Category Archives: 23. The Breath Of God

The Breath of God (Sunday) – 1 Kings 19:9-13

Then he came there to a cave and lodged there; and behold, the word of the Lord  came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” 

So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lordbut the Lord  was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord  was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the Lord  was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9-13) 

Dear Gracyn,

Our scripture passage has stirred some memories. In 1976 the Wind was blowing and I got caught up in it. What this Wind had stirred up has been labelled; the Jesus Movement. In this season I became very zealous for the Lord. Thousands of people, like me, moved from unbelief or nominalism to faith sufficient to alter their entire orientation to life. This great and strong Wind was rending the mountain of religion. It was breaking it in pieces. No one can adequately explain this season without pointing to the Breath of God. This Wind subsided but many of us pressed on with all the zeal we had accumulated in order to sustain the supernatural thing we had been caught up in. 

In this Wind, we learned how to worship the Lord with stringed instruments and drums and even dance. We practiced ways to share our faith with others. We became students of the Bible. The Wind seemed to break us into smaller groups and emphasize transparency. The group we belonged to was known as Insight Ministries and we practiced this lifestyle near college campuses in America and in Europe. We thought of ourselves as a discipleship ministry.

When we felt a shift in the Wind in 1985, most everyone (maybe 100 folks) returned to Tulsa. With the Tulsa-based folks and our kids, we numbered between 150 and 175. The wind had carried us into community which, unbeknownst to most of us, we had already been experiencing to some degree in our small campus-oriented groups. When we returned to Tulsa, we leaned into this notion of community with even more intentionality.

Our group, which became Ahaha Community Fellowship enjoyed an extraordinary amount of sharing. We were uniquely dependent on God through each other. This is how the book of Acts read to us. We wanted to mirror that first century church as best we could. Why else would God have even created us? With some shrinkage, this group survived until 1997. The last meeting of Ahaha Community Fellowship was in 1997 (I think). For myself and many others, we had tasted some unique things of God in the Ahava community. We had experienced some of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and had shared life in close proximity. You might ask, “If Ahava was such a grand experience, why did you leave?” I could say that the wind blew us in a new direction (and I believe this would be honest) but it actually took some significant earthquakes and some fire to finally dislodge us.

Your Aunt Krissa was about your age (seven) when we moved from Tulsa to Enid. Kelli was 10 and Daniel was not quite two years old when we moved. We did our best to connect with the believers in my birth-city but we were in for another shockwave when we engaged in a local charismatic church. They were barren of community (as we had come to know it) and the charismatic streams that flowed into this church were different than what we had known. Without condemning the good people of this tribe, it felt to us as though we had left Canaan and returned to Ur. Even though we had many friends in this congregation, I was longing for more. I could not conceive how life (as I had come to understand it) could be birthed in this setting but the wind began to blow once again.

The Lord had apparently passed by the Toronto Vineyard Church and breathed upon it. They were calling this fresh wind the Toronto Blessing. Our Tulsa friends were giving us first hand account that a strong wind had begun to blow. I did my best to position myself (and the Enid church where I was an elder) in a direct path with this wind. My expectations were super high. Unfortunately, if new life was to have been birthed from this “blessing,” it was a miscarriage.

When the Toronto winds failed to make much of an impact on our local church (or me) my co-leaders adopted a wind blowing from Colorado Springs through Peter Wagner, down through Chuck Pierce and eventually through John Benefield. I would call this the Apostolic Prophetic wind. While this wind was encouraging to others, it just spun me in circles. It was as though the Lord said to me, “Rob, what are you doing here?” I had to answer, “Lord, I’m driving leaders crazy and they are reciprocating.”

I did not know where to go or what to do. I more or less wrapped my face in my mantle and found the entrance to a cave. It happened to be the Grace World Outreach Prayer Room. In that space I screamed, I cried and I laughed until I healed, to some degree.  For 2 or 3 years I stood alone in this cave and waited for the wind to blow. After my earthquakes and the fires I eventually heard the sound of a gentle wind blowing. When the Lord asks me today, “Rob what are you doing here?” I respond, “Lord, I only know that I am caught up in a mystery which involves your Life. My life (in Your Son) is now sufficient wind for me. For what its worth, I will record what I observe, giving an account of the hope that is in me.”

My prayer for you and the other grand kiddos is that you will be caught up in the fullest gospel there is – the one that includes the Breath of God. Many groups bar the front door so that this Wind cannot enter. The Holy Spirit is generally very compliant. He seldom bothers people who are not interested in Him. However, I pray that you will be a part of body of believers who worship the Lord in spirit and truth. Just as God is your Father and Jesus is your Lord, I pray that the Holy Spirit will become your Friend and Counselor.

