Tuesday

Bluejays and Swimming Holes

During a time of prayer the other day, I saw a stellars jay picking maple seeds out of the gutters at the edge of the house I was staying at. I love jays, their bright blue boldness and perky confidence.

I had just asked God to speak to me this morning, and immediately the jay caught my attention; so I stopped what I was doing and appreciated his beauty. “Thanks Father, for such a beautiful creation.”

I felt the Lord whisper to me, “This bird was created for this purpose, to give you beauty to enjoy this morning, to draw your attention to Me.” Just by being who he was, he was fulfilling God’s purpose for him.

When I was nine or ten years old, my family went camping across western Canada; it was a hot summer, and we stopped and went swimming every chance we got, and always camped at a river or lake. One day, we found this really great camping place, and we swam and played and laughed until we were worn out, and then we ate smores until we were really full and went to bed.

The next morning, I had a difficult time waking up. After four or five attempts to rouse, my father threatened me: “If you don’t get up, I’m going to throw you in the lake.” Of course I didn’t believe him; he was my dad. He wouldn’t do that. So I didn’t take it seriously.

A few minutes later, I was still in bed, and my dad grabbed my sleeping bag, drug it down to the side of the swimming area, and unceremoniously dumped me out on the dock. “OK OK! I’m up. I’m ten years old, standing there in the cool morning air in my big flannel pajamas; I wanted to go back to camp.

But no! He pushed once, and I made a huge splash. Totally soaked, I climbed back up on the dock, but by that time, he was halfway back to camp, so I took off after him, splashing water everywhere! Eventually, I caught him and gave him a hug, as well as splashed my brother pretty well.

We're going to talk about two truths today, two truths that contradict each other, and yet each is true.

The first truth is this: just by being yourself, you accomplish much in the purposes that God has for you.

For example, Jesus said, in Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.”

OK. What do you need to do to accomplish the task of being a light? Nothing!

In the middle of the night, even a little town like Tenino is full of lights. You can't hide something like that. You can't hide the light that shines out of you, particularly when you're walking among people in darkness.

Jesus says you’re like that; like a city set up on a hill that everyone can see in the darkness. It takes more work to stop being who you are than to continue.

Sometimes, Jesus ministered like this. Remember in Matthew 9, the woman that came up and touched the hem of His garment? She was healed from a twelve-year-long problem.

That happened regularly with Jesus.

Mark 6:56 Wherever He entered into villages, cities, or in the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well.

All He did sometimes was just walk by, being Himself.

And if you’re walking with Jesus, then who you are is a powerful ministry. There's no sweat, no fuss, no panic, nothing you can do.

People see you. They recognize that there's something about you that is more than what’s visible.

I sell technical electronic stuff where I work, and one of my customers is Fort Lewis. I was working with one specialist in the Army's Special Forces Group on a couple of complex projects a year or two ago. He'd come into my office a couple of times a week and we'd have a grand time designing these complex technical systems that the federal government was going to pay for.

One Friday morning, he showed up as I expected, but he came into my office kind of quiet, and he closed the door behind him, which he never does, and sat down in the chair. “David, there’s something different about you,” he said. “There’s a peace about you and I need peace. What is it?”

Whoa.

Twenty minutes later, we were praying together, and this Special Forces soldier had his hat in his hand, and was asking the King of Kings to be His Captain and Savior.

That man came to Christ because he came in contact with an ambassador of the Kingdom of God. I accomplished my work in that situation just by being who God has made me to be.

You have stories like that, lots of them. I don’t know your stories. I only tell mine because I was there.

I told you that we were going to talk about two contradictory truths: both were true, and yet they're the opposite of each other.

This is the first truth: Who you are is ministry. Who you are is effective at accomplishing God's purposes on this earth (that's all ministry is). It’s easy. You’re just you, and that’s a reflection of Jesus. Remember: You’re made in His image.

Maybe you cause someone to ask questions about Jesus. That’s ministry!

Maybe you lift a weight off of someone who’s burdened. That’s ministry!

Maybe you encourage someone that they really can succeed. That’s ministry.

Maybe you help someone find an answer to a problem that you had no idea that they had. That’s ministry.

When you walk with Jesus, it’s like someone who fell into the swimming pool fully dressed. When they climb out, you can tell exactly where they’ve been because they splash water every time they take a step.

You're like that: you fall in the pool with Jesus, and when you get out, you splash Jesus all over with every step you take. If it's been a long time since you’ve been in the pool, then maybe you don’t splash as much, but you splash ministry wherever you go. You splash God's purposes wherever you go.

So what do you do with this?

Nothing, really. Just hang out with Jesus, and be who you are.

