Showing posts with label provision. Show all posts
Showing posts with label provision. Show all posts

Thursday

Transactionalism. Not a Lovely Thing.


“Transactionalism” is the belief that if I do this thing, then God will do that thing. It says that if I do the right things, then God will do the thing I want him to do.

That’s how a lot of people understand religion, understand the nature of God. If I do this, then God does that.


And it’s why a lot of people are eager to be told what to do to get the favor that they want, that they need. That’s what they’re looking for from the Bible, from Christianity: they want to know the rules. What are the things that I need to do to get the reward I want?

That reward might be heaven after they die. Or it might be a peaceful life in the here and now. Or “enough” money (or “just a little more”). Or the perfect relationship.

If we do the right things, if we choose this and shun that, if we hold our mouth just right, God will give us that thing.

That’s remarkable fertilizer. That’s the generous product that comes from the south end of a north-bound steer.

Jesus was clear: we’re the treasure (the coin, the sheep, the son) that he’s come looking for, to draw to himself. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Before we did all the things.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are still consequences for our actions. Just not with God.

If I make stupid choices, then stupid consequences are mine. And sometimes other people make stupid choices that also affect  how my life goes. But in all that, God is still with me. And not because I did the things that satisfy his requirements.

Yeah, free will is real. I really do have the power to screw up my life. So do you. But we do not have the power to manipulate God to do what I want.

Be Holy. Be Healed.


The first words spoken in the Scriptures sound like a command to our Western way of hearing (1). We translate those two words (אוֹר הָיָה) as “Let there be light,” but  translating it “Light, be!” is perhaps more literal, though it feels odd to command light.

And that’s largely because it isn’t really a command in the “obey this rule” sense. Light didn’t even exist and it couldn’t obey a rule, not until God called it into existence. When God said, “Light, be!” he was releasing his power to create light, causing “reality” to conform to his will. It would be silly to expect the light to hear this as an agenda item, and to work hard (can you imagine light sweating, feeling guilty for failing?) to conform to the directive?

His words caused the thing he said to become reality. It was not reality until he said it. He did the same thing a few more times, and then he took a day off to reflect on his “very good” creation (2).

In the beginning God established the pattern: he commands a thing to “be” and suddenly, by the release of his power, it is. And it is good. This is the way God began this whole creation; this is the pattern he uses.

Years later, he speaks to a family he’s trying to adopt as his own (and just like in our day, there were lots of complications). He makes a similar statement to that family, releasing his power in them to accomplish what he was describing, but this time, they were terrified, and out of their fear, they interpreted his release of power as a directive (3), as a rule for them to obey.

“Be holy,” he said (4). And they tried. They sweat and made laws and practices (5) and did everything they knew to do. And they failed miserably. They failed because they tried to do in their human obedience what was released as a disbursal of heaven’s power. They did not receive the power, therefore they were not able to actually “be holy.”

A few millennia later, he did it again, this time while he was walking on the planet: he spoke several times in the same ways, releasing the same creative power.

Nearly a dozen times (6), he declared to various people, “Be healed!” He’s not telling people to live up to a standard of healed-ness, he’s not giving them a rule to obey. He’s releasing power. We get it, because we understand that we don’t generally have the power to “be healed” on our own, apart from the power of God.

Only twice (one woman literally caught in sin, one man with a history of brokenness and disappointment) (7), he released the power of God to remove the bondage of sin: “Sin no more,” he said. We make the silly mistake here of thinking that we can do this apart from God’s power (we cannot) (8), and therefore, we think this is a rule to follow (it is not), and we teach others, “You must be holy! God commands it!”

All of these statements were declared by the same person of the Godhead (“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (9) ) and they followed the same pattern: it sounded like a command, but functionally, this is about the Creator God releasing his power to create the thing he speaks about, causing “reality” to conform to his will.

When the Godhead declares for something to “be” (whether it’s “be healed” or “be holy”) it’s not a commandment, not a rule. It’s a disbursement of his power, a declaration of our destiny. Our response is not to grunt and sweat and fail and then condemn ourselves for failing to do the impossible. That’s foolish. We cannot do what it takes the power of God to do (10). If I may say so, it is the Christians who think they can accomplish in their will what God has offered his power to  create, whose “gospel” is the least hopeful and the most ridden with condemnation: their “good news” has the least “good” in it.

When the Scriptures say, “Live this way,” it is a release of the power of God. Our job is not to make that word come about. Our job is to set our sights on that target and it is God’s job to pull the trigger, to release the power to accomplish that word. And that will only come about as he and I are one, are in actual unity.

