Showing posts with label community. Show all posts
Showing posts with label community. Show all posts

Thursday

Tambourines & Trumpets in Public Worship Meetings


This has been burning in me for a couple of weeks. I guess I’d better get it out. I’ll be as gentle as I can.

I get it that some folks like to worship physically. I get it that some folks believe that making a lot of noise makes their worship more meaningful or more powerful. And I truly understand wanting to get more deeply involved in worship.

Here’s the place I’m coming to: If you’re part of a group of people worshiping, then it’s not appropriate for your worship to be overwhelming the worship of the people around you.

And to that end tambourines and trumpets do not belong in a public worship gathering. The principle applies to things that we do in worship that over-ride or hinder the worship of others around us, but let’s use these as our focus.


Here’s the exception: If you’re part of the worship team, in unity with them, AND you’re really skilled, then there might be a place for those instruments.

But if you are regularly blaaaating your ram’s-horn when you feel the spirit move, then you are a disruption to unity, not a contributor.

And if you’re constantly banging your tambourine, regardless of whether you think you’re keeping the beat or not, you are a disruption to the unity of the group, not contributing to it.

There’s a bigger problem with tambourines, and I apologize, but I’m going to get a bit nerdly here.

Unless you are physically located on the stage with the band, your instrument is not physically ABLE to keep the beat that the band is keeping, and you will be (not “may” be) making their job substantially more difficult.

This is physics, folks: sound is slow. It takes time to travel from the stage to you. So when “the beat” leaves the stage, it takes time to travel to your location, dawdling along at a measly 343 meters per second: the farther you are from the stage, the more time it takes for the beat to reach you. The sound is delayed when it reaches you.

Let’s imagine that your tambourine playing is exactly perfect, and they strike their tambourine at the instant they hear the beat. They are still not striking their tambourine at the same time that the band is. They’re striking the beat after the sound has taken its time to reach them. That’s not the same time. They’re delayed in striking the tambourine, because of the delay that their beat took to reach you.

Then, of course, the sound from your tambourine – which is already the loudest thing in the audience – takes its sweet time moseying throughout the room. So that sister over there hears the beat from the band and then hears the beat from the tambourine at completely different times. Now she’s thrown off. This happens to pretty much everybody in the room that’s not standing right next to the rogue percussionist on the tambourine.

The worst part is by the time the band themselves hear the noise from your tambourine (and because it’s so loud, and its sound is so sharp and cutting, they will hear it), it is so far off the beat by the time that the sound reaches the stage – again because of physics – that now the delayed tambourine beat is competing with their beat. They cannot play their best with two out-of-sync percussionists fighting to lead.

If the drummer and the tambourine player are separated by more than 15’, the difference in the beat is noticeable and is distracting. That’s not opinion, that’s science. And if the distance is greater than that, it can be very difficult or impossible to lead worship in that space.

The saddest part of this is that the person playing the tambourine literally cannot recognize the havoc that they’re wreaking on the worship in that setting, because they are perhaps the only person in the room who cannot hear it. If you tell them that their playing is hindering the musicians or other worshippers, they’ll often not believe you and take great offense.

The net result of these instruments playing in a worship gathering is 1Corinthians 14:17: “You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified.” In many cases, you are giving thanks well enough, but everyone else is prevented from worshiping at all.

Does that mean I cannot worship with my trumpet or my tambourine? Not at all. But it might mean that you shouldn’t worship with them in public. Use them all you like in your secret place. But please do not bring them into the public gathering, unless you’re very, very skilled with it, and you are a member of the band, responding to the direction of the worship leader.

I have also been part of percussion events, where the goal of the whole thing is for everybody to be gathered around together banging away together. Some of those have been heavenly!

But in a community worship gathering, no, not so much.

We Have Misunderstood Matthew 18


I’ll bet you’ve read this passage from Matthew 18. You may have heard it preached or practiced.

“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell [it] to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” - Matthew 18:15-20

I’ve had to walk through this with folks (on both ends of it, actually). I’ve seen it up close, and I’ve seen the fruits of it up close.

And it’s made me think this through some. Did you know that this paragraph is surrounded by paragraphs where Jesus is not actually speaking literally? (Before: cut off your hand. After: forgive 70x70 and then the parable of the talents.)

So there’s good reason to reconsider our normal practice of ripping this paragraph out of its context in the rest of Matthew, out of its context in a first-century agrarian society. There’s good reason to reconsider our 21st century Information-Age literalist interpretation of this passage.


So consider this alternative rendering of this passage. Think of this as a cultural reference.

If your friend gets caught up in the stuff of their life, if they forget who they are, go be with him (or her), remind them of who they are, who God sees him to be, who you know they are. If he hears you, it’s all good.

