Showing posts with label warning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label warning. Show all posts

Saturday

The Lord’s Flock

The Lord’s Flock

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about God’s stray sheep for a while. It seems that there are a whole lot of Christians who haven’t darkened the door of a church in years: for one reason or another, they’ve lost faith in the church. It was in that context that I found myself drawn to this passage recently:

“But I [the Lord] will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and bring them back to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking,” says the LORD. –Jeremiah 23:3,4

As I meditated on the passage, I felt something of God’s heart for His people, particularly His lost sheep. I’m convinced that He is very tender towards His lost sheep, His children that have long since quit coming to church meetings. I’m beginning to understand something of what He feels for them, and that helps me understand why He’s so protective of them.

As you read the context for this verse, It’s clear that God is quite upset with the shepherds to whom He had entrusted His sheep, because they served their own needs and not the sheep’s needs. I recommend not making God mad at us. Personally, that does not appeal to me.

I’m beginning to hear some of His heartbeat for the sheep – the believers – who are separated from the gathered church. And because this is what I do, I experienced it in bullet points. Here are some key points from the verse above:

• God is going to gather the remnant of His flock from all the different places that they have gone; places like “hidden from church,” or “withdrawn into hopelessness,” “given up,” or “just filling the back pew.” The gathering will be His work; we don’t need to advertise for gathering; gathering is not our work, though we probably need to make room for the gathered sheep. [Note that these sheep are coming from wild places, so they’re likely to be unfamiliar to us, both by name and in their mannerisms.]

• The place He’s bringing them back to is their folds. I know too many churches that functionally belong to the pastor, and may others that belong to a board of directors. By contrast, the place God is bringing his sheep is to a place where they belong, a place they can call their own, a place where they have ownership and influence, where they fit in as full-fledged participants, not just as observers, not just as “nickels and numbers.” If we make room for them to sit down and for them to give their tithe but don’t make room for their vision, their passion, their calling, then we’ve completely missed the point of what God’s doing. Note: by definition, this will significantly change the nature of the gatherings.

• When they are gathered in, these “missing sheep” will become fruitful. They will increase. (It does not say that “we” will be fruitful; they will.) In other words, we must make room not just for our missing brothers and sisters, but for their gifts, for the people in their circle of influence, for their ministries. It’s almost a given that we won’t understand where they’re coming from – they’ve spent the last few years / decades in places you and I have probably never been; they ain’t gonna be as shiny and well-dressed as life-long churchgoers, and we’ll be tempted to think that we’re better than they. That would be stupid. We’ll be tempted to make them wait for a season, for us to decide if we approve of them and their ways of doing things, before we release them to minister. That would be a mistake.

• God will set up shepherds over them. In this, I hear a couple of warnings: I can imagine some men and women in pastoral positions setting themselves as “over” the returning sheep. That would be a mistake any time of course (pastors, like all 5-fold ministers, are to serve), but especially so with these sheep who have learned to survive in the wild. God promises to set up His own shepherds over them and I can’t imagine that He needs help with that. We can look to identify those He’s raising up, rather than installing our own people. Perhaps you and I will be among those set by God into those positions, but not unless we’re already shepherding the sheep He’s given us; not unless we’re doing it according to the goals and values that He has described in this passage and others like it.

• Note that the only responsibility mentioned for the shepherds is to tend the sheep. We (assuming that we’ll be involved) are not assigned to direct the sheep, to rush their development or their healing, nor to hinder their advancement. Our job is to feed them. Yes, there are some other responsibilities associated with being a shepherd, but the one that God points out is feeding. We tend to add other responsibilities that are more appropriate for cowboys than shepherds; God is not adding those. Maybe we shouldn’t either, eh?

• God gives a specific goal: “…and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking.” Whatever it is that we do with these old-timer newcomers, we need to make it so that they are not afraid, not discouraged, not re-evaluate their decision to re-join the gathered body of the Church. We’re going to need to get rid of those religious spirits we have gotten so used to.

• Let me add this personal note: As God brings many of these people back into the church, we will be tempted to see them as “lost sheep” and want to baby them, clean them up, dress them up and minister to their obvious bumps and scrapes. I believe that if we take that approach, then the best we can hope for is that they don’t kick us in the teeth as they run from us and our “help” for them.

A better image may be to look at ourselves as an army training for battle (an appropriate image for the church any day), and these returning believers as battle-tested warriors, returning from the front lines. We may know more about the theory of battle and the reasons why our weapons are better than the enemy’s. But these warriors have spent the last few decades practicing what we talk about.

Many of them will be like the stereotypical Platoon Sergeant who chews on the stub end of a cigar as he hunts the enemy in the jungle. If you’ve read Tom Clancy, think of the character John Clark. If you’re a comics fan, think of Nick Fury. If you like superheroes, think Wolverine: not so polished as we may like, but the right guy to have at your back in a dark alley full of bad guys.

At the same time, it would be a mistake to vacate our leadership positions in favor of these returning warriors. We must not blindly follow them any more than we would blindly follow anyone else. In this generation, ministry – including the ministry of leadership – flows from relationship. It’s unreasonable and irresponsible to place complete strangers into leadership and then instruct our people to follow them. We need to welcome them into friendship, into relationship. Some of them, like some of us, are more suited for leadership than others, and we discover that through relationship.



