Showing posts with label discipline. Show all posts
Showing posts with label discipline. Show all posts

Thursday

Thoughts on Being Pruned

Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

I spent the day the other day, pruning my tomatoes. It was really hard to not think about this verse in the process. So I gave in, and thought about it. I had some interesting thoughts. Keep in mind the Lord’s pruning of his children (that’s you and me) as you read this.

Pruning really is hard work. Pruning is not something you just do as you’re walking past in a few minutes, the few seconds that you have to spare. Pruning, particularly effective proving, takes thought, takes planning, takes endurance. In the parable, this would be God’s job. When he’s preparing us for effective, fruitful ministry it’s a lot of work for him. No wonder it feels like a lot of work for us too.

Pruning really is important work. This isn’t a case where if you get pruned, that’s nice, but if you don’t, that’s fine too. Rather, this is an example of Hebrews 12, where it says that set God trains, disciplines his children. Discipline is important work. Without discipline, will never accomplish anything in the Kingdom, or, frankly, in the world.

I can imagine that pruning a plant, cutting off branches, hurts the plant. I know for a fact that pruning branches, cutting off branches, is painful to the gardener. I am confident that when God cuts things out of our lives, particularly when he cuts things out that we enjoy, it hurts him. But he is so completely committed to our good if he is willing to do things that hurt him in order to make us stronger and better.

Pruning helps a plant focus its energy. Instead of a thousand tiny little fruits, each one nearly meaningless, a well pruned plant will produce a more modest number of excellent fruit, really nourishing. Sometimes you can tell people who have not submitted to pruning. They have a thousand little ministries, a thousand little interests, but they’re really not making a difference when you come right down to it. The people who have learned to focus their attention on one area are the ones who really change the world.

Different kinds of plants are pruned in different ways. Sometimes, the same kind of plant is prune in different ways if The Gardener has different plans for the plants. It seems obvious that the same is true for people. God sees us as individuals, relates to us as individuals. He trains some of us in one way, and he trains others of us in other ways.

Some plants are pruned in order to make them more fruitful. Some plants are pruned in order to make them stronger. Some plants are pruned in order to make them more beautiful. Not all prophets are trained the same way. Not all gift of Mercy are in the same category. One may minister to a thousand individuals. The other main Minister two groups of tens of thousands, or invest themselves into groups of three or four.

Pruning is more important when the plant is beginning to develop, than it is later on. That is, unless the plant has managed to avoid being pruned when it should have been. Similarly, young believers, developing believers, kit pruned more often, perhaps, then mature Saints. Though all of us, all of us, do get pruned by our gardener.
All About Grapevine PruningIf a plant is pruned regularly throughout its life, it will generally not need nearly as much pruning, not nearly as aggressive pruning, as the plant that has managed to avoid pruning for some time. That plant will get more cuts. For years, I managed to avoid the gardeners attention. And my life was unruly, hurtful, and unfruitful. I needed more pruning than I should have needed, at my stage in maturity.

Sometimes, a successful pruning will remove strong, healthy, even fruitful branches. This is for the best interest of the plant, the fruit, and the Gardener. Just because God removes something from our lives, that does not mean that it was a bad thing to be in our lives. Some of those things were good. But if we are going to be successful at changing the world, some things that are not part of our calling need to be cut away. If we are truly going to know and experience God’s heart for us, his heart for the world, then there may be much that we would have to say no to, good stuff that we will have to say no to.

At least with tomatoes, plants that produce big strong delicious fruit, are pruned more vigorously then plants that are designed to produce lots of little fruits. Slicing tomatoes get pruned more than cherry tomatoes. It would follow, then, that those of us who have a calling to greater things, bigger areas of influence are likely to need more times of pruning, and greater pruning. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with a handful of cherry tomatoes.

Sometimes, if a plant is not pruned by The Gardener in time, the plant will just let some branches just die off, simply because it doesn’t have enough roots, enough strength to support so many branches. This is not a healthy thing. Dead branches on a living plant or a pathway to pests, predators, and disease. Areas where things have died in our life, rather than been pruned away, are similarly dangerous, places where disease or bitterness can find root.

So as I was pruning my tomatoes, I was also discussing God’s pruning of me. I found myself inviting my master Gardener, whom I trust, to prune me as he sees fit, from his view in Eternity. I love partnering with him in the work of the kingdom, and I know that he can lovingly prune away the things that hinder my effectiveness, that hinder my fully receiving his love.

My Times with God

Sometimes it was in the morning, if I was able to drag myself out of bed. Mornings were my preference, and before too long, this confirmed night owl was up before the sunrise. Sometimes it happened before retiring for the night.

More often, I just grabbed an hour or so wherever I could. I remember many times in an abandoned church building near where I lived, at my dining room table, in an empty classroom or lunchroom or conference room or a table at the library. Often times I parked for a while in a rest stop, or some wide spot in the road between here and there.

The first thing after I sat down was usually a sigh, and I’d just sit there for a few minutes. Then I’d open my knapsack or reach to my bookshelf and pull out three things: my Bible, my journal, and a mechanical pencil.

But before I opened any of them, we’d talk. “Hi Dad. Love you! I’m looking forward to what you’re going to show me today. Help me to see, eh? Help me to recognize what you’re showing me, please. Thanks. You’re awesome!” And I’d open both books at the ribbon.

In my Bible, I was working my way through one of the books, section by section. Most translations have headings dividing up the text: I’d tackle no more than the space from one heading to the next.

In my journal, I listed the date and the passage, and then I pushed that book out of my way, and I devoted my attention to the Bible.

I read the passage through. You know the way you read a text book assignment that you don’t love? Yeah, this was not that. I read it slowly enough that my attention didn’t drift. If I could, I’d read it quietly out loud.

