Saturday

Whose Spy Are You?


Now [the 12 spies] departed and came back to Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the children of
Israel in the Wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land.
Then they told him, and said: “We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the South; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the mountains; and the Canaanites dwell by the sea and along the banks of the Jordan.”


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.”


But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.”


-- Numbers 13

Twelve spies were sent to spy out the inheritance God had provided for them. Two returned with good news, ten feared the worst. I see this kind of division in our day.

It’s apparent: God is on the move; Aslan is on the prowl. He’s saying to his people something very like he said to Abram in the beginning: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” (Genesis 1:21)

God is clearly calling his people into action, and he’s saying very little so far about what he’s bringing us into. He’s clearly following the principle of Romans 14:23: “whatever is not from faith is sin.” If he were to tell us too much, we could not respond in faith. So he says, “Come to the land that I will show you. Eventually.”

One of the key principles for the day is that we must follow what he is saying now, not what he has already said. By way of illustration, we look at Abraham again: God gives him a son, then some time later he commands, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22) Had Mo held onto that word, a true word that God truly had spoken, Zack would have been a corpse on top of the mountain; but because Mo did listen, he saw the ram, the provision from God, and sacrificed the animal instead. Zack’s life depended on Moses listening for the “now word” of God.

Likewise, if we follow what God has said rather than what he is saying now, we will miss what he is doing now, and we will suffer great loss. Therefore one of the day’s key lessons is to learn to follow his still, small voice. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) It’s time for us to live up to those words.

It goes without saying that we listen to his voice; any other will lead us badly astray.

A second opportunity for growth comes this way: many believers are reporting that the season in which we live is an intense season; the pressure is heavy and is increasing, the pace is fast and picking up. The pressure is a temporary phenomenon, but the completion of the lesson is different than what many of us have experienced or hoped for. I believe that the season will end, not with the lifting of the pressure upon us, but with our growing to the point where the pressure is no longer a hindrance to us. It is we who will change, not our circumstances.

So our second lesson is about responding to difficulties. The lesson is about how we respond to pressure: do we respond with growth or with complaining? Do we notice what God is up to? Do we celebrate where we see his hand, where we hear his voice? Or do we notice the difficulties first? Do we fix our eyes on the obstacles in front of us? Do we notice the growing darkness more than we see the growing light?

If we recognize the darkness first, then whether we mean to or not, we are aligning ourselves with the ten spies that spoke out against what God was doing, who led the people in the rebellion that cost every last life in the community except Josh and Caleb.

Those ten had no expectation that they were condemning an entire people to death with their words; they believed that they were simply reporting the truth as they was it. But the truth that they saw, the spirit that empowered their words, brought three million people who believed them to an early grave.

The question is about what we speak about, what we meditate about; it’s about the words we use with each other. Jesus said, “… those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.” (Matthew 15:18) If our words are about darkness, then our lives will be defiled by the darkness about which we speak.

Does that mean we should bury our head in the sand and pretend that there is no evil? Come on, you’re smarter than that: of course not. We don’t pretend the evil is not present; we simply don’t give it our primary attention; we don’t talk about it, we don’t empower it.

When we measure the darkness, we fail the great test of our day. When we celebrate the Kingdom and it’s King, we pass the test, we overcome the darkness, we fulfill Jesus’ prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”

So what are you reporting about?

Thursday

The Revival at the End of the Age?

Many people are declaring something along the lines of, "The greatest revival the world has ever seen is just ahead. The greatest miracles, the most wonderful wonder-working Church the world has ever seen is near." This is a wonderfully encouraging word.

The value of such a word, however, is determined not by how happy it makes us feel, but by the fruit it brings in the lives of those who hear it.

First, I need to clarify: I am neither denying or affirming that such a revival is coming. What I am doing is questioning the nature and the timing, and the results of these kinds of proclamations of it.

It is clear that the church has a consistent history of taking our strong wishes, presuming their truth, and building wonderful theologies of wishful thinking upon them. The above statement, and many more like it, was made more than half a century ago, and that might suggest that, at a minimum, his ideas of "just ahead" may not be the same as we normally mean by "just ahead.” The statement, while hopeful, has missed its mark.

It seems that every generation since the original Pentecost has believed that they were the final generation. So far, every single one of them has been proved wrong. Hope is a wonderful error, but it remains an error: hope built on an assumption is not hope built on God. Hope built on wishful thinking is a false hope, and false hope is my concern.

