Showing posts with label fruit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fruit. Show all posts

Thursday

Thoughts on Being Pruned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning to Pray Wisely


The church is learning a lot about declarative prayer in recent years, prayer that issues decrees and declares what shall be, (as differentiated from prayer that begs and sometimes whines).

Like anything that we are just beginning to learn, we’re not terribly good at it yet.

 We have (many of us) figured out that Jesus didn’t generally ask God for stuff when he prayed. He generally commanded something to happen (John 11:43) or decreed the result that he wanted (Matthew 9:29). Even at his most extreme circumstances, his prayers were declarative sentences, not interrogative ones (Matthew. 26:36–46). 

 As a community, we’ve begun declaring and commanding pretty much all the time. It’s baby steps, and it’s really cute. (Don’t get me wrong: I’m part of this community of baby steps, too!)

 I’ve been reflecting on this transition recently. It’s being a good thing, for a bunch of reasons that I’ve discerned:

 • We’re beginning to take responsibility ourselves for the things that he’s given us responsibility for (see Genesis 1:26). Much of what we pray about is actually our responsibility, not his.

•Slaves ask or plead. Sons, heirs, might ask, but they surely expect  (consider Romans 15:13 or 16:20); or they may not ask, they just take what they need and go.

You and I, we’re not slaves, not servants.

• It appears that while God respects servants who ask, more seems to get done by sons who declare.

 On the other hand, when sons are young, they require more parenting than they do when they mature. Dirty diapers are no more fun in the Spirit than they are in the natural. They’re normal, even healthy for a while. They’re still a mess, and no more than a starting place. But they’re a normal, healthy mess for an infant.

For example, I’m part of some prayer groups (side note: please do NOT add me to more groups!), where folks post their prayer requests, and the community prays for them. You learn a lot from groups like this. Here are some things I've learned.

There are a bunch of folks whose prayer requests are more a list of what all is wrong in their lives than a description of what we’re actually praying for. Some of those diapers need changing desperately.

Some responses are in the “Oh Jesus, please help ‘em!” category.

A growing number of responses are attempts to command all the bad things become good.

Far too many declarations are not much more than self-centered, wishful thinking. “I want this, and therefore I’m going to declare it as if it were God’s will.” And then they get disheartened when the world doesn’t conform to their empty but optimistic words.

 Honestly, it’s a beautiful thing. Just like when my little granddaughter takes her first, wobbly steps. That’s a wonderful thing, too. It’s growth! But it surely isn’t maturity yet. And it’s cute when she takes a couple of steps and then plops down on her wet diaper, making that interesting sploogy sound.

 I was reflecting on our wobbly growth recently, and I was reminded that when we watch Jesus commanding sickness or demons to flee, we’re only seeing half of the story. We’re only seeing the half that happens in that moment, the part that’s visible to the gospel authors.

 But Jesus did tell us the other half of the story himself:

John 12:49 “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.”

 So apparently, if we’re going to (If I’m going to) be successful at commanding sickness and demons and death away, I need to speak what Father commands me to say and to speak. Declarations out of my own wishful thinking are a wasted effort. At best.

 Since the gospels never show the story of heaven opening and the Almighty shouting from heaven, it makes me wonder, “When and how did Jesus hear Father tell him what to say?”

 I think there were at least three answers to that, and neither one was a mystery.

The first is that I’m pretty sure the still small voice of the Holy Spirit gave him instructions from time to time (in John 2, compare verse 4 with verse 7, for example).

Second, verses like Mark 6:46 and Luke 6:12 tell us that he spent extended time away, just him and Father alone. I’ll bet that’s a clue. There’s a reason he encourages us to search out matters, maybe.

I think the third is more rare than we wish it was. When you’ve walked with God a long time, you begin to think like he thinks. You do that long enough and the line between “my thoughts” and “his thoughts,” between “my words” and “his words” gets thin.

 I’m thinking that it’s good that we, the saints and heirs of our Almighty Lover, are learning to hear from Heaven, and declare those words. Declaring what Father-who-sends us gives us to declare, those are going to be the more world-changing declarations.

Listen first. Then speak.

My children were born for such a time as this.

I’ve been reflecting on some of what Scripture says about the nature of believers’ words in difficult times. Well, our words should be this way in all times, really, but I’ve been thinking about them in difficult times.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” [2Corinthians 1:3,4]

“But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.” [1Corinthians 14:3]

This phrase has been ringing through my spirit the last couple of weeks, as hysteria about the Covid virus “pandemic” has been spreading through the news, through our civilization:

“My children were born for such a time as this.”

We’ve been comforted by our Heavenly Father, who happens to be the King of the Universe. We’ve had so much comfort heaped upon us that we have enough to comfort every person around us.

More than that, we have His own words in our heart and in our mouth, carrying his comfort, carrying his creative power as we speak them into the tumult and cacophony of this world.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” [2 Timothy 1:7]

It’s harder to speak with people when we’re all quarantined in our homes. It takes more intentional effort to check on the folks around us, to speak peace into their world. It’s worth the effort.

