Showing posts with label perspective. Show all posts
Showing posts with label perspective. Show all posts

Thursday

Running With Jesus

“Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” [Hebrews 12]

I was reflecting on this recently. I do that regularly, as this is one of the clearer statements in Scripture: Run the race by fixing our eyes on Jesus.

But first, which Jesus do we fix our eyes on?

• The Jesus of the Gospels? “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” This Jesus?

• The Jesus in Revelation? “There before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.” This Jesus is certainly more attention-grabbing.

• I suspect rather, we need to fix our eyes – not on Jesus who was – but Jesus who is. Not how he was seen before and described by others, but who he is now and what he’s doing now.

The call is to fix our eyes on Jesus, not stories about Jesus (though they’re good!), not even the miracles that he’s doing even today (though they’re awesome!). But on the person of Jesus.

Now here’s the rub: how do we do that? “Fixing our eyes on Jesus”? How do we do that?

We can take day trips to Heaven and visit with him there [John 3:13]. But that’s short-term.

We can stay in conversation with him throughout the day [1Thessalonians 5:17]. But that’s not “fixing our eyes on….”

Suddenly, I understand why people would consider hiding away in remote monasteries. They can pay more attention to Jesus and less attention to the things of this world.

The more I meditate on this, the more I’m convinced that this is about staying in communication with him throughout my day, “doing life” together with him, talking, listening, watching, learning. This is about running with him

At least that’s how I’m seeing it today.



Praying Against Fear

I was investing some time during the Covid debacle, praying about the spirit of fear that I saw creating havoc in our nation. I needed to drive a for a while, and I like making use of the time (“redeeming the time” perhaps?).

I was praying about the grip that fear had in our nation, but I was focusing on how I see the grip working in my family and friends. Father had shown me something of the enemy’s plans in that area, and I could see them at work, like thorny vines wrapping around minds and wills and squeezing life out of them.

(By the way, the whole vaccine issue is powered by a spirit of fear [and some other things]. Some folks are afraid of a virus, or of not complying with authority, so they choose to get a vaccine. Other people are afraid of the vaccine itself, or about the loss of civil liberties, so they reject the vaccine.

Curiously, each group accuses the other of being insensitive and of acting out of fear. And probably most of those accusations are at least partly right. But I digress.)



So I was praying for people I care about. I was praying for courage, praying for an openness to the truth, denying permission for that spirit to be present or to work among them.

And as I prayed for them, I prayed in similar fashion for myself. That’s what I do.

I learned some time ago that my knowledge and beliefs are not actually completely perfect in every detail, so any time that I pray for someone to be open to the truth or for courage to stand against lies, I include myself in the prayers. I’m not above being wrong, after all.

My prayer time started off a little awkwardly; that’s not uncommon for me, as I look for “the vein” of Father’s heart in the prayers. After a little bit, I felt like I found it. I saw how it was working and how to respond effectively to the thing, and I was really enjoying praying for folks I care rather a lot about.

Then he took a sudden left turn. “You need to repent, Son.”

Wait, what? What for? I’ve been careful to include myself when I’m praying for folks on this issue! What do I need to repent for?

And with one glance of his eye, he showed me how I needed to let go of the judgment I had in my heart, both for people who held opinions that were part of fear’s agenda, and for people who were unwilling to really look at both sides of an issue, who never really listened to other people’s heartfelt concerns if they didn’t agree with their own position.

Whoa. What do you know. You’re right, of course. I repented, carefully, with detail.

Then he opened it up a little more. I’d struggled with the same issues of judgment in several other issues. In all fairness, they’re pretty divisive issues, but let’s be honest: we’re quick to divide over an awful lot of issues.

I’ve been walking with Jesus for a lot of decades, but he’s still taking me to school pretty regularly. I sure appreciate his tender mercy.


Adversity as a Test

 Chewing on these verses from Hebrews 3 today:

“So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness.”

I’m drawn to the phrase “the time of testing in the wilderness.” When was that time of testing he’s referring to, anyway?

The first time the word appears in Exodus is shortly after the people escaped Egypt into the wilderness:

“When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, "What are we to drink?" Then Moses cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink. There the LORD issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test."”
[Exodus 15:23-25]

The people needed something, and what they found on their own was not suitable to meet their need, so rather than ask God (or his designated leader at the time), they complained.

God calls it a test. It was a pattern they continued all the way from Egypt to the promised land: they had a need, so they whined, but God came through.

It occurs to me that the whiney people, freshly delivered from slavery, didn’t recognize the tests. I understand why they didn’t recognize the first one: they’d never been tested by God before.

But it happened over and over and over. Every time they had a need, they could have looked to God who had already met every single need they had for escaping slavery and surviving in the wilderness, but they focused their attention on their needs instead. And they whined.

Hebrews interprets this whining as them hardening their hearts. They had the choice in the test: do we trust God, or do we harden our hearts and whine?

I admire God’s patience as the whiny people tested his patience. (Yes, Scripture is clear: they tested him, too.)

Then I realized that when I am faced with a need, that’s probably a test, too.

