Letters

A Measure of Faith

Romans 12:3b: “God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.”

Measure: μέτρον Metron. “determined extent, portion measured off, measure or limit.”  This is the same word that describes our “sphere of influence,” also a limited extent.

We learn several things here:


• Our faith is “dealt” or distributed to us from God. We are not the source of our faith. Ephesians 2:8 affirms this.

• God has dealt faith to each one of us. Nobody is left out.

• We’re given a measure of faith, a certain amount. No one among us has infinite faith. It’s possible to increase our capacity for faith, of course, but I’m thinking in other directions right now.

If we reference the mustard seed in Matthew 17:20, we know that a little bit of faith goes a long ways. But if we have a measured amount, it is possible to spend it all, whether a little bit at a time, or in great big battles. This suggests that it’s possible to run out of faith.

That leads me to some questions:

○ Is this the reason we feel depleted after a great fight: we’ve spent a lot of our faith?

○ I wonder if this is why some folks wander away from the faith? Maybe they’ve just run out of faith. Perhaps they’ve squandered it?

○ Does this suggest that maybe we want to be frugal in our spending of faith? (For example: sure we can believe God for every dollar we need, but if we get a job, we spend less faith, so we have more faith to invest in other areas.)

○ Is faith refillable, like my truck’s gas tank? When the gauge is reading low, just go fill it up, remembering that faith is dealt from God. (No pat answers please.)

○ Is faith sharable? It’s awkward to siphon gas from my truck to put into your gas tank, but it’s possible. Can that be done with faith too? Can faith be rented out?

I think we’ve got rather a ways to grow before we know it all. 



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Letters

Maintaining the Garden


I had an interesting train of thought this morning in the … er… Library.

I have some plants and some starts that will go into the garden when the weather stabilizes (around here, that’s traditionally Mother’s Day). I had already brought many of those out of the greenhouse into what may actually be sunshine at some point in the day; it’s a good idea (in my view) to get plants ready for their new environment before I plant them there permanently.

I’m really looking forward to the growing season. I’ve got a fair number of plants ready to go, the garden beds are ready to go. The soil has been turned and amended with fresh compost. The weeds are gone (except for one: I want to know what it will turn into), and I know where each plant will be going. I have a few seeds in the ground (mostly salad things), and I know where more will be going.

And Father ambushed me on that topic. “You keep your garden up-to-date, don’t you?” and he reminded me how I try to keep it weed free all year, how I add plants and fertilize plants and how I water it regularly.

“Yeah, I do. It is a better garden if I take care of it.” I’ve had gardens in the past that I haven’t taken care of very well. They had been overtaken by weeds and grass and their produce was small and scarce.

Then he shifted gears on me; he reminded me of the investment I make in my marriage. “A good marriage takes the same kind of work that a good garden does, doesn’t it?” He reminded me that a marriage needs fertilizer and needs weeds removed just as much as a garden does.

I am (we are) pretty intentional about keeping the relationship healthy. We talk things out, we regularly express our love with words and touches and time together and such. We have maintained a delightful discipline of taking date nights, just for our relationship, every week (or more often) for more than 30 years.  

I reflected on the different joys that my marriage and my garden bring me.

“A relationship with me takes similar investment, you know. And it will bring you similar joy.”

He’s right, you know. (I say that kind of a lot. I’m not going to change that. He is. :) ) A relationship with another person – a marriage relationship, a friendship, a family relationship, a relationship with my creator – takes maintenance. Since we’d started with the metaphor of the garden, I’ll stick with it: it takes adding things (seeds, young plants, fertilizer, water) and taking things away (weeds, birds who want to dig up the seeds and eat the young fruits, cats who are thankful for a clean sandbox) to make the relationship thrive.

I think I’ll be meditating on this for a bit. How can I best invest into my relations with God and with the people around me? 

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Letters

Sometimes we fire blanks.

Sometimes we fire blanks.

Oh, we don't mean to. We think we are firing powerful weapons of war, kicking ass and taking names.

But sometimes, sometimes we're actually firing blanks.

Jesus modeled for us a way to pray that was more about telling the situation how it needs to be, rather than about us whining at God to pleeeeease make it be that way. We are learning to command, to declare, rather than to ask politely. Or impolitely.

That much is good.

The problem is, so often we just fire blanks.

We read the Gospels oh, and we observe how Jesus did it. He said, Lazarus come forth! And Lazarus came forth. He said, I am willing, be cleansed. And the leper was instantly healed.

We look at the model of Jesus, and we make it our model. But we are only looking at part of the model that Jesus gave us. We're looking at his Harvest, not his labor.

I am a member of a few prayer groups. I am embarrassed to tell you how many times, in response to a really dire need, somebody pipes up, blithely commanding all demons to go to hell, smugly decreeing bones and skin and organs to line up, happily commanding this and that, and wrapping it all up with a grin of self-congratulation.

