Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:&-10 NASB
How many of us, I wonder, would opt (or have opted) out of the opportunity to be conduits for the perfected power of Christ on the earth because to do so would necessarily entail suffering and weakness. Let’s be honest. The idea of suffering as a child of God just does not preach well. When was the last time you heard a speaker identify the sufferings of Job or Paul as unavoidable features of the victorious Christian Life? When they dare to be so biblically honest, attenders recoil;
“Messengers from Satan? No, no, no! We are covenant people; therefore, we are to be a blessed, not a cursed people. Insults, distresses, persecutions and difficulties? No, sir. Our lips will not confess these. We are called to be the head and not the tail. Get thee behind me, thou confessor of negativity!”
Were Job and Paul anomalies, exceptions that we can just sweep under the rug? Or, do their stories reveal truths (perhaps badly needed ones) that western Christianity, in our prosperity and independence, simply cannot swallow? Does a kingdom that requires one to take up his cross daily dovetail neatly with a national psyche that lauds the individual’s right to pursue personal happiness? Or, is the Spirit of Jesus Christ at cross-purposes with the spirit of this age? Is it possible, as the apostles and prophets slept, that the father of lies, fashioned a gospel without the inconvenience of a cross and sold it to western culture?
I recently read Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas. It is a superb account of the rise to prominence of Adolph Hitler, a megalomaniac, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a saint. It is not only fascinating history, it is has a sobering subplot involving the church. Germany was the birthplace of the protestant reformation. The church and Germany were tied at the hip. If ever there ever was a “Christian” nation, Germany was it. Yet where was the church as the Nazis harassed, persecuted and ultimately destroyed the weak, the undesirable, and the non-Aryan citizens of their own country? The church as a whole was silent with the exception of a very few voices crying in the wilderness—Dietrich Bonhoeffer being one.
The religious gatekeepers of Germany were some of the world’s most elite theologians. They recognized Bonhoeffer as brilliant, but also as one having drifted from their pack. He had begun to think of the Christian life as this all-or-nothing experiential affair with Jesus, and he began pointing to the very hard teachings of Christ as the foundational underpinnings of that relationship. As time passed, his commitment to his national German religion faded in light of his ever-deepening personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Sound familiar? “The things of earth (especially religion) grow strangely dim?” As millions were marched into labor and death camps, the German attenders of church sang…
Blest be the Lord, who foiled their threat that they could not devour us; Our souls, like birds, escaped their net, they could not overpower us. The snare is boken–we are free! Our help is ever, Lord, in Thee, Who madest earth and heaven. (from If God Had Not Been On Our Side by Martin Luther)
In his capacity as prophet, Bonhoeffer dug deep. With his (now classic) The Cost of Discipleship, he introduced the phrase cheap grace. He also coined another phrase that drew fire—religionless Christianity. He had found the bad roots of the great German religious tree that was felled without a sound by the ingenious Nazi propaganda machine. But it was too late. Bonhoeffer was executed by Hitler, who took his own life three weeks later as the war ended in Europe. But like all true prophets, his voice has continued to reverberate in the spiritual realm where our hearts operate. May those present age prophets arise, those who will steward these vibrations and sustain these notes.
The sobering aspect of this story involves the larger spiritual warfare over Germany. What lies had the dark principalities and powers sown into that nation that would allow them to be taken in by a madman? Where our American DNA is composed of independence and the personal right to pursue liberty and happiness, the Germans were driven by a wounded and offended national pride. Their tarnished national self-image was that of a noble and good people, capable of great self-sacrifice for their nation (from which Lutheranism was inseparable). This was the piper’s song. Using these national themes, Hitler duped the church into thinking he was one of them. By the time they discovered the masquerade it was too late—they had surrendered their freedoms to the wrong master and the wrong kingdom.
If Bonhoeffer had published The Cost of Discipleship earlier, before the deception—would the church have embraced the gospel he was preaching? Would they have adopted it if following Jesus would have meant grappling personally with Jesus’ harder words, such as the necessity of hating one’s mother and father and selling all? What would it have taken for the German church to have resisted “the ancient foe who sought to work them woe?” Why did they not see “the right man on their side, that man of God’s own choosing?” How did a world of devils undo Germany? Sadly, Luther’s hymn gives the answer as well: Germany, in her own (theological and national) strength did not confide in the right man, and, therefore, her striving was losing.
