Letters

The Deception of the Finished Lesson

There’s a deception that I’ve come to … well, I don’t know that I actually “hate” it, but I sure don’t love it.

It’s a deception, an illusion, and it’s perpetrated, many times, in God’s name, and often with the best of intentions.

It’s the deception of the finished lesson.

I became aware of it while I was studying something-or-other for teaching. I felt like I was wrestling a greased pig. I cut my way through bunny trails and wild goose chases and fought off premature and inaccurate conclusions.

It was a long and arduous process.

And when I was done, I presented my results to the folks I was teaching, all tidy, all logical, all wrapped up with a nice little bow on it.

It was good teaching. And my conclusions were both accurate and relevant.

But I was uncomfortable with how tidy it was. This was not a tidy topic, and I felt that I’d done folks a disservice by hiding the blood, sweat, toil and tears that went into the process.

In actual fact, the blood, sweat, toil and tears are a legitimate part of the topic, of the conversation. Let’s be honest: outside of TV shows, there aren’t a lot of thorny questions that tidily wrap themselves up in 30 minutes, are there?

Image result for damaged packageIt seems to me that the need to make things tidy and clean and neat is not actually a benefit to American culture.

Let’s be specific. If we think that the abortion issue has a clean and simple answer, we’re not paying attention. If we think that the topic of social justice can be solved easily, we’re smoking something interesting. If we think the fear of God, or the grace of God, or the rapture, or the solution to immigration, or balancing a household budget have tidy answers, we’re not seeing the whole of the subject.

Christian platitudes are an abysmal failure. But Christian blogs and Christian books (and not-so-Christian books) that have clear-cut answers are equally deceptive.

We’ll see how I respond to this, how I deal with this in the future. As much as anyone else, I like having clear answers readily available, and I like not looking like a dork as I stumble for an answer that actually means something on a complex topic.

But we might find that not every post has a confident conclusion. I don’t know. We’ll see how this turns out.
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Letters

The Deception of the Finished Lesson

There’s a deception that I’ve come to … well, I don’t know that I actually “hate” it, but I sure don’t love it.

It’s a deception, an illusion, and it’s perpetrated, many times, in God’s name, and often with the best of intentions.

It’s the deception of the finished lesson.

I became aware of it while I was studying something-or-other for teaching. I felt like I was wrestling a greased pig. I cut my way through bunny trails and wild goose chases and fought off premature and inaccurate conclusions.

It was a long and arduous process.

And when I was done, I presented my results to the folks I was teaching, all tidy, all logical, all wrapped up with a nice little bow on it.

It was good teaching. And my conclusions were both accurate and relevant.

But I was uncomfortable with how tidy it was. This was not a tidy topic, and I felt that I’d done folks a disservice by hiding the blood, sweat, toil and tears that went into the process.

In actual fact, the blood, sweat, toil and tears are a legitimate part of the topic, of the conversation. Let’s be honest: outside of TV shows, there aren’t a lot of thorny questions that tidily wrap themselves up in 30 minutes, are there?

Image result for damaged packageIt seems to me that the need to make things tidy and clean and neat is not actually a benefit to American culture.

Let’s be specific. If we think that the abortion issue has a clean and simple answer, we’re not paying attention. If we think that the topic of social justice can be solved easily, we’re smoking something interesting. If we think the fear of God, or the grace of God, or the rapture, or the solution to immigration, or balancing a household budget have tidy answers, we’re not seeing the whole of the subject.

Christian platitudes are an abysmal failure. But Christian blogs and Christian books (and not-so-Christian books) that have clear-cut answers are equally deceptive.

We’ll see how I respond to this, how I deal with this in the future. As much as anyone else, I like having clear answers readily available, and I like not looking like a dork as I stumble for an answer that actually means something on a complex topic.

But we might find that not every post has a confident conclusion. I don’t know. We’ll see how this turns out.
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Letters

Reflections on Some Influencers

I was reflecting on some of the guys who have influenced my life in God over the years. None of these guys had a position of “leader,” but all three of them were competent leaders.

I knew a man who studied God, and God’s ways, for decades. He could put all kinds of letters after his name, including DMin, and PhD. He understood the Bible better than anybody else I knew at the time.

When I listened to him, I thought, “What a learned man. What a great foundation! I need a foundation like that.”

I knew another man who didn’t have a degree, but had spent a couple of under-funded decades among a people who didn’t even know who God was: teaching some, discipling a few, and desperately depending on God every day, for his meals, for his ministry, for his family’s lives.

When I listened to him, my heart melted. I prayed earnestly, “Father, I want to know you like this man knows you!”

I knew another man who came from the streets, and even that was just recently. He had not the slightest shred of education, and it showed. But he spent hours, many hours, just sitting in God’s presence, listening to his heartbeat, talking with him about what was on his heart.

When I listened to him, I realized that he had some ideas that were pretty messed up, and the first guy could help him with that. And I saw that he had some serious insecurity issues, identity issues, and the second guy could really help him with that.

But when he talked, he blew my mind. He healed the sick regularly, got words of knowledge effortlessly, and unbelievers listened carefully when he talked about his Jesus.

When I listened to him, I thought, “Father, is this really possible? Can your children walk in this kind of revelation, this kind of power, in this day and age?”

I learned some things in this reflection.

I really do love meditating on the things God has done in my world, in my life. The angel in Revelation 19 was right: the testimony of Jesus, who he is, what he's done, really is the spirit of prophecy. Mmm mmm. So good.

Different people have imparted different strengths into my life. If I only listened to people like me, I would certainly not be who I am today. Since both my wife and I like who I am today, this would be a bad thing.

Even people that make me uncomfortable can have a great impact on my life, provided I’m willing to learn. It's that "willing" part that I wrestle with sometimes.

It’s not enough to know ABOUT God. I must know God. And there’s more to know than I have any idea, even now. What a big heart!

It’s not enough to know God. I must also know ABOUT God if I aspire to trust him, to be like him. And again, there’s more to know about him than I even believe is possible.