Love,

Pop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Breath of God (Saturday) – Acts 2:1-13

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. 

Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs-we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others were mocking and saying, “They are full of sweet wine.” (Acts 2:1-13)

Dear Gracyn,

You have been raised in a family that believes God is the same yesterday and today. That is how I believe as well. You have been taught that all things are possible with God. Me too. However, unless something dramatic happens (and it may) between this writing and your reading, tongues of fire may pose a challenge for you, since that is the only time we know this happened.

You have family members who believe Acts 2 was an isolated phenomena. You have others who believe it is normal Christianity for the Spirit to express himself when they gather. A part of your family will run from any supposed recurrences of Acts 2. Others will gather together and invite the Spirit to express himself. You may feel a wee bit of tension around things of the Spirit but press on dear child for your origins go back to the breath of God.

Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

God is the same yesterday and today but this does not mean that the Spirit must manifest Himself by speaking in tongues or causing drunkenness as a required after affect. One of the things that is the same about God yesterday and today is his tendency to not do things today the same way he did them yesterday. Then how do we know what God is going to do? (You are very big, as was your mommy, on wanting to know what is next.) More often then not, we don’t. Because of the potential tensions surrounding His ministry, I would like to tell you how God introduced me to the Holy Spirit.

In a few other places I have told you that Jesus rescued me in a dramatic fashion from the life of a prodigal son. This was the work of the Holy Spirit although He did not get as much credit as the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is God’s Life on earth. Nothing is truly alive unless God breathes upon it again. I was born again compliments – a secondary breathing of God.

I have also mentioned that God was powerfully revealed to me between the city limits of Enid and the McDonald’s, midway to Tulsa. This too was the work of the Spirit. The Spirit was left on the earth after Jesus ascended to reveal the Father and the Son. Was this the baptism of the Holy Spirit? I don’t think so but it certainly qualified as an immersion on my scale of measurement.

The where and the when of my conversion dictated that I would initially understand the baptism of the Holy Spirit as an exclusive experience secondary to salvation so it was only normative for me to seek this addendum. It happened in an upstairs bedroom in the Mobley residence in Tulsa. Doug Mobley led me in a short prayer asking God to give me the gift of tongues. He told me to simply provide the breath and the movement of my lips and the gift of tongues would be mine. To my utter astonishment a string of 3 or 4 sentences, composed of odd sounding words, escaped my lips. To this date these very same sentences are available to me at any moment.

My upper room experience was not an ecstatic or a dramatic moment. In fact, at no time has my new tongue produced a single goose bump or tear. My sentences are not the same type of sentences spoken in Acts 2. Those people were speaking the languages of that part of the world, and they appeared as though they were drunk. I am not even tipsy when I say my sentences.

It would be more accurate to say that I pray my sentences. Since no one else understands my words, I believe they are a private language of prayer. Since 1976 I have used this prayer language off and on. My new words have never produced any kind of revelatory experience, nor can I trace them as a cause to any affect. To this day those sentences remain a mystery to me.

1976 was a theologically tumultuous time in Tulsa. Matters of the Holy Spirit were splitting churches everywhere. One prominent ministry I tracked on the radio declared with certainty that being baptized in the Spirit was essential to salvation; that speaking in tongues was evidence of being baptized in the Holy Spirit; therefore to be born again one must speak in tongues. I bought into this and did some damage with it before I could repent. Today I believe this was a false doctrine. This ministry eventually softened the language around this aspect of their teaching.

I believe that when Jesus entered my life I was born anew, baptized in the Holy Spirit. I believe his breath entered into me and I became a living being, once again. When I say I am born again, I am saying that I am a temple of the Holy Spirit. What happened in the Mobley’s upper room was not the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It was a release of his Spirit who was already in me, having given me new life, having made me a new creation.

Sweetheart, we each have to come to know the Spirit. Your experience will differ from mine but I will say, (right or wrong) I am repelled by things done in the name of the Holy Spirit that are bombastic, egocentric and tainted with certainty. These things are profoundly inconsistent with my experience with Him. If the breath of God is anything, He is a blessed mystery. I pray that you will come to know Him every bit as well as you get to know Father and Jesus and that his gifts will flow from the new life you have in Him.

FYI. You are seven upon this writing and telling on your sister is not a gift of the Spirit.