So, what is the difference between the church of mid-20th century Germany and the 21st Century church of America? Is it our superior theological foundation and religious résumé that has kept America’s judgment at bay? Or, is it just that we have not been backed into a national economic corner yet as Germany was, a corner in which it becomes too late to exercise the powers to choose righteousness? I am inclined to think it’s the latter.
Paul had grown content with his very un-blessed looking (at least by our standards) life, satisfied that, in light of the prize, there was literally no cost to following Jesus—only a current joy, complete with peace and infinite union with God. Paul was content to wait upon God who would one day swallow up the momentary suffering that so often accompanies the grace and mercy of God.
Many of us who think of ourselves as Christian are still busy fine-tuning our rights to comfort and blessing. Surrendering the title to his national Jewish identity and his reputation, forfeiting his right to pursue independence and personal happiness—none of these things even registered as costs to Paul in light of the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ. But that was Paul. What about us? We must decide for ourselves whether Paul was an anomaly or an example.
Father, may we in the west expose the principalities and powers that, with cruel hate, manipulate the masses and even the church with customized deceit. Where mortal ills prevail and a flood of evil threatens, let grace prevail all the more. May we recall that you have willed that your truth will triumph through us. Helps us to let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also. Help us to always remember that it is You Lord, from age to age the same, and that You shall win the battle. May our hearts faithfully note that Satan’s doom is sure and that one little word shall fell him.
Help us to cede title of these mortal lives, which we so over-value, to You so that we, too, like Paul, might be messengers of revelation, we—who are becoming expressions of that one little word (Jesus) which shall fell the enemy.
Help us to become those who can say, “Your grace is sufficient for us” so that we might be those who demonstrate that Satan was never your equal. Help us to recover the Spirit and the gifts which are ours and vindicate You as our Mighty Fortress and a bulwark never failing; that your truth abides still and that your kingdom is forever. Amen
Our passage tells the story of Samuel as a young boy serving Eli in the Temple. The Lord called to him four times, “Samuel, Samuel.” When Eli helped him realize it was God, not him, calling his name, God spoke to young Samuel that the house of Levi was about to fall. This was one heavy-starter-word for the boy-prophet. At the time of this word, Samuel’s maturity was described like this:
This all happened before Samuel knew God for himself. It was before the revelation of God had been given to him personally.
Eli, in spite of his paternal errors, was not void of wisdom. In fact, he gave Samuel the council that positioned him to hear God’s voice personally. He instructed Samuel, if God spoke his name again, to respond, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.” This little story was the beginning of big things for Samuel and the nation of Israel. Of him it was said:
Thus Samuel grew and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fail. All Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of the Lord.
As I read the scriptures, it is clear to me that God is sovereign. Yet, within that sovereignty is a grand mystery; He involves men in the execution of his plans. In both the Old and the New Testaments, the prophet was integral to the administration of God’s affairs on earth. Yet sadly, much of the body of Christ today has written this gift off as an artifact from an ancient dispensation. As one who has lived for four decades along side this gift, this amazes and saddens me.
I believe the New Testament is a living and active reference point for life in the Spirit, not just an historical account of the unique things God did to inaugurate the Christian religion. Admittedly, prophetic types can come off odd at times, particularly the religious ones who seem to hear more judgment in God’s voice than mercy. However, there are so many legitimate prophetic voices. Regrettably they and the gift of prophecy suffer a credibility loss because grace-deprived prophetic voices still get much airplay. Bad public relations from the Prophetic Department, dispensational thinking, and an Old Testament heart led a sweet, godly, sola scriptura women I know to say, “The Bible instructs that the erring prophet must be stoned!” I believe she was prepared to pick up a stone should the need present itself.