Speak the power of love. Speak the power of sound thinking. It’s a beautiful way to derail the spirit of fear that’s trying desperately to run rampant.

You were born for such a time as this.


Done


I found myself writing this down the other day. I wanted to share it, in case it encourages someone:

The Bible does not teach that Christ died “so that we can be saved.” He did not open the possibility for me to do enough good works or do the right deeds so that I can work my way in to heaven.

Rather, he took all the sin and all the judgment that was due to you and to me, past, present & future, and rather than buying the possibility of salvation, what he bought was salvation itself (the Bible calls it a “sure salvation”) that he provided for us. He declared, “It is FINISHED.” As in “There’s no more to do.” Done. Finis.

We (you and I, and everybody else) have the invitation, since God honors the free will he invested in us, to receive that free gift of salvation, or to reject it. It’s only a choice, and the choice is exercised by faith: by believing God’s offer. (Ephesians says that even the faith is a gift from God, not from my own works, specifically so that nobody can boast about it.)

So do you live now, today, in complete freedom from sin? From guilt? From shame? It’s God’s intent that you do. He bought that complete freedom for you!

Think of it this way: God has written me a check, in the amount of “complete forgiveness” (it’s WAY more than that, but we’ll go a step at a time), and he signed it. All I need to do is countersign the back (how? I believe him, I change my thinking) and deposit the check in my bank account.

The Bible is very specific that my works are not only USELESS for the purpose of acquiring salvation – of acquiring ANYthing from God, actually – in fact they actually get in the way, because if I rely on my works, then I do not and cannot rely on His works. It is His works, His finished works, are what accomplishes salvation and healing and grace and power and a clean conscience, and, and, and!

But let’s go back to that check for a moment: that’s not just for my debt to sin, that’s the full resources of Heaven payable to me, a son of the King of heaven, the heir (says Hebrews) of the riches of heaven: by depositing that check, I’m suddenly much wealthier than Steve Bezos, Warren Buffet, and Carlos Slim combined.

And of course, as that sinks in, I’m likely to live a different kind of life than I used to. As I understand my limitless wealth, as I understand how loved and accepted I am, I’m likely to change, to become generous, both in my resources, and in my care and affection. In other words, my actions, my “works” will reflect who I am.

THIS is the place for “good works.”

If I love on people in order to earn something from God, then I have rejected God’s free gift to me: I’ve essentially spat in his face and said, “I’ll do this on my own, thank you very much!” And of course, doing things on my own is not really in the same league as what He can do.

But when I am full of his love, fully accepted by my omnipotent Daddy, then I become generous and loving and giving like He is. Curiously, this often looks the same as the “good works” that I might consider by way of rejecting His gift; but the difference in my heart, in my motive, makes all the difference in the world (literally!).

It’s one thing to give someone gifts in an attempt to force them to love us and accept us. It’s quite another to bring the same gifts because we love them, and because we’re confident in their love for us. We call the first one a “stalker” and we call the police and we get a restraining order; the second is joyfully and gratefully received, and the already-strong relationship is further strengthened.

This is such a big deal that the apostle Paul wrote (Galatians 1): if anybody tries to teach you that you need to do ANYthing in order to be forgiven, to be loved, to become an heir in God’s family (which he describes as “pervert[ing] the gospel of Christ.”), then he says, “Let them be accursed!” If that weren’t enough, he takes it a step further: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.”

“Accursed” is a pretty strong word.

Some time ago, I was meditating on Hebrews 4:16 (“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”) and talking with God about it, when Holy Spirit interrupted me. I could hear the tears in his voice, as he said, “You know, the priesthood wasn’t my idea in the first place.” And he explained Exodus 20:19 to me while he wept. (See http://bit.ly/TheOTHERbenefit)

This is the kind of relationship with God that it’s possible to have. This is God’s idea of what relationship between God and man is supposed to be like. This isn’t what I was taught in Sunday School, this is what I’ve learned from God and his word.

It may not be what you grew up with either. But if you’re up for this kind of a personal, face-to-face relationship with God, you might want to tell him so. ;) I’m very sure you’ll start a beautiful adventure together!

Adjusting the Target

Adjusting the Target

Anybody who lives in this world knows some people who are hurting. I know I do.

I saw some posts recently, “Pray for me,” and “I am needy!” So I looked through their wall for some sort of explanation. And that’s when I heard Holy Spirit’s whisper.

You see, their pages had lots of God’s promises posted, Bible verses, encouraging statements. In the midst of all those promises, Holy Spirit whispered to me, “They’re looking to the Word, but not to Me. Their target is falling short.”

He schooled me, and I could feel the compassion in his heart in the process.

“Focusing on their pain, on their need, blurs their vision, they can’t see me clearly. So they look to my promises instead of to me.