But if he’s not able to hear you, gather some friends with you and remind him how awesome he is. Remind him of who you’ve known him to be. It’s likely he’d listen to a group of friends, if they’re people who he’s known are for him.

But if he still can’t hear you, get him up in front of the church. “Guys, this is Matthew. You all know how awesome Matthew is. Come on, let’s lay hands on Matthew. Let’s remind Matt of who he is, cuz he’s had a hard go for a while, and he needs our support!”

But if he is so messed up that they still can’t get past the garbage in their life, then treat him like a tax collector.

How did Jesus treat tax collectors? (He’s our example, remember?)

He befriended them (Matthew 9:9), he brought them close to him, he put them on his ministry team (Matthew 10:3, Luke 6:15), he trusted his reputation to him (the book of Matthew), he went out of his way to hang out with him (Luke 19:5).

That’s how we treat people that have forgotten who they are and gotten stuck in sin.

Go thou and do likewise.





Tuesday

What Is The Vengeance Of God?


You know, I think we’ve misunderstood the idea of God’s vengeance.

For example, in Isaiah 61, God defines his idea of what vengeance should be like:

“…proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God (and here he defines it for us):

• to comfort all who mourn,
• and provide for those who grieve in Zion— 
• to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
• the oil of joy instead of mourning,
• and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
• They will be called oaks of righteousness,
• a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.
• They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated;
• they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.
• Strangers will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
• And you will be called priests of the LORD,
• you will be named ministers of our God.
• You will feed on the wealth of nations,
• and in their riches you will boast.
• Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion,
• and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance.
• And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
• and everlasting joy will be yours.

This is how God defines “the day of vengeance of our God.”

Perhaps we should consider defining it the same way as well.

“Oh, you’re suffering? You need a little vengeance! Come here, you! Let us love on you!”



Wednesday

What is a Tidal Wave, really?


I grew up within driving distance of the ocean, and we made frequent trips. I love the pounding surf and the tide pools and the beaches and the delicious meals the ocean provides.

A couple of decades ago, I was walking along an unfamiliar beach during a storm, watching the rain’s effect on the sand, listening to the surf pounding behind me, when my attention was drawn over my shoulder. I turned and, not with my natural eyes, I saw a huge wave rise up from the surface of the sea. When it reached its mighty height, way above the sea, it stopped, like someone pressed pause.

The question came to me: “This is me. Shall it continue, or shall it stop? There will be damage.” The wave just waited for my answer.

I thought for a moment; this was not an every-day experience for me. But I’d learned to trust my father, and he’d already said this was him.

“It shall continue,” I said, and it did. The wave rushed to the shore with a magnificent curl, and then far inland, miles inland, spilling over houses and shopping malls and government buildings. Then it receded, dragging a lot of dirt and detritus with it, leaving people stranded, separated, unstable.

That vision has shaped me for decades; I’ve anticipated “the move of God” as a wave, rising up from above the sea and crashing on the shores of “business as usual,” catching everyone unawares. Sometimes I’d refer to this vision as a tidal wave or a tsunami.

Many years later, a formidable earthquake struck just off the coast of Japan. It was a big deal. It was also my first experience, albeit only through the news, of an actual tsunami.

The tsunami did not act like I had always expected: a big wave coming in and splashing, and then receding like every other wave. Instead, this was more like the sea just rising, and rising, and rising. The wave just kept coming, and didn’t just recede after a few seconds like I’d always imagined.

The 2004 tsunami that devastated so much of Indonesia was like that as well. This time the sea did draw way out in preparation for the tidal wave, but then the wave came in, not like a wave, but like a tide, and it wiped a great deal of civilization off of the islands in its path.

Recently, I’ve begun to wonder if the move of God that I’m expecting (that we’re expecting) won’t be more like that: not so much a wave that passes through, has an effect, and then moves on, but more like an invasion, more like the tide rising.

Last night, a friend and I were talking about what God is up to in our day. As we talked, we realized that there is a rising tide of what God is doing among his people.

And as we talked, I realized that my ideas of the tidal wave of God’s involvement in our midst is not going to just be another wave, larger than the rest, washing us and moving on.

Those are fine, even good. But the thing on Father’s heart is more of a rising tide, a true tidal wave, that is already begun, bringing the water of his spirit, bringing refreshing, bringing devastation and destruction to an awful lot of “business as usual,” particularly among the church.

Suggestions for application:
• Pray for eyes to see what God is actually doing. It is not what the media – not the mainstream media, not the Christian media – is reporting.
• Press into what God is doing in order to find what your place in this tidal wave is. I figure I have the choice of whether to be among the devastation with my life destroyed by the wave, or among the first responders, speaking the words of life in the midst of the new move.
• Keep building relationships. When this fully lands, life won’t so much be found in jobs or possessions or church gatherings or places where we’re used to finding stability. Life will be found in real relationships.