Friday

An Egyptian Delivered Us

As the book of Exodus begins, Israel is in captivity. They were the chosen people of God, descendants of Abraham, but they had become enslaved. They lived like slaves, they thought like slaves, their culture was a slave culture, they believed in their slavery.

Moses was the deliverer for the people of God. He knew it; he tried to fulfill it prematurely, and that’s why he was running for his life.

From Exodus 2: 15 When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh and dwelt in the land of Midian; and he sat down by a well.  16 Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters. And they came and drew water, and they filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 Then the shepherds came and drove them away; but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock.  18 When they came to Reuel their father, he said, “How is it that you have come so soon today?”  19 And they said, “An Egyptian delivered us from the hand of the shepherds, and he also drew enough water for us and watered the flock.”

Moses was also the deliverer for Reuel’s daughters and his sheep.

It was interesting that Reuel’s daughter’s described Moses to their dad as “an Egyptian.” I’m sure Moses looked like an Egyptian, but he was in fact a Hebrew. You know the story: his parents hid him in the bushes at the edge of the Nile and the Egyptian princess – Pharaoh’s daughter – found him, had Moe’s own mom wet-nurse him (thank God for a quick thinking sister!), and after he was weaned, he was raised as Pharaoh’s grandson.

Some have suggested Mo was in line for the throne; that may be just an interesting theory, but it illustrates the reality: Moses may have been biologically a Hebrew, but culturally, he was an Egyptian. He dressed like an Egyptian, he spoke Egyptian, he knew the Egyptian culture and mannerisms, and when he confronted the bad-guys at the water troughs, he approached it from the point of view of his position for the past several decades: as a member of the Egyptian royal family.

No wonder the ladies thought he was an Egyptian.

The church in America is in captivity. Genetically, at our very core, our essence comes from the realm of heaven, but we’ve lived on earth for so long, that we’ve become earthly, natural, in every other way. We think in natural terms. We live among the natural world. Our culture and mannerisms are of this world. We believe in the world we live among.

If the church were actually free, we’d reflect the culture and values of our birth-culture, Heaven. We’d see the events and people of the natural world through the values and resources of heaven. Like it happened around Jesus, and later around some of the apostles, people would find themselves healed – whether in body or in soul – when we were around. We’d measure our resources by the balance in Heaven’s account, not in the bank’s account. Our lives would be characterized more by joy, peace, faith, hope, love, and less by business meetings, church services, project deadlines, job descriptions or stress.

God is raising up deliverers in our day. God has spoken it prophetically, but it doesn’t really require prophecy to see it: there have been only three times that a generation has been wiped out: the massacre that preceded Moses’ birth, the massacre that followed Jesus’ birth, and the massacre of aborted babies today: God is certainly up to something!

Here’s my point: I believe that many of the deliverers that God is raising up in our day will look like “Egyptians.” Egypt has often been used as an illustration of the ways of the world, and many deliverers will look very worldly. They’ll speak in worldly vocabulary and use colorful worldly metaphors. They’ll use worldly mannerisms – not church-cultured mannerisms. They’ll have worldly friends: business leaders, gang leaders, political leaders, artists, educators, barkeepers.

But they’ll be God’s people inside, under all that “worldlikeness.”

The first thing we might see in some of these leaders is that they’re standing up for believers in the secular arena. We’ve already seen some of that: when radical Hindu’s blamed Christians for a popular teacher’s death and started massacring Christians wholesale, there was an outcry, and some of it was from the secular world. The mainstream media didn’t touch the story as far as I can see, but the blogging community did, and many “secular” bloggers spoke out about the injustice.

Does the appearance of a secular person standing up for Christians mean that they’re a deliverer, that they’re even a believer? Certainly not in every case. I don’t believe we’re seeing God’s “Egyptian” delivers quite yet, but I expect that we will in the next several years.

Many men and women who find themselves in the position of defending God’s people against Egyptian slave-masters will shortly find God moving in their lives. They may have a dormant faith, from their childhood or youth, that God suddenly fans into flame. They may be “about to be” Christians, ready for harvest. Or they may be genuine followers of Christ who have been hidden away from the public eye for a long time, possibly even hiding away from the church for many years.

We are coming into a day where God is bringing deliverers out of hiding, men and women who will not look like church-goers, and who in fact, won’t be church-goers, but they will be deliverers sent by God. If we’re not careful, we’ll reject these young leaders because we don’t recognize the clothing, the mannerisms, the style of speech. If we do, we’ll be rejecting something powerful that God is doing among us.

Tuesday

Judging Judgmentalism

As the guy said in The Gods Must Be Crazy: “Ai yi yiii.” I hate this kind of stuff.

There are a number of Christian websites that are passionately critical of Todd Bentley and the Florida Outpouring (which is now on the road, currently in Califorrnia). Hank Hanegraff of CRI, the Christian Research Institute is one of the most visible and most vocal. A friend recently asked me an opinion of Hank’s critical article against Todd and his ministry. It got me thinking. If you’re interested in this kind of stuff, you might want to read that posting on his blog, though it’s not entirely necessary if you’re at all familiar with the current standards of criticizing somebody different than ourselves.

It appears to me that so many critics of Todd, Hank included, are fundamentally evangelical: that much is a fine thing. The problem is that they seem to make the assumption that the only legitimate form of Christianity is evangelicalism, and everybody else is a heretic, and they're making a name for himself denouncing them. And they're using rather inflammatory language in doing it.