When God invests himself into a person, he doesn’t necessarily make that person tidy, neat, clean, respectable. My ideas for what a “Good Christian” is were woefully inadequate, which means they are probably still woefully inadequate today. (Yet again I am reminded: He is NOT a tame lion.)


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Letters

Reflections on Some Influencers

I was reflecting on some of the guys who have influenced my life in God over the years. None of these guys had a position of “leader,” but all three of them were competent leaders.

I knew a man who studied God, and God’s ways, for decades. He could put all kinds of letters after his name, including DMin, and PhD. He understood the Bible better than anybody else I knew at the time.

When I listened to him, I thought, “What a learned man. What a great foundation! I need a foundation like that.”

I knew another man who didn’t have a degree, but had spent a couple of under-funded decades among a people who didn’t even know who God was: teaching some, discipling a few, and desperately depending on God every day, for his meals, for his ministry, for his family’s lives.

When I listened to him, my heart melted. I prayed earnestly, “Father, I want to know you like this man knows you!”

I knew another man who came from the streets, and even that was just recently. He had not the slightest shred of education, and it showed. But he spent hours, many hours, just sitting in God’s presence, listening to his heartbeat, talking with him about what was on his heart.

When I listened to him, I realized that he had some ideas that were pretty messed up, and the first guy could help him with that. And I saw that he had some serious insecurity issues, identity issues, and the second guy could really help him with that.

But when he talked, he blew my mind. He healed the sick regularly, got words of knowledge effortlessly, and unbelievers listened carefully when he talked about his Jesus.

When I listened to him, I thought, “Father, is this really possible? Can your children walk in this kind of revelation, this kind of power, in this day and age?”

I learned some things in this reflection.

I really do love meditating on the things God has done in my world, in my life. The angel in Revelation 19 was right: the testimony of Jesus, who he is, what he's done, really is the spirit of prophecy. Mmm mmm. So good.

Different people have imparted different strengths into my life. If I only listened to people like me, I would certainly not be who I am today. Since both my wife and I like who I am today, this would be a bad thing.

Even people that make me uncomfortable can have a great impact on my life, provided I’m willing to learn. It's that "willing" part that I wrestle with sometimes.

It’s not enough to know ABOUT God. I must know God. And there’s more to know than I have any idea, even now. What a big heart!

It’s not enough to know God. I must also know ABOUT God if I aspire to trust him, to be like him. And again, there’s more to know about him than I even believe is possible.

When God invests himself into a person, he doesn’t necessarily make that person tidy, neat, clean, respectable. My ideas for what a “Good Christian” is were woefully inadequate, which means they are probably still woefully inadequate today. (Yet again I am reminded: He is NOT a tame lion.)


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Devotionals, Letters

God Teaches a Teetotaler About Beer.

I grew up in a “dry” household. My family never drank alcohol. We didn’t vilify it, we just didn’t consider it, though occasionally at big family dinners at Grandma’s, my parents and other adults would drink something red out of goblet. They made funny faces when they drank it, so I wasn’t real eager to try it.

I grew up and learned religion. So of course, my home was a dry household. And then I worked for a pastor who never taught that alcohol was evil, but he surely acted as if it were, and expected his staff to as well. It started me thinking.

Eventually, we had children in our alcohol free home, and it was good, of course. Until God intervened.

On one of my regular retreats, on a solo camping trip, God woke me up in the middle of the night and warned me that I was failing my children. OK. he had my attention.

I crawled out of the back of the pickup where I was sleeping so I wouldn’t fall asleep in the middle of our conversation. Sure enough, the little voice, the impression in the back of my head continued:

“In a few years, your children will be entering junior high school. They won’t be out of your influence, but there will be many other influences there. Some of them, and you know what this is like, will invite them to discover beer, to discover drunkenness.”

And then he dropped the big one. “And you’ve done nothing to prepare them for that temptation.”

My heart sank. I knew he was right. But he didn’t let me sink there. After a moment or two, my mind began to fill up with perspectives and ideas and insights.

One of them caught me seriously off guard. He reminded me that I loved barbecue, but I was frustrated: a great steak was NOT complimented by a glass of milk, or by a CocaCola.

And then he tied them all together: “I want you to discover beers, good beers. I want you to find out what you like, and what you don’t. And I want you to invite your family to join you in that discovery.”

Oh my. Seriously?

But then I had visions (pictures) of what could happen. I saw better barbecues which led to better fellowship. I saw my children - my family - separating themselves from the religious spirit that accompanies alcohol-free homes. And then I saw my son, in junior high school, being approached to step behind a barn and share a Budweiser with him, and my son responded with, “Beer? That’s not beer. Let me tell you about beer!”

Oh my. I remind you that this is in the middle of the night, in the middle of the woods. I remind you that while I had tasted beer before (and not liked it), I had never had a glass of beer. I remind you that I was really comfortable in my no-alcohol religion.

And here’s God, telling me not just to drink beer, but to become educated about beer. And God was telling me to (gasp!) give beer to my school-age children, and to (gasp!) listen to their opinions about the stuff!

That was fifteen or twenty years ago, and it has been a glorious success (as if it’s surprising that God’s plans work!). I became a far better father than I had been before! And the beer? I had no idea of the variety. I still don’t love all kinds, but there are some that are pretty good, and there are some that make a good barbecued steak into a great barbecued steak. Who knew!

Oh, and that vision about my son telling his tempter, “Beer? That's not beer!” Yeah, that happened, though it looked different than the way I imagined it. And now he brings both life and excellence into a world I'd never reach, to people for whom alcohol is pretty important.

I’m not trying to say, “You need to drink beer!” Oh heck no! Don’t do that (unless God speaks to you the way he spoke to me). My obedience included learning about beer, but others' obedience involves not drinking beer.

I’m trying to say, “It’s a really good idea to do what God says, even if it’s really weird!”

Oh, and let me add: God the Father has some really good insights about how to be an excellent parent. I encourage you to learn from his wisdom on that topic!

