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?

Storied Past – 16

“Do you know him?” Ramona whispered, not wanting the other bed to eavesdrop.

“Well he, I, I mean he was in the shop a few weeks ago and was hitting on me.”

“On you? Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure it was him. Wait, do you know him too?”

“Honestly, I wish I didn’t, but he,” she lowered her voice to where she was only mouthing the words. “He’s the one who attacked me that night, Becky!”

Becky’s face lost color as the news sunk in. “Yikes! That changes a few things.”

Ramona took Becky’s arm and led her out of the room.

“I have not seen this guy since that night, Becky, and I’m not going to let him get away again until I’ve straightened out a few things. I mean it. I feel like pushing his gurney back out into the street and letting that truck have another try!”

“I’m sure you do, Ramona, but look at it this way. Maybe God allowed this to happen to him so he could stop and think about life for a change.”

“I don’t know. What he’s been doing might be pretty hard to change. I mean, look, he charms all these women, has his way and then disappears. He gets what he wants and escapes any consequences. Pretty good gig, from his perspective.”

“Ramona, I know you will remember that there are rules about life; rules that say whatever you sow, you will reap. In other words, at some point, you can’t escape those consequences. It may be that now is that time.”

“Are you saying that because I left church looking to have fun; because I wanted to enjoy my friends and party that I deserved what I got? I didn’t deserve getting pregnant the first time I was with a guy and it wasn’t even my own choice! I was raped, Becky and he needs to pay for that, not me!”

The girl slowed down for a minute to let a nurse pass. Becky spoke up first.

“I’m just saying that along with pursuing justice there is also a bigger picture here. None of this took God by surprise. Not your legalistic background, not the early death of your mother, not your exploring the fun side of life and not the rape. The fact is He still and always has loved you, Ramona. You have been handed a challenging situation now and how you work through it will set the tone for the rest of your life.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, this guy hurt you deeply, I know. Even though your choices put you in a vulnerable place, his actions were very wrong. The facts at this point are that you are pregnant and whether you choose to have the baby or not, it will change your life from what you probably thought it would be.”

“That’s for sure!” Ramona sighed.

“So when I said it didn’t take God by surprise I mean He can accommodate any detours you may take on the way to becoming who you already are.”

“I’m sorry. That sounded pretty confusing, Becky. Becoming who I am? If I already am then why do I need to become that?”

“Ramona, you were born with gifts, a calling and a destiny. You are a unique, one-of-a-kind creation. You have dreams, passions and needs like we all do. But it takes time and opportunity to realize that calling and actually become who we were wired to be.”

“OK,” Ramona replied. “I think I am starting to get that. But how do you know all this stuff? I never heard it in church. I think we mostly were taught we had to become holy, stay holy and then . . . and then, well I don’t know what because I never made it that far. To be a Pastor or a Pastor’s wife was the highest achievement anyone could hope for.”

“That is a calling, but it is not the calling for everyone. There are so many places to serve God and each other and none is better or worse than another. The key is to find that calling you are passionate about and do it with excellence.”

“I guess I did an excellent job of screwing up my life. I wonder if I can ever undo the mess.”

“Ramona, there are some things that can’t be undone. The good news is that there is hope. Hope that despite the mess we may have made, God doesn’t throw up his hands in despair and say something like, ‘There you’ve gone and done something even I can’t fix, Ramona. Good luck, you’re on your own!’ He wants to be in your life and help you become who He created you to be.”

Ramona stared at the still life print on the wall behind Becky. It was faded from so many years hanging in this one spot. At one time the colors were brilliant and happy, but now they were all some varying shade of lavender, bleached yellow and faded red. It struck her that what she had become was a still life image without vibrancy.

Just a few months ago she thought the church couldn’t stop her and the whole world was waiting to show her a rocking good time. Filled with excitement to open each prettily wrapped “Box of Chocolates,” she quickly admitted naivete when one of the first boxes she opened contained a snake; which bit her badly.

She closed her eyes. A tear stole out from one side. Becky noted this and immediately asked God for direction in her response.

“Let’s go home, Ramona. We both need some rest.”

 

Driven by the wind, a steady rain started hitting the window by Paul’s bed rather hard. Along with the darkness, it accentuated the isolation that Paul was feeling. Here he was in this hospital bed; no one he knew was anywhere close and not really able to call anyone just yet.

His parents were divorced and his father moved to the east coast with a new bride. Within a few months, he passed away leaving his mother still in the small town 30 miles away. Paul’s job in sales brought him through Maple Valley every few weeks, which is why he ran into Ramona that night in the roadhouse.