It’s interesting that Hank's biggest complaint against Todd Bentley that an usher wouldn’t let someone come to Todd for healing when they were discussing testimonies, not praying for the sick; they'd done that earlier. Todd’s usher practiced Todd’s teaching, which is (I suspect) a doctrine that Hank and many evangelicals would probably support: Todd is not the “healer”, but Jesus is the healer. Hank’s friend was prevented from coming to Todd as the “healer”, which is consistent with Todd’s teachings, and probably Hank’s too. (Though I allow for the possibility that he did it poorly or without tact.)

In addition, Hank’s friend was defying the instructions from the leaders of the meeting (which were essentially that “This is a time for testimonies, not for requests for healing.”), and Hank finds fault with Todd not permitting such rebellion. Moreover, Hank blames Todd for the emotional letdown and disappointment that his friend felt when Todd’s team stood up for two (appropriate) standards: they wouldn’t permit him to bust up the meeting, or to venerate Todd as “the healer.” Hank’s criticism strikes me as disingenuous here.

I also find it interesting that Hank defends his own judging of Todd while not validating others’ judging of Hank’s critical remarks.

Let me make it clear for the record, just in case Woodward and Bernstein (or their heirs) get ahold of this post: Todd Bentley makes me very uncomfortable. I don’t like how he does stuff. I don’t like how he does his meetings. I don’t like the way he relates to people. I don’t like the way his dad relates to people. I don’t like the truck he drives. I don’t understand the tattoos, and I think they could have been done much more artistically. (Note that these complaints are all about how he does things, not what he does; the difference is significant.)

I know something whereof I speak. I have business dealings with his ministry. I’ve met him and his father several times. I know well several people that appear to be Todd’s personal friends; I’ve been to a number of his meetings, as well as watched (as long as I could) some of his recent meetings on GOD.TV.

Having said that, I have to say that Todd is the best example I know of of the scripture that says, “We hold this treasure in earthen vessels.” Todd is a very earthy vessel, but the treasure inside is real: this is the real gift, and Todd – with all his warts and tattoos – is my brother. While I’m uncomfortable with his style, I’m convinced that the content is the real thing: God really does work through him to a degree that He does not in other mortals, including Hank, certainly including me, and possibly including yourself, dear reader.

Does that make Todd any less weird? Heck no. The guy’s covered in tattoos, is lousy in interpersonal relations, burns himself out with some (decreasing) regularity, and has a really weird public speaking style. He’s also – lest we forget – functionally a baby Christian: he only got saved a few years (was it 5?) ago from a life of drugs and violence: this guy was not raised in Sunday School: he looks like it and he acts like it.

The guy lacks maturity because isn't yet mature: he hasn’t had the time to develop it. He has his “flesh” hanging out all over the place. But probably no more than I do. Maybe less than Hank does (though I’m not confident that – despite Hank’s vociferous disputations to the contrary – I have the authority to judge that).

Todd's critics use the Bereans, as Hank does, to justify their judgments (Hank's word, not mine). In the Bible, the Bereans were commended for comparing Paul’s doctrine with scripture. Two conditions: judging doctrine and judging by scripture. It doesn’t appear to me that Hank is doing either. He’s judging Todd the man (calling him a “spiritual fraud,” a “liar,” among other things, none of which is about doctrine), and judging him by stories (while denouncing Todd’s stories simultaneously) and by “common sense”. Aargh. That’s not right!

The frustrating part is that both of them, stinky as they are, are my brothers in Christ.

The result that I see is that people are disappointed, hurt and confused by Hank’s ministry every bit as much as by Todd’s. But in the process, Hank is smearing everyone who is different than himself with slander, whereas Todd is trying hard (embarrassingly hard, IMHO) to point people to Jesus. I can’t tell to whom Hank is trying to point people; I’m not convinced it’s to Jesus, or at least not to the God of Love that I know Him to be. In other words, it's worth examining the fruit of both ministries: when people encounter Hank and Todd, what is the result; do either of them bring people closer to Christ, closer to other Christians, inspire us to be more passionate about loving God?

So I wish my brother Hank and others like him would just shut the hell up. I mean that literally: it seems to me that their words further the agenda of hell more effectively than that of Heaven.

(Isn’t that funny: the right-wing fundamentalist preaching inclusion? Sheesh. I know I make a pretty poor right wing fundamentalist, but I still get accused of it. )

One more in the sake of fairness. But first, let me ask this: is the Bible the standard for our behavior today? And if it is, do we limit ourselves to only what the Bible permits, or do we permit ourselves everything that the Bible does not limit (whether by command or by principle)? I know many Christians who say they espouse the former: if the Bible doesn’t permit it, then I don’t do it! But they drive a car. And they brush their teeth. And they use flush toilets, power tools and clean underwear, none of which is in the Bible. The Amish come closest to that standard, and they don’t come particularly close.

Most believers actually live (regardless of their doctrines) by the second: if the Bible doesn’t prohibit it, then neither do I. (Well, it could be argued that a fair percentage of American Christians don’t limit themselves at all, but that’s another conversation.)

Todd gets in a lot of trouble for living that standard doctrinally. He teaches some weird things that are not Biblical. They are also not anti-biblical; that is: the Bible does not teach against what he is teaching, neither do his doctrines contradict Biblical doctrine, but they do not conform to the stories and teachings in the Bible either. For example, I’ve heard stories that vilify him for speaking about an angel named Emma (I’ve not heard him directly on this). Is it weird? Yes! I mean, "Heck yes!" Is it Biblical? Well, not in the strictest sense: as far as I know the Bible names only three angels in all of scripture, and Emma is not on that list. But does it contradict Biblical teaching? Not really. It’s like the subject of toilet paper: pretty much ignored in Scripture (possibly for good reason).