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Devotionals, Letters

God Teaches a Teetotaler About Beer.

I grew up in a “dry” household. My family never drank alcohol. We didn’t vilify it, we just didn’t consider it, though occasionally at big family dinners at Grandma’s, my parents and other adults would drink something red out of goblet. They made funny faces when they drank it, so I wasn’t real eager to try it.

I grew up and learned religion. So of course, my home was a dry household. And then I worked for a pastor who never taught that alcohol was evil, but he surely acted as if it were, and expected his staff to as well. It started me thinking.

Eventually, we had children in our alcohol free home, and it was good, of course. Until God intervened.

On one of my regular retreats, on a solo camping trip, God woke me up in the middle of the night and warned me that I was failing my children. OK. he had my attention.

I crawled out of the back of the pickup where I was sleeping so I wouldn’t fall asleep in the middle of our conversation. Sure enough, the little voice, the impression in the back of my head continued:

“In a few years, your children will be entering junior high school. They won’t be out of your influence, but there will be many other influences there. Some of them, and you know what this is like, will invite them to discover beer, to discover drunkenness.”

And then he dropped the big one. “And you’ve done nothing to prepare them for that temptation.”

My heart sank. I knew he was right. But he didn’t let me sink there. After a moment or two, my mind began to fill up with perspectives and ideas and insights.

One of them caught me seriously off guard. He reminded me that I loved barbecue, but I was frustrated: a great steak was NOT complimented by a glass of milk, or by a CocaCola.

And then he tied them all together: “I want you to discover beers, good beers. I want you to find out what you like, and what you don’t. And I want you to invite your family to join you in that discovery.”

Oh my. Seriously?

But then I had visions (pictures) of what could happen. I saw better barbecues which led to better fellowship. I saw my children - my family - separating themselves from the religious spirit that accompanies alcohol-free homes. And then I saw my son, in junior high school, being approached to step behind a barn and share a Budweiser with him, and my son responded with, “Beer? That’s not beer. Let me tell you about beer!”

Oh my. I remind you that this is in the middle of the night, in the middle of the woods. I remind you that while I had tasted beer before (and not liked it), I had never had a glass of beer. I remind you that I was really comfortable in my no-alcohol religion.

And here’s God, telling me not just to drink beer, but to become educated about beer. And God was telling me to (gasp!) give beer to my school-age children, and to (gasp!) listen to their opinions about the stuff!

That was fifteen or twenty years ago, and it has been a glorious success (as if it’s surprising that God’s plans work!). I became a far better father than I had been before! And the beer? I had no idea of the variety. I still don’t love all kinds, but there are some that are pretty good, and there are some that make a good barbecued steak into a great barbecued steak. Who knew!

Oh, and that vision about my son telling his tempter, “Beer? That's not beer!” Yeah, that happened, though it looked different than the way I imagined it. And now he brings both life and excellence into a world I'd never reach, to people for whom alcohol is pretty important.

I’m not trying to say, “You need to drink beer!” Oh heck no! Don’t do that (unless God speaks to you the way he spoke to me). My obedience included learning about beer, but others' obedience involves not drinking beer.

I’m trying to say, “It’s a really good idea to do what God says, even if it’s really weird!”

Oh, and let me add: God the Father has some really good insights about how to be an excellent parent. I encourage you to learn from his wisdom on that topic!

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Prophecy

A Personal History with Unchurched Believers

I grew up in the church. Later, I met Jesus in another church during the Jesus People revolution. That was far more interesting than regular church!
For decades, after I’d graduated from Bible college, I got a real Bible education in a Bible-believing church. And I learned the importance of being part of a church, a local congregation. A campfire of only one log will quickly burn out; a campfire with many logs will burn long and hot: believers, I was carefully taught, belonged in the campfire with other believers, and that meant in a Sunday congregation.
Over the next few decades, as I worked as an associate pastor with several churches, and Father began giving me a heart for His children, and as I watched God’s children in churches grow up, I became more concerned for those children that didn’t have the advantage of a church family.  
I met a small number of disenfranchised believers in this season: men and women who were angry and bitter at the church, and sometimes at God, too. And I prayed more for believers who didn’t have a church to call home. I pitied them.
I remember one particular evening while I was praying for the unchurched believers. Father showed me two things about this group of people that I felt a burden for: First, there were more of them than I ever expected, and second, that he was going to do something – something that I call revival – among them. So I prayed for that revival! And I pitied them: lost sheep without a flock to call home.
I prayed for and pitied unchurched believers for years, and as I did, Father’s love for those poor people grew in my heart, fueling more prayer, and probably more pity as well.
One spring Saturday, a friend I respected held an event that I saw as a church service for people who didn’t fit in church real well. It was encouraging for several reasons, not least of which was that I wasn’t fitting real well in my own church at that time.

Unfortunately, when I returned home, I discovered I had left my jacket, with my wallet, behind, and I didn’t recognize it until I returned home, an hour’s drive away.

