Showing posts with label holy cows. Show all posts
Showing posts with label holy cows. Show all posts

Thursday

Transformed Thinking about Scripture

It's hard, isn't it, to let the Scriptures stand on their own, particularly when they're passages that are a little uncomfortable for us, a little unfamiliar to us, passages that don't entirely support our current beliefs.

It's hard to just listen to what the Book is saying, without filtering it through our theology and fitting it into a tidy little theological box. When a verse or story doesn't support my view, and sounds almost like it could be used to support the other view, that makes me nervous, and I feel the need to quote verses that support my view to make me feel better.

So instead of that, I'm working on learning to not filter uncomfortable, unfamiliar passages through either my theology or yours. Sorry. Nothing personal. If it's true that "All scripture is God-breathed and profitable...," (and it is) then the passages that argue against my theological boxes are God-breathed and profitable as well. I want to profit from them, too!

I suspect that this is at least part of what he means when he tells us to renew our minds [Romans 12:3, Ephesians 4:23]

To my great surprise, that state of NOT having answers is becoming more comfortable, more comforting to me. It's in THAT place where Father can whisper to me, not so much his interpretation, but his heart on the matter.

I love it when he does that. I value hearing his whisper, his breath, as far more important to me than having perfect little theological boxes.

So if you find me posting about, or musing about uncomfortable things here, you may want to skip over them, and keep your theological boxes in tidy order. Or you may want to jump in and look for what God's breathing on there.

Prophetic Flavor


When God speaks through a prophet, is the prophet experiencing God? Is the prophet speaking for God? Let’s assume ‘Yes,’ in the cases we’ll discuss today.

Now what language is that prophet speaking in? Which human language is she using to deliver the immediate message from the infinite heart of God to Earth?

Well now, that’s going to depend. The voice of God expressed in that prophetic word will generally come in the language that the prophet knows, and will always come in the language that those the Lord is speaking to know. Around here, that’s English. God speaks in English, specifically American English. With the ‘r’s included.

Why does God speak English? English is certainly not God’s first language. English is not the official language of Heaven. None of the Bible was actually written in English, it needed to be translated. When God became man and walked on this ball of dirt, he didn’t even speak English then. Why would God speak English?

Why wouldn’t he speak Latin? Latin is a good language for careful communication. Or German. German can handle a whole lot of ideas that English can’t. Why doesn’t God speak German?

You already figured that out. If God’s prophesying to me (or through me) God doesn’t use German because I don’t know German (yet). The reality is that God is more committed to the people to whom he is speaking than he is to the sterile, strict, legalistic communication of his words.

When he’s speaking to English speakers (such as myself), he is kind enough to speak in English. When he is addressing Germans, he speaks German. When he’s speaking to Imbongu tribes people of Papua New Guinea’s southern highlands, he speaks Imbongu to them.

In this, God is modifying his message because of the vessel he’s speaking through, and because of the limitations of the people he’s speaking to. He limits the infinite, omniscient thoughts of the Almighty to a message that a human can communicate, and another human can hear, understand and respond to.

It’s like all of infinity has just a little tiny pinhole to get through. So most of it doesn’t make it. Most of God’s infinite thoughts don’t make it through that pinhole to me. For example, I’ve never heard God talk to me about why he made Deneb, in the constellation Cygnus, as a stable blue-white star instead of a variable star like 9 Cephi [in the constellation Cepheus, of course]. For some reason, that information hasn’t made it through the translation from the vastness of Heaven’s knowledge to the realm of human knowledge.

God modifies his message in order to fit people better. Sometimes he speaks English, sometimes he speaks German, sometimes, he speaks Imbongu.

Another way to say that is that God modifies the way he reveals himself to us so that his infinite omnipotence doesn’t blow up our mortal little brain cases. Every experience we have of God is ‘toned down’ from the full-power of the Infinite Almighty.

More than that, it’s toned down in ways that speak to individuals. Like speaking in a human language, he also tones down visions and spiritual experiences. Jesus’ presentation of the Kingdom of God was much different to Mary Magdalene than his presentation to the Apostles, and both of those were different than his presentation to the Pharisees of the day.

So God limits what he shares, how much he shares, and how he shares it, based on who he’s sharing with.

But he also governs what he shares, how much he shares and how he shares it based on who he’s saying it through. Everything we hear God say through a prophet is flavored by that prophet, by that prophet’s language, by that prophet’s history with God.

Now, let’s go one step further. I think that God specifically chooses among available prophetic voices in order to find one whose particular flavor is pleasing to him about the topic he wants to communicate.

I can imagine God getting ready to deliver a word to a congregation, and he’s thinking, ‘I could send it through Shaniqua, because she’s got a great gift of mercy, and this is a tough word. Or I could use Digory because he’s ready to start giving public words. But I think I’ll use Ivanka this time; her mind is so logical and ordered that this word coming through her will be understood by Thomas over in the corner, and he’s the one that is the key to the whole thing. Besides, it’ll do Pastor Bob good to get a good word like this through someone like Ivanka!’

When you prophesy, don’t go out of your way to remove your own personality from the message. God counts on the messenger to flavor the message he’s distributing. And remember: God likes your flavor.


Tuesday

Lessons on Giftings & Callings From an Unlikely Source


I learned some things recently, and it’s not exactly rocket science.

This fellow looks like an eighteenth century British scientist, kind of like Sir Isaac Newton. Both were knighted by the queen (different queens), and they’re both astrophysicists, but this fellow is way more well known than Newton, though not primarily for his astrophysics.