Maybe it’s time to shut up about how God chooses to deal with His son and his servant Todd Bentley, and do what He’s telling us to do. Hmm. I suppose that would apply to His servant Hank Hanegraff as well. I think I'll shut up now. But please, let's not waste our time criticizing brothers who do things differently than we do.

Thursday

Correcting Error with Truth

There are several ways in which the church has walked in an out-of-balance position for a long time. 

For the sake of discussion, let’s take a very old position from the dark ages: there once was a day that it was considered doctrine that the only person who could read the Bible or understand the truths it contained was the pastor (called the “priest” in those days). It was one of the things that were addressed in the Reformation. 

It is true enough to acknowledge that some people are more gifted in understanding and teaching doctrinal truth (they’re called “pastors” and “teachers” often enough); it’s just heresy to say that they’re the only ones qualified.

I’m not going to talk this subject; I’m using the subject as an illustration about the process of correcting error.

Think of a pendulum: we’ve been way off-center in some areas, and we’ve been off for a very long time, and it’s time to come back to truth. In our pre-reformation example, there was a truth (that pastors [“priests”] who have studied the Bible for years might understand it better than those reading it for the first time) that was taken to an unhealthy extreme position (that it was actually a sin for a non-priest to read the Bible or teach doctrine).

They were way off-center in their approach to the Word, and that heresy needed to be corrected. That which was in a very improper position must be brought back to its proper position, which is often a position of balance. In this example, the priesthood of all believers must be balanced with the gifting and training of pastors and teachers in the church.

The process of this correction is our topic today. There are at least two means of correcting such an error:

1) We can present the correct truth in the proper balance, and hope that those who are seriously out of balance will recognize the truth and repent (change their mind) to embrace the truth. Or

2) We can present the correct truth in the opposite over-emphasis, contrasting to the previous – and erroneous – over-emphasis. Hopefully, an over-emphasis in one direction (in this example, the priesthood of all believers) will counter-balance the previous over-emphasis (the gifting and training of pastors and teachers in the church).

So the net result of the two options are:

1) If we present the balanced truth, it's heard and received in the context of the error of centuries (“the teacher is gifted to present doctrinal truth more than those not similarly gifted and trained”) and serves only to bump the listener's understanding a tiny bit closer to center: they've had years (or centuries) of error, and ONE statement that's properly balanced won't fix their understanding. Or

2) We over-emphasize the opposite truth (“Every believer must read the Word and learn from God directly”), in hopes that when it's heard in the context of years of error, it will bring people to a balanced perspective after the dust settles. The drawbacks are that:

a) It requires people to think for themselves, which is a sketchy proposition at best, and

b) it relies on teaching one error in order to correct an opposite error.

It seems to me that pastors and teachers will typically only see the first option ("present it in balance"), while prophets and apostles typically tend to see the second option more easily ("emphasize the opposite truth"). 

In reality, I suspect that God is more interested in the truth being presented, rather than the details of how it's presented. He's going to take our words – whatever words we use – and shape them with the Holy Spirit anyway. Ultimately, it is Jesus who has said, “I will build My Church” and it is not primarily my responsibility. Perhaps the greatest error is taking responsibility ourselves – taking it from Him – to build His Church in a way that pleases us.




Friday

Doctrinal Integrity

I’m becoming more and more aware of a confusing situation – a problem – in the church. It’s hard to talk about head on, so I’m going to approach it from the back side, through a story.

One day some years ago, my family and I were out driving on a sunny Sunday afternoon, talking about our need to replace the vehicle we were riding in. We happened upon a small car lot, so we drove through, looking to see what they had that was interesting.

Within seconds, we were greeted by a salesman with slicked back hair, a polyester tie and big toothed smile: the quintessential used-car salesman. He proceeded to tell us why it was in our best interests to trade in the vehicle we were driving for a similar car of the same make and mileage for “only a few thousand dollars more,” and we could make payments at “only 12% interest.” I imagined him licking his chops, as he looked on us in our tired station wagon.

It was clearly not in our best interests to do business with this gentleman. My daughter called him a shark.

I came away from that experience with a new principle for my life: “Never ask a car salesman if I should buy a car.” The reason is obvious: some car salesmen have difficulty separating what’s good for their commission check from what’s good for my household, and their recommendation – their “expertise” – is self-serving.

Another illustration: imagine a judge presiding over a trial in which his brother-in-law is the defense attorney. The reason judges recuse themselves from cases like that is because the public cannot trust their impartiality: they have a conflict of interest: do I serve justice, or do I help out my family?

I see this happening in the church with alarming frequency: I see self-serving principles taught from the pulpit without any acknowledgement of the conflict of interest. I hear doctrines taught as truth, which clearly benefit those teaching them, and which sometimes do not benefit those being taught. And nobody questions either the doctrine or the motive.

What am I talking about? I’ll state these doctrines more bluntly than they’re taught from the pulpit, but this is the content being taught. I’ll state them very directly in the interest of clarity:

* You must tithe in this church where I get my paycheck or else you’re stealing from God,”

* If you’re not in this building every Sunday morning you’re in town, the devil’s gonna getcha!”