The next day, I brought a friend and a cell phone with me and drove back to the site of the event. It took more phone calls than I expected by finally someone was able to tell me that my jacket was probably with “Ken and Barbie,” well outside of town.  
Great. I really don’t need a Ken or a Barbie in my life right now: I don’t need pretend, doll-type people my life. It was only a Goodwill-type jacket; I considered giving it up for lost, but my wallet was in the jacket. I couldn’t give up my wallet; I guess I needed to go visit Ken and Barbie.
When I arrived at their well-worn farmhouse, I scratched my head: this wasn’t the type of house I expected for “Ken and Barbie” type people. We knocked cautiously and were greeted by one of the more un-doll-like men I’ve ever met. And I recognized as soon as we stepped inside the house that we were well and truly welcome. I described it later as a family reunion with family I didn’t know I had.
We spent four hours together with these wonderful and genuine people, hours spent sharing their hearts, our hearts, stories of our Father. I learned that Ken had been a pastor for a number of years, but made his living as a carpenter now. I realized that even though I was currently a Pastor, I wanted to be more like these people. So I asked what I always ask: “So what church are you guys part of?”
The silence was deafening as Ken and Barbie glanced at each other, and I could see the question in their eyes: “How much should we tell them?” Eventually they admitted that they hadn’t been in church for more than a decade, and they told me their story of how God led them from “churched” believers to “unchurched” believers.
Then they told me about several of the folks I’d met and appreciated the day before, including my friend the event coordinator, and how they had also made the transition from “the churched” to “the unchurched.”
I was in a conundrum: I had believed that believers ought to be part of a church, but here were a whole lot of believers that I wanted to be like, whose life I aspired to, believers who – contrary to my training and my expectations – were solid and mature, and who were pillars of strength in their families and their communities. Here were believers who did not have the “advantage” of a local congregation, who were better believers than those that I knew who had that advantage. My head was spinning.
I needed to re-examine a belief that I’d held as unquestionable, and it started me asking a lot of questions about things I’d never questioned. Let me just summarize by saying that this was an exciting season in my walk of faith, and skip to the part where God confronted me about the church I was part of, where I was the associate pastor, where I was on the worship team, and where I was one of the primary preachers on Sunday mornings.
“When are you going to stop working in another man’s field, and start working in your own?” I knew it was time to leave the church, to leave that church, and to leave the church community in my city. I questioned whether I was supposed to “plant” my own church, but realized that that was just a distraction: we were to become part of the “unchurched” community.
I had a couple of dreams in this season: one before we left, clearly describing our preparation for leaving, and the sequel, after we left, where he warned me of three things:
1)      I would be disoriented, not knowing where I was, or where to go. And
2)      I would be powerless to steer my life, anyway, even if I did have an idea about where to go. But
3)      I would be able to hear Father’s voice substantially better, now that I was outside of the busyness of church, better, perhaps, than ever before.
He was, of course, correct: these were accurate descriptions of our life. He brought some excellent fellowship into our lives, often into our living room, and nearly always centered around a meal. And I found excellent fellowship online, of all places! That one really surprised me!
Curiously, our fellowship is better now that we were “out of fellowship” with Sunday morning congregations. That one surprised me, too. We are still people with imperfections, and we are still in relationship with people with imperfections; there’s no perfection here. We still deal with misunderstandings and stuff. That’s part of life.
But our place in the Body of Christ is more of what it should always have been, now that we’re no longer part of a congregation: better friendships, less judged, more received for who we are, more free to exercise our God-given gifts. In other words: church outside of “Sunday morning church” has been a substantial improvement.
Now, let me explain: I’m not writing this in order to give you a model to follow, or a standard to measure your life by. I’m writing this only as a testimony: this is the confused and real-life experience that I had; perhaps it might encourage you wherever you are in your own walk.
And let me encourage you in this: God is very much able to take you through whatever you’re going through, and to bring you out the other side in extreme and overwhelming victory.

Standard
Devotionals, Letters

A Personal History with Unchurched Believers

I grew up in the church. Later, I met Jesus in another church during the Jesus People revolution. That was far more interesting than regular church!

For decades, after I’d graduated from Bible college, I got a real Bible education in a Bible-believing church. And I learned the importance of being part of a church, a local congregation. A campfire of only one log will quickly burn out; a campfire with many logs will burn long and hot: believers, I was carefully taught, belonged in the campfire with other believers, and that meant in a Sunday congregation.

Over the next few decades, as I worked as an associate pastor with several churches, and Father began giving me a heart for His children, and as I watched God’s children in churches grow up, I became more concerned for those children that didn’t have the advantage of a church family.  

I met a small number of disenfranchised believers in this season: men and women who were angry and bitter at the church, and sometimes at God, too. And I prayed more for believers who didn’t have a church to call home. I pitied them.

I remember one particular evening while I was praying for the unchurched believers. Father showed me two things about this group of people that I felt a burden for: First, there were more of them than I ever expected, and second, that he was going to do something – something that I call revival – among them. So I prayed for that revival! And I pitied them: lost sheep without a flock to call home.

I prayed for and pitied unchurched believers for years, and as I did, Father’s love for those poor people grew in my heart, fueling more prayer, and probably more pity as well.

One spring Saturday, a friend I respected held an event that I saw as a church service for people who didn’t fit in church real well. It was encouraging for several reasons, not least of which was that I wasn’t fitting real well in my own church at that time.

Unfortunately, when I returned home, I discovered I had left my jacket, with my wallet, behind, and I didn’t recognize it until I returned home, an hour’s drive away.

The next day, I brought a friend and a cell phone with me and drove back to the site of the event. It took more phone calls than I expected by finally someone was able to tell me that my jacket was probably with “Ken and Barbie,” well outside of town.  

Great. I really don’t need a Ken or a Barbie in my life right now: I don’t need pretend, doll-type people my life. It was only a Goodwill-type jacket; I considered giving it up for lost, but my wallet was in the jacket. I couldn’t give up my wallet; I guess I needed to go visit Ken and Barbie.

When I arrived at their well-worn farmhouse, I scratched my head: this wasn’t the type of house I expected for “Ken and Barbie” type people. We knocked cautiously and were greeted by one of the more un-doll-like men I’ve ever met. And I recognized as soon as we stepped inside the house that we were well and truly welcome. I described it later as a family reunion with family I didn’t know I had.

We spent four hours together with these wonderful and genuine people, hours spent sharing their hearts, our hearts, stories of our Father. I learned that Ken had been a pastor for a number of years, but made his living as a carpenter now. I realized that even though I was currently a Pastor, I wanted to be more like these people. So I asked what I always ask: “So what church are you guys part of?”

The silence was deafening as Ken and Barbie glanced at each other, and I could see the question in their eyes: “How much should we tell them?” Eventually they admitted that they hadn’t been in church for more than a decade, and they told me their story of how God led them from “churched” believers to “unchurched” believers.

