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

Friday

The Curse of Curses

It occurs to me that we the church don’t really understand curses the way we need to. I suspect that God will be releasing a fair bit of new revelation on the subject of dealing with curses over the next several years.
I need to think this through a bit. Fortunately, this is a blog and that’s what blogs are for: to think out loud. Thanks for sharing this with me.
Proverbs 26:2: Like a flitting sparrow, like a flying swallow, So a curse without cause shall not alight.
Obviously, if there’s no cause, any curses aren’t going to stick to me. But in this is the clear inference that if there is cause, then the curses may very well stick to me, and I will be cursed.
Now, on the validity of curses, consider Joshua and the city of Jericho:
Joshua 6:26: Then Joshua charged them at that time, saying, "Cursed be the man before the LORD who rises up and builds this city Jericho; he shall lay its foundation with his firstborn, and with his youngest he shall set up its gates."
Now add this verse from several hundred years later:
1 Kings 16:34: In his days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho . He laid its foundation with Abiram his firstborn , and with his youngest son Segub he set up its gates, according to the word of the LORD, which He had spoken through Joshua the son of Nun.
So Joshua declared a curse on the un-known rebuilder of the city. In other words, there was no cause for that curse to alight, but when a guy named Hiel starts building the city, suddenly curse sticks, and the conditions of the curse kicked in.
Curses are rather like laws. The law of this land – and to a certain extent, the Law of the Old Covenant – are not primarily a statement of “You may not do this,” but more a statement of “If you do this, this is what will happen to you.” The law cannot change behavior (we’ve known that, haven’t we?)
Joshua’s curse never said, “Nobody can ever rebuild this city.” Rather, he said, “If they do, this is what will happen to him.” That’s what curses are like: when the curse has “a cause”, it will stick to the person that gives it the cause, and bring about the results of the curse.
Sometimes, the details of the curse are not real specific, as in Abraham’s covenant with God:
Genesis 12:3: I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
In this case, the curse describes the person who will receive the curse, and the condition that will make the curse stick, and they are the same: whomever curses Abraham (and his descendents, since the blessing was for generations); but it never describes the nature of that curse. Those who curse Abe’s descendents will be cursed, but the nature of that curse are not detailed. I suspect that the curse that falls on the curser is the same curse they fired at Abe’s kids: whatever they curse Abraham’s children with falls on themselves, but that’s mostly an opinion.
For the record, this business of cursing is not for us as believers. Jesus commanded us:
Romans 12:14: Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
Also for the record, Jesus has redeemed us from the curse of the Law:
Galatians 3:13-14: Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree"), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
And there will be an end to the season of curses altogether. In Revelation, John is describing eternity:
Revelation 22:3: And there shall be no more curse , but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.
OK, now for some principles on the subject of curses:
1. Anything we do from obedience to the Law – by extension, anything from a sense of obligation or duty as sole motivation – is cursed.
Galatians 3:10: For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse.
2. A curse may wander around unfulfilled for centuries until it is fulfilled. See the example of Joshua (above), whose curse sat there unfulfilled hundreds of years after Joshua declared it.
3. I can choose whether I get stuck with a curse or not by whether or not I live my life with a cause for that curse.
Now think with me for a minute about application of these principles:
If we put a Christian bumper sticker on our car and drive like hell, then we deserve the curses spoken against us by other drivers. Trust me, they’re being spoken, and passionately. We live under a curse – many curses – because of our driving.
If we have a habit of saying things like “That was stupid!” or “I always do that!” when we make a mistake, we’re speaking curses against ourselves, and they’re likely to stick. We live under curses because of our habits of speech.
We live in a season when our nation looks win disfavor, even anger, against Arab nations, and there is a fair bit of cursing of Iraq or Iran or Saudi Arabia in popular culture. Remember Genesis 12:3: there is a curse on those who curse Abe’s kids, and it also means that anyone who curses the Arab nation may also make themselves a target of this curse, as they are the children of his son Ishmael, who is the father of the Arab nations.
My recommendation is this: stop cursing. (That’s not the same as “stop cussing”, though there is room for that argument as well.) There is no good that comes from speaking evil over people, whether generally (eg. Iraq) or specifically (the guy who just cut you off on the freeway), whether others or yourself. If we deal in curses, we are likely to earn them ourselves, and then the swallow stops flying and the curses come to rest on us; instead of living under the blessing of God, we live under curses, and everything goes wrong. Or those curses rest on someone else, and they have to live with what we’ve foolishly declared over their lives.

Saturday

The Pus of Life: Liquor Puris

I ran across a Latin term the other day, in the context of geek humor, but it made me think. The term was “liquor puris”, a Latin phrase and it means, essentially, pus: the goop that comes out of a pimple or an infection. Yuck.

Nevertheless, as I read about it, I felt the finger of God on it.

Pus, as you’re probably aware, is the byproduct of a serious battle: It’s “actually a sign of your body’s ability to fight infection. Pus means your white blood cells are attacking infections present on or in your body.”

Pus means you’re putting up a fight, you’re fighting off an infection. The infection is the crap that the enemy is trying to infect you with: lies (such as “You deserve this kind of thing”) or identity statements (“This is what you are”), emotions (“I deserve this; I’m this way”), desires (“I want this; I enjoy that”), compromises (“You don’t need to actually live that way!”).

The treatment of a pus-filled infection (as outlined by the WiseGeek) falls into four categories:

  1. Time. Just as your body has a natural and effective immune system, which takes some time to work. Your spirit also has an immune system, and your spirit’s immune system – in a healthy spiritual person – will protect your soul (your mind, will, emotions). The regular maintenance of a love-life with Jesus is enough to handle most of our small pus-filled infections (aka “pimples”). This is why we need to live a life of spiritual passion, not (primarily) spiritual discipline: it is a better immune system. And just living a life in love with Him will be sufficient to keep much of the enemy’s drivel from infecting our soul.
  1. Topical antiseptic and careful hygiene. The purpose of both antiseptic and hygiene is cleanliness: in this application, not letting infections start and/or grow. Purity is an effective weapon against the enemy. There’s a reason that wisdom teaches us that if there’s an area of our life that we’re tempted with, we maintain a higher standard of purity there, so as to not be tempted. That’s why recovering alcoholics don’t drink socially. (But someone else who is not tempted towards drunkenness may have a beer with dinner.) This is also why fasting is a powerful tool: it works to reduce the natural desire of the flesh to take leadership of the soul, subjecting it to my spirit’s leadership.
  1. Heat. Medically, that’s a hot compress to help the pus drain out more quickly. Metaphorically, it’s still a process of turning up the heat. Spiritually, we turn up the heat – we apply external heat – by worshiping more or with greater passion, by sitting under more or more anointed teaching, by participating in more prayer gatherings or participating with more intensity. Turning up the heat is a great strategy to fight off the infections of the enemy. It’s also a powerful tool for igniting passion in our spirit. (I would add that while a life of passion is “the normal Christian life,” that life should not depend on a schedule heavy with prayer gatherings, additional church services or conferences: those are the gravy on the meat, not the meat itself.)
  1. Antibiotics. There are times that our body just can’t win the fight. And there times that our normal Christian life – our personal practices and our community practices – just aren’t enough to overcome a particularly vigorous infection. There are times when we need to get ourselves into the hot-seat and get a bunch of seasoned warriors to lay hands on, anoint with oil, and go to battle on my behalf. James 5:14 is not limited to physical sickness. There’s a time to visit the healing rooms. There’s a time to sign up for Cleansing Streams or Sozo Ministry or whatever inner healing & personal deliverance ministry you trust. There’s a time to gather an increased level of prayer support for a season.
Finally, it is probably worth noting that a small amount of pus is typically a sign of good health: it’s a sign that our immune system is working as it should. Similarly, a life without some opposition, without some things that need to be resisted, washed or guarded against is probably not being as effective as we should be.