Where grace has not yet prevailed, those wielding their gifts tend to use them as bludgeons. Big sticks don’t liberate slaves and they don’t help to promote servants into sons. For those dispersing words in this spirit, love has not yet fully converted the heart. Whether it’s the grace-deprived preacher or the prophet, for them, it will remain man’s impossibly wicked heart and the judgment he deserves which drives their so-called God-words.
To discern the spirit behind the prophetic voice, ask yourself, “Is this person speaking down at me from some platform of superiority?” “Is this word tainted with frustration?” “Is the speaker attempting to guilt me into God’s service?” “Do his words feel like a whip or a cattle prod being administered from behind?” If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you should strongly consider that you’re dealing with an immature messenger of God who still perceives Him as angry with us as opposed to delighted in us.
The prophetic gift was bequeathed to the body of Christ to be an encouragement in our battle and provide wisdom in our mission. Mature prophets know that God is affectionately and patiently disposed toward mankind, especially His children. The credible prophet approaches everyone with the assumption that God has something alive and encouraging to impart. The mature prophetic gift assumes that God is in a good mood, that he hasn’t lost control of the cosmos. In other words—fallen man, in his depravity, is not capable of derailing God’s intentions. The mature prophet lives and speaks out of the assumption that for every situation (individual or corporate), there is always a redemptive opportunity embedded in the circumstances, however bleak they may appear to the natural eye.
Perhaps, most importantly, healthy prophets live and breathe the air of the New Covenant. Their constructive prophetic words flow out of the assumption that the deepest truth about God’s children is not their fallen nature; rather it’s their new nature. This absolutely changes everything!
Sin is an issue but it is not a natural and inevitable outcome for a born-again person! Even if the sin is habitual, that does not prove that a Christian’s heart is primarily depraved. As likely as not, it is merely deprived, bereft of the gracious words that can restore it to its kingdom identity as a new creation, a beloved child and friend of God’s.
Often, the defeated heart is just a conditioned heart—a heart trained to think of itself as one sentenced to fighting a losing battle with the identity of a depraved, pitiful old sinner. They boldy confess, “I’m just blessed to be saved by grace, Praise the Lord. At least I will make it to heaven some day.” (sarcasm intended). The mind of the religiously-conditioned saint plays out like a self-fulfilling prophecy. The tape running in the head says, “I am just a sinner, so in a sense, what could be more natural for me, than to sin. Thank God, Christ will forgive me. Come soon Lord Jesus and rescue me from my guilt and this hopeless battle.” Having fought the battle with my identity rooted in fallenness and with my identity rooted, more deeply yet, in Christ, I highly recommend the latter.
There have been prophetic words that have dramatically affected my life. None of them came from 100% purely refined prophets, there is no such thing. (And note; they were not stoned when they missed it!) However imperfect, the prophetic voices I have come to trust all operate with the foundational assumption that God still speaks and that He likes to speak to us.
I believe that the prophetic gift is alive and well and just like the gift of teaching, preaching, or evangelism, it is always being refined. We need the encouragement of the prophet. Those with a flow of prophecy live with the same instructions Eli imparted to Samuel, restated as the perpetual request of their hearts “Speak, Lord, for I am listening.”
Perhaps if we, who have limited God to the Bible alone for revelation, would approach Him in humility, He would allow us to recover this precious gift for the Church. Perhaps as it finds its way into the sola scriptura camps, prophecy might even be exercised with greater responsibility and clarity, since scripture is already held there in such high regard.
Father, I cannot help but grieve that there are divisions in the body of Christ over things as fundamental as the gifts of your Spirit. Grant us repentance for rejecting things we can’t understand and therefore cannot control. Grant us humility to recognize the vast and mysterious space of your great heart that cannot be accessed through books, only by your Spirit and the revelation He grants. Awaken us to our capacity as agents of personal encouragement and revelation. Just as you inspired the written Word, help us to see ourselves as those upon whom and through whom, you might breathe your revelation. Amen.
