Daily Bread

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray in Matthew 6, he taught them to pray “Give us today our daily bread.” What has interested me these last few days is that just before Jesus launches into the Lord’s Prayer, he prefaces it by saying, “When you pray, don’t keep on babbling… your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” If God knows what we need for our daily sustenance and survival, what is the point of asking Him for it, especially if we are to avoid unnecessary words? Also, just a little while later, Jesus instructs us not to worry about what we are going to eat and drink because we are precious to our Father and just as he feeds the birds of the air, so too, will He feed us.

So it got me thinking — is Jesus instructing us to pray for something other than daily food and water? Is “daily bread” a cryptic form of instructing us to pray for another type of sustenance and, if so, what are we to be praying for?

In John 4, Jesus has sent his disciples into the city to buy food. While they are gone, Jesus has a nice chat with the woman at the well and reveals to her that he is, indeed, the Messiah. Upon the disciples return, they urge Jesus to eat the food they have just brought back, but Jesus replies, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about,” John 4:32. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work,” John 4:34.

Jesus obviously needed to eat real food, but there was another type of food that sustained him – spiritual food – daily bread.

I believe that our Daily Bread is to do the good works we were created to do. Our Daily bread is to overcome the enemy, prevail in prayer and set up the Kingdom on the earth. I’ve often wondered if Jesus drew from the story of Caleb and Joshua when he taught his disciples to ask for daily bread.

To recap: Joshua, Caleb and 10 other spies are sent into the Promised Land after their Exodus from Egypt. They were to bring back a report of the land itself and also its inhabitents. Upon their return, the spies related that the Land was exceedingly good, but that it was inhabited by giants. 10 other spies urged the people to not go in, but Joshua and Caleb protested. They said, “Do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”

Joshua and Caleb saw the giants as bread. Conquering them would sustain the conquest of the Promised Land and inspire the Israelites to greater glory. Sadly, the Israelites gave in to fear and spent the next 40 years wandering until every last one of them died.

I wonder if Jesus was trying to get us to pray big prayers. I wonder if he was inviting us to ask our Heavenly Father for giants to overcome. I wonder if he was hoping that we would lay hold of our identity as “more than conquerors” and seek out those things that seem so large in the eyes of men and overcome them through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The more I wonder, the more I ponder, the more certain I become – Daily Bread is the establishment of the Kingdom of God through the hands of His Saints. Daily Bread is healing the sick, raising the dead, and making demons homeless. Daily Bread is bringing people to salvation through Christ. Daily Bread feasting on the fruit of answered prayer.

This revelation has changed how I pray. I used to think that asking for daily bread was asking for the grace to scrape by. I now think that asking for Daily Bread is asking for supernatural empowering to overthrow demonic strongholds and to eat giants for breakfast.

One last thing. Jesus taught us to pray in the plural. We ask for OUR daily bread. I can’t win the Promised Land by myself – I need an army behind me. Once again, the story of the Israelites becomes pertinent.

In the course of their wandering, some of the Israelites became content with life outside the Promised Land. The Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh all found life outside the Promised Land quite satisfactory and they wanted to stay outside, they didn’t want to fight. But Joshua made them. Joshua made the men fight until their brothers had inherited their portion from The Lord, only then could they all rest secure.

It isn’t enough for me to fight for and secure my own portion, I have to fight for and secure yours along with you. Until the whole people of God have stepped into their inheritence, none of us can rest. We have a responsibility to our brothers to fight for them, to see them secure in their identity and destiny. Any less than that is to work against what Jesus taught us.

I hope that this revelation sparks a fire in you. I hope that you begin to pray big prayers. I hope that you really come to understand that you are more than a conqueror through Christ Jesus who loves you. I hope that you dream big dreams and fight for the dreams of your friends. We need you.

Personal Prayer and Corporate Prayer Revisited

My last post was mostly about the need for corporate prayer and intercession, so before I circle back around to talk about personal prayer, let’s recap what we learned about intercession.

*Intercession, entychano literally means, “obtaining the promises of God,” “laying hold of the Kingdom and pulling it into our circumstances,” or “causing things to unfold in a certain way.”

*Intercession is absolutely essential to the unfolding of God’s plans and purposes. “You do not have because you do not ask,” says James. Without prayer we won’t receive many of the things God would willingly give.

