Showing posts with label fellowship. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fellowship. Show all posts

Thursday

Baby, That's Not Love


I have a friend, a young man, who was beaten as a child.
I don't mean spanked. I mean beaten.
When he made a mistake, and what youngster doesn't make mistakes; that's how you learn, isn't it? When he made a mistake, his parents would get angry, and they'd "discipline" him.

"This is for your own good, you know," his daddy would say as he unbuckled his big leather belt, "because we love you. We want you to be better than this." And he'd wield that heavy belt on him over and over and over.
Sometimes their "loving discipline" would result in blood or visible bruises, so he'd miss school for a while until the marks healed.
He left home at an early age, and didn't tell his parents where he went.
I want to hold him in my arms and weep with him, and most of all, I want to tell him, "Son, that's not love. I don't know what that was, maybe demons, maybe alcohol, maybe their own woundedness, but it sure as hell is not love!"
I have another friend, a young woman, who had a different sort of hell in her childhood. And when her daddy took off his belt, and announced, "This is our secret, because I love you," she learned not to fight back, not to talk about it, especially not to talk to mom.
She left home at an early age, taking her baby daughter, who was also her sister, with her. She never looked back, never told anyone where she went.
I want to hold her in my arms and weep with her, and most of all, I want to tell her, "Daughter, that's not love. I don't now what sort of sick, perverted, self-centered bullshit that was, but that sure as hell is not love!"
Just because someone says, "I'm only saying this, I'm only doing this because I love you," doesn't mean it's love. Just because they say that it's for my own good doesn't mean, well, it doesn't mean anything, really. Real love doesn't need to be announced: you can tell it's love just by looking.
It's not often this flagrant, but we do this in the church family sometimes, too. A whole lot of us have learned to cringe whenever someone starts talking about "speaking the truth in love," because it usually lacks love, and often lacks truth, too.
Sometimes the word "submission" is wielded like a stick, or "loyalty" like a ball and chain. It's not unheard of for teachers to train their people that they're the only one that can hear God, and you'd darned well better listen up when I tell you what the Bible says. It's not unheard of for offering time to be less about giving freely unto the Lord and more about my neediness or your obligation and your duty until my budget is met.
We could tell stories here. We could *all* tell stories here, couldn't we? Stories about church, stories about work, stories about family members, about teachers or babysitters or caregivers. Many of them aren't this ugly. Some of them are far worse.
My point is this: I don't care how often or how loudly they tell you that this is love, they're lying to you. Not all of them, of course, but if they're doing these things to you, let me assure you, that is NOT love.
I don't care how often or how loudly they tell you that this is how healthy families relate, they're lying to you.
Not every dad is lying, not every mom. Not every pastor or church leader is lying to you. But if they're doing things that are more about meeting their needs than about yours, then what they're doing isn't love.
This isn't about all the bad things that people do and call it love, and call it "for your good." You already know a number of things that people say is loving, but you know it's not.
This is about you and I recognizing when it isn't really love, when it isn't really for our good. This is about choosing not to live under that yoke of bondage.
It is for freedom - real freedom, not slavery with a new label - that Christ has set us free. Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Jesus bought our freedom, at a very high price, mind you. He has already set us free. But the responsibility to not submit to those old yokes of slavery, that's our job.

It’s Christmas Eve


It’s Christmas Eve. My home is filled with laughing children. My son is making something wonderful in the kitchen. My wife has forbidden any entry into the bedroom until the last few presents are wrapped. A video game is blaring in the living room, and power tools are finishing up a last-minute gift in the shop.

My home is a very busy place. And honestly, I love it.

But as much as this night is about family, it’s even more about a Birth. I stepped outside to visit with Father about it, to remember that Birth with Him.

Immediately, I had an image of Him, as eager as a grandchild would be, clapping happily, dancing from foot to foot: this is His Happy Dance!

For me, the laboring woman and her not-quite-husband are separated from me by twenty centuries. But as God is Lord of Time (among many other things), He is right this minute, dancing with joyful anticipation over this impending Birth.

God, being omniscient, knew of the failure of man in the Garden before He even spoke the words, “Let Us create man, in Our image…” Before he ever even scooped up mud and shaped it and prepared it to hold His Own breath, he knew that man would fail the test, would eat of the wrong tree, would submit to the wrong voice, and would be doomed to death.

But God, being the best in the universe at planning ahead, already knew that He, Himself, in the flesh and blood of humanity, would die a gruesome death in a backwater, occupied nation in the geographical armpit of that planet in order to establish a New Covenant with them. How he looked forward to that!