And of course very little actually changes. Nobody really expected it would. I think even that the enthusiastic intercessor himself didn't expect it. And why would he? We get so that we’re commanding everything nowadays, and nobody points out that it's not really changing much of anything. The emperor has no clothes on, but everyone is afraid to mention it.

Yeah, I know. I’ve overstated it in order to make a point. You know this goes on, at least some of the time.

I have been reflecting on how much of Jesus’ life is hidden from the casual reader of his biographies in the Gospels. I suspect that this is on purpose. If we really want to know the secrets, he wants to go find them for ourselves, to do the work of learning, to make the knowledge our own.

The gospels are quick to tell his hero testimonies, how he healed this person, raised that guy from the dead, all before lunch, and without raising a sweat.

That's the part that big, flashy, and easily captures our attention. But it's only the end of the story. We miss the beginning and the middle. And I think that if we don't follow all of Jesus’ example, the beginning, the middle, and the end, we will probably not have the results that Jesus had.

I have been involved in a lot of spiritual war. I have friends who have been in so much more than I have. Some of it has been successful; some has been less successful. Ultimately, I think that Winston Churchill may have had it right. War involves blood, sweat, toil, tears. And healing the sick, raising the dead, these are acts of War. It’s not a quick declaration of victory and move on.

I've been thinking about the topic of rest recently. God is constantly inviting his people to a place of rest. Not a place of doing nothing, a place of doing much, but doing it from the place of resting in him. Kind of a foreign concept to most of us, I think. But it wasn't foreign to Jesus. Jesus seemed pretty big on working from a place of rest. I’m beginning to learn the value of this.

And Jesus was always getting away with Father. Sure, we have our “quiet times,” and that’s a great starting point, but it seemed that Jesus spent all night in prayer sometimes. All night, getting to know what Father was doing and thinking.

In fact, there was one time he spent much of the night in prayer, and it was hard work. He sweat blood. We talk about that in the context of the Easter story, but as he said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Paul kept up the theme. “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.”

I’m not saying that blood is the signifier of a solid prayer life. I’m saying there’s work involved, hard work, if we’re aspiring to declare with the kind of power that Jesus’ declarations had.

There is one more secret, I think, that we need to lay hold of. In John 5, Jesus revealed this secret: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”

The last secret (for this moment) of Jesus’ amazing record was that he was only doing what he saw Father doing.

A whole lot of our failing comes from our making our declarations about things that are in our heart and mind that are not actually things that Father is doing. They may be things that we wish he was doing, things that we think he might want to do, or things that we ourselves want, and we’re maybe just putting God’s name on them.

That’s a whole lot different than seeing what God is doing, or seeing the situation - really seeing it! - in its completed state, and then telling reality to line up with that vision.

This is a hard one to ‘fess up to. But we kind of have to separate our desires from his, separate soul from spirit, as it were, in order to walk how Jesus walked.

I’m so thankful that we’re growing up into Him. We’re going to change the world. In him.

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Learning to Pray Wisely


The church is learning a lot about declarative prayer in recent years, prayer that issues decrees and declares what shall be, (as differentiated from prayer that begs and sometimes whines).

Like anything that we are just beginning to learn, we’re not terribly good at it yet.

 We have (many of us) figured out that Jesus didn’t generally ask God for stuff when he prayed. He generally commanded something to happen (John 11:43) or decreed the result that he wanted (Matthew 9:29). Even at his most extreme circumstances, his prayers were declarative sentences, not interrogative ones (Matthew. 26:36–46). 

 As a community, we’ve begun declaring and commanding pretty much all the time. It’s baby steps, and it’s really cute. (Don’t get me wrong: I’m part of this community of baby steps, too!)

 I’ve been reflecting on this transition recently. It’s being a good thing, for a bunch of reasons that I’ve discerned:

 • We’re beginning to take responsibility ourselves for the things that he’s given us responsibility for (see Genesis 1:26). Much of what we pray about is actually our responsibility, not his.

•Slaves ask or plead. Sons, heirs, might ask, but they surely expect  (consider Romans 15:13 or 16:20); or they may not ask, they just take what they need and go.

You and I, we’re not slaves, not servants.

• It appears that while God respects servants who ask, more seems to get done by sons who declare.

 On the other hand, when sons are young, they require more parenting than they do when they mature. Dirty diapers are no more fun in the Spirit than they are in the natural. They’re normal, even healthy for a while. They’re still a mess, and no more than a starting place. But they’re a normal, healthy mess for an infant.

For example, I’m part of some prayer groups (side note: please do NOT add me to more groups!), where folks post their prayer requests, and the community prays for them. You learn a lot from groups like this. Here are some things I've learned.