* If you don’t teach in Sunday School, our children are all going to hell!” or

* Give $1000 to my ministry and God will give you [fill in the blank]!”

Let me digress long enough to clarify what I am not saying: I am not saying that the doctrine of tithing is incorrect. I am not saying that the doctrine of covering is heretical, or that there’s something wrong with teaching Sunday School. I believe in tithing and I believe in raising our children as a community.

I’m also not saying that we should reject any teaching that could possibly be construed to the benefit of those teaching. I’m also not saying that the people who teach these things are necessarily teaching them out of self-serving motives. An ethical used car salesman can give me good advise about cars; an honest judge can judge fairly even when his family is involved; a televangelist truly can speak about money without greed in his heart. A true pastor or can invite people to join his church without thought of personal gain – financial or otherwise. It can happen, but it’s hard to have confidence it’s actually happening.

I am saying that it’s kind of awkward that the only people teaching the doctrine that individual believers must belong to an organized Sunday-morning church are the leaders of organized Sunday-morning churches. I’m saying that it’s confusing that the only people teaching that the Old Testament laws about tithing apply to New Testament believers (and who also teach that the rest of the Old Testament laws don’t apply to New Testament believers) are generally the same people whose paycheck comes out of that offering basket they want me to fill up: they may be teaching the truth, but it sure appears that they’re going to benefit more than I am from that teaching.

I’m not convinced that the system is corrupt, or that just because a pastor benefits from our obedience to his teaching, that he is necessarily teaching from a self-serving heart. I know a lot of pastors, and frankly, the vast majority of them are men and women of integrity. I have watched one or two of them struggle with the very issues I’m writing about here. But I’ve watched many others – particularly in small churches, where the size of Sunday’s offering determines whether they get a paycheck this month or not – where the line between their doctrine and their need becomes seriously blurred.

Obviously, a response is appropriate on the part of leaders and teachers who teach doctrine from a motive of self-enrichment, and that response starts with repentance for trusting something other that God as their provider. It may or may not be appropriate to acknowledge the conflict of interest publicly: the real response of a right heart must be towards God first, and only then towards man. As leaders, we must guard our teaching, our counseling, our hearts from mixed motivation.

Interestingly, as believers, our response to this dilemma is old news: after we forgive them, we as the Body of Christ in the pews need to examine the Word for ourselves, not just live off of what is fed to us by others. I’m not advocating an abandonment of all that is taught by paid pastors; I’m advocating that we test the things taught us, that we “search the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.

Sunday

A Warning About Declarations to a Prophetic Community

We’ve been hearing for several years now: our words have substantial power, not just in the lives of those we speak to, but they change realities; they release spiritual power. Before I go any further, I want to affirm some of the basic truths held there:
· One of the ways that I’m created like my creator is that, like Him, my words carry power and create or change the reality of the world around me.
· This is one of the reasons that the Word commands those working in the prophetic realm to speak “comfort edification and encouragement.”
· We can exercise this authority intentionally (perhaps as declarations) or unintentionally.
OK. Now on to the meat of this article. Jeremiah 28 contains a warning about making specific declarations that are not within the will of God. But first an overview of declarations.
There are at least three categories of Declarations:
1. Those things that God has already said to us specifically. We can declare these boldly, knowing with certainty that we’re working within the purposes of God.
2. Those things that fall within the parameters of God’s blank checks: “Ask whatever you want,” He said, “and you shall have it.” There were conditions, of course: primarily that we be well and truly “in Him.” (See Matthew 21, Mark 11, John 14, John 15, John 16 as examples.)
3. Those that are our will, for our own benefit, but are not part of God’s plan This includes those things that we already know are contrary to God’s will.
And this is where Hananiah and Jeremiah 28 come in; I recommend you read it again now. Please. God had declared one thing (70 years under Nebuchadnezzar’s yoke), and Hananiah declared something completely contrary (only 2 years in captivity). Some thoughts:
1. As a prophet, Hananiah was aware that he was directly contradicting Jeremiah’s word; he broke Jerry’s wooden yoke. It was a prophetic challenge, and he knew it.
2. The scriptures don’t identify Hananiah’s prophetic mantle any differently than Jeremiah’s: he was not a “false prophet.”
3. Hananiah was certainly declaring something far more comfortable than that which the true word of the Lord had declared. If I were going into captivity, I would prefer 2 years to seventy. And certainly it’s easy to understand why someone would want to be seen as a prophet who stood up to the judgment that was facing them.
4. God (through Jeremiah) declares he has not sent Hananiah with this message, and that the message he is speaking consists of lies, and that he was teaching the people “rebellion against the Lord.” Surely a prophet and the son of a prophet would know that he was not sent by God.
In verse 11, Hananiah prophesies the breaking of Nebuchadnezzar’s yoke, and he does it from his own will, contrary to God’s will. Yet in verses 13 & 14, God tells Jeremiah that things are different now because of Hananiah’s word. In other words, even though Hananiah was prophesying “lies”, even though his declarations were self-motivated, they had effect.
God backs up Hananiah’s prophetic word, even though it was in error. But it wasn’t a stamp of approval of his ministry. It cost Hananiah his life:
“Hear now, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, but you make this people trust in a lie. 16 Therefore thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, I will cast you from the face of the earth. This year you shall die, because you have taught rebellion against the LORD.’”(Jeremiah 28:15&16)
Now, this is Old Testament, but it seems that God honored the rebellious prophet’s word, knowing that it was a rebellious word, but he mitigated the effects of that word in two ways:
1. He removed the prophet from the scene. Hananiah actually died 2 months later.
2. He does an end around to accomplish His purposes in spite of Hananiah’s fulfilled word: “You have broken the yokes of wood, but you have made in their place yokes of iron.” (v13,14)
Hananiah’s word intended to reduce the yoke that Jeremiah had prophesied (from 70 years to 2 years), but instead, it increased the severity of the yoke (from a relatively comfortable wooden yoke to an immovable iron one).
The lesson in this: as a prophetic people created in the Creator’s image, our words have power, even in rebellion. But we must guard our words so that we speak what we really want to see created. Yes, God will mitigate the effects of our unwise words, but who among us wants to find himself opposed by the Almighty?
Let’s guard our hearts and our words. Obviously we must run from Hananiah’s example of defying the word of the Lord for his own good. But if we are to be judged for every idle word (and we are), then we must guard our casual speech as well.
We will be a prophetic people if we follow in the footsteps of our Father. Let’s speak “comfort edification and encouragement,” as far as possible, but whatever we speak, let it be His words, not ours.