He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.’ Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed.” Then I said, “Lord, how long?” And He answered, “Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant, houses are without people and the land is utterly desolate. The Lord has removed men far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land yet there will be a tenth portion in it, and it will again be subject to burning, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains when it is felled. The holy seed is its stump.” Isaiah 6:9-13 (NASB)
When I read the Old Testament, I see it fading from view, like the roll up to Star Wars: The Phantom Menace:
A long time ago in a dimension all too familiar… Turmoil has engulfed God’s Creation. The fall of man has fueled a revolt by the creation itself. While hoping to resolve the matter with a covenant made with the Jewish race, the commerce between heaven and earth has ceased. While fallen men endlessly debate their alarming situations, the King of the Universe has secretly dispatched His Son, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life to settle the conflict. His name is Emmanuel. His message will convey that all the hopes and promises of the older covenant have not been negated: they all will be fulfilled in His Son. With this New Covenant, which provides a new heart, a new race of men will be formed, and they will be given the opportunity to be transformed into the image of the King’s Son. These are the stories that you are about to witness. This is your destiny, should you decide to choose it.
Sorry, I changed movies. That last bit was from Mission Impossible—which is not entirely inappropriate. Our mission is utterly impossible. Becoming children of Light, being little brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, doing God’s work, in greater measure than Jesus Himself, will require the impossible, more accurately—the supernatural.
To find our supernatural destiny, we must put the Old Testament in perspective. Simply put: it is inferior to the New Covenant. It was but a prelude and foretaste. Think about it: the Old was administrated by priests with the blood of animals, dominated by conditional promises: “If you will do this, then I will do that.” The New is accomplished by the blood of God’s Son. Those embracing His Son become children of the King, objects of His unconditional love. Yet many clamor for Abraham’s promises. Very unwise.
Perhaps some contrasts drawn from today’s Old Testament passage and Jesus’ life will assist us in transferring our allegiance from the Old to the New.
In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. Isaiah 6:1-2 (NASB)
In contrast, the disciples saw the Lord sitting, exhausted, asking for help from an unprincipled and compromised woman of a despised race. While angels covered their faces, this poor lost woman looked at Him eye to eye as He longed for her, knowing she was but one “Yes” away from becoming his sister and a child of the Father. The one who was high and lifted up had come into the Earth on His mission to exalt her to heights unimaginable.
And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I have lived among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts. Isaiah 6:3-5 (NASB)
In contrast, the disciple’s saw Jesus, the radiance of the King’s glory, and the exact representation of His nature, who upholds all things by the word of His power, permit children to scamper up on his lap and undoubtedly maul Him with their childish adoration. Without a word, Jesus is saying, “The Old has passed and the New has come. Look upon these children. This is what you need to know about My holiness and My glory. You are not ruined. You are rescued.”
If you have read our passage, you see Isaiah’s words are intended to bind men to judgement; yet in other places, this same prophet makes pronouncements of liberty, which the Messiah Himself will adopt as His mission statement. These will bond men to redemption;
The Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. Then they will rebuild the ancient ruins, they will raise up the former devastations; and they will repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations. Isaiah 61:1-4 NASB
I believe Isaiah’s hard words were spoken to the Jewish people, not us. God was done with them, at least for the time being. With us, He has just begun. We are a part of the new creation – God putting things right. They too had stolen His heart, but He was going to come at them again later, from another direction—the New Covenant—and He would use a people who might show them what Yahweh had intended. This is the mission of His Son, in us, and He shall win the battle.
Father, we pray that flesh would not prevail. In Your mercy, end the revolt. Resolve this matter in Your Son. In us, through us, reestablish commerce between heaven and earth. Once the necessary demolition is complete, let us see the holy seed prevail. May this earth soon behold us as the mighty oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that You may be glorified. Amen.
To my precious grandchildren, Gracyn, Hallie, Sullivan, Hudson, and soon to be, Shepherd,
One day you will be old enough to read what Crank Pop (see yesterday’s MwM post) has been writing to you. In the event that you ever wonder why he wrote, here’s an explanation.
When I write I am learning. Forcing myself to grasp something well enough to express it in words takes me through a process of thought and consideration that helps me take some ownership of the concepts (which is essential if I am to live them out). I think of writing as meditation with a crutch. It may even be more appropriate to just call my ramblings rumination in print. I would encourage you to experiment with writing to see what it might yield; I will share how I go about it most mornings.
