Do you feel his joy? Can you feel his anticipation?
It occurs to me that one reason may be because of God’s followers. Aw, heck: several reasons may be because of God’s followers. Let me explain.
What I AM suggesting is nothing new: let’s not be stupid. Let’s see if we can speak English (or another actual language) instead of religious gibberish. Let’s take the time to figure out what we actually believe, and more importantly for our own growth: why we believe it.
Do you remember 8 years ago. When
When the “liberal media” attacked him, demeaned him, smeared his reputation, we were saddened and angered. In the eight years he’s been in office, they have not relented, but only increased the pressure. Some would argue that this fact was foundational in the successful election of
During the recent election season, I heard similar dismay about
Those among us who had supported
The precedent is clear: the supporters of the defeated candidate increase the mudslinging, the civil disobedience, the vilification. That’s what this nation has done so well after so many elections before: if there was disrespect shown during the election, then there were many and awful things said against them during their office: the victorious candidate was vilified, pilloried and subverted at every opportunity.
I am proposing another response.
1) Pray for him: Pray for the man. Pray for his office. Pray for his family (I can’t imagine raising children in the White House).
2) Honor him: speak of him with respect. Yeah, I know: the disrespect, the vilification is part of the process of preparing for the next election: don’t do it.
3) Seek the welfare of his government: Pray towards, speak towards, even work towards the success of his policies, his administration. In Jeremiah 29, the prophet is writing to the exiles: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (
One last statement before I finish:
It will be easy to miscommunicate on this subject, so let me state my premise, and then we’ll go to work on the subject: It’s my observation that most of the gifts of mercy that operate in our culture – both secular and spiritual – are messed up – out of control – and as a result, our mercy often does more harm than good. There are people who have what the Bible describes as a gift of mercy, and they’re real gifts. But too often, the gift is used inappropriately.
Let’s contrast this a couple of ways: First, there are others, who don’t have that gift, for whom it is less instinctive to respond with mercy; we’re not going to discuss these people today. Second, it’s possible to use this gift out of impure or inadequate motivation as it is for any other gift, and here is where there are some interesting lessons.
The other day I saw a mother and child in a grocery store; you’ve seen them too. The child is acting out in selfishness or in rebellion, and instead of disciplining the child, mom capitulates and the child gets her candy and is appeased for the moment. (We see the opposite often enough as well: a parent in the grocery store who disciplines the child to the point of abuse, but that’s not the point of this article.)
A friend of mine (we’ll call him “
The goal here is not to accuse or judge the addicted daughter, though doubtless she made her share of mistakes. The bigger error here may have been mom and dad not tempering their mercy with wisdom. Their choice was not between mercy and judgment (that one’s over: the Book is clear that “mercy triumphs over judgment”), but rather between the mercy of emotions and the mercy that is built on wisdom.
I tell these stories to illustrate my premise: most of the mercy gifts in the church today are out of control. First, we make the same mistake that
The second mistake we make is that we let the world tell us how we should express mercy, rather than letting God instruct us, and the world is not well informed in the wisdom of God. So the world says, “Do something, for pity’s sake!” and that may be part of the problem: pity is not the answer.
We see people making poor choices, and we want to make those choices for them. We see people hurting, and we want to ease the pain. But in reality, if we make their choices, then they never learn wisdom; if we ease their pain, then they never learn the lessons that discomfort can bring.
So rather than just jumping in to “rescue” and “fix it” and “save them”, I am proposing that we the church actually look to our Head for wisdom: “How would You like to meet this need, Lord?” Because none of us can claim to be more merciful than God, and certainly none of us can claim more wisdom than He. And because we’re damaging people by rescuing them unwisely.
So when we see people hurting, let’s stop and pray. Let's respond with the wisdom of God, not react out of our flesh.
No, we’re not done with him. In fact, I believe that
The heart of
That’s where a whole lot of the church is. “Sorry, I haven’t seen what you see. I don’t believe it.” We might be talking about Bible truth or moral conduct or the work of the Holy Spirit ; the issue is that we don't believe what someone else has seen, but we ourselves have not (yet) seen.