And when a prophetic word declares, “This is your destiny,” it is a release of the power of God. Our job is not to make that word come about. Our job is to set our sights on that target and it is God’s job to pull the trigger, to release the power to accomplish that word. And that will only come about as he and I are one, are in actual unity.

When God speaks, it releases God’s power to accomplish what he’s saying. If he thinks I need his power to accomplish that task, then it is extreme arrogance to attempt it in my own will; the only greater arrogance is teaching others that they should live as I live.

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Footnotes:
1 Genesis 1:3
2 Genesis 1
3 Exodus 20:19
5 see Exodus through Deuteronomy
7 John 5:14 & 8:11
8 Romans 3:23 & 5:12
9 John 1:3
10 Mark 14:38, Romans 8:5-13, 1Corinthians 15:50, Galatians 2:20, 3:3, 5:16, etc.

Adjusting the Target

Adjusting the Target

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

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

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

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

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

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

I could feel his tears.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stupid Chickens

Chickens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Accusations Against God.

I was thinking about God’s provision. Provision is something that God is really quite good at.

If I ask my Father for something to eat, and then I complain about what he brings me, my complaint is not merely against the food. My complaint is also against my Father who brought me the meal.

My words address the food: “This is yucky! I don’t like this.”

But the accusation continues further: “Your provision for me is yucky! I don’t like how you provide for me!” It’s inescapable.

The Israelites did this regularly during the Exodus. “Where’s the water? I’m thirsty!” “This water isn’t good enough; it’s bitter!” “I’m tired of manna; I want meat!”

We do this pretty often, don’t we?

We complain about God’s provision for us, because it’s not as generous or as comfortable as we want. We ask for a ministry, but it’s not as effective as we think it should be. We ask for a home, and then complain that it’s uncomfortable. We ask for a job, and then we fuss about the people we have to work with.

In all these things, we’re not just complaining about the things that God has lovingly and carefully provided for us. We’re also complaining about the God whom we accuse of such inferior provision.


The obvious solution to this problem, after we’ve repented (changed how we think about God’s care for us), is to practice giving thanks. “Thanks, God, for this adventure in the desert, away from the Egyptians. It sure is exciting to think about how you’re going to take care of us!

There’s one more place that Father’s been speaking to me about our whining:

I was visiting with a friend about how the Saints are pretty unhappy with the candidates for president in this election cycle (and I’m guilty of mocking them, too!), and Father whispered this verse to me:

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Romans 13:1. Then he added,

“These are my provision. I’m sorry that you don’t like my provision. But you’re going to need to learn to work with them. You’re going to need to bless them, and not curse them.”

When I complain about the poor choice of presidential candidates, I’m accusing God’s fulfillment of Romans 13:1. With every complaint about Donald or Hillary, I’m accusing God of being a failure as a provider! And I haven’t even asked him about why He provided these candidates. 

(Even worse, when Paul wrote this verse, and when Peter wrote “honor the emperor,” they were referencing Caesar Nero, unquestionably one of the cruelest and most evil rulers in the history of this planet. We are without excuse.)

I’m thinking we have room to grow in how we respond to God’s provision in our government.

Let the lessons begin. Are we ready to learn? 


Explosions All Around Us

Some folks among us have had violent, “earth shaking” events in their lives recently. Some have been asking, “Why Lord? Why me?”

A good gardener (or “husbandman”) has many tools at his disposal, some which are not intuitive.

Our gardener has been preparing some of us for growth by detonating charges around us, even underneath us. Sometimes, all we see is the explosions going off around us, showering us and those around us with detritus.  

Occasionally, we may see our bearded Gardener, twinkle in his eye, as he stands back from a freshly lit fuse. It’s easy to suspect that he’s bringing harm from the detonation, and this is undoubtedly where we get the idea that God works to harm us.
It’s true that God allows in his wisdom many things that he could, by his power, prevent from happening to us. And it’s likely that he does set off some of the blasts that startle us and discombobulate us.

But it is always for our good. The blasts that throw dirt all over our carefully planned lives loosen the dirt around our roots, making room for fresh growth, fresh nourishment, and from there, fresh fruit.

And those explosions that disturb our peace and frustrate our own plans often kill off the grubs that chew on our roots, the little foxes that spoil the vines, the demons that contentedly prey on our hopes and our fruitfulness.

The reality is that if we’ve been praying for “more of God,” for “more fruit,” or for “expanded tentpegs,” then these jolting and disheveling explosions may be the answer to our prayers. They’re making room for growth, easier growth, in our lives.

