Letters

Thoughts on Being Pruned

Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

I spent the day the other day, pruning my tomatoes. It was really hard to not think about this verse in the process. So I gave in, and thought about it. I had some interesting thoughts. Keep in mind the Lord’s pruning of his children (that’s you and me) as you read this.

Pruning really is hard work. Pruning is not something you just do as you’re walking past in a few minutes, the few seconds that you have to spare. Pruning, particularly effective proving, takes thought, takes planning, takes endurance. In the parable, this would be God’s job. When he’s preparing us for effective, fruitful ministry it’s a lot of work for him. No wonder it feels like a lot of work for us too.

Pruning really is important work. This isn’t a case where if you get pruned, that’s nice, but if you don’t, that’s fine too. Rather, this is an example of Hebrews 12, where it says that set God trains, disciplines his children. Discipline is important work. Without discipline, will never accomplish anything in the Kingdom, or, frankly, in the world.

I can imagine that pruning a plant, cutting off branches, hurts the plant. I know for a fact that pruning branches, cutting off branches, is painful to the gardener. I am confident that when God cuts things out of our lives, particularly when he cuts things out that we enjoy, it hurts him. But he is so completely committed to our good if he is willing to do things that hurt him in order to make us stronger and better.

Pruning helps a plant focus its energy. Instead of a thousand tiny little fruits, each one nearly meaningless, a well pruned plant will produce a more modest number of excellent fruit, really nourishing. Sometimes you can tell people who have not submitted to pruning. They have a thousand little ministries, a thousand little interests, but they’re really not making a difference when you come right down to it. The people who have learned to focus their attention on one area are the ones who really change the world.

Different kinds of plants are pruned in different ways. Sometimes, the same kind of plant is prune in different ways if The Gardener has different plans for the plants. It seems obvious that the same is true for people. God sees us as individuals, relates to us as individuals. He trains some of us in one way, and he trains others of us in other ways.

Some plants are pruned in order to make them more fruitful. Some plants are pruned in order to make them stronger. Some plants are pruned in order to make them more beautiful. Not all prophets are trained the same way. Not all gift of Mercy are in the same category. One may minister to a thousand individuals. The other main Minister two groups of tens of thousands, or invest themselves into groups of three or four.

Pruning is more important when the plant is beginning to develop, than it is later on. That is, unless the plant has managed to avoid being pruned when it should have been. Similarly, young believers, developing believers, kit pruned more often, perhaps, then mature Saints. Though all of us, all of us, do get pruned by our gardener.
All About Grapevine PruningIf a plant is pruned regularly throughout its life, it will generally not need nearly as much pruning, not nearly as aggressive pruning, as the plant that has managed to avoid pruning for some time. That plant will get more cuts. For years, I managed to avoid the gardeners attention. And my life was unruly, hurtful, and unfruitful. I needed more pruning than I should have needed, at my stage in maturity.

Sometimes, a successful pruning will remove strong, healthy, even fruitful branches. This is for the best interest of the plant, the fruit, and the Gardener. Just because God removes something from our lives, that does not mean that it was a bad thing to be in our lives. Some of those things were good. But if we are going to be successful at changing the world, some things that are not part of our calling need to be cut away. If we are truly going to know and experience God’s heart for us, his heart for the world, then there may be much that we would have to say no to, good stuff that we will have to say no to.

At least with tomatoes, plants that produce big strong delicious fruit, are pruned more vigorously then plants that are designed to produce lots of little fruits. Slicing tomatoes get pruned more than cherry tomatoes. It would follow, then, that those of us who have a calling to greater things, bigger areas of influence are likely to need more times of pruning, and greater pruning. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with a handful of cherry tomatoes.

Sometimes, if a plant is not pruned by The Gardener in time, the plant will just let some branches just die off, simply because it doesn’t have enough roots, enough strength to support so many branches. This is not a healthy thing. Dead branches on a living plant or a pathway to pests, predators, and disease. Areas where things have died in our life, rather than been pruned away, are similarly dangerous, places where disease or bitterness can find root.