If God is my provider, he’s going to provide for my needs.

(Note that not every want qualifies as a need. God has not promised to provide for everything I want, just for my needs. I may need to discern the difference.)

So every time I encounter a need in my life, I’m faced with the same choice: do I use this as an opportunity to bring my need to my Father, which keeps my heart soft toward him?

Or do I look at my need, focus on my need, whine about my need, and harden my heart toward my Father who loves me, and who is using this as an opportunity for softening my heart?

Fear As an Expression of the Imagination

Walking with Father recently, he brought up the subject of fear.

There are some things in the world where a healthy respect is appropriate. That’s not the issue here.

We as a species have the ability to imagine what might come about, and, if we want to, to fear that. The fear that begins with, “But what if….” is real.

That’s what Father brought to my attention this morning: the process of imagining what might happen, what things could maybe turn out like, even what surely will happen except for something trustworthy intervening.

The picture he showed me a picture of a very high, transparent bridge. A man on the bridge had suddenly looked down and saw nothing between him and the river hundreds of feet below. He freaked out.

That fearful man didn’t have all the data, but he was responding at least an approximation of reasonably, based on the limited data that he had.

Then Father took a left turn.

“That man on the bridge was imagining what would happen if there really was nothing beneath him.”

I scratched my head and thought about it. We walked in silence for a while.

After a while, Father reminded me of my (not insubstantial) skills at imagining what may happen and responding to those imaginations with fear or regret. There are maybe a lot of us that are pretty good at that.

He kept turning left. “These people who imagine what might happen and respond with fear, these people have a powerful imagination. That’s a powerful gift.”

I confess that I haven’t had much patience for myself or for others when one or the other of us imagines a “what if” and responds in fear. That process has really irritated me, and sometimes I’ve responded in anger or frustration or legalism or some such.

But today, Father showed me the other side of that situation.

I’m going to have to reflect on this a fair bit. Now it’s time to learn to use that powerful tool for the kingdom.

Imagination is a tool. Use the tool for good.

God's Practical Beauty

One of the coolest things about God is that he creates beauty in just about everything he does.

This is glorious. I think of it as God finger-painting on the sky. But he only does it in the most unpopulated part of the planet, in the middle of the night when nobody’s looking.

Even when there’s nobody there to appreciate it, he makes beauty.

But this is more than that. The Northern Lights were out recently.  These beautiful decorations in the sky are the evidence (yet again) of his tender care for those of us that inhabit this planet.

The light show we see from the ground is caused by 

electrically charged particles from space entering the Earth’s upper atmosphere at a very high speed, the charged particles (or “plasma”) from the eruption on the surface of the sun we read about last week. (That explosion on the sun was actually larger than our entire planet!)

Most of these particles are deflected by the Earth’s magnetic field, and continue their journey into deep space. A small percentage of particles leak through the Earth’s magnetic field and are funneled downwards towards the safe spaces around the Earth’s magnetic North and South poles, where they’re discharged safely.

It’s this light we see when we look at the Northern Lights. It’s God protecting us from the explosive radiation of the sun. Mars doesn’t have a magnetic field, and that’s why Mars has almost no atmosphere. It doesn’t need protecting: people don’t live there.

But even here, as God safely detonates the plasma from the sun’s eruption, he does it with beauty.

God seems to be a big fan of beauty.



Leveling Up in Authority

 Papa took me to school the other day.

I was driving somewhere or the other, minding my own business chugging down the freeway on cruise control. I was thinking about stuff. I do that.

Along comes this little white sports car; it passed me, and pulled right in front of me and slowed down, not a lot, but enough that I needed to drop out of cruise control and change lanes. So I did.

Then it sped up again, pulled in front of me again, and slowed down again. I wrestled with the temptation to say some things, but about that time it turned off onto the exit lane. I wrestled some more, and George Carlin’s quote came to mind (“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”).

I understand that Carlin was describing human judgmental human nature, not human driving, so I decided not to call the driver of the white car any sort of names; I recognized that whatever things I called him would function as a curse, cuz words do that, so I restrained myself. That’s not Dad’s way. I just kept driving. No big deal.

It was then I “heard” a video game “be-doop” noise in my spirit, and had the sense that I’d just “leveled up.” OK. That was interesting.

“Now I can trust you with authority in your words more, Son.”

Wait, what? That was a test? I had no idea!

I had a million questions, but he was patient with me. (That’s not actually uncommon.)

He reminded me of the parable of the Talents and its lesson: if I’m faithful with whatever he gives me responsibility for, the reward is more of it, and specifically more authority in the Kingdom (Matthew 25: “I will make you ruler over many things!”).

He explained that the principle was true with my words as well. As I’m faithful with using my words in ways that extend and expand the Kingdom, I’ll find that my words will have more effect.

I thought you might enjoy sharing my lesson here.


You're Not Immune From That, You Know

I had just started my walk with father the other day, and I realized I was feeling kind of strange in my soul. I examined my heart for a bit and realized there was a sense of unworthiness there, a vague sense of uncleanness.