How many times have we seen this when God does something new or unusual: Someone we know experiences something new and unfamiliar (gold dust, laughter, shaking, or just a new understanding of an old passage of scripture), and many believers shout “Oh, that can’t be God!” Wait! Your brother, your sister, have just told you what they experienced and you don’t believe it? Or perhaps a father among us declares a new truth that we haven’t known before, and we reject it as unfamiliar. I’m not talking about receiving heretical doctrine from people who would compromise the gospel of
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen pastors declaring a Biblical truth to their people, and the people won’t see the truth they’re being taught. We join in the self-sufficient sin of
And that’s the heart of the issue: we won’t believe someone else’s word, someone else’s experience. Put into spiritual language, we won’t believe or receive the testimony of our brothers and sisters. And judging from his reaction in Mark 16, that’s not acceptable to God! Sure, there are screwballs trying to hoax us (think of the emails you’ve received from Nigerian princesses) but God has equipped us to avoid being hoaxed.
There are at least two reasons why this kind of Thomas-type fear is inappropriate:
1) God has made us to be a community, not a bunch of isolated individuals. “We are members of one another,” is how the NT says it. That means that I’m not complete without you, and I cannot hear all that God is saying to me by myself. I need you to hear some of it.
2) God has given us a tool – a weapon, if you will - to be able to distinguish the truth from the lie. It’s called discernment, and He requires us to use it. Discernment is a gift of the Spirit; it is not a gift of a suspicious mind. It requires exercise, but with this gift, we are able to discern good from evil, truth from the lie. This is not about “I know and understand;” this is about hearing the echo of truth from the Spirit of God about whom Jesus said, “He will guide you into all truth.” The capacity for discernment is His responsibility, not ours: He expects us to recognize the truth when we’re faced with it, even when it’s weird, and He equips us for that work from His Spirit.
A pair of brief testimonies of my own: recently, I was faced with a tough decision. I had difficulty seeing through all the emotional clutter to understand the direction God was pointing; both the “where” and the “when” of the issue were beyond me. So I asked a handful of folks with whom I have a covenant relationship. They were unanimous in their counsel: this is the direction and now is the time. I still didn’t see God’s direction myself, but I trusted their counsel, and made the decision. In hindsight, they were completely accurate, and had I not listened, I would have made a very bad decision, which would have hurt both me and my family.
Second: some years ago, I was faced with some very unusual people, who were behaving very strangely in church, in their “renewal service.” Their behavior – which I am omitting intentionally, as it is not the point – set off every alarm in my mind, but my spirit was at peace in the midst of it: I concluded that this – as strange as it was – was God. The next several months proved it right: my mind had missed this one, but my spirit had recognized His spirit in this.
So here’s the bottom line: God has equipped us to discern the truth from the untrue, and He requires us to exercise it: with that equipment, He expects us to receive the testimony of our brethren: if they have experienced something in God, if they give us their testimony, we are expected to receive it: when they grow, we are to grow with them! Yes, we discern, and yes, we throw out the garbage (and there’s plenty of that!), but we must receive the truth when our brothers and sisters share it with us, even if we don’t see it ourselves.
It had been only three or four days since I heard first whisper to me, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you,” and in those few days, two other people have come to me with the same message. They’re the first two people who have brought that particular verse to me in more than a decade.
There is a commonly held opinion in the church today that we are now raising the last generation that will live on this planet, that the end of this world is near and that Jesus will soon come back to collect His bride and take home to Him in Heaven. I’ve known some young believers who jokingly engage in “Rapture Practice”: standing outdoors and jumping towards heaven, arms outstretched, as if to be taken heavenward any second.
And I’ve heard some Christians grow frustrated with the leaders of this world, and write them off with, “Aww, they can have it!” the clear implication being that they are soon to abandon this world for the next. I remember old hymns by the names of “I’ll Fly Away” and “I’ve Got A Mansion, Way Up Yonder.”
On the other hand, there are other believers who live from day to day, not paying much attention to the imminent return of
Both groups are in error, of course; the “Steady Eddie’s” for ignoring the approaching Day, and the Rapture Fanatics for ignoring their assignments on Earth.
The writer of Hebrews encourages us to be away of the drawing near of that day, and to make changes in our lives accordingly:
The way I see it, we’re supposed to live for heaven, but we’re supposed to live on earth. We live with our eyes on our Heavenly Father, but our hands on the work that He’s given us to do on this earth.
Scripture is given, you recall, as an example to us.