Maybe it’s time to give thanks for the earth shaking events in our lives, or at least for the results of them. 

Learn This Parable from the Fig Tree

I love it when God speaks through secular artists.

The Pixies have some strange songs. One begins with the lines,

“Meet me by the coppice stool
Before the sky takes back its jewels
Bring your life of memories
Before they sink into the seas.”

There were two or three interesting thoughts in here, but it was the first line that spoke to me. “Meet me by the coppice stool.” What on earth is a “coppice stool”?

Some years ago, Father really challenged me from the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:

"A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. "Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, 'Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?' "But he answered and said to him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. 'And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.' " [Luke 13:6-9]

Honestly, the story scared me. Since he was talking about my life, he was talking about cutting me down! What’s up with that? I was serving Him as hard as I could!

(By the way, if you ever find yourself asking “why is there so much crap going on in my life?” remember that manure was the fertilizer that Jesus was speaking about digging into the life of the fig tree.)

I meditated on the parable, of course. Then one day, while I was driving, I saw a piece of property where the owner had cut down some trees, but the stump was sprouting again. Even the logs stacked next to the stump were sprouting, and I realized, that must be how fig trees work.

So I googled it, and found it’s true: you can’t actually kill a fig tree by cutting it down. When you cut a fig tree down, you give the tree a fresh start, several fresh starts, actually. Because within several months of cutting down the tree, you’ll have several new trees sprouting from the same roots, surrounding the trunk. Instead of one old, slow-growing tree, you’ll have several young, vigorously growing trees.

Coppiced trees.
This method of extreme pruning is called “coppicing.” And that dead stump, surrounded by live trees from the same roots, is called a “coppice stool.” It’s a recognized forest management technique. “As  coppiced trees already have a fully developed root system, regrowth is rapid.” In fact, “trees which are periodically cut tend to live longer.” (http://www.coppice.co.uk/

So one reason that God may cut someone off at the roots is to extend both the breadth and length of their ministry. Another reason may be to bring back “the joy of my salvation” to saints that have grown weary or complacent.

So if you’re feeling like God is cutting you down (or just digging crap into your life), take heart: he’s preparing you for growth and expansion.



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



Church, Impropmptu

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

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

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

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

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

And we relaxed.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Help! Get Me Outta Here!

Have you ever been stuck in a situation that was really hard to put up with? Maybe it’s a job with long hours, no respect, lousy pay, no growth opportunities. Maybe it’s a relationship you can’t escape: parents, spouse, neighbors, co-workers. Whatever it is, you know things are not like they ought to be, and you seem powerless to change them.

It’s hard in that place. It’s easy to get disgruntled, angry, bitter in that place: why isn’t God changing this? It's like he doesn't even hear your prayers on this.
 
Here's my experience, my testimony: I spent a bunch of years disgruntled in a lousy job, and I surely didn't thrive. I complained to God and man about legitimate issues, blatantly illegal issues. I ended up doing the job poorly, and the boss noticed. Yikes.
 
I realized that I was letting my job be the thing that determined the state of my soul: my circumstances were the thing that determined whether I had joy or depression, whether I was thankful or ungrateful. Yikes again: I decided I wasn’t OK with somebody else controlling me.

I took positive steps to change my attitude. The job didn't change; if anything, it got worse. But I looked for places to rejoice (often the people) and ways to excel (one big one came through an on-site accident: weird how that worked). I went out of my way to perform that lousy job to the best of my ability, while submitting to their stupid and unreasonable limitations. More, I went out of my way to be positive and encouraging to the people I worked with, and with myself.
 
Time went by. A couple of years later, my job was pretty much the same, but I was happy and thriving and doing my job well. The boss noticed, and talked about promotion, but even more, Father noticed, and he released me to the next opportunity: I was not released from the prison until I overcame my own soul in the midst of it.
 
It seems that he wasn't willing to bail me out when I'd given up: he doesn't reward disgruntled
ingratitude. God’s ways do not include giving in to our petulant temper tantrums and continuous whining. He rewards faithfulness, especially in tough circumstances. He always has.
 
That appears to be his way throughout scripture: he rewards those who are faithful, whether with great gifts or with small ones. This is also his way: he always saves us through the difficulties, never from them.

It’s when we’re faithful in the midst those difficult circumstances that he is free to reward us, not before.