There are a bunch of folks whose prayer requests are more a list of what all is wrong in their lives than a description of what we’re actually praying for. Some of those diapers need changing desperately.

Some responses are in the “Oh Jesus, please help ‘em!” category.

A growing number of responses are attempts to command all the bad things become good.

Far too many declarations are not much more than self-centered, wishful thinking. “I want this, and therefore I’m going to declare it as if it were God’s will.” And then they get disheartened when the world doesn’t conform to their empty but optimistic words.

 Honestly, it’s a beautiful thing. Just like when my little granddaughter takes her first, wobbly steps. That’s a wonderful thing, too. It’s growth! But it surely isn’t maturity yet. And it’s cute when she takes a couple of steps and then plops down on her wet diaper, making that interesting sploogy sound.

 I was reflecting on our wobbly growth recently, and I was reminded that when we watch Jesus commanding sickness or demons to flee, we’re only seeing half of the story. We’re only seeing the half that happens in that moment, the part that’s visible to the gospel authors.

 But Jesus did tell us the other half of the story himself:

John 12:49 “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.”

 So apparently, if we’re going to (If I’m going to) be successful at commanding sickness and demons and death away, I need to speak what Father commands me to say and to speak. Declarations out of my own wishful thinking are a wasted effort. At best.

 Since the gospels never show the story of heaven opening and the Almighty shouting from heaven, it makes me wonder, “When and how did Jesus hear Father tell him what to say?”

 I think there were at least three answers to that, and neither one was a mystery.

The first is that I’m pretty sure the still small voice of the Holy Spirit gave him instructions from time to time (in John 2, compare verse 4 with verse 7, for example).

Second, verses like Mark 6:46 and Luke 6:12 tell us that he spent extended time away, just him and Father alone. I’ll bet that’s a clue. There’s a reason he encourages us to search out matters, maybe.

I think the third is more rare than we wish it was. When you’ve walked with God a long time, you begin to think like he thinks. You do that long enough and the line between “my thoughts” and “his thoughts,” between “my words” and “his words” gets thin.

 I’m thinking that it’s good that we, the saints and heirs of our Almighty Lover, are learning to hear from Heaven, and declare those words. Declaring what Father-who-sends us gives us to declare, those are going to be the more world-changing declarations.

Listen first. Then speak.

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Letters

Watch Out for the Yeast!


“Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast [the influence] of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”

The religious spirit and the political spirit are really bad influences on believers. Watch out.

They’re both about control; they’re both about about public opinion, optics: how does this look to the people watching?

That doesn’t mean to stay distant from religious people or the religious system. Jesus didn’t. He attended synagogue, temple, dinners with Pharisees. But he influenced them; he didn’t let them influence him.

He doesn’t mean to avoid politics or politicians. We’re commanded to pray for them. And we need believers in the middle of the political system; who else will influence the political system for the Kingdom, anyway?  But influence them; don’t let them influence you. Watch out for that.

In fact, it was when they work together that things get really ugly. Jesus was murdered by that combination. The Pharisees worked with Herod, to murder Jesus.

Same same in our world today. When the religious spirit tells the political process what to do, watch out! Doesn’t matter which religious spirit. The Muslim religious spirit is no better (and no worse) than the Christian religious spirit, though because it’s gaining political power in some places, it’s getting more aggressive about its influence. They’re both demonic, they’re both controlling, they’re both dangerous.

We’ve seen a lot of this over the last several years.

And when the political spirit tells the religious spirit what to do, watch out! When the political spirit tells us how to worship, what life to value, when or where to pray, that’s a problem. The Liberal political spirit is no better (and no worse) than the Conservative political spirit, though because it’s “in power” in some places, it’s more aggressive about its influence. They’re both demonic, they’re both controlling, they’re both dangerous.

There’s one more territorial spirit that we need to pay attention to; in fact, this is the strongest, most territorial of them all. The Holy Spirit is the one we need to be following. The others masquerade as him, try to mimic his voice so we’ll get confused.

Watch for him.


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Letters

A Closer Look at Clearing the Temple

Jesus cleaned out the temple twice, once at the beginning of his ministry, and once at the end.

A lot of folks read the story about Jesus chasing the cattle and sheep out of the temple, of Jesus overturning the tables of the business-people there, and they infer that Jesus was angry, that he was displaying a holy wrath.

But that’s not what the stories actually say. In fact, since the stories never say what Jesus was feeling. Anybody who declares what Jesus was feeling – whether they think he was angry or whatever – are using something *other* than Scripture for that statement. Mostly, they’re imposing their own imagination into the gap of where the Bible is silent.

That is not Bible interpretation. That’s abusing the Bible to justify your own prejudices and misunderstandings of who God really is.