So as I was pruning my tomatoes, I was also discussing God’s pruning of me. I found myself inviting my master Gardener, whom I trust, to prune me as he sees fit, from his view in Eternity. I love partnering with him in the work of the kingdom, and I know that he can lovingly prune away the things that hinder my effectiveness, that hinder my fully receiving his love.

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Letters

Not Calling Out Sin


I do not hold to the common Christian religious opinion that says if I see a sin somewhere, then I am somehow obligated to point it out or preach against it or otherwise required to be part of fixing the person involved. I am not.

That does not mean that I do nothing (that’s another conversation), but if I see a believer online doing or saying something that reveals sin, I am not going to feel obligated to rebuke them either publicly or privately. If I see someone in my town or in my neighborhood doing something that I consider sinful, I am not going to feel obligated to confront them.

I have a couple of reasons for this.

He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone”" by Daniel C. Fergus ...• The church, generally speaking, has well and truly earned her reputation as a judgmental busybody. The world views God as an angry, nitpicking judge, and we’re the reason; after all, we’re the only Bible many people read. I don’t choose to perpetuate that view.

• If I’m going to focus on someone’s sin, it’s going to be my sin. I am responsible – you are not – for my sin. You are responsible – I am not – for your sin. We forget this sometimes.

• I observe that the only people whose sin Jesus actually called out were the religiously self-righteous. So if I’m going to follow his example, I should call out the sin of the religious people who focus on other people’s sin. Yeah, that wouldn’t end well, would it?

• I don’t care to focus my attention on people’s sin. That is contrary to Scriptural instruction (Philippians 4, Colossians 3), so focusing on people’s sin is itself sin, which of course makes it hypocrisy. Not going there.

• We are commanded – I am commanded – to “set [my] heart on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” I find that I’m healthier and happier and more effective (not to mention more obedient) when I do that. So I’m going to focus on what’s good. I may even <gasp!> speak God’s blessing into the life of someone who’s not completely perfect.

• Frankly, I don’t have the time to deal with everybody’s sin. Sorry. I actually have a life. I hope to live it.

• And more importantly than all of that, a sinner – even a nice one like you or me - is accountable to someone FAR more loving and far more powerful than I am. This is waaaay over my pay grade.

Now, somebody will bring up Matthew 18 and use that as an excuse for calling out sin publicly: Not only did Jesus say you have to, he said how.

Yes, he did say how.  And the first statement he made there (before he said, “don’t do it publicly,”) was, “If your brother sins against you….”

There are two qualifiers in that:

1. This is only applicable if the person sinning is your brother: if they’re in close relationship with you. If they don’t call you brother or sister (and NOT in the religious sense!), you don’t qualify.

2. This is only applicable if the sin involved is against you. If it’s not against you, you’re meddling. Stop it.

And somebody’s going to say, “Well the prophets in the Old Testament called out sin!  So I can!”

It’s true. The poor people working under the inferior covenant that God never wanted did proclaim the judgment that is part of that covenant. That’s part of the form and function of that covenant that a fear-ridden people proposed instead of God’s covenant. That’s why that covenant is dead and gone. We live in the day of the New Covenant.

Personally, I think the world would be a better place if we focused on loving God and loving the people He loves. Best I can tell, that’s all of the people. We’re supposed to focus on loving people, not correcting people.

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Letters

Don’t Look At The Waves

Matthew 14 tells this story.

As soon as the meal was finished, [Jesus] insisted that the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he dismissed the people. With the crowd dispersed, he climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night.

Meanwhile, the boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them and they were battered by the waves. At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared out of their wits. “A ghost!” they said, crying out in terror.

But Jesus was quick to comfort them. “Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.”

He said, “Come ahead.”

Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!”

Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, “Faint-heart, what got into you?”

The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, “This is it! You are God’s Son for sure!”

----
That’s kind of the season we’re in, isn’t it? An awful lot of wind coming against us, battering us with waves of nasty stuff in the news. And us, trying to walk on the water to Jesus.