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Some Thoughts About the Purpose of the Prophetic

How many times has it happened that a prophet gives a word to someone you know, and you think to yourself, “They missed it! That is SO not them!”
                                               
Sure, it might be a muffed prophecy; the only guy who never muffed a single prophetic word was murdered for it a couple of thousand years ago. Nowadays, we all completely miss it occasionally. It’s like the man said, “Now, we see in a glass darkly.”

But it might not be a failed prophecy. That’s actually the goal sometimes. The goal of the prophetic is NOT to declare what everybody already knows.

The prophets declare the goal, solution, the finished product, the end result of God doing something in the person’s life. And sometimes they declare it as early as when God is just beginning work on the project. They're "declaring the end from the beginning." If you don’t know what you’re aiming for, how do you aim?

So when God speaks to a destitute homeless guy, “I see you as a man of substance, a man of wealth,” he’s probably not saying “This is they way you are now, in case you didn’t know.” No, he’s more likely saying, “This is your calling, this is your destiny. If you come with me, this is where you could go. Do you want in on this?”

Or he might say to the destitute homeless guy, “I see you as a leader of men,” and that may not show up the way we expect it to. The English language – especially American English – is not God’s first language. When he speaks of a “leader of men,” he may not mean what you’d mean: a recognized position of appointed leadership or power. 

I’ve known guys that chose to be homeless so that they could reach those that nobody else would reach. Their leadership was often just conversation between bunks in the local mission. They are indeed “leaders of men,” but nobody except the homeless guys they lead recognize it.

Really often, the fulfillment of the prophetic promise doesn't line up with our expectation of what it would look like. But it does line up with the word.

Second, the prophetic declaration releases God's resources to bring about that which they declare. 

When God speaks to the destitute homeless guy about wealth, that declaration, when activated by faith, is releasing the grace of God, the power of God, to gather wealth to the guy. Power to accomplish the word is carried by the word.

That doesn’t necessarily mean people will hand him cash money, though I’ve seen that happen. It may mean that God is lining up an educational opportunity, or bringing him an advocate, or giving him an idea for an invention, or lining up other, unexpected circumstances to make it happen. 

And fairly often, it's true about prophetic words: "If you don't declare it, it won't happen." 

If we want to be in on what God's doing, we can discern what God is breathing on in the prophetic declarations (1 Corinthians 14:29), and then join in with that. We can add the prophetic word to our worldview and begin to see and relate to people according to the things that God has said to them.

Or we can bury the prophetic declaration, and the power that it carries to accomplish the thing of which it speaks, under our own unbelief and jealousy and resentment, and kill the word.

It’s our choice.




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Who Is Your Comforter?

I have it on good authority that someone very competent already occupies the position of “Comforter” in your life (John 14:26). Holy Spirit is a remarkably competent comforter, and he is capable of doing a magnificent job of it.

Now, if you try to bring someone else in to fill that position in your life, there’ll be trouble. You will have invoked the threat of Exodus 20:3: “You shall have no other gods before Me.”

If I go to a prophet, or to a pastor, or to a friend with the intent of getting from them what I should have received from “The Comforter,” then I’ve caused a real problem. I have endangered that prophet, that pastor, that friend. I have set them up “before God” in my life, and God himself promises that he will not permit that. 

If you look at how God handled “other gods” in scripture, you’ll see it wasn’t pretty, not ever. You might review the story of Dagon in 1 Samuel 5. Men set gods up; God knocks them down. 

I do not wish to ever be put in that place, where I am “before God” in someone’s life. Frankly, I’ve had to learn this the hard way.

If you come to me asking for comfort, I may pat your hand, and say, “There, there!” or if you ask for advice, I may offer some (typically, too much, but that’s a guy thing). I'm figuring out how to mourn with those who mourn.

But if I feel that I’m being asked to provide for you what Holy Spirit should be providing, to speak into your life instead of your listening for Holy Spirit to speak, then I will probably point you back to him.

(It’s ironic that people are so often offended at me for pointing them to God. I haven’t figured that one out.)

And if you come to me and say, “God’s not talking to me. Would you give me a word?” you may see me run screaming.

You might be thinking, “If I can’t get it from God, I’ll go somewhere that I can get the word I want.” But I hear it as, “The God I’ve had isn’t living up to my expectations; I’m going to replace him with you.”

Nuh-uh! No you’re not. I’m sorry (on multiple levels) if this offends you, but I will not take the place of God in your life. I've seen what happens to other gods in the lives of God's people. No thank you!

The job of the pastor, and the prophet (and the rest of the ascension gifts!) is to equip the saints! If you’re a saint, then pastors should be equipping you for works of ministry, teachers should be equipping you or works of ministry, prophets should be equipping you for works of ministry, etc.