So what does the Bible actually say?

The first time, in John 2, it says that Jesus saw what was going on in the temple, and then stopped to weave a whip out of cords (literally, out of cords made from rushes, from plants like grass). Some observations:

• It takes a fair bit of time to make a whip, and it takes even longer to make one out of *small* cords. This was not a rash action, not an act of rage or passion. This was carefully thought out.

• The sort of whip you make from rushes or small cords is not a weapon. It’s a flimsy thing, only useful for driving livestock. This is not Indiana Jones’ favorite weapon; it’s more like a sisal rope. It will get the animal’s attention, but no more.

• The record is very clear: Jesus used even that wimpy whip only on the cattle and sheep. He reacted to the people differently, and unpleasantly for them, but Jesus did not go after people with even a wimpy whip.

The second event (Matthew 21, Mark 11, and Luke 19) is different. Jesus came into the temple during his “Triumphal Entry” on Palm Sunday. So he saw the shopping mall that they were setting up that day.

But it was the *next* day that he came back and cleaned the place out [Mark 11:11-12].

This was not a rash action either. He went back to his AirBNB outside town, and took no action whatsoever until the next day. He certainly had time to think through his choices. And knowing how Jesus did things, I’ll bet he talked it over with Father before he did anything. After all, this is the guy who said, he “can do only what he sees his Father doing” [John 5:19]. So apparently, cleaning out the temple was something he saw his Father doing.

Conclusion: the actual facts of what the Bible says about these events, absolutely do not support the idea of Jesus flying off the handle, Jesus in a rage, Jesus having a temper tantrum. Jesus was not out of control.

Yes, he did clean the place out. Yes, he did make a big old mess. Yes, he interrupted business in a very big way.

But there is no record of him ever hurting anyone, either human or animal. This was not an emotional reaction of any sort: in both cases, the record is very clear that he took his time before responding.

Summary: there are lot of folks who have a vested interest in the idea of an angry God. Some of them have leathery wings. But the New Testament doesn’t actually support that silly idea nearly as much as they shout and fuss.

Don’t believe their shouting and fussing.
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Transformed Thinking about Scripture

It's hard, isn't it, to let the Scriptures stand on their own, particularly when they're passages that are a little uncomfortable for us, a little unfamiliar to us, passages that don't entirely support our current beliefs.

It's hard to just listen to what the Book is saying, without filtering it through our theology and fitting it into a tidy little theological box. When a verse or story doesn't support my view, and sounds almost like it could be used to support the other view, that makes me nervous, and I feel the need to quote verses that support my view to make me feel better.

So instead of that, I'm working on learning to not filter uncomfortable, unfamiliar passages through either my theology or yours. Sorry. Nothing personal. If it's true that "All scripture is God-breathed and profitable...," (and it is) then the passages that argue against my theological boxes are God-breathed and profitable as well. I want to profit from them, too!

I suspect that this is at least part of what he means when he tells us to renew our minds [Romans 12:3, Ephesians 4:23]

To my great surprise, that state of NOT having answers is becoming more comfortable, more comforting to me. It's in THAT place where Father can whisper to me, not so much his interpretation, but his heart on the matter.

I love it when he does that. I value hearing his whisper, his breath, as far more important to me than having perfect little theological boxes.

So if you find me posting about, or musing about uncomfortable things here, you may want to skip over them, and keep your theological boxes in tidy order. Or you may want to jump in and look for what God's breathing on there.

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Grey Haired Rockers?


There were some remarkably talented musicians in the heyday of rock & roll, back in the 70’s and such.

Have you ever noticed that a whole lot of the “big name” 70’s bands are still on tour, still singing the same songs, still riding that wave. And in all honesty, they’re still making a good living that way, reliving their past successes.

Other artists with just as much of a heyday in the past, are not riding on the past successes. They’re still pushing forward, still staying fresh, still developing.

Don’t worry, this is going to make sense in a minute.

I was listening to one of those “golden oldies” (ironically, it was a song called “Comfortably Numb”) when Father caught my attention, and pointed out that there are at least two lessons to learn here:

1) The artists who made the turn and are still fresh and creative have generally spent a season or three in a hard place before they were able to move on in their craft.  

2) This principle is true in the kingdom (and this one really kicked me in the gut). There are lessons for me (and maybe you) here:

                2a) There are some remarkably gifted ministries of the past heydays of one revival or another who are still singing the same (basic) message, still riding that wave. And in all honesty, they’re still making a living that way, reliving their past successes.  Some are big names; others still have regional or just informal spheres of influence. We notice the big names more.

                2b) There are other ministries (the ones that come to my mind tend toward prophetic ministries, though that may just be my perception) that have had just as much of a heyday in the past,  but are not riding on the past successes. They’re still pushing forward, still staying fresh, still pressing in for a fresh revelation for this fresh season.