Are Christians Lazy?

I was walking along the lake this morning, praying. (Trust me, 6:30 AM in February qualifies as “the cool of the day!”) As we walked, he brought back to my mind a hope, a dream really, regarding ministry that He and I had talked about decades ago. I realized that I’ve seen nothing come of it.
I need to explain something before I go too much further here. I’m a direct communicator. God knows this and seems to not be offended by it. He sometimes speaks directly with me; it works for us.
So I’m reflecting on this ministry dream, and it crosses my mind that it hasn’t come to pass; in fact, I’ve known several folks with similar dream, and theirs hasn’t come about yet either. Hmmm. Oh look, it’s beginning to snow.
And the voice of the Holy Spirit whispers in the back of my thoughts: “That’s because my people are lazy.”
Whoa. Suddenly He had my attention, and he unfolded a series of thoughts in my mind, like a slideshow; no, more like an MTV video clip: fast, active, and full of energy. I feel the need to share some of those thoughts.
In many ways, the work of the Western Church has been functionally indistinguishable from the work of the secular world in which we live. Not completely, of course, but in some critical ways. We’ve often governed our congregations by political process (show me one place in the Word where the people voted; there is one, but it’s not our model). We’ve accomplished what we considered the work of the Kingdom, but we’ve been directed by our own goals and we reached them by our own strength.
There’s been a growing movement in the church that has rejected the concept of using the arm of the flesh to accomplish the work of the Spirit, and encouraged a more Spirit-led model of ministry. For example, we don’t often see Jesus setting goals and forming committees; rather, we hear Him talk about doing and speaking only “what He sees the Father doing,” and we see the supernatural results that He had, and we want to be like Him!
Then we read the story of Mary and Martha, and we hear Jesus rebuke Martha and affirm Mary, and we think, “Well, I should sit at His feet, not run around working hard, or He’ll rebuke me too.”
Unfortunately, what worked for Him turns into religion and passivity in us. We become religious because we forsake our vision for the marketplace for “more spiritual” vision. We become passive when we look at Jesus’ statements as if He sits around waiting for God to give Him direction.
A verse that has driven us is poorly translated Isaiah 40:31: But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. We see “wait” and we think about sitting in the lobby of the doctor’s office reading antiquated news-magazines, and that’s made us lazy. The Hebrew word actually means “to wait or to look for with eager expectation,” and is the root word for the making rope: becoming intertwined. When Jesus “waited”, He did it early in the morning or late at night: He worked hard to wait, to intertwine Himself with Father. Maybe that’s the reason that we don’t accomplish as much as He: we don’t work as hard at waiting.
I’ve encountered an attitude that appears to be uncomfortably commonplace among believers, particularly among believers who believe in and like to associate with the power of God. We wouldn’t put it this way, but it’s accurate: we kind of wait for God to hand us our dreams on a silver platter.
There’s a reason that Bill Gates or Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton are as successful as they are, despite the fact that they don’t (as far as anyone knows) spend much time waiting on God: they work hard.
We as believers should work as hard as unbelievers work, though certainly we don’t worship market dominance, wealth, or power as they do. Jesus didn’t rebuke Martha for working; He rebuked Martha for dismissing Mary’s choice as insignificant, or for working without having spent time sitting at His feet first. He never said, “Be more like Mary,” perhaps because if we all did nothing more than sit at Jesus’ feet, nothing would get done. I rather suspect that the goal is to be like both Martha and Mary. As Mike Bickle says, “Lovers make better workers.”
I hear people complain that if they take the time to be with God, time to be with their family, time for church, then the won’t have time to do the work of the kingdom. First, I suspect that’s more of an excuse than a reality, at least in the lives of some who have made that complaint to me. And second, I’ve become willing to suggest that we seriously cut back on the number of services we attend in order to spend more time with God, with family, and in the work of the kingdom.
So, to answer the question that I posed in the title of this posting, yes, I think Christians (including myself) are lazy, and we’re lazy because we have been poorly instructed. When we learn who we are in Christ, when we learn that it is our work to reign with Him, when we figure out that “waiting” has more to do with warfare than it does with killing time, then I think we’ll find our dreams come to pass, our promises fulfilled, and His kingdom come.