The reality is that the stuff that makes infections – staphylococcus bacteria, or staph – actually lives on pretty much all human skin; it only becomes a problem when it gets inside the body. We are not intended to live in a staph-free environment. We’re to live in the midst of the world. We’re just not to let infection inside of us.

Horns or Craftsmen?

Recently, there have been a number of prophetic words about a season of shaking that has been coming on the people of God. We’ve been living out of Hebrews 12 for a number of years, in that God has been disciplining / discipling / training His children, requiring us to grow up.
Now, the prophets have been saying we’re living in the latter part of the chapter:
At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, "Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens." The words "once more" indicate the removing of what can be shaken – that is, created things – so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
If God is shaking both the earth and the heavens, then it is likely that many of His people are feeling shaken. But He declares that He’s shaking for a reason: He’s removing the things that can be shaken – the things that tempt us to trust them rather than Him – so that we will trust in the things which cannot be shaken, the only things left to us.
It is into this context that I ran across Zechariah, chapter one:
Then I raised my eyes and looked, and there were four horns. And I said to the angel who talked with me, "What are these?"
So he answered me, "These are the horns that have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem."
Then the LORD showed me four craftsmen. And I said, "What are these coming to do?"
So he said, "These are the horns that scattered Judah, so that no one could lift up his head; but the craftsmen are coming to terrify them, to cast out the horns of the nations that lifted up their horn against the land of Judah to scatter it."
The prophet has been writing the prophecies of comfort for God’s people that God is speaking to him. He looks up and what does he see: the horns that are coming against God’s people. He’s in the midst of prophesying blessing on them ("The LORD will again comfort Zion, And will again choose Jerusalem.") and he looks up from that and the first thing he sees is trouble; he sees horns scattering God’s people. The horns are a symbol of strength, in this case, specifically of peoples (“nations”) that exalt their own strength against the people of God.
But God corrects his vision: God shows him the rest of the picture, four craftsmen that the prophet had not yet seen. The enemy had indeed scattered God’s people, shaken their focus, divided them. But the craftsmen God pointed out had stopped them: first they terrified the horns (and presumably the powers that wielded them), then they cast them out of the land.
We’re like that sometimes, especially when things are getting shaken: we look around and see the things that are coming against us better than we see the provision of God. We quickly see the strength of the enemy and miss the greater work that God is doing.
Often we whine, “God, make it stop!” and the result would be enemies in our midst that are not as effective at what they’re doing: they’re still working, but their work is limited; we tolerate a degree of the enemy’s work, and we have the strength in ourselves to resist him.
God, however, is seldom satisfied with compromise in us, and does not appear to value our capacity to accomplish things – even good things – in our own strength. Therefore, He lets the enemies run rampant for a while, teaching us that our own strength is insufficient; then He terrifies them and boots them out. So instead of partially effective enemies among us, we have terrified enemies that have been completely removed from us. So tell me, which is the better condition?
In this season of shaking everything that can be shaken, it’s easy to see the shaking first and best. It’s easy to feel shaken, to feel our grip slipping from the things that we turn to for comfort, to feel the panic rising. Those things are in fact actually happening; in fact, they’re the goal of the process: that we would trust in nothing except God. These are actually answers to our prayers. And still we feel the panic as our grip on our habits and our crutches slips.
I’ve been praying, “Lord, show me the craftsmen. Let me see the things that You’re doing, not just the things that scare me, not just the things that the enemy is doing that shake me. But whether I see it or not, please complete Your work!” For when the enemy shakes us, he’s usually indirectly accomplishing the purposes of God, and in fact, it’s happening in this season.
Some of us are doing especially well at discerning the shaking, and we need to better see the provision of God, the results that He’s leading us into. Others among us are hardly noticing the shaking, whether because they have such a light hold on the temporal things being shaken, or because they have such a good grip on God; I admire them, and I aspire to be more like them: fixing my eyes on the things that God is doing, even when I have to push the horns out of the way to see Him.

Tuesday

Judging Judgmentalism

As the guy said in The Gods Must Be Crazy: “Ai yi yiii.” I hate this kind of stuff.

There are a number of Christian websites that are passionately critical of Todd Bentley and the Florida Outpouring (which is now on the road, currently in Califorrnia). Hank Hanegraff of CRI, the Christian Research Institute is one of the most visible and most vocal. A friend recently asked me an opinion of Hank’s critical article against Todd and his ministry. It got me thinking. If you’re interested in this kind of stuff, you might want to read that posting on his blog, though it’s not entirely necessary if you’re at all familiar with the current standards of criticizing somebody different than ourselves.

It appears to me that so many critics of Todd, Hank included, are fundamentally evangelical: that much is a fine thing. The problem is that they seem to make the assumption that the only legitimate form of Christianity is evangelicalism, and everybody else is a heretic, and they're making a name for himself denouncing them. And they're using rather inflammatory language in doing it.

It’s interesting that Hank's biggest complaint against Todd Bentley that an usher wouldn’t let someone come to Todd for healing when they were discussing testimonies, not praying for the sick; they'd done that earlier. Todd’s usher practiced Todd’s teaching, which is (I suspect) a doctrine that Hank and many evangelicals would probably support: Todd is not the “healer”, but Jesus is the healer. Hank’s friend was prevented from coming to Todd as the “healer”, which is consistent with Todd’s teachings, and probably Hank’s too. (Though I allow for the possibility that he did it poorly or without tact.)