What better time to discover these issues, I thought, than walking with God? so I began, as has frequently been my practice, to search my soul with him, to unburden my soul, to find whatever was amiss and 'fess up and fix it. 

I had been going at the search for a little while when I paused and recognized that Father wasn't joining in it with me. It was like he was just standing back, leaning against a tree, arms crossed over his chest, waiting for me to notice him. 

I stopped my search for my dirty laundry and gave him my attention. 

"Son, do you remember the counsel you give people about not treating your emotions as always truthful?" 

"Yes...." I replied. "The feelings are real, but they may not be telling the truth." 

"Yeah. You're not immune from that, you know." 

And I realized that he was telling me that my feelings were lying to me, that I didn't have sin in my heart. What I had  was  an accuser  telling me, lying to me, about sin in my heart. Oops. 

We talked about it some more, about how hard I've had to work to get past that lie that says that God can't relate to people who sin. He reminded me that any time his kids sinned, he was always, always out there going after them. 

"Sin doesn't scare me, Son. But I think it scares you. And sometimes, just the Accuser whispering about sin scares my children off. 

"Come here, Son. Let me hug you."

Lessons From Samson’s Failure

This morning, I was watching a video that somebody posted online, a Bible teacher I had never heard of. And as I watched and listened, I realized that the things he was saying were not settling well in my spirit.

He was basing his teaching on the Bible, sort of. And he clearly had a gift, though it was negotiable as to whether his gift was teaching or gathering a crowd. 

I decided not to continue under his influence and switched him off. And I kept thinking about it, about the dynamics going on here.

Later, I was working my way through the Book of Judges, and I came across Chapter 13. (Interestingly, the term “Chapter 13” in US law often refers to bankruptcy.) This is where the story of Samson begins. As I listened, it came alive for me. I love it when He does that.

My attention was drawn to the fact that Samson had a real, legitimate gift from God. What he did not have was a discerning heart. Samson’s character was bankrupt.


Samson was a Nazarite. A Nazarite had only three limitations, three vows:

 1. No wine or fermented alcohol.
 2. No haircuts.
 3. No contact with corpses or dead things.

I have no idea how Samson did with the first vow. 

He's famous for obeying the second, at least for a while.

I find it fascinating to observe his complete disregard for the third vow. 

(It is beyond the scope of this meditation to consider why obeying his second vow was so important to maintaining his gift, but obeying the third vow was apparently insignificant.

At one point Samson kills a bunch of enemies with the jawbone of an ass: that is just a chunk of dead animal. Another time, he scoops honey out of a dead lion and casually shares it with his mom and dad.) 

Sammy was unquestionably gifted by God, clearly the most gifted person of his generation. But he was really stupid.

It appears that he let his gift cloud his judgment. 

More than once he put himself into nasty situations with the enemy, excusing it by rationalizing that his gift would get him out of trouble.

More than once, the pretty girls he was hanging around work were clearly working for his enemy and were intent on his demise. They told him so. And yet Sammy did not guard his heart, he did not guard his gifting.

Delilah asked several times how to bind him, how to take him captive. He gave her false answers the first few times, but he should have figured it out when every time, his enemies tried that false answer on him. Clearly she was giving all of his answers to his enemies.

And yet he was so confident in his gifting that he ignored the danger.

That arrogance cost Sam his freedom, cost him his gifting, and even cost him his ability to see. It left him a slave, working for his enemies.

As I was meditating on these chapters, it seemed to me that it's pretty easy for gifted men and women of God in this day and age to fall into the same sort of failure that Samson fell into. It seems that hell is still using these tactics against God’s folks.

I believe that we as gifted believers can and should rely on our giftings. But clearly, there is a limits to that. When we listen more to our gifting, when we listen more to our desires, than we listen to either the Spirit of God, the Word of God or the people of God, that's when it gets really messy.

I don't actually know if the gifted preacher in the video I was watching this morning is falling into Sam’s trap, but as I meditated on this, I found myself praying for that preacher.

I know several people who have gotten seriously sidetracked by their very real, very powerful gifting. Some were famous, some were not. But I have observed these principles in their lives.

Some of them clearly relied on their very real gift to get them out of questionable circumstances. Some of them relied on the very real revelation they were getting more than the revelation of scriptures or the counsel of brothers and sisters in the faith.

Most of them have crashed and burned; some of them are still in that process. It’s not pretty. It is clearly not God's will for their failure, but I observe God's mercy working in it. If nothing else, it stopped them from continuing down that twisted path and compounding their failure.

I suspect that this is a season where God is refining his people. I suspect that He is keeping his gifted sons and daughters on a shorter leash than in previous seasons.

I don't have gifts anything likes Samson or like the men and women that I have watched crash and burn, but I have gifts. Just like you do. I want to be careful with mine. 

So I find myself intentionally sharing more of myself with the men and women around me. I find myself intentionally asking God to search my heart. I know that I am not immune to the temptations that took out Samson or the others.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

This morning, I was watching a video that somebody posted online, a Bible teacher I had never heard of. And as I watched and listened, I realized that the things he was saying were not settling well in my spirit.