Sir Brian May is better know as the guitarist and co-founder of a band that the Guinness Book of Records says is literally more popular than the Beatles ever were. He’s also a Doctor of Astrophysics, a 3-D stereoscopic photographic authority and a passionate advocate and campaigner for animal rights. (https://brianmay.com/brian/biog.html)  

I was listening to a song he wrote in honor of a flippin’ spaceship of all things (it’s a wonderful song: https://youtu.be/j3Jm5POCAj8), when some interesting thoughts wandered by.

• Your reputation does not determine who you are, or what you get to do with your life. (There are exceptions.)

• Your gifts and skills, even your gifts, do not determine who you are or what you get to do with your life. (Though they may provide some limits.)

• If you have great skills in one area, don’t be afraid to use those skills. (Planet Rock rates May as the seventh greatest guitarist of all time. [https://nwp.link/2FvwYoa])

• If God blindsides you with success in an area, don’t be afraid of changing your path. (May was in the midst of his doctoral thesis on the Motions of Interplanetary Dust when his side gig, a band called Queen, suddenly found some success. He quit his studies to play guitar.)

• If you follow the blessing of God, don’t necessarily let go of your previous dreams. (After a 30-year break for rock-and-roll super-stardom, May finished his thesis, and got his PhD in 2007.)

• You can still follow other interests, too. Your job or your studies (or your ministry) is not your entire life. (May started a stereoscopic imaging publishing company, was a University chancellor for a few years, and was a collaborator with NASA for the New Horizons Pluto mission.)

My sense is that some people (I decline to comment about whether this includes myself or not) have sometimes felt, “Well, I have some gifting [or some success, or some training] here, I guess this is what I’m going to do with my life,” as if the gifts of God were a life sentence.

Stated in more blunt vocabulary, a lot of western believers seem to be awfully religious about their life choices, choosing a career because of religious expectations, or following a path of failure (of one sort or another) just because they see it as their religious “duty.”

I’m not saying your choices will lead you down an easy path. Most of God’s paths aren’t rosy: look at Jesus’ example. But if Jesus isn’t on the path, maybe you shouldn’t be either.

If you’re looking for Biblical support for this, consider how Jesus walked away from successful ministry (Luke 4:43), or how Paul bypassed part of the Great Commission for his ministry choices (compare Matthew 28:19’s commands with 1Corinthians 1:17).

Walk with Jesus. Know him well. Love him well. Then do what you want, what you feel you should do. Do what actually works for you.


Thursday

Decently and In Order


“On the day Pentecost was being fulfilled, all the disciples were gathered in one place.  Suddenly they heard the sound of a violent blast of wind rushing into the house from out of the heavenly realm. The roar of the wind was so overpowering it was all anyone could bear!  Then all at once a pillar of fire appeared before their eyes. It separated into tongues of fire that engulfed each one of them.  They were all filled and equipped with the Holy Spirit and were inspired to speak in tongues—empowered by the Spirit to speak in languages they had never learned! …

When the people of the city heard the roaring sound, crowds came running to where it was coming from, stunned over what was happening, because each one could hear the disciples speaking in his or her own language.  Bewildered, they said to one another, “Aren’t these all Galileans? … Yet we hear them speaking of God’s mighty wonders in our own dialects!”  They all stood there, dumbfounded and astonished, saying to one another, “What is this phenomenon?”

But others poked fun at them and said, “They’re just drunk on new wine.”

Peter stood up with the eleven apostles and shouted to the crowd. “Listen carefully, my fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem. You need to clearly understand what’s happening here.  These people are not drunk like you think they are, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.”

This [Acts 2, TPT] is what happened at the first gathering of the saints after Jesus left for Heaven. That was quite a meeting. Functionally, it would be hard to distinguish this “church service” from a riot in the streets. This was not tidy.


By the Law of First Mention – this being that first meeting where the Holy Spirit shows up – this meeting is our standard for when the Holy Spirit shows up in our midst.

This is the Scriptural precedent for 1 Corinthians 14:40: “All things should be done decently and in order.” [RSV]

This is what Holy Spirit considers “decently and in order” when he comes among us.

Let everything be done decently and in order. 




Sunday

Whose Holiday Is It Anyway?


Whose Holiday Is It Anyway?

Point One: Plunder. When you conquer an enemy, the enemy’s property becomes your property.

Plunder has been defined as “the indiscriminate taking of goods by force as part of a military or political victory.” Foot soldiers viewed plunder as a way to supplement an often meagre income and transferred wealth became part of the celebration of victory.

On higher levels, the proud exhibition of loot formed an integral part of the typical Roman triumph, and Genghis Khan was not unusual in proclaiming that the greatest happiness was “to vanquish your enemies ... to rob them of their wealth”. [Wikipedia]

Point Two: Naming rights. When you conquer a territory, you have the right to rename that territory, and to assign new purpose to that territory.

“When the territory of the Danites was lost to them, they went up and attacked Leshem, took it, put it to the sword and occupied it. They settled in Leshem and named it Dan after their ancestor.” [Joshua 19:47]

See also: Constantinople Turkey, Ponce Puerto Rico, Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam, Lviv Ukraine, Valdivia Chile, Puerto Cortés Honduras, Al-Sadiyah Iraq,

Point Three: We are “more than conquerors” and we are children and heirs of the One who has conquered the world. [Romans 8:37, John 16:33]. “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” [Revelation 11:15]

As conqueror of the systems of this world, Jesus has – and since we are in him and he is in us, we have – the right to rename and re-purpose conquered territory. This is ours.