When we look at him, we’re in good shape. But when we look at the nasty stuff that the world is throwing at us, that the media is shouting at us, it’s easy to lose our nerve and to sink. We end up crying out for help.

But while that’s embarrassing (and we get incredibly soaked by the waves and scared) and uncomfortable, it’s not such a bad thing to get rescued by Jesus from sinking, I don’t suppose.

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Letters

What Am I Declaring About Myself?

It had been a really tough night. Only got a few hours sleep, then had a long day, full of physical work. Really tiring.

I found myself whining to myself, “I’m so tired!” as I went back for yet another load.

Then it was as if Father cleared his throat. “Ahem….” My ears perked up.

And I realized what I had just declared about myself. Yikes. I repented.

Instead, I recognized that yes, I was physically tired, but that is not my identity. That is a fact: it’s true that I’m tired, but I don’t need to live under that fact. I choose to live under the fact that God is my provider, and that ALL good gifts proceed from him; none are missing.

So I rejected the curse of tiredness. I changed my mind, and I went about my work. I didn't deny pretend I wasn't tired. I just decided that that was not the whole story, not even the important part of the story. 

And you know what? The weariness went away. And the discouragement with it went away. And I got a lot more done. I took a break here and there (I don’t always remember to do that), and I realized, “I actually like this work. And I’m getting a lot done! I might not be getting as much done as I would like, but I’m getting a lot accomplished here!”

And I didn’t actually get it all done, but I got enough done, and I’ll have the rest of the week to finish it. But the work I did, I did as a victor, not as a victim. And I accomplished a whole lot more than I would have if I had given into the sense of weariness and quit. 

I didn’t stay under that weariness, that discouragement. I just repented, changed my view on the subject, and worked within my limits.
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Letters

Testimony: The Covid “Vaccine”

A Little background:

 
• The Covid 19 virus is a real virus. People are dying from it.

• But the virus is being blown way the heck out of proportion, and most of the deaths attributed to Covid are actually people who had the virus dying from something else. (CDC has acknowledged it..)

• A fair number of people are scared silly of the virus. (This is not a time for judging.)

• There are a few vaccines for the virus. Except that they’re not vaccines, they’re “experimental therapies.”

• A fair number of people are scared silly of the vaccines/experimental therapies. (This is not a time for judging.)

• The federal government and a good number of state and local governments are working overtime to convince us that we need to get the vaccines/experimental therapies. (Ironically, as I’m writing this, I’m getting text and email notifications working to persuade me to get the treatment.)

• The attempts to manipulate/convince the public are primarily based on either bribes or threats; they are mostly not based on logic, research, or science.

• It’s pretty well documented that the medical community has opportunity to make a lot of money from the government for promoting the Covid “vaccine,” for treating Covid symptoms, for reporting Covid deaths. (NB: It’s my policy to place a lower value on the opinions of people who are being well paid to have and to convince me those opinions.)

• A fair number of people are scared silly of the government’s intentions. (This is not a time for judging.)

• The Bible is pretty clear: we don’t actually have reason to be afraid, and in fact we are commanded to not fear.

• A fair number of people are afraid to trust God when our health, our life or our government is on the line. (This is not a time for judging.)

OK. That’s the background. (Note that I’m not interested in arguing about these points. If you feel that urge to fuss about these, go somewhere else to do it.)

TESTIMONY. This is my own story; fair warning: it might be long and rambling.

I’m a fairly strong, fairly healthy adult male with a solid immune system. I’m not actually afraid of the virus. I’ve walked with Jesus long enough to know that he’s serious about his ability to take care of me, and I know that it’s true that “whether I live or I die, I am the Lord’s.”


I’ve heard first hand reports from medical professionals, from people who have taken the vaccine; I’ve read the manufacturers’ statements about them (and their disclaimers of any liability for their product).


Based on what I’ve read (and I’ve read the original CDC & other reports, not just the news reports about them), I don’t see any reason why I personally need to take the vaccine/experimental therapy that they’re so aggressively promoting. I don’t judge those who take it, but I am comfortable concluding that it’s not for me.