Love,

Pop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Breath of God (Friday) – John 14:15-21

If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” (John 14:15-21)

Jesus is foretelling a day when this love affair between God and man, infused with Spirit, Truth and Life, will become evident. There are those who long to see a wholesale expression of this love affair play out in culture. They ask; “How is it Lord that with your Spirit on the earth, we still do not see scalable evidence of this passage?” It is fair to ask; when loves spills over, what does it look like?

One of my precious son in laws sent me something yesterday that answered this question. I would like to share it with you. This is from Todd Glass.

Gents,

I want to share an excerpt from “Amazing Grace” by Eric Metals which speaks specifically to William Wilberforce’s book entitled: “A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Higher and Middle Classes in This Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity.”

The principal problem was the Anglican clerics themselves, who mostly didn’t believe the basic tenets of orthodox Christian faith but didn’t want to declare themselves for fear of losing their salaries and positions. Wilberforce did not want to scold or badger his readers; he wanted to expose these ministers for what they were: dishonest members of a caste that refused to be thrown out because they had, as it were, a good thing going and seemed to think they knew better than the people in the pews anyway. Wilberforce wanted to speak directly to the people in those pews and tell them what many of them already suspected, that the emperor had no theological clothes, and was hiding behind silly fig leaves of mere propriety. Wilberforce wanted to point out the logical disconnect, to show the vast gulf separating “real Christianity,” as he called it, from the ersatz “religious system” that prevailed in its place. The book’s long title, “A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Higher and Middle Classes in This Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity,” made it difficult to miss the point.

The book’s style, being similar to Wilberforce’s style of speaking, was atypical of the time. Like his speeches in the House of Commons, the book was conversational and sometimes rambled every which way, as distinguished from the much more polished and organized oratory of Pitt and Burke and other masters of the form. It simply describes what Christianity is and then shows what the reality of religious belief was in British society. Wilberforce’s point was that this difference between theory and practice was vast and needed to be noted.
Wilberforce explained that real Christianity had evaporated from England principally because it was woven into the social fabric and therefore was easier to ignore and take for granted. “Christianity especially,” he wrote, “has always thrived under persecution. For then it has no lukewarm professors.” Wilberforce was exactly right. Not only was there no persecution of Christianity in England at that time, but the entire nation was officially Christian—in name only. England’s pulpits were filled with just such “lukewarm professors” lukewarmly professing a lukewarm faith that thrilled no one and challenged no one, lacking, as it did, the indispensable tang of otherness that is at the heart of Christian belief.
Wilberforce’s main charge against the faux Christianity of his day was that it pretended to be the real thing but wasn’t—yet few dared to rock the boat and say as much. Wilberforce couldn’t stand this tepid version of the real thing and labored to show that this practice that everyone thought was Christianity was in fact not Christianity at all. It was an uphill battle.
Wilberforce knew that if Britain took its faith seriously, if it actually believed the doctrines it claimed to believe, it could never have countenanced the slave trade or the institution of slavery itself. He knew that if Britain began to see what real Christianity was, it would begin to take an interest in the sufferings of the poor and feel an obligation toward them, as well as toward prisoners and others who suffered. That sort of concern was always the mark of real Christianity, but it was utterly absent from Britain in the last years of the eighteenth century.

In his book Wilberforce was essentially calling Britain to repent, to turn back to its true faith, the faith it had abandoned on the far side of the seventeenth century. Real Christianity, which they purported to believe, was wonderful and bracing and beautiful, but they had been getting the lukewarm version. It was a winsome and unprecedented appeal to a nation, specifically to its middle and upper classes, and ultimately it had a very great effect.

Wilberforce knew that many people didn’t know what real Christianity was; though they attended church, they’d never seen it and though they’d heard hundreds of sermons they had never heard it preached. Now, using the bully pulpit of his national celebrity, he would tell them that he believed it and had given his life to it. He was issuing, as it were, a warm invitation to join him.

Many would take Wilberforce at his word, both at the time the book was published and for decades afterward. It was a great comfort to many readers to learn that even if their own clergy did not understand what Christianity was—or perhaps they understood it and didn’t much like it—at least this one man, this Wilberforce, understood it and recommended it.

Father, have mercy on the United States. We do not see ourselves as You see us. Raise up the prophetic catalysts. Inject brilliant, winsome, Spirit inspired voices into our culture. With their visibility and credibility may they drown the bland and lukewarm voices that have shaped and are sustaining our demise. So be it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Breath of God (Thursday) – John 3:1-21

God has come down from Sanai and beyond to rescue his chosen people once again from slavery. God has come into his lost world, walked among his very own people and discovered he was not welcome. However one of this people’s leaders has broken rank and arranged a private meeting with God Incarnate. It seems this Pharisee has seen something he cannot dismiss.

Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him. (John 3:2)

Rather than trying to build a bridge back to the hardened institution of Judaism, Jesus begins construction directly to Nicodemus’ heart.

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

The first component of Jesus’ bridge was a delineation between the flesh and the spirit.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3:5-8)

The Spirit? Pneúma? Rúach? God’s Breath? What is Nicodemus to think? If this is a bridge its structural members seem insubstantial. However, construction proceeds as Jesus allows him to ask his questions. With each query and response, Jesus is building a relationship and credibility for the mystery he is proposing. He drills down to the bedrock of Nicodemus’ heart and builds a pier as he connects Moses to this revelation about the Spirit.

Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony.  If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. (John3:9-15)

Resting on something solid now, Jesus compounds the mystery with another structural component. “Eternal life?!” Nicodemus’ sense of amazement doubles. Even though he didn’t understand where the wind was blowing this conversation, he was still listening. Their relationship now has sufficient load bearing capacity for Jesus to place the main structural members. As their eyes were now locked on each other, Jesus puts the girders in place…

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.  For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.  But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” (John 3:16-21)

Love? Belief? Eternal life? Judgement? Light? Darkness? Evil? As a Jew, Nicodemus had seen all of these components strewn about the yard of Jewish theology. While he had a sense they were intregal to what God was building, he had no clue how they all fit together, until now.

The Jews, on the other hand, are growing in their hatred of God’s Son but Jesus even uses that to build with. We know where this hatred leads. They ultimately have him crucified which allows the deck of the bridge to be poured. After his resurrection, the project was complete. Construction is finished! All of those who have seen something they cannot dismiss are invited to cross over from death to life. This must have included Nicodemus. He appears a few more times in the New Testament, each time in a place where he is trying to be a buffer between Jesus and his murderous colleagues. He was even there when the Son of Man was lifted up. I definitely see Nicodemus as one who believed, who would not perish, but have eternal life.

God our Savior, desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator (bridge) also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. (2 Timothy 2:3-6; parenthesis mine)

Father, I pray that Your wind would blow us about in such a way that the world will see something in us they cannot dismiss. Even if we do not know where it comes from or where it is going, may the wind blow us in the direction of Your 1 in 99 who is nearest to us. May load bearing relationships take shape such that we can help assemble the pieces in their understanding.  May our deeds be manifested as having been wrought by You – that all men might cross over this Bridge into Life. Amen.

Where is God’s breath carrying you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Breath of God (Wednesday) – Genesis 2:4-7

This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven. Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2:4-7)

Did God’s breathing in us predate the dinosaurs? Did this event occur only in Eden? Did he breathe on just one man? How then did the original skin tone of Adam morph into whites and yellows, browns and tans and get distributed all over the planet? This looks way more like design than evolutionary sunburn. This all remains a mystery to me even though there are many prepared to answer these questions with certainty on the internet. Certainty – how is that working out for us?”

When Adam sinned, the Breath was knocked out of him. He could not go on living in the Garden of Eden without God’s breath animating him – making him a true living being. After they disobeyed, Adam and his wife were escorted out of the Garden into the world where they proceeded to populate and subdue it. What we have inherited (in all its glory and misery) is the results of misguided, unredeemed human efforts to make life work out. Without the breath of God, man is left only with his considerable wits. And as impressive as they can be, what they have birthed is saturated in futility. Wood hay and stubble is the best man can do without God’s Spirit authoring and underwriting his undertakings. But all is not lost. Christ is risen.

There may be an angel with a flaming sword guarding Eden from our return but more importantly there is a resurrected Son of God inviting us into His life. If we will ask Him, He will gladly give us His Breath (the Holy Spirit) once again. Until His Spirit becomes our Life, the Breath remains knocked out of us – leaving us to live for short term gratifications out of mere human strength and earthly wisdom. However, those in whom the Spirit dwells have become new creations – agents of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Once the Spirit resides in us, we are members of God’s family and citizens of His Kingdom. We are once again, living beings in the truest sense.

However opaque it appears, God is making all things new. God is already reconciling all things to His Son. God’s kingdom has come and it is coming because the breath of God is animating a remnant of living beings who are progressively resembling His Son and who are doing the works that Jesus did.