Point Four:  There once was a “goddess” named Ēostre, an obscure Old English “diety” of the dawn, and by some records, the source of our dawn-related celebration we call Easter.

Ēostre has been well and truly conquered. So has Ishtar, whose name does not contribute to our holiday, but who has fallen before our conquering King.

We have the right by conquest to rename the conquered earthly holidays, to cancel their earthly origins and publicly display our King’s victory over them.

Yeah, Easter used to be something else to somebody else. But it’s not theirs any more, unless we, as the spokespeople of the Kingdom of God give it back to the conquered demons. Same for Halloween and Christmas and any other holiday you care to name.

They’re ours now. Don’t give ‘em back!




Thursday

Guard Your Heart

You’ve all heard people talking about “guarding your heart.” You’ve probably heard a sermon or ten on the topic.

It’s usually presented as, “Don’t let the enemy influence your heart in any way.”

A famous Bible teacher said it this way, “The enemy wants to embitter and corrupt you. Guard your heart against contamination by lust and loneliness, bigotry and arrogance, and everything in between.”

Now that’s all well and good, but I saw this in a new light recently. It messed up my thinking, and I think I'm on to something.

I used a revolutionary new Scriptural Interpretation Technique (maybe we can call it SIT?) for this new revelation. Let me share it with you:

• Read the whole freaking verse.

That’s it. Read the whole verse. Pretty complicated, isn’t it? Let’s practice this together on this topic, shall we?

Turn with me to Proverbs 4:23: “Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.”

Do you see what it’s saying here? It’s not talking about guarding your heart so you don’t think bad thoughts. If you’re in love with Jesus, if your mind is “fixed on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1&2), then there’s no room for the bad thoughts anyway.

It says, “Guard your heart… for....” “For” is an awfully big word. In other words: “Here’s the reason you guard your heart: because stuff springs out of your heart if it’s not guarded well.”

Have you ever spoken before you took a second to think, and wished you could take those words back? Have you ever discovered that you related to somebody through a messed-up filter? Have you ever believed a lie, and had that lie influence how you do life?

The reason you guard your heart, the reason I need to guard my heart, is not so bad stuff doesn’t get IN. It’s so the issues of my life don’t get OUT to mess up other people.

Moreover: our job is to guard our heart DILIGENTLY so we don't let the wrong stuff out. This is a big deal.

We don’t guard our heart to protect ourselves. We guard our heart to protect the folks around us.

(Wait. How often are we actually commanded to protect ourselves, and let everybody else fend for themselves? Yeah, like never. So this is consistent with the “whole counsel of God” too! Nice.)

--

“Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.”



Anointed Worship: What Does That Really Mean?

I had an interesting revelation recently. I’d like your take on it. This might be a little convoluted, so follow close here. This took me down unfamiliar paths; perhaps they’ll be new ideas to you as well.

I was worshipping in the morning, and I was using a track from one of my favorite worship bands. The track was a very popular worship song: everybody and their bass player has covered it.

I found myself drawn into that place of intimate worship. I was thankful for such an anointed song to help lead me into the place of the sacrifice of worship. 

And it began to dawn on me that yes, there was an anointing here, but it wasn’t on the song. Hmm. Yes? Tell me more. 

I considered for a while the possibility that some songs might not carry an anointing on them, but people using the song for anointed purposes still produces an anointing.

That didn’t quite fit right. Why would this song be anointed, and that song not be anointed? (Yeah, I know: there are answers for this, but that’s not the path my meditation took this morning.) Might the anointing on a song vary with the anointing on the songwriter? Or the anointing present during the songwriting.

Then I recognized a feeling in my spirit: That’s not the right path; you’re getting distracted. (Have you ever played “hot & cold” [“You’re getting warmer…..”] when your parents or someone hid something for you to find? We did that with Easter eggs. This was like that.)

So I backed off and just listened in my spirit, watched to see what Holy Spirit might be highlighting for me.

After a bit, I realized that while He uses songs, it’s not songs that He anoints. Hmm.

The infinitely personal Spirit of the Immortal God doesn’t anoint melodies or harmonies with His presence, nor lyrics, though he’s quite happy to use them all. He doesn’t anoint the guitar solo, or the percussion mix, or the click track. It’s not the song’s arrangement, or the engineer’s mix of the song or use of equalization and reverb that carries God’s presence. Neither is it the choice of instruments nor the choice of microphones. It’s not the physical CD, or the data of the .mp3 or .wav file that He anoints.

God anoints people. God’s anointing is on people (and Biblically, you can make a case that he’s not all that particular about which people, believers or not), not on people’s tools. My tool is mine; God doesn’t typically anoint my stuff. God anoints what’s his: you and me.

I’m still working through the question of whether God anoints the tasks that we do; for the moment I think not, that His anointing is on people as they do the tasks, but the jury is still out on that one.

And here’s where it gets personal. This means – if I’m understanding His heart correctly – that when I sense God’s anointing on a worship song, as I did in this morning, that I’m mistaken.

I can think of a couple of directions that could go:

  • I’m pretty sure that very often what I mean when I say “It’s an anointed song,” is that I’m remembering experiencing His anointing while engaging Him with that song in times past. Our emotional memories are really powerful, and it could be those emotions I’m remembering.