And He knew that before God could die for man, God would have to become a man. And this! He looked forward to this with such joy!
And tonight is the night!

The most patient Father that has ever existed has been eagerly, joyfully anticipating this night! This is the beginning of the Covenant that He’s longed for since the Garden: when he would have a nation of Kings and Priests who would know his Father’s heart and love Him as freely as He loves them!

The cross? That torture, that pain, that indescribable humiliation? That was nothing! Nothing! Less than nothing! He would pay ANY price for the privilege of whispering of his love to his wayward children. If there could have been a greater price that could ever have been paid, He would have paid it without hesitation for the children that He treasured above even His own eternal, omnipotent life!

And tonight is the night that it all began.

Tonight! As Mary is breathing hard and sweating heavily, as Joseph is wringing his hands and feeling nearly (but not quite) useless in the face of The Birth, God Himself is dancing with joy! Angels are ministering to the new mother and anxious dad, but God is laughing and jumping and shouting his joy to the heavens!

Tonight it begins. Tomorrow He gets to walk – well, to crawl first – among his wayward children! The beginning of the Via Dolorosa begins in this little, sweaty barn, on the unknown edge of a tiny, powerless nation. This is the beginning of walking among them, and even more, this is the beginning of setting them free from everything that holds them back!

This is the night! This is THAT night.

Do you feel his joy? Can you feel his anticipation? 


Does Love Mean Acceptance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



A Personal History with Unchurched Believers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Gay Revival


I’m going to address some very controversial topics today. If you have trouble with God moving outside your comfort zone, you may not want to read this article. I’m serious: be careful! This may push your buttons.

We’re going to talk about homosexual Christians, LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender] Christians.

The Bible is clear, Old Testament and New: homosexual behavior is sinful behavior. Since we’re talking about Christians, we could go on about how there are loads of sins that we overlook in the church, while we call out certain others, but that hypocrisy is another topic for another day.

One day, years ago, I was with a small group, praying for some folks we knew that were stuck in homosexuality. It was one of those prayer gatherings where you just know that God is hearing your prayers, even as he’s helping to shape them and encourage us in them.

In the midst of that, I had a vision: tens of thousands of people in the homosexual community were encountering Jesus. It was a huge movement, and God was in their midst. They were worshiping powerfully, and God was delighting in their praise. There were signs and wonders. Many were in tears, some because of His love, some because of their sin, but it wasn’t always the sin I had my own eyes on that they were convicted of. It was a genuine revival.

I began to praise God for that revival, for the many sons and daughters that were coming back to their Father, and as I did, the vision became even more real: I was in their midst as they were worshiping God.

And then I realized: they weren’t – most of them weren’t – leaving their culture. Nearly all of them stayed in the homosexual community, and a very large number of them didn’t appear to repent of their homosexual ways.

I began to react to that: That's not right, I said in my mind. Father began to gently instruct me in this vision:

1)         When he calls people to himself, he does not call them to leave their culture. American Church Culture is not our goal. Relationship with Jesus is the goal. Hmm. OK. That’s true enough.

2)         When he finally got ahold of my life (after a longer fight than it should have been), I was not sin-free. There were several sins that he took decades to put his finger on. In fact, He said, There are some things I haven’t pointed out to you even yet. Yikes.

But it’s true. If he didn’t point out– and by pointing out, give me grace to deal with – some of my sins for decades, why should I expect him to be less patient with other sons and daughters?

3)         And son, he said so very gently: these are my children, not yours. I am their Father, you are not. I am capable of raising My own children without your getting in their way.

Since that experience, I’ve received a few reports that it’s beginning to happen, that substantial numbers of people inside the LGBT community are discovering the Lover of their Souls!

I have received credible testimony from different people in different streams that tell me about the revival that is going on among the homosexual population. (At their request, and for their safety, I will not be releasing their identities. Some people do not respond well when God moves outside their box.)

These people have been among gatherings of gay believers – we might call them church meetings or conferences – where the worship is powerful, where the Holy Spirit is present, where signs and wonders are in abundance, where Jesus is lifted up high. They have recognized God’s favor on the gatherings, and experienced His delight in them.

I have met believers who are homosexuals. Some appear to be your basic, timid churchgoers, some flaming transsexuals proclaiming the gospel to their community. Some are content with their homosexuality; some want out but don’t know how; some are proud of their status, though these seem to be the ones who’ve taken the brunt of the church’s accusations.