“They think that the promise of what I will do for them when they come to me is enough to blunt the pain, but they stop at the promise; they don’t actually come to me to let me heal them.”

I could feel his tears.

And in this, I’m reminded that it’s our job to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith [Hebrews 12], to think about what is true and noble and excellent and praiseworthy [Philippians 4].

It’s not only counterproductive to put our attention on the need, on the hurts and betrayal, it’s downright contrary to Father’s clear instruction. The reason, I think, is because of the principle, “What you fix your attention on, you empower in your life.”

It’s because looking at the wrong part of the picture inhibits our ability to receive what we need from our Father who loves us!

It’s not the promises of God that heal our heart and provide for our needs. The promises point to our God, our Father, who heals our heart and provides for our souls.

It’s easy, when we’re looking at the pain, at the need, for our eyes to fall short of Him.

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!"
~John 5:39

Jesus and Intercessors


I woke up thinking this morning about how Jesus interacted with folks.

As I was wandering towards wakefulness, I was praying for some folks in my mind, silently. That’s a little unusual for me; I usually pray out loud (it keeps my mind from wandering) and while I’m walking (it keeps me from drifting off).

But I was still snuggled in my bed, two-thirds asleep, so I wasn’t walking anywhere and I wasn’t yet able to speak out loud. I was just remembering a few folks before God, asking his blessing, very specific blessings, on them.

For some of them, I’m asking for healing. Fairly often when I’m praying for healing, I reflect on how the Great Physician did his healing, cuz I want to be more like him.

And I realized that when Jesus was on Earth, he didn’t real often respond to silent prayers, unspoken requests. In fact, there are only a couple of stories where that could maybe have been what he was responding to, but even then, that’s only a guess: the text doesn’t say that. (Consider Luke 7:13 & John 5:6.)

And even in those situations, he interacted with the folks before wielding power on their behalf. This wasn’t an anonymous, drive-by intercession.

The vast majority of times, Jesus was responding to people face-to-face, to passionate people. Often tears were involved. Most (but significantly, not all) of the time, Jesus responded to people who came to him, who interrupted his day, and even then, he sometimes grilled them on what it was that they really wanted (as in Mark 10:51). Specificity, apparently, is good.

It appears that Jesus wanted folks to come to him; maybe it’s my imagination as I read the stories, but it looks to me like he seemed to enjoy the audacious ones (like Mark 2:4 & 10:48).

I observe that Jesus sometimes went way the heck out of his way with the apparent intent of making himself available to be interrupted by people’s passionate petitions (Mark 7:24 & Luke 19:5).

I also observe that Jesus never turned a single person away who had come to him for healing, even when it resulted in delaying his ministry to someone else (as in Matthew 9:20); he stopped for the one, and then went on about the task after fully responding to the interruption, even though it was now a “bigger” job (Mark 5:36).

And then there’s that time that Jesus heard about the need, and did nothing for a couple of days. (John 11:6. Note that the message said, “Lazarus is sick,” but it had taken several days to get the message to Jesus: by the time word reached Jesus, Lazarus was already dead. Jesus waited to respond so that he could be raised after “four days,” a thing that had not been done before.)

I learn from this story that Jesus doesn’t always answer prayers real quickly, and yeah, sometimes things get worse while I’m waiting for that answer. That’s never comfortable, for me or for him (John 11:35).

The conclusion I came to, as I drifted awake, was that Jesus pretty consistently responded to people getting his attention and asking for something. He didn’t generally just see the need and make it happen, and he didn’t appear to respond to polite, delicate, or hidden prayers from comfy places.



Mixing Promises with Faith


I have been meditating, unexpectedly, on Hebrews chapter 4 for a while, the second verse in particular. I was listening to it in The Message when it first hit me.

“We received the same promises as those people in the wilderness, but the promises didn’t do them a bit of good because they didn’t receive the promises with faith.” TMB

This is a topic that Father and I have been cogitating on together for many months. Now, I know that The Message is not the most literal translation of the scriptures, so I wanted to see if the same idea existed in a more precise translation.

“For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.” NKJV

Yep. It’s still there.


The topic I have been working on for a while is this. That God’s promises are not the whole story. There’s more to this story, than just God declaring wonderful promises to us.

Clearly, there has to be. There are so many amazing promises, in Scripture, in public prophetic words, and our daily devotions. If God making the promise was all that was needed for that promise to be fulfilled, we would be living in a Heavenly Utopia right now.

But we’re not. Therefore, ipso facto, there must be more to it.

And this verse tells us what that “more” is. If we don’t mix the promises that he has given us with faith, then the promise goes unfulfilled. The limitation is not his. It is ours.

Hebrews four declares that it has been this way for thousands and thousands of years, since the journey to the promised land. This is the reason that Israel did not inhabit some of the things that she was promised.

And this is a reason that you and I have not experienced the fullness of every one of our promises.