Then they told me about several of the folks I’d met and appreciated the day before, including my friend the event coordinator, and how they had also made the transition from “the churched” to “the unchurched.”

I was in a conundrum: I had believed that believers ought to be part of a church, but here were a whole lot of believers that I wanted to be like, whose life I aspired to, believers who – contrary to my training and my expectations – were solid and mature, and who were pillars of strength in their families and their communities. Here were believers who did not have the “advantage” of a local congregation, who were better believers than those that I knew who had that advantage. My head was spinning.

I needed to re-examine a belief that I’d held as unquestionable, and it started me asking a lot of questions about things I’d never questioned. Let me just summarize by saying that this was an exciting season in my walk of faith, and skip to the part where God confronted me about the church I was part of, where I was the associate pastor, where I was on the worship team, and where I was one of the primary preachers on Sunday mornings.

“When are you going to stop working in another man’s field, and start working in your own?” I knew it was time to leave the church, to leave that church, and to leave the church community in my city. I questioned whether I was supposed to “plant” my own church, but realized that that was just a distraction: we were to become part of the “unchurched” community.

I had a couple of dreams in this season: one before we left, clearly describing our preparation for leaving, and the sequel, after we left, where he warned me of three things:

1)      I would be disoriented, not knowing where I was, or where to go. And
2)      I would be powerless to steer my life, anyway, even if I did have an idea about where to go. But
3)      I would be able to hear Father’s voice substantially better, now that I was outside of the busyness of church, better, perhaps, than ever before.

He was, of course, correct: these were accurate descriptions of our life. He brought some excellent fellowship into our lives, often into our living room, and nearly always centered around a meal. And I found excellent fellowship online, of all places! That one really surprised me!

Curiously, our fellowship is better now that we were “out of fellowship” with Sunday morning congregations. That one surprised me, too. We are still people with imperfections, and we are still in relationship with people with imperfections; there’s no perfection here. We still deal with misunderstandings and stuff. That’s part of life.

But our place in the Body of Christ is more of what it should always have been, now that we’re no longer part of a congregation: better friendships, less judged, more received for who we are, more free to exercise our God-given gifts. In other words: church outside of “Sunday morning church” has been a substantial improvement.

Now, let me explain: I’m not writing this in order to give you a model to follow, or a standard to measure your life by. I’m writing this only as a testimony: this is the confused and real-life experience that I had; perhaps it might encourage you wherever you are in your own walk.

And let me encourage you in this: God is very much able to take you through whatever you’re going through, and to bring you out the other side in extreme and overwhelming victory.


Standard
Devotionals, Letters

A Personal History with Unchurched Believers

I grew up in the church. Later, I met Jesus in another church during the Jesus People revolution. That was far more interesting than regular church!

For decades, after I’d graduated from Bible college, I got a real Bible education in a Bible-believing church. And I learned the importance of being part of a church, a local congregation. A campfire of only one log will quickly burn out; a campfire with many logs will burn long and hot: believers, I was carefully taught, belonged in the campfire with other believers, and that meant in a Sunday congregation.

Over the next few decades, as I worked as an associate pastor with several churches, and Father began giving me a heart for His children, and as I watched God’s children in churches grow up, I became more concerned for those children that didn’t have the advantage of a church family.  

I met a small number of disenfranchised believers in this season: men and women who were angry and bitter at the church, and sometimes at God, too. And I prayed more for believers who didn’t have a church to call home. I pitied them.

I remember one particular evening while I was praying for the unchurched believers. Father showed me two things about this group of people that I felt a burden for: First, there were more of them than I ever expected, and second, that he was going to do something – something that I call revival – among them. So I prayed for that revival! And I pitied them: lost sheep without a flock to call home.

I prayed for and pitied unchurched believers for years, and as I did, Father’s love for those poor people grew in my heart, fueling more prayer, and probably more pity as well.

One spring Saturday, a friend I respected held an event that I saw as a church service for people who didn’t fit in church real well. It was encouraging for several reasons, not least of which was that I wasn’t fitting real well in my own church at that time.

Unfortunately, when I returned home, I discovered I had left my jacket, with my wallet, behind, and I didn’t recognize it until I returned home, an hour’s drive away.

The next day, I brought a friend and a cell phone with me and drove back to the site of the event. It took more phone calls than I expected by finally someone was able to tell me that my jacket was probably with “Ken and Barbie,” well outside of town.  

Great. I really don’t need a Ken or a Barbie in my life right now: I don’t need pretend, doll-type people my life. It was only a Goodwill-type jacket; I considered giving it up for lost, but my wallet was in the jacket. I couldn’t give up my wallet; I guess I needed to go visit Ken and Barbie.

When I arrived at their well-worn farmhouse, I scratched my head: this wasn’t the type of house I expected for “Ken and Barbie” type people. We knocked cautiously and were greeted by one of the more un-doll-like men I’ve ever met. And I recognized as soon as we stepped inside the house that we were well and truly welcome. I described it later as a family reunion with family I didn’t know I had.

We spent four hours together with these wonderful and genuine people, hours spent sharing their hearts, our hearts, stories of our Father. I learned that Ken had been a pastor for a number of years, but made his living as a carpenter now. I realized that even though I was currently a Pastor, I wanted to be more like these people. So I asked what I always ask: “So what church are you guys part of?”

The silence was deafening as Ken and Barbie glanced at each other, and I could see the question in their eyes: “How much should we tell them?” Eventually they admitted that they hadn’t been in church for more than a decade, and they told me their story of how God led them from “churched” believers to “unchurched” believers.

Then they told me about several of the folks I’d met and appreciated the day before, including my friend the event coordinator, and how they had also made the transition from “the churched” to “the unchurched.”

I was in a conundrum: I had believed that believers ought to be part of a church, but here were a whole lot of believers that I wanted to be like, whose life I aspired to, believers who – contrary to my training and my expectations – were solid and mature, and who were pillars of strength in their families and their communities. Here were believers who did not have the “advantage” of a local congregation, who were better believers than those that I knew who had that advantage. My head was spinning.