As I think about this process, I realize that I am always reading scripture on two levels and that the activity on those levels is underway concurrently. I will start by describing what I perceive to be going on at the level of my mind. I will typically read a passage through several times, often in different translations. At the outset I am just trying to get the story straight. As a young Christian I was encouraged to ask lots of questions such as: Who is speaking? Who are they speaking to? What are these people’s circumstances? What is the relationship of the speaker to his audience? What has prompted this communication? These questions always produce more questions, new trails to follow. Because there are typically so many, the trick becomes choosing the right ones.
Even though the process feels a bit mechanical at first, it quickly changes as things, at a deeper level, kick in. At this level, which I will call my spirit, things are more personal than academic. In this space, between the Lord and myself there is an understanding (more keenly on his side than mine no doubt) that my heart belongs to him, and because of this, he has permission in advance to question, reprove, teach, encourage, and train me with his Truth.
When I think about scripture, I don’t think of it as just being truthful. I think that narrow way of thinking about it allows it to be co-opted by the-powers-that-be (the world, the flesh, and the devil) to use in their classic right-versus-wrong ploy. They probably don’t sleep, but if they did, the demons probably wake up and plan their first meal. Perhaps Wormwood asks the team, “Among our assignments today, how can we best divide men from God and from each other?” With a proud smirk, some hungry specter weighs in, “I make a proposal we use Our Father Below’s proven right-versus-wrong ploy.” The demons all bow in mock reverence and say, “Amen brother.” They know exactly where they will be dining for lunch–the local church, a place that has provided (in their defense of doctrinal purity) a steady crop of proud, wounded, rigid wineskins for centuries.
Later that day around the table, dining contentedly on the decaying remnants of religious flesh, Slimejob comments, “You know, I don’t know that I have tasted anything quite so exquisite since Caiaphas. I just love the almost-crunchy texture.”
In my certainty of God and his ways, I believe I have been this tasty morsel but much has changed. While my doctrine remains orthodox, I am much less rigid in how eternal reality finds expression. Dear grand-kiddos, this is why your Crank Pop has called his blog In The Middle with Mystery. With Christ in our hearts and our hearts in Him, we are living at the epicenter of something incalculably beautiful. I have become more comfortable of thinking of myself as being in the middle with Christ—the Mystery of the Ages, from whom I have traced my linage and have found my identity; I now pursue my simple destiny —union with Him. I propose to you, this is yours as well.
Mystery, the Person—the first born of a new race of men, puts doctrinal purity in an entirely different light. It is not that I completely devalue the defense of doctrinal purity as a valid undertaking; it is just that, in itself, “doctrinal purity” has never changed a single life. In itself, it has only set the table for a demonic-religious feeding frenzy in which we (the doctrinally pure) are the main course. No, the idea of Truth as a mere systematic theology, a collection of principles by which we must live, in itself, is a sad parody of Life in Christ. An organized collection of beliefs is a way too rigid understanding of Truth. When we awake in the morning, we must instead think of Truth as both present and alive, a Person to whom we are now related.
So, the scriptures for me are inspired by way of their nature (their DNA), which is Truth. However, since I am a descendent of Adam and have lived in a world hostile to God, my thinking is not completely accurate or true. Where I still believe half-truths (and even blatant lies), I am not yet free. At this personal level, between my spirit and God’s, there is a process of liberation underway. He came to set captives (like you and me) free, and it is Jesus, the Truth, who is our Way and Life (our core DNA). All this to say: the mechanical first steps I take are just an introduction into the spirit-to spirit communion with God for which I was created. With these thoughts serving as the backdrop, even the academic part takes on more meaning because I know from experience how frequently this digging process exposes Life, the priceless treasure that we already possess.
This will help put the kibosh (a term I like for destroying a lie) on the idea of a quiet time with God as some quid pro quo arrangement in which we are obligated to ingest massive dosages of little “t” Bible truth in order to produce a meaningful relationship with God. While this idea, on the surface, might initially looks and smells right—and is broadly marketed in many a religious franchise as the way to God—it is in fact a toxic half truth, which when divorced from the greater and more mysterious realities we are caught up in, will not lead us to Jesus, our Way, our Truth, our Life.