                2c) The difference very often is about who has been willing to be allured into the wilderness, away from busyness and “success,” to sit with the Almighty, to listen to his heartbeat, to understand more of his heart, particularly his intents for today.

I remember that after his baptism, Holy Spirit “drove” or “compelled” Jesus into the wilderness [Mark 1:12] for a remarkable and memorable challenge. But at the end of that adventure, “the angels ministered to Him.” And afterwords, he “returned in the power of the Spirit.”

Apparently seasons in the wilderness are valuable.


I observe a few things here:

• Wilderness seasons seem to be God’s timing [cf Mark 1:12 & Hosea 2:14], not ours.
• But our choices are incredibly powerful here:
                ○ Do we choose to go to the scary, uncomfortable place that he’s leading?
                ○ Once we’re in that place, do we stand up and resist the evil that (mistakenly) thinks we’re weak? Do we whine and beg for people to pray for us, or do we stand  in the devil’s face and plant ourselves on the foundation of the Word (both scripture and prophetic words)? [Note: Community is precious in these times, but wildernesses are generally solitary events.]
                ○ Do we let angels minister to us? (Do we know how?)
                ○ When we come successfully through the wilderness, we walk in more of “the power of the Spirit.” What do we do with that power, that influence?

If this feels rough, that’s only because it is. I’m in the midst of these lessons myself. I don’t have all the answers anymore. I only share this in case others are going through such a time, or will shortly, and might benefit from some signposts along that trail into the wild places.

#AlMacksJournal

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Transactionalism. Not a Lovely Thing.


“Transactionalism” is the belief that if I do this thing, then God will do that thing. It says that if I do the right things, then God will do the thing I want him to do.

That’s how a lot of people understand religion, understand the nature of God. If I do this, then God does that.


And it’s why a lot of people are eager to be told what to do to get the favor that they want, that they need. That’s what they’re looking for from the Bible, from Christianity: they want to know the rules. What are the things that I need to do to get the reward I want?

That reward might be heaven after they die. Or it might be a peaceful life in the here and now. Or “enough” money (or “just a little more”). Or the perfect relationship.

If we do the right things, if we choose this and shun that, if we hold our mouth just right, God will give us that thing.

That’s remarkable fertilizer. That’s the generous product that comes from the south end of a north-bound steer.

Jesus was clear: we’re the treasure (the coin, the sheep, the son) that he’s come looking for, to draw to himself. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Before we did all the things.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are still consequences for our actions. Just not with God.

If I make stupid choices, then stupid consequences are mine. And sometimes other people make stupid choices that also affect  how my life goes. But in all that, God is still with me. And not because I did the things that satisfy his requirements.

Yeah, free will is real. I really do have the power to screw up my life. So do you. But we do not have the power to manipulate God to do what I want.

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The Pilgrimgram 2020-11-19 06:15:00

Odd thought just crossed my mind. Romans 5 is happening, or something like it.
 
We’re sure seeing a lot of the works of darkness revealed over the past several months: riots in the streets, bad people, bad plans and bad actions are caught. (Keep praying along that they’d be revealed, of course. And brought to justice.)
 
But then there’s Romans 5:
• Romans 5:10: For if, while we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
 
• Romans 5:15: But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!
 
• Romans 5:17: For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
 
• Romans 5:20b: But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.
 
The principle that I think I might be hearing is this: if we’re seeing the works of dark spirits, how much more will the Holy Spirit be accessible to us in that time and place?
 

My suggestion: in this dark season, look for the light. Snuggle close to the Light, whatever that means for you. In more religious terms (there’s a place for them): press into the Holy Spirit, open yourself to him (transparency, or “seek him with all your heart”), and keep eyes and ears open for revelation.
 
I think we’ll find him willing to share his heart with us. And I’ll bet you a shiny new nickel that it’s kind of a whole lot more encouraging than the sewage the spirits of darkness are spreading around.
 
Note: I believe that the revelation will come in unfamiliar form, perhaps in hard-to-recognize form. It may be in unusual coincidences, or stray thoughts in your imagination, or casual conversation. I was overwhelmed by Holy Spirit speaking about our days in a Marvel movie the other night. Keep your eyes open.
 
Where sin abounds (and isn’t it abounding now?), Grace (God’s power, God’s direction) much more abounds. 

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How The Walks In The Woods Actually Worked


It was an interesting several years for me. I had an hour every day to walk in the woods. I chose to spend the time sauntering, decompressing, and especially talking with God.

My habit – what seemed good to me – was to spend the first part of these prayer times in getting connected with the Guy I was talking to. So rather than start with the business of prayer (“I need this; Suzie needs that, please heal Johnnie…”), I began with attention to the relationship and to my sensitivity to the relationship.