  • Or when I experience an anointing in the context of a song, it may be that my own spirit (and perhaps my soul, too) is trained, conditioned to quickly and smoothly enter into the place where I experience his anointing. I can think of worse conditioned responses.

  • Closely related to the above, I think I’ve experienced times where my spirit is so thirsty that it leaps with joy at the barest hint of an opportunity to worship my Creator/King/Lover, and I mistake that leap toward Him for His anointing. I guess this one speaks to the quality of my private worship times. I confess, I love it when my spirit leaps to worship, but it is a sign of lack of spiritual nutrition in my life. Hmm.

  • Since I’m trying to be honest here, the possibility also exists that I’m deceived, too. It is a real possibility that when I experience something associated with a song which I’ve used for spiritual purposes, that I’m actually engaging a religious spirit. Let’s be honest, there is a lot of manipulation that happens in some times and places where we worship God. Looks like I need to keep my discernment ears on.

  • Or something else may be going on.


But God’s anointing is on people. Not tools. 

The Controversial Source of the Law.

God offered, “You [Israel] will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:6) God offered a covenant of equals: you and me, face to face with God with nothing in between. Peers.

They rejected his offer, and counter-offered, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” (Exodus 20:19)


They proposed the intermediary, which is what a priesthood is. And they promised to listen. The original language contains a hint of obedience, but no, this isn’t an express promise (which was probably good).

They rejected the peer relationship, the covenant of equals, and they substituted a vertical relationship: big god with the rules (and therefore the spank stick), and the only way to know him is through a priest. Ick.

So the idea of a priesthood was not God’s idea, but the people’s. And the idea of hearing and obeying rules wasn’t God’s idea, but the people’s. He wanted a face-to-face with every living being, but they threw that back in his face and demanded a priesthood and rules.

So God was backed into a corner: either relate to people through a priesthood and rules, or walk away, wipe his hands clean and start over again.

But he’s not One to walk away.

So he submitted his mighty self to their silly little demands. It was better than no relationship at all.

They wanted a priesthood: Moses started it with Aaron, and it continued on. That’s what Leviticus is all about. Don’t you love Leviticus? Isn’t it fun to read?

They wanted rules. So God gave them a handful. Those rules were never about “Do this and you go to Heaven.” They were “Do this and you won’t get spanked.” (see Deuteronomy 30, and Luke 10:28). “Do this and you won’t be cursed.”

But they broke covenant before the rules were even delivered (remember the golden calf?). Then came more rules. And they failed those, so he had to give them other rules, more specific rules.

If you have rules, then you need to have an enforcer, and that is ALWAYS your god. So God was party to a covenant he didn’t want, and was the enforcer if the people didn’t keep their end of the covenant.

No wonder God was glad to be rid of that covenant. “By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” (Hebrews 8:13)  He never wanted the stinky old rules or the silly little priesthood in the first place.


Prophetic Exercise: The Judge's Bench

Since the prophetic gifts are for the real world, think of a real world person that’s going through some trouble, someone you’ve been praying for recently. Write down their name.

Now look in the Spirit, and look behind you. You see there a tall, oak, judge’s bench. Jesus is standing there, smiling, waiting for you.

He takes you around to the far side of the bench, and up the stairs behind it. But rather than sit down himself, Jesus sits you in the great chair behind the bench. When you take your seat, you’re find that you’re wearing black robes, and you have a wooden gavel in your right hand. Are you wearing a white wig, too? 

Take a moment, if you need to, to deal with the emotions of being in a place like this. Ask him questions if you need to, but don’t argue with him. This is your assignment today, if you choose to accept it.

Now look out over the judge’s bench. From your new vantage point, see your friend, whose name you wrote down. Observe them for a minute as they go about their day. As you’re watching them, let Jesus show you his love for them, his compassion for the crud they’re going through. Rest there for a moment, feeling his heart for them.

Then Jesus reaches over and touches your eyes. And now you can see more clearly from the bench, and with his help, you begin to see the cloud of miserable, filthy, little spirits that have been harassing your friend. Recognize their crimes, their trespasses, their rebellions against their rightful king and against your friend. 

Jesus leans over and whispers, “Judge them!” Identify them, their names and their crimes. Recognize, by the Spirit who’s in you, the name, the assignment, the work of one of the demons harassing your friend. Speak that name out loud, and bang the gavel as you do name it. Write it down if that helps.

Then watch what happens next. When I did this, as I spoke the name, as I named each spirit, it was as if my gavel moved on its own, gently tapping, “Guilty as charged” to each of my charges, and with each tap, a beastie was bound. Soon, I got into it, reaching into my spirit for the discernment of each spirit and shouting its name, its crime. The gavel would bang and the demon was bound.

Look around. Do you see angels in the courtroom? What do you see them doing? Consult with Jesus: what is his counsel on the work you’re doing?

This isn’t a game. This is literally life and death, but don’t interpret that to mean that you can’t enjoy the work you’re doing. Get into the work. Reach deep within your spirit to accurately name each spirit, and as you name it, watch as it’s snatched from the air around your friend and bound. Observe what happens to it next, if that’s revealed.

You may or may not have gotten to each of the demons harassing your friend when you feel that you’re done, when you feel the grace for this work lift, or when you hear Jesus say, “OK. That’s enough for this time.” Don’t stay there beyond the grace for the work. Your friend is destined to be an overcomer; they need something to overcome.