But there are people around me who are scared of the virus, some more than others, of course. Many of these are MY people, people I would die for, people who would die for me: people I love.

These people are scared for me, and they believe they have reason. They consider me higher risk for more than one reason, and the reports agree with them. Some of these people trust the vaccine/experimental therapy, and they want me to “protect myself” and take it. Some of them want me to take it as protection for themselves. (This is not a time for judging.)

So this put me in a tough place. I was confident that I didn’t need the vaccine/experimental therapy, and that in fact, I would be wise to avoid it.

But people who love me were paying a price for my choice. That wasn’t comfortable for me. There were people, people I love and whom I love to be around, that weren’t comfortable being around me. That’s not comfortable for me.

That’s been a hard place. And when I find myself in hard places like that, I try to remember to take these to my Father, so I brought this awkward, confusing, emotionally-charged mess that was in my heart to him. He listened quietly for a while (or at least I assumed he was listening, but he sure was quiet). I poured out my concerns and confusions to him. I wasn’t OK with this divided heart thing going on.

We spent a while here, days, maybe weeks, not minutes or hours. But eventually, his peace did what it does, and it settled my thoughts and emotions and drew my attention back to my Father’s goodness where it belongs.

And in that process, he drew my attention to Mark’s version of the Great Commission, and to one clause in particular: “If they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them.” He wasn’t giving me a direction in the midst of the options, he was just reminding me: “This is the way I am with you, Son.”

As I kept praying (I cannot tell you how many times I’ve stopped listening too early!), I felt his affirmation that I could trust him, I could trust this promise, whichever way I chose to go, but this was my choice to make; he wasn’t going to make my choices for me here.

I still believe that this virus isn’t a threat for me personally, and I still believe that I don’t need the experimental therapy that’s being promoted.

So I signed up to get the experimental therapy, confident that it will by no means hurt me. That was long enough ago that I had to work really hard to get it; it was really awkward, really uncomfortable, really irritating to jump through all the hoops. (The notifications I’m getting now announce that some places have it available for walk-ins.)

After several weeks, I made it to the front of the line and it was my turn. They had me sign a raft of papers (and were really confused when I insisted on reading what I was signing), and the nurse who gave me the injection confessed that he didn’t believe we needed “a ‘vaccine’ that is 95% effective against a disease with a 99+% survival rate.” We laughed about it together.

When it came time for the second injection, people crawled out of the woodwork to tell me their horror stories of how bad the second one was, and how dangerous it was, and how that’s where people got sick from the second one. Thanks folks!

So I reminded myself pretty aggressively of Father’s promise. “If they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them.” My version went this way: “If I am injected with anything deadly, it will by no means hurt me.” It was kind of hard work to agree with him instead of all the fear-driven testimonies.

The next morning, I woke up feeling “off,” and the doubts whispered into my ear: “See! I told you you’d get sick! Now it’s happened to you!”

So I had a conversation with my soul. “If I am injected with anything deadly, it will by no means hurt me.” I kind of had a shouting match inside my soul for a while, but eventually my soul gave in, the symptoms vanished, and I had a great day. That was a month or two ago, and I haven’t been sick for a day since.

I still shake my head (sometimes when my soul gets out of line) at how much this changes the hearts and the choices of some of the people I love, but then I remember, “I did this for you, because I love you.” I can’t generally tell them that, of course, because they think I was convinced of their opinions when I saw the error of my ways because of their insightful presentation of the media’s hysteria.

And I feel my Father’s comfortable pleasure with my choices here. It was my choice, your choice might be completely different. But this is how I dealt with it.

I hope my story is helpful to you.
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Letters

The Chef’s Knee

I was raised in the church, but I was raised by a couple of left-brain, logical thinkers: by a school teacher and an engineer. They taught me math and science and the occasional Bible story, but we knew nothing of the power of God. We prayed for every meal, but it was a routine; we did it because that’s what good Christians did.

The church we were part of explained why nothing supernatural ever happened and why the miracles that the Bible talked about weren’t really what they seemed to be, and how science explained them.