During this time, I turned my imagination loose to walk among these people, hear the sounds, smell the smells of the story I read. If I was in an epistle, I’d listen for the apostle’s tone of voice, and I’d imagine how the people it was addressed to felt as they read it. If I felt like it, I’d look at a few cross references, but I guarded against bunny trails.

But more than anything, I waited for the light to go on. Invariably, one verse would catch my attention, as if my Father were pointing to it, and saying, “Look here, son.” Sometimes it was just a word, or a phrase. Maybe it was a repeated word. Or an idea that never actually made it into words.

If it didn’t happen the first time, I’d go back and read it again. I’d often underline the verbs, using a set of markings I developed for myself after years of this. If there was a list of things or a progression, I’d number the points. Sometimes I circled adjectives and adverbs. Sometimes I’d ask questions, of the text, of Father, about what was going on. But everything was just keeping me involved with the text until my attention was drawn to one part.

That signal was like arriving at the X on a treasure map. It meant “Dig here.” That was the real assignment.

The first part of digging was to write – legibly – the verse that stuck out to me into my journal. And then I go to work to interact with that verse, that passage, to dig for treasure in that spot. I figure that the investment of an hour was just about right, and good success would probably show evidence of at least one full page, more or less, of reaction in my journal.

So I looked closely. My personal Bible always has cross references, but is never a “Study Bible.” I don’t want to hear what other people think. I want to discover what God thinks, and see if I can make my own thinking line up with that.

My first step was pretty often to “center myself” and to dig into that little nudge itself, the nudge that said, “Dig here.” Often, that would give me some direction for my searching or meditation.

I used different tools to dig. Sometimes I would literally outline the sentences, like in English class in high school. Sometimes, I chased down the cross references, both those in the margins and especially the ones in my own heart.

But sometimes, it was just meditating on my one verse, reflecting it, asking questions of it, that brought the reward.

For example, when reading through Mark 8, I was caught by verse 31: “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.

This time, I found myself outlining what I saw in that verse:

1)      What are the “many things” he would suffer? (I listed them, cross referenced to Matthew 20:19 for details.)
2)      Who rejected him? (I listed them.)
3)      He would be killed: he doesn’t say by whom.
4)      He’d rise again after 3 days.

And as I was writing the outline, I realized I was thinking most about the fact that Jesus had never discussed this before. He was only free to talk about it after verse 29: after they realized that he was, in fact, the Messiah they were looking for.

I wrote for a while on what it must have been like, knowing that this terrible stuff was coming, and not having anybody – not a single person on the planet – that he could talk to about it.

I meditated for a while on how he himself learned of it, since he had been born as a normal baby (cf Philippians 2 and Hebrews 4:14,15) and he had to learn all this stuff in his own times with Father. I reflected on what that first conversation might have been like, when Father talked about what was going to happen.

And I realized that Jesus got his direction from – more or less – from the same thing that I was doing just now.

And I was done. Either I was out of time, or “the anointing lifted,” or something else. And that’s the point: I’m not looking to write a pretty article from this (though that came from it once or twice). I’m not looking for some big and powerful conclusion.

The big conclusion isn’t the point of this. The point is that Father and I have time together in his Word. Years later, I realized that he was training me – through these times – to hear his voice, and that it was remarkably effective. But even that training wasn’t the point. The point was our time together, our relationship.

Now, why have I just told you all this? It’s because of something I heard in our time together: I had the sense that some folks are pretty well grounded in hearing Father’s voice, but others are still scratching their heads and wondering how we do that?

Father showed me that during our times together, he was teaching me how to hear him, how to hear his voice and how to recognize his voice. And it seemed to me that he was suggesting that someone might want to follow the trail that he and I cleared together.

If you want to learn how to hear Father’s voice well, this is one way to learn. It has the additional benefit of giving you a solid grounding in the Bible.

If you decide to follow this trail, you have my blessing, and more important, Father’s. May you have as much fun in your time with Father on this trail as I have! I know he’ll enjoy his time with you!




Good Treasure, or Evil?

“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” [Luke 6:45]

Reflecting on the repeated word “good.” (Principle: when the Book repeats something, it’s worth paying attention to!)

The word for “good” is ἀγαθός, and it “describes that which, being “good” in its character or constitution, is beneficial in its effect; it is used
(a) of things physical, e.g., a tree.
(b) in a moral sense, frequently of persons and things. God is essentially, absolutely and consummately “good. (Vine's Dictionary of New Testament Words)

This tells me something that I don’t actually want to know: what I say (and presumably what I write about on FB) reveals my heart. If I’m talking about things that are beneficial in their effect, if I am pointing out that which is good about things, then this verse declares that I am a “good man” and I have “good treasure” in my heart.

But if what I say (and presumably what I write about on FB) is talking about things that are faults, or problems, or failures, or complaints or even just drivel, then this verse declares that I have “evil treasure” in my heart.

Certainly, I wish to apply this to myself: I can judge my own heart by watching what I say. Are my words revealing good or evil in my heart?

But I probably need to take this a step further as well: who am I reading, who am I following. If they’re speaking things that comfort me or challenge me or cause me to dig deeper into God, if they’re declaring what is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous or praiseworthy (see Philippians 4:8), then I can safely judge the fruit: this is “good treasure” coming from a good heart.

But if I’m listening to people or reports that are bringing fear, or outrage, or self-pity, or resentment, or entitlement, or powerlessness, or reports that are stirring worldly desires (“the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,” 1 John 2:16), then I can – and must – judge that report as “evil treasure,” and recognize that it is coming from a motivation that has evil toward me in it, whether those speaking it mean for it to or not. (I’m not judging their heart; I’m judging their words.)