Often enough, I’d begin with something like, “So what’s on your mind today, Father?” Unfortunately, these times with him were in the middle of a pretty intense day, and so my mind, my soul, was still kind of racing. That didn’t always connect so well, though I think he liked being asked.

I got into the habit of praying in tongues for a while. If you’ve been around the Internet from the early days, if you’ve ever had to deal with dial-up internet access, you remember the strange noises your modem made while it was hooking up to what passed for the internet in those days. I kind of figured these times praying in tongues were like those noises: getting my spirit connected with his Spirit so we would be able to actually communicate.

But I’d pray in tongues until I felt like we had connected. Sometimes I’d pray in tongues for just a few hundred yards of walking. Occasionally, I’d spend my whole hour in tongues, working to connect to his “mainframe.” Sometimes it took a lot longer to settle my soul down!

There were days when I felt the need to pray a particular Bible verse during our introduction time; I’d look it up (first in the pocket Bible I carried; later on my phone), and pray through it, and go back to praying in tongues until I’d connected my heart with his.

That sense was pretty subtle; I was just waiting for that feeling on my inside that said my attention wasn’t on my busy day, but was on him. It’s rather like that “done” sense that tells me that I’ve covered what I needed in prayer and it’s time to move on now.

So I’d pray in tongues until I sensed that we’d connected, and then I’d move on. Because of my good, evangelical upbringing that was so attentive to sin, I’d often spend some time asking him to search my heart for sin.

Again, this wasn’t perfunctory. I wanted to have all of my insides, all of my secrets open before him. If you’d asked me why I thought that was a good thing, I’m not sure I could have given you a reason, but I was convinced (and still am) that if I want God to be open with me, then I need to be as open as I am able to be with him.

Fairly often, as I was searching my heart, he’d bring my attention to some attitude or action that needed attention. I’d talk with him about it. I never heard him speaking words to me in these times, but often enough, I’d ask him questions about this thing in my heart, and then a new thought would drift into my heart: I always assumed that it was his reply and this assumption never once led me astray.

Pretty often, the root issue boiled down to me trusting me more than me trusting him in this area. For a while, my response (again, from my evangelical history) would be to feel bad and make promises (aka vows) to do better. I’d try to “fix” it. He never seemed impressed with this.

Over time, I came to the place where I’d stop trusting in myself to fix it, and I’d just agree with him about it. “Yeah, I agree: I’ve trusted me more than I’ve trusted you. And yeah, that’s not a very smart thing to do, is it? You know, you’ve actually been trustworthy in my life, haven’t you. I really can trust you, even with this, can’t I? Help me to stay in touch with that truth, please? You really are that good, aren’t you?” That brought far more change in my life.

All of that – and sometimes it was the whole walk and the next day, too, but mostly it was several minutes – all that was just the introduction. Computer networks call it the “error-checking” part of “negotiating the handshake.”

And then I’d bring up the issues on my heart. I had tried prayer lists, and there weren’t disastrous, but I discovered that there were advantages to praying about the issues on my heart instead of a list.

First, I don’t see prayer as a business transaction (though that model is not without some benefit); instead, I approach prayer as a relationship. That works better for me. Shopping lists have there place. My relationship with my Dad is not one of them.

Second, it seemed to me that God was far more interested in what was on my heart than in the items that needed checking off on the list.

And really, the issues on my heart were very often things that I’d put on that list anyway. But I’d bring it as a thing that I cared about, not as a duty. That was important to me. That made a difference to me in these times.

I prayed about my marriage, my family, my relationships, my missionary friends, concerns local and global. Hmm. That doesn’t sound right. Let me say it this way: the more I related with Father, the more I found myself caring about the issues that he cared about, and the more often I’d bring those issues back to him and we’d discuss them.

Again, I’d talk (always out loud: frankly, it kept my mind from wandering), and I’d interpret the stray thoughts that crossed my mind in those times as his side of the conversation, and it always seemed right. (Luke 11:13: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” I could trust him that these responses were from the Holy Spirit.)

Occasionally, the thoughts would be specific, often including new information that I hadn’t known before (and that proved to be true “back in the real world”). That wasn’t the big deal. The big deal was that I was hanging out with my Father.

I grew to really love these conversations. Rarely, we’d actually converse, where we’d both use words, me out loud, him in my mind.

One time I’d been praying energetically about something that bothered me. No, actually I’d been whining. He seemed to wait until I paused to take a breath, and he interrupted me. “Are you done yet?” I literally stopped in the middle of the trail and laughed. He went on to teach me about one of Jesus’s parables. I tried not to whine too much after that day. Besides, it was a good lesson!