It is probably worth mentioning that the thing that is holding us back is almost certainly not the thing that we *think* is holding us back. It is almost certain that what we think is responding in faith to our promises is not actually the same as what God thinks “mixing those promises with faith” actually is.

We think we are responding to the promises with faith, but either we are mistaken, or God is a liar. I know who I am going to believe in this situation, and it’s not me. I’m going to believe that God is not a liar. So I clearly have missed it on this one.

It is beyond the scope of this brief missive to discuss what actual faith really is, what really will empower all of our promises. But if it was the thing that we call faith, that we have called faith all of our lives, then we would not be living the life that we are currently living, would we?

For the record, it’s pretty obvious that my own definitions of mixing promises with faith have been inferior, or insufficient, also. I suspect that this will be a topic of conversation between Father and myself for quite some time. You are invited to join in this search with me.

The Cutting of the Lord


Jesus promised us that our growth would be rewarded with pruning. We think, “Pruning? That’s cutting! That’s taking things away! That can’t be good!”


Here are some details about pruning.

• Pruning carefully will drastically increase the fruitfulness of the pruned tree. Cutting back results in a dramatic increase of fruit!
• Pruning at the right spot strengthens frame of the base plant. Pruning makes you stronger.
• Pruning is not actually optional (John 15:2). If we bear fruit, we will be pruned. If we do not bear fruit, we’ll be cut back very severely (but not killed), so that when we grow back, we’ll grow fruit. And when we do, we’ll be pruned for even more fruit.

So how does he prune us?

In John 15:3 Jesus says, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” So him speaking his word to us is part of our cleaning, our pruning. This is him speaking to us, mostly through the Book, and a lot of that is about how to respond to the crap in our life.

In Luke 13:8, he gives us more detail. The conversation is about pruning, and in that parable, Jesus says to the Father, “Leave [him] alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it....”

Fertilizer in that day was manure: animal poo. So pruning may show up as crap in our life.

Here’s an example: in Luke 9, the boys are arguing about who's greatest. That's poo. The ambition to be great is actually good. The competition apparently is the poo.

So in 9:48, Jesus prunes them. “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”

This is what pruning looks like. That’s not as bad as we feared, is it?


Does the Bible Tell Lies?

This is a serious question:

If somebody is telling you a flat-out lie, and I report, “This is what they’re saying,” without describing it as the truth or as a lie, Then am I telling you the truth to you? Or am I lying to you?

Related to that:

If somebody is telling a flat-out lie, and the Bible reports, “This is what they said,” without describing it as either truthful or a lie, Then is the Bible speaking truth? Or is it lying?

Of course, I’m going to argue that if the Bible is just reporting what they said, that this it is telling the truth, even if what it is truthfully reporting is a lie. Even when the Bible accurately quotes their lying words, it is telling the truth, and you can have confidence that they did, indeed, tell that lie.

For example, when Bildad the Shuhite says to Job, “When your children sinned against him, [God] gave them over to the penalty of their sin,” [Job 8:4] and the Bible truthfully reports Bildad’s fake news, then the Bible is still speaking the truth, even if Job’s children never sinned, and even if Bildad can’t tell his sphincter from a scepter.

Or when the Bible accurately quotes a snake calling God a liar, and declaring “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil,” [Genesis 3:5], then the Bible is still telling the truth, even though the words it is quoting are a flat-out lie, literally straight from the devil’s mouth.

This leads to a very awkward and uncomfortable place. I’m going to say this bluntly:


  • Not everything the Bible says is true.
  • Some of what the Bible says is a lie, because
  • Sometimes the Bible truthfully reports people’s lies.


That’s going to trigger some folks, but take a deep breath and think about it: we’ve just discussed two specific lies that the Bible quotes. The Bible accurately (“truthfully”) reports the lies. But they’re still lies. They’re still in the Bible. The Bible contains these two lies (and many more).

What’s even more challenging is that the Bible doesn’t generally identify whether people are speaking the truth or telling a lie, just like it doesn’t comment on whether what they’re doing is wise or stupid. It never commented that the snake was lying, or that Bildad was lying.

And there are some epic examples of stupid choices and stupid thinking that the Bible reports to us. If you think about it, you can think of several yourself.

“But what about that verse that says it’s all inspired?”

The verse actually says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” [2 Timothy 3:16] Yep. That’s what it says. And yes, this is true!

So yeah, it’s still good for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. Some of it, by virtue of accurately reporting people’s stupid choices, is particularly helpful for the rebuking and correcting parts! (Yes, David really did seduce his good friend’s wife, and then murder that friend to cover it up. No, we are not teaching that you need to do the same thing!)

In other words, yes, the Bible is still precious, and it is still God-breathed and useful nutrition for saints. But like all nutrition, some of it needs to be chewed well before the nutrients are available to help saints grow.

Don’t just grab pieces and swallow them whole. Find out who said it, who they said it to, and the circumstances they were said in. Learn to chew your food carefully.