May I tell you a secret? That’s why I stopped watching the news. Father showed me this, and he called it my “devotional with the world.” I don’t hide from the news, but I get my news on my terms now, not on theirs.

I intend to judge fruit. I choose to be a fruit inspector. I choose to filter the fruit that others give me, to receive the good, and reject the evil.

Monday

A Prophet's Failure


Here’s the saddest story in the life of the greatest prophet in the Old Testament. It’s from 1 Kings 19. This is where Elijah fails. As sad as it is, we can learn some lessons from him to help us in prophetic ministry today.

[Elijah] traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.

And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  

When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”  

The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.  Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.  Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu.  Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel--all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”

Elijah had some reason to be afraid: Jezebel had threatened to kill him. Of course, this was right after he had called fire down from heaven, killed 450 false prophets, and ended a devastating drought in an afternoon’s prayer, so how much threat was she really?

Father has schooled me from this passage a number of times.

First, he contrasted Elijah on Mt Carmel (1 Kings 18) with Jesus feeding the 5000. Afterwards, Elijah takes on two more big and demanding projects: first, he prayed in a rainstorm, and second, he ran from Mt Carmel to Jezreel, ahead of a chariot (that’s a marathon distance!). Then he collapsed in a depression, and ended up in a cave whining at God.

By contrast, when Jesus had fed 5000 men (plus women and children: maybe 15,000 to 20,000 people), he dismissed the crowds, sent the boys home on a boat, and went up into the mountains to pray all night. Think about it: if the Son of God needed to get with God to get recharged after ministry, what makes us think that we can keep running?

The first lesson: when you’ve spent everything in ministry, don’t go do more ministry; get alone with God, and let him minister to you; debrief with him. After that, go walk on the water through the storm to the guys in the sailboat that’s swamping in the storm: miracles are easier then, and prophetic people work in the realm of the miraculous.

 “…I am the only one left,
and now they are trying to kill me too.”
The second lesson that he emphasized was this: whenever our prayers sound like Elijah’s prayers sounded in that cave “…I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too,” then we’re in a very bad place. That’s a really good time to shut up, to stop arguing with God, and to listen. It’s a good time to let angels minister to your spirit. But it’s really NOT a good time to talk.

Elijah kept talking, and God let him talk. Then he asked him the same question again (that might not be a good sign), and Elijah gave him the same self-pitying answer: “…I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too!”

God gave Elijah some assignments: go anoint some people. Notice that he’s sent to “anoint Elisha … to succeed you as prophet.”  Elijah is being fired as the prophet of Israel, and if we can count on the context, he’s being fired because he won’t leave the place of self-pity. From this day forward, Elijah never was the prophet he had been before; he wasn’t completely left out, but he wasn’t involved in any history-making events ever again.

My point is not to bring fear that we’ll get fired as a prophet. My point is that when we start seeing ourselves like the tree in this picture, that we’ve gotten into a place where we can’t minister well. We need to shut up and sit still and let Father speak into our souls. In this place, we really need to NOT declare things from self-pity, not from hopelessness or fear or discouragement. In this place, we need to stop speaking until we can speak life. 

This has been a heck of a season. A goodly number of people I know in the prophetic have been involved in big things. We need to learn the lesson of Jesus, and head up the mountain, not back into ministry.

And a goodly number of the prophetic people I know are as drained as Elijah was. (Some are on both lists.)  In this place, we need to stop speaking and let him speak to us, until we can speak life again. 

Thursday

Dealing With Bombs

I share this as a testimony. You know I love testimonies.

I had a dream. In the dream, or maybe it was a vision: I was working my way through the sparse underbrush of a very large hill. I was searching out unexploded ordinance: bombs that hadn’t gone off, and I knew that some of them were nuclear bombs.


My friends and I were cleaning out the area so that kids could play safely in the bushes and grasses there. My job was to find the bombs hidden under the bushes, behind the clumps of grass. There weren’t a lot, but it was more than I expected.


When I found one, I put it into the basket I was carrying (really? Carrying nukes in a basket?), and hand the baskets to others who took them off to other places, and came back each time for more.

As I was dreaming, while I was pulling a shiny silver bomb out from behind a clump of tall grass, Father began interpreting the dream I was still in the middle of for me. (I’ve never had that happen before!)

“You recognize these bombs?” and suddenly, I knew that these were issues in my life where offenses could grow. These were wounds, lies that I’ve believed, curses, and other detritus in my soul that could explode and cause problems. “Yes, sir,” I replied.

“And you recognize that this dream is just symbolic? That solving these issues in the real world is going to take more than just picking up the bombs and putting them in your basket?” I understood that he was right: these are real issues and they need real solutions.

The dream had prophetically pointed out that there were bombs, danger points (and I suspect we all have some). We can identify the bombs by prayer, by prophecy, by soul-searching, maybe by inviting input from godly friends.

I also recognized that he wasn’t commenting on the solutions that they needed, just that the issues needed something more than “prophetically picking up a bomb” and putting it in my basket. I was welcome to choose the solutions I was comfortable with: repentance, healing prayer, power of God, therapy, washing in the Word, and more.

I observe that God is speaking to a number of his kids in this season about getting rid of offenses, removing the stumbling blocks from our history; in fact, it’s a little freaky how many began hearing this topic at the same time. If you’re in this season, embrace it as from God, and work with him to remove the hindrances to moving forward.

We’re in this together.


Sunday

There Is No Hell Prepared For Sinners (Don't jump to conclusions here...)

Let me just come out there and say it: There is no hell that has been prepared for "sinners." Dante was wrong.

Now don't jump to conclusions. That doesn't mean that there isn't something hellish; there is. The Bible doesn't talk much about it, and I can understand: it's an ugly subject.