I needed to re-examine a belief that I’d held as unquestionable, and it started me asking a lot of questions about things I’d never questioned. Let me just summarize by saying that this was an exciting season in my walk of faith, and skip to the part where God confronted me about the church I was part of, where I was the associate pastor, where I was on the worship team, and where I was one of the primary preachers on Sunday mornings.

“When are you going to stop working in another man’s field, and start working in your own?” I knew it was time to leave the church, to leave that church, and to leave the church community in my city. I questioned whether I was supposed to “plant” my own church, but realized that that was just a distraction: we were to become part of the “unchurched” community.

I had a couple of dreams in this season: one before we left, clearly describing our preparation for leaving, and the sequel, after we left, where he warned me of three things:

1)      I would be disoriented, not knowing where I was, or where to go. And
2)      I would be powerless to steer my life, anyway, even if I did have an idea about where to go. But
3)      I would be able to hear Father’s voice substantially better, now that I was outside of the busyness of church, better, perhaps, than ever before.

He was, of course, correct: these were accurate descriptions of our life. He brought some excellent fellowship into our lives, often into our living room, and nearly always centered around a meal. And I found excellent fellowship online, of all places! That one really surprised me!

Curiously, our fellowship is better now that we were “out of fellowship” with Sunday morning congregations. That one surprised me, too. We are still people with imperfections, and we are still in relationship with people with imperfections; there’s no perfection here. We still deal with misunderstandings and stuff. That’s part of life.

But our place in the Body of Christ is more of what it should always have been, now that we’re no longer part of a congregation: better friendships, less judged, more received for who we are, more free to exercise our God-given gifts. In other words: church outside of “Sunday morning church” has been a substantial improvement.

Now, let me explain: I’m not writing this in order to give you a model to follow, or a standard to measure your life by. I’m writing this only as a testimony: this is the confused and real-life experience that I had; perhaps it might encourage you wherever you are in your own walk.

And let me encourage you in this: God is very much able to take you through whatever you’re going through, and to bring you out the other side in extreme and overwhelming victory.


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Prophecy

My Introduction to the Prophetic: A Testimony

It was the late 1980s. The prophetic movement was expanding rapidly, but, as is usual when we grow rapidly, was awkward and clumsy and bumped into a lot of things.  
I was attending a Vineyard conference in Canada. The leaders supported the prophetic movement, but didn’t want to lose our grounding in the Word of God, so the conference was on the Bible, and how the Word of God related to the prophetic. The keynote speaker was going to be Dr. Gordon Fee, the brilliant theologian, one of my favorite Bible scholars. I was looking forward to the conference, as I’d only had a small introduction to the prophetic movement, and I loved the Word of God.
The first session started, before any introductions, with some outstanding worship, and then, as was the habit in those days, a prophet stood up to minister. This was the first time I’d ever met John Paul Jackson, and I’d heard he was a pretty gifted prophet. His hair was still dark back then.
John Paul called two or three people out, and told them what was on their heart, and gave God’s insight and prophetic promises for them; judging from the tears and shocked looks, I infer that he prophesied accurately.
Then he called out a guy sitting near the front, and then he really went to town. He spoke about the man’s dreams and visions for a while, while the man nodded sagely. Then John Paul got a funny look on his face, and declared that this man, a Canadian resident, had very substantial influence in several US cities, and he named six or eight cities where that influence was particularly strong.
Then John Paul spoke of the man’s love for the Bible, and named several books in the New Testament, including First and Second Timothy, Philippians and 1 Corinthians, that were particularly meaningful to him. The man was in tears, as John Paul described how God was incredibly pleased with the man, with his life and his ministry, and how his ministry would grow substantially in the future.
John Paul prayed blessing on the man, and sat down, exhausted. Then the host of the conference stood up, and asked the man whom John Paul had been ministering to to please stand. He stood, holding a tissue to his face, and the host introduced John Paul Jackson to Gordon Fee, the keynote speaker for the conference, and he confirmed that the two did not know each other, and had never met.
He then went on to describe how Dr Fee had written commentaries on the New Testament books that John Paul had named, and how he was a member of the team that translated the NIV Bible. The American cities that John Paul had been puzzled about Dr Fee’s influence in, a few of these were cities where Dr Fee had taught, where his children now lived and pastored a church, and where individuals he had mentored were now ministering.
The host then announced a coffee break for the conference, while the keynote speaker wiped his tears and regained his composure.
A few years later, Dr. Gordon Fee was appointed the editor of the notable evangelical commentary series, the New International Commentary on the New Testament of which his commentaries on 1 Corinthians and Philippians are a part.
This was my introduction to John Paul Jackson, and my first real baptism into the reality that the prophetic gifts were more than the beginner’s toys we’d been playing with.
  

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Prophecy

My Times with God

Sometimes it was in the morning, if I was able to drag myself out of bed. Mornings were my preference, and before too long, this confirmed night owl was up before the sunrise. Sometimes it happened before retiring for the night.