Well, actually, that’s something we can do, isn’t it? Hang out with Jesus. But that’s something we already do. Get in the pool w/ Jesus. Get in the Word. Talk. Listen. Obey. That kind of stuff. The regular stuff of a believer’s life.

This makes us splash better.

The blue jay wasn't trying to accomplish anything; it was just being blue. You just be you, and be at peace with that. Relax. Rest.

By the way, when you're riding a bicycle, which pedal do you push? They're opposite of each other, you know. Which do you push on?

Whichever one is needing to be pushed.

We've pushed one pedal: who you are is ministry. There's no sweat, no fuss, no panic, nothing you can do. You just are ministry when you walk with Jesus.

Are you ready to push the other pedal now? I'm not going to blow your circuits, am I?

Ministry takes hard work.

Have you noticed that sometimes, ministry is work? If you’re going to be effective in the long run, you’re going to run into seasons when keeping going is a real pain in the Yakt├╝sk!

In my work of selling technical stuff, most of my customers are churches, and I consider my work to be ministry. I serve churches. They have a need with their sound system, for example, and they call me, and I help them meet their need.

But sometimes, I have to explain technical things to someone who isn't technical, and it tries my patience. Or sometimes, something's gone wrong, and they're angry or confused or offended, and it's hard making any sense with them. Or sometimes, it seems like a thousand little details go wrong with one project.

You've had that happen. You try to help someone, and they take advantage of you. Or you patiently speak truth into their life, and they don't hear. Or worse yet, they do the exact opposite of what you just taught them. Or you have to help them do the same thing over and over and over again.

I had a friend who only called me when he was in trouble. When he called, I wanted to answer the phone with, “Hi Bob. What's wrong now?” He never called unless he was in a panic, and he never applied the scriptural truth I gave him so he was often in a panic, always at the end of his rope, and always expecting me to bail him out. After a few years of it, I got real tired of it!

The thing that drew my attention to this idea so thoroughly was a story in Acts that I was studying when I saw the bluejay that God used as an example for me. I was meditating my way through Acts, and I'd come to Acts 16 and the story of the slave girl with the spirit of divination.

16 Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. 17 This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” 18 And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour.

Now that's ministry!

While I was meditating on this, the Lord drew my attention to Paul's motivation here: he was greatly annoyed. Other translations say he was "wearied out" or "sore troubled" or "grieved" or "vexed." I looked the word up in my Strong's concordance (we have one on the bookshelf for anyone to use who wants).

Here's what it said:

The Greek is 1278 diaponeo {dee-ap-on-eh'-o: }from 1223 and a derivative of 4192, which ends up literally: "through pain" or "by way of great trouble or passionate desire."

Paul was ministering through his pain. There are some times when great ministry only comes through great pain, great trouble or great passion.

By the way, this is normal!

In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul talks about his ministry among the people there:

8 So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. 9 For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.

Paul says similar things in Colossians 1:28:

28 Him [Jesus] we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. 29 To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.

The word “Labor” here is kopiao: “to grow weary, tired, exhausted with toil or burdens or grief”

So I was sitting with the Lord, reflecting on this: “Lord, if I sometimes get tired in ministry, that doesn't really mean I'm unspiritual or weak, does it?”

He answered, “If my Son Jesus got tired in his ministry and had to get alone with me to restore his soul, what makes you think you won't also get tired?”

So what do we do with this pedal? How do we respond in the times when ministry is hard work and we get discouraged, or frustrated, or weary?

The same way: Get in the pool and rest in Jesus. Get in the Word. Talk to Him. Listen. Obey. That kind of stuff. The regular stuff of a believer’s life.

Even Jesus had to get alone with God to restore His soul. What makes you think you don’t need what Jesus needed?

I believe that many of us are spending too much time sweating FOR God and too little time resting IN Him. And as a result, we’re getting Tired. Weary. Worn out.

I believe some of us are too afraid of getting tired and weary that we won’t get out of the pool and get in among the people.

Both of us have to repent. We need to get in the pool. And we need to get out of the pool and go back to camp.

OK. We’ve pushed on both pedals. Now our bicycle is getting somewhere!

The first pedal: Who you are is ministry! We’re like the blue jays.

To be more effective, get in the pool with Jesus.

The second pedal: Ministry takes hard work! We’re called co-laborers with Christ.

To be more effective, get in the pool with Jesus.

Either way: get in the pool with Jesus.

Sunday

Rapturous Prophecy


I imagine that this has been a bad year for Harold Camping. He had quite energetically predicted that a date that would be the day of the Lord’s return, the Rapture as it is called, and yet we’re all still here.