There’s a verse that I’ve been puzzling about for a long time. Finally, with this command of “Invest in your community, Son,” it begins to make sense:
A newer translation says it this way:
The English word “occupy” is a military word; it means you’ve already conquered the territory, now keep it governed for the new rulers. The Greek word for “occupy” or “do business” is pragmateúomai and it is a business term, but it’s a term of ownership, not busywork. It means both “Be engaged in a business for profit,” and “be occupied with reference to the affairs of state.
God is looking for a gain, a profit, an increase from us, which means that we must invest the resources that He’s given us into the people and circumstances that He’s placed around us.
Clearly, He’s not looking for money from us; “You can’t take it with you” clearly applies, but having money is a fine way to accomplish a profit in terms of lives, of influence, of relationship. Have you noticed how much influence the wealthy have as compared to the poor?
So the command is to invest in the community that God has placed you into.
Our place is to be in the world, not of the world. The other half of that, of course, is to be of Heaven, but not yet in Heaven: we have a job to do here.
For the years, I've had the privilege of being part of the sending community for scores of short term and a not a few long-term missions trips. I can't tell you how much I've valued that, and how much richer I am for having had that experience!
But now it's my turn. OK, so it's a little turn – only about a week – and I'm not even leaving the country, but it's something of a missions trip! I'm excited! Let me tell you about it.
Early in August, two friends and myself will drive to San Francisco, California, the garden from which the hippie movement sprouted during the "Summer of Love" exactly 40 years ago. It's our belief that the revivial that God started – known in the media as "the Jesus People Movement" – degenerated into the hippie movement: the knowledge of the love of God was corrupted into the casual sex and casual abortions of "free love"; the experience of the Holy Spirit was replaced by a drug culture that shouted, "Turn on, Tune In, Drop out!"; the Spirit of Revival was traded for war protests and campus riots.
In other words, the revival that had been handed to us was dropped, and the move of God was usurped by a move of the flesh: what came about contained some of the same seeds, but at least partly because of the mishandling of my generation, those seeds fell into poor soil. Yet again, Jesus' parable of the Four Soils in Luke 8 makes a whole lot of sense: the Jesus People from Haight-Ashbury fell victim to the weeds and thorns of Jesus' parable, and were turned aside from fruitfulness by many "cares, riches, and pleasures of life."
I'll be traveling with Trevor Macpherson and Todd Adams, and those of you who know these two Godly Yahoos know that their presence means an interesting, if intense, time together. Our goal is to meet with other leaders from the Jesus People revival of the early 70's and strategize how to avoid similar mistakes as we hand the leadership of the current revival to the men and women of the next generation.
We'll conclude with a very large gathering in Golden Gate Park repenting for these and other failures, celebrating the marriage of some of the leaders of the next generation (can you imagine? an outdoor wedding!), and bringing invitation to the denizens of the park for a Wedding Supper. Sounds pretty ostentatious, doesn't it? It does to me too, but that's what we feel like God is calling us to do.
You can find similar thinking to ours here: http://www.realsummeroflove.com/
So we're looking for support. We don't particularly need financial support, though if you want to, you can invest in the trip; you can ask us how. What we really need is prayer, and lots of it. First, if you're aware of any ways that you personally have short-cut the legitimate move of God in your own life, please join us in repenting for those sins: that's the main thrust of our trip. Beyond that, we'll treasure prayer for our safety, for divine appointments, for wisdom and humility in the meetings, and anything else you can think of. Please don't hesitate to share what you're hearing in prayer with us, too.
Who knows? This may be just a wild hare of a fifty-something "aging hippie" and his buddies. On the other hand, we think that our Father is up to something, and we want to see if we can help Him, or at least watch Him, in His work. Anybody can do nothing; we'd like to do something. Even if it’s weird.
Thanks so much. You're a real blessing!
One of the most fascinating situations in the Bible is never described. It happens during the latter years of
This time fascinates me intensely, and I believe that it’s a metaphor for where the church is today.
The House of Worship
In that day, the Tabernacle of Moses (also known as the Tabernacle of Meeting) was installed on the hill of Shiloh a good day’s walk from Jerusalem. It encompassed a whole campus of highly ornate tents covering several acres. It was the only place where the entire nation would go to worship, and they went there by the thousands. The Levites and Priests taught the Law, the sacrifices were offered there: sin offerings, thanksgiving offerings and all the rest. Offerings and sacrifices were received from the people in the form of gold, silver and animal sacrifices.