More often, I just grabbed an hour or so wherever I could. I remember many times in an abandoned church building near where I lived, at my dining room table, in an empty classroom or lunchroom or conference room or a table at the library. Often times I parked for a while in a rest stop, or some wide spot in the road between here and there.
The first thing after I sat down was usually a sigh, and I’d just sit there for a few minutes. Then I’d open my knapsack or reach to my bookshelf and pull out three things: my Bible, my journal, and a mechanical pencil.
But before I opened any of them, we’d talk. “Hi Dad. Love you! I’m looking forward to what you’re going to show me today. Help me to see, eh? Help me to recognize what you’re showing me, please. Thanks. You’re awesome!” And I’d open both books at the ribbon.
In my Bible, I was working my way through one of the books, section by section. Most translations have headings dividing up the text: I’d tackle no more than the space from one heading to the next.
In my journal, I listed the date and the passage, and then I pushed that book out of my way, and I devoted my attention to the Bible.
I read the passage through. You know the way you read a text book assignment that you don’t love? Yeah, this was not that. I read it slowly enough that my attention didn’t drift. If I could, I’d read it quietly out loud.
During this time, I turned my imagination loose to walk among these people, hear the sounds, smell the smells of the story I read. If I was in an epistle, I’d listen for the apostle’s tone of voice, and I’d imagine how the people it was addressed to felt as they read it. If I felt like it, I’d look at a few cross references, but I guarded against bunny trails.
But more than anything, I waited for the light to go on. Invariably, one verse would catch my attention, as if my Father were pointing to it, and saying, “Look here, son.” Sometimes it was just a word, or a phrase. Maybe it was a repeated word. Or an idea that never actually made it into words.
If it didn’t happen the first time, I’d go back and read it again. I’d often underline the verbs, using a set of markings I developed for myself after years of this. If there was a list of things or a progression, I’d number the points. Sometimes I circled adjectives and adverbs. Sometimes I’d ask questions, of the text, of Father, about what was going on. But everything was just keeping me involved with the text until my attention was drawn to one part.
That signal was like arriving at the X on a treasure map. It meant “Dig here.” That was the real assignment.
The first part of digging was to write – legibly – the verse that stuck out to me into my journal. And then I go to work to interact with that verse, that passage, to dig for treasure in that spot. I figure that the investment of an hour was just about right, and good success would probably show evidence of at least one full page, more or less, of reaction in my journal.
So I looked closely. My personal Bible always has cross references, but is never a “Study Bible.” I don’t want to hear what other people think. I want to discover what God thinks, and see if I can make my own thinking line up with that.
My first step was pretty often to “center myself” and to dig into that little nudge itself, the nudge that said, “Dig here.” Often, that would give me some direction for my searching or meditation.
I used different tools to dig. Sometimes I would literally outline the sentences, like in English class in high school. Sometimes, I chased down the cross references, both those in the margins and especially the ones in my own heart.
But sometimes, it was just meditating on my one verse, reflecting it, asking questions of it, that brought the reward.
For example, when reading through Mark 8, I was caught by verse 31: “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.
This time, I found myself outlining what I saw in that verse:
1)      What are the “many things” he would suffer? (I listed them, cross referenced to Matthew 20:19 for details.)
2)      Who rejected him? (I listed them.)
3)      He would be killed: he doesn’t say by whom.
4)      He’d rise again after 3 days.
And as I was writing the outline, I realized I was thinking most about the fact that Jesus had never discussed this before. He was only free to talk about it after verse 29: after they realized that he was, in fact, the Messiah they were looking for.
I wrote for a while on what it must have been like, knowing that this terrible stuff was coming, and not having anybody – not a single person on the planet – that he could talk to about it.
I meditated for a while on how he himself learned of it, since he had been born as a normal baby (cf Philippians 2 and Hebrews 4:14,15) and he had to learn all this stuff in his own times with Father. I reflected on what that first conversation might have been like, when Father talked about what was going to happen.
And I realized that Jesus got his direction from – more or less – from the same thing that I was doing just now.
And I was done. Either I was out of time, or “the anointing lifted,” or something else. And that’s the point: I’m not looking to write a pretty article from this (though that came from it once or twice). I’m not looking for some big and powerful conclusion.
The big conclusion isn’t the point of this. The point is that Father and I have time together in his Word. Years later, I realized that he was training me – through these times – to hear his voice, and that it was remarkably effective. But even that training wasn’t the point. The point was our time together, our relationship.
Now, why have I just told you all this? It’s because of something I heard in our time together: I had the sense that some folks are pretty well grounded in hearing Father’s voice, but others are still scratching their heads and wondering how we do that?
Father showed me that during our times together, he was teaching me how to hear him, how to hear his voice and how to recognize his voice. And it seemed to me that he was suggesting that someone might want to follow the trail that he and I cleared together.
If you want to learn how to hear Father’s voice well, this is one way to learn. It has the additional benefit of giving you a solid grounding in the Bible.
If you decide to follow this trail, you have my blessing, and more important, Father’s. May you have as much fun in your time with Father on this trail as I have! I know he’ll enjoy his time with you!

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Prophecy

Church, Impropmptu

So the other evening, I invited a couple of guys over for an impromptu barbecue. And it turned into a glorious gathering of some of my favorite saints.
The four of us sat on the back porch, doing very un-churchy things, in the presence of God. 
What kind of un-churchy things? Well we were eating New Yorksteak, fresh off the barbecue, for one. Some of us had a beer with the steak (a nice, black oatmeal stout, in fact!). And we were telling God stories: stories that makes God look good.
After we finished the steaks, a couple of us lit up our pipes, and we listened to the peaceful sound of the rain on the roof. 
And we shared story after story of God intervening in our lives and lives of others we knew. 
And we relaxed.
That was it. Nothing else. No signs and wonders. No offerings. No sermons (got close once, but we dodged it!). Didn’t even get out our Bibles. We just enjoyed God and each other.
I wanted to tell this story for a couple of reasons.
First, the evening really touched me pretty deeply. These are some of my favorite men, and I treasure their company. I just thought I’d share my joy with you.
Second, we sometimes still have the expectation that we need to be doing godly things to be in God’s presence. Bosh! The Incarnation put that one to death. God didn’t seem to be offended by good beer, good tobacco or even the occasional wide-eyed expletive in response to his amazing exploits.
There’s a third reason, and it may not make sense to everybody reading this, and that’s OK: In my world, there isn’t much that says “You’re off duty!” as much as an oatmeal stout and pipe full of Black Cavendish. And if we can’t be “off duty” in our Christian fellowship, then something is seriously wrong!
Yes, I’m suggesting that we put our religion away, far away, and build real relationships with real people in the real world. Those are the ones that will keep us strong in the long run.