It helps me to go back through the session’s work: declare your friend’s freedom, thank God for your friend’s freedom from each of the spirits that you bound today. And when you’re done, perhaps as an act of worship, burn the list: don’t keep a record of hell’s work in their life.

Now, by my counsel, I’d recommend that you don’t talk to them about this experience, not for a long, long time, and this is for your benefit, not theirs. We tend to think, “Well, I bound up a spirit of self-pity, so they won’t be falling into self-pity any more!” Yeah, that’s not how it works.

If you bound the spirit of self-pity, then that spirit of self-pity isn’t plying its trade in their life any longer. But that doesn’t break years of self-pitying habits, or generations of self-pitying traditions. It means that spirit isn’t working there any more, not that they’re perfect now. 

And of course, don’t stop praying for your friend.  

Contempt for God's Kindness

This just ambushed my thought process.

Romans 2:4 says, “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”

He’s challenging the Roman believers for showing contempt for the riches of God’s kindness, forbearance and patience.

Yikes.

Who are the folks showing contempt for God’s kindness?

Well, this verse indicates part of that: the folks who don’t realize that it’s God’s kindness which leads to repentance. Folks who preach something other than God’s kindness? Yeah. Them.

The context makes it even more clear: those who “pass judgment on someone else” (v1) are the folks he’s addressing.

He’s very specific: “Do you think you will escape God’s judgment?” (v3) That’s pretty strong language there, Paul!

More specifically, Paul is saying that believers who condemn other believers, believers who emphasize something other than God’s kindness are “storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath.” (v5) That’s what it’s saying, isn’t it?

That’s kind of a problem.

You know these people: people who get in your face (in person, or on Facebook) and shout about how others are going to hell for their sin, or how a nation needs to repent in order to escape God’s wrath. There are folks who go around denouncing everybody who believes differently than they do as false.

Unfortunately, a whole lot of this garbage comes from pulpits around the country.

When you see them, first of all, don’t buy the manure that they’re selling. It’s not good for them and it’s SURE not good for you. In fact, if you’re able, don’t even let them spew that garbage on you. Walk away.

But more than that: pity them. Pray for mercy for them. Because the path they’re on is storing up wrath against themselves for the day of God’s wrath.

And most of all, do not go with them. That’s a pretty ugly destination they’re headed to. If they insist on going there, you do NOT need to go with them.

Show them kindness.

#PrayForGrace

Not Reluctantly. Not Under Compulsion.

Not Reluctantly, or Under Compulsion

Should believers ever charge for their services, for the exercise of their God-given gifts?

Many people quote this verse (from 1 Corinthians 9), “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion.”

Then they use it to judge each other.

They use this verse, often quite forcefully, to say, “I should have the freedom to give you what I want for your services (or products). You should not make your prices compulsory!” The most frequent examples are authors, counselors and conference speakers: they are “reluctant” to pay $80 an hour for professional counselling, or $40 for a weekend of worship and teaching at a conference, so they pull out this verse to justify their outrage at having to pay for the services they voluntarily choose to make use of. “That’s a gift from God. How dare you charge me for what you got for free?”

Some have been audacious enough to suggest, “Well, if you don’t want to pay for that conference (or book, or counselling), don’t buy it. Nobody is forcing you.” This is generally met with yet more outrage. “It’s my right! Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do!” (And this is an excellent illustration of a spirit of entitlement in action.)

It’s interesting that we can recognize the foolishness of this when we apply this “principle” in other places. “Walmart shouldn’t have prices. We should be free to pay whatever we want!” “Chick fil A shouldn’t have prices on its menu!” or “I’m going to have my car's engine rebuilt, but I don’t think I should pay the mechanic. After all, those skills are just a gift from God.” I’m pretty sure those wouldn’t be received well.

I find it curious that these people are not willing to let the conference speaker do the same thing they demand for themselves, to “decide in [her] own heart what to give.” Rather, these outraged consumers insist that authors and public speakers make their life work available for whatever they themselves have decided in their heart to give in exchange.

In other words, “It’s for ME to decide if I want to give you money, but YOU don’t get to decide if you want to give away your life’s work!”

Don’t we see the hypocrisy in this?

Perhaps it is significant that I’ve never heard anybody use this verse to defend someone else. If we’re going to apply it to ourselves, then it applies to our brothers and sisters, doesn’t it? Yet nobody has ever said, “This conference speaker should give what he has decided in his time to give, not reluctantly and not under compulsion. He should not be required to work for the rate that I want to pay him. That’s his choice, not mine!”

The verse in question (2 Corinthians 9:7) doesn’t actually apply in this conversation, anyway. Paul is not laying this down as a general principle for doing business in this. Not at all. He’s talking about receiving a voluntary offering for an impoverished church. He’s not talking about demanding things from other believers. He’s certainly not talking about how we demand others run their businesses and ministries!

Bigger picture: Are we not sons and daughters of the King of Kings? That makes us royalty, doesn’t it? Royalty never (not ever!) go around demanding goods and services for free. In fact, royalty goes out of their way to out-give others, to demonstrate generosity. That is our heritage, not shaming people trying to feed their family with the tools God has given them.

We, as sons & daughters of the greatest King of all, should behave like royalty, not like begrudging beggars, particularly with one another.

~nwp



Study to Show Yourself Approved?

Has someone brought this up to you before? 

"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."

That's the King James for 2Timothy 2:15, and people often bring this up as a justification for their fascination with the Old Covenant, or to reinforce their point that you have to earn favor. 