Thursday

My Authority


Authority is always given, never taken.  That’s pretty much immutable.

Father could claim authority in my life in his role as my creator, but he doesn't. That's what free will is about: he gave me the right to choose whether he will actually be my Lord or not, and it’s a choice I need to keep making, not a one-time, set-it-and-forget-it choice.

Civil government assumes (correctly) my submission to its authority by virtue of the fact that I choose to make my home within the boundaries of its authority.

Nobody else has the right to claim authority over me, though some may claim power over me (e.g. incarceration).

I can and do choose to submit myself to other authorities in my world. I have submitted much of my will to my bride with the simple commitment, “I do.” I have a pastor (not in position, but in fact) to whom I submit this: I will always listen to his input, and take it seriously, but I do not delegate my decision-making (my will) to him.

Similarly, I have invited a few others to speak into my life, though not all of them know it. However, if someone assumes that they have authority in my life, that generally disqualifies them to speak into my life. If they insist, we’ll have a blunt conversation. I am the one responsible for me. Only I can exercise my own free will, regardless of theology or psychology or civil law. The best they can do is either a) counsel me on *how* they think I should make my choices, or they can make their own choices for how they will respond to my choices (e.g. if I drive drunk, they might choose to incarcerate me), but they cannot make my choices for me.


I’ve had a goodly number of folks come into my life for the sole purpose of assuming authority over my life and my choices. I used to submit to that process, but giving away my free will has never worked out well in my world. And it insults my beloved King if I despise (= “to treat as unimportant,” e.g. by giving away) his precious gift of free will.

In my opinion, this is one of the greater obstacles to the western Church, and one of the greatest problems in many western nations, particularly my own: individuals giving up their responsibility for our own lives, choices and circumstances. 

The current buzzword for the process of not taking responsibility for our free will is “entitlement,” and it’s a doozy. The sense of “It’s not my fault!” is pretty epic right now, and it’s often accompanied by either “…therefore someone should pay me for it!” or “…therefore I’m powerless!” or pretty often, both.

So much gets resolved when we merely accept responsibility to make our own free-will choices.





Reflections on Some Influencers

I was reflecting on some of the guys who have influenced my life in God over the years. None of these guys had a position of “leader,” but all three of them were competent leaders.

I knew a man who studied God, and God’s ways, for decades. He could put all kinds of letters after his name, including DMin, and PhD. He understood the Bible better than anybody else I knew at the time.

When I listened to him, I thought, “What a learned man. What a great foundation! I need a foundation like that.”

I knew another man who didn’t have a degree, but had spent a couple of under-funded decades among a people who didn’t even know who God was: teaching some, discipling a few, and desperately depending on God every day, for his meals, for his ministry, for his family’s lives.

When I listened to him, my heart melted. I prayed earnestly, “Father, I want to know you like this man knows you!”

I knew another man who came from the streets, and even that was just recently. He had not the slightest shred of education, and it showed. But he spent hours, many hours, just sitting in God’s presence, listening to his heartbeat, talking with him about what was on his heart.

When I listened to him, I realized that he had some ideas that were pretty messed up, and the first guy could help him with that. And I saw that he had some serious insecurity issues, identity issues, and the second guy could really help him with that.

But when he talked, he blew my mind. He healed the sick regularly, got words of knowledge effortlessly, and unbelievers listened carefully when he talked about his Jesus.

When I listened to him, I thought, “Father, is this really possible? Can your children walk in this kind of revelation, this kind of power, in this day and age?”

I learned some things in this reflection.

I really do love meditating on the things God has done in my world, in my life. The angel in Revelation 19 was right: the testimony of Jesus, who he is, what he's done, really is the spirit of prophecy. Mmm mmm. So good.

Different people have imparted different strengths into my life. If I only listened to people like me, I would certainly not be who I am today. Since both my wife and I like who I am today, this would be a bad thing.

Even people that make me uncomfortable can have a great impact on my life, provided I’m willing to learn. It's that "willing" part that I wrestle with sometimes.

It’s not enough to know ABOUT God. I must know God. And there’s more to know than I have any idea, even now. What a big heart!

It’s not enough to know God. I must also know ABOUT God if I aspire to trust him, to be like him. And again, there’s more to know about him than I even believe is possible.

When God invests himself into a person, he doesn’t necessarily make that person tidy, neat, clean, respectable. My ideas for what a “Good Christian” is were woefully inadequate, which means they are probably still woefully inadequate today. (Yet again I am reminded: He is NOT a tame lion.)


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.



Saturday

Responding to this Election

There are maybe two primary kinds of people reacting with distress to the election results.

One kind is all about outrage. That outrage has occasionally been public and violent. There’s much evidence that at least some of the protests are paid events, staged for prime-time television, but the outrage is still real.

Many of the faces and voices in the media are outraged, of course, and in the halls of power. Some are willing to express it; others less so, hiding behind explanations and accusations.

The other, larger, and often younger population are nearly invisible, feeling wounded and betrayed. How could these neighbors whom I’ve trusted vote for such a hateful man and such a hateful agenda. They truly fear for their future, for their lives and well-being and those of their friends. Their fear – whether we understand it or not – is very real, their pain is real.

This is the group that I’m most concerned about.

Many of these are Millennials, the generation that is only now stepping into power. They are young enough that they don’t understand what this election was reacting against. And while they recognize that there’s bias in the media, they are still a media generation, and the media still speaks to them and for them.

If we wanted to alienate these good people, if we wanted to drive them away from us, from ever respecting us, then we should condescend to them, we should disrespect their fears and mock their pain. A number of Christians, a number of conservatives are doing exactly that.

And of course, Internet memes are good for this. And while a few are genuinely humorous and make us laugh, they drive a wedge deeper between people, and a thorn deeper into their hearts.

“But they’re believing a lie! I must convince them instead of the truth!” Balderdash. Do you remember the Bible-thumping trolls who haunt Facebook and other online communities, mercilessly wielding their version of Truth? Do you remember Westboro Baptist and their hate-fueled vitriol? This need to “convince them of the truth” is what motivates them. Don’t be like them.

Honestly, we don’t have the authority to speak truth to anyone until we’ve helped them deal with the pain they’re feeling. Have you ever noticed that whenever Jesus taught truth it was always in the context of healing their pain: healing the sick, driving out demons, raising the dead, multiplying food. The only exception was when he was talking privately with his disciples.

That’s a really good course of action: start with healing. We can heal supernaturally; that’s always good. We can heal through social means: food banks and street missions need our help in this season more than any other. We can heal through personal means, listening to their pain, and loving them eye-to-eye, heart to heart.

We can be Christians: we can be Christ to people.


Thursday

I Don't See It That Way

We confuse two very different thoughts, and I wonder if maybe we do this fairly often:

We begin with "I don't see it that way," and that's well and good. It might be “I don’t see why that baker wouldn’t bake the gay couple a cake,” or "I don't understand why a gay couple would come to a Christian bakery for a cake," or even, “I don’t see why Christians would want to drink alcohol.” It's good to be able to see things differently than others; that’s a sign of health, of our ability to think for ourselves and not just rely on the opinions of others around us.

But it’s easy to take that one step too far, to impose the way we see it on others, and we expect them to see the situation the way we do. This very seldom reaches the point of words, but it works out like this: "I don't see it that way, so they shouldn't either." or something along these lines. Fundamentally, it’s about “They need to think like me!”


I’ll be honest, I don't see how baking a cake or not baking a cake speaks of Christ. Either one sounds to me more like it speaks of flour and frosting. But those bakers don’t have the benefit of my perspective. They are working with their own conscience. And I applaud them for doing that; it happens so seldom these days.

This issue of “You should think like I think” is pretty rampant in our culture. Regarding the story where a Christian baker declined to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, the intolerance of certain members of the homosexual community were identified (by a lesbian) as “the Gay Gestapo.” But it happens in other realms as well. There’s an “Abortion Gestapo,” an “Evangelical Gestapo” and many others.

I’ve seen the cry, “You need to think like me!” in both sides of the homosexual movement, both sides of the abortion conversation, both sides of several race conversations. I’ve even heard evangelistic sermons based on this way of thinking.

Note that this doesn’t apply to every conversation in these areas. There’s a world of difference between “Abortion is murder, and I’m going to stand against murder,” and “This is the way I oppose abortion, and you should do it this way, too!”

I get it when the unredeemed think and act in unredeemed ways, like this. I don’t understand when Christians, particularly Christian leaders (who are supposed to be mature) tell each other, “This is the way I see it. You should agree with me!”

Fundamentally, this is an argument about which side is the right side on this issue. And fundamentally, Christians aren’t called to take sides, especially not political sides. We’re called to love people. We’re called to heal the sick and raise the dead, whether literally or metaphorically.

It’s particularly frustrating when Christian leaders declare “If you see it differently than I do, then you’re guilty of breaking the unity of the saints!” Not so. Unity doesn’t come from agreeing on doctrine (it’s about being part of the same family, but that’s another conversation).

But it’s just plain foolish when Christians expect non-Christians to think Christianly. (That’s called “hypocrisy,” people. We don’t like hypocrisy.) At no point does the Bible command us to make non-believers act as if they were religious. Let’s get over that right away, shall we? 
Instead of looking for the “the right side of the issue,” I’m going to recommend that when we find ourselves saying, “I don’t see it that way,” to follow that up with “…but you do, and I respect your thinking for yourselves. Look for a way to love those who don’t agree with you. (I think you’ll find that love converts more people than arguments, any day of the week!)

Or we could push for extra credit, and try to see it their way, try to understand why they see it that way, even if only for a moment. Seeing like they see is one way of loving them.



Does Love Mean Acceptance?

I’ve been challenged by some of my brothers. The context has been how to respond to homosexual believers, but the issue is bigger than that. This is about how Christians relate to unbelievers, to people who have sin in their life.

They have held that unconditional love does not equal unconditional acceptance: that loving them does not mean that I accept them or their lifestyle.

I disagree. Unconditional love absolutely DOES mean unconditional acceptance of the person you're loving. The two cannot be separated. Conditional acceptance is absolutely conditional love, which is to say, it’s not love at all. Maybe it’s manipulation or something, but it is NOT love.

Someone would probably point out that accepting the person is not the same as accepting their lifestyle, and that's TBI: True But Irrelevant. Accepting their behavior is never part of the issue of loving the person. Let me clarify:

I love people whose political views offend me. I love people who believe lies and who tell lies, about themselves, about others, and about God. I love people who haven’t admitted that they struggle with gluttony, or with manipulation, or who don’t know how to submit to anyone else. I love people who take advantage of me. (Let's be honest: if I loved only perfect people, I would never love anybody; I could never even love myself.)

In all of this, I don't interview people before I decide to love them: “Are they good enough for my love? Do they deserve my love? Is there something that they do which disqualifies them from love? Would people on Facebook be offended if I loved this person? Would it look bad on my resume?”

Bottom line: the VAST majority of the time, their sexuality, their pridefulness, their gluttony, or any other sin should not even be part of the conversation: that's their business; that's pretty much between them and God. There are two exceptions.

The first is that if they are a danger to me or mine, whether great danger or small, I suspect (I’m not actually convinced of this one – see Christ’s example) that I have the right to separate myself from them. Because I love to be alive, I don’t hang around mass murderers, and because God made me an introvert, I limit how much time I spend in crowds. That’s fairly straightforward.

The second exception is when we're in a covenant relationship together: when I have their invitation to speak into their life. Then I can talk about their sexual preferences and whether that's sin or not. But if we’re in covenant, then they can also speak into my life about my egotistical preferences and whether that's sin or not.

But under NO circumstances do I ever have the right to stand apart and either judge or reject another human being because of their actions, their preferences or their choices. I can choose whether to love them or not (though the Bible does not give me this choice, I can choose it nevertheless), I can choose whether to be in a relationship or not, but I may not declare them unfit for love based on their actions.

Seriously: how would it be if God decided to love us based on whether we were good enough? “Oh, this guy judges people, that woman has bad theology. I’m not going to love them. I’m not going to bear their sin on the cross. Sorry. Sucks to be them.”

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” – John 13:34

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8.



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.


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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Offense at God Stops the Promises

John the Baptist was aware, perhaps more than most people, that Jesus’ mandate (in Luke 4) included the anointing “To proclaim liberty to the captive...”.

But by Luke 7, John was himself a captive, a political prisoner rotting in a Roman jail, who presumably wanted his freedom. So he sent some boys ’round to ask Jesus, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”

Jesus let them watch his ministry for a while, and then replied, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them.” In other words, “Yeah, I’m the one.”

And then he adds the kicker. He says to tell John, “And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”

And then Jesus goes on for fourteen verses – this is a pretty long speech for Him – who John is and why he’s awesome. “…there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.” That’s pretty high praise from the Incarnate Son of God.

One of the greatest offenses we can ever experience is “Why does it happen to them, but not for me?” It’s not hard to get discouraged in those circumstances. It’s hard NOT to be offended. John was offended: Jesus’ cousin, and the prophet sent to announce him. If the greatest prophet in the world got offended, it’s possible that it happens to more people than admit of it.

It’s hard not to see someone else get healed of something that you’ve been asking for healing of. It’s difficult not to be jealous when someone else gets the financial breakthrough that you need so desperately.

And it’s almost impossible (almost – but not quite) to not be offended when the promises that God has declared for you sit there, unfulfilled, despite your best efforts, despite your faithfulness, despite the fact that you have personally prepared the way for that other person that got the fulfillment of YOUR prophecy!

It’s so easy to be offended because of Jesus, especially when he does things that are different than you think he ought to do. When he does things in different ways, with different people, than you think he ought.

And then he adds the kicker. He says to us, “And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” Our blessing comes from avoiding that offense.

Said another way, being offended hinders our being blessed. One of the greatest hindrances to my promises being fulfilled is when I’m jealous of others’ blessings.

If my reaction to someone else getting a large amount of cash is to wish that it happened to me, then I am, by that offense, hindering God’s blessing in my own life.

If my response to your newfound ministry is to wish that it had come to me (“instead of to you,” or “as well as to you,” it doesn’t matter), then I’m hindering my own release. I’m demonstrating that I cannot yet “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), and therefore I’m not yet ready to be trusted with that blessing.

If I can rejoice with others, weep with others, without thinking of myself before I think of them, then I’m getting past being offended with Him.

Fundamentally, if I see your blessing and I think of my lack, that’s a manifestation of self-centeredness. If I see your sorrow, and I breathe a sigh of relief, that’s a manifestation of self-centeredness.

I suspect that Father is breathing on that verse right now: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)

If we want to keep up with what he’s doing, if we want to be part of what he’s doing, we’ll want to avoid being offended by Him, and rejoice – or weep – with others.

The Symphony

I enjoy classical music. More than any other kind of music, the composers of great classical music wove melodies and harmonies together, often mixing layer upon layer of different music, weaving it together into a glorious piece. The fact that some, like Beethoven, couldn’t hear what they were composing overwhelms me.

You couldn’t ever play a symphony on a single instrument. Which melody would you play? They’re all woven together, each instrument taking our turn at the forefront, taking a turn in the background. When they’re all playing the symphony together, the result is glorious!

“Symphony” is an interesting word. It’s actually a Greek word that’s so unique that we don’t translate it, we just use English letters to pronounce it with.

The Greek word συμφωνω (“symphōneō “) means “to agree together,” or “to agree with one in making a bargain, to make an agreement, to bargain.” Our working together – not all doing the same thing, but working, each in our own way, toward the same end – is a symphony.  

Our word συμφωνω is the heart of Jesus’ declaration in Matthew 18:19: “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.” This is a symphony.

I suppose that there are a few things that stand out to me in this:

§         Our “agreeing together” makes beautiful music in heaven. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that it makes Jesus really happy.

§         This isn’t about numbers. He doesn’t say anything about “If you gather all the Christians in the city….” The symphony begins with “two of you.” I think we miss this one sometimes.

§         Our “agreeing together” isn’t about us doing stuff in unison. If every instrument played the same line, the only variation would be when someone missed the note, and it would sound like a junior high school band concert. There is nothing beautiful in the “symphony” produced that way, except that little Johnny is actually playing something; I sure wish he’d practiced his part.

I think we’ve missed this one sometimes as well. I’ve been browbeaten in the name of “unity” to do the thing that the browbeater is doing, in the way the browbeater is doing it, rather than playing my own part on my own instrument. I’m not sure that browbeating someone into submission is the best method of achieving beautiful music. I grieve that we’ve done that.

§         Our “agreeing together” is powerful. That symphony moves Father’s hand to do “any thing” (“each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, everything”) that we agree about. This is some of the beauty of the symphony, I think: actually seeing “on earth as it is in Heaven” happening, and us getting to take part in it.

The fact that we don’t see as much of Father’s hand being moved by unit may be a good clue: maybe the way we’ve been striving for unit isn’t the most effective way.

I suspect that we’ll accomplish the symphony of unity much better if we’re all playing the music that our great Conductor places before us: following the Conductor will be more symphonic than following another musician, no matter how good they are. The trombonist will never make beautiful music if he’s trying to play the timpani’s part. Or the piccolo’s part. Or the violin’s part.

More to the point, the trombonist will never be judged for how well he played the second violin’s part. His only reward will come from how well the trombone part came out when it was called upon.

My encouragement is for us to look to the Holy Spirit for the part you’re to play in this whole symphony, not to human leaders. We must fellowship together, yes. We can learn from each other, of course. We do well to “encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.”

Don’t follow the leader of the brass section just because he’s loud. Learn to play your own instrument, your own calling, your own gifting. And having begun, follow the Holy Spirit who’s conducting this symphony.

The Work of Growing

My mind has been taking me on some strange paths, recently.

You who are parents, have you ever given birth to a post-pubescent adult, ready to join society as a productive member. “Skip the diapers, Mom, but could you hand me my shave kit? I gotta go find a job.”

It doesn’t usually happen that way, does it? No, the child that shows up after labor is fully formed in the sense that all the raw material is there, all the parts are functioning, but nothing is mature. They need nourishment, a whole lot of love, and a couple of decades of experience before they get a good handle on life in this new place. The birth is worthy of celebration, but now the real work begins.

I’ve been reflecting about how the same truth applies in The Kingdom: ain’t nobody born again as a mature believer. All the raw material is there, all the parts are functioning, but nothing is mature. They need good nourishment, a whole lot of love, and a couple of decades of experience before they get a good handle on life in this new place. The birth is worthy of celebration, but now the real work begins.

Honestly, helping folks grow in this new realm is a lot of what our job description is about. The Bible phrases that our work is “...for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ...” That's a worthy target!

I hold what is sometimes considered a screwball opinion: I think this is really everyone’s job in the Kingdom.

We say (heck, I have myself said!), “But I have so much to learn myself! I can’t teach anybody! I must learn myself before I can teach!” That doesn’t seem to impress God all that much.

First, there’s the well-documented truth that the best way to learn is to teach others.

Second, the reality is that you (and I) don’t need to be perfect before we start helping others grow. Father once said to me, “You don’t need to have finished the race, son. You just need to have 20 minutes more experience than the one you’re training.” Hmm. OK. I can do that.

Someone really smart once said, “Encourage one another, and all the more, as you see the Day approaching.”  So I guess this is incumbent on all of us, isn’t it? We’re all “One anothers.”


I told you my mind went strange places. Now let's go build up some folks around us.

The God Who Gossips?

How often does this happen to you: you’re minding your own business, and suddenly God points out someone’s fault to you? Sometimes, it’s a dream or a vision; sometimes it’s suddenly becoming aware of what’s going on around you.

I’m hearing of how God is speaking to people – regular people, people without position or influence – about how individual believers are experiencing trouble or lack from pastors and church leaders. 

Clearly, sometimes this is just disgruntled people speaking out. People do that. Why would God point out the failure of pastors and other leaders of local congregations? And so many people dismiss this phenomenon as “not of God,” as if this disgruntlement is the only motivation here. And so people who talk about unlovely things that God has showed them are often labeled as gossips and malcontents or fleshly believers.

Have you read Ezekiel 34 recently? Why don't you read it again, keeping this trend in mind. It’s not a lovely conversation. God himself is calling pastors and leaders to task about how they’re treating the sheep, the believers that they’re called to care for! And he’s not doing it gently. This is obviously a matter that God cares very deeply. But Is God actually gossiping?

Some people – generally people who are enamored with the prophetic or who aspire to be a prophet – read this passage, or hear this complaint from God, and then feel the need to go prophesy it. I understand how “prophesying” what God said is a defense against being labeled (yet again) as a gossip or a malcontent.

But think about it: God tells them something in private, and they feel the need to shout it from the mountain tops. I’d like to suggest that this is not the smartest thing to do. 

Actually, I recommend starting with a question, not an action, and this is where it becomes a little tricky; not just any question will do.

We very often are used to beginning with a question from our souls:

■ Our emotions are part of our souls, and so when we see, hear or feel something harsh or unflattering, it’s easy to let our emotions flare up, and ask questions like, “How could they DO that?” or “That’s icky, why would God show me icky stuff; this must be demons talking to me!” and so it’s easy for the enemy (or my own flesh) to turn it toward accusation of one sort or another.

■ Our minds are also part of our souls, and so when we see, hear or feel something harsh or unflattering, it’s easy to let our thoughts flare up, and ask questions like, “Where is this in Scripture?” “How does this line up with other principles I live by?” “How do I think I should deal with this?” and so it’s easy for the enemy (or my own flesh) to turn it toward confusion.

■ Our will is also part of our souls, and so when we see, hear or feel something harsh or unflattering, it’s easy to let our choices flare up, and we make choices like, “I must tell someone!” or “I must warn them!” and so it’s easy for the enemy (or my own flesh) to turn it toward manipulation and self-importance.

I’d like to suggest that when God shows us uncomfortable things by the Spirit, that we respond to him with our spirit. In fact, I suggest – and I encourage this as a regular practice – that we ask the question of Acts 16:30: "What must I do?" God, you’re showing me this for a reason. What do you want me to do with it?

Talking about someone’s sin without working toward a solution is pretty much the definition of gossip, and I’m pretty sure that God’s not actually a gossiper. If he’s sharing it with you, he expects you to do something with it. If we stop listening before we get to the application, then we’ve left God in an awkward place, leaving both him and ourselves open to the accusation of gossiping. He’s trying to partner with us, but we run off before there’s been any real partnership.

In fact, it’s not unusual for God to bring up a problem with you specifically so you can help him solve the problem. Ezekiel 22:30 (in context) talks about how God sometimes tells people about icky stuff specifically so that they can “stand in the gap” before Him on their behalf. That’s very often the primary role of intercessors: hear what’s weighing heavily on God’s heart, ask how he wants us to respond, and then respond that way.

I’d suggest that the vast majority of the time, when God shows us something un-lovely, he’s asking for us to bring the thing back to him and ask him to do something in that place. He’s bringing it up so we can pray.

Why does he invite us to get involved? Why doesn’t he just go do it himself? He can’t, not without going back on his own word. Psalm 115:16 says, “The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD’s; But the earth He has given to the children of men.” Stuff in the realm of Heaven is his responsibility; stuff on earth is our responsibility.

This responsibility started back in Genesis, chapter 1; that’s pretty early. In v28 he assigned rulership of physical creation to Adam & Eve. If he steps in and does things without consulting with the delegated rulers of the planet (the race of Adam & Eve), then he’s stepped outside of the way He himself set things up to be done. Who can trust a leader – divine or human – that gives us responsibility for something, but keeps the authority for doing it to themselves? That’s not smart.

The ministry of intercession is a very important ministry. When God shows you a problem, begin by asking him for the solution to the problem. “What must I do?” is a really good starting place.

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Help Discerning the Move of God

God’s people have been rebuked with a couple of phrases plucked out of the Bible more times than I care to recount: “Decently and in order, Brother! God is not a God of disorder, but of order. You need to settle down.”

I have to keep reminding myself that Acts 2 - where people are accused of being drunk - is God's idea of “decently and in order.”

And evidently Hannah was “in order” when she went to Shiloh to ask the Lord for a child; she certainly found favor and Samuel was born to her. But she also was mistaken for a drunk, by Eli the priest, the one man who was most qualified to be able to recognize the workings of God in His people at the time.

Do you remember David’s wife Michal when David danced before the Lord?

Apparently there is a long history of religious people mistaking spiritual passion (or being influenced by God's Spirit) for drunkenness. Also apparent is the fact that they’re often wrong when trying to identify what is God moving on his people, and what is the flesh at work.

We could also discuss more recent events: Azusa StreetTorontoBrownsville, and others, and we’d find the trend continuing. I cannot tell you how many times I was warned that “God is not in that disorder!”

I was warned by my pastor to stay away from such places: “You never know what a crowd of emotional people will do! They’re out of control! It could be dangerous!”

This leads me to an awkward, even politically incorrect conclusion: when God is doing something with me, particularly when it’s something that seems strange to me, there is evidence to suggest that my church leaders may not be the best people to ask for help understanding it.

If their job is maintaining the organization of a Sunday morning fellowship, they have a vested interest in not rocking the boat. They have a vested interest in people not being “out of control” in their experience of God. It’s real difficult to condone your experience, if your experience creates ripples among others in the congregation. A few pastors can do it.

It may be better to ask Father to show you himself, what has happened in your life. It will also be good to ask him to introduce you to others who have had a similar experience, perhaps some who can help you understand.

Are there dangers? Are there freaky people out there? Sure there are. Welcome to the deep end of the pool. Eat the meat and spit out the bones.

As Jesus’ best friend wrote: “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit – just as it has taught you, remain in him.” (1 John 2:27) This is not just theory. This is the Word of God instructing you about how to be instructed. This is the real thing.

This is why we follow God. This is also why we don’t follow people who follow God, but we walk alongside them. 


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Monday

The Gadarene Swine Fallacy

We hear it preached quite often that if a Christian isn’t in fellowship with others, she is in greater danger from the various enemies of our soul. We preach (and I, myself, preach) that believers are stronger, safer, and more alive when we’re in relationship with other believers.

But there’s more to that story. It isn't that simple.

There’s an argument that appears in the “Logical Fallacy” section of common logic textbooks, called the “Gadarene Swine Fallacy.” Simply defined, “The GSF is the fallacy of supposing that because a group is in the right formation, it is necessarily on the right course; and conversely, of supposing that because an individual has strayed from the group and isn't in formation, that he is off course.”

When Jesus visited the Gadarene demonic, there were some key players in the region:


  • One man, alone in the tombs, filled with demons and despair. 
  • Local swineherds and their local herds of swine (pigs). 


If one was to assume that “be in fellowship” is the highest truth, one would have to predict that the community of swine was the safe place to be, and the lone demoniac would be lost to eternity.

But that’s not what happened: the tormented man, alone among the tombs, was the only one who had the encounter with Jesus. The swine did have an encounter, but it was with the legion of suddenly homeless demons. He lived. He thrived (as ambassador for the Son of God to the Decapolis). They died a rather ignominious death.

In this case, and this is not by any means normative, the one by himself was in the right place, and the herd of swine – which may not have been appropriate on the outskirts of a kosher community anyway – were off course.

“In particular, it is of fundamental importance not to confuse the person who may be 'out of formation' by telling him he is 'off course' if he is not. It is of fundamental importance not to make the positivist mistake of assuming that, because a group are 'in formation,' this means they are necessarily 'on course.' This is the Gadarene swine fallacy.”

I still maintain that Believers are healthier in community. But if the only choice available is either life alone, among the tombs, or a community of swine, it may be healthier alone – though there may be (literally) a hell of a price to pay for solitude – than at home in a community of swine.

Of course, the healthiest place is neither among the tombs or among the swine. A small group in my home is infinitely preferable solitude among the tombs, and even community online (now that it is technologically feasible) is better than life with a legion of demons, or a herd of swine.