As those who, even now, are living and moving and having our being in God, operating with the assumption that God knows where we are, that He is good and that He is intentional, I just assume He is speaking to me always through His (in-print and in-sprit) Word. Somehow I discover as I read (with my heart and my head), that word of scripture relates to me because it and I (with my new heart) share the same DNA. So, as things are whirring on two levels, I am also asking, “What do I have in common with the people in the narrative I am interacting with?”
There may be a great fork in the road for some at this point. The pure academic might shun that question, thus choosing the path on which revelation hinges upon refined understanding of the original languages. They may require much deeper understanding of the historical context before they dare think that the scriptures might personally yield them any holy treasure. This is typically not the path I take.
Christ’s disciples were not scholars. In fact, if you look for scholars and trained seminarians in the early church, you will hurt your eyes. Jesus himself was a common man. He spoke a common man’s dialect. It feels quite awkward to say this, but Jesus was not an educated man (in the formal sense). Yet, even from his honest and boyish heart came questions and insights that held even the scholarly priests spellbound. I operate with the assumption that Truth has not been reserved for academics. It was always intended to be accessible to common men who were inclined to obey it, to discover its Author, not committed to just studying it to death. It was always about the spirit, not the letter.
When I think about the inspiration of scripture, a historically accurate book filled with truthful moral principles is not what first comes to my mind. While these things are certainly true, I think of scripture being inspired in the dynamic sense of a catalyst, something that sets my spirit in motion and propels it along a pathway of discovery. It is not just information to log away in my data storage, which I may accesses on an as-needed-basis in order to live a moral, profitable or functional life. No, by virtue of its spirit-nature it awakens and stirs the spirit Life (and nature) that is already in us.
Within the well-settled Christian camps there seems to be a great divide. One camp leans hard on formal academics. The thought for these folks having anything other than a seminary grad feeding the flock their weekly or bi-weekly ration would be practically unthinkable. Other camps, often filled with travelers less inclined to read, think or study, will read the Bible and not feel they have in any way been locked out of the inner sanctuary of Truth for want of academics. These believers may be inclined to trust the inner promptings of the Spirit without much attention to the Bible. There are errors-a-plenty in this direction as well. Been there done that, kiddos.
I have wondered if—when Jesus said that he was seeking those who would worship him in spirit and in truth—if he did not mean that he was looking for those who recognize how God had made them with both a soul and a spirit, beings designed to listen to God’s voice with these two vital dimensions within them working in concert—the cognitive and intuitive in play, the objective and subjective in balance. I have wondered if this idea were ever realized on a broader scale, if it would not bring much healing in the Body of Christ where rigid, religious, black and white thinking has wounded and isolated so many.
If our circumstances find us, like Elijah, collapsed beneath the broom brush, intimidated and without motivation to proceed, perhaps God would say to us, “Get up and eat,” and then even, “Get up and eat some more.” Perhaps we have expected to hear God in some dramatic way. He certainly has been known to speak in that tone! That being true, let’s not rule out the possibility that, in his faithfulness, he has been speaking to us all along from his place of residence within. I am encouraging my community of spiritual friends to experiment with reading and writing as one means (a means) of hearing God’s voice. Perhaps we will hear it in the same tone Elijah finally heard it—in a subtle whisper. Maybe the answer to us when we are in the doldrums (depression) is simply, “Rise and feed yourself.” I am proposing for some, perhaps even you, that your pen (as it has with me) will become your fork.
Father, May we learn to feed ourselves and live by all the words that have proceeded and shall proceed from your mouth. Help us to personally make your words our words, your thought our thoughts. May the living word of God pierce our hearts. May it subdue and conquer the traditions of men that we have exalted above your words. Amen.