In addition, Hank’s friend was defying the instructions from the leaders of the meeting (which were essentially that “This is a time for testimonies, not for requests for healing.”), and Hank finds fault with Todd not permitting such rebellion. Moreover, Hank blames Todd for the emotional letdown and disappointment that his friend felt when Todd’s team stood up for two (appropriate) standards: they wouldn’t permit him to bust up the meeting, or to venerate Todd as “the healer.” Hank’s criticism strikes me as disingenuous here.

I also find it interesting that Hank defends his own judging of Todd while not validating others’ judging of Hank’s critical remarks.

Let me make it clear for the record, just in case Woodward and Bernstein (or their heirs) get ahold of this post: Todd Bentley makes me very uncomfortable. I don’t like how he does stuff. I don’t like how he does his meetings. I don’t like the way he relates to people. I don’t like the way his dad relates to people. I don’t like the truck he drives. I don’t understand the tattoos, and I think they could have been done much more artistically. (Note that these complaints are all about how he does things, not what he does; the difference is significant.)

I know something whereof I speak. I have business dealings with his ministry. I’ve met him and his father several times. I know well several people that appear to be Todd’s personal friends; I’ve been to a number of his meetings, as well as watched (as long as I could) some of his recent meetings on GOD.TV.

Having said that, I have to say that Todd is the best example I know of of the scripture that says, “We hold this treasure in earthen vessels.” Todd is a very earthy vessel, but the treasure inside is real: this is the real gift, and Todd – with all his warts and tattoos – is my brother. While I’m uncomfortable with his style, I’m convinced that the content is the real thing: God really does work through him to a degree that He does not in other mortals, including Hank, certainly including me, and possibly including yourself, dear reader.

Does that make Todd any less weird? Heck no. The guy’s covered in tattoos, is lousy in interpersonal relations, burns himself out with some (decreasing) regularity, and has a really weird public speaking style. He’s also – lest we forget – functionally a baby Christian: he only got saved a few years (was it 5?) ago from a life of drugs and violence: this guy was not raised in Sunday School: he looks like it and he acts like it.

The guy lacks maturity because isn't yet mature: he hasn’t had the time to develop it. He has his “flesh” hanging out all over the place. But probably no more than I do. Maybe less than Hank does (though I’m not confident that – despite Hank’s vociferous disputations to the contrary – I have the authority to judge that).

Todd's critics use the Bereans, as Hank does, to justify their judgments (Hank's word, not mine). In the Bible, the Bereans were commended for comparing Paul’s doctrine with scripture. Two conditions: judging doctrine and judging by scripture. It doesn’t appear to me that Hank is doing either. He’s judging Todd the man (calling him a “spiritual fraud,” a “liar,” among other things, none of which is about doctrine), and judging him by stories (while denouncing Todd’s stories simultaneously) and by “common sense”. Aargh. That’s not right!

The frustrating part is that both of them, stinky as they are, are my brothers in Christ.

The result that I see is that people are disappointed, hurt and confused by Hank’s ministry every bit as much as by Todd’s. But in the process, Hank is smearing everyone who is different than himself with slander, whereas Todd is trying hard (embarrassingly hard, IMHO) to point people to Jesus. I can’t tell to whom Hank is trying to point people; I’m not convinced it’s to Jesus, or at least not to the God of Love that I know Him to be. In other words, it's worth examining the fruit of both ministries: when people encounter Hank and Todd, what is the result; do either of them bring people closer to Christ, closer to other Christians, inspire us to be more passionate about loving God?

So I wish my brother Hank and others like him would just shut the hell up. I mean that literally: it seems to me that their words further the agenda of hell more effectively than that of Heaven.

(Isn’t that funny: the right-wing fundamentalist preaching inclusion? Sheesh. I know I make a pretty poor right wing fundamentalist, but I still get accused of it. )

One more in the sake of fairness. But first, let me ask this: is the Bible the standard for our behavior today? And if it is, do we limit ourselves to only what the Bible permits, or do we permit ourselves everything that the Bible does not limit (whether by command or by principle)? I know many Christians who say they espouse the former: if the Bible doesn’t permit it, then I don’t do it! But they drive a car. And they brush their teeth. And they use flush toilets, power tools and clean underwear, none of which is in the Bible. The Amish come closest to that standard, and they don’t come particularly close.

Most believers actually live (regardless of their doctrines) by the second: if the Bible doesn’t prohibit it, then neither do I. (Well, it could be argued that a fair percentage of American Christians don’t limit themselves at all, but that’s another conversation.)

Todd gets in a lot of trouble for living that standard doctrinally. He teaches some weird things that are not Biblical. They are also not anti-biblical; that is: the Bible does not teach against what he is teaching, neither do his doctrines contradict Biblical doctrine, but they do not conform to the stories and teachings in the Bible either. For example, I’ve heard stories that vilify him for speaking about an angel named Emma (I’ve not heard him directly on this). Is it weird? Yes! I mean, "Heck yes!" Is it Biblical? Well, not in the strictest sense: as far as I know the Bible names only three angels in all of scripture, and Emma is not on that list. But does it contradict Biblical teaching? Not really. It’s like the subject of toilet paper: pretty much ignored in Scripture (possibly for good reason).

Maybe it’s time to shut up about how God chooses to deal with His son and his servant Todd Bentley, and do what He’s telling us to do. Hmm. I suppose that would apply to His servant Hank Hanegraff as well. I think I'll shut up now. But please, let's not waste our time criticizing brothers who do things differently than we do.

Saturday

Mercy out of Control

Today we’re talking about a politically incorrect subject: mercy out of control.

It will be easy to miscommunicate on this subject, so let me state my premise, and then we’ll go to work on the subject: It’s my observation that most of the gifts of mercy that operate in our culture – both secular and spiritual – are messed up – out of control – and as a result, our mercy often does more harm than good. There are people who have what the Bible describes as a gift of mercy, and they’re real gifts. But too often, the gift is used inappropriately.

Let’s contrast this a couple of ways: First, there are others, who don’t have that gift, for whom it is less instinctive to respond with mercy; we’re not going to discuss these people today. Second, it’s possible to use this gift out of impure or inadequate motivation as it is for any other gift, and here is where there are some interesting lessons.

Jim Jones had a real gift (though it was clearly not a gift of mercy!). His gift was drawing people together and leading them toward a common goal, and he did that well, but he did not use it for God’s glory: rather it ended up with a bowl of strange Kool-Aid and an entire community dead because of his abused gift. Jim Bakker had a real gift as he started Heritage USA; he drew a lot of people and a lot of investment, and then things went haywire and his wife Tammy Faye divorced him when Heritage USA fell down around his ears. We see pastoral gifts, evangelistic gifts, perhaps even apostolic gifts used without the direction of the Holy Spirit, used for self-serving motivation (the media loves to report those errors!); why then do we assume that the gift of mercy is immune from such error?