Saturday

Authority is Always Given, Never Taken

I figure that you and I can have two kinds of conversation: we can talk about the weather, or we can deal with the real issues of life. The first is easy; the second is kind of scary.

When we’re talking about real life, we’re not just talking about life in general. We’re talking about, among other things, your life and mine. And one of the dangers in that kind of conversation is the reality that you may see something in my life that needs to change. Maybe I’m not living up to the standards that I talk about, or maybe I’m disobeying the Word, and you see it.

But you can’t speak into my life unless I let you, unless I give you that authority. No, that’s not right: you can talk all day long, but unless I give you authority to speak into my life, I’m not going to be changed by what you have to say.

You can’t take that authority; it doesn’t matter if you are in the right and I am in the wrong. If I have not granted you authority to speak into my life, then your words are by definition without authority, and are powerless.

Likewise, I cannot take authority in your life if you haven’t given it.

There are people in “positions of authority” in my life. I must honor either the position, or the person holding the position, by giving them authority in my life, or else they have none. . The fact that you’re my boss means you should have authority to speak to aspects of my life and behavior, particularly during work hours. The fact that you’re my pastor means you should have authority in many areas of my life. The fact that I’ve invited you to speak into my life means that you should have such authority with me, but unless I decide that your word is authoritative to me, all is lost

I think we’ve lost track of this in our culture, though many foreign cultures seem to have a handle on it. Here, however, we have employees who disrespect their bosses and disregard their instructions, which leads to either fired employees or busted businesses. We have church members rejecting the instructions and teaching of their pastors and leaders, which results in stunning immaturity and moral failure.

Often, our employers, our pastors and leaders know the answers to our questions and failures, but whether they tell us the answers or not, it seems that the result is the same. The reason is that we have not submitted ourselves to their leadership, we have not given them the authority to have those answers in our lives.

And similarly, often times we can see a friend whose life is heading towards a shipwreck, but if they have not given us authority to speak into their lives, we cannot change their course, and their destruction is inevitable.

The challenge is that authority cannot be taken; it must be given, and in reality, it must be earned. Often, we expect that we already have the necessary authority based on our position, or on our superior knowledge or experience, and we speak up: “Let me tell you what’s wrong with you,” forgetting, or ignorant of, the fact that we must be given authority in someone’s life.

We cannot take authority; we can only be given authority.

Sunday

Impending Battle

Over the past few years, the Lord had been speaking of an impending battle. One of His illustrations has been this picture from The Horse and His Boy, at the end of the Narnian army's march to the battlefield in Archenland:

Here, the army halted and spread out in a line, and there was a great deal of rearranging. A whole detachment of very dangerous-looking Beasts whom Shasta had not noticed before went padding and growling to take up their positions on the left. The giants were ordered to the right. The archers, with Queen Lucy, fell to the rear and you could see them bending their bows and then hear the twang-twang as they tested the strings. And wherever you looked, you could see people tightening girths, putting on helmets, drawing swords, and throwing cloaks to the ground. There was hardly any talking now. It was very solemn and very dreadful…

For a season, we've been preparing for a great battle that is yet before us. What you're seeing now is the first skirmishes of that battle already upon us. It's like God is bringing His reluctant army into warfare little by little, toughening us up, preparing us for the bloodshed to come.

Since you are a warrior born, and since you are always drawn to a battle, you are one of the first to experience the fight. You have surrounded yourself with warriors, and so you see many of your friends beginning to encounter more of the enemy.

This is the purpose of God, this is His plan: that you would not shrink from the battle, that you would cause more casualties than you take, that you would learn to be healed quickly and to heal those around you quickly, and that you would leave behind you a very wide swath of demonic corpses as you take the battle to the enemy.

This is your destiny! Draw your sword! Throw your cloak to the ground! Let's go to war.

Wednesday

We Have Entered A Dangerous Season!

Some time ago, Chuck Pierce released a prophetic word that said in part, “The enemy would like to knock your legs out from under you and drive you off of your path,” and “The confrontation of the enemy is at hand. You must be filled with praise to enter into that conflict ahead. War is stirring in your midst. War is rising,” and “We are entering very dangerous times. This is a time of opportunity, yet a time of danger.”
I can’t tell you how many people I know that are walking in those times right now. I know I have been, and – as warfare generally is – it’s been hard to keep my perspective in the midst of the battle.
Recently, the Lord reminded me of the promise, “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” A lot of the church is experiencing the refining.
In reality, however, I’m not sure that this one is for the whole church. It seems that this fight is for the Calebs among us: “Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, ‘Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it. If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land flowing with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the LORD, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the LORD is with us. Do not fear them.’ ” (Numbers 13:30, 14:8-9, also quoted by Chuck Pierce).
A bunch of us are in that battle now: we’re being hit and the people around us are sometimes being hit even harder. The enemy is not stupid: he knows that sometimes the easiest way to take down a warrior is to hit the people that the warrior cares about. He also knows that hitting our families is terrifically discouraging, and if he can discourage warriors, then he doesn’t have to face us in battle.
It’s like 1 Samuel 30: where the Amalekites hit David’s home base of Ziklag while the warriors were out killing bad guys; they took their provision, their families, their future and their promise. “Then David and the people who were with him lifted up their voices and wept, until they had no more power to weep.” That’s pretty serious grief, and there are a number of people in the church that are suffering like that.
David, in contrast, is our example. After grieving, “David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” Grief is fine, it’s appropriate, even valuable. But if we stop with grief, we’ll soon end up in self-pity or bitterness. We must move on to strengthening ourselves in the Lord.
The result was that “David recovered all that the Amalekites had carried away, and David rescued his two wives. And nothing of theirs was lacking, either small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything which they had taken from them; David recovered all.”
There is no battle, whether spiritual or physical, that is without spoil, without booty that can be taken, must be taken, by the victor. The enemy fights for our attention, our hope, our vision. If he takes those, he is victorious: that’s how he can tell he has won: he has plundered our treasures.
That’s the spoil that we bring to the battle. But the enemy is at risk as well. He has brought captivity, disease, poverty to the battle. If he loses, then captivity and disease and poverty fall to the forces of those who have taken part in the battle. It is our privilege, it is our duty, to take the plunder, and to use it for righteousness.
You know people around you that are wrestling with disease and discouragement, who are under the heaviest attack in this battle. If you leave them there alone, they will be casualties, and the enemy will turn next on you. If you join with our brothers and sisters, and help them keep their hope, their vision, their eyes fixed on Jesus.
Some of us are in the midst of the battle, in the furnace of affliction right now. If we fight alone, we’ll likely fail; then we will have fought in vain, and the enemy will be unhindered as he trains his sights on those we’ve sought to protect.
We certainly must keep our eyes on Jesus in the fight, but we will do that better if we stay in relationship with the other members of our squad, our battalion. If we can receive their support, their encouragement, their reinforcement, then we will overcome, and they will overcome.
And we’ll share the plunder together.

