God.
  What does that look like? Well, like the clouds, it’s always different, and it often changes. It might look like a pastor who spends more time raising people into their calling and sending them to the nations than gathering a flock. It might look like a businessman whose work in the marketplace brings the presence and provision for the kingdom of God. It might look like a woman leading an orphanage and a church, who teaches on the kingdom, heals the sick, and raises the dead, and who sends out hundreds of pastors and evangelists and apostles who also teach the kingdom, heal the sick, raise the dead and plant thousands of churches. It might look like a young man who teaches the Kingdom in churches, home groups, and on the streets, who heals the sick and teaches others how, and in his spare time, he and a squad of intercessors break demonic strongholds off of regions.
  There is a degree that all the “fivefold gifts” (Ephesians 4:11-12) are about “equipping” saints. The Greek word there is “katartismos” (katartismos), which is about adjusting, aligning, like the work of a chiropractor aligning the spine. And as with a chiropractor, don’t be terribly surprised if a visit from an apostle leaves you feeling sore, but better, stronger, than you were before.
  1Corinthians 12:28 has been misunderstood about apostles: “And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then….” Some have taken this to mean that apostles deserve honor first, or are the greatest authority in a disagreement, or get the biggest paycheck. Bosh.
  Jesus was real clear about leadership in the Body of Christ. “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13-14-15) So the apostle should be the first one to wash the feet of others, to serve other ministries, to lift up others. If you meet someone wanting to be respected as an apostle who is more interested in greater honor than in greater foot-washing, you’ve met someone who is confused about apostles.
  The Apostle Paul said an odd thing in Romans 11:13: “For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles.” I suggest that no one is an apostle without a people to minister to: Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles. Peter was an apostle to the Jews. It’s important to know who you’re called to. I know a man who is “only” an auto parts salesman when he’s in the US, but when he’s in India, he’s holding crusades, training pastors and leaders, and starting training schools: he’s an apostle to India, but not to the US. I would maintain that there is no such thing as an “apostle at large” or “apostle without a people” (though I have known some people who think they are).
  The principle is broader than just apostles, by the way: I may be trained as a pastor (or a prophet or whatever), but until I’m a pastor to a group of people, I am not walking in the ministry of a pastor. This is an extension of the principle that “Ministry flows out of relationship.” If there’s no relationship, then there’s no real ministry. This is not formal assignment, by the way. We know those we are called to: they’re the ones that listen.
  There are clearly young apostles being raised up today. But it’s probably worth mentioning that this is not the only way that God forms an apostle. Many of the apostles I know have encountered success in another area – in pastoring, in business, as a prophet – before God released them to apostolic ministry. And while apostles are always called by Jesus (see Ephesians 4:11) into the role, they are very often forged for the work as well: most apostles I know have been through incredible failure, have been crushed, and have learned, first hand, to say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
  Finally, probably the best way to tell an apostle (or a prophet): wait until those already in the office recognize it in you before you attempt to walk in it. Believe it or not, one doesn’t become an apostle by getting Apostle business cards. More significantly, when a bunch of people in your church’s pews start calling you an apostle, ignore it: they don’t generally know what makes an apostle.
  But when apostles recognize the apostolic calling on you, it means it’s coming out, moving from “potential” to “actual.”
  

An Underground Gathering

My information said that the meeting started at two o’clock or so, but I didn’t have the chance to get there for a couple more hours. Besides, I wasn’t sure about it, so I wanted to arrive after they were well under way.

By the time four o’clock rolled around, I was quite lost in the county roads trying to find the place: It was already dark, and I was looking for an old barn, maybe half a mile from the nearest paved road so finding it was no easy task. I backtracked, tried the turnoff that I’d passed by a couple of miles back, saw another truck pulling into a dirt road, and headed down the same way. The road ended at a place that was obviously not what I was looking for, but we turned off just before that, wound around some sharp corners, and emerged into a field full of parked cars surrounding a barn, looking in the dark like a flock of baby chicks around their mother hen. Out of the barn came the sound I was expecting, the sound I was looking for. When I heard it, I realized how much I’d been longing for it.

I parked my truck and walked through the parked vehicles towards the barn; I noticed some older SUVs, some fancy new cars; the variety caught my attention. There were a handful of other folks arriving, and we said very little as we approached the barn: words weren’t actually necessary. This was also the sound that they were looking for; their faces showed the same sense of expectation that I was feeling.