*We always pray corporately, even when we pray privately. Jesus taught his disciples to pray in the plural – “Our Father… give us today our daily bread.” There is an understanding in Christian theology that I can’t be full unless you are. I can receive my inheritance unless you receive yours because part of my destiny won’t be unlocked until you succeed. Intercession is fighting for the dreams of our friends.

Personal prayer, proseuchomai, has the all encompassing definition, “to pray.” This type of personal prayer includes a wide range of heart postures including petition, thanksgiving, praise, worship, confession, intercession, lament and so on. Every type of emotion or experience can become a seed bed for prayer, as attested to in the Psalter. What is less understood is that personal prayer also encompasses a wide range of activities. You can journal, paint, soak in a bathtub or in music, stand, kneel, dance, lie prostrate, raise your hands or sit by a creek. Any type of activity can be partnered with prayer so long as prayer is your primary goal.

So that is a little bit about what prayer is, but now comes the deeper question – why? Why does God want us to pray? I’ll attempt to answer that question by telling you a story.

On the morning of June 30, 1859, Charles Blondin became the first man to ever cross Niagara Falls in a tightrope. Monsieur Blondin would go on to cross the Falls over 300 times, each time upping the ante. He was famous for crossing the Falls blindfolded, stopping to cook and eat an omelet halfway through and pushing a wheelbarrow filled with 350# of concrete safely across.

Legend says that Blondin once asked the crowd if they thought he could push a person across in the wheelbarrow. Seeing one man cheering wildly, Blondin asked the man if he would like to get in. The man declined.

I don’t know if that particular story is true, but I know this one is.

Several weeks after Blondin’s initial crossing, he showed up to cross with his manager, Harry Colcord, clinging to his back. Before they started their crossing, Blondin was overheard telling his manager, “Look up, Harry.… you are no longer Colcord, you are Blondin. Until I clear this place be a part of me – mind, body, and soul. If I sway, sway with me. Do not attempt to do any balancing yourself. If you do we will both go to our death.” The two went on to make a very successful crossing to the amazement and thrill of the 50,000 onlookers.

I love the words Blondin spoke to his manager. They are equally appropriate words for Jesus to speak to us – “Look up. You are no longer you, you are Me. Be a part of Me – mind, body and soul. If I sway, sway with me. Do not attempt to do this by yourself. If you do, you won’t make it.”

The goal of prayer is conformity with Christ. It is to make us one in mind, body and soul. It is to help us think how he thinks, feel what he feels and act as he acts. Prayer is anything but a disembodied experience that begins and ends when we enter our prayer closet. Prayer is a continuous, ongoing experience where day by day, even hour by hour, we have an ongoing dialogue with God and are led by His Spirit.

The chief goal of prayer is to pray until God’s will becomes ours and our will becomes His.It is the only goal we need. I get uncomfortable when people offer up a dozen reasons to do something because it feels like they are trying to convince me to do something I wouldn’t want to do. All we need is one really good reason — and letting the Word come alive in our flesh in the place of prayer is the best reason of all.
The only other reason to pray worth mentioning, in my opinion, is that prayer gets us involved in eternal things. When we give ourselves to the place of prayer we become co-laborers with God, bringing about the Kingdom of God. I say this because prayer is not prayer in the biblical sense unless it is accompanied with action. We can’t pray for God to feed the hungry and not do it ourselves. We can’t pray for God to care for the orphans and not take them into our homes. We can’t ask for God to bless marriages and not give everything we have to building up our own. Unless prayer is followed up with action it is nothing more than good intentions – it is powerless and hypocritical.

Prayer is the place of transformation, of conformation. Prayer is where the power is because it is the place where we touch God’s heart and get His perspective. Prayer is where we deal with our own brokenness and sin, it is where we fight our lions and bears so that, when we are faced with Goliath’s in public, we have the power and authority to deal with them. This is why I say that prayer is the proving ground.

I once heard Bill Johnson say, “I can pray for you to do what I can do, but I can’t impart my history with God to you. You have to make that for yourself.” We all need to make history with God and that happens in the place of prayer. It won’t benefit us or the world to work miracles if we don’t have the character and integrity to stay faithful to God and in love with His Son Jesus.