I look forward to a day when we shall hear accounts of God’s new creation, when it shall be said; “The Lord God is re-creating the earth and heaven. He is making all things new again. As He has pledged, He is reconciling all things to His Son.” 

Father, continue remaking us into the image of Your son so that we will be at home as new creations in Your new creation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Breath of God (Tuesday) – Ezekiel 37:1-14

So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, sinews were on them, and flesh grew and skin covered them. (Ezekiel 37:7-8)

The frame that is holding my sinews and other sundry parts together is crying out, “Please speak over me; somebody prophecy so that there might be…

a noise, and behold a rattling and bones coming together, vertabrae upon vertabrae. And I looked and behold (this is my favorite part) discs were between them and you will know that I am the Lord.” (Rob’s Imagined Version)

Back to Ezekiel…

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones. He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry. He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, You know.” (Ezekiel 37:1-3)

I recall a similar line of questions being posed to three young Hebrew men; “Shadrack, will you be delivered from this furnace?” “Meshach, will you be saved from this injustice?” “Abednigo, will this fire consume you?” And the three replied;

 Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. (Daniel 3:17-18)

I was glad that God did not rebuke them for the “but-even-if-He-does-not” clause they added to their declaration. I have been living in the even-when-He-has-not with a degenerative spine since 2002. Coming to know God in the even-when-He-has-not has been powerful for me because it has prompted an exploration of the life that transcends this decaying material world. Would I have enjoyed the discoveries I have made without diseased discs? The Lord and I both know that I would have opted to leverage the remains of my spinal health in an attempt to further reduce my golf handicap or ride my bike across America. 

To bring some of us into our promised land God must hobble us. Some of us love our physical lives to the extent that we are idolaters – we are the golden image. I said some. I know there are some of you who are self-hobblers. You know its vain to pursue athletic prowess. You exercise self control. In your righteous character you deny yourself. How admirable.

Having said this, I must still declare (as unlikely as it may seem) that God is able to rebuild my frame. Even while I am experiencing pain (which tempts me to think God is busy in Africa drilling water wells) I must believe and declare that God is able. This is where this explorer is bumping into something. While I do not see my back pain as a punishment, I do have to say that God has used it to do some things in my heart that I doubt would have been possible without a little suffering. I suspect people from IHOH (International House of Healing] are being dispatched to my house even now to cast this lying spirit out of me.

Without redemption within suffering, I have no way of explaining the even-when-He-has-not. Without the redemption that accompanies pain and loss, Psalms, Job and much of Paul’s teachings might as well be ripped out of the Bible.

I have thought about trying to cut a deal with God: “If you would heal my back, I promise to limit my golf to one round (every… say 2 weeks?) and my biking to one ride per week (say…25 miles). This is just how big of a fool I am. I’m actually taking a different approach though. My declaration is fast becoming…

Though the spinal component to my outer man (and a few other vital systems) are decaying, my inner man is being renewed daily and it will outlive my body. So there!

If I had not experienced a measure of renewal in my inner man during the even-when-He-has-not, I would probably abandon this track but it is here that I have met God in new ways and it is here that I can make sense of Romans 8:28.

God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

First causes are the mystery to me. Did cause my back problems or is He just using them? I believe it is the latter. I don’t believe God causes evil. Evil’s presence in our world precedes us. Our lives are front-loaded with it. And, due to our own choices, evil has profited in this world and our lives, in our reaping. Evil resulting from sin is the backstory to our decay and suffering.

Will our faith and prayers reverse this trend? I don’t know about you but I am attending more funerals than resurrections these days. That still-small-wise voice is advising me to prepare for the worst on this front.

“So, Rob can these bones of yours live? Can I heal your back?” And I reply, “God, you know. You are able to deliver me. But if you do not I am not going to abandon you just because the golden image of myself is decaying.

Father, You have brought each of us out and set us down in the middle of our own dry-bone valleys. Your hand is upon us. May Your breath be within us. Animate us by Your Spirit. Bring us into our own land. Stand this army on her feet. May evil retreat in the presence of such an exceedingly great army. Let this world see us walk out of our prisons and graves for Your name’s sake. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Breath of God (Monday) – John 20:19-23

So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they havbeen retained. (John 20:19-23)

I could have as easily named my blog site In the Middle With Tension instead of In the Middle With Mystery because their can be a lot of tension within mystery. Our passage has stirred my memory of an occasion where there was some tension. I was hosting a retreat for some younger men at a lakeside getaway for the express purpose of listening to each other’s stories. I had primed them to be thinking about this in light of where they have been and where they currently perceived themselves to be.