He was basing his teaching on the Bible, sort of. And he clearly had a gift, though it was negotiable as to whether his gift was teaching or gathering a crowd. 

I decided not to continue under his influence and switched him off. And I kept thinking about it, about the dynamics going on here.

Later, I was working my way through the Book of Judges, and I came across Chapter 13. (Interestingly, the term “Chapter 13” in US law often refers to bankruptcy.) This is where the story of Samson begins. As I listened, it came alive for me. I love it when He does that.

My attention was drawn to the fact that Samson had a real, legitimate gift from God. What he did not have was a discerning heart. Samson’s character was bankrupt.

Samson was a Nazarite. A Nazarite had only three limitations, three vows:

 1. No wine or fermented alcohol.
 2. No haircuts.
 3. No contact with corpses or dead things.

I have no idea how Samson did with the first vow. 

He's famous for obeying the second, at least for a while.

I find it fascinating to observe his complete disregard for the third vow. 

(It is beyond the scope of this meditation to wonder why obeying his second vow was so important to maintaining his gift, and why obeying the third vow was apparently insignificant.

At one point Samson kills a bunch of enemies with the jawbone of an ass, which is just a chunk of dead animal. Another time, he scoops honey out of a dead lion and casually shares it with his mom and dad.) 

Sammy was unquestionably gifted by God, clearly the most gifted person of his generation. But he was really stupid.

It appears that he let his gift cloud his judgment. 

More than once he put himself into nasty situations with the enemy, excusing it by rationalizing that his gift would get him out of trouble.

More than once, the pretty girls he was hanging around work were clearly working for his enemy and were intent on his demise. They told him so. And yet Sammy did not guard his heart, he did not guard his gifting.

Delilah asked several times how to bind him, how to take him captive. He gave her false answers the first few times, but he should have figured it out when every time, his enemies tried that false answer on him. Clearly she was giving all of his answers to his enemies.

And yet he was so confident in his gifting that he ignored the danger.

That arrogance cost Sam his freedom, cost him his gifting, and even cost him his ability to see. It left him a slave, working for his enemies.

As I was meditating on these chapters, it seemed to me that it's pretty easy for gifted men and women of God in this day and age to fall into the same sort of failure that Samson fell into. It seems that hell is still using these tactics against God’s folks.

I believe that we as gifted believers can and should rely on our giftings. But clearly, there is a limits to that. When we listen more to our gifting, when we listen more to our desires, than we listen to either the Spirit of God, the Word of God or the people of God, that's when it gets really messy.

I don't actually know if the gifted preacher in the video I was watching this morning is falling into Sam’s trap, but as I meditated on this, I found myself praying for that preacher.

I know several people who have gotten seriously sidetracked by their very real, very powerful gifting. Some were famous, some were not. But I have observed these principles in their lives.

Some of them clearly relied on their very real gift to get them out of questionable circumstances. Some of them relied on the very real revelation they were getting more than the revelation of scriptures or the counsel of brothers and sisters in the faith.

Most of them have crashed and burned; some of them are still in that process. It’s not pretty. It is clearly not God's will for their failure, but I observe God's mercy working in it. If nothing else, it stopped them from continuing down that twisted path and compounding their failure.

I suspect that this is a season where God is refining his people. I suspect that He is keeping his gifted sons and daughters on a shorter leash than in previous seasons.

I don't have gifts anything likes Samson or like the men and women that I have watched crash and burn, but I have gifts. Just like you do. I want to be careful with mine. 

So I find myself intentionally sharing more of myself with the men and women around me. I find myself intentionally asking God to search my heart. I know that I am not immune to the temptations that took out Samson or the others.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.


An Embarrassing Testimony

I have an embarrassing testimony. But God used it to teach me a lesson.

More than a month ago, I had been consulting with a liturgical church about some rather complex topics. And in that (online) meeting, I had made some commitments to them. 

And then I spaced on them. We had some holidays in there, and I spent a few days sick, and then the shenanigans in DC captured my attention, and what with one thing and another, the liturgical church completely slipped my mind.

The other morning, I woke up thinking about them. Oh, my. I’d better get working on those commitments. I paused. I wonder what commitments I had made to them. I seriously could not remember.

I looked in my notes. Nope. Nothing there, either. Aargh.

I began to pray.

I had a meeting with some of that team. I asked them what they remembered. They were just as blank as I was, but ironically, while we were talking, the folks from the liturgical church were leaving me a voicemail. “We’re ready to move forward with your proposal now. Please call me back.”

I felt really bad. I recognized a fair bit of shame in the mix, and because of it, I really did not want to call them back. I wanted to pretend that the meeting a month ago had never happened, and just go on my way.

I prayed more fervently.

And I recognized that the only honorable thing I could do was to call them back and explain my failure. I hung my head and dialed the number.

It was a wonderful conversation. She reminded me of the two options we discussed, over the course of twenty minutes, we settled on one of the options and planned out the next several steps.

I felt like a superhero. Well, maybe no red cape, but it felt a whole lot better.