By God’s grace, in about one month our fifth grandchild will be born. Having grandchildren is one of the reasons I began writing. I simply wanted to let them know who I was. Arrogant? Presumptuous? Whatever the motive, it felt primal. Even though I knew my grandparents, (and even one set of great grandparents), I really didn’t know them, at least not as I would have liked. I have found myself wishing that I knew how my family thought—to have been able to read some of their letters and listen in on more of their conversations. I would have truly loved to know their dreams and their prayers. I would have liked to know what had broken their hearts and what had helped them to heal (or prevented them from healing). These are the types of things that reveal who a person really is. My interviews have yielded some of the where’s and the what’s, but I really wanted to know more of the why’s behind things—“the rest of the story,” you might say, or the “back” story. So, dear progeny, to you I affectionately write. I pray my words will satisfy your curiosity and encourage you hearts.
I might be a crank. In fact, I have folks, near me who have omitted might from this proposal. You see, I’m not attending a church. This new pattern of worship began when I started telling how Jesus had been liberating me to experience God as my Father as opposed to just talking about God as a Father, who art (a long way off) in heaven. I began telling this story and writing about it but there was a problem; my story did not adequately honor local church authority. In fact I was asked by that authority to stop telling my story in the church. My options became; stay and be silent or go and be me. I’m gone and, not surprisingly, being has become a big part of my story. I have continued to write though. In The Middle With Mystery is my story. My actual proposal is that MwM is our story and ultimately His.
I know my light is neither infallible nor exhaustive, but it is mine and it is bright enough to bring a smile to my heart where there was once a frown. In MwM, I am giving an account of the living hope that is in me by virtue of initiatives taken by the Great I AM, the main character in today’s story and the main character in my life and yours. I regularly propose that story is a big deal. (The church calls them testimonies but that word has gone a little stale for me since it has come to typically mean “how and when we became Christians.”)
Our stories are much more! They are the updated accounts of Christ’s life in us – the reporting of Christ’s resurrected Spirit doing his inside-out transformational work in us – the living stones with which He is building. The evidence that Life has actually taken root is not just a once-upon-a-time confession of faith; its His life, blossoming and bearing fruit. When God’s Word, the Holy Seed is birthed in our hearts and is fleshed out in our daily lives, we are telling our stories. Whether we write or speak, we are the content of God’s Journal – The Light Of The World.
While there were disciples, the word discipleship is absent from the New Testament. Jesus’ idea of following Him was (and is) radically discordant with our traditions and practices. First of all, He left. Then He sent his Holy Spirit to indwell us. The reality of His indwelling Spirit, making us new creations in Christ, the process of living Life in Him, through Him and with Him, being remade into His image—these are the realities of resurrection life. The current ratio of sermons to accounts of resurrection life is the chief difference I see between the New Testament and contemporary evangelical Christianity. I believe the hope of the world rests in flipping this ratio.
A lost world is becoming increasingly indifferent and even hostile to the Christian religion. Is this because they are the rebellious enemies of God or is this because they are hungry for something Jesus promised (namely abundant life) and the Church has failed to deliver? I am reluctant to think of unbelievers as hardened enemies. I think of them more as those who have never actually seen resurrection life. They have heard sermons (or of them) and they have said, “No thank you.” Most of them are simply hungering for a reality greater than the Christian religion. This is where our stories come in.
There are sovereign fingerprints all over our stories, which, with just a bit of help, we can discover. They are especially evident in Moses’ story. He was born to a slave woman, spared from death, and rescued by royalty. He jumps the gun on his destiny, killing an Egyptian, becoming a fugitive and a sojourner and is miraculously intercepted by God, hearing the commissioning voice of The Great I AM. The stories of some (why, I can only speculate) take on some dramatic twists and turns. Mine was no exception.
Moses’ and my pedigree are very different. Where he was the child of a slave, I was born into a family whose name became prominent. Our departures from our native land had some similarities though. He fled his homeland because he had destroyed an Egyptian in a fight; I fled mine because I felt I had destroyed my reputation with a shameful life. (I didn’t know it at the time, but I was also deeply wounded and inferno–angry with everything and everybody in my little town.) However, like Moses, I eventually had a revelation of God as a sojourner in a land of strangers. I don’t know how far Midian was from Egypt, but Tulsa, where my bush blazed, is just a two hour drive east of my hometown. But man was it ever full of strangers!