He had few friends since leaving high school due partly to an itinerant work schedule. Craving the popularity he once enjoyed, he replaced the hard work of building quality relationships with manipulative encounters. His inattention to a proper work ethic and several bouts with too much alcohol had resulted in dismissal from his job a few days before the accident.

Truth be known, he had slipped into a depression. That foray into church a few nights before, though he didn’t realize it, was a desperate cry for some kind of help. He had heard about Jesus somewhere in the past but really had hoped to talk to some friendly face. If only he had seen one!

– To Be Continued –

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!

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.

Heart-Burn

You’ve heard that story of Moses . . . you know, the guy whose mom put him in a small basket-boat and floated him down the river when she couldn’t protect him anymore. Long story that ensued but many years later he winds up watching a herd of sheep on the back side of a desert (not sure if the front side was any more attractive).

Anyway, he is strolling along wondering when he will ever get a job promotion when he sees a bush up ahead on fire. He walks over to take a look. Probably the most excitement he’s had in weeks. As he approaches he hears a voice calling out his name. Now this is really unusual, to understate the event, and Moses realizes he is being confronted by the voice of God.

Lots of things to observe here and the story gets pretty bizarre. But I want to stop and ask a wierd question. Have you ever been around God? Ever hear him talk to you? How about a strong Presence that you thought and felt must be what God would feel like.

Most of us who have been around churches and spiritual people have at one time or another had an encounter with God or at least an experience of inner awakening. Do you remember?

Did His Spirit move you; change your pre-conceived notion of the existence or of your relationship with the King of the Universe?

What did He sound like? What did He feel like? How did YOU feel? Did the experience make you DO anything or act any particular way? Does an encounter like that cause or invoke an anticipation within to let it happen again? Was it a scary event?

There have been a few times in my life when I clearly felt His presence that caused a life course change. That is, I knew that I wanted to feel that way again, I wanted to live so I would not be a stranger to that presence.

Yes, I know “God is always with us.” What I want to call attention to is that moment when all other stuff of importance loses color in the warm brilliance of Shalom love. Your demeanor softens, a peaceful boldness comes over and around you. Your heart swells with anticipation as you welcome the largeness of a Presence your spirit longs for–but maybe didn’t know it was missing.

Some friends of Jesus felt this shortly after losing his physical presence in death to despicable murder. They were grieving the loss as they walked together and tried to recall how things used to be.

A fellow traveler joined with them and listened to their sad story. As he shared clips of OT scripture with them, they felt better, even encouraged. They liked what this stranger told them; how they felt with him around. He was so affirming and their spirits were lifted. “Say, won’t you stay for dinner,” one of them suggested.

The stranger agreed and as they laid back on their pillows to eat he broke the bread into pieces and shared it with them. Then the lightning struck! Their hearts swelled, like yours has done. His Presence was expressed in a warm and gentle aura that lingered as He disappeared.

They looked at each other and instantly knew they had been set up for a God moment, a visit from the King. I think this had to be the “ahh-ha” moment of the century.

They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” (‭Luke‬ ‭24‬:‭32‬ NLT)

Immediately they jumped up and ran the seven miles back to Jerusalem to find the rest of their posse.

Now, do you remember a moment or two like that? Do you still long for more moments like that or have you forgotten how they can jumpstart your faith? I know we don’t live in those moments very often or very long but we can live FOR those times.

Yes, God is always with us. We do live by faith when we can’t see or feel His Presence. But deep within us is a fire that needs to breathe the oxygen of His Spirit.

The ancient prophet Jeremiah had decided he was through trying to speak for God. No one listened anymore, no one cared about God’s laws, the poor or moral values. Greed consumed the culture. They were religious but not godly. He was just done! Sound like a familiar environment?

“But if I say I’ll never mention the LORD or speak in his name, his word burns in my heart like a fire. It’s like a fire in my bones! I am worn out trying to hold it in! I can’t do it!” (‭Jeremiah‬ ‭20‬:‭9‬ NLT)

They don’t know it but our communities are ripe for a visit from God. The Kingdom wants to move into your and my neighborhood. And I would guess you are ready for another visit, too. You can participate in a ground swell of His Kingdom coming by hosting His Presence. Amazing Grace will result as culture changes to welcome Him.

Here is a clip from AND: Gathered and Scattered.

“People long for these experiences where their hearts will burn again. Start by inviting them into some experiences they haven’t had before (or for a very long time). The experiences don’t have to be hard or push them too far; rather, just enough to have them say or think to themselves, ‘That was pretty cool; I think I saw God show up.'”

Maybe you won’t see a bush burn like Moses but his entire nation was moved because of his encounter with God.

If God showed up and gave one of us, or several of us heartburn maybe our nation . . .