There's so much Scriptural bastardry in how we've taught this verse. I'm really quite embarrassed.

First, "Study" in 1611, when King Jimmy commissioned his translation meant what the Greek word σπουδάζω means. However, in 21st Century English, the word means "be diligent," or "do your best." It has nothing to do with academic study. 


I'm very much in favor of studying the Bible. But this verse is not even remotely talking about that. Illustrations (like the one here) that tie this verse to a picture of a Bible are seriously missing the point of this scripture!

Second, παρίστημι, "show yourself" (or worse, "shew thyself
") in 1611, is more about "Show what you're really like," not "work for your approval."

"Approved" speaks of a coin that's been demonstrated to be real silver, not lead or tin: this is the real thing. Again, "Show what you're really like."

So the whole thing is more about, "Be careful to let who you really are show." The idea of "Don't hide God's delight in you" is there as well.

We could go on.

This is probably why the NIV (the "Nearly Inspired Version" lol) translates it as "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth."

For decades, this verse was used as a club, justifying church rules and expectations, requiring my suffering sweat (or my academic study) in order to be acceptable.

Don't let people use the Bible as a club. It's a love letter from a lovesick Daddy who wants his kids back. Anybody that uses Scripture to control others is a good person to pray for, but not a good person to follow.

Reflections On American Political Candidates

Election Thoughts

This has been the strangest presidential election season I can remember, and I remember back to JFK in the 1960s. Fair warning this is going to appear really cynical, but stick with me to the end before you write me off. 

If nothing else, the campaigns of this political season have given us nearly endless material for sardonic memes and twisted humor. But our laughter is mostly sad, not humorous, and it’s without hope.

We can easily find a thousand reasons why Mr Trump is not fully qualified to be Chief Executive of America. And his opponents are right: he really is crass and thoughtless, maniacally egotistical and he lacks any political experience whatsoever.

And just as easily, we can find a thousand reasons why Ms Clinton is not fully qualified to be Chief Executive of the United States. And her adversaries are right: she really is power hungry, committed only to her own aspirations, and she lacks any experience whatsoever other than political experience.

There appear to be a small number of people who are honestly confident supporting one candidate or the other, and there probably are a few more who are so blindly loyal to their ideology that they could not conceive of not voting for the candidate of their favored political party. And I’ve met individuals who are convinced that it’s “God’s will” that whichever candidate they support should defeat the candidate that they demonize, and anyone who disagrees is obviously opposing God.

I find myself considering the two options in terms of which choice is less unthinkable. Would I despise myself less if I voted for Hillary to be my president, or would I forgive myself sooner if I cast my ballot for The Donald to be my president. I can’t decide.

I don’t think that’s a very good way to make decisions anyway: which would I hate myself less for, should I support them? Neither candidate is tolerable from my viewpoint.

Well then. If I don’t vote for the candidate, then perhaps I could vote for one party or the other.

But that doesn’t offer to help much either. One party says they support the business and economic foundation of our country, and that’s a good thing, and they speak about certain moral choices that I’m used to supporting. The other party says they support the social foundation for the country, and that’s a good thing, and they want to help people that can’t help themselves and I'm used to supporting that.

That’s what they say. But when I watch what they do, I observe that there’s not so much difference between the two parties. Both of them seem to have sold out their collective souls for campaign contributions and Political Action Committees. And certainly, both parties have let any opportunity to create actual change slip through their fingers, as they have both of them lined their own pockets, secured their own retirements, and exempted themselves from the rules they demand everyone else shall live under.

Worse, both parties in our two-party political system appear to be on somebody’s payroll, and it looks to me like they’re on the same somebody’s payroll. And if I look closely, it appears that this real power behind them, if I were judging by what their handsomely-paid minions actually accomplish, that someone seems to hate my country and despise my faith.

So I can’t, in clear conscience, vote for either party. More specifically, were I to vote for either party, for either candidate, it seems to me that I’d be completely wasting my vote. The “powers that be” would accomplish their own agenda, regardless of who sat in the oval office and took their orders.

Maybe I’ve been gazing into Heaven for too long, but the “halls of power” of this earth sure look pitiful and powerless to me recently. And it dawns on me that our electoral process serves the same purpose in our generation that the Coliseum served in Rome’s day: cheap entertainment for the masses, keeping them distracted from the real issues in the country, in the world.

All of this has led me to this strange thought: If casting my vote for Donald or Hillary is a wasted vote, a meaningless gesture, then is there something that I can do with my vote that is not a waste, that is instead meaningful?

When you begin to think outside the box, all sorts of opportunities begin to show themselves.

Here are some of my thoughts about what I could do instead of investing myself in a political process that revolves around choosing the less despicable of two despicable candidates for a increasingly powerless position. (Note that I am not saying that the presidency is “powerless,” merely that is it has less real power, less ability to effect real change, than it used to have.)

·         I could decide not to participate in the political charade at all, choosing to invest my time, money and energy into something useful. Perhaps I could pray, not so much for “my candidate” to win, but for the values of the Kingdom (love, for example, or humility) to be present in those who lead my nation or yours.

·         I might choose not to participate in the political process at all, choosing instead to invest that time, money and energy into something that brings peace, rather than supporting tension, division and outrage. Perhaps I could plant a garden, or begin volunteering at the food bank, or take a vacation, or teach someone to read, or sit with my family in the evenings. Maybe I could write a story or make pottery or just dig a hole and fill it back up again.