I’ve said all this to arrive at this conclusion: God is moving powerfully in ways that we never expected. And hold on to your hats, because he has more than this that he’s going to do.

So how shall we respond to homosexuals that call themselves Christians? That’s simple: we love them. Just like we’re called to love self-righteous people who call themselves Christians.

We surely have no right to challenge the faith of either group, and nearly always, we lack the right to challenge either their behavior or their culture. But we have the right to love them.


Let’s love one another, as Jesus commanded us, shall we? And let's trust our good Father to raise His children well. 


Church, Impropmptu

So the other evening, I invited a couple of guys over for an impromptu barbecue. And it turned into a glorious gathering of some of my favorite saints.

The four of us sat on the back porch, doing very un-churchy things, in the presence of God. 

What kind of un-churchy things? Well we were eating New York steak, fresh off the barbecue, for one. Some of us had a beer with the steak (a nice, black oatmeal stout, in fact!). And we were telling God stories: stories that makes God look good.

After we finished the steaks, a couple of us lit up our pipes, and we listened to the peaceful sound of the rain on the roof. 

And we shared story after story of God intervening in our lives and lives of others we knew. 

And we relaxed.

That was it. Nothing else. No signs and wonders. No offerings. No sermons (got close once, but we dodged it!). Didn’t even get out our Bibles. We just enjoyed God and each other.

I wanted to tell this story for a couple of reasons.

First, the evening really touched me pretty deeply. These are some of my favorite men, and I treasure their company. I just thought I’d share my joy with you.

Second, we sometimes still have the expectation that we need to be doing godly things to be in God’s presence. Bosh! The Incarnation put that one to death. God didn’t seem to be offended by good beer, good tobacco or even the occasional wide-eyed expletive in response to his amazing exploits.

There’s a third reason, and it may not make sense to everybody reading this, and that’s OK: In my world, there isn’t much that says “You’re off duty!” as much as an oatmeal stout and pipe full of Black Cavendish. And if we can’t be “off duty” in our Christian fellowship, then something is seriously wrong!

Yes, I’m suggesting that we put our religion away, far away, and build real relationships with real people in the real world. Those are the ones that will keep us strong in the long run.


The Cleaning Lady

The Cleaning Lady


I’d like to tell you the story of a friend of mine, whom I’ll call Chantelle.

Chantelle had just found a roommate and a nice apartment, and they were in the early stages of moving in, when she called me. “I’d like your help in praying over our apartment before we move in.” She and I had dealt with some things together before, and she understood that teamwork is valuable.

So we began to pray. We prayed over the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, and declared the destiny we heard Father speaking about for the rooms and their activity. During the prayer time, I slipped away, and tossed a large handful of Dove’s chocolates into her empty room, just so she’s find a nice surprise.

When we finished praying about the public rooms, we headed down the hallway, and we both felt something strange, an unhealthy, unclean presence back there, and we both felt it at the same point, right as the hallway turned the corner.

Cool! A teachable moment! So we discussed it, discussed what it felt like, and I proposed that we check the back rooms individually for more sense of it.

We checked her room first, and there was no sense of that particular darkness, but there were wrapped dark chocolates scattered on the floor. She laughed and picked up a couple of them, and we agreed that this room wasn’t the source for the sense of the unclean that we felt. She offered me a chocolate and we moved on.

We prayed over the bathroom, blessed it, and ruled it out as a source of darkness, and moved on, while she nibbled her chocolate.

The roommate’s room. As Chantelle opened her roommate’s door, we felt the unclean darkness inside. “Aha! I suspect we’ve found a clue!” The roommate wasn’t home, of course; she wasn’t a believer, and wouldn’t understand what we were doing. In fact, there was just a small stack of boxes in the middle of the room.

We discussed the situation. We both sensed that there was uncleanness on the walls, though they appeared a clean white to our eyes. Chantelle stepped into the room, spiritual senses wide open, looking to sense where the unclean stuff was coming from. The closet? Nope. The window? Nope? This place where the bed obviously went? Nope.

That left the boxes in the middle of the room. They were just moving boxes, and only two or three of them; they looked innocuous enough. She popped the last of the chocolate in her mouth and touched the top box. Bingo! This is where the darkness came from! As we talked about the source of the presence, she straightened out the foil that had wrapped her chocolate, and read the quote it contained: “You are exactly where you are supposed to be.” We laughed!