Later in the evening, I was doing some mindless garden tasks and thinking (because that’s what I do), when Father reminded me of two great messes: the first was this one with that liturgical church situation, and the second was some of the messed up things in DC that had been on my mind.

“Son,” he said gently. “I took care of the liturgical church. I can do the same thing for the mess in DC. You can trust me with this.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. I knew he was right. And I knew that he probably wouldn’t show me what he was doing in DC, but that didn’t affect whether I could trust him in that.

We have a really good Father, don’t we?

Assisting During the Glory

During the Transfiguration (see Mark 9), we see this interaction:

“[Jesus’] clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Father showed me some more of me in this story, today. It wasn’t about Pete freaking out by his mentor glowing in the dark. It wasn’t about him consulting with a couple of (presumably) dead guys. That’s gnarly, but we’ve seen that for years.
 
We know that Pete proposed putting up some buildings because he was freaked out. But I’d never before noticed that the fisherman was proposing a construction project to Jesus who was a) a trained carpenter, and b) the Master Builder of … well, of everything. 
 
And I realized how many times I’ve done that: offered to do “something that I can do” to my king and mentor who a) can do it better than I can, and b) has seen this opportunity from before the foundation of the world, and already has a plan for taking care of it.
 
But I come toddling along, feeling kinda powerless in the situation, wanting to find SOME way to be useful: “Here, let me do that for you.” Kinda missing the point.
 
One of the main reasons for this whole experience was that JC wanted his friends to see this thing happen. He wanted to be more fully known by them. He’s not showing off; that’s humility: being known as he really is.
 
And another of his reasons for this encounter was that he wanted counsel from a couple of guys who had been trail-blazers in their own day, and who had already made their own way through death (in two completely different ways) to the other side. He needed their support.
 
And here comes Pete, toddling along, feeling kinda powerless in the situation, wanting to find SOME way to be useful: “Here, let me do that for you.” Kinda missing the point of what was happening there.
 
As I read the story from Pete’s perspective, I reflect on how he could have been less stupid here. Maybe he just shuts up and takes it all in. Maybe he waits until the meeting is over and shakes hands with Mo & Eli. Maybe he just makes a list of questions he wants to ask on the way down the mountain.
 
I dunno. I’m still working on that, because I want to learn how I can avoid cramming my foot in my mouth the way I’m good at doing (and the way Pete is good at doing).
 
I sure love Father’s gentle reminder: “Guys, this is where your attention needs to be: Listen to my Son!”
 
This is an awesome family relationship that I’ve been brought into. I’m loving he (hard) process of learning how we do things in this family. 

Edifying One Another


Have you ever been surprised by what a verse you’ve always known means more when you see it in the light of another verse.

We all know 1Thessalonians 5:11: “Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.” We know about our responsibility to comfort each other, to edify each other.

Today when I read this verse, I heard it in the context of 1Corinthians 14:5: “But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.”

There it is again: comfort each other, edify each other. And here, Paul describes this as the purpose of the prophetic gifts.

Two verses earlier, he commanded us, “Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” Again a command, this time to pursue prophetic gifts. One translation says, “covet to prophesy.”

Wait, what? You don’t mean to say that every one of us can prophesy, do you? That I can prophesy?

Yeah, I do. [cf 1Co 14:31] You can prophesy. You can comfort folks, edify [instruct or improve] them, exhort [encourage] them. In fact, that’s both part of your destiny and part of your instructions from God.

Wednesday

Consider John the Baptist

According to Jesus, John had a pretty solid ministry. The incarnate Son of God said this about him:
 
“But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. “This is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.’ “For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.”  [Luke 7]
 
It seems to me that if the Son of God describes you as the greatest prophet in the history of the world, that’s probably a ministry you can trust. But Jesus went further, calling him Elijah.
 
“For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.” [Matthew 11]
 
Jesus was identifying John as the fulfillment of Malachi 4: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet
Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD,” the prophet that the entire nation was waiting for.
 
This John the Baptist from Jesus’ point of view. Looking at his life from his own perspective, we see a different picture:
 
“Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”
 
“Then they said to him, “What do you say about yourself?” He said: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the LORD,” ‘ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
 
And they asked him, saying, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. “It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.”  [John 1]
 
A lot of people did not understand John the Baptist, and John himself was one of them.
 
John understood some of the role he was fulfilling. He knew that he was preparing the way for Messiah, but he didn’t recognize that he was fulfilling one of the more anticipated Old Testament prophecies.
 
In fact, John even questioned whether he had utterly failed at the part of his ministry he did understand, at one point sending his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” [Luke 7:19]
 
This is the man that the Messiah, the Incarnate Son of God described as, “Among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.”
 
I was reflecting on these statements about John recently, and I realized, “If John can miss it that badly, so can we. If John only figured out part of what he was doing, and wasn’t even sure about that, then how often, I wonder, do we misunderstand the impact that we’re having on the world, on the lives around us. Do we miss the big picture?”
 
The reality is that we won’t really understand – we cannot understand – our effectiveness in our life in this life here on earth, not until we see it from God’s perspective. I refer to that day as Big Screen Day, when we’ll actually see the results of our life’s work, and we’ll meet the people whose lives we have impacted.
 