The other day I saw a mother and child in a grocery store; you’ve seen them too. The child is acting out in selfishness or in rebellion, and instead of disciplining the child, mom capitulates and the child gets her candy and is appeased for the moment. (We see the opposite often enough as well: a parent in the grocery store who disciplines the child to the point of abuse, but that’s not the point of this article.)

A friend of mine (we’ll call him “Bob”) has several teenage kids. One of his daughters (“Suzy”) had moved out of his home and in with her boyfriend the drug dealer. She became addicted to a variety of drugs, and predictably fell on hard times, and wanted to come home. Both mom and dad are mercy-driven people and invited Suzy to come back home, but she came back with the drug habit and with the boyfriend. Over the next several months, some of the other kids also began experimenting with drugs.

Bob’s mercy was out of control.

The goal here is not to accuse or judge the addicted daughter, though doubtless she made her share of mistakes. The bigger error here may have been mom and dad not tempering their mercy with wisdom. Their choice was not between mercy and judgment (that one’s over: the Book is clear that “mercy triumphs over judgment”), but rather between the mercy of emotions and the mercy that is built on wisdom.

Yes, Bob felt bad for his daughter, and because of his daughter, and he wanted to rescue her. Maybe he saw some street people, and imagined Suzy begging for handouts on the street and sleeping under a bridge. He saw the options of judgment (“You made your choice, now live with it!”) and mercy (“You poor thing! Here, let me fix it for you!”) and chose the latter. That was a mistake that we make all too often in the church: we exercise mercy from our flesh.

I understand Bob feeling bad for his daughter! But his mercy – being untempered by wisdom – endangered his other kids and left Suzy’s sin free to control her. His error was in the analysis: the choice was not between judgment and mercy; it was between foolish mercy and wise mercy.

I tell these stories to illustrate my premise: most of the mercy gifts in the church today are out of control. First, we make the same mistake that Bob did: we mistakenly think that we can only choose between judgment and mercy. Since we begin with a lie, we can’t expect to discover the truth easily.

The second mistake we make is that we let the world tell us how we should express mercy, rather than letting God instruct us, and the world is not well informed in the wisdom of God. So the world says, “Do something, for pity’s sake!” and that may be part of the problem: pity is not the answer.

We see people making poor choices, and we want to make those choices for them. We see people hurting, and we want to ease the pain. But in reality, if we make their choices, then they never learn wisdom; if we ease their pain, then they never learn the lessons that discomfort can bring.

Just like Jim Jones’s gift of leadership desperately needed God’s wisdom, so Bob’s gift of mercy needed God’s wisdom. In fact, I’m not convinced that any of God’s gifts are going to function properly without God’s wisdom, but we tend to overlook the need for wisdom with mercy.

So rather than just jumping in to “rescue” and “fix it” and “save them”, I am proposing that we the church actually look to our Head for wisdom: “How would You like to meet this need, Lord?” Because none of us can claim to be more merciful than God, and certainly none of us can claim more wisdom than He. And because we’re damaging people by rescuing them unwisely.

So when we see people hurting, let’s stop and pray. Let's respond with the wisdom of God, not react out of our flesh.

Sunday

A Warning About Declarations to a Prophetic Community

We’ve been hearing for several years now: our words have substantial power, not just in the lives of those we speak to, but they change realities; they release spiritual power. Before I go any further, I want to affirm some of the basic truths held there:
· One of the ways that I’m created like my creator is that, like Him, my words carry power and create or change the reality of the world around me.
· This is one of the reasons that the Word commands those working in the prophetic realm to speak “comfort edification and encouragement.”
· We can exercise this authority intentionally (perhaps as declarations) or unintentionally.
OK. Now on to the meat of this article. Jeremiah 28 contains a warning about making specific declarations that are not within the will of God. But first an overview of declarations.
There are at least three categories of Declarations:
1. Those things that God has already said to us specifically. We can declare these boldly, knowing with certainty that we’re working within the purposes of God.
2. Those things that fall within the parameters of God’s blank checks: “Ask whatever you want,” He said, “and you shall have it.” There were conditions, of course: primarily that we be well and truly “in Him.” (See Matthew 21, Mark 11, John 14, John 15, John 16 as examples.)
3. Those that are our will, for our own benefit, but are not part of God’s plan This includes those things that we already know are contrary to God’s will.
And this is where Hananiah and Jeremiah 28 come in; I recommend you read it again now. Please. God had declared one thing (70 years under Nebuchadnezzar’s yoke), and Hananiah declared something completely contrary (only 2 years in captivity). Some thoughts:
1. As a prophet, Hananiah was aware that he was directly contradicting Jeremiah’s word; he broke Jerry’s wooden yoke. It was a prophetic challenge, and he knew it.
2. The scriptures don’t identify Hananiah’s prophetic mantle any differently than Jeremiah’s: he was not a “false prophet.”
3. Hananiah was certainly declaring something far more comfortable than that which the true word of the Lord had declared. If I were going into captivity, I would prefer 2 years to seventy. And certainly it’s easy to understand why someone would want to be seen as a prophet who stood up to the judgment that was facing them.
4. God (through Jeremiah) declares he has not sent Hananiah with this message, and that the message he is speaking consists of lies, and that he was teaching the people “rebellion against the Lord.” Surely a prophet and the son of a prophet would know that he was not sent by God.
In verse 11, Hananiah prophesies the breaking of Nebuchadnezzar’s yoke, and he does it from his own will, contrary to God’s will. Yet in verses 13 & 14, God tells Jeremiah that things are different now because of Hananiah’s word. In other words, even though Hananiah was prophesying “lies”, even though his declarations were self-motivated, they had effect.
God backs up Hananiah’s prophetic word, even though it was in error. But it wasn’t a stamp of approval of his ministry. It cost Hananiah his life:
“Hear now, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, but you make this people trust in a lie. 16 Therefore thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, I will cast you from the face of the earth. This year you shall die, because you have taught rebellion against the LORD.’”(Jeremiah 28:15&16)
Now, this is Old Testament, but it seems that God honored the rebellious prophet’s word, knowing that it was a rebellious word, but he mitigated the effects of that word in two ways:
1. He removed the prophet from the scene. Hananiah actually died 2 months later.
2. He does an end around to accomplish His purposes in spite of Hananiah’s fulfilled word: “You have broken the yokes of wood, but you have made in their place yokes of iron.” (v13,14)
Hananiah’s word intended to reduce the yoke that Jeremiah had prophesied (from 70 years to 2 years), but instead, it increased the severity of the yoke (from a relatively comfortable wooden yoke to an immovable iron one).
The lesson in this: as a prophetic people created in the Creator’s image, our words have power, even in rebellion. But we must guard our words so that we speak what we really want to see created. Yes, God will mitigate the effects of our unwise words, but who among us wants to find himself opposed by the Almighty?
Let’s guard our hearts and our words. Obviously we must run from Hananiah’s example of defying the word of the Lord for his own good. But if we are to be judged for every idle word (and we are), then we must guard our casual speech as well.
We will be a prophetic people if we follow in the footsteps of our Father. Let’s speak “comfort edification and encouragement,” as far as possible, but whatever we speak, let it be His words, not ours.