We didn’t get into the boxes; they weren’t our property, but we felt the need to address the darkness, particularly, the darkness clinging to the walls. So we prayed that it would be removed. Nothing happened. We commanded it to leave. Nothing. We prophesied blessing on the room and its future. Nada.

I had an idea. “Chantelle, why don’t you ask Father for the right weapon to remove the darkness?” She gave me a funny look, but we’d done stranger things than this together. She prayed, and I could see from the look on her face that she’d seen Him give her something.

“What is it? What did he give you?” She scowled. “A washrag.” We laughed some more.

But she began to wield the washrag that she saw in the Spirit against the darkness. In reality, she began to wash the walls with it, and it was the first time that we saw the darkness give way, though it was a fight.

After a few minutes, we recognized that this was going to take all night, and I couldn’t help her, as I was still standing in the hallway (out of respect for someone else’s room).

Another thought presented itself. “I wonder if that washrag is for you to wield, or if it’s for someone else?” We prayed. “An angel is to wield it.” “OK. Why don’t you invite that angel in?” She did, and she laughed. “What do you see?” “A cleaning lady!” We laughed some more.

So Chantelle handed the washrag to the cleaning lady angel, and invited her to wield the weapon. Immediately, she began washing the walls, and by the time Chantelle had reached the door to the room, the first wall was halfway clean; we could both feel the darkness lifting. That was better! We blessed the cleaning lady, and invited her to stay. It seemed to us that her assignment was the back of the apartment, particularly the hallway and the bedrooms.

We felt the freedom to invite a couple other angles to the house. A big armed one was stationed outside the downstairs entrance, and Chantelle assigned another, whom she named Cheese Grater Guy, to the front door, to remove any “Klingons” from guests to the home.

When we left, we looked back at the bedroom windows, and we both discerned what appeared to be a cleaning lady waving happily to us from the roommate’s window. We laughed and waved back.

The really fun part of the story came weeks later, when the roommate cautiously reported that she “could feel a presence” in the back hallway. Chantelle replied, “Yep, and she’s staying here! We’re not going to get rid of that one!”


And the cleaning lady likes cats. Both Chantelle and the roommate had pet cats, kittens, really, who loved to play with them. But from time to time, both women could see the cats in the hallway, playing with someone they couldn’t see with their natural eyes. 

When God Moves From Singular to Plural

I’ve been meditating on the nouns of Genesis One. All of them are about God, of course, and for most of the creation process, all of them are singular: God said this. God did that. God said that it was good. Rinse and repeat.

Everything He makes has a counterpart. Day has night. Sun has the moon. Ocean has land. Every creature is part of its own species, according to its kind.

And then it changed. On the afternoon of the sixth day, suddenly God changes how He’s doing his creating, and when God changes something, I want to pay attention. I want to learn.

Suddenly, God moves from singular to plural, and He changes so completely that He did the plural thing twice in the same day!

The first plural is about him: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness….’” Now, for the first time, God does something as an “Us!”

Up until this point, it’s just been “creation as usual.” Make a planet. Check. Make some oceans. Check. Make some plants and animals. Check, check.

But suddenly, it’s like God steps up, He gathers His Trinity about him, and now He is fully present: “Let Us do this. Let Us make something to be the counterpart of Us!” This will be His masterpiece.

And God, in His fullness, created his masterpiece, and that masterpiece is another Plural Thing, and it was us! You and me! The first words with which God describes humanity are plural! “These are the one ones made in Our image. Let them have dominion ….”

God did all the rest of creation as a “He,” but when it came time to make humanity, He says, “Let Us do this.” And the product of that creativity is not a thing, and it's not a species, it’s a race of individuals. It’s a community of humanity to whom He gives authority.

He made us so uniquely that the angels watched us curiously. What a thing He has done. A race, a community. Made in His image. Carrying His authority. Us.

The Work of Growing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

A little bit of self disclosure. Or maybe an explanation.


You’ve probably already figured out that my first name isn’t actually “Northwest” and that I’m not really Gandalf the Grey. This is a “pen name”  (“A pen name, nom de plume, or literary double, is a pseudonym adopted by an author.” ~Wikipedia).

Pen names, of course, are not uncommon. Stan Lee (born Stanley Martin Lieber) to Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) and George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair) all wrote under pen names, though for different reasons than I do, I’m sure.

Here’s a little insight into my reasoning:

         For the vast majority of people who read my writing, there is no functional difference between knowing me as “Todd” or as “Nor’west.” Whether you know my name or not, you don’t actually know me. Knowing me only comes through relationship, not through names. Get to know me, and then you'll know me, regardless of the name you know me under.