Until then, we “see through a glass darkly,” and we lack the whole picture. My recommendation is that we don’t waste our time wondering about the efficacy of our ministry. He’s instructed us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
 
 

Thursday

We Were Born Onto a Battlefield

 

One of the things that we as Christians tend to forget is that we were born behind enemy lines. We were born onto a battlefield. 


From the moment we were conceived, we were a target: the enemy was trying to kill us.

 

We get comfortable in our tidy little Christian communities, and we forget that there’s a price on our head. We’re safer in the crowd of Christians, if for no other reason than the fact that we sense the King of Kings among us.

 

It’s easy to forget that our mission, should we choose to accept it, is not about keeping ourselves safe, not about staying out of harm’s way. 


Our job is to love, to serve, and by loving and serving, to change the world until the King’s rule is formed in every corner of the globe.

 

I’ve read the end of the book. It’s not the ones who stayed safe that he brags about and rewards. It’s the ones who overcome.

Do Not Think That I Came to Destroy the Law or the Prophets

I’ve run into several people recently who quote Matthew 5:17, and use that to say that the OT Law is still valid. 

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” [MT 5:17]
 
They’re saying “Fulfilled means it’s still valid. You’re still obligated.”
 
Others say, “No, Fulfilled means it’s done, it’s concluded. It did its job, and now it’s over.”
 
So I thought, Let’s see how that word is used in other places in the Bible. That should give us an idea of what it means here.
 
So here’s a list. This is just part of the New Testament list, but the Old Testament use of the word is similar. (See the links to the full list in the footnotes)
 
Suggestion: For each verse, ask: “Does ‘fulfilled’ mean ‘It’s still in power; you’re still obligated’? or does ‘fulfilled’ mean ‘It’s done, concluded, and here’s the result’?”
 
Mat 2:15
where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
 
Mat 2:17
Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
 
Mat 2:23
and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.
 
Mat 13:14
In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “ ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
 
Mat 13:35
So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”
 
Mat 26:54
But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
 
Mat 26:56
But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
 
Mat 27:9
Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel,
 
Mar 13:4
“Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
 
Mar 14:49
Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”
 
Luk 1:1
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,
 
Luk 1:38
“I am the Lord's servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
 
Luk 4:21
He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
 
Luk 18:31
Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.
 
Luk 21:24
They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
 
Luk 22:37
It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors'; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
 
Luk 24:44
He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
 
Jhn 17:12
While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
 
Jhn 18:9
This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”
 
Jhn 19:24
“Let's not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let's decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, “They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” So this is what the soldiers did.
 
Jhn 19:28
Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”
 
Jhn 19:36
These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,”
 
Act 1:16
and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus.
 
Act 3:18
But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer.
 
Act 13:27
The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath.
 
Act 13:33
he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: “ ‘You are my son; today I have become your father.'
 
Act 23:1
Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.”
 
--
Which is it?
 
Still in power; still obligated?
 
or
 
It’s done, concluded, finished?
 
-----
So here’s a list.
This is just part of the New Testament list (whole NT list: http://bit.ly/1MbLMaf),
but the Old Testament use of the word (whole OT list: http://bit.ly/1MbLMqF) is similar.
 

What Do We Do With the Cloud of Witnesses?

“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.” [Hebrews 12:1]
 
Given the context of this reference – immediately following Hebrews 11, the great Hall of Faith of past believers – it is not uncommon to consider that believers from previous generations are among the cloud of witnesses. Not an unreasonable assumption.  And it’s fair to ask, What is the purpose of witnesses, if not to testify? Hmm.
 
Some believers have had experience with individuals in this great cloud of witnesses, consulting with believers from years gone by, hearing their testimony, receiving encouragement or counsel.
 
Other believers have raised questions about the practice of interacting with the cloud of witnesses. They point out that Scripture forbids God’s people to consult the dead [see Isaiah 8:19 and 19:3]. “That’s necromancy!” they shout into otherwise peaceful conversations. Sigh.
 
There is real reason to question from a cultural perspective what the OT verses are saying. This principle is solid: Scripture cannot say to us anything that it did not say to its original readers, and I’m pretty sure that the things that are forbidden in Isaiah and other places in the Old Covenant are about “consulting mediums and spiritists,” and not actually about believers interacting with saints of bygone ages. But that’s another issue, and that is not where I’m going today. Moving on.
 
Rather, I’m looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith. I see two stories about Jesus in Scripture that look to me like they shed light on whether interaction with the great cloud of witnesses is approved of or forbidden by Scripture. 


1) Luke 9 tells the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. This is the fulfillment of Jesus’ statement in v27, where he says, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” The key point for this conversation is that Jesus himself is consulting with Moses and Elijah, two saints from many centuries earlier. Elijah may not have died [2Kings 2:11], but Moses clearly did [Deuteronomy 34: 5 & 7].  
 
“Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” [v30, 31] Apparently it was OK for Jesus to consult with previous generations of believers. Hmmm.
 
I observe that otherwise mature believers freaked out when Jesus did this, too [see v32 & 33], so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised when otherwise mature believers today freak out as well.
 
2) Luke 20 tells the story of Jesus being tested by the Sadducees and their make-believe story of seven brothers who shared one wife. There are lots of important lessons to be found in this interaction, but the one that concerns this conversation is verses 37 & 38:
 
“But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
 
Jesus is specifically teaching that believers who have gone before – and apparently that will include the great cloud of witnesses of Hebrews 12 – are not dead. “…for to him all are alive.”
 
It’s not unreasonable to point out that this was completely contrary to what the Sadducees, the first-century cessationists, confidently believed. Jesus turned their theology upside down with this teaching; it’s not unreasonable that it would turn the theology of some believers today upside down as well.
 
I still don’t know what I think about consulting with believers who have passed on. But I think that Scripture is very clear: this is NOT the thing that is prohibited in the Old Covenant. Jesus himself practiced it, and he very clearly taught that those believers are not dead, therefore consulting with them, as he himself did, cannot be consulting with the dead.
 
It looks to me like these are deep waters, and I surely don’t recommend the practice to immature believers. This is not “milk” [see Hebrews 5:12-14]. But I am convinced that this is not the practice of necromancy that some have accused it of being.
 
 

Withhold Judgment

I’ve been praying for a friend who is suffering from a formidable depression brought on by, among other things, the hysteria in the news, and the hysterical political voices it amplifies.

This morning, I wanted so badly to pray for judgment on the hysterical voices in politics and media. But I was reminded that judgment isn’t my job. Vengeance is not for me, and it was vengeance that I realized I wanted.

I changed my prayer, and withheld my judgment, instead referring them to Father for judgment. Then I offered an opinion. “I’d like to counsel you to consider judging these voices for their effect on my friend.” But I really, to the best of my ability, withheld my own judgment from them.
 
We were quiet for a bit. Then I had the sense that Father was feeling a measure of relief: now that I had chosen not to judge them, he was more free to work in their lives. Yes, he would judge, but not like I judge, and now I had freed him to do that work in their lives.
 
I’m thinking that we, the church, are keeping God from working in a number of areas by the judgment we hold in our heart. I’m still working out my prayers with the foundation of leaving the judgment up to him.

Growing Season

Think with me for a moment.

• Sometimes God’s plans for us are bigger than we are. So he needs to increase US before he can release those plans and dreams for us to walk out.

• That was true for Jacob (Israel) and the 40 or so members of his extended family. God had plans for him that called for a nation, not a family.

• Part of the purpose for their 400 years in Egypt was to make them big enough for what God wanted to give them.

• But while they were in Egypt, the enemy specifically targeted their growth: “Kill all the baby boys!” the enemy said. (That sounds a lot like the “kill all the black babies” that Planned Parenthood started with, or the “kill all the baby girls” that some cultures have practiced.)

• And yet, in spite of the opposition, God accomplished all the growth he had planned on.

As I reflected on all this, I felt God whispering, “Some of my kids are in a growing season, and they don’t know it. And sometimes the enemy is particularly opposing their growth. That is not going to stop me. The only thing that will stop me is if my children stop trusting me, stop walking with me.”

Is that YOU he’s talking about?

Let’s trust God, even when we can’t see what he’s up to.


Mise en Place: Everything in its Place

Fathers, if they’re good fathers, often enjoy playing games with their kids, don’t they? It makes for time together, and it often strengthens the kids, physically, mentally and other ways, and it helps them grow and mature appropriately.
 
For the past several days, I’ve been waking up haunted by a strange phrase, a foreign phrase, in my mind. It’s not the first time I’ve woken up with words from another language in my mind; that’s one of the games that Father plays with me, kind of like hide and seek.
 
This time it was the term “mise en place.” I don’t recall ever hearing the term before, but suddenly, I’ve caught myself muttering “mise en place” under my breath a hundred times a day. I had to look it up.
 
It turns out that this is a French culinary phrase (pronounced “mi zɑ̃ ˈplas.”) which means “putting in place” or “everything in its place,” and it describes getting all the ingredients ready for what you’re going to cook (apparently assuming that you’re cooking in the kitchen of a French restaurant).

It often appears as a cart or a counter, completely covered with bowls or containers full of chopped, sliced or julienned ingredients for the chef in their cooking, and another set for the team making the plates look pretty before serving the guests. Even the bartender has their own “mise en place.”
 
It turns out that a high end restaurant will have a “mise en place” for their “front of house” as well: All the tables set “just so,” with the right plates, right glasses and silverware, even the flowers, lighting and decorations exactly as they want them, before the doors ever open to receive their guests for the service. Interesting thought.
 
In all these cases, the preparation of the “mise en place” is a team effort. Several cooks are cutting and chopping ingredients, several members of the service staff are setting out tablecloths and laying out the silver and the china. Bartenders are preparing syrups, setting out bottles, making sure the various glassware is within reach.
 
