Birthday Blog

One year ago I started this blog. On my About this Blog page, I describe my intention to explore off the map if need be, in search of God sightings and venues where the Spirit is operating. Today I want to share a little of what I have found.

But let me back up for a minute. The bulk of my church and religious history includes a somewhat dispensational idea that this world is in a spiritual freefall; a spiral that can only end in a well-earned damnation of eternal, never ending lake of fire future for those who didn’t make the choice to serve God.

I won’t argue the merits or deficiencies in God’s strategy for dealing with his unbelievers. Quite frankly, I don’t plan to be in a place like that anyway so I’m not forced to deliberate the Fahrenheit of Hell.

Of course, for the faithful, a quick snatch away from the jaws of certain roasting-without-being-burned brings a sigh of relief. Again, I am not enticed into the debate about pre, mid, post or whenever deliverance will come. Do you know how many churches have blown up, how many believers have gone to the dark side of a life sans faith, how many sincere people have been mortally wounded because of polarization on the last two paragraphs?

My determined position is that I will invest my hungry heart in searching for how I can join with the activity of God and see His Kingdom Come in my lifetime. For me, a way to identify what that looks and feels like is the Hebrew term, Shalom. As I have researched the meaning it seems to include the concept of a peaceful, orderly environment where the will of Yahweh is not questioned but lived by all joyfully.

In short, our long-lasting tenure in that previous church culture concluded implicitly and explicitly that although we should preach the Gospel, not many would be converted. In fact, the “not fifty righteous” evaluation from God to Abraham about Sodom was juxtaposed over our culture and evil times to result in a resigned sigh that “maybe we were the only ones who would make it, and I’m not so sure about you” kind of mentality.

“The world is going to hell in a handbasket loaded on the bullet train. So why try to de-rail that certainty? Just get more holy and be sure you are ready” is the conclusion I came to. So why try? Why entertain the possibility that there may be an amazing move of God in this era of history?

Well, when I read “I will pour my Spirit out on all flesh,” it bothers me. When I read the Great Co-mission housing the command that I, one of his disciples, should be making other disciples, casting out devils and healing the sick, it bothers me. When I look at most church structures and communities today and I don’t see all five of the leadership gifts operating in concert like St. Paul insisted in his letter to the Ephesians, it bothers me. When I see that the problems in our world today and the slippery slope this nation is on, it bothers me. It bothers me because I believe it is because the church as a whole has no power.

We have powerful, moving entertainment. We have powerful moving, charismatic speakers. We have powerful, high quality coffee bars. What we lack is the power of God.

I firmly believe, and this is an adamant statement, that the reason we are so polarized as a nation, so divided on issues of rights, entitlements, and so full of hate is due to a lack of power in the church and out of the church. That bothers me. And when something is bothersome, like a sliver, we tend to do something about it.

So now, returning to my opening statement, how and where have I seen God activity? Some of what I am seeing is awareness in other folks of their own rising hunger. As I engage with others and build new relationships I am more sensitized to God activity in our conversation. At the core, material stuff and frivolous pursuits have lost color because of (as we know) that insatiable vacuum that only a connection with God can satisfy.

The second place I have seen God activity is in me. It has been very hard for God, I’m sure. In the last several months, as I have prayed for direction and clarity I have only heard his words of counsel to have faith. I have searched my memory archives for that one huge Word of promise that He would bring me into my place of destiny and it would look like . . . whatever, but I can’t recall that earth-shattering, bolt of lightning, undeniable, black and white Word that can never be doubted, kind of communication.

However, there is a faithful, steady stream of small words of favor, snippets of reassuring hymns, a sentence in scripture, a quick scene from a dream, a paragraph from a book, a gentle “Atta-boy” from a friend that has been my story and my journey.

Do I see the Spirit moving? Is there a moving in my spirit? Is there a shaking of the leaves on the trees in my social circles? Yes. Am I encouraged? Yes. Do I believe I can be a power tool moved by His Spirit? I must be. It is time to do my part and step into the position of authority that He has planned for me.

So when I read these words this morning, they resonated with my thirsty spirit. I can only post a short segment but this aptly and succinctly described my 40 year desert wandering.

“There are many of you who have received a word from the Father. Perhaps the heavens didn’t open up, but the Lord has spoken to you, called you His beloved, and His Spirit has alighted upon you. Many of you have received a word from God, but your life has never changed. You have felt God release you to set sail, but you remain moored at the dock—stuck in a particular phase of your life.” Faisal Malick: Positioned to Bless

For you and I, this is a pregnant moment. How will you; will I, move into the next thing God is doing? Friends, we are on the leading edge of an incredible shift that will usher us into a Kingdom reality like we have not seen in our lifetime. I am preparing my heart with a determination to not look back. Are you with me?

A Song I Can Sing

Music has always been my go to touchstone with God. Sometimes when the requisite reading of scripture doesn’t serve up the desired comfort/blessing/encouragement or (insert the current felt need here), worship music can usually connect with my spirit and bring a satisfactory satiation of that longing for contact with God.

That’s why the following experience rocked me in a way that caused me to evaluate my dependence on a song to make me feel good; to meet my needs.

It is so hard to face the fact that it’s not about me. It never has been but I act like it is. But can I go through the withdrawals and dependencies on a predictable formula for relationship with God without the hard work of investing time and honoring Him just because He is worthy. It is all about Him.


 

Church was nearly over. The pastor handed me songbook and asked me to find one to sing before dismissing the meeting. I opened the hymnal and proceeded to look for an appropriate closing song.

As I leafed through the pages I noticed that none of them were familiar to me. I didn’t know any of them! There were lots of songs. Many were old, old obscure hymns extolling the virtues of the faith. Some were deep theological truths set to music.

Others seemed to concentrate on the beauties of nature; how the robin’s song echoes the glories of God and creation shows His handiwork. But I couldn’t sing any of them because I didn’t know them.

By this time the pastor had slid onto the piano bench to accompany the singing. I turned to him. “I don’t know any of these songs; I can’t sing them,” I said.

“Oh, I know lots of songs from that book. There are some good ones,” he said.

“But I can’t sing them because I don’t know them,” I insisted. I looked again, but it was no use. Nothing was familiar;

I had no song that I could sing.

I woke up. A song that I knew well had been in my mind and heart for about a week. I found it on YouTube and played it.

Tears came quickly. This, this was a song I could sing. “To Him Who Sits on the Throne and Unto the Lamb, Be Blessing and Honor and Glory and Power Forever!”

My ability to find a song in life has usually been a process but never lost for long. With the ups and downs of typical spiritual struggles and victories, there have been those high, joyous experiences with God of emotional exuberance.

There have been times of wrestling with self and the dark night of the soul. In time though, the sun would break through and a song would lift me out of seeming despair.

Now here, at the ending of the service; perhaps a metaphor of the late summer of my life, I found myself unable to find a song. Except that the only song I can sing is one extolling His praises.

It is not one found in a codified hymnal disconnected from the realities of life. Not a song about God but a song to God.

It turns the attention away from me and the facts of what I know, or don’t know, and in spite of that gives praise to Him Who sits on the Throne.

Favor Flavor

There is an aspect of grace that I haven’t thought much about. When the phrase unmerited favor is the definition, my mind usually fixates with the unworthy, unmerited, I can’t earn it part. That is, I focus on the fact that it is not about working to be good enough for God’s love. I think I get that piece, and it is very important, but I want to explore the other word. What about the object of that statement; the favor part?

Maybe you were the favorite child, the one who got the new clothes and toys while your siblings got your hand-them-downs. Or perhaps you weren’t the favorite and you got the cast offs from your brother (even if you were the sister). I was the favorite one on which setting the benchmark of discipline was exercised because I am the oldest. I was the guinea pig, the test case. Talk about undesired favoritism!

Favor can apparently be institutionalized. There are world organizations that confer “most favored nation status” on those nations whom the organization wants to honor (or pander to). Politicians do the same with certain PACs or demographics for the purpose of getting re-elected and maintaining power.

We know some folks who are party favors (gifts and trinkets given to us when we attend an event) who we love to be around because they make us laugh and keep things exciting. We hang around them because we feel good about ourselves and forget about the stresses of everyday life. In this context they are a gift to us, a favor we don’t earn but enjoy above our regularly scheduled life.

Speaking of regular life, there are some folks who don’t seem to have favor or blessings of any kind. They talk about never getting a break. They have a poverty spirit; always struggling for their needs while “spending money they don’t have for things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.”

Not all who possess little are like this and I want to steer away from measuring favor as the amount of material goods one has. Neither do I want to infer that these people are not followers of Jesus. But we probably wouldn’t consider favoring another if they lived like jerks or lived selfishly or stupidly. Nor do we care to be around them.

There are also those who have a great deal of stuff you wouldn’t care to hang with. They are selfish. They disdain others who are “out of their league” and use power and influence to manipulate and control others. If you are this way, the stuff you have may attract those who are covetous but don’t really favor you. You may have influence or power and others will want to be around you for what you can give them or do for them.

Why do we instinctively pull away from these types of people? Isn’t it because we don’t want to be around them or their ilk? This natural revulsion might clue us in that we were not created to be or live in such a manner?

You’ve met people with favor. You and others want to be around them; perhaps hoping some of their blessing might rub off on you. They are people who are enjoyable, who make you feel valued; people who are wise and discerning, who care, who are generous. Their character and actions are just and gracious, kind and benevolent. But it seems that not all followers of Jesus have this favor.

God loves us all the same but some people have more favor than others.
– Bill Johnson

Jesus’ mother, Mary, was highly favored by God. She had his favor. Take a look again at that wedding where Jesus made some excellent wine from ordinary H2O. When Jesus said that his time had not yet come, the plans were changed. Why? Because of Mary. Mary was so favored by God that the time of Jesus’ miracle working days were started early.

Another story; this from the early church:

And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. Acts 4:33 ESV

I believe the apostles were favored with grace because even though they had just been released from prison, they had such integrity of character that they didn’t allow circumstances to bring resentment, fear or intimidation. They didn’t withdraw to some addiction to find solace or comfort. They didn’t even seek justice for being mistreated.

What they did do was ask God for strength and power to resume ministering just like they had been doing–only ramped up a bit. God favored (graced) them with a fresh dose of Holy Spirit, unity, miracles and community support.

So how does one live so that favor is upon that one? Let me bring it closer to home. How do you and I live so as to have favor with God and humanity?

Divine favor is a unique quality. It is about who you are, not your stuff. People want to be around you because there is something you are that they respect and honor (honor is closely associated with favor; they often seem to be present together).

There may be a time you need something to happen but the facts or the rules or history may be against it coming to pass, yet it happens because someone, perhaps not even intentionally, will arrange it so. There seems to be components of character that invite favor.

Other times, because of who you are, your integrity, your character or reputation, people of influence will honor you with favor when others would not have been able to achieve a solution, success or position.

When we are favored by God, doors will open in front of us. Pathways ahead will be groomed clean and resources will be provided without struggle on our part. People, prompted by something they don’t even understand, will choose you, have favor toward you, call you to a greater position, give you material blessings and honor you because of your character and the favor of God. Sounds like a party I’d want to attend!

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.

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!