If ever we ask them to do for us what God should be doing for us, we have seriously erred, and we have tempted them towards something that (in my opinion) should scare the daylights out of them.

Let’s not go there, m’kay?  



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Preparing for an Uncertain Future.

I’ve been asked recently, “How should we prepare for the upcoming hard times in our nation?” The topic comes up a fair bit in one form or another.

I started to reply to the individual who asked this one, but there are several folks with questions on this topic. Here’s what I observe on the topic:

§         No single prophet will have all the insight on this (or any other) topic. Father promises to reveal his secrets to “the prophets” not “to each prophet.” I won’t have anything close to a complete picture. Having said that,

§         It’s not the prophet’s job [ever] to replace your hearing from God yourself. Take what you hear from the prophets to God to get your instructions for your own situation.
 
§         I believe that fear is the primary danger ahead of us: the enemy is making a pretty strong focus on this sin, trying to drive God’s. If believers resist that temptation, we’ll be positioned to get the rest of it right. (This means, of course, filtering what we listen to, and HOW we listen to it.)

§         It’s my opinion that the disaster prognostications flooding the media are fear-based, and are in error, if only because they’re based on fear.

§         While God is calling some of his children into the prepping community, “prepping” is not the answer. Luke 12:20-21 applies to those who, because of fear, store up all they’ll need to survive Armageddon: I don’t believe that’s actually possible; if we knew all that we needed to store up, that violates the First Commandment, and God has promised to not permit that. (Note: the “first commandment” is more of a threat than a commandment: “You will not be able to have any other gods before me: you set ‘em up & I’ll knock ‘em down!” [http://bit.ly/1nn65Rm])

§         I personally believe that the epic disasters of Matthew 24 and the Book of Revelation are clearly behind us, not in front of us (that is perhaps another conversation, and others believe differently). Nevertheless,

§         That does NOT mean I see blue skies and butterflies. Someone really smart said, “In this world, you will have tribulation.” I suspect that’s related to the fact that we are engaged in the greatest war this universe has ever known. It’s NOT “good vs evil.” It’s about the Kingdom of Heaven vs the lesser kingdoms (of which there are many: “good vs evil” is one; fear is another, and self-sufficiency is a third).

§         It is my opinion that the most critical things we can do are in John 2:5 (“Whatever He [Jesus] says to you, do it.”) and Hebrews 12:1&2 (“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”) Key: fix our eyes on Jesus. Having said that,

§         This does not mean “Don’t prepare.” It means look at what Jesus is doing and do what he says. He has had me make SOME preparations (we have gotten out of debt, and we grow some of our own food on our city lot, etc).

§         I’m reminded of stories like Matthew 17:24-27 (and we could choose many others!): It appears that Jesus is invested in provisioning us. Which leads to,

§         I believe we’re coming into a season where we rely on the supernatural for our daily lives. We need to (and are, in fact, beginning to) get used to miracles, so that we can multiply food or raise the dead comfortably and consistently.

§         Whatever troubles that come are an opportunity for the Kingdom of God, not obstacles. Even if there is real persecution against believers, upheaval of any sort open people’s hearts and minds to the King of the Kingdom. If we respond in fear we’ll miss the opportunity (see Romans 8:15).

§         Other people may be called to different responses. I am clearly called to a non-political response, but Father has specifically spoken to me about others whom He may be calling to be involved with politics, or even with forceful resistance to evil. Their calling is not my calling, but I need to not hinder them.

§         The story remains unchanging: God’s goal for us is still intimate relationship, his instruction is still to extend the kingdom, by means of the Great Commission.



So what do you hear God saying to YOU about this season ahead of us? 

The Vision of the Wooden Spoon

The vision began with a quiet stream, in a quiet, green meadow; it reminded me of Narnia for some reason: that peaceful. The stream was wider than one could jump across, and deeper than you’d want to wade across, and its flow was smooth and fairly fast. All in all, it was a very peaceful environment. The birds were singing.

Then a giant hand appeared in the sky, holding a giant wooden spoon, the kind of spoon that people use in the kitchen to mix cookie dough. The spoon dipped into the stream and stirred.

For a while, nothing much happened, except the stream became more turbulent from the spoon’s motion. After a minute or two, the stream darkened, and soon I could see things in the muddy stream: old tires, boots, cans, bottles, sticks and stones, jars, bags of rubbish. The hand with the spoon withdrew into the heavens.