Jesus taught about "everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels." Maybe this is the "lake of fire" of Revelation 20. Sure sounds like it.

But did you see who it's prepared for? It's prepared for the devil and the rest of the angels that followed the angel named Lucifer when he was tossed on his ear out of Heaven. 

It's a topic that the Bible never answers very clearly (for all that there are a lot of Bible thumpers that seem to have all the answers!), so I can't speak clearly about it except this: it isn't prepared for people.

I guess there are some people who are so completely committed to the things of demons (often called "sin"), that they refuse to be separated from them. I guess that when the devil and his angels are chucked into that "everlasting fire" that the people that refuse to let them go... well, ... they go with them.

(I understand that this is not consistent with what you and I were taught in Sunday School. The truth is that a lot of what we were taught in Sunday School can't be supported by the Book. Let's stick to the book.)


Tuesday

Does God Harm People?


Does God harm people? Does he beat up his kids? Does God bring sickness, disease, even death, in order to accomplish good in his kids?

One verse that people use to support this theological drivel is Hebrews 12:6, which reads (in the NKJV):
 
For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives."

A quick glance at a Greek lexicon will help us.

The Greek word used for “chasten” is παιδεύω. The Strongs lexicon (http://bit.ly/TbnnDR) says the primary meaning of παιδεύω is:

1) to train children
   a) to be instructed or taught or learn
   b) to cause one to learn

Since the immediate context is about fathers training their children, and specifically compares God’s fathering to human fathering, this is an excellent contextual fit. The idea is more of a firm coach than a child-abuser, and the context, very much about fathering, supports the concept of instructing, training, coaching.

By contrast, when was the last time you heard of a father that brought home a polio virus to infect his son as an expression of his love? What loving dad would cut his daughter’s brake lines so she’d crash and spend a month in ICU? Who in their right mind would respect such a father or hold him up as an example for others to follow? [Hint: it wouldn’t be God!]

Does he train us hard? Well, when was the last time that a competent coach who trained his players gently? Did they every win anything? Sure, training is hard. But it is not abusive. It's not about sickness, death and destruction; that's somebody else's job description. Jesus came that we “may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (Romans 10:10)

The second half of the verse is considered metaphor by Greek language scholars, and it is in the Hebrew pattern of “parallelism”: the second phrase complements or clarifies the first phrase: Yes, God trains his kids. “For whom the Lord loves, he trains, and he spanks his sons when they need it.” Parallel ideas: the first phrase tells us how to interpret the second phrase.

A better theological foundation about the nature of God is found earlier in Hebrews: in 1:3, the Bible declares, “The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being.” Note: “Exact representation.”  

In other words: Whatever is true about God’s being is demonstrated in Jesus. In other words, if you don’t see something in Jesus, you’re in error if you believe it about God.

A lot of people have this OT image of God always ready to smite someone, always ready to judge people with death and disaster. That’s poppycock! How many people did Jesus smite? How many did he kill? How many times did someone come to Jesus, “the exact representation” of God’s being, asking to be healed, only to be told, “No, it’s better if you stay sick, because you’re learning something from the sickness.”

That, of course, is the theological equivalent of saying, “The devil – whose job it is to steal, kill and destroy – can do a better job of raising God’s kids through stealing killing and destroying, than God can do through loving them.” That, I’m afraid, is profitable for nothing more serious than fertilizing your tomatoes: run away from such stinky, libelous accusations of God’s character!

Someone will say (and often loudly and rudely): “But God judges sin! God is holy!”

Yes, God is holy. And yes God judges sin; in fact he has already judged sin: Jesus was judged for sin! He was crucified, nailed to a tree, because of sin; because of all sin! In fact, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

So then, whose sins did Jesus miss? Whose sins are still un-judged? Whose sin is too big for the sacrifice of the Incarnate Son of God? Who did God overlook in his dying for the entire world? There ain’t none! (Though you and I know that there are some folks that are working hard to reject his payment for their sin; that’s a different conversation, and involves Revelation 20.) 

Let’s acknowledge that God is actually good, and let’s expect goodness from him.


Bluejays and Swimming Holes

During a time of prayer the other day, I saw a stellars jay picking maple seeds out of the gutters at the edge of the house I was staying at. I love jays, their bright blue boldness and perky confidence.

I had just asked God to speak to me this morning, and immediately the jay caught my attention; so I stopped what I was doing and appreciated his beauty. “Thanks Father, for such a beautiful creation.”

I felt the Lord whisper to me, “This bird was created for this purpose, to give you beauty to enjoy this morning, to draw your attention to Me.” Just by being who he was, he was fulfilling God’s purpose for him.

When I was nine or ten years old, my family went camping across western Canada; it was a hot summer, and we stopped and went swimming every chance we got, and always camped at a river or lake. One day, we found this really great camping place, and we swam and played and laughed until we were worn out, and then we ate smores until we were really full and went to bed.

The next morning, I had a difficult time waking up. After four or five attempts to rouse, my father threatened me: “If you don’t get up, I’m going to throw you in the lake.” Of course I didn’t believe him; he was my dad. He wouldn’t do that. So I didn’t take it seriously.

A few minutes later, I was still in bed, and my dad grabbed my sleeping bag, drug it down to the side of the swimming area, and unceremoniously dumped me out on the dock. “OK OK! I’m up. I’m ten years old, standing there in the cool morning air in my big flannel pajamas; I wanted to go back to camp.

But no! He pushed once, and I made a huge splash. Totally soaked, I climbed back up on the dock, but by that time, he was halfway back to camp, so I took off after him, splashing water everywhere! Eventually, I caught him and gave him a hug, as well as splashed my brother pretty well.