There was a while (more than a year) that he required me to pray 1Corinthians 14:1: “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” That went on so long that it got tiring. “Teach me love, and I’m asking for spiritual gifts, especially prophecy. OK, can we go on now?” In those days, I’m not sure I believed in prophecy in any practical sense, but I prayed it anyway. He seemed to think that was enough.

After a year of that daily prayer, a prophet called me out in a meeting. “God says you’ve been asking him for prophetic gifts….” And he went on to talk about that. Yeah, I felt set up, but in a really good way, a cared-for way.

These days, I no longer have that hour in the woods every day, but I try to maintain the same “conversing with God” throughout the day. Frankly, talking with God on a peaceful, wooded trail is easier than staying actually connected throughout the day.

I’m still working out the details of this season, so I can’t talk about it much. The past season is in clearer focus. I thought I’d share it in case it might be helpful to some folks who are interested in having that kind of season with God. It’s probably worth asking him about.


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Letters

Do Not Think That I Came to Destroy the Law or the Prophets

I’ve run into several people recently who quote Matthew 5:17, and use that to say that the OT Law is still valid. 

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” [MT 5:17]
 
They’re saying “Fulfilled means it’s still valid. You’re still obligated.”
 
Others say, “No, Fulfilled means it’s done, it’s concluded. It did its job, and now it’s over.”
 
So I thought, Let’s see how that word is used in other places in the Bible. That should give us an idea of what it means here.
 
So here’s a list. This is just part of the New Testament list, but the Old Testament use of the word is similar. (See the links to the full list in the footnotes)
 
Suggestion: For each verse, ask: “Does ‘fulfilled’ mean ‘It’s still in power; you’re still obligated’? or does ‘fulfilled’ mean ‘It’s done, concluded, and here’s the result’?”
 
Mat 2:15
where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
 
Mat 2:17
Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
 
Mat 2:23
and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.
 
Mat 13:14
In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “ ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
 
Mat 13:35
So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”
 
Mat 26:54
But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
 
Mat 26:56
But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
 
Mat 27:9
Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel,
 
Mar 13:4
“Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
 
Mar 14:49
Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”
 
Luk 1:1
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,
 
Luk 1:38
“I am the Lord's servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
 
Luk 4:21
He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
 
Luk 18:31
Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.
 
Luk 21:24
They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalemwill be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
 
Luk 22:37
It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors'; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
 
Luk 24:44
He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
 
Jhn 17:12
While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
 
Jhn 18:9
This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”
 
Jhn 19:24
“Let's not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let's decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, “They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” So this is what the soldiers did.
 
Jhn 19:28
Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”
 
Jhn 19:36
These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,”
 
Act 1:16
and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus.
 
Act 3:18
But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer.
 
Act 13:27
The people of Jerusalemand their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath.
 
Act 13:33
he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: “ ‘You are my son; today I have become your father.'
 
Act 23:1
Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.”
 
--
Which is it?
 
Still in power; still obligated?
 
or
 
It’s done, concluded, finished?
 
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So here’s a list.
This is just part of the New Testament list (whole NT list: http://bit.ly/1MbLMaf),
but the Old Testament use of the word (whole OT list: http://bit.ly/1MbLMqF) is similar.
 

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Letters

#Unfiltered


“Unfiltered” is sort of a thing right now.

Folks talk on Instagram or Facebook about posts and pictures that are #Unfiltered:  they’re real, authentic, not faked, not Photoshopped, not particularly posed. “This is real,” they insist.

I believe that this is something God is doing. God is bringing this value for the authentic to the front of our attention.  God likes authentic. He likes real.

That’s one of the things I like about him. He doesn’t filter stuff. He’s authentic. He’s real.

He’s got this book (I guess they call it a Bible) that’s all about his relationship with the human race, and so it includes lots of humans in it: lots of people and their stories.

And he doesn’t filter it even a little bit. Completely unfiltered.


The people in his book, he calls some of them friends: some of them are real screw-ups. Hmm. Actually, most of them are. In fact, nearly all of them. If you were omnipotent and writing a book about your peeps, you’d think you’d show the shiny side, the good-looking side. Make them look good.

He does that a little, but that’s the smaller bit. The bigger bit is how badly his favorite people fark everything up. Or nearly everything. And he still hangs out with them.

One of his favorites started out really poor, but with a whole lot of God’s help, made it to the big time. And what does he do? He seduces the wife of one of his best friends (and daughter of another good friend). He gets her pregnant while hubby’s off fighting his imperialistic war. And then he murders her husband so he can have her all to himself. Alongside several dozen other wives and mistresses.

And God calls this son-of-a-birch-tree one of his favorites. What?

Another guy lies about his 60-year-old wife (“Nah, she’s my sister!” Essentially saying, “You can sleep with her if you promise not to kill me.”) And while they’re trying to figure out how to seduce her, he trades in on his status and ends up one of the richest dudes in the area. They have to ask him to leave so he doesn’t destroy their national economy.