We slid the door open, and the sound washed over us. It was palpable, nearly physical, though it wasn’t all that loud. Inside were maybe a hundred people. Twenty or thirty of them were playing instruments, men and women, black, white and others, young and old. The instruments were equally diverse: guitars, keyboards, drums from America, from Africa, from Ireland, from Asia, from places I'd never heard of. Even a didgeridoo from Australia, wired into the sound system. There were young kids playing drums and rhythm instruments. Most of the sound came from the instruments and from the several people singing into microphones. There was a basic sound system set up, but it was obvious that this was no show.

Nobody but the handful that entered with me even knew that we had arrived. Maybe twenty people had their hands in the air, others were kneeling, still more were dancing or waving flags. Some were visiting together near the tables in the back, tables piled high with food and drink. Kids played on the dirt floor. They took nothing away from the music.

I worked my way to the back of the room. I was trying not to disturb the worshippers, but I needn’t have bothered: most of them were oblivious of my passage; those that were greeted me with the great bear hugs of old friends or the whole-hearted hugs of family; it didn’t seem to matter if they knew me before that day or not. The diversity of people struck me again: these were people from almost every imaginable background, age, race, socio-economic group, religious persuasion.

The music never took a breath. There were a couple of microphones set up where anybody could walk right up and sing along with the music; those mics were nearly always busy, with intricate harmonies and counterpoints accentuating songs that nobody had ever heard before. Before I realized it, four or five hours had passed.

There were a hundred people there, and people were coming and going throughout the night. But the audience had only One. His presence filled the room like birdsong in the spring, like a welcome home after a long journey. There were a hundred voices singing a hundred different songs, all blended into one glorious chorus, and our Audience roared back His approval.

This was worth getting lost in the backwoods county roads for. This was worth being part of.

Monday

Prophets Today? Are They Real?

I had an interesting conversation online recently: we have many people in the church today who claim to be “prophets” but who are clearly motivated by greed or by a need for acceptance or respect. How can we trust that there are any real prophets today?

There are evangelists in the church and some of those seem to be motivated by, um... something less than God's heart. Yet we never question whether the office of the evangelist is now vacant. I know some evangelists who are very skilled in their gift, and others who have a legitimate gift, but have no training, no discipline and inferior motives; who have too few skills supporting their gift.

So too the prophet: some few indeed are motivated by personal gain, whether financial, social or emotional. Their failure does not invalidate the reality of others. NT prophets have a different role than OT ones: the Spirit is now on "all flesh" where in the OT, it was very rare, yet in these "all flesh" days, the ministry of the prophet is still needed. Agabus was one; Paul and Barnabas were too (AC 13). The instruction about prophets (eg 1 CO 12-14) and warnings about false prophets (eg 1 JN 4) indicate their presence in the NT community of faith.

I've known scores of legitimate prophets over the years, a very few who claimed to be prophets and were not, and quite a few folks who were legitimately called to prophetic ministry, but lack the discipline, the skills, the training to use the gift properly. Too many people with real & legitimate gifts prophesy not out of God's heart of love, but out of their own hurts, out of their religious culture, out of "the second heaven" (in contrast to 2 Corinthians 12) as if it were from God.

And of course, when a man or woman of God whom we know and trust says, "God said thus to me", then whether we understand or not, we much discern: either they are deceived, or they are intentionally deceiving you, or they are telling you the truth, though it may be outside of your own experience. I have had prophets tell me what I had prayed in my hidden place the night before: either they are hearing from God, or there's something demonic going on, but it absolutely cannot be explained away. The first man who did it to me, I knew to be a man of God, which eliminated the option of my blaming the devil.

If I am called to be a pastor, I must also acquire training and develop character. Likewise if I am called to be a teacher or an evangelist: I must acquire (and learn from!) training and develop character. In the same way, if I am called to be a prophet or apostle, I must acquire training and character, and personally, I believe these latter gifts require more of both training and character than the former ones simply because we have so many fewer examples of what a godly prophet or godly apostle is. We can always look to Billy Graham as an illustration of evangelist, Jack Hayford as a pastor, John Maxwell as a teacher. It’s harder to point to as visible, as clear an example of a prophet or apostle.

Lack of training or character does not invalidate the office, nor my call to it. It merely invalidates the results of my ministry.