Are Christians Lazy?

I was walking along the lake this morning, praying. (Trust me, 6:30 AM in February qualifies as “the cool of the day!”) As we walked, he brought back to my mind a hope, a dream really, regarding ministry that He and I had talked about decades ago. I realized that I’ve seen nothing come of it.
I need to explain something before I go too much further here. I’m a direct communicator. God knows this and seems to not be offended by it. He sometimes speaks directly with me; it works for us.
So I’m reflecting on this ministry dream, and it crosses my mind that it hasn’t come to pass; in fact, I’ve known several folks with similar dream, and theirs hasn’t come about yet either. Hmmm. Oh look, it’s beginning to snow.
And the voice of the Holy Spirit whispers in the back of my thoughts: “That’s because my people are lazy.”
Whoa. Suddenly He had my attention, and he unfolded a series of thoughts in my mind, like a slideshow; no, more like an MTV video clip: fast, active, and full of energy. I feel the need to share some of those thoughts.
In many ways, the work of the Western Church has been functionally indistinguishable from the work of the secular world in which we live. Not completely, of course, but in some critical ways. We’ve often governed our congregations by political process (show me one place in the Word where the people voted; there is one, but it’s not our model). We’ve accomplished what we considered the work of the Kingdom, but we’ve been directed by our own goals and we reached them by our own strength.
There’s been a growing movement in the church that has rejected the concept of using the arm of the flesh to accomplish the work of the Spirit, and encouraged a more Spirit-led model of ministry. For example, we don’t often see Jesus setting goals and forming committees; rather, we hear Him talk about doing and speaking only “what He sees the Father doing,” and we see the supernatural results that He had, and we want to be like Him!
Then we read the story of Mary and Martha, and we hear Jesus rebuke Martha and affirm Mary, and we think, “Well, I should sit at His feet, not run around working hard, or He’ll rebuke me too.”
Unfortunately, what worked for Him turns into religion and passivity in us. We become religious because we forsake our vision for the marketplace for “more spiritual” vision. We become passive when we look at Jesus’ statements as if He sits around waiting for God to give Him direction.
A verse that has driven us is poorly translated Isaiah 40:31: But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. We see “wait” and we think about sitting in the lobby of the doctor’s office reading antiquated news-magazines, and that’s made us lazy. The Hebrew word actually means “to wait or to look for with eager expectation,” and is the root word for the making rope: becoming intertwined. When Jesus “waited”, He did it early in the morning or late at night: He worked hard to wait, to intertwine Himself with Father. Maybe that’s the reason that we don’t accomplish as much as He: we don’t work as hard at waiting.
I’ve encountered an attitude that appears to be uncomfortably commonplace among believers, particularly among believers who believe in and like to associate with the power of God. We wouldn’t put it this way, but it’s accurate: we kind of wait for God to hand us our dreams on a silver platter.
There’s a reason that Bill Gates or Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton are as successful as they are, despite the fact that they don’t (as far as anyone knows) spend much time waiting on God: they work hard.
We as believers should work as hard as unbelievers work, though certainly we don’t worship market dominance, wealth, or power as they do. Jesus didn’t rebuke Martha for working; He rebuked Martha for dismissing Mary’s choice as insignificant, or for working without having spent time sitting at His feet first. He never said, “Be more like Mary,” perhaps because if we all did nothing more than sit at Jesus’ feet, nothing would get done. I rather suspect that the goal is to be like both Martha and Mary. As Mike Bickle says, “Lovers make better workers.”
I hear people complain that if they take the time to be with God, time to be with their family, time for church, then the won’t have time to do the work of the kingdom. First, I suspect that’s more of an excuse than a reality, at least in the lives of some who have made that complaint to me. And second, I’ve become willing to suggest that we seriously cut back on the number of services we attend in order to spend more time with God, with family, and in the work of the kingdom.
So, to answer the question that I posed in the title of this posting, yes, I think Christians (including myself) are lazy, and we’re lazy because we have been poorly instructed. When we learn who we are in Christ, when we learn that it is our work to reign with Him, when we figure out that “waiting” has more to do with warfare than it does with killing time, then I think we’ll find our dreams come to pass, our promises fulfilled, and His kingdom come.

Looking at the problem will not solve the problem.

Not that long ago, the transmission on our car went out. It was probably my fault: I drove it to Portland and back when it was short on transmission fluid, and when I got back, it was bumping and shifting funny. Sometimes it wouldn’t shift gears, and sometimes it would shift unexpectedly. Sometimes it would drop out of gear into neutral: that was particularly exciting when I was on the freeway in cruise control!

For days, probably weeks, I thought about that problem. I drove the car and listened to the transmission noises. I talked with knowledgeable friends about my stupid transmission. I examined our finances (or rather the lack thereof) and how they would (or would not) apply to transmission costs. I studied transmission problems on the internet, and got involved in some chat groups that helped diagnose the problem. I whined. I worried. I probably cursed. I hated that transmission. It kept me from sleeping for days.

But for reasons that I still don’t understand, the transmission never improved as I examined it and its problems. It kept dropping out of gear on the freeway. It kept shifting funny. The problem never went away, no matter how hard I examined it, no matter how much I worried about it!

Talking about car problems makes this behavior look kind of obvious, but we do the same thing in our personal lives. You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) at how many people think that talking about their husband’s problems will fix him. You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) at how many church members act as if talking about the pastor’s problems will make them go away. When we ask for prayer, we do it in great detail, making sure that the folks we’re talking to understand every detail and feel every pain, to the point that we often forget to pray for the problem ourselves. (Sometimes such a detailed prayer request functions as gossip in a thin disguise; that's another issue altogether, which I am not addressing today.)

Looking at the problem will not solve the problem. I don’t care what the problem is, or how desperately I want it solved. Some of us – and I think this is worse in the church – seem to think that thinking about our problem, or talking about it, or worrying about it, will somehow solve the problem.