(With thanks to Chuck Pierce, Trevor Macpherson, and Bill Johnson)

Saturday

Invest Yourself in Your Community

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.

Jeremiah 29:3-9: “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. ‘Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. ‘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 have welfare.’ “For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream. ‘For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them,’ declares the LORD.

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 Christ, or to the degradation of the world around them. Some display a measure of irresponsibility, but most live as members of society, holding down a job, raising a family, making mortgage payments, and attending church faithfully. Whether they believe in an imminent rapture or not appears to have no visible bearing on their behavior. They’re the same today as they were ten years ago, and the same as their fathers were thirty years ago.

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:

Hebrews 10:24-25: And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (emphasis added)

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. Daniel is an example:

Daniel 2:48-49 Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts; and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon. 49 Also Daniel petitioned the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego over the affairs of the province of Babylon; but Daniel sat in the gate of the king.

And Joseph is an example:

Genesis 41:39-45: Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you. 40 You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you." 41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt."

42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring off his hand and put it on Joseph's hand; and he clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. 43 And he had him ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried out before him, "Bow the knee!" So he set him over all the land of Egypt. 44 Pharaoh also said to Joseph, "I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no man may lift his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt."

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:

Luke 19:13 And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. (KJV)

A newer translation says it this way:

Luke 19:13-14 So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, 'Do business till I come.' (NKJV)

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 pragmate├║omai 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.

‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. ‘Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. ‘Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you….’

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.

T.B.I.

I’ve become aware recently of a great trend that has no doubt been part of the American church for a long time. It’s the making of irrelevant and meaningless excuses.
The other day, I was counseling with a man who had managed to get himself addicted to a particular brand of sin. I’ll call him Bob for convenience sake. Bob and I were discussing some of the action that he needed to take if he was going to free himself from his sin. To be fair, the course of action was a challenging one, but he and I both agreed that it was necessary if he was going to get free. And then he pulls out the excuse from hell:
“But that’s so hard!”
When I hear that excuse – and I hear it often – I groan inside. Bob’s right, of course: it will be difficult. But then it’s a difficult task he proposes: extricating himself from persistent sin to which he has been enslaved for some time.
The problem with that excuse is that it’s true, but it’s irrelevant. Yes, it is a difficult road he proposes, but so what? The choice, contrary to Bob’s evaluation, is not between “that which is hard” and “that which is not hard.” Rather, it’s between “continued enslavement” or “freedom.” Freedom, by nature, requires hard choices.
Both roads are difficult, of course, but our flesh is eager to agree with the enemy that the road to freedom is hard. The devil is not particularly forthcoming when it comes to acknowledging the trials of enslavement or addiction.
I’ve come up with a response – for my own amusement – to those excuses: TBI: True But Irrelevant. I’m fascinated by the number of times we come up with excuses to obedience that are true, but completely irrelevant to the heart of the matter.
Recently, I was talking to a businessman who is faced with some challenging circumstances in his business; I’ll call him Henry. He has some tough decisions to make if his business is going to make it past its current challenges. Recently, Henry made some decisions that represent something of a moral compromise; not a big one, but they mean that he’ll break his word to some people who count on his truthfulness. We were talking about his business, and I brought this up. His was to explain why he “needed” to make this compromise and why it wasn’t really that bad. “I didn’t have any choice! We have a problem in the company!”
TBI.
Yes, it's true, Henry does have that problem in his business, and yes, this morally compromised decision will help solve some of those problematic symptoms in his company. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a moral compromise: Henry is still breaking his word. He’s still betraying a trust, and this decision will make it harder for his staff to believe his word in the future, and I believe it will distance his business from God’s blessing.
I’m making the choice in my own life to attempt to escape this trap, to not offer irrelevant, self-centered excuses to the things that my relationship with Christ require. I’m going to attempt to deal with the issues of what is required of me, by God, by the people around me, by my circumstances.
You can pray for me.