The Tabernacle was a big spectacle: there were gold and silver and bronze and embroidery and bright colors everywhere.
Shiloh had become a noisy place. The crowds of people brought their own noises, and everywhere was the noise of the sheep and birds and oxen that were brought for sacrifice, interrupted by the businessmen selling more animals for sacrifice.
Over all that was the music. Ah, the music! Choirs, trumpets, harps.
The air was filled with fragrances. The animals brought their own smells of course, but the sacrifices and offerings filled the air with the smell of barbecue. And when they lit the incense, the smell of spices filled the place.
Services for thousands of people were led by priests decked out with linen and jewels and fancy robes and sometimes fancy hats. It seemed that the more important you were – and all the leaders were important – then the fancier your vestments were.
The entire nation was commanded by law to come together for a national party three times every year, and when it happened, the crowds swelled from the hundreds or the thousands to the hundreds of thousands. Every hotel room was booked solid for weeks, every restaurateur made a healthy profit when the festivals came to town.
Imagine an NFL football arena ten miles outside your hometown, and then imagine that it was a legal requirement that the entire nation attend the game every weekend. Now imagine that your team is in the Superbowl in that arena three times a year, and that
The people didn’t gather for worship at the Tabernacle of Meeting in rebellion or selfishness; their goal was not spectacle. They were in fact obeying the commands of the Lord, commands about when to worship, how to sacrifice and what to teach. The leaders were installed by the command of God, for all that the hands that were laid on them were the hands of men. This worship service was established by God, and it was perpetuated at His command by His blessing.
They only lacked one thing. God’s presence, the Ark of the Covenant, was no longer there. Other than that, they pretty much had everything going for them.
The Presence of God
The Ark itself had been moved into the city of Jerusalem, and it was now residing in a pup tent in
That little tent would soon be known as
The significant point was that the Ark, and therefore God’s presence was no longer hidden behind layers of ceremony and religious bureaucracy. Suddenly, for the first time since the Burning Bush, God was immediately accessible to His people.
Based on how much the Bible describes
The remarkable thing was that Heaven knew of
Tabernacles and the Twenty First Century
We live in a day like the day that
Heaven is committed to this kind of worship, and this is the pattern of worship that makes God happy: people coming directly to God, coming freely and joyfully, without the pomp and circumstance of the Tabernacle of Meeting, without the religious trappings of the grand ceremony and tradition.
We live in a day where there are large and prestigious and prosperous gathering places on the hilltops, in the public places. They’re in the media and in the eyes of the nation, and the people go there by the thousands to perform the rituals and offer the sacrifices and be trained by the religious authorities of the nation. They have the professional musicians, the professional speakers, the professional media technicians. The ceremonies are moving and the messages are relevant and uplifting. Thousands come to a faith in
They lack only one thing. The presence of God is not in them.
I am not opposed to mega churches, or to Sunday-morning gatherings in general; I repeat: I’m part of one, and I like it. These are not “ungodly abominations;” they are not sacrilegious and they are not (by and large) the work of the flesh, that is, they are not monuments to self or pleasure or our own righteousness. But they’re not following the presence of God (I remind you: there are exceptions to everything I write in this blog!).
These churches carefully following plans laid down by godly men and women, whether that’s the vision of the founders, the vision of the pastor or the directions of the board of directors. They’re doing their best to be what they think a church ought to be. They’re following the law as they know it.
But it is
Tabernacles and Me
The big deal is this: it demonstrates God’s heart! God, it appears, prefers passion to legalism, intimate worship to religious conformity.
This isn’t about location. I’m not lobbying for Believers to run screaming from their churches and worship God in their back bedroom. Location means pretty much nothing.
I’m saying that going to church is not the thing that God respects. I’m lobbying for Believers to worship God passionately, intimately. I don’t really care if you and I worship God in the big gathering or the little one, as long as we passionately worship. The goal is getting crazy for God’s presence. The goal is worshipping with abandon, holding nothing back. The goal is letting nothing and nobody get in the way of our worship, whether circumstances, other worshippers or church leaders.
The reality, however, is that that we often can’t worship that way in our Sunday morning gatherings. When we’re there, we often (and often appropriately) need to conform to cultural standards of the place. If we were to dance in church like
But we must worship. We must worship in abandon. We must be passionate. We must find a time and a place we can be foolish with. We must find a people we can worship among, who won’t be distracted by our passion, because they’re lost in their own.