We seem to think that if we let the problem slide out of the center of our attention, somehow we’re being irresponsible, somehow we’re not doing our job, that if we worry enough, somehow we’re not responsible for the problem we’re worrying about.

Looking at the problem will not solve the problem; looking at the solution will solve the problem.

I can examine the problem seven ways from Sunday, and I won’t make it better. Until I stop looking at the problem and start looking at the solution, all I’m doing is losing sleep and generating excess stomach acid. Until I stop whining about my problem, all I’m doing is spreading my problem among my listeners; it’s like sneezing in their face: it does nothing good for me and it is likely to make them sick as well.

We live in a day and age when problems are all our culture wants to talk about. (Good thing we know how to separate ourselves from our culture, eh?) The news is full of problems. Gossip columns abound and are becoming more strident in their declarations of the woes of the rich and famous. Television is littered with commercials declaring our problems and why we need to spend our money on their products to solve a problem we didn’t have until they selflessly told us about it. It’s an all-out assault on our souls!

I’m convinced that Hebrews 12 is one of the more important weapons for the season we’re in.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. –Hebrews 12:2-3

There are two commands in here: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, and consider Jesus. The anonymous author of Hebrews adds some detail: Jesus had problems of His own. In fact, it will be a whole lot more valuable – the writer encourages – for us to look at His problems and how he responded to them, than it is to look at ourselves.

Look again: in between the two commands to look at Jesus, it describes Him:

o He’s the author of my faith;

o He perfects (or fulfils, completes) my faith;

o He endured the cross by focusing on the joy set before Him;

o He has gone through the troubles and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

In other words, I can acknowledge the problem, but I do it from the perspective of the solution; I can look at the problem, but I must do it from His perspective!

If I stop to think about it this whole passage is all about me! He didn’t endure the cross because it seemed like a fun thing to do on a Friday afternoon in Palestine. He did it because there was stuff that kept me from Him (it’s called “sin”), and the cross was the only way to move it out of the way. He did it because he looked beyond the pain (the cross) to the joy set before Him. (Yes, Tinkerbelle, I am His happy thought!)

Now if the Incarnate Son of God needed to look past His troubles to the joy on the other side, what makes me think that I need to focus on my troubles? Am I somehow better or stronger or wiser than Him?

One last observation from the passage: the conjunction “so that” indicates cause and effect: do this “so that” that happens. Here, it’s “consider Him so that you won’t grow weary and lose heart.” If you’re weary, if you’re losing heart, this passage says it could well be because you’re not looking at Him. The solution is to change your perspective – to repent – and to look at Him instead of your own problems.

And that problem transmission? One day, I finally looked at the solution: I took the car to a transmission expert. He took a quick look at it, and said, “Oh sure, I know what that is! Come back in a two days.” He fixed it. And now my transmission is fine.

Looking at the problem will never solve the problem. Looking at the Solution is how to solve the problem.

Thursday

New Weapons for New Seasons

I’ve been accused of wielding the “warfare” metaphor more than is perhaps strictly necessary. Perhaps it’s true. It’s what I have; bear with me please.

I was awakened this morning in the middle of the dream. As I worked to get my bearings, the Holy Spirit whispered to my spirit: “You just had a dream. It was about the need to use a different weapon in each different season that comes upon you.”

After talking with my bride for a minute, I stumbled into the … er, the “library” and God & I continued our conversation. I’ll cut to the chase.

I believe that the circumstances we confront, the “battle” if you can handle the warfare metaphor, will be changing, perhaps rapidly. Moreover, every time the nature of the circumstances change, we’ll need a new weapon. For example, I was instructed that right now, I need to use the weapon of “Rest in the Spirit.” I’m actually pretty good at resting, at least at physical rest, and I’m gaining expertise at resting my soul – my mind, my will and my emotions. But I’m not as good at resting in Him. Nevertheless, that’s my weapon for this week.

I heard that, at least for me, the battle will be changing at the end of this week, when I will need the new weapon of “Confronting the Lie with the Truth.” Sounds cheesy, I know. Nevertheless, I believe that this is a legitimate warning for others as well: we’ll need to develop proficiency in a number of weapons (or “disciplines” if you like that better) to confront a variety of assaults against us in the coming weeks and months.

Later this morning, after this whole interesting conversation, I received an email from a friend in Canada, warning that he’s hearing God talking about what he calls “a major initiative by the enemy” in the realm of “dead spirits rising.” I translate that to include “Things that I have overcome are coming back for another shot at me,” and indeed many folks I know have been dealing with that in the past 24 hours or so.

So you can take this warning as you like: it has cost you nothing and it may be worth nothing to you. As for me and mine, we’re going to keep our eyes open for changes in the circumstances that confront us, and keep our ears open for appropriate responses in the Spirit to keep us in all this.

Sunday

The Gospel According to Zelda

My kids are experts at videogames, as are their peers. I don’t know anyone of my generation that plays the kind of games that the teenagers do, so I took on The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. My daughter is my tour guide through Zelda’s lands, and she coaches my battles with the bosses, but she still thinks it’s strange that her fifty-something dad is playing Zelda.

I’m playing the game for several reasons, but I think God has other reasons. For me, I want to have fun, yes, but more than that, I want to understand the mindset of the games because it influences their culture and generation: I want to understand that influence; after all, that generation is already assuming the leadership of the Church in North America.

I’ve been learning some really interesting life lessons from video games. Zelda, at least, encourages values like teamwork, curiosity, persistence, loyalty. But did you know that Zelda is an excellent training tool for learning about spiritual warfare? I was stunned!

Think about it: these games – Zelda included – are all about moving into a new territory, overcoming the enemy in those places, learning lessons, discovering treasures, and finding weapons in the new territory, taking out the big boss (the stronghold), and then finally occupying the territory. Along the way, we get shot at, we overcome enemies; if we fail the test, then we go back to the beginning of the level (“Game Over”) and we try again. If we succeed, then (usually) we’re given back our “life points” (we’re healed) and we emerge a more formidable warrior.

That strikes me as a pretty good picture of the real world, or at least one aspect of the real world: As we grow, God brings us into new territory – like He did with the Israelites in Exodus, but the new territory has not been pre-conquered for us.

Our job – like in Zelda – is to run around discovering what is waiting for us in the new territory: what opportunities, what weapons, what enemies, what treasures. We capture the treasures, pick up and learn the weapons, overcome the enemies, and grow in experience and strength through the whole experience. Eventually we confront a substantial enemy (the “big boss” of the level) and it takes everything we have learned and every weapon we’ve found to overcome him, but when we do, his plunder is ours, his territory is now ours, and we are more formidable than we’ve ever been.