The Ministry of Broken People

Here's an interesting observation. I've been with a number of broken people recently. Some of them are regular folks, and some broken people are leaders, occasionally famous leaders.

I'm noticing a trend about some of the broken, messed-up and damaged Believers: God doesn't appear to give a rat's hindquarters about their brokenness. He doesn't seem to be offended by the outcasts, the rejects, the jerks.

If they’re hungry (and that seems to be a clue for all of us!), he is really happy to fill them and use them and empower them. He makes a freakin' mess changing the world through them. He's downright extravagant in showing out through them.

I've been with a number of clean and tidy and well-educated people recently. I'm noticing a trend about some of them, too. They look good, they sound good, they are comfortable to be around.

And there's a whole lot of us in between there.

But really, I see more of God's signs and wonders, more people healed and delivered, more completely unexplainable "coincidences" in the aftermath of the first group. They go places I don't like to go. They take on circumstances that make me uncomfortable. And the glory of God drools out from their brokenness, their foolishness, their awkwardness in ways that most of us aspire to.

It's interesting how our culture labels the beautiful people as the big successes. There's more of us in-betweeners, so we win the popularity polls.

But it's the broken, socially inept, rude, crude and socially unacceptable ones, the ones who actually believe God and His Book, the busted ones trying to do the stuff: these are the ones I think are actually getting it right.

A Rookie Believer

Some years ago, a friend of mine died.

She was a baby Christian, very young in her faith, and frankly, pretty immature, but she was growing.

She was 94, a 94-year-old baby Christian.

So she had a most unusual combination of character traits: some aspects of the wisdom that comes from nearly a century’s experience with life; some aspects that were wet-behind-the-ears fresh and immature. What an interesting person!

Donald Trump reminds me of her. He’s by no means a young or immature man. But he displays signs of what appears to be both sincere faith, and immature faith. I won’t get into what signs I see; you can see them for yourself if you look for them.


If it’s true that Mr Trump is an immature believer (keep in mind that maturity is a condition of the heart, not of the calendar), then we should expect to see some signs of immature faith moving forward.

We should expect to see a whole lot of zeal for the work he’s been given, with maybe a little more optimism than the real world allows for.

We should expect him to see inconsistency in the maturity of his moral and ethical choices. Note that he may or may not be immature of faith but he certainly is immature in politics, and he is not at all immature in business.

We might expect to see mistakes that he needs help cleaning up.


But it would be completely foolish to expect to see him follow the model laid down by your pastor, or by a famous religious leader. He ain’t never been a religious leader, and doesn’t aspire to be. 

Running Ahead of the Pack

Forerunners move out from the crowd they've been running with, to a place ahead of the crowd, where they are an example for others. As a result, it is not uncommon for forerunners to feel isolated, alone.

You need to know that that’s not isolation: that’s forerunning: it’s part of the job description of a forerunner – running ahead of the crowd, not with it – and that solitude is part of God’s provision for you. (Remember how Jesus sought it out? eg. Mark 6:45-46)

Others among the crowd see your example and move forward to join the forerunner or to even move beyond you. So the forerunner will have an empty spot, a vacuum, behind you, where others used to be, where others used to be. The more effective a forerunner is at bringing others forward, the greater the vacuum. Anyone trying to pull away from that vacuum will feel the vacuum pulling back.

Forerunners, that’s one of the things you’re fighting: you need to stay out of that vacuum; you may feel forces pulling you back. Resist the influences trying to pull you back to where you used to be. You need to keep pressing forward, keep reaching for the high calling in Christ Jesus. That’s who you are; that’s how you’re made.

There are others who need to move forward to fill that space behind you, who need to draft behind you, who will be encouraged to keep the pace you set.


Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…. (Hebrews 12:1)



Prophetic Exercise: The Chair by the Fireplace

Here’s an exercise, if you’re willing.

Imagine a comfortable room, a quiet room. There’s a big fireplace in the room, with a roaring fire, and next to the fireplace is a big chair. A Papa chair.

Father is sitting in that chair, relaxed. His eye, with a sparkle in it, is on you. He reaches a hand out toward you.


You can curl up on his lap, if you like, and rest your head on his mighty shoulder. Or you can curl up at his feet if you prefer. But this is a good time to be quiet and to rest with him, however that works best for you.

In the silence, you can hear his heart beating gently, peacefully, strong. His hand is on the back of your head, fingers in your hair, caressing gently.

You can feel the stuff of your day drain out of you, like dirty bath water vanishing down the drain: gone, never to be seen or heard from again, and in its place, you feel the presence of peace on you, like the warmth of the crackling fire.

Be still. Shhh…. Maybe you drift off to sleep for a bit. The quiet is all around you.

After a long time, you realize it’s not quite absolutely silent; you can hear his soft, deep voice whispering your name, over and over. Do you hear him?

Then he speaks to you, quietly, his words like a warm blanket over you. That feels nice.