My recent experiences had led me to believe the Holy Spirit liked settings of this nature. I had made a discovery; the transparency that becomes possible in a safe space can draw men and God together. Men were discovering what walking in the light looks like, a place where our hearts become more open to the reality of our own situation, to God and to others. I had watched the Holy Spirit do enough things in settings such as this to believe the inevitable tensions would be worth the trouble. And blessed tensions there were.

On the guest list were those who had very different understandings and experience with Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit was to some the Counselor whom Jesus had left on earth primarily to interpret the Bible when it would come along in a few hundred years. And then there were friends of mine present whose daily Bread was not necessarily the scriptures rather it was whatever was being said to them that day (or that moment) by the Holy Spirit. We called our gathering a Kingdom Summit. It should have been promoted as Sola Scriptura meet Sola Pneuma.

The sola scriptura men were young, devout, heavily involved in ministry and decidedly certain. The written word of God was central in their understanding of God’s authority.  Hmmm. I am having a flashback. Now I am recalling there was also some tension (although well managed) between these brothers. One of them saw ministry as saving souls and caring for the poor and one saw ministry mostly as preaching of the word and discipling men.  Regrettably, they were moving in different directions relationally.

Then there were my friends whose backgrounds had equipped them with a knowledge of scripture which would match or rival anyone in the room. They were older, passionate for Jesus and keen on listening to the Holy Spirit. After each man had told his story (and a few were heart rending) the other men were invited to offer input if they believed God had given them something to share. This is where we entered into The Middle With Tension.

This opportunity for “ministry” flushed out everyone’s understanding of what God was doing in the earth and how he was going about it. (Maybe this is why the word ministry sometimes gives me an icky feeling.)  After one particularly gut-wrenching and humble disclosure (which I would have characterized as walking in the light) the knee jerk response from the sola scriptura contingent was to immediately direct this aching soul to the particular scriptures (chapter and verse) which (if applied) would fine tune his repentance and get his life back on track with God.  I knew the person pretty well who had just told his story. He came from a bible-fixer upper background.  In fact some of his despondency came from attempts and failures to achieve biblically-informed repentance. Was his a hard and unrepentant heart in need of correction? Or, was his a broken and disoriented heart that needed to be heard and encouraged?

As I listened I was definitely convinced that, in this moment, it needed to be treated as the latter type of heart. I felt this so strongly I found myself looking for tables to overturn. Something in me kind of went off. With an uncharacteristic boldness I publicly called a time out to the unfolding biblical counseling session. It was profoundly awkward because I loved our biblical counselor.  We had to call a time out to let the pressure out of the room and so sola scripture and I could regroup. The break was tense but succeeded in restoring the bonds of trust between us.

The would-be counselor deferred to my role as a facilitator and with humility agreed to set his approach on the shelf for the day. I can’t recall if I hugged or kissed him but I clearly recall wanting to do both. Naturally speaking, tension is not my thing. This is a problem because I don’t know any way to the truth except through tension. I do not believe we can just sail around it. In a fallen world I believe the truth will often be found in this domain of tension. However, as the card carrying pacifist I am, I prefer to think of this realm as mystery – a realm where man’s tiny thoughts are dwarfed by the Life of God and where certainty regarding God’s ways is out of place.  Back to our retreat. Our encounter with tension was not over. We had not yet heard from Sola Pneuma.

When it came time to pray for the Sola Scriptura-Care for the Poor specialist, my Pneuma oriented friends weighed in during the waining moments of our prayer time with personal prophecies and an extra treat; One of them leaned in near and did what He believed Jesus was doing in that moment, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

As I was also engaged in earnestly praying for this young man, I noticed something happening in me again. It wan’t as intense as before; I didn’t want to knock tables over but I did find myself wanting to at least rearrange them OR SOMETHING! I sensed my poor unsuspecting sola-scriptura friend had been ambushed. More tension! This was so difficult because I loved these men too. In this instance I didn’t feel like I succeeded in keeping things safe for my younger friend who had been receiving prayer. But, looking back, I comfort myself knowing I had helped facilitate (even if it was by default) an experience he would not soon forget.

Someone ask me, “Why (in the world) do you call your blog, In The Middle With Mystery? That’s why you only have 5 subscribers!” How did they know this? (My low readership was exaggerated for humor’s sake. We all know how humor diffuses tension!) For the record; there are actually 6 subscribers.