When Israel had conquered Canaan, they suddenly had a homeland for themselves that was among the richest in the world. When we conquer the enemies and landmines in the territory that God gives us, we have new wisdom, new strength, new influence. Obstacles and temptations that would challenge and threaten us are suddenly insignificant. Life blooms around us, and people and ministries are strengthened by our presence in their lives. It takes everything we have, but the reward is worth the cost!

Besides, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us – like my daughter is doing for me – to help us find the enemies, to show us the weapons and the treasure caches, to guide us along the way. We can do this!

Saturday

Invest Yourself in Your Community

It had been only three or four days since I heard first whisper to me, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you,” and in those few days, two other people have come to me with the same message. They’re the first two people who have brought that particular verse to me in more than a decade.

Jeremiah 29:3-9: “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. ‘Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. ‘Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.’ “For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream. ‘For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them,’ declares the LORD.

There is a commonly held opinion in the church today that we are now raising the last generation that will live on this planet, that the end of this world is near and that Jesus will soon come back to collect His bride and take home to Him in Heaven. I’ve known some young believers who jokingly engage in “Rapture Practice”: standing outdoors and jumping towards heaven, arms outstretched, as if to be taken heavenward any second.

And I’ve heard some Christians grow frustrated with the leaders of this world, and write them off with, “Aww, they can have it!” the clear implication being that they are soon to abandon this world for the next. I remember old hymns by the names of “I’ll Fly Away” and “I’ve Got A Mansion, Way Up Yonder.”

On the other hand, there are other believers who live from day to day, not paying much attention to the imminent return of Christ, or to the degradation of the world around them. Some display a measure of irresponsibility, but most live as members of society, holding down a job, raising a family, making mortgage payments, and attending church faithfully. Whether they believe in an imminent rapture or not appears to have no visible bearing on their behavior. They’re the same today as they were ten years ago, and the same as their fathers were thirty years ago.

Both groups are in error, of course; the “Steady Eddie’s” for ignoring the approaching Day, and the Rapture Fanatics for ignoring their assignments on Earth.

The writer of Hebrews encourages us to be away of the drawing near of that day, and to make changes in our lives accordingly:

Hebrews 10:24-25: And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (emphasis added)

The way I see it, we’re supposed to live for heaven, but we’re supposed to live on earth. We live with our eyes on our Heavenly Father, but our hands on the work that He’s given us to do on this earth.

Scripture is given, you recall, as an example to us. Daniel is an example:

Daniel 2:48-49 Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts; and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon. 49 Also Daniel petitioned the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego over the affairs of the province of Babylon; but Daniel sat in the gate of the king.

And Joseph is an example:

Genesis 41:39-45: Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you. 40 You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you." 41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt."

42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring off his hand and put it on Joseph's hand; and he clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. 43 And he had him ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried out before him, "Bow the knee!" So he set him over all the land of Egypt. 44 Pharaoh also said to Joseph, "I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no man may lift his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt."

There’s a verse that I’ve been puzzling about for a long time. Finally, with this command of “Invest in your community, Son,” it begins to make sense:

Luke 19:13 And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. (KJV)

A newer translation says it this way:

Luke 19:13-14 So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, 'Do business till I come.' (NKJV)

The English word “occupy” is a military word; it means you’ve already conquered the territory, now keep it governed for the new rulers. The Greek word for “occupy” or “do business” is pragmate├║omai and it is a business term, but it’s a term of ownership, not busywork. It means both “Be engaged in a business for profit,” and “be occupied with reference to the affairs of state.

God is looking for a gain, a profit, an increase from us, which means that we must invest the resources that He’s given us into the people and circumstances that He’s placed around us.

Clearly, He’s not looking for money from us; “You can’t take it with you” clearly applies, but having money is a fine way to accomplish a profit in terms of lives, of influence, of relationship. Have you noticed how much influence the wealthy have as compared to the poor?

So the command is to invest in the community that God has placed you into.

‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. ‘Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. ‘Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you….’

Our place is to be in the world, not of the world. The other half of that, of course, is to be of Heaven, but not yet in Heaven: we have a job to do here.

T.B.I.

I’ve become aware recently of a great trend that has no doubt been part of the American church for a long time. It’s the making of irrelevant and meaningless excuses.
The other day, I was counseling with a man who had managed to get himself addicted to a particular brand of sin. I’ll call him Bob for convenience sake. Bob and I were discussing some of the action that he needed to take if he was going to free himself from his sin. To be fair, the course of action was a challenging one, but he and I both agreed that it was necessary if he was going to get free. And then he pulls out the excuse from hell:
“But that’s so hard!”
When I hear that excuse – and I hear it often – I groan inside. Bob’s right, of course: it will be difficult. But then it’s a difficult task he proposes: extricating himself from persistent sin to which he has been enslaved for some time.
The problem with that excuse is that it’s true, but it’s irrelevant. Yes, it is a difficult road he proposes, but so what? The choice, contrary to Bob’s evaluation, is not between “that which is hard” and “that which is not hard.” Rather, it’s between “continued enslavement” or “freedom.” Freedom, by nature, requires hard choices.
Both roads are difficult, of course, but our flesh is eager to agree with the enemy that the road to freedom is hard. The devil is not particularly forthcoming when it comes to acknowledging the trials of enslavement or addiction.
I’ve come up with a response – for my own amusement – to those excuses: TBI: True But Irrelevant. I’m fascinated by the number of times we come up with excuses to obedience that are true, but completely irrelevant to the heart of the matter.
Recently, I was talking to a businessman who is faced with some challenging circumstances in his business; I’ll call him Henry. He has some tough decisions to make if his business is going to make it past its current challenges. Recently, Henry made some decisions that represent something of a moral compromise; not a big one, but they mean that he’ll break his word to some people who count on his truthfulness. We were talking about his business, and I brought this up. His was to explain why he “needed” to make this compromise and why it wasn’t really that bad. “I didn’t have any choice! We have a problem in the company!”
TBI.
Yes, it's true, Henry does have that problem in his business, and yes, this morally compromised decision will help solve some of those problematic symptoms in his company. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a moral compromise: Henry is still breaking his word. He’s still betraying a trust, and this decision will make it harder for his staff to believe his word in the future, and I believe it will distance his business from God’s blessing.
I’m making the choice in my own life to attempt to escape this trap, to not offer irrelevant, self-centered excuses to the things that my relationship with Christ require. I’m going to attempt to deal with the issues of what is required of me, by God, by the people around me, by my circumstances.
You can pray for me.