What do you hear him saying to you?


Stupid Chickens

Chickens.

I have some chickens. They make good eggs and good soup.

But chickens are dumb. Stupid. Completely unintelligent. Goldfish are smarter than chickens. And so I learn a lot about myself from them.

These chickens are domesticated. Really domesticated. They know me as their provider, almost as if I were their god. Any time I open the back door, which they can see from their chicken yard, they cluster around the near side of their pen, eyes on me.

Any time I come near the chicken yard, they cluster around near me, knowing that I am their provider, knowing that very often, when I show up, I bring good things for them to eat. 

They’re constantly looking to me for their provision: what will I bring them today? They remind me of the apostle’s promise, “Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of lights,” only in this case, every good and perfect gift comes from me.

The other day, I brought a large handful of their favorite vegetable, kale, and I tossed it into their pen. They ignored the kale. They didn’t even notice that I’d tossed their favorite veggie into their pen. They just kept their eyes on me, knowing that I might give them something good to eat.

I explained to the brilliant birds: “I already brought you something good to eat. I have already provided for you. Go enjoy what I’ve already given you!”

And they clustered even tighter around that side of their fence, watching to see what I’d give them.

They were so intently focused on the fact that I am their provider, focused on what I might provide for them, that they completely missed the fact that I had already provided for them.

And as I watched them, I heard Father clearing his throat, drawing my attention to their actions. And I knew I was guilty.

There have been times that I’ve been so focused on God, who is my good provider, focused on what God is going to provide for me, that I completely miss what he’s already provided for me.

I’m learning to give thanks more, and to solicit provision less.


Fight the Good fight of Faith

When we don’t question our beliefs, when we just accept what others have told us (whether from a pulpit, from a seminary, or from a publication), there are repercussions well beyond our own belief structures.

Some of the things that we’ve unquestioningly believed for a few generations have functioned as incredible obstacles for people who don’t know God’s nature; some of these people take our un-questioned beliefs literally, point out the very logical failures of those beliefs, and cause formidable damage to our Father’s reputation on the Earth.

One of those beliefs is the version of hell that was primarily outlined by an unbalanced Catholic politician, pharmacist and monk in the 14th century. His imagination was brilliant, but not particularly either Biblical or true. These details which did not trouble him, but his writings have been (probably unintentionally) adopted by the “turn or burn” evangelists as the default definition of “burn.”

Their depictions of Heaven were similarly unbiblical, and similarly designed to maximize the number of people running to the altar at the end of the service.


The result of such haphazard doctrinal foolishness included a large number of “converts” eager to escape this horrendous and unbiblical threat, often described as “buying fire insurance,” which, of course, was never God’s goal. 

My hope is that we will ask questions about what we’re being taught, to test the doctrines that teachers are telling us are “The Truth.”

·         I’ve observed that the more  any particular doctrine  is mirrored in the “distinctive” practices or beliefs of a denomination or a fellowship, the more those particular doctrines need to be challenged. This is true in both traditional denominations and more fundamental or Pentecostal fellowships and denominations.

·         One of the best ways to test our belief sets – in addition to questioning their conformity to Scripture’s simple contextual instruction on the topic – is to examine the fruit of the doctrine. And examine the fruit of that doctrine among believers and among non-believers: does this doctrine increase people’s love for God and love for each other, or does it regularly result in resentment, legalism, judgment, generally keeping people from embracing God’s love for them.


This is part of Paul’s admonitions to his apostolic leaders: “Pay no attention to … myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth.” “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” 

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Monday

Finding God's Will God's Way

I was talking with a friend recently about “finding our life’s purpose in God.” 

That’s a tricky one, isn’t it? We want to know what our calling is for, so we can spend our energy where it’s useful, and where it’s not. And fairly often, for example when we read the parables of the talents or the minas, we feel a real urgency about the topic. Sometimes, it feels like we’re just bumbling around in the fog, instead of actually changing the world. And all of us, whether we admit it or not, want to have an impact on the world.
 
I’ve been battering this topic around rather a lot. I grew up reading stories like God’s Smuggler, where the heroes heard God say, “Go do this!” and they went and did it, and there were miracles. I want to be that guy: the one that gets to walk confidently in God’s leading and in God’s miraculous provision.

I know other folks who have had a prophetic word that’s way bigger than them, or a vision of something big and effective, or just a longing for “more” in a particular area of working with God.

We want God to make that happen. Here’s the problem: I’m not sure that’s a realistic expectation.

I’ve watched folks around me for some decades as they matured in Christ, and I think I’ve discovered some trends. Obviously, there are some folks who are not really attentive to their purpose in God; they just bumble around in one degree of contentment or another, attending conferences, complaining about difficult things, consuming resources and not really impacting the world around them. I’m not talking about them today.

But among those of us who are concerned for what God is planning for us, I think I see three broad categories:

a) Servants: These are the ones to whom God gives a good roadmap, and leads them along the way to the end of the line, sometimes step-by-step. These people often have amazing stories to tell of God’s leading.