MwM received its name because my life has been filled with theological, alienating, fellowship-breaking tension. (plus, the name MwM just popped into my head and I liked it.) Churches I have participated in (and even help lead) have split; my own family has been divided. Debate (Oh God I hate that word!) has never diminished tension or created an iota of energy. On the contrary, debate for debates sake only compounds division and provides entertainment for contentious souls.

Since I associate division with separation and separation as a primary woe which our ancient foe doth seek to work on us, I have taken a different road and (with only 6 subscribers) it certainly feels like the one less travelled. This road is simply my attempt to live out a life that was breathed into me. I have known the breath of God independent of the scriptures and I have certainly known the breath of God emerging from the printed page.  Word and Spirit are so integrated to me. I have comforted myself (whether I am exegetically entitled to do so or not) with the notion that the words of Jesus might apply…..

But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:23-24)

My prayer is..

Father may this be the hour when you breathe once again upon us and find all those who will worship you in spirit and truth. Help us to escape all our sola-stances, which alienate and divide. Help us to discover the vast, safe and mysterious expanses of your Life. May we jointly find our security and unity in you – the Mystery of the Ages.

Note: I have taken liberties in applying the term sola (or only) to a few folks. This was an exaggeration. I should have used prefera-scriptura or prefera-pneuma to depict their love for scripture or Holy Spirit.

These are not the only persons with preferences around me. I am also surrounded by other unique perspectives. Let’s see. There is the foreign missions givers and goers, the word-faith devotees, the prophetic-apostolic oriented persons, the intercessory prayer and warfare people, the Israel-intercessors, the Bethel and the IHOP disciples, the lectio divina folks, The N.T. Wright re-read the bible guys, the anti-establishment community friends, the care for the poor zealots, the house church and high church friends. I am related to and surrounded by these and more. They make up my community. As I see it, we are together in the middle with Christ, our Common Life, who has surrounded us and engulfed us in his vast wisdom, love and power. It is my simple ambition that Jesus, as mysterious as He may be, may find expression through us which would validate our claims of being new creations.

The Breath of God (Monday) – John 20:19-23

The Breath of God – John 20:19-23

So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.

I could have as easily named my blog site In the Middle With Tension instead of In the Middle With Mystery because their can be a lot of tension within mystery. Our passage has stirred my memory of an occasion where there was some tension. I was hosting a retreat for some younger men at a lakeside getaway for the express purpose of listening to each other’s stories. I had primed them to be thinking about this in light of where they have been and where they currently perceived themselves to be.

My recent experiences had led me to believe the Holy Spirit liked settings of this nature. I had made a discovery; the transparency that becomes possible in a safe space can draw men and God together. Men were discovering what walking in the light looks like, a place where our hearts become more open to the reality of our own situation, to God and to others. I had watched the Holy Spirit do enough things in settings such as this to believe the inevitable tensions would be worth the trouble. And blessed tensions there were.

On the guest list were those who had very different understandings and experience with Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit was to some the Counselor whom Jesus had left on earth primarily to interpret the Bible when it would come along in a few hundred years. And then there were friends of mine present whose daily Bread was not necessarily the scriptures rather it was whatever was being said to them that day (or that moment) by the Holy Spirit. We called our gathering a Kingdom Summit. It should have been promoted as Sola Scriptura meet Sola Pneuma.

The sola scriptura men were young, devout, heavily involved in ministry and decidedly certain. The written word of God was central in their understanding of God’s authority.  Hmmm. I am having a flashback. Now I am recalling there was also some tension (although well managed) between these brothers. One of them saw ministry as saving souls and caring for the poor and one saw ministry mostly as preaching of the word and discipling men.  Regrettably, they were moving in different directions relationally.

Then there were my friends whose backgrounds had equipped them with a knowledge of scripture which would match or rival anyone in the room. They were older, passionate for Jesus and keen on listening to the Holy Spirit. After each man had told his story (and a few were heart rending) the other men were invited to offer input if they believed God had given them something to share. This is where we entered into The Middle With Tension.

This opportunity for “ministry” flushed out everyone’s understanding of what God was doing in the earth and how he was going about it. (Maybe this is why the word ministry sometimes gives me an icky feeling.)  After one particularly gut-wrenching and humble disclosure (which I would have characterized as walking in the light) the knee jerk response from the sola scriptura contingent was to immediately direct this aching soul to the particular scriptures (chapter and verse) which (if applied) would fine tune his repentance and get his life back on track with God.  I knew the person pretty well who had just told his story. He came from a bible-fixer upper background.  In fact some of his despondency came from attempts and failures to achieve biblically-informed repentance. Was his a hard and unrepentant heart in need of correction? Or, was his a broken and disoriented heart that needed to be heard and encouraged?