         Some people want to say, “But that doesn’t tell me anything about you!” Those people aren’t paying attention: knowing my name doesn't tell you anything about me either. On the other hand, a fair bit of my calling is to build up the prophetic gifts in the Pacific Northwest region of the US, the area that geologists and sociologists call Cascadia; that’s where the name comes from. Facebook wouldn’t take “Northwest” as a first name, so we go with “Nor’west,” a nautical term that means the same thing. That certainly says more about who I am than “Bill Smith” ever would.

(By the way: Note that my name is NOT “Nor’west Prophet.” I’m not naming myself a prophet. Too many people give themselves titles and offices; don’t count me among them, please.)

         I’ve run into a fair number of people who want to know my name simply to exercise some sort of power over me, whether imagined or real. I’ve walked this walk long enough to know that the enemy of our soul is real, and has real followers.

         I’m not, as some have feared, trying to accomplish some nefarious purpose with this pseudonym. If that were my goal, I’d need to do something nefarious, and no thank you. I can’t think of anything nefarious that sounds interesting. Besides, I don’t like doing things I’d need to repent of later.

         More important to me, I’ve watched many believers work for the Lord, but build up their own name. I’ve met so many “ministers,” who are quick with their business card, announcing that they’re the founder and apostolic leader of “Fredrick J. Fuffenfuffer Intergalactic Glory Network” or some such foolishness. It is my opinion that there’s only one Name that needs to be magnified, and let's agree, it isn’t mine.

         Perhaps you’ve heard the stories about the children of Christian leaders? They’re called “PK’s” (Preacher’s Kids) or MK’s (Missionary’s Kids). One of my best friends growing up was a PK, and I watched as he lived up to (down to?) the nasty reputation surrounding the title. There is a stupid amount of social pressure placed on the children of known church leaders. I determined not to do that to my treasured children. Frankly, I think it’s sad how many amazing kids are sacrificed on the altar of a parent’s ministry or career or public image. My children are in full agreement with my anonymity and the reasons for it.

         The only folks who are treated worse than PK’s are Pastor’s Wives. I’ve been a pastor much of my life. If you knew the Treasure who is The Lady that has, at great personal cost, gloriously lived out her vows about “for better or for worse,” then you’d understand why I don’t care to force her, against her will, into a fleshly limelight that glorifies people instead of God. It’s repugnant to both of us. I will not knowingly ask more of this from her.

         A few people have been concerned that I’m not accountable. That’s silly. I’m just not accountable to them. I have a number of godly men (and one beautiful bride) whom I trust completely, and to whom I make my life as open a book as I am able. I reserve that kind of relationship for folks who have walked many miles through stinky places with me, and I’m not actually looking for new accountability partners at this time.

         I’ll tell you how the Gandalf image came about: over the years. (I use his image as an avatar on Facebook and other social media sites.) Over the years, I’ve used a number of photos as avatars (http://on.fb.me/1119FTZ ); one time when I changed my image from Gandalf to something else, a lot of people fussed and wanted Gandalf back. OK, sure. Since Gandalf has, as I do, has long hair and a big ol’ beard, and since he doesn’t come with all the social baggage of the other bearded guy (Hint: Ho, Ho, Ho!), I stuck with it.  I admit, I've been inconsistent, if only to save me from having to come up with new faces every few weeks. Besides, I love who Gandalf is in the books wherein he appears.

If you want to know more about me, then read what I write (I do write under this name for several blogs; they’ll generally get posted to Facebook, so that is where you’ll find the biggest selection.)

Feel free to dig through my archives in this blog and on Facebook, and read what I write about. Listen to see if God speaks to you there (that is, after all, the goal). Or you may ask other people about me (but please honor them [and me] enough to NOT ask them private details, like my personal identity or my family life).

I’ll say this much about me: I’ve been walking with Jesus for half a century, and that, in fact, is the high point of my life. I’ve been a pastor (usually associate), a missionary, parachurch ministry leader, church planter, wayward son and religious hypocrite. I’ve learned of His ways in all of that. Oh, and I’m in love with his fiancĂ©, but he tells me he’s not jealous.

If you want to really know me, join in the conversation, though understand that I’ll be far more receptive to it in the public arena, particularly on ongoing threads on my wall. As a matter of policy (and honor for that treasured lady I mentioned earlier), I generally don’t engage in private conversation with women.