I was kind of appalled. This had been a peaceful stream, in a beautiful meadow, and now it was full of trash and garbage and muck and mess. Well, actually, the peaceful stream had always had the trash and muck and garbage and muck and mess, but it had been lying hidden in the mud on the bottom of the stream. Now the stuff was out in the open.

The vision continued, and the stream kept flowing, and then I saw it: the garbage was flowing downstream with the flow of stream. Some of what had been stirred up came to the top of the stream, and was carried far downstream, out of the picture. Other things, heavier things, were carried a little ways downstream but they settled back to the bottom of the stream. Soon the stream was clear and peaceful again, but I knew that old tires, discarded shoes, bottles and cans were still there, lying on the bottom of the stream.

The hand with the spoon appeared again, and stirred the water again, and again the stream darkened with mud, again tires, discarded shoes, bottles, cans, and other detritus were stirred up, and again they floated various distances downstream.

The cycle was repeated several times, until eventually, the stirring from the almighty spoon did not bring up muck and garbage.

The stream returned to peace, but it flowed smoother, faster, than it had before, and I realized that it flowed cleaner than it had before. The garbage on the stream bed had settled under so much mud that the stream flowed smoothly over it, but still the garbage had polluted the stream.

Now the stream was actually clean.

I believe that this is what Father is doing in some of our lives. He’s stirring things up in our lives, and it’s uncomfortable. It’s easy to be appalled or offended at what he’s doing, because he’s good at what he does. Things are being stirred up, memories, habits, relationships that have been in our lives are being stirred up from the dark depths of our lives, and brought into the light.

And the reality is that much of what he’s stirring up is garbage: shame, embarrassment, memories of foolishness, of sin, histories of unwise choices, character weaknesses. It’s easy to resent these coming to the surface after how many years of being hidden in history.

But he’s bringing them up in order to wash them away, in order to remedy the issues. Trust him. Have hope, rest in the confident assurance that he does know what he’s doing, and that he’s working for good in you, for the purity that we really have wanted. He’s answering our prayers.

We can trust the spoon. More specifically, we can trust the hand wielding the spoon.


The Work of Growing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Asking for What’s Already Been Promised

Dealing with a promise from God – whether a promise from the Scriptures or a prophetic promise – is in some ways a little counter-intuitive.

We tend to think, “He’s promised. He’s God! He’s probably not going to forget!”

No, God’s not going to forget, but that doesn’t mean that we can forget, and just expect the Bluebird of Happiness to drop promised blessings on our heads whenever he gets around to it.

King David was awesome. He’s the most “New Covenant” character in the Old Testament. I love learning from David! In 2 Samuel 7, God makes this epic promise to him.

So how did David respond to the epic promise from God? He walked out on the prophet.

He walked out without even a polite word, got on his face in God’s presence, worshipped, and then did something really strange.

He asked God to do the very thing that God had just promised he’d do.

"Now, O LORD God, the word which You have spoken concerning Your servant and concerning his house, establish it forever and do as You have said. "So let Your name be magnified forever, saying, 'The LORD of hosts is the God over Israel.' And let the house of Your servant David be established before You. [2 Samuel 7:25-26 NKJV]

So David receives the promise from God, and then immediately asks God for the exact thing that God had just promised.

First of all, that sounds like a good way to get your prayers answered: ask God for what he’s already promised.

But more to our point today, it seems like a wise response to a promise: When God promises something that you like, respond by asking him for the very thing that he’s promised.

Jacob does the same thing in Genesis 32, and he, also, knows that he’s doing it: he’s asking God for what God has promised.

It’s easy to complain, “But he promised! It’s up to him to fulfill it! I shouldn’t have to do anything!” I understand that complaint, as I used to whine it at God with some regularity.

Have you ever been to a sushi bar that has thousands of plates of sushi on conveyor belts? They’re kind of fun. All kinds of yumminess rolling on by, and you can reach out and pick the one you like.

I suspect that God’s promises are a little bit like that. Or think of them like a menu: he’s making the offers, but it’s up to us to order what we want off the menu, or to take the sushi we want off the conveyor belt.

Why would God expect that of us? I’m so glad you asked. I believe there are two reasons.

First, he is honoring his promise to us. In Psalm 115:16, God declares, “The heavens are the heavens of the LORD, But the earth He has given to the sons of men.” This is the same commission he gave us in Genesis 1:26: he has delegated authority for what happens on this planet to us: he is asking for someone with that delegated authority to partner with him, to give him permission to do what he has indicated is his will to do. But he won’t go around our authority.