As I listened I was definitely convinced that, in this moment, it needed to be treated as the latter type of heart. I felt this so strongly I found myself looking for tables to overturn. Something in me kind of went off. With an uncharacteristic boldness I publicly called a time out to the unfolding biblical counseling session. It was profoundly awkward because I loved our biblical counselor.  We had to call a time out to let the pressure out of the room and so sola scripture and I could regroup. The break was tense but succeeded in restoring the bonds of trust between us.

The would-be counselor deferred to my role as a facilitator and with humility agreed to set that approach on the shelf for the day. I can’t recall if I hugged or kissed him but I clearly recall wanting to do both. Naturally speaking, tension is not my thing. This is a problem because I don’t know any way to the truth except through tension. I do not believe we can just sail around it. In a fallen world I believe the truth will often be found in this domain of tension. However, as the card carrying pacifist I am, I prefer to think of this realm as mystery – a realm where man’s tiny thoughts are dwarfed by the Life of God and where certainty regarding God’s ways is out of place.  Back to our retreat. Our encounter with tension was not over. We had not yet heard from Sola Pneuma.

When it came time to pray for the Sola Scriptura-Care for the Poor specialist, my Pneuma oriented friends weighed in during the waining moments of our prayer time with personal prophecies and a an extra treat; One of them leaned in near and did what He believed Jesus was doing in that moment, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

As I was also engaged in earnestly praying for this young man, I noticed something happening in me again. It wan’t as intense as before; I didn’t want to knock tables over but I did find myself wanting to at least rearrange them OR SOMETHING! I sensed my poor unsuspecting sola-scriptura friend had been ambushed. More tension! This was so difficult because I loved these men too. In this instance I didn’t feel like I succeeded in keeping things safe for my younger friend who had been receiving prayer. But, looking back, I comfort myself knowing I had helped facilitate (even if it was by default) an experience he would not soon forget.

Someone ask me, “Why (in the world) do you call your blog, In The Middle With Mystery? That’s why you only have 5 subscribers!” How did they know this? (My low readership was exaggerated for humor’s sake. We all know how humor diffuses tension!) For the record; there are actually 6 subscribers.

MwM received its name because my life has been filled with theological, alienating, fellowship-breaking tension. (plus, the name MwM just popped into my head and I liked it.) Churches I have participated in (and even help lead) have split; my own family has been divided. Debate (Oh God I hate that word!) has never diminished tension or created an iota of energy. On the contrary, debate for debates sake only compounds division and provides entertainment for contentious souls.

Since I associate division with separation and I see separation as a primary woe which our ancient foe doth seek to work on us, I have taken a different road and (with only 6 subscribers) it certainly feels like the one less travelled. This road is simply my attempt to live out a life that was breathed into me. I have known the breath of God independent of the scriptures and I have certainly known the breath of God emerging from the printed page.  Word and Spirit are so integrated to me. I have comforted myself (whether I am exegetically entitled to do so or not) with the notion that the words of Jesus might apply…..

But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:23-24)

My prayer is..

Father may this be the hour when you breathe once again upon us and find all those who will worship you in spirit and truth. Help us to escape our sola-stances, which alienate and divide. Help us to discover the vast, safe and mysterious expanses of your Life. May we jointly find our security and unity in you, the Mystery of the Ages. 

Note: I have taken modest writer’s liberties in applying the term sola (or only) to a few folks. This was an exaggeration. I should have used prefera scriptura or prefera pneuma to depict their love for scripture or of Holy Spirit.

These are not the only persons with preferences around me. I am also surrounded by other unique perspectives. Let’s see. There is the foreign missions givers and goers, the word-faith devotees, the prophetic-apostolic oriented persons, the intercessory prayer and warfare people, the Israel-intercessors, the Bethel and the IHOP disciples, the lectio divina folks, The N.T. Wright re-read the bible guys, the anti-establishment community friends, the care for the poor zealots, the house church and high church friends. I am related to and surrounded by these and more. They make up my community. As I see it, we are together in the middle with Christ, our Common Life, who has surrounded us and engulfed us in his vast wisdom, love and power. It is my simple ambition that Jesus, as mysterious as he may be, may find expression through us which would validate our claims of being new creations. However, I am not setting my hopes on unity just now.