Frankly, I suspect that some of these folks are asking out of immaturity (servants ask permission, sons not so much). But some seem to be mature in it, though I myself don’t see many of mature saints in this category.

b) Sons: These people have a rough idea of their calling, and they know their Father, so they just run off and do the things that are consistent with that calling. Most of the time, they learn more about their calling along the way.

The apostle Paul was in this category. Occasionally, God would give him a dream (“Go there!”), but most of the time, he just went. And he planted churches everywhere he went, because that’s who he is. I know an apostle who’s planted churches and Bible schools on three contents, and he says that God hasn’t told him to start any of them. That’s just his calling, and so he’s started hundreds of churches and dozens of schools by now, just being who God made him to be.

c) Useful: There are a lot of folks who would have a terrible time describing their calling, but instead are big on “do what’s right in front of you.” Is there a need to meet? Then meet that need! There are ALWAYS needs right in front of us; which ones we see, which ones we’re drawn to, may be a clue to our calling, but knowing the calling is less important than just “taking care of business” with the things around us. These people make “bumbling around in the fog” a means to being effective in ministry!

I’ve spent decades as one of these people, and it has seemed to work out pretty well. Over the course of meeting those needs right in front of me, I’ve discovered that the needs that I see, the needs that I’m most comfortable meeting, fit into categories, so I’ve moved from a category c) guy to a category b) guy, just by virtue of continually bumbling along.

It’s easy to pooh-pooh the Bumbling Around Method of Finding Your Calling. A lot of us want the kind of direction from God that we’re used to with the matters of this world: a clear email, or an owner’s manual, or even a quick-start guide. We want clear, easy-to-follow directions. Bumbling around in the fog is uncomfortable, darn it!

But God doesn’t very often do that. Even his specific instructions to Paul (Acts 9) were pretty fuzzy: “This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” That’s pretty vague.

Sometimes God gives us a vision or an understanding of something really cool, really mature, and very often it’s a lot of our heart’s desires.  For me, it involved Brother Andrew and God’s Smuggler, and it involved Corrie Ten Boom and The Hiding Place. For others, he speaks to them, like he did with Paul, about the end game:  This is who you’ll be when we’re all done. Sometimes it’s just a vision or a dream, or a longing that’s hard to get rid of.

And we want God to wave his magic wand and make that happen. Or at the very least, to make the Treasure Map appear, with the great big X that marks the spot.

Yeah, no. I’ve never once - not in my life, not in the life of anyone I’ve ever known or heard about, and not in the life of anyone in Scripture - ever seen God wave his wand and make people into the thing they see in the vision, the experience. I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone for whom God gave them any Quick Start guide that was more than that initial prophecy or vision or longing.

Even the apostle Paul! God knocked him off his ass and blinded him for 3 days, but then he took him into the wilderness for perhaps as many as seventeen years, where he trained and mentored him.

He gives the glimpse (prophetic word, vision, longing, whatever) of the end of the process for three key reasons that I can tell about:

1) That glimpse is a target, it’s to help us make choices to aim at that end result, rather than aiming for something that’s not consistent with the way he’s built and accessorized our lives. For example, my glimpse, my longing, is always about equipping saints, and that helps me not try to focus my life on interpreting tongues or mercy ministries. Those are important and valuable, and they are not my area of calling.  

2) It’s to give hope: this is where he’ll take you, provided that you’ll walk with him. I’m of the opinion that hope is under-valued in our world today. Some years ago, God spoke to me about a “worldwide ministry of teaching about the Kingdom of God.” The internet had not even been invented then, so it was hard to imagine a worldwide influence, but the hope of being able to influence saints in favor of participating in God’s Kingdom kept me moving through some times where it would have been easy to crawl home and hide under a rock. (“I can’t do that, there’s this vision out there for me!”)

That illustrates a key principle: what the end result looks like will probably be remarkably different than what we thought it would look like, what we still think it should look like. I think God does that on purpose, because if we saw the end result too clearly, we'd likely rely on our own skills to get there, rather than relying on walking with him to get there. 

3) I think he’s just so excited about our future that he just wants to share it with you! Like any good daddy, he’s terrifically excited about sharing his secrets with his kids, particularly the kids that are going to grow up and inherit the family business.

Paul says, in Romans, “... whatever is not from faith is sin.” So if God just handed us the Complete Guide to Your Eventual Ministry Once You’ve Grown Into Maturity, we wouldn’t need it. And we might not even grow into maturity. If we saw our path to that goal so clearly that we knew every step of the process, then our faith would be superfluous; we’d walking by sight, not by faith.

And “Faith,” it has been said, “is spelled R-I-S-K.”

The process of getting from where we  are now to the place of mature ministry of our vision or prophecy will involve risk. It will involve asking ourselves, “Did God really say that?” and “Is God really leading me in this direction?” And every step of the way - whether we get it right or get it wrong - is moving us to that goal, as long as our heart is set on following Him!