And second, he’s training us, as any good father will, for the job that we’re inheriting. We are heirs of the kingdom of Heaven, and if we don’t learn how to administrate the kingdom with little things (like believing him for the things that he has already promised), then we’ll never be ready for the work he’s planning for us.

This has the additional advantage of changing how our soul deals with things: if I’ve spent time in prayer on the topic, then it’s much easier for me to trust God in that area than if I’ve just seen it on the menu, and assumed that he’ll deliver it to my table.

So when you encounter a promise – whether in the Book or in a prophetic message – my recommendation is that you treat it like God has just described the “Specials of the Day” and order the ones that you want. 

Monday

A Prophet's Failure


Here’s the saddest story in the life of the greatest prophet in the Old Testament. It’s from 1 Kings 19. This is where Elijah fails. As sad as it is, we can learn some lessons from him to help us in prophetic ministry today.

[Elijah] traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.

And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  

When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”  

The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.  Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.  Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu.  Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel--all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”

Elijah had some reason to be afraid: Jezebel had threatened to kill him. Of course, this was right after he had called fire down from heaven, killed 450 false prophets, and ended a devastating drought in an afternoon’s prayer, so how much threat was she really?

Father has schooled me from this passage a number of times.

First, he contrasted Elijah on Mt Carmel (1 Kings 18) with Jesus feeding the 5000. Afterwards, Elijah takes on two more big and demanding projects: first, he prayed in a rainstorm, and second, he ran from Mt Carmel to Jezreel, ahead of a chariot (that’s a marathon distance!). Then he collapsed in a depression, and ended up in a cave whining at God.

By contrast, when Jesus had fed 5000 men (plus women and children: maybe 15,000 to 20,000 people), he dismissed the crowds, sent the boys home on a boat, and went up into the mountains to pray all night. Think about it: if the Son of God needed to get with God to get recharged after ministry, what makes us think that we can keep running?

The first lesson: when you’ve spent everything in ministry, don’t go do more ministry; get alone with God, and let him minister to you; debrief with him. After that, go walk on the water through the storm to the guys in the sailboat that’s swamping in the storm: miracles are easier then, and prophetic people work in the realm of the miraculous.

 “…I am the only one left,
and now they are trying to kill me too.”
The second lesson that he emphasized was this: whenever our prayers sound like Elijah’s prayers sounded in that cave “…I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too,” then we’re in a very bad place. That’s a really good time to shut up, to stop arguing with God, and to listen. It’s a good time to let angels minister to your spirit. But it’s really NOT a good time to talk.

Elijah kept talking, and God let him talk. Then he asked him the same question again (that might not be a good sign), and Elijah gave him the same self-pitying answer: “…I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too!”

God gave Elijah some assignments: go anoint some people. Notice that he’s sent to “anoint Elisha … to succeed you as prophet.”  Elijah is being fired as the prophet of Israel, and if we can count on the context, he’s being fired because he won’t leave the place of self-pity. From this day forward, Elijah never was the prophet he had been before; he wasn’t completely left out, but he wasn’t involved in any history-making events ever again.

My point is not to bring fear that we’ll get fired as a prophet. My point is that when we start seeing ourselves like the tree in this picture, that we’ve gotten into a place where we can’t minister well. We need to shut up and sit still and let Father speak into our souls. In this place, we really need to NOT declare things from self-pity, not from hopelessness or fear or discouragement. In this place, we need to stop speaking until we can speak life. 

This has been a heck of a season. A goodly number of people I know in the prophetic have been involved in big things. We need to learn the lesson of Jesus, and head up the mountain, not back into ministry.

And a goodly number of the prophetic people I know are as drained as Elijah was. (Some are on both lists.)  In this place, we need to stop speaking and let him speak to us, until we can speak life again. 

A Change of Seasons


I guess that there was a season where God was blessing it, but I think the blessing has moved on. I think we’re coming to the end of the season of the anointing being on those whose full-time work is “in the ministry.”

I suspect that the blessing was less on “full time ministry” than it was on “ministering in His name,” but it sure looks to me like that season – whatever it was – is now over.

There are still some people in “full time” ministry who walk in favor, in the midst of God’s move today. But if you look closely, they are mostly in the work of equipping others, sending out a new generation of “ministers” who generally have no title, have no ministry paycheck. They are spreading the good news, demonstrating the Kingdom at their “secular” (whatever that means) work, and the secular mission-field pays their living.

As a result, they have a credibility among the world that those who make their living from purveying the gospel never had.

I invite the saints of God to work hard, forcefully, to rid themselves of the religious heresy that “full time ministry” is better ministry. It’s not. It’s actually a hindrance, though it is a comfortable hindrance.