·         I could participate in the political process, but do it in a new and different way. Perhaps I could cast my vote for candidates not affiliated with the two main parties: it’s time we were done with the two-party system anyway. There are competent candidates from the Libertarian party and the Green party. Maybe it’s time to vote for them, since my vote would be meaningless if I squandered it on Donald or Hillary anyway.

·         I could ignore the national political scene altogether, and invest myself in my city’s government, or police force, or port commission or fire department or school board. Instead of being a tiny voice among millions of tiny voices shouting in favor of the despicable candidate or the unconscionable candidate, maybe I could be a real voice, maybe one that has a chance to actually get heard, in a much smaller and infinitely less-glamorous arena in my own neighborhood.

·         Instead of giving donations to candidates or committees or other political tomfoolery, perhaps I could give my money, and maybe even (gasp!) my time, to the local street mission, or to foreign missions, or to that business that’s trying to create jobs for the otherwise unemployable members of our society. 

·         Instead of participating in the time-honored tradition of blindly defending my candidate and pouring out my outrage on their opponent, perhaps I could choose to invest in words that heal, words that encourage. These could be distributed anywhere: public transportation, local businesses, local government. Some of these places – some of these people – haven’t heard a real “voice of reason” for longer than they can remember. Maybe I can be that voice of reason, or maybe I can aspire to be a voice of encouragement and hope.


I’m interested in your opinion – certainly not your opinion about candidates – but about how you could defy “the system,” how you could get out of “the box” and do something meaningful. 

The best part of the conversation will be on Facebook. Come join in.

God Teaches a Teetotaler About Beer.

I grew up in a “dry” household. My family never drank alcohol. We didn’t vilify it, we just didn’t consider it, though occasionally at big family dinners at Grandma’s, my parents and other adults would drink something red out of goblet. They made funny faces when they drank it, so I wasn’t real eager to try it.

I grew up and learned religion. So of course, my home was a dry household. And then I worked for a pastor who never taught that alcohol was evil, but he surely acted as if it were, and expected his staff to as well. It started me thinking.

Eventually, we had children in our alcohol free home, and it was good, of course. Until God intervened.

On one of my regular retreats, on a solo camping trip, God woke me up in the middle of the night and warned me that I was failing my children. OK. he had my attention.

I crawled out of the back of the pickup where I was sleeping so I wouldn’t fall asleep in the middle of our conversation. Sure enough, the little voice, the impression in the back of my head continued:

“In a few years, your children will be entering junior high school. They won’t be out of your influence, but there will be many other influences there. Some of them, and you know what this is like, will invite them to discover beer, to discover drunkenness.”

And then he dropped the big one. “And you’ve done nothing to prepare them for that temptation.”

My heart sank. I knew he was right. But he didn’t let me sink there. After a moment or two, my mind began to fill up with perspectives and ideas and insights.

One of them caught me seriously off guard. He reminded me that I loved barbecue, but I was frustrated: a great steak was NOT complimented by a glass of milk, or by a CocaCola.

And then he tied them all together: “I want you to discover beers, good beers. I want you to find out what you like, and what you don’t. And I want you to invite your family to join you in that discovery.”

Oh my. Seriously?

But then I had visions (pictures) of what could happen. I saw better barbecues which led to better fellowship. I saw my children - my family - separating themselves from the religious spirit that accompanies many alcohol-free homes. And then I saw my son, in junior high school, being approached to step behind a barn and share a Budweiser with him, and my son responded with, “Beer? That’s not beer. That's cat piss! Let me tell you about real beer!”

Oh my. I remind you that this is in the middle of the night, in the middle of the woods. I remind you that while I had tasted beer before (and not liked it), I had never had a glass of beer. I remind you that I was really comfortable in my no-alcohol religion.

And here’s God, telling me not just to drink beer, but to become educated about beer. And God was telling me to (gasp!) give beer to my school-age children, and to (gasp!) listen to their opinions about the stuff!

That was fifteen or twenty years ago, and it has been a glorious success (as if it’s surprising that God’s plans work!). I became a far better father than I had been before! And the beer? I had no idea of the variety. I still don’t love all kinds, but there are some that are pretty good, and there are some that make a good barbecued steak into a great barbecued steak. Who knew!

Oh, and that vision about my son telling his tempter, “Beer? That's not beer!” Yeah, that happened, though it looked different than the way I imagined it. And now he brings both life and excellence into a world I'd never reach, to people for whom alcohol is pretty important.

I’m not trying to say, “You need to drink beer!” Oh heck no! Don’t do that (unless God speaks to you the way he spoke to me). My obedience included learning about beer, but others' obedience involves not drinking beer.

I’m trying to say, “It’s a really good idea to do what God says, even if it’s really weird!”

Oh, and let me add: God the Father has some really good insights about how to be an excellent parent. I encourage you to learn from his wisdom on that topic!

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

On the Implications of Progressive Revelation

We preach it in church. We teach it in Bible School: God has progressively revealed more of who he is and how he works as history has progressed. King David knew God way better than Noah or Job or Abraham did, even though Abraham was God’s friend. 

In theological terms, “The progressive character of divine revelation is recognized in relation to all the great doctrines of the Bible. What at first is only obscurely intimated is gradually unfolded in subsequent parts of the sacred volume, until the truth is revealed in its fullness.”*

We’ve just forgotten that he’s still doing that, today. Think about it: we have more revelation today than Charles Finney did, or Martin Luther before him, or Augustine before either of them. 