In the Kitchen with Jesus


A few years ago, my wife & I were given the gift of a week at a resort in Puerto Rico. The company that gave us the trip was trying to impress us, so it was a nice place. One of the nicer parts of the trip (apart from the sun and the surf) was the breakfast buffet. We just needed to show up at a particular covered lanai any time between seven AM and noon, and a feast awaited us.

There were mountains of fresh fruit peeled and sliced , heaps of freshly baked goodies, piles of cooked bacon, sausage, ham, hash browns, great urns full of several kinds of fresh juices, next to urns of freshly brewed coffee. There were two chefs assigned to the buffet, in addition to the dozens of cooks working behind the scene and scores of servers; one chef specialized in fresh waffles and the other focused exclusively on making omelets exactly as you asked for them.

We enjoyed ourselves immensely, of course. The breakfasts were so good and so filling that we never bothered with eating lunch, just breakfast and dinner each day, before we swam in the surf, hiked the trails, napped in the sun or read by the acres of swimming pool. It was a week of indulgence.

It really was a nice break from the routine, but a lifestyle like that would quickly make us lazy, overweight, and completely bankrupt. There are reasons we cook our own meals: first, we have to pay for our own meals the other fifty-one weeks of the year, and second, I really prefer that my height remain greater than my waistline. Imagine what it would be like if I could eat like that every day, or even just a few times a week. I’d have to expand more than my tent-pegs!

In contrast, I go camping by myself fairly often. I have a camper on my truck, and so it doesn’t take a lot of planning. I have a kitchen in that camper, which I use for lunch during the week, but when I’m camping, I try to do all my cooking over the campfire. I don’t bring prepared meals. The first dinner always involves a steak; later in the weekend, I usually cook in aluminum foil in the coals, or in a pot hanging over the fire. I try my best to avoid “traditional” camp food (other than the first night’s steak): I make nice meals pretty much from scratch, and I try to make a great deal of variety The goal here is pretty much the opposite of the breakfast buffet: it’s to prepare the meal for myself.

The Bible speaks of our need to eat the Word of God, to be nourished by it. God’s word is our food.

We have “Bible Restaurants” scattered across our city; we call some of them churches. One of their several functions is to prepare the raw materials of the Word into a tasty and digestible meal for their guests. Similarly, we have conferences, which provide more robust fare for those who are looking for more specialized fare. And we can order prepared meals in a range of qualities online – from disgusting guck to spectacular banquets; we call them Podcasts. (Two of my favorites are iBethel from Redding; and OneThing from Kansas City.)

Bible Restaurants are wonderful things. When we attend church, or a conference or listen to aPodcast, we’re partaking of a meal that has been prepared for our consumption. Some, of course, are more nutritional than others, though with a little care, we can be sure that we avoid non-nutritional spiritual meals.

There’s a very real danger with Bible Restaurants: they can make me fat and lazy. Just like the buffet restaurants that are showing up in nearly every suburb in America, if I were to eat there every meal, or even just several meals a week, pretty soon, I could skip meals during the day and still get more calories, more nutrition than I really need. And spiritual obesity is probably as much of a problem to my health as physical obesity: I get all this nutrition, but no place to use it, and I’m immobilized by my own weightiness. What a mess.

A couple of decades ago, I read 1Corinthians 3, and it really impacted me. Actually, it scared me:

1Corinthians 3:1: And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?

As I thought about this interesting little word picture, I realized that many believers, many of my friends, were still stuck on needing milk. I realized that I was still depending on others to feed me milk; I was not able to deal with real meat from the Book. It scared me. I’m a terribly curious person, and there were secrets that were not available to the believers in Corinth, or to me, simply because of our inability to feed ourselves. Some time later, someone pointed out Hebrews 5 to me:

Hebrews 5:12-14: For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

My final year of college, I moved out of the dorms and lived in a house a couple of miles downtown from the school. Just before school started, my parents helped me move in to the house: the other two guys were already moved in, so I got the basement bedroom. We got there late in the day, so we planned to just drop my stuff off and head to a restaurant for a final dinner together before school started. As we were leaving the house, one of my roommates caught me: “Can you make me some macaroni and cheese? I haven’t eaten today, and I don’t know how to cook for myself.” I was shocked: who doesn’t know who to cook up macaroni and cheese?

I realized, “That’s me! The Bible is the food that feeds my spirit, and I don’t know how to feed myself any more than Charlie knows how to feed his body.” I was as helpless as he was. I had the raw nutrition available to me, just as he had the nutrition in the boxes of dry noodles and dryer cheese packages.

I was embarrassed, and I made a vow that week: I would learn to feed myself if it took me the rest of my life. I would learn how to take the raw ingredients of the Word of God and learn how to feed myself. I might learn how to fed someone else at the same time, but the goal was to feed myself.

I took some classes in “How to Study the Bible,” and they were fine. I read some books, and they helped a little. Some friends showed me how they read the Word, and that was OK.

But the day that my “spiritual cooking” skills started to really develop was the day that I stopped looking to everyone around me for help, and I just sat down with my Bible, determined to find nourishment in its pages.

This article is primarily aimed at encouragement: too many people who follow Jesus are unable to feed themselves properly from the word, and would starve if there weren’t a conference or a teaching CD waiting for them. I really want anyone who reads this to make the same desperate decision I did: “I will feed myself if it kills me!” But the teacher in me demands that I include at least a bare outline of what began to form from trial and error in my daily routine.

My eventual success came from a combination of four ingredients: 1. bite-sized pieces of the Word, 2. time enough to chew carefully, 3. a journal and a good pencil, and most importantly, 4) a willingness to cheat. I always figure it’s cheating to ask the guy who wrote the test for help on the test, but it seems that the Holy Spirit really likes to help me figure out how to make a meal from the Word! (I don’t suppose I should be surprised at that, but I was at the time.)

The recipe is just as straightforward: I work my way through a book of the Bible (the gospels are wonderful for this!), one section at a time: I used the headings as my markers, which made about ½ or ⅓ of a chapter a day. (I’m not looking for speed here.) I refused to use the “fast food” of a Study Bible, because I want to do this my own self! I’d give myself 45 minutes or an hour, and I’d start by asking the Author for insight into His word, emphasizing that He promised to do give it anyway.

And then I’d read through and think through and pray through the section until something began to light up in my spirit, at which point, I made use of my journal. I’d always push myself to have enough to say to fill up at least 2 pages in the journal: this is the content that I’ve learned from the Word today.

It’s one thing to make a meal from the Word, it’s another to eat the meal that we have prepared, but unless we make use what we learn, we’ll still starve. (Bulimia is no better than anorexia, either in the natural or in regard to the Word of God.) So we must apply it to ourselves, praying through what we need to, repenting or declaring or making plans for a change in behavior as necessary.

1 Peter 2:2: as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby…