Ordinary People

So here we are at the final holiday season of 2014; for some, a time of merriment and celebration. For others, looking toward the New Year recalls regrets of the past and a heightened determination to change certain painful aspects of their lives; maybe lose some extra pounds or give more back to the community.

You may be thinking about repairing some broken relationship or that promise to meet with God more this next year. That’s all good stuff. I wish you well and truly hope you succeed.

I think this coming year will be an opportunity to flesh out the stewardship of my own part in the Kingdom of God. As I read and think about that, I have swerved into an interesting conundrum. But I think it helps me as I try to understand and process what an environment of Shalom might look like.

Jesus and St. Paul seem to be on different pages or maybe even a different playbook. But as I have often come to realize, my preconception or misunderstanding was skewed in some way that prevented me from a truth.

Get a load of this. I have often quoted the Great Co-mission at the end of the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus exits his short human stay on this earth.

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”

It seems that our job description is pretty clear here. Make disciples, get ‘em dunked and then teach them to do likewise. Of course, there is that bit about obeying all the commands, but generally we seem to see this directive as a mandate for 24/7 evangelism.

However, Paul seems to have a different slant on our mission.

“Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.” 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

As I have been suggesting in this blog since July of this year, I want to tease out what the Kingdom of God looks like and our part in facilitating that. While some may want to sit around on clouds and strum harps forever, that hardly seems appealing to me. I have gifts and skills that I am not really willing to give up in favor of harping. But that is a digression/soap box apart and for a different blog.

Really, what Paul is admonishing is for us to be extraordinarily ordinary. For 20+ years Jesus himself followed the trade of his adopted father working with wood and improving the lives of the neighbors with skillful, artful creations (I knew my own woodcraft hobby was blessed!).

How do we resolve these two seemingly disparate vocational directives? Are they really contradictory? Are they really two pieces of the same whole mission?

I think, along with others, that to be a disciple includes all that God intended from the start of creation. That is, I believe that as God directed us to tend the earth, multiply, create and improve our environment, He also intended for us to influence and care for others who need to see that the life changing power of the Message actually works in real life.

Preaching to the lost is necessary. There are those with that calling who do it well. Going to remote areas of civilization to share Good News is an imperative. There are those called to do that and do it well. Feeding and caring for the poor are a must, as that is one of Jesus’ primary commands, as alluded to above.

Coupled with all of these are the normal needs of everyday living. To be a good neighbor, responsible citizens, caring parents and other duties of humanity really make the teachings of Jesus attractive to those outside of God’s family. Without credible firsthand evidence that salvation really works outside the church Monday through Saturday who would be convinced to follow these platitudes?

Michael E. Wittmer makes this point in his book; Heaven is a Place on Earth:

“Before we can reasonably expect unbelievers to accept our faith we must first show them that it works—in our homes, on the job, and on the weekend—not merely when we are at church.”

Some are called to a level of public visibility and scrutiny most of us will never be required to experience. The rest of us fulfill our call in everyday, ordinary faithfulness by living so that those who are not believers will respect the way we live and be attracted to Jesus.

Reminds me of this song by Mom Winans:

Just ordinary people
God uses ordinary people
He chooses people just like me and you
Who are willing to do as He commands

God uses people that will give Him all
No matter how small your all may seem to you
Because little becomes much
As you place it in the Masters hand

Oh, just like that little lad
Who gave Jesus all he had
How the multitude was fed
With a fish and loaves of bread

What you have may not seem much
But when you yield it to the touch
Of the Master’s loving hand
Then you will understand how
Your life could never be the same

Just ordinary people
God uses ordinary people
He chooses people just like me and you
Who are willing to do as He commands

God uses people that will give Him all
No matter how small your all may seem to you
Because little becomes much
As you place it in the Masters hand

So, go ahead and enjoy 2015 as it is gracefully parceled out to you. It is made extra-ordinary by the normal, ordinary walking out life every day as we join God in his Kingdom arrival.

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Back, in Style!

Driving back from a long time away, I’m half listening to my offspring’s offspring singing Hark the Herald Angels Sing for the ‘leventy-eth time when I catch what admittedly my hardness of hearing suddenly seems to be hearing.

“ . . . Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners back in style.”

At first awareness, I laugh. Well, the history of God and sinners has always been the predominant narrative of culture, even when powers that be distract us from this most important conversation. Since Genesis chapter 3, God’s story of attractive love has been both underlying and overshadowing his creation.

I can assume from the little bit of the history of civilization that I know, there have been times, eras maybe, that the story of redemption was “out of style.”

We know from a review of the ancient Israelite stories that they were “on again, off again” in their loyalty to JHWH, seeming to prefer and cultivate a flair for other stylish gods.

Immediately following Jesus’ murder, persecution came into vogue, by which the dominant culture tried to force all subjects to dress the same and have the same worship style. Live like a Roman and worship the Emperor as god. The true God was relegated to the closet.

Later, Constantine brought God back into style; he made it chic to be Christian. God is once again in! Churches fit for kingly worship were erected. Complex administrative flow charts became the thing to design. Smart and stylish fashions were created and pompous rituals invented for the elite to meet and show off. But like all apparel and customs eventually do, the fickle consumer or power hungry despot always clamors for something new and improved to dazzle the crowds.

There were long extended eras when the fad was turn or burn. “Look like us, act like us, believe like us, buy our baubles and worship our gods because that’s what we’re selling.” Take the Dark Ages, for example. Years passed when the good news message was shrouded by misguided crusaders for the richly clothed. God’s Kingdom pattern for a joy-filled life was again hidden in the back of the closet.

There are many examples in human history that show this capricious dynamic in spiritual drama. This, of course, is an abridged version of the ongoing story of this dance between God and his human creation.

Then, in the middle of the last century, after a solid showing of the Holy Spirit where common folks clothed themselves with holiness, some provocateurs of cheap, imported, knock-off grace paraded their wares on the catwalk of Christianity. Many bought into the look and feel of a look-alike at a fraction of the cost. It was described by St. Paul as “a form of Godliness but denying the power.”

One could be seen and thought well of, even wow other believers, by displaying the latest adornments and add-ons of Christian comportment. Best dressed and accessorized with the finest worship show technology, the quickest to share your prayer language or slaying in the Spirit skills or the most skilled with theological put-downs. Not all, but too many of our fellow travelers have been swindled by the look of popular faith instead of dressing in the relational robes of authenticity, congruence and integrity.

As I think now about her singing I am suddenly reminded of the supplanted word in that song; reconciled. That is what the whole story is really about. Not how we look or dress, not about ostentatious, self-centered posturing to distract God from our real condition. He knows you and me and loves and calls us to himself anyway.

Reconciliation needs to be back in style. It is what will escort Shalom and the Kingdom into our culture eager for relevance and purpose. Restoration, repairing, mending and healing are all words that convey what God has been trying to effect in his beloved creation since snakeskin became passé.

God and sinners ARE back in style! If you and I can set aside our robes of ambivalent, apathetic, filthy or obsolete shrouds of spiritual death, and be reconciled to God, we will be in a position to influence and lead culture to dress in right relationship with the king whose birth we celebrate this week.

I wish a Joyous Christmas Season to you all. May you be especially blessed and dressed in his righteousness alone.

Your Kingdom Come!

Shalom Revisited – 2

Can I share a sequel to last week’s post? Thank you. I knew you would (smile).

I am feeling that the air, the atmosphere, is pregnant with promise. I have hope for the future. Do you?

Is there a breath-holding anticipation for what is imminent?

Is your spirit incubating a word from God, a desire or a dream that has yet to realize maturity? I mean a personal word or promise God gave you. A call or assignment that you do not yet possess?

I believe we are coming into a large place, a season, where the Kingdom is budding into a very real manifestation. It has always been here since Jesus brought it but he intended that it would flourish and develop into rule, not exception.

“Well, I don’t know,” you say. “I don’t see the world headed that way. It’s running a million miles an hour away from God,” you say; and you would be right. However, the spirit that now controls this world is resisting vehemently because it is in the death throes of final demise.

I think we will witness a change in the world systems and governance very soon. But there are some qualifiers to our ability to see and participate. If you have read this far, you probably have met the first one. This clip unpacks it:

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. (John 3:3-5 NLT)

Here, I think, Jesus is saying that to “see” the Kingdom of God he is not necessarily referring to someday in the future. The Kingdom is here and now, as he says in another place. Therefore, we will see and enter the Kingdom of God only if and when, we are born again. But that is exactly when we can see it, when we are born again; if we know how to look for it and what to look for.

Seeing the Kingdom will open our eyes to God’s activity in the present world, of which we are a part. Nick and his friends saw the miraculous signs but that was not the Kingdom of God, only signs that the kingdom was present.

Jesus showed signs and miracles all through his life as evidence that the kingdom was present but there is another dimension to the kingdom that only “born again” people can see.

One may enter the Kingdom of God and enjoy its blessings and experience the movement and spirit of the King of that Kingdom when they are born into that Kingdom.

The next step is to participate in the advent of the Kingdom; to facilitate, to partner with; to position our lives by aligning with God in this advance to Shalom.

What is the deepest, hidden, most impossible dream of yours; to win the Powerball lottery, to have the girl or man in your fantasy, to be a huge philanthropist, to see poverty erased in your lifetime? Maybe it is to witness a major move of Holy Spirit?

May I share mine? I realize this makes me quite vulnerable but I can’t acquiesce anymore about my heart cry. I long to live under an open Heaven, to have His wisdom and Presence with and in me and touch the sick and bring healing. I want to live in purity and use my gifts to assist my community of faith to witness and participate in His Kingdom coming into our local world.

It happened, you know, a few years back, not long after Jesus was talking to Nick. Jesus went back to be with his Father. He showed his apprentices the ropes and then, like all good teachers, left them to actualize the mission.

Picture the new, improved, made-over Peter strolling to the House of Worship to pray. The sun is bright that day as he walks past some of the many beggars, the sick and diseased folk. Suddenly, after he passes, his shadow has fallen across many of them and they jump up completely healed! Luke says it this way:

As a result of the apostles’ work, sick people were brought out into the streets on beds and mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall across some of them as he went by. Crowds came from the villages around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those possessed by evil spirits, and they were all healed. (‭Acts of the Apostles‬ ‭5‬:‭15-16‬ NLT)‬‬‬

Then there are the stories of Paul building tents on his days off from preaching or writing epistles. People sneak up (or just ask him) for his sweatband or a piece of his workshop apron and “unusual miracles” happen.

God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled. (‭Acts of the Apostles‬ ‭19‬:‭11-12‬ NLT) ‬‬‬

Right! That was then and this is now. I forgot.

Oh wait! His Kingdom is returning to invade and saturate this very realm!

Throughout centuries of periodic showings; sometimes more, (Great Awakening, G.A. II, Wales Revival, Azusa Street Revival and others) sometimes less, (Dark Ages, Inquisition, corrupt churches, Bakker, Swaggart, Haggard, Mars Hill debacle, etc., etc.) God still loves people and conveys His Spirit and power to and through willing, pure hearted, imperfect believers.

So, does anticipating such a visitation arouse your mind? When last was your heart moved at its core; your spirit quickened with the scent of His Presence?

We all must become engaged in the place we are so that we may influence and steward our call; be it the Church, the political sphere, business, community events, whatever.

If you haven’t yet come into what you feel is your ultimate assignment, then join me in preparing your heart. Let go of lesser values. Release others from your expectations. Live by faith and the living promise of your personal Word, not doubting its validity or its certain realization.

You know, you can’t win if you don’t play.

Shalom Revisited

This season, Christmas season, is a time when each year we celebrate that pivotal moment in all of earth’s history. This is that singular event that God had planned from the first audible and visible beauty of creation. This moment, Jesus’ Nativity, is when God moved into the neighborhood and became like us so we could become like Him. A few years later, He invited a rag-tag group of guys to join him in learning about his world to teach them how to change ours. He called this new environment the Kingdom of God.

This blog is based on exploring what Shalom and the Kingdom of God might look like. Today I want to flesh out that continuing adventure a little and maybe process for myself, what I imagine the Kingdom could be. I have only a misty, vague image of what this might look like. You probably have some additional insight which I would love to hear.

When I read scripture that explicitly states such amazing, prophetic words such as “I will pour my spirit out on all flesh” (humanity, of course) or, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” and “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” and “all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord,” then I have a hard time with the purveyors of spiritual doom.

Reminds me of a scene in the animated movie, Khumba, which I have watched more than any adult needs to with my granddaughter. On the trail up to see the eagle on the mountaintop for some direction, Khumba encounters some small, furry animals who are beating on rocks and chanting, “Doom, doom, doom,” warning him not to go up there. (Of course, they are fearful of an imaginary, self-created problem.)

But, back to the future. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) There is an amazing word in Isaiah that foretells what I see to be the Kingdom government in full force; and as I understand it, yes, this will be here on earth.

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever….

Wow! How will that happen? Well, this describes what I see as an environment of Shalom. Peace, justice, mercy and righteousness rule. Jesus is in complete control and we, the saints of God will rule with Him. The enemies of God have been crushed and all people will come under and into the Shalom of God.

Remember, all people will be included. That means Western/European cultures, Muslim and Asian peoples and their cultures, African, Indian and all other people groups will be under His influence. But they will not be unwilling subjects, for there will be no conflict nor resistance from anyone.

What we see in our world now; chaos from competing religions and contentious politics, greed from corporations driven by evil covenants to control the world and a religious spirit that has fomented more wars on this planet than any other motivation, these will all be subsumed and brought to submission under a loving and righteous God. (Whew, take a breath, doc!)

OK, think about this theological boondoggle. For over a hundred years the church has had an escapist mentality. We talk and preach about heaven and how we want to leave here and go there. We sing songs about the glorious streets of gold and evoke tears of joy and anticipation from our hearers as they long for a better world than this evil, self-indulgent one they despise.

But I think we have had it wrong. We have been escapists alright, but what we have been escaping from is our calling as children of the living God.

“We confuse our destiny with our assignment. Our destiny is to go to Heaven; our assignment is to bring Heaven to earth.” -Bill Johnson

If, in some twisted sense of theology, we rejoice when things in this world get worse, our charge to bring his kingdom into this world becomes improbable and pointless. This mindset is rooted in our wrong-headed perception that “this is just a sign of the times.” What this does is give our world, the world we have condemned, a wrong view of His world.

God doesn’t despise this world; He hasn’t given up on it like we have. He loves each and every human as well as the earth He created. Yes, it has become blighted by sin but because of love He provided redemption and gave us the keys to His Kingdom (likely not a ring of skeleton keys but prophetic keys of insight and revelation). I believe He will bring to pass all of the prophetic scriptures that promise He will restore and redeem all, including making a new heaven and a new earth. And He plans to establish a righteous government right here!

Our mission, our assignment in this world is not to get ready to leave it; it is to save it.

Over many years and because of a false view of God we have completely abdicated our calling and sought the self-centered satisfaction of saving our own skins to the loss of the lost. So we need to get back to making way for the Kingdom and pursuing an environment of Shalom. We must start loving all humanity into a community of faith and back out into a world that cries for redemption and healing from pain.

Unless you want to spend your time beating on rocks.

Of Gardening

Do you have a green thumb? Good! I need some help with my tomatoes. I have constant trouble with weeds and I don’t even water them. I don’t know where they come from; I only know there must be weed seeds down under that I can’t see.

Our heart garden has similar character-istics. In our future, and our past, lie seeds of fear, anxiety and worry. We water and nurture them by agreeing with their proposition and affirming what they represent. Only faith and trust can frustrate their germination into an unwanted patch of thistles and briars.

These seeds of potential grief are in each of us. They are planted there by generations past of whom many existed but never really lived. Let me back up a bit.

Many of our fathers and mothers lived very difficult lives. Every day was a struggle to survive. Not all had this experience but very few in my social circle have always had lots of money. However, even those with means had challenges of character; we all have challenges of character. This is what the fruit of these seeds attack; our character. So really, I am not referring to an individual’s ability to buy happiness but the ability to live happy, fulfilled and faith-full lives, irrespective of the stuff.

How do these seeds present when they mature into full bloom? Many ways.

Because of fear and anxiety many of us never live into our God-inspired dreams. We fret, worry and live below and apart from the blessings, calling and provision for which we have been created.

Sometimes we may not be ready to step into our ultimate calling because we have not dealt with character issues in our own lives. We miss the life of Shalom because we cannot trust His Ways fully. (Remember, more than simply peace, Shalom means an environment that is welcoming of the Kingdom of God; a state of being.) So, we are afraid to believe in the process, or even fail to participate in the process of forming our character.

Have you ever faced a temptation and failed? Yeah, so have I. Ever have a “moment” where you recognized that you failed the same thing last time? Yup!

“Get to the point, doc!”

Well, what do you think is happening in these moments? God is trying to get us to pass the test of character so we can move on and into our calling. For me, I need to learn to avoid situations that weaken my resolve and dedication to my calling. These can bring doubt about my call, chase away Holy Spirit and blunt my effectiveness in prayer or ministry.

Another way we allow these seeds of unbelief to invade our garden is fear of provision. Other words, we don’t trust that God is in control and will supply all our needs. I’ve seen extreme examples that manifest in things like hoarding. This type of fear and worry attacks and destroys character.

The heart of man cannot hoard. His brain or his hand may gather into its box and hoard, but the moment the thing has passed into the box, the heart has lost it and is hungry again. If a man would have, it is the Giver he must have;…Therefore all that He makes must be free to come and go through the heart of His child; he can enjoy it only as it passes, can enjoy only its life, its soul, its vision, its meaning, not itself. – George McDonald

I need to trust His provision and that He will supply all my needs, even though I can’t see it. When I do trust, my character is purified because I refuse to let fear and anxiety grow into weeds that control me.

Another thing that these evil seeds feed is immediate gratification. Because we don’t trust God for our future we want to grasp and clutch everything we can for fear of missing out. There is a difference between living in the moment and living for the moment. The first may affirm a life lived in faith, the latter borders on Hedonism. Let me explain.

One of the most difficult things to be done in our culture is to enjoy each moment as it comes; to be present with life. Driving, working, doing laundry, helping with a child’s homework; all can be experienced and enjoyed more fully when we devote our attention to the task or event at hand. In my mind this is living in the moment.

Living for the moment may mean we mortgage the future for present consumption. The system of credit in our world has been devastating and been the cause of ruin to the character of many. Yes, it has enabled us to have and enjoy things we otherwise would not. It has also been the source of conflict in marriages, families and on a larger scale, national financial instability. Fear of missing out on something, anxiety and worry when the payments cannot be met . . . see those seeds sprouting?

There are many other fears and anxieties. The fear of loss of control, reputation, beauty, health, status, wealth; there is even the loss of eternal salvation from not being good enough.

Someone once told me, “Worry is grief by faith.” It also prevents us from entering into that place of greatest joy; God’s best.

It is faith that takes us through uncertainty by simply enabling us to live and accept God’s purpose and plan. Yes, it is the building of character through that exercise of faith that brings us into our destiny. Can we live in the dark existence of unknowing without allowing fear and worry to grow? Can we live in faith alone? Living with a faith that takes us into and through our existence of tension, turmoil and conflict develops within us the ability to accept our living so.

Now where did I put that Roundup?