And this false hope has very serious consequences: the assumption that that we’re on the brink of a sovereign revival, then the human species tends to back off, to slow down in our part of the labor. It was a problem in the first century church (read 2 Thessalonians 3), and it remains to this day.

This complacency leads to (at least) two results:

1) Since the return of Christ is predicated on our success at certain tasks (Matthew 24.14), this false hope in fact delays the return of Christ. If we're not getting our part done, then we are delaying his part, his return. and

2) Because, many hopeful Christians have, over the centuries, complacently sat back and rested because of such a false hope, the result has apparently been that millions of individuals did not hear the gospel from their testimony, and presumably many of them are now suffering in hell, simply because some of those who were called to preach the gospel to them were waiting for the sovereign revival we’ve been declaring for so many generations.

I am suggesting that this is a problem: our focus on a sovereign revival is delaying the triumphant return of the Messiah, and is condemning people to hell. I repeat: I am not challenging the belief that such a revival is coming. I am challenging our response.

Nor am I suggesting that we deny hope to people. A hopeless church is an inactive church. Yet historically, a church motivated by false hope has also been a less active church. So what can we do?

Perhaps the answer is in avoiding either extreme position. Perhaps the answer is better found in honestly acknowledging, “Yes, God is going to do something dramatic. No, we don’t know when." Perhaps instead of focusing on what He is going to do, we can focus on what He has instructed us to do.

Jesus commanded that we pray, and gave us a model that includes praying, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on Earth.” He’s commanded that we go “to Jerusalem, Judea and the ends of the Earth.” He’s commanded that we preach the “Gospel of the Kingdom” (which is not the same as “the gospel of salvation”). He’s commanded that we make disciples “of all nations” (not “in” all nations). And he’s commanded us to “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” And he’s commanded that we do this with Himself, “Lo: I am with you always, even to the end of the Age.” There is a lot for us to do!

The end of the age will involve Jesus doing some things and it involves the Church doing some things. If the Church will focus on the person of Jesus rather than that part of the work that is His responsibility - if instead we will focus on doing the things that are OUR responsibility - then the work will be done sooner, and better, than it has been over the past couple of millennia.


Monday

It’s Time To Negotiate a New Contract

Most professional sports begin with a training camp of some kind. And many training camps begin with a level of controversy: very often, there are a few individuals that don’t show up for the beginning of camp. They’re often some of the best players, and they’re holding out in order to negotiate a better contract.
There are benefits and drawbacks for that renegotiation. The good is that a new agreement can be created, one without the assumptions of the previous season.
The drawbacks are plentiful in that kind of a negotiation. Chief among them is the fact that this quickly becomes an adversarial negotiation: opponents, each trying to get their own way.
And contract negotiations that impose on the sports season are always a distraction. They distract the players, those men and women who are preparing themselves for the upcoming battles. They also distract the fans, the people who are watching from the sidelines, including those that play the game at another level (whether PeeWee ball, or high school or college sports programs).
Any professional contract, for example a professional sports contract, is an agreement; the terms of my contract will spell out what I will do and what you’ll do. Generally there’s a correlation between how successful I am and how well I’m rewarded.
Michael Jordan had an amazing contract with the Chicago Bulls. He was paid handsomely, and he earned it: he was arguably the best player in the history of the team, both in terms of how he played (and won) the game, as well as his impact on the business: more fans bought tickets because Michael was playing.
Michael serves as an interesting example. In 1993, he quit playing basketball (he called it “retiring” to honor the terms of his basketball contract) and started playing minor league baseball. Suddenly Michael was playing a new sport. I’m not privy to Michael’s finances, but while “the best player in the history of the team” may earn a multi-million dollar paycheck, a very lanky outfielder in a mediocre minor league baseball team probably doesn’t get the same reward.
When the game changes, it’s time to negotiate a new contract.
That was surely true for Michael’s move from basketball to baseball, but that’s also true when a player moves from college ball through the draft to the world of pro sports. Matthew Stafford played football for Georgia for a few years, and he did quite well. College football players don’t When the Detroit Lions drafted him, they gave him a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $42 million.
When the game changes, it’s time to negotiate a new contract.