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Prophecy

Jesus as a Test of Questionable Doctrine

Hebrews 1:3 says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being….” This is just saying as a principle that which Jesus had already declared, when he stated “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.” (John 5:19 and others)
If Jesus is the exact representation of who God is. Jesus is the best revelation we’ll ever get of who God is. It is legitimate and appropriate handling of the Bible to acknowledge that the revelation of God’s nature that Jesus provides (both through scripture and through our experience with him now, it can be asserted) is a superior revelation of God’s nature than any other revelation of God. It is superior to what angels declare, superior to supernatural experiences, superior to Old Testament prophets. Jesus is the best revelation of God’s nature that we will ever, ever have.
Therefore, when examining a doctrine or a teaching, it is Biblical and appropriate to ask, “Is this doctrine consistent with the nature of God as Jesus revealed it?”
If we are faced with a doctrine that assumes that God does this or that, or that infers that God approves this or that, then that makes a statement of the character of God. For example:
    If we believe that God creates beauty, then this infers that God affirms beauty. Is this consistent with Jesus?
    If we believe that God creates evil, then this infers that we believe that God is the source of evil. Is this consistent with how Jesus lived or what Jesus taught?
    If we believe that God is going to snatch his people out of their socks and leave the world without the people He gave the Great Commission to just as the world is entering its greatest tribulation and challenge, then this says things about God’s character: are these things consistent with the revelation of who God is as Jesus has revealed Him? Is this how Jesus has revealed that God works?
Frankly, to avoid or to diminish this test of our doctrine is to reject or diminish the authority of Scripture, because Scripture affirms that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” (Colossians 1:15)
Having established this test [“Is this teaching consistent with the character of God as revealed in Jesus”], this does not mean that we necessarily completely throw out all doctrine that fails the test. We may only need to refine our belief in that area. This may call for maturity in our doctrine.
If we conclude that the life of Jesus does not support the idea that God is the creator or source of evil, then we do not necessarily throw out any doctrine of evil, or even any doctrine that God uses evil. We may want to acknowledge that while God uses evil to bring about good (the cross may serve as an illustration), it does therefore follow logically that God is himself the source of evil. We may need to learn that evil has another source.
Or if we conclude that the idea of God snatching his people away just before difficulty strikes is not consistent with the revelation that Jesus provides, we do not therefore need to abandon all consideration of a “Rapture.” Perhaps we just need to re-think the Rapture in terms that are more consistent with God’s character and less consistent with a spirit of fear.

Perhaps there’s real reason for the command we’ve been given: “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Maybe part of the reason that we need to keep our eyes on Jesus is because He is STILL the standard by which we understand what is true and what is not.

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Devotionals, Letters

Returning to the Glory of the First Century Church

Every so often, I hear someone moan wistfully, “If only we could return to the glory days of the first century church! If only we could be as full of faith as they were!”

I think if I hear that again, I’m going to scream.

May I speak plainly? That’s one of the stupidest spiritual-sounding things we could say in this day and age. I make the assumption that people who say that mean well, but come on! Let’s think about this a little bit:

The first century church, the church in the book of Acts, was a wonderful beginning. But they were only a beginning: this was the baby church, in diapers, as it were. I can tell you that I have no interest in going back to diapers. That would be such an epic failure, for the church of today to return to the “glory days” of the first century church! What was for them glorious success would be the worst of failures for us.

● “But,” someone will moan, “There were three thousand saved in a day!” That’s pretty good for rookies. Today, that’s less than an hour’s work in the Kingdom, and some reports suggest that’s closer to 20 minutes’ work.

Let us note that it only happened twice in the Book of Acts that three thousand were saved in a day. Today, more than three thousand people come to faith every single hour of every single day of every single year.

I’m thinking that’s an improvement.

● “But there were signs and wonders!” Somebody is seriously not paying attention. There were fewer than 20 miracles reported in the book of Acts, though there were repots of “lots of miracles.” Nowadays, we have lots of miracles on a regular basis.

I know one group that has a 100% success rate at healing the deaf, and nearly as good success healing the blind. I know two groups that won’t let people become elders unless they’ve raised someone from the dead. I know a group that legitimately calls themselves “The Dead Raising Team,” and they’re successful at it. I can’t tell you the number of successful healing teams I’ve heard about! They’re everywhere, and best of all, NOT just among the leaders, like the book of Acts.

Bethel Church in California reports thousands of documented miracles every time they send their students on outreach. And have you talked to the Healing Rooms movement recently?

Besides, I’m not sure I want more “Ananias & Sapphira events.” It’s my private opinion that even when that happened in Acts, it was an error, and not the will of God, but that’s another story. Surely it won’t be best for folks to fall dead in our meetings, when nobody can agree why it happened!

● “But they had all things in common!” I’ll grant that this is an area that we have room to continue growing in. But I am also aware that we’re talking about completely different cultures here. In that culture, if you couldn’t work, you starved to death. In our culture, the homeless guys on street corners make a (meager) living that in most of the world (or in the first century church) would be considered unmitigated wealth. (http://nwp.link/1s8woOt)

This does NOT mean that I propose that we stop helping the poor! Heaven forbid! This means I propose that we quit berating ourselves simply because we still have poor people among us: Jesus said we always would! (Matthew 26:11)

● “But they sold their homes! That’s dedication!” Well, some of them sold their homes. That was just good business; these were smart Jews! Jesus had clearly declared that the city would be destroyed shortly. It’s just good business to sell a house this week for full price that’s going to be destroyed with the city next week and be worth nothing! And clearly, if they “met house to house,” then not everybody sold their homes.

For the record, I know a bunch of people who’ve sold their homes for the ministry, several more than once. I know of others who sold themselves into slavery so that they could bring the good news to those in slavery, and they died in slavery. Most of these folks haven’t had books written about them, so they’re not known as well. But then Jesus taught us to keep quiet about our generosity, yes?

We could go on.

It is NOT my intent to disparage the excellent start that the Church had, as reported in the book of Acts. That was glorious.

What we have now is substantially more glorious. And that, too, is what we were promised. (See Isaiah 9:7)

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