And as heretical as it sounds, we actually have more revelation available to us today than did the Apostle Paul did in his day. And he wrote half the books in the New Testament! (Of course, whether we’re accessing all that is available to us is open to discussion.)

The principle of progressive revelation is not controversial. The application of that principle just might scare us. 

Two specific applications that strike me today: 

* If God is still revealing more of his character and his ways, then we shouldn’t be surprised if people discover things about him that we’ve never been taught in church or in Bible School. It’s stunningly egotistical to think that “I know all that God has revealed about himself in this generation! If someone thinks they know something that God hasn’t shown me, they’re in deception.” This is not clear thinking. 

* Having more revelation than Silas and Timothy the rest of the boys (the ones who didn’t actually hang out with Jesus during those three years), our expectations should be for bigger results, better revelation than what they walked in. Saying, “I wanna be like the early church” is kind of like saying, “I wanna wear diapers and suck on a bottle all my life!” This also is not clear thinking. We are expected to far exceed their exploits.

In addition to the growing revelation that God is pouring out, there’s just the basic principle that God is infinite: infinitely big, infinitely complex, infinitely beautiful, infinitely knowing (aka omniscient). Anybody who thinks their little mind can hold all there is to know about an infinite God (“That can’t be true! I don’t know about that!”) is on an elevator that doesn’t go anywhere near the top floor. 

Be ready, dear ones, to learn things about God that the guys who wrote the textbooks never imagined.

Be ready to let God blow your mind a little bit. 

(He’s not a tame lion.)

-----

Maximize Your Strengths

We all have strengths. It's more effective to make maximum use of our strengths rather than trying to turn weakness into strength.

There's a line of thinking in the western education system that has also influenced the western church that says if we're not good at something (say, math), then we need to develop our skills at math until it's one of our strengths, which necessarily means we don't work at our developing the areas that are already our strengths (say, writing), so they don't develop so much.

We tend to think that it’s best to be a pastor or a teacher, because that’s what we see modeled. But if that isn’t you, then you have a choice: either try to fake it, or be who you really are, even if it’s something that isn’t as well recognized.

Exercise your strengths.
Consider the Seattle Seahawks. Applying that line thinking would teach us that quarterback Russell Wilson needs to learn how to block a blitz from 275 pound linebackers, that defensive corner Richard Sherman needs to learn to learn how to function as a quietly confident offensive lineman, or that “Beast Mode” Marshawn Lynch, the best running back in the league, needs to develop his public media and publicity skills, and stop focusing so much on running the football.

That’s pretty ridiculous, isn’t it?

What took the Seahawks to the Superbowl twice recently was each member recognizing that they have a gift that is different that others' gifts, and each member developing their strength, and trusting others' strengths in places where they are not strong.

You've seen how Marshawn treasures his offensive linemen? He buys them gifts, sometimes expensive gifts, because they do very well what he cannot, and it makes the way for him to do (very well!) what they cannot.

Yeah, that's how it works. We don’t ignore the gifts we don’t have, but neither do we focus on them. It’s absolute foolishness to ignore the gift that God has given us in order to develop what someone thinks is a more important gift.

Don't be a copycat.
It never works, anyway.
If the gift is from Holy Spirit, it’s as valuable as He is (that’s kind of a big deal). If the gift is from skill or practice or sheer determination, instead of from the Holy Spirit, then it qualifies as “wood, hay or stubble,” and it will make a nice bonfire in the day or reckoning.

I’ve got more important things to do than prepare for Heaven’s bonfire. So do you.

Use the gifts God has given you, even if you don’t know another soul with those gifts. Be you! God doesn’t need copycats.

Remembering the Great Commission

We've misinterpreted the Great Commission, I think.

We're called to introduce people to Jesus, but sometimes it seems that sometimes we forget. Sometimes, we end up introducing them to our club, to churchianity. To religion. Ewww.

They're looking for real relationship, and Jesus offering real relationship, but we're offering membership in a Sunday Morning Club complete with its own foreign language and foreign culture. "Bring your friends to church!" we are exhorted, forgetting the "Go" of the Great Commission.

Coming to faith does NOT require leaving your culture, leaving your language, leaving your community, leaving your music behind. (Yes, it does involve leaving your slavery behind.) For example, there's no need for a pipe organ or Taylor acoustic guiter in a tribal church in order for their gathering to be legit. They worship with drums; you don't have to!

Here's a radical thought: Christian pop music is by NO means the only music that's acceptable - or desirable. Some believers like barbershop quartets! Others touch God in metal music or Dixieland or Baroque or dance music.

I even know of a church that worshiped with (shudder!) country music! They would line dance in church! What?!? (And they shared the building with a church that worshiped with grunge rock music! What's up with that?)

I get it that some folks often can't go back to the culture that enslaved them for years, but let's distinguish between the slavery that held us captive and the preference of music the enslavers enjoyed while they practiced their torture upon our souls.

And since music reaches people, the Great commission applies to music: GO TO THEM. Do NOT expect them to come to you. So bring the gospel to their music; not Gospel music, but the "Good News" of the Kingdom: that belongs in THEIR music, too. There's no need for them to leave their love for Italian operas behind in order to meet Jesus.

Our commission is to go to them, and to bring the good news of the Kingdom to them.

Our job is NOT to bring them to our culture, our little club.

When we disciple folks, we are to make them followers of Jesus, not into MiniMe's.

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.