If all of this offends you, that’s actually OK. God has given both of us a free will, and you’re completely free to choose not to be in relationship with a strange old guy with hidden face and a funny name. God bless you as you follow Him along the path He’s leading you on.

This is the path He’s leading me on. I really like walking with him, so I’m going to stay on this path, because that’s where I find him. If any of the insights from my path help you on yours, then we’re both richer for it, aren’t we?


Monday

The Gadarene Swine Fallacy

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday

Home Fellowship or Church Fellowship?


There has been a fair bit of discussion among Believers recently about what it means to “go to church” or “be part of a church.” 

The illustration (it’s not model) that the Bible gives us for where the church met in Jerusalem is in Acts 5:42: “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.”

[Note that there were at least 5000 believers (Acts 4:4) in the temple courts (Acts 5:12), and they had no PA system. It was not physically possible for one man to stand in front of that many people and communicate well with them all. Either they had miraculous sound reinforcement (I think Jesus used this method sometimes), or each apostle taught a more modestly-sized portion of the larger crowd. Either way, they spent more time (every day) meeting in homes.]

Later in Jerusalem, and also in Asia, Paul showed another model when the persecution showed up: Act 19:9 “But when some were hardened and did not believe…. he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.”

Paul did make use of synagogues, but as places to practice evangelism, not the place for the fellowship of the saints: the synagogue was their history, but not their community any longer: they were no longer the People of the Law.

I observe that the Biblical model involves Christians meeting in public spaces (the temple courts were perhaps the social equivalent of the shopping mall; the School of Tyrannus might equate to the local high school gym) for training. But it’s clear that the church was more equated with people’s houses in the Biblical model (Acts 8:3, Romans 16:5; 1Cor 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2.…). Some say that the only reason they met in people’s homes was persecution, and that may be a factor, but that factor doesn’t seem to be a major issue in the Book.

I also observe that when the church was meeting among the Jewish people, it used Jewish methods and settings (temple grounds), but when it met among the gentiles, it used gentile methods and locations (School of Tyrannus). It appears that while Christianity – the Church – came from Jewish roots, it is not a Jewish function. The Judiazers were one of the greatest heresies opposed by New Testament apostles. The apostolic conclusion: you don’t need to become or to stay Jewish in order to become a Christian.

In our “Western Culture”, we make everything into a mass-production factory. We’ve done it with education in the public schools, with government, with sports, with our shopping malls. So of course we’ll do it with our church-life.

My point is NOT that mass-producing Christian fellowship is inherently evil. My point is that it that it is equally not evil to choose a different model for fellowship.

I home-schooled my kids, for about half of their education. In hindsight, they preferred the homeschooling to the public schooling, and I observe that they learned more during those years, they encountered far less social “drama”, and they where happier in the non-factory education model rather than the factory model. Home-schooling is WAY more work than shipping the kids off to the local public school, which is rather factory-like.

I shop at WalMart. A little bit. (I figure that my prayers for the company have more authority if I have an investment in the company, but that’s another conversation.) But I also shop at the local farmer’s market. The factory shopping experience has more variety, and often has a lower cost-of-participation (selling price), but the quality of food that I get at the farmer’s market is hugely superior. In addition, the instruction I get from the farmer’s market about how to use the item that I’m purchasing is light years ahead of what I get from the factory.

As for sports, I prefer to play Frisbee golf with my friends rather than watch the Seahawks or the World Cup on TV. It’s way better exercise, better fellowship, and the relationships forged there actually means something, whereas the pro sports have no eternal significance that I can discern. On the other hand, I don’t ever have sore muscles from watching the factory sports on TV, and I can switch channels freely when I get bored.

In the same way, I’ve learned (the hard way, frankly) that farmer’s market version of church, the home-school version of fellowship produces a superior product, albeit at a greater cost.

We have this value system in America that if it isn’t done on a big scale, it isn’t really the right way to do it. I’m looked at as weird because I don’t have a TV and don’t like the shopping mall. And so many American Christians appear to look down on their brethren and, er… “sistren” who choose to find their fellowship outside of the American Church Factory.

I say all this to say this: Christian fellowship in the home is actually “more Biblical” (found more commonly in the Bible) and more historically accurate (existed long before) than the building of large and expensive “church” buildings.

People who choose home fellowship should not feel inferior to people who choose the large, formal setting for their fellowship. The mega-church is not somehow “better” Christianity. Neither should people whose primary fellowship is in the home feel or declare superiority to others who find a place in the large fellowship.

Let’s find ways to enjoy unity, to celebrate each other.