We're going to talk about two truths today, two truths that contradict each other, and yet each is true.

The first truth is this: just by being yourself, you accomplish much in the purposes that God has for you.

For example, Jesus said, in Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.”

OK. What do you need to do to accomplish the task of being a light? Nothing!

In the middle of the night, even a little town like Tenino is full of lights. You can't hide something like that. You can't hide the light that shines out of you, particularly when you're walking among people in darkness.

Jesus says you’re like that; like a city set up on a hill that everyone can see in the darkness. It takes more work to stop being who you are than to continue.

Sometimes, Jesus ministered like this. Remember in Matthew 9, the woman that came up and touched the hem of His garment? She was healed from a twelve-year-long problem.

That happened regularly with Jesus.

Mark 6:56 Wherever He entered into villages, cities, or in the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well.

All He did sometimes was just walk by, being Himself.

And if you’re walking with Jesus, then who you are is a powerful ministry. There's no sweat, no fuss, no panic, nothing you can do.

People see you. They recognize that there's something about you that is more than what’s visible.

I sell technical electronic stuff where I work, and one of my customers is Fort Lewis. I was working with one specialist in the Army's Special Forces Group on a couple of complex projects a year or two ago. He'd come into my office a couple of times a week and we'd have a grand time designing these complex technical systems that the federal government was going to pay for.

One Friday morning, he showed up as I expected, but he came into my office kind of quiet, and he closed the door behind him, which he never does, and sat down in the chair. “David, there’s something different about you,” he said. “There’s a peace about you and I need peace. What is it?”

Whoa.

Twenty minutes later, we were praying together, and this Special Forces soldier had his hat in his hand, and was asking the King of Kings to be His Captain and Savior.

That man came to Christ because he came in contact with an ambassador of the Kingdom of God. I accomplished my work in that situation just by being who God has made me to be.

You have stories like that, lots of them. I don’t know your stories. I only tell mine because I was there.

I told you that we were going to talk about two contradictory truths: both were true, and yet they're the opposite of each other.

This is the first truth: Who you are is ministry. Who you are is effective at accomplishing God's purposes on this earth (that's all ministry is). It’s easy. You’re just you, and that’s a reflection of Jesus. Remember: You’re made in His image.

Maybe you cause someone to ask questions about Jesus. That’s ministry!

Maybe you lift a weight off of someone who’s burdened. That’s ministry!

Maybe you encourage someone that they really can succeed. That’s ministry.

Maybe you help someone find an answer to a problem that you had no idea that they had. That’s ministry.

When you walk with Jesus, it’s like someone who fell into the swimming pool fully dressed. When they climb out, you can tell exactly where they’ve been because they splash water every time they take a step.

You're like that: you fall in the pool with Jesus, and when you get out, you splash Jesus all over with every step you take. If it's been a long time since you’ve been in the pool, then maybe you don’t splash as much, but you splash ministry wherever you go. You splash God's purposes wherever you go.

So what do you do with this?

Nothing, really. Just hang out with Jesus, and be who you are.

Well, actually, that’s something we can do, isn’t it? Hang out with Jesus. But that’s something we already do. Get in the pool w/ Jesus. Get in the Word. Talk. Listen. Obey. That kind of stuff. The regular stuff of a believer’s life.

This makes us splash better.

The blue jay wasn't trying to accomplish anything; it was just being blue. You just be you, and be at peace with that. Relax. Rest.

By the way, when you're riding a bicycle, which pedal do you push? They're opposite of each other, you know. Which do you push on?

Whichever one is needing to be pushed.

We've pushed one pedal: who you are is ministry. There's no sweat, no fuss, no panic, nothing you can do. You just are ministry when you walk with Jesus.

Are you ready to push the other pedal now? I'm not going to blow your circuits, am I?

Ministry takes hard work.

Have you noticed that sometimes, ministry is work? If you’re going to be effective in the long run, you’re going to run into seasons when keeping going is a real pain in the Yaktüsk!

In my work of selling technical stuff, most of my customers are churches, and I consider my work to be ministry. I serve churches. They have a need with their sound system, for example, and they call me, and I help them meet their need.

But sometimes, I have to explain technical things to someone who isn't technical, and it tries my patience. Or sometimes, something's gone wrong, and they're angry or confused or offended, and it's hard making any sense with them. Or sometimes, it seems like a thousand little details go wrong with one project.

You've had that happen. You try to help someone, and they take advantage of you. Or you patiently speak truth into their life, and they don't hear. Or worse yet, they do the exact opposite of what you just taught them. Or you have to help them do the same thing over and over and over again.

I had a friend who only called me when he was in trouble. When he called, I wanted to answer the phone with, “Hi Bob. What's wrong now?” He never called unless he was in a panic, and he never applied the scriptural truth I gave him so he was often in a panic, always at the end of his rope, and always expecting me to bail him out. After a few years of it, I got real tired of it!

The thing that drew my attention to this idea so thoroughly was a story in Acts that I was studying when I saw the bluejay that God used as an example for me. I was meditating my way through Acts, and I'd come to Acts 16 and the story of the slave girl with the spirit of divination.

16 Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. 17 This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” 18 And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour.

Now that's ministry!

While I was meditating on this, the Lord drew my attention to Paul's motivation here: he was greatly annoyed. Other translations say he was "wearied out" or "sore troubled" or "grieved" or "vexed." I looked the word up in my Strong's concordance (we have one on the bookshelf for anyone to use who wants).

Here's what it said:

The Greek is 1278 diaponeo {dee-ap-on-eh'-o: }from 1223 and a derivative of 4192, which ends up literally: "through pain" or "by way of great trouble or passionate desire."

Paul was ministering through his pain. There are some times when great ministry only comes through great pain, great trouble or great passion.

By the way, this is normal!

In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul talks about his ministry among the people there:

8 So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. 9 For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.

Paul says similar things in Colossians 1:28:

28 Him [Jesus] we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. 29 To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.

The word “Labor” here is kopiao: “to grow weary, tired, exhausted with toil or burdens or grief”

So I was sitting with the Lord, reflecting on this: “Lord, if I sometimes get tired in ministry, that doesn't really mean I'm unspiritual or weak, does it?”

He answered, “If my Son Jesus got tired in his ministry and had to get alone with me to restore his soul, what makes you think you won't also get tired?”

So what do we do with this pedal? How do we respond in the times when ministry is hard work and we get discouraged, or frustrated, or weary?

The same way: Get in the pool and rest in Jesus. Get in the Word. Talk to Him. Listen. Obey. That kind of stuff. The regular stuff of a believer’s life.

Even Jesus had to get alone with God to restore His soul. What makes you think you don’t need what Jesus needed?

I believe that many of us are spending too much time sweating FOR God and too little time resting IN Him. And as a result, we’re getting Tired. Weary. Worn out.

I believe some of us are too afraid of getting tired and weary that we won’t get out of the pool and get in among the people.

Both of us have to repent. We need to get in the pool. And we need to get out of the pool and go back to camp.

OK. We’ve pushed on both pedals. Now our bicycle is getting somewhere!

The first pedal: Who you are is ministry! We’re like the blue jays.

To be more effective, get in the pool with Jesus.

The second pedal: Ministry takes hard work! We’re called co-laborers with Christ.

To be more effective, get in the pool with Jesus.

Either way: get in the pool with Jesus.

Sunday

God’s Easter Eggs.

I love how the Lord plays hide & seek with us. He hides secrets in the most obscure places, like a parent who hides Easter eggs for their kids to find.

We were in Germany for Easter one spring, and we celebrated Easter with our friends. They had two wonderful little kid. We thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could have an Easter egg hunt for them?” So we brought about 40 lbs. of plastic Easter eggs, and candy to fill them with.

And Easter morning, after church, we hid eggs all over the house for the kids. Because they’re not real big, we hid them in fairly obvious places: on the bookshelf, in the middle of the bed, on top of the potted plants. And because they’re not real big, they had a spectacular time finding all the eggs we’d “hidden”. And if they missed one, we’d give them hints, “You’re getting warmer.” If they went too far, “You’re getting colder.”

Then my teenage kids wanted to find Easter eggs, so we hid them again, but this time it was far more obscure. Underneath the congas. Inside the drawers. Under the leaves of the houseplants. We hid them in places that would make them look, that would make them take time to find all the eggs.

And we have video of all this. It was hilarious!

But then the kids wanted to hide eggs for us adults. They were vicious! They taped them up inside the drums, stuck them inside a crack in the walls, kept some hidden in their own pockets. It took us hours! And of course, they took video of it all, and laughed uproariously at us!

It was a hilarious afternoon. We had an amazing time with our German friends, and with our kids and their kids. We were delighted at how hard the kids pushed themselves. (I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t appear to me that children are always willing to push themselves in difficult circumstances. But add a bribe like candy, and watch them go to work!) It was even fun when the children turned the table and made us parents work hard to find the goodies!

God does that with us. He hides Easter eggs for us. He hides things that He expects us to find, that He wants us to find, but we have to go looking for them and, can we be honest, sometimes we have to look really hard for them. Omniscient beings have an advantage when it comes to hiding things.

Places He hides Easter Eggs:

· In his Word. Have you ever been reading or listening to the Word and suddenly, a verse or a concept grabs your attention? It’s like it says, “There’s something here,” but you don’t know what It is that’s hidden here, yet.

· In signs and wonders. The Bible itself declares that signs, wonders & miracles are given as testimony to a message from him. What is the message hidden in today’s miracle?

· In testimonies. A testimony about what God has done is, according to the angel in Revelation, “the spirit of prophecy.” In other words, it’s communicating a message to our soul, but remember, English is not God’s first language. An encounter with God is often a powerful experience, and occasionally a clear message, but it is not infrequent that he conceals even more significant content underneath the first message. Elisha’s instructions to king Joash were clear, but there was considerable meaning that was not quickly accessible.

· In impressions and imaginations. I’ve learned to recognize that if I get stuck on a song or a verse stuck in my head, it’s worth looking for Easter eggs there.

· In the confusing language of dreams. Not all dreams are from God, of course, but those that are seldom have their message clearly visible to a casual observation; they require searching for interpretation, and often searching deeply.

· In the “coincidences” of everyday life. These can be your own language with God. I have one friend who, when he wakes up in the night, always looks at the digital clock; if it’s a certain pattern, he considers it an invitation from God, and thus far, he has not been disappointed by that pattern. Another friend finds Bible verses in the display of the digital clock.

A very wise man observed this pattern in God’s ways. About three thousand years ago, he wrote,

“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.”

I observe a couple of things in Solomon’s statement:

First, this business of “hide and seek” is a matter of glory. I still hold that God has always intended us for glory, that part of the fall was a fall from glory, and part of right relationship with God involves experiencing his glory, and discovering the glory that he meant for us. It brings God glory to hide “Easter Eggs” for us; it is a manifestation of his glory in us when we chase them down and find them.

It’s not insignificant that he’s speaking of kings. Not everybody who searches things out will be discover glory. It is only for kings that searching a matter out brings glory. The Bible speaks of us as kings and priests, of course. Kings are leaders, overcomers, men and women who set the standard, who decree what will happen in their territory and guard it against incursion or lack; it is these who will find glory by searching out the things that God has hidden. Those not part of the kingdom of God, those who are content to sit quietly in the back, those looking for a quick fix-me-up: these will not find this glory; this glory of discovery is for kings.

Okay, let’s get this next point right out in the open in front of God and everybody: God conceals things from us. More specifically, God hides from us some of the things that are good for us, possibly even some of the things that we need to live as we are called to live on this earth. I point this out because I want to kill the sacred cow that envisions God as some sort of Heavenly Concierge, who has all the answers, and can point us directly to anything we want, and all we have to do is tip him a few bucks.

Inherent in this is the need for us to search things out, to work hard to find the very things that he wants us to find and to have. A casual question and a five dollar bill will not provide us with the answers we seek, with the answers we must have. We must search and we must search hard. (Clue: we must search in him!)

What shall we do with Easter Eggs.

As I’ve been meditating on this whole topic, I find some things stand out to me by way of application.

· I need to manage my expectations of God carefully. I’ve been raised to think of prayer not significantly differently than I think of requests to Santa Claus: I can ask, but after that, there’s nothing I can do to influence the answer to my request, so hold the requests lightly. Not so.

· I need to manage how I see myself. It’s easy to see myself as a powerless person, as a victim of circumstances, as an effect rather than a cause. If I see myself that way, if I respond to my life that way, then I disqualify myself for the hidden, for the deeper things of God. Among other things.

· I need to manage my attention carefully. In our hustle-and-bustle society, it’s easy to miss the still, small whisper that says, “You’re getting warmer.” It’s more difficult to catch that whisper when we weren’t looking to find something (that appears to be his favorite time for an Easter egg hunt!).

· I need to manage my focus. I’ve grown used to instant results, instant answers. This is not that. The process of searching out the things God has hidden is just that: a process. Processes take time. The process of searching also takes persistence, diligence, focus.

Saturday

The Plank in the Eye

A number of believers have been influenced heavily by this passage:

Matthew 7: 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

I believe this verse has been used inappropriately in a number of different circumstances to silence the prophetic voice in the church, and to silence the voice of leadership in the church. Even more often, reference to this passage has been used to silence people that want to stand up and say to a group or an individual, “Mommy, the emperor has no clothes!”

Functionally, it’s often been interpreted as, “You may not speak to a brother on a topic of correction until you yourself are perfect and without fault in that area.” Of course, that’s not actually good exegesis of Jesus’ statement, but saying that doesn’t actually solve the question: if he didn’t say that, then what did he say?

Of course, the opposite issue occasionally shows up: the person who has nothing positive to say, but only the negative. I find them online commonly, arguing with every post in a thread of conversation. It’s hard to respect, but at least, they haven’t fallen into the religious prison made from Matthew 7. I admire that much!

I was reflecting on this recently, reflecting on how I’ve felt the pressure of “don’t rock the boat” that has been based on this verse. As I was repenting for having received the religious muzzle that fearful people had justified with a disapproving scowl and a reference to removing a hypothetical plank from my own eye, when I was interrupted by a thought: “This isn’t about speaking or not speaking. It’s about self-awareness.”

Clearly, this is true: the last part of the teaching gives specific instruction about how to go about removing the spec from my brother’s eye, and in that, it’s consistent with Passages like Matthew 18 and Galatians 6. Jesus clearly expects us to be involved in removing specks from each others lives, but he apparently wants us to see clearly enough to do it well. (We could have a conversation about when it’s appropriate to speak into someone’s life and when it’s not, but that’s another conversation.

Long ago, Socrates’ stated that the unexamined life is not worth living; while I’m not sure I’m qualified to determine whether someone’s life is worth living or not, I can agree that self examination is valuable. A wise man once prayed, “Search me, O God, and try my ways, and see if there be any wicked way in me.”

The statement, “Do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” isn’t saying “don’t speak until certain conditions are met.” What he is saying, apparently, is “Do be aware of what’s going on in your own life. Don’t be unaware that there’s a glaring area that needs attention. Don’t look to fix other people’s sins as an escape from addressing your own sins.”

And the clear implication is this: when you can see clearly, your brother will need your help.

Tuesday

Choosing Your Course in the River

The current move of God, sometimes called revival, is often compared to a river. The illustration is that the “River of God” is this current revival, and we can get in the river, or we can stay on the dry land.

I think it’s time that we expand that metaphor. For those who have been in the river, it’s been good to be in the move of what God is doing. It’s certainly been exciting, fairly often, it’s been confusing, and it has not been boring.

One of the basic truths about a river is that a river never holds still. A river is always moving from its source to its destination. Sometimes, I fear that we’ve missed this truth about the River of God: it’s going somewhere. For this article, I will leave aside the very appropriate questions of whether we approve of where the river is going; I’m going to assume that if you’re in this river, you want to be in this river, and you want to go where it is going.

When I was a kid, my friends and I got some inner tubes, drove upstream, jumped into the local river, and floated down the river. We ended up terribly sunburned, bruised from bouncing off of things, very late to work (the river was slow that day) and altogether, kind of disappointed. I decided that day that floating out of control was not my favorite way to enjoy a river: the reality is that when you’re drifting in a river, like a piece of driftwood, you’re at the mercy of the river’s currents: wherever it goes, you must go. We ended up stock on sandbars more times than I could count.

If you want to be able to choose your position in the river, you must be paddling: forward or back, it doesn’t matter for the purpose of control (though it matters greatly for the purpose of progress). Being intentional give us freedom to choose; if we just float along with the crowds, well always go where the crowds go, and that is certainly not always a good choice. Remember the lemmings.

I have decided that, in this adventure in the river, I want to make progress: I want to choose my path in the river, rather than drift lazily from place to place, I want to avoid the (many) obstacles, and while I am thoroughly enjoying the trip, I really am eager to reach the destination: I want to make choices that take me there quickly. This isnt about control (though some make it that); this is about choosing responsibility over leisure or slothfulness.