In his encounter Moses was commissioned to liberate his Egyptian relatives from their slavery to Pharaoh. In my encounter I was commissioned, as I perceive all of Christ’s followers are, to liberate captives from their bondage to sin and lead them by word and example into the promised land of kingdom life. I have at least one more thing in common with Moses: I too jumped the gun on my destiny.
While I was powerfully converted to Christ, a bona fide prodigal son, I very quickly assimilated a lifestyle of elder brother–doing, complying, and comparing. The doing became my identity. I became the great I DO. My identity became entangled and dependent on this doing. Some of this was driven by a deep desire to salvage my reputation, especially in the eyes of my father. The combination of an insecure identity and an unlimited opportunity of great commission–service is a perfect formula for creating an elder brother (i.e. a religious spirit) who dutifully executes his discipleship do-list. The condition of my orphaned heart and the opportunity of religious service made for a perfect storm of religious bondage. Amazingly God was in the midst of this maelstrom. I learned that old stiff religious wineskins cannot hold new wine and that they cannot fulfill their kingdom destiny—to enter that promised kingdom and lead others there.
To you my precious offspring, I want to convey that you too, have a story to experience, and it is no less important than Moses’: it is God who is at work writing it. Moses had his mission and you will have yours. It may be highly visible like his, or it may simply be working in virtual anonymity within your chosen vocation, side by side as a lifeline to others who have not yet gained their freedom.
Moses had his burning bush and so shall you. There are no two of them alike. You were created in the image of God; the unique tinder for that holy flame resides within you. At just the right time and place, I AM will personally blow on His image in you and it will burst into a flame of awareness. At that point, take your shoes off and realize that I AM, out of love, is calling your name.
Learn to be still. Learn to make space. Learn to think and pray and laugh and sing, knowing that you are enclosed by the underlying and overarching goodness of God. You, too, shall be an agent of freedom. May you, like your Teacher, succeed in leading many into their destines and their promised lands. I look forward to watching as the chapters are added to your lives. Remember: the Author of Life is brilliant and has a knack for surprising changes within a plot. When you decide to claim Jesus as Lord, realize this means giving Him advance permission (as the Author) to edit your story as He sees fit. Seize your adventure! May the Lord bless you and keep you.
To Gracyn, Hallie, Sullivan, Hudson and Shepherd, and all who follow, I bless you with with all the love and wisdom this grandfather possesses. Love, always and forever,
Father, I pray for those who will follow me, whose names are written in Your book of Life. Would you breathe on their inner flames, further igniting their faith. While we know we have all we need in Christ, we also know there is much ahead to experience. We have tasted and seen that You are good and we unapologetically and boldly proclaim our eagerness to meet you in even greater intimacy. Amen.
Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” When the disciples heard this,they fell face down to the ground and were terrified. And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.” And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone.
As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.” And His disciples asked Him, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” And He answered and said, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things; but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist. Matthew 17:1-13
Why did Jesus take just three of the disciples up the mountain? Were they his special buddies? Were these three the most enlightened, the closest to grasping the kingdom of God? All we know for sure is that Jesus wanted them there with Him. We also know that they were given a delayed commission, to tell of this after the Resurrection. Rather than just being “newsy” what contribution was this story going to make to the kingdom of Jesus Christ? Humor perhaps?
When Peter was finally permitted to tell his story I can imagine his response when people asked him, “What did you do up there when you encountered God?” “Well,” blushing, “I proposed to build three little houses, one for Moses, one for Elijah and one for Jesus. As I have reflected on that experience, silence may have actually been more appropriate.”
I could imagine the wonder and the mystery of this encounter haunting these three throughout their lives, “Lord, what was the point of our mountain top encounter?”Peter was right in a way, It was good for them to be there but they may have never fully known why. However, the question marks it left may have been God’s simple gift to them, enabling them to keep perspective of the mystery into which they had been caught up.
We have our question marks as well. They are no liability. By faith we too can lift up our eyes, and choose to see no one except Jesus. We too, can look up into His shining face, feel His touch upon our hearts and hear Him say, “Do not be afraid.”
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. Jude 24 NAS
Are we trembling, fearful of falling into the hands of the living God? Or like John, are we resting our heads upon Jesus?