God says, “Yeah, that guy is my example. I’m going to call him ‘the father of faith.’” As if it never happened!

Another guy refuses (three times!) to even acknowledge that he knows the guy when God puts on skin and comes to town. The religious freaks were setting up to murder him, and he totally ghosts the son of God. “Nope. Don’t even know the guy. Could you pass me a sandwich?”

And God makes him head of the church. Are you kidding me?

Yeah. It’s outrageous. It’s a complete travesty of justice.

And it’s one of the things I like best about this God.

It’s not that he doesn’t care if we muff it up. It’s just that muffing up doesn’t piss him off. He knows that’s how this species – built from dirt in the first place, anyway – is predisposed. And he doesn’t shun, ghost us, or get embarrassed when we come around.

In fact, he has spent literally all of recorded history pursuing us, coming to find us, getting on his knees to clean off our mess, to pull our foot from the trap, even ransom us from both sin AND death.

And if that wasn’t enough, he is so stoked to be close to us that he’ll happily live inside of us. That was his idea: not a hair’s breadth of distance between his almightiness and our dorky foolishness. Or rampant suckiness. Or unmitigated evilness. He’s not impressed. “Yeah, come here, you! Let me clean you up! Now isn’t this better, here with me?”

But wait! There’s more! He’s not done yet!

“So how’d you like to sit up here on this throne with me? Look, you can see the whole Kingdom from up here! So as long as you’re here on this throne, what kind of things would you like to do with this Kingdom? Cuz I’m going to share it, all of it, with you! We’re gonna do this together!”

Yeah, that’s the God we get to be with. #Unfiltered. Authentic. Real. Embarrassingly so.

And he invites us into all of this, to do all of life, with him.

If we’re willing.

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Letters

Watch and Pray


“Watch out!” “Keeping watch” “Watchman”

The idea is consistent: pay attention; notice what’s going on. See what there is to see; hear what there is to hear.

The dictionary talks about “observing attentively,” and “following closely, maintaining an interest in,” and even “being careful.”

Pay attention. Notice.

Now here’s an interesting thing: Four times, Jesus tells us that watching and praying go together.*

It was a long time before I learned how those worked together. When I was growing up, “praying” was about “Say these words; that’s prayer.”

Later, prayer was about a shopping list, and praying was a lot like writing to Santa. “I want this; please do that, and bless everybody in the whole world.”

As I got more religious, my vocabulary became more about “Bringing needs before the throne,” but it was still functionally a Santa letter, a shopping list. At least I was adding other people’s needs to the list. “Watching” was seeing what was needed. “Praying” was bringing those needs to God’s attention.

Now I’m not saying this is bad. Some of those prayers got answered, including some whose answers would qualify as miracles. And I (mostly) don’t regret the time spent bringing real issues to God’s attention (though I really do not love prayer meetings that are more about whining and complaining about what’s wrong, than about God).

“Watch and pray.” Pay attention; notice.

I’m growing more and more committed to the idea that prayer is more than me reciting my wish list, more than me bringing issues to God’s attention. Prayer is relational, and it’s conversation. It’s dialogue.

And that, I think, is what the “watch and pray” thing is about. And it happens in relationship, in close relationship, in intimate relationship.

It’s about God and me talking. Maybe we use words, maybe we don’t, but it’s about us talking.

I’ve observed that sometimes when God talks, he uses words, sometimes he uses pictures or visions, sometimes he uses emotions or thoughts. He’s very versatile. (It wouldn’t surprise me if he gave us all these senses so we’d have more ways to engage with him.)

I’m coming to the conclusion that “watch and pray” is about us hearing what he’s saying (whether words or pictures or whatever) and talking to him about it.

That’s why words of knowledge are so often associated with people actually getting healed. God shows us what to pray for, and we pray for the thing God’s saying to pray for, and what do you know? He answers those sorts of prayers pretty often.

That’s the basic design of “watch and pray.” Pay attention to what’s on God’s heart. Talk with him about that thing until you know how to pray for it. Then pray for that thing that’s on God’s heart, in the way that God is showing you how to pray for it. Rinse and repeat. Spend time in that conversation, conversing about things that are on his heart. (You’ll be surprised how many of the things that are on your heart are on his heart, too.)

That will result in more answered prayers, of course. But it will also result in me knowing God’s heart better. It will result in me becoming more like him, knowing him more. And that is the very essence of the prayer he taught us to pray so long ago: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”

Watch and pray.

Pay attention. Notice. Talk about that. Pray that. Discuss that.

It’s all about relationship.

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* Matthew 26:41, Mark 13:33 & 14:38, and Luke 21:36



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