Since the phrase continues to rattle around in my mind, I’ve been meditating on it for some days: What is God hinting about here? I’ve been pressing into his heart to hear more: What is this treasure that he’s hiding for me to discover in this?
 
As I reflect on the phrase, I sense God’s Spirit resting on a couple of differing thoughts. I wonder if he’s whispering similar things to you?
 
• I sense Father encouraging me to get my ducks in the row, to get the details of what we’ve discussed into place in my life. There are some preparations that yet need to be made before I’m actually ready for what he’s bringing to me. If he begins cooking the meal he has in mind for me before the mise en place is ready, he’ll need to stop and prepare ingredients, or worse, serve the meal without some key ingredients.
 
• I also sense him whispering that, even with all the drama in the news, he does have his own ducks lined up: his mise en place is set up and ready to go. His house is ready for guests, and his place in his “front of house” – on the Earth in this case – is similarly ready. Everything is in its place for the next big event. (Side note: a goodly number of people have been involved in this chopping and slicing, in placing the forks and cups “just so” in preparation to receive his guests.)
 
• I’m reminded that “everything” is a big word. In other recent Easter-egg hunts, he’s been emphasizing “mille,” “thousands” to me: there are a LOT of details that he’s got ready for his plans. 

“Don’t under-estimate me, Son.”

Some Ways of God's Provision in the Desert

Point One: God has proven himself to be a skiled planner. If you look at the remarkable number (hundreds!) of advance plans (sometimes called prophecies) that he prepared in advance of his Messiah’s appearance on earth, details as far back as Genesis 3, you realize that God has some mad skills at planning ahead.
 
Point Two: God is good. That’s not negotiable. God is always (always!) in favor of his kids, always working for our good.
 
Point Three: In Exodus, God is pretty badass. His plagues confront the Egyptian “gods” and show them to be powerless. Then he leads a couple of million people out of slavery right on the schedule he had announced several centuries earlier.
 
And here’s where my ears seriously perk up.
 
God, the omniscient, omnipotent super-planner leads his people into the desert, famous for having neither food nor water. And what a surprise, the people have no water, no food.
 
So they complained. Like slaves do.
 
They wanted food (Exodus 16). So he fed them meat (quail: good eating!) in the evening, and bread (manna) the next morning (v12).
 
Then they complained about not having water (Exodus 17), and in the midst of their whining, they asked for water (v2). And God gave them water. He used a pretty epic miracle (v6) to do it, too.

And in these ways he provided for his children for forty years in the desert. (Hint: read Exodus again. What epic stories!)
 
We’ve all heard sermons about their complaining, and how that irritated God and really frustrated their leader, Moses. Reasonable lessons to draw from these stories.
 
I was talking to God the other day as we were going through Exodus. “You’re so good at planning. Why did you lead them into the desert without food or water?”
 
And suddenly, my mind was taken back to The Magician’s Nephew, CS Lewis’s book about the beginning of Narnia. Polly and Digory were on a mission for Aslan, the Christ figure, and they were hungry:
 
“Well, I do think someone might have arranged about our meals,” said Digory.
“I’m sure Aslan would have, if you’d asked him,” said Fledge.
“Wouldn’t he know without being asked?” said Polly.
“I’ve no doubt he would,” said the Horse. “But I’ve a sort of idea he likes to be asked.”
 
And Father whispered to me, “I wanted them to ask me, so I could answer them.”
 
I realized that God was training them how to come to him to meet their needs: his goal is relationship, a relationship of trust.
 
Someone smart once said, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” God works on our behalf to teach us that faith, how to relate to him in faith.
 
He’s good that way.
 
 
  

The Ministry of the Winnowing Fork

John said of Jesus: “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” [Matthew 3]

I used to think of this – I was taught to think of this – as a description of the judgment of people, the “turn or burn” kind of statement. It was often included in evangelistic threats... er... sermons. “Raise your hand or face unquenchable fire!” Ick.
 
I don’t think that way any more. I’m not saying there is no judgment of individuals; clearly there is (though we’ve misunderstood it most of the time).
 
But wheat is produce, it’s fruit. This is talking about what we produce, the fruit we bear. This isn’t Revelation 20, it’s 1Corinthians 3:12-15.
 
In fact, I don’t think this is something to run from; I don’t think this is a threat. This is an offer of help. This is priceless.
 
I can’t speak for you, but for myself, I have to admit that there’s stuff in my life that’s not helpful. There’s stuff that gets in my way, stuff that slows me down, stuff that distracts me. There’s chaff in my life. I’m OK with that being removed from me.
 
And one of the earliest and most foundational descriptions of Jesus is all about that: keeping the good, the nourishing, getting rid of the useless, the distraction.
 
And if I think about it, that’s the essence of Jesus’ first sermon: “Repent [change how you think], for the Kingdom of God is within reach.” Get rid of the thinking that keeps the Kingdom out of reach. Hmm.
 
Invitation: if you feel like it, invite Jesus to point out chaff in your life, in your memories, in your values, in your ways of thinking. And invite him to take his winnowing fork to you, and to remove those things.
 
And trust him to do it kindly. Cuz that’s who he is.