Years ago, when I was a young buck, I went on a very real river adventure. A group of us from my college, with a professional adventurer as a guide, went on an expedition in the far north reaches of Canada. Over the course of seven weeks, we canoed 1400 miles (and carried the canoes overland on 40 portages!) over five river systems up near the arctic circle in the territory now known as Nunavut, Canada.

This was back in the day before cell phones: we were pretty well stuck in the arctic north until we made it to Hudson’s Bay, and the little village (eponymously called Eskimo Point) there. There were several dangers from living in the arctic, but the greatest dangers may have been from the rivers themselves. Powerful things, rivers are; they can wrap an 18’ Grumman aluminum canoe around a rock in a river in about half a second. Knowing that danger, we all studied the river very carefully, and we chose our course down the river very carefully.

In reality, there were several dangers that could cause us real troubles in the rivers. All of them came from choosing our course poorly. There were some basic principles we used for choosing our route down the river.

  • When you’re coming up on obstacles in the river, steer clear. The spiritual principle is straitforward: as we travel through this revival with Jesus, there will be obstacles: there will be things that can offend us, thing that are done wrong, mistakes that are made. We have a choice: get out of the river or steer clear of the mistakes, and instead focus on the good things that God is doing in you here. If you want to find problems (and some people do), then you’ll pay a serious price for your labors.

  • There are two places in the natural course of a river, where the river actually flows backwards. Both are dangerous. The first is behind rocks in the middle of river, where the current can draw you in, under the water pouring around the rock and sink you quickly.

(It's curious that the place of “moving backwards” is connected with the obstacles, isn’t it?) The other is along the edge: there are very strong eddies where the water swirls backwards. If you’re not careful, they can flip your canoe in an instant. I know: I’ve done it. Principle: There are some people in the river that are not moving forward in God. There are some folks that have “tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,” but have not moved forward in God. These are also to be avoided. Wherever God is moving, there will be people resisting his move. That does not need to be us.

  • When you’re coming up on multiple rocks in the river, the water forms a “V” between them. Keep to the deep water in the center of that “V”. Even a tiny rapids, if handled poorly, can sink a canoe in seconds. I did experience this one first hand. It was … uncomfortable. Principle: stay in the deep places in God. Don’t snuggle up close to obstacles or offenses: stay as deep as you can in what God is doing.

  • I’ve already mentioned the danger of the current wrapping a canoe around a rock. I’ve seen that done (it didn’t happen on this trip!), and it is very much NOT pretty! Principle: When we are in the River of God, there is real danger from the obstacles. Our ability to participate in the river may be destroyed if we get hung up on the naysayers, on the problems, on the religious spirit that loves to destroy what God is doing.

  • Some rocks never cleared the surface of the water. Just below the surface, they lurked, ready to tear the bottom out of our aluminum canoe. Principle: There are dangers you don’t see. Use your gift of discernment to avoid things that ‘seem’ OK but really aren’t. Failure to discern may hurt you badly.

  • We could get hung up on a gravel bar, or a sandbar. If you don’t watch where you’re going, you may end up watching the rest of your party disappear around the bend while you and your mates jump overboard and get completely cold and wet, as you wrestle your boat off the sandbar and back into the real current. Principle: A wise man once said, “Major on the majors and minor on the minors.” The trick to avoiding the sandbars is to stay where the river is deepest: to train yourself to watch ahead where the deep places are and stay in the deep waters. Those who don’t watch carefully will be the ones stuck on the sandbar.

  • When the river turns, the inside of the turn is shallow, often filled with sandbars or gravel bars. The deep water is toward the outside of the turn, but not the very outside of that turn. The inside of the curve is the sandbar: a wonderful place for a picnic, watching others make progress while you are not. The outer fringes are dangerous: rocks, trees, roots and other freshly exposed obstacles are in the way of your progress. The deepest place is just inside the curve from those obstacles: stay there. Principle: Haven’t we heard this before: Stay in the depths. Stay in the heart of what God is doing and saying. Avoid the fringes. Avoid the shallows. Don’t go there: focus on staying in the depths.

  • There are times when the rapids get too strong, too tumultuous. In times like that, staying to the shallows is a fine way to travel. Principle: there are times when revival is overwhelming. I know a number of people who have gotten burned out on 7-day-a-week meetings, or who have lost their families because they were always following every little thing that God might have been doing. Principle: When things get intense, relax. Don’t feel like you need to be in the middle of everything. Sometimes, being in the middle of everything will kill you.

  • Some places are so dangerous, or are so shallow, that the only thing you can do is get out of the river and carry your boat and all its contents to another place in the river, or to another river. Principle: A revival is the move of God among human beings. It is entirely possible that the humans involved can go completely “off the deep end,” or they can steward the revival so carefully that the whole thing peters out. When it stops bringing life, stop giving your life to it. It’s completely OK to quit participating in something that has been taken over by religion, or that has had all the life choked out of it.

There’s the secret about river travel: if you want to make progress fast, stay in the depths. The riverbed has a profile: there are deep places and shallow places along the entire length of the river.

In a relatively young river, or near its source, the river is likely to have more obstacles, more dangerous rocks and snags. As the river ages, or as you move out of the mountains into the flatlands, the river is less dangerous, but you have far more curves to deal with, along with the erosion that comes with them.

If we commit ourselves to the depths of what God is doing, then we’ll make the best progress, we’ll grow up the fastest, we’ll reach maturity as quickly as possible. It’s true: we’ll miss out on the sandbars, on getting hung up on obstacles, on being destroyed. Won’t that be a shame?