Many years later, after I came to a real and personal faith and began to pursue Jesus for myself, I discovered that the gifts of the Spirit were real and that there was actual power present in them. I’ve spent the last half century pursuing knowing my loving King and learning all I can about the tools that he’s given us to run this race well.

The son of a schoolteacher doesn’t have any trouble studying the Book, and the son of the engineer has got some natural advantages applying the wisdom of that Book to his life. But power? But the supernatural? Now wait just a doggone minute here. It’s harder to overcome the natural and logical mindset that I was raised with.

Fast forward a few decades. I’ve taught hundreds, maybe thousands of people about the love of God, the gifts of the Spirit, and even about how to heal the sick. I didn’t have much personal experience actually healing the sick, and the voices from my childhood kept explaining away any healings and miracles that I did see.

So one Friday night, I’m with a team of friends hosting a large meeting, when all of a sudden, one of the group gets up and announces to the auditorium that God wants to heal everyone tonight, “If you need healing, come forward.”

I was confronted with my unbelief. So I kicked into administration mode and connected people who needed prayer with people to pray for them (“Just like we’ve talked about,” I reminded a few of them), but there were so many of them!

Among the last to arrive was the chef in charge of the kitchen at that facility, and he was bearing down on me, and he was limping. We had talked a few times; maybe I wasn’t a complete stranger. I looked around for someone with a healing gift. Not a one!

So here I was, acknowledging that God heals, but full of unbelief, and I was expected needing to heal this guy’s torn ligaments. I was doomed.


So we found a place out on the edge of the crowd where he could sit down and where I could get my hands on his knee. He explained how he needs to be on his feet all day, every day, and the stress weakened his knee, and then he stepped wrong or fell or something (I wasn’t paying as much attention to his situation as I should have been, being much more attentive to my immanent unmasking as a healing fraud).

 I laid hands on the knee, and quietly complained to Father that this wasn’t fair! He wasn’t impressed with my panic.

Eventually, my adrenaline levels dropped enough that I remembered to ask Father how to pray, and I had an impression, so I prayed in that direction. I prayed hard in that direction. I prayed every little detail I could think of in that direction, and in the direction next to it just to be safe.

Eventually I had to come up for air. “How does your knee feel? Stand up and test it.” I tried to sound confident.

He tested it, and sat back down with kind of a scowl on his face. “It feels warm inside, but I’m not sure it’s any better.”

My heart didn’t really have any further to fall, but I figured “warm” was a good sign. “OK, let’s pray some more.” It was clear he wasn’t in a hurry.

Over the course of the next hour or two, I threw every prayer I knew and six or ten that I didn’t know at his knee. I wasn’t going to fail because I’d given up: I was going to go down fighting. Every ten minutes or so, we’d check it again, and every time it was a little better. “Not a lot better, but yeah, it’s a little bit better.”

It must have been the nine thousand and twelfth time we stopped to check his progress that he bent and stretched and matter-of-factly announced, “Yeah, I think that did it!” I picked my jaw up off the floor and thanked him for his patience. We were nearly the last ones out of the room.

I had reason to return to that conference facility several times, for several different kinds of events, often including meals, and every time he saw me (he never once missed me!), he’d come out of the kitchen, wrap me in a bear hug, squat down and bounce back up and announce, “Yep! It’s still healed!” (You should have seen the looks on the faces of some of my business associates at the tech events there! I remember that feeling, when I first heard that healing really was for today.)

Healing is still not one of the primary tools that I use in the ministry Father has me involved in. And every time that I slap hands on someone for healing, hell rubs my nose in that fact. “You don’t have that gift!”

“No, but I know a Guy!” and I remind him of the chef’s knee. Shuts ‘em up every time.

It’s still a challenge, still a battle every time I go after healing, and I mean that literally: when we heal the sick, we’re conquering the works of hell (both in the natural and in the minds of those we’re healing): hell is fighting (unsuccessfully) for survival; of course there’s a battle.

And no, not everybody I pray for is healed, not by a mile or six. But I have a testimony to keep me going.

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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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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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Letters

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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Letters

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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Letters

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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