The best ministry nowadays, and generally the best anointing, comes to those who live and work and eat and sleep among the world to which they minister.

That means that those whose “day job” gets in the way of “their ministry” probably have the more effective ministry. And many of those whose “full time job” is ministry, find their work less effective, when measured by Kingdom standards. 

Wednesday

Paying Rent on a Fishing Boat


In Luke, chapter five, Jesus borrows Peter’s boat, pushes out from shore, and teaches the crowd.

But after he was through teaching, an interesting thing happened: it’s as if Jesus performs a miracle in order to pay Pete for the use of his boat: 

4 When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” 6 And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. 7 So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink

There are several lessons that could be, and no doubt have been, taught from this passage, about obedience, about team ministry, about trials in God’s blessings. But the one that stuck out to me today was this:

Jesus is not afraid of making his kids wealthy.

For some years, I lived in a fishing community in the Northwest. I was surprised to learn that some of the local commercial fishing boats would consider the night’s fishing profitable if they caught eight or ten salmon. They could sell the fish for enough to pay the costs of running the boat for the night, the wear and tear on their equipment, and still make themselves a paycheck.

But here, Jesus gives them so many fish that it swamps two commercial fishing boats. Admittedly they built fishing boats differently in the first century than in the twenty-first century, but it’s very clear that this one catch was way more than the optimistic boat-builders had planned for.

A catch like that could provide enough money to live off of for several months, maybe longer, while the fishermen spent their time hanging around Jesus and learning from him. For the sake of discussion, let’s assume that this one catch was six months’ worth of income for their families: for us, that’s a lot of money, maybe tens of thousands of dollars.

There are a couple of interesting observations about the process which Jesus used to pay rent on Pete’s boat:

  • Peter never offered to rent his boat to Jesus. He never offered Jesus use of the boat. Jesus intrudes: he just stepped into the boat of the fisherman who had failed at his work all night, and asked to be pushed out from the shore. Jesus intrudes on Peter’s failure and expects Peter to comply with his request. I don’t think it’s too much to infer that Jesus just might break in on our own lives, even in the “ungodly” place of self-pity, and use us.

  • “Being used by God” sometimes looks like it did for Peter: sitting on your sore backside, wishing you were doing something else, while he’s talking to other people about things you don’t really understand.

  • Then Jesus told (he didn’t ask) Peter to do something foolish: to waste some more time and energy on something that hasn’t worked, to invest some more in the place of Pete’s failure. Worse: Pete is a professional fisherman, and he knows that this is the wrong time to catch fish (that’s why he’d been out all night: night is better fishing time on that lake), and this preacher-guy is trying to tell him how to do his job.

  • Jesus didn’t just write Pete a check or a bag of silver coins for the use of the boat. He badgered Pete into working some more, and then he blessed the work that Pete did. Jesus used the vehicle of Pete’s own hard work (harder than he expected it to be: that was a lot of fish!) to drop twenty thousand bucks (or however much) into Pete’s checking account. While it’s not the only way Jesus does things, it’s a common one (Matthew 17:27)

  • It was when Peter put the net down at Jesus’ direction that the freaky harvest came in. It happened again, almost the same way, after Jesus had raised from the dead, in John 21.

  • But Jesus wasn’t afraid to drop a large chunk of wealth into the hands of an untrained fisherman. He didn’t give Peter a six-week lesson on How to Handle Money, or remind him about the importance of tithing if you expect God to bless you. He just blessed his socks off; and nearly sank his boat.

  • Peter recognized the presence of God in the sudden appearance of slippery, flopping wealth sinking his boat and his partner’s! His response: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Jesus uses that moment of spiritual openness to give Peter a new job: “From now on you will catch men.”

By way of application, I find myself reflecting on these action points:

  1. It’s probably good to let Jesus intrude on my day-to-day trudging. Maybe even invite him in.

  1. I probably need to re-evaluate what it means to be “used by God,” so that there’s a whole lot less confusion. Sitting on my butt, if he’s asked me to sit, can be frightfully profitable ministry, though it doesn’t look so impressive on the resume or the Facebook page.

  1. I need to guard against resentment: fancy expectations (see #2 above), intrusions on my life (#1 above) and failures.

  1. If I’m asking God for money, perhaps I should ask him to bless my job. That seems to be something he does pretty well.

  1. And I remind myself: when I experience that transition from discouragement to fruitfulness, don’t be surprised if you get a new assignment from Heaven during that season.