We can say it in spiritual terms:
When there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law. Hebrews 7:12
We’re in a season when the game is changing. Have you noticed the changes? God is on the move. For the last couple of decades, He’s been restoring the prophetic gifts to the church. In the last couple of years, he’s been taking it to the streets. For the last decade or so, He’s been restoring healing gifts to the church. In the past year or two, he’s been taking those to the streets. (Have you seen the videos of healing breaking out at Disneyland?)
I might even go so far as to suggest that we’re experiencing a change of priesthood.
Two thousand years ago, there was a fairly significant event that turned our relationship with God on its head; as a result, no longer are we under the law, but we are under grace. I suppose every generation needs to grasp that for themselves, that the church is not a minister of the law, of rules, of expectations, but it’s a place where we’re beginning to experience “the priesthood of believers.”
For generations, the pastor of the church has been “the minister,” and they meant it: he’s the one that studies the word and on Sunday morning, he presents it. He’s the one who visits the sick and prays for them, who welcomes visitors to the church.
In the past several years, we’ve watched as the body of the church step up out of our pews and begin to do the work of ministry. We’ve moved from “Pastor as minister” to “the body is the minister.”
When the game changes, it’s time to negotiate a new contract.
Finally, many of us as individuals are experiencing a transition to, for lack of a better term, a new level in God. We’ve outgrown the old; like in a video game, we’ve pretty well beaten the bad guys on our level, we’ve picked up all the plunder from the level we’ve been on for the past few years (or decades). Now we’re going through the awkward and uncertain phase of stepping into new role to which God is assigning us.
When the game changes, it’s time to negotiate a new contract.

So we are in a new game. The rules have changed. It’s time for a new contract with the team we play for. Besides, we didn’t change the game. God has changed the game. He’s ready for the new contract as well, though in the Bible, He called them covenants. I guess that’s what Jewish sports teams call their contracts. Bible scholars talk about the Adamic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, the Davidic covenant, the New covenant. Lots of covenants.
Just as in professional sports, or with union contract negotiations: we can continue to work under the old contract if we choose, accepting less reward than is our due. A friend of mine said it this way: “That the old contract is up, the one where we had to accept 3 pennies for every dollar that we are worth”
When we negotiate our new contract with the Captain of our team (Human sports have the coach on the sidelines; ours is on the field of battle with us!), there are some principles that still apply:
First, we do not negotiate from an adversarial position, but from a position of favor. We don’t need to fight to persuade him to grudgingly give us the kind of reward that we are worth: he’s the one who is arguing, “No! You’re worth more than that! Ask for this as well!”
Then, knowing that God is your Daddy, your advocate, and that you’re his favorite kid, ask what you should contend for in this season: your kids? Your finances? (Yes, that’s legal!) Your marriage? Your community? Your region? Your nation? Another nation? An area of freedom in God? A new realm of ministry?
This is the part of the contract where you’re negotiating for what you’re going to get cheap on yourself here? What is it you really want? What are you willing to contend for, for that’s the third part: what is the work that you are willing to do to on your part?
Michael Jordan didn’t get paid his gazillions of dollars just because he was a nice guy. He earned it by playing the most amazing basketball that we had ever seen. He put on his jersey, marched out onto the court, picked up the ball and did whatever it took to put it through the hoop on the other end.
In our realm, we have some very valuable skills. We intercede and God changes things. We declare things, and they come to pass. We stare down the enemy with the praises of God in our mouths and all of Heaven breaks loose to destroy that bit of hell.
In times past, we’re told of worshipers who marched around cities, ahead of armies and in the courts of hostile kings. Today there are mountains in Korea, covered with tiny caves, each filled with praying believers. I know a man who has fasted forty days twenty times; he watches limbs grow out and gold dust form on his hands when he prays for the sick. I know another who fasted 120 days and saw the world change around him.
This is absolutely not a case of earning the rewards that we’re asking for: our families, our communities. But there is reason to suggest that if we are not willing to fight for our dreams, our children, our marriages, then who is? If those dreams don’t move us to passion, why in heaven’s name should we expect that they’ll move God or His angels to passion?

And so I counsel you to negotiate your contract for this new season that we’re entering: determine in advance what you want to have happen, and what you’re willing to do in order to lay hold of those dreams. Determine how you will respond to the favor of God that is calling you to pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”