Apparently, he missed it.

There are, no doubt, a number of consequences from such a public failure; it is not my intent to consider those. I feel drawn to one thing.

He prophesied the Rapture, and he was wrong.

Holy Spirit keeps drawing my attention back to that issue: the prophecy was wrong. And he keeps asking me this question: What's the difference between a false prophecy and an inaccurate one? What is the difference between a false prophet and an inaccurate one?

Think about Baalam, son of Beor, the famous false prophet of Numbers 22, the man with the talking donkey. While not using the label “false prophet,” the NT castigates him as such (see 2 Peter 2:15, Jude 1:11, and Revelation 2:14). And yet, pretty much every single prophecy he declared was fulfilled.

The false prophet spoke true prophecies.

In the book of Acts, we meet the prophet Agabus, who is received and treated as a true prophet of God. By contrast, his prophecies, though accurate in general, missed some key details; more importantly, the point of the prophecy (to go to Jerusalem or not) completely missed what God had been speaking to the apostle.

The true prophet spoke inaccurate prophecies.

It is clear that the old method of judging a prophet – if his prophecies come to pass, he’s a true prophet, but if his prophecies do not come to pass, he is a false prophet – is a complete failure, at least by Biblical standards.

It appears that Baalam was judged a false prophet, not for the accuracies of his prophetic words, but for his loyalties. He spoke words that were nominally from the heart of God, but his loyalties were mixed. From my perspective, it appears that in addition to serving the Yahweh, he was also moved by his desire for honor and for money (see Numbers 22:15-18). Baalam may have been living in the warning that Jesus gave thousands of years later: “No man can serve two masters.”

By contrast, it appears that Agabus did not suffer from a divided heart.

Agabus was not a false prophet, just an inaccurate one. He got most of the revelation right (Paul would be arrested when if he went to Jerusalem), and he got most of the interpretation right (though it was the Romans who arrested and bound Paul, not the Jews), the people missed the application (“Paul, don’t go!”).

I have witnessed the ministry of people who had a wonderful heart, but missed most of the details in what they were saying, and missed the conclusion. They were bad prophets, terribly inaccurate. But they were not false prophets. There was no motive other than obeying God in their heart.

As I’ve been meditating on these things, I have begun to suspect that it is the heart, not the words, that determine whether someone is a true prophet or a false prophet. If we are motivated by the need for fame, we cannot be moved by God alone. If I change what I say in order that offerings won’t be hurt, we may need to ask some hard questions. (Note: I am not addressing HOW a word is given, or even how it is worded: wisdom has much to say about that. I’m addressing the WHAT of the word being given.)

This may be the biggest danger: If I declare a word from a true word, but fame or fortune come as a result, then whatever seeds have lain dormant in my heart will sprout quickly and reveal the condition of my heart. If I speak a prophecy without the need for fame or the lust for money, but fame and money come, the seeds of that need for fame, the seeds of the lust for money, if they were present in my heart, may sprout and grow and flower and bear fruit.

Harold Camping prophesied what time has proved to be an inaccurate word. It is self-evident that his prophesy has brought both fame and fortune (all those ads cost money!).

But is he a false prophet? Or is he merely a bad prophet, an inaccurate one?

This is a time when I am thankful for the apostle’s wisdom: “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.” (Romans 4:4) I am thankful that I have no responsibility to judge Harold Camping, no responsibility to train him, no responsibility to make him stand. He has another Master who has both that responsibility and that ability.




God’s Easter Eggs.

I love how the Lord plays hide & seek with us. He hides secrets in the most obscure places, like a parent who hides Easter eggs for their kids to find.

We were in Germany for Easter one spring, and we celebrated Easter with our friends. They had two wonderful little kid. We thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could have an Easter egg hunt for them?” So we brought about 40 lbs. of plastic Easter eggs, and candy to fill them with.

And Easter morning, after church, we hid eggs all over the house for the kids. Because they’re not real big, we hid them in fairly obvious places: on the bookshelf, in the middle of the bed, on top of the potted plants. And because they’re not real big, they had a spectacular time finding all the eggs we’d “hidden”. And if they missed one, we’d give them hints, “You’re getting warmer.” If they went too far, “You’re getting colder.”

Then my teenage kids wanted to find Easter eggs, so we hid them again, but this time it was far more obscure. Underneath the congas. Inside the drawers. Under the leaves of the houseplants. We hid them in places that would make them look, that would make them take time to find all the eggs.

And we have video of all this. It was hilarious!

But then the kids wanted to hide eggs for us adults. They were vicious! They taped them up inside the drums, stuck them inside a crack in the walls, kept some hidden in their own pockets. It took us hours! And of course, they took video of it all, and laughed uproariously at us!