Besides, once we’ve read the last book of the Bible, we get a good understanding of how important it is (to Father and to ourselves) to be an “Overcomer.” And how shall we ever become overcomers if we don’t have doubts, questions, obstacles, enemies to overcome? 

Maybe bumbling around in the fog isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe that’s the best way, the fastest way, to reach our goal after all.

Onward! Through the fog!

Thursday

Dealing With Bible Thumpers

Someone asked me how I respond to Bible Thumpers. Boy did that make me think.

Yeah, that’s a big issue. It’s big enough that Wikipedia has a definition of a Bible thumper (aka “bible basher”):

“Someone perceived as aggressively imposing their Christian beliefs upon others. The term derives from preachers thumping their hands down on the Bible, or thumping the Bible itself, to emphasize a point during a sermon.”

In my experience, this very often manifests as people blindly quoting scripture in conversation, mistakenly believing that this proves their point. Most people can tell when they’ve entered a conversation. And unfortunately, it seems to happen at holiday gatherings more and more.

I used to be a bible thumper. I’m in recovery now. Here’s how I try to respond to bible thumpers. I hope it helps bring freedom to you. It’s a tough one.

I can’t say “Here’s how to do it.” I can only say, “Here are some things I’m trying.” Some are working better than others.

* Make peace with myself about not needing to have all the answers. This one was huge for me.

* When I give answers, I try to speak from experience, including my experience with the Book and my experience with what went wrong, rather than just quote a platitude from the Book.

* If I have to quote a verse as if it were a platitude, I explain quickly how this applies in my world.

* I do not look to thumpers for help; I do not expect them to minister to the real issues of my heart, and I do not let down my defenses to let their religious spirit have access to my soul.

* If someone quotes verses at me, I sidestep the verse. “I’m not interested in your skills with copy and paste [or with quoting verses]. I want to know what you actually think.” Thumpers find this confusing, but a few get it, some sooner than others.

* Occasionally, if I sense it might do some good, I’ll try to bring some sense into the conversation, asking them to support the doctrine they’re proclaiming. Very often, just looking at the context of (verses immediately before and after) the verse they’re wielding is enough to take some of the wind out of their sails.

* If the thumper gives me permission, or if the topic is a big deal, and there are lots of people by the thumpage, I’ll attempt to correct their abuse, either by addressing the topic with more than verses and stale doctrine, or by talking about what actual conversation is like. I hate doing this because I don’t love confrontation, but some situations call for it.

* Then afterwards, I try to go out of my way to make conversation with the thumpers whose thumpage I have just upset. My goal is to hear what they actually think on the topic, and to engage them on why they hold that so strongly, but I’ll take small talk if that’s all I can get.

Note that I am absolutely NOT trying to minimize the effect of the Scriptures in my life, as some thumpers have accused me. Not at all. But I want the Scriptures to work in me, guided by Father’s hand as the living and active scalpel that they are (see Hebrews 4:12).

I’m not willing to submit to someone – anyone, really – wielding scriptures as a bludgeon on me, any more. And as far as I can make a difference, I’m not willing to let others bludgeon those around me either.


So. How do YOU respond to bible thumpers?


What about the Law and the Trials of the End Times?

People regularly quote Second Timothy Three: “You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times.” And Paul outlines much of the difficulties going on in the Roman Empire at the time. And people say, “These are difficult times! Paul must not have been talking about first century Roman Empire, but about twenty first century America (or Europe, or whatever). 

Paul offering pastoral advice to his young protégé. He’s writing from prison, which means he’s writing in AD66 or AD67. And he’s telling Timothy, “Here’s how to pastor this kind of person (verses 8-15, same chapter).

So If Paul is telling Tim how to pastor these people, then “the last days” that he’s talking about in AD67 must be AD70, when the Jerusalem was destroyed, when the temple was destroyed, and most importantly, when the genealogies (which showed who was qualified to be a priest or even a Levite) were burned. Destroyed. Gone forever. 

That was the “Last Days” that Paul was writing about. It’s not about now. It’s about the end of the Law.

Why in Heaven’s name would the apostle write pastoral advice for how to relate to a situation that was exactly what was going on in his day that minute, but give advice that would be about an event that wouldn’t happen for twenty centuries? That’s just silly.

Of COURSE he was writing to what was going on in Tim’s ministry right then.

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So here’s the real question:

Given that the Law of the Old Covenant is dead and gone, given that the “Last Days” talked about in the Bible are generally about “the last days of the Old Covenant,”

HOW SHALL WE THEN LIVE.

Note: this is not a place to argue about whether you agree that the last days are behind us. This is an “If – then” question:


If the evil things and the “difficult times” that the New Testament writes about have already happened, what do we do with our lives?

That’s the question that really matters. If we’re going to focus on the days ahead, let's focus on what’s important. 

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.