We had been struggling to plant this church for more than a year, and we were confused.
We were three starry-eyed young men and our three faithful young wives. We were passionate believers, full of faith and ambition. We’d quit our jobs, sold our homes, and moved to Canada, amidst a flurry of encouraging prophetic words of victory and glory.
When we arrived, we found a few believers who were drawn to us. They’d had dreams of three young men in bright armor marching into their region, sparks flying from their heels as they dispelled the darkness.
Someone had had a dream about a network of home groups, maybe house churches, in every one of the thousands of apartment complexes, full of life and growth and health, people coming to Jesus every week, baptisms every month in the apartments’ pools.
We were so confident, when we started the church, that we’d find victory, that people would come to faith by the scores, maybe the hundreds, revival would visit the city, and lives would be changed.
It hadn’t turned out that way.
We’d been struggling to keep the young church alive for a year and a half. Tithes and offerings were barely covering the rent on the school that we were meeting in. People were coming to the church, but not really investing themselves.
When we came together, worship was good. The Word was taught. Prophetic words were not infrequent. But it as if nothing was sticking.
And then, in the spring, several of us heard the same thing from the Lord. “Prepare for transition. This fall, the church is going to experience a change.”
We rejoiced. We celebrated. Now, finally, we’d paid our dues, and we’d experience some fruitfulness! Now, finally, the church would grow, and we’d be able to settle into our lives and jobs, and make something of our lives. We were really ready for that change. We couldn’t wait!
Over the next few months, we talked about the promise, we rejoiced in it, we celebrated what God was about to do! We were thrilled.
And then things began falling apart.
• Several families had an unexpected financial crisis.
• So the church finances, which were barely sufficient, began to fail pretty badly.
• A number of people in the church experienced unprecedented relationship failures.
• One of the pastors was being drawn into an immoral relationship.
• Hopelessness began to set into the life of the church.
And then when the fall came, my family was called home (with our tail between our legs!) by the organization that sent us, and the senior leader, needing to pay his bills and feed his family, accepted the invitation to pastor a prosperous church in the next community over.
When the time came for the transition, we acknowledged the inevitable, and shut the church down.
It turned out that the prophetic word was true. . “This fall, the church is going to experience a change.” What was not true was our interpretation of the word. We assumed that the change would be the fulfillment of our hopes and dreams. It was not that, but it certainly was a change.
I’ve observed this process going on throughout the people of God: we hear the word accurately enough, but we filter it through our hopes and dreams: our expectations.
God makes himself accountable to the promises he gives (keeping in mind the conditions associated). But he has not made himself even a little bit accountable to our attempts to shoehorn our wishes and desires into those promises.
Israel did that with the Messiah, Jesus. They expected that Messiah would come in force and deliver the nation from Roman tyranny. When he came as the suffering servant, they rejected him, and some theologians suggest that it was this disappointment that led Judas to betray Jesus, in an attempt to force his hand to become the conquering king.
When God speaks – whether in the prophetic declaration, or in the Holy Scriptures – it is a really lousy idea to try to force our expectations, our hopes and dreams – even godly hopes and dreams – onto his promises. It’s generally considered rude to put our words into someone else’s mouth; it really doesn’t work with God!
One of the disciplines that I’ve tried to develop over the years is one that I exercise whenever I encounter a promise: I try to peel away my own interpretation, and the interpretation of whomever I’ve heard the promise from (pastor, teacher, apostle, prophet, or Facebook friend), so that I can restrict my expectations to only that which God has actually promised.
That way, I’m in less danger of being disappointed by him not answering all my hopes. That way, I can expect him to be him, and not to live up to all of our expectations. And I can free myself to actually know him, instead of just putting his name on my own wishes.
Since the character of God was brilliantly defined by Jesus, we can trust that if God is a murderer (as some claim, when they read of Ananias and Saphira), then Jesus would have clearly and intentionally revealed the murderous nature of God.
Curiously, I don't read about Jesus ever murdering anyone, not a single person. Nor did he teach his followers about when and how to properly murder sinners in the Father's name. He did not praise a single murderer or extol a single act of murder.
Therefore I conclusively deduce that God is not a murderer. (In fact, Jesus revealed that someone *else* has the job description of "steal, kill & destroy.")
And if God is not a murderer, then he did not, in fact, murder Ananias and Saphira. If God does not kill, then he did not kill them. If God *does* kill, then Jesus would have revealed that, since he revealed God.
If you hold that God killed these two - or any one *else* - in spite of the clear testimony of Jesus, then either you are confused, or you are uneducated about the nature and ways of God, or you believe God is an intentional and malevolent liar.
Hint: there is someone ELSE who is the "father of lies," and he has a documented history of slandering the good character of your loving Father. I urge you to reconsider whom you accuse of lying.
("Logic. Why don't they teach logic in these schools.")
Some believers don’t like to talk about spiritual warfare. Recently, someone said to me, “There is not much of a battle when I flip the light switch on. Darkness is not presence, it is merely the absence of light. Is it me or is the religious earthly kingdom preoccupied with war?”
And honestly, he has an excellent point. And it is completely true so long as we're speaking in the theoretical realm, so long as everyone and everything submits to the rules.
But not everybody does. In reality, the Book talks about things that do not (yet) bow their knee to the authority of the Light. There are some beings, therefore, who do not yet yield to that supreme authority. Some of them are people. That, of course, means that some of them are not people.
Think with me for a minute: if Jesus, who is God incarnate, who is the Light incarnate, had to deal with intense enough warfare during his temptation that it required angels to come & minister to him, then it is likely that we-who-are-less-than-He may also encounter demonic opposition.
If Jesus had to regularly spend all night in prayer, and at least one time he sweat blood in prayer, then you and I also probably need to invest in substantial prayer in order to accomplish the purposes of the Kingdom in our area of influence on this planet.
The Bible uses warfare vocabulary to describe this process, so I will as well. In fact, Paul declares that “we are not ignorant of [Satan’s] devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11). This is not a place where “ignorance is bliss.”
Paul’s apostolic counterpart, Peter, exhorts us, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Someone seeks to devour me and mine? That’s not fair! (No, it’s not fair, but then, nobody promised that the devil who is a “lawbreaker” would always play fair! Sorry to burst your bubble.)
In the process of dispelling our un-blissful ignorance, Paul explains, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12).
In another place, he explains the war in more detail: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare [are] not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10).
Yeah, we’re involved in a war. In fact, we were born behind enemy lines, separated by a merciless enemy from the
which is our
heritage, which is where our Father is seated. It is God’s clear plan that we
engage the war, and that we overcome the demonic enemies that are arrayed
against us. And he has provisioned us for unquestionable victory. Kingdom
I have learned that there is a word that accurately describes those who will not carefully and intentionally give attention to this warfare. It is "casualties."
Let us not be casualties, please.