It was a hilarious afternoon. We had an amazing time with our German friends, and with our kids and their kids. We were delighted at how hard the kids pushed themselves. (I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t appear to me that children are always willing to push themselves in difficult circumstances. But add a bribe like candy, and watch them go to work!) It was even fun when the children turned the table and made us parents work hard to find the goodies!

God does that with us. He hides Easter eggs for us. He hides things that He expects us to find, that He wants us to find, but we have to go looking for them and, can we be honest, sometimes we have to look really hard for them. Omniscient beings have an advantage when it comes to hiding things.

Places He hides Easter Eggs:

· In his Word. Have you ever been reading or listening to the Word and suddenly, a verse or a concept grabs your attention? It’s like it says, “There’s something here,” but you don’t know what It is that’s hidden here, yet.

· In signs and wonders. The Bible itself declares that signs, wonders & miracles are given as testimony to a message from him. What is the message hidden in today’s miracle?

· In testimonies. A testimony about what God has done is, according to the angel in Revelation, “the spirit of prophecy.” In other words, it’s communicating a message to our soul, but remember, English is not God’s first language. An encounter with God is often a powerful experience, and occasionally a clear message, but it is not infrequent that he conceals even more significant content underneath the first message. Elisha’s instructions to king Joash were clear, but there was considerable meaning that was not quickly accessible.

· In impressions and imaginations. I’ve learned to recognize that if I get stuck on a song or a verse stuck in my head, it’s worth looking for Easter eggs there.

· In the confusing language of dreams. Not all dreams are from God, of course, but those that are seldom have their message clearly visible to a casual observation; they require searching for interpretation, and often searching deeply.

· In the “coincidences” of everyday life. These can be your own language with God. I have one friend who, when he wakes up in the night, always looks at the digital clock; if it’s a certain pattern, he considers it an invitation from God, and thus far, he has not been disappointed by that pattern. Another friend finds Bible verses in the display of the digital clock.

A very wise man observed this pattern in God’s ways. About three thousand years ago, he wrote,

“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.”

I observe a couple of things in Solomon’s statement:

First, this business of “hide and seek” is a matter of glory. I still hold that God has always intended us for glory, that part of the fall was a fall from glory, and part of right relationship with God involves experiencing his glory, and discovering the glory that he meant for us. It brings God glory to hide “Easter Eggs” for us; it is a manifestation of his glory in us when we chase them down and find them.

It’s not insignificant that he’s speaking of kings. Not everybody who searches things out will be discover glory. It is only for kings that searching a matter out brings glory. The Bible speaks of us as kings and priests, of course. Kings are leaders, overcomers, men and women who set the standard, who decree what will happen in their territory and guard it against incursion or lack; it is these who will find glory by searching out the things that God has hidden. Those not part of the kingdom of God, those who are content to sit quietly in the back, those looking for a quick fix-me-up: these will not find this glory; this glory of discovery is for kings.

Okay, let’s get this next point right out in the open in front of God and everybody: God conceals things from us. More specifically, God hides from us some of the things that are good for us, possibly even some of the things that we need to live as we are called to live on this earth. I point this out because I want to kill the sacred cow that envisions God as some sort of Heavenly Concierge, who has all the answers, and can point us directly to anything we want, and all we have to do is tip him a few bucks.

Inherent in this is the need for us to search things out, to work hard to find the very things that he wants us to find and to have. A casual question and a five dollar bill will not provide us with the answers we seek, with the answers we must have. We must search and we must search hard. (Clue: we must search in him!)

What shall we do with Easter Eggs.

As I’ve been meditating on this whole topic, I find some things stand out to me by way of application.

· I need to manage my expectations of God carefully. I’ve been raised to think of prayer not significantly differently than I think of requests to Santa Claus: I can ask, but after that, there’s nothing I can do to influence the answer to my request, so hold the requests lightly. Not so.

· I need to manage how I see myself. It’s easy to see myself as a powerless person, as a victim of circumstances, as an effect rather than a cause. If I see myself that way, if I respond to my life that way, then I disqualify myself for the hidden, for the deeper things of God. Among other things.

· I need to manage my attention carefully. In our hustle-and-bustle society, it’s easy to miss the still, small whisper that says, “You’re getting warmer.” It’s more difficult to catch that whisper when we weren’t looking to find something (that appears to be his favorite time for an Easter egg hunt!).

· I need to manage my focus. I’ve grown used to instant results, instant answers. This is not that. The process of searching out the things God has hidden is just that: a process. Processes take time. The process of searching also takes persistence, diligence, focus.