We live in an age that loves individualization. We want our own personal plan for discipleship. We want Jesus to cater to our needs and make us holy without much effort or inconvenience on our part.

That just isn’t going to happen.

The method of transformation and discipleship is unchanged in 2,000 years of church history and has been making high caliber saints the entire time. The plan is to pray. Pray and read the word. Pray and fast. Pray and worship. Pray and give. Pray and serve. Pray for your enemies and everyone who hates you. Pray by yourself and pray with the community. Pray, pray, pray – pray without ceasing and devote yourself to prayer.

Only prayer will transform you. Only prayer will result in a life of communion with God. I don’t want to undermine the importance of Scripture, but many of the greatest saints of history were illiterate. They couldn’t read or study, so they prayed and the course of our world was radically adjusted because of their intercession. Of course, if you’re reading this, then you can read and you should study the Scripture dilligently, letting them form your imagination and give you language and passion for your pursuit of God. My point is simply to say that prayer, more than any other discipline, is essential to the work of sanctification.

Daniel, Peter, John, Paul, Jesus – all these men had set times for prayer. If you want to do what they did, you must do what they did. Before we can go around “doin’ the stuff” we first have to get “the stuff.” And “the stuff,” the anointing of the Holy Spirit, only comes in prayer (see Luke 3:21, Acts 2:1).

There is no single enterprise that is more important, more inspiring and more impactful than the work of biblical prayer and intercession – that is, making a petition with the full intention of being the answer to your own prayer. Did you pray for The Lord to heal Aunt Sally? Then you’d better call Aunt Sally and release healing over her. If at all possible, The Lord wants to use you to answer your prayers; prayer is a full contact sport, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

One last thought. When David wanted to bring the Ark to Jerusalem, he first tried to bring it on a cart. The cart hit a bump and Uzzah payed the price. After further investigation, David found that the Ark, the very Presence of God Himself, could only be carried on the shoulders of the priests. The take-away is this: God doesn’t anoint methods, he anoints men (and women!). No program is going to usher in the Presence of God into your congregation, only prayer. When the people of God step into the Priestly model that Jesus lays out for us in Hebrews 7:23-25 we will once again see the Presence of God being carried by the People of God. Amen, let it indeed be so!

Personal Prayer vs. Corporate Prayer

I just had a mind-blowing revelation about prayer that I wanted to share with you. I seriously think this message can change the prayer culture in our congregations if we can get ahold of this.

The greek word for personal prayer in the New Testament is proseuchomai. It means, “to pray, to wish for.”

The greek word for corporate intercession in the New Testament is entychano. It is a conjunction of en “in, or into” and tychano, which means “to take part in, to obtain or provide, to (cause to) happen in a certain way.” Corporate intercession in the New Testament has the connotation of obtaining the promises of God, manifesting the Kingdom by taking it out of the theoretical and into the tangible through unity in prayer – that is pretty exciting!

There is something about agreement and unity in prayer that God finds irrisistable. Breakthrough, answered prayer, happens more frequently when a community prays in a concentrated manner rather than with scattered individuals offering up their own private wish lists. Corporate agreement in prayer is part of the Church’s mandate to make things “on earth as they are in Heaven.” It is the Church living out its mission of ekklesia, “the ones called out by Jesus to gather in his name for the purpose of exercising his governmental powers for the well-being of the city” (Alexander Venter, “Doing Church,” p.36).

Thomas Rainer has noted that the most effective congregations in evangelism and discipleship are the congregations that have a high value for corporate prayer. He also notes that, as the value for corporate prayer and intercession decline, so does the health of the congregation.

Corporate prayer and intercession is an essential ingredient in the Christian life. Corporate prayer and intercession isn’t for the super spiritual, the super anointed, or those who have a “passion” for prayer. It is for everyone. When Luke summarized the key components of the Early Church, he described them as being “devoted to prayer.” The word “devoted” is used 10 times in the New Testament, 6 of those times it is used to describe how Christians should be in prayer. To be devoted is to be set apart. To be devoted is to be in a particular habit or pattern of prayer that frequently draws you away from regular life and into the secret place. Only you and God know if “devoted” is a word that described your prayer life, but if it doesn’t then I encourage you to make the necessary changes to come into alignment with this biblical standard.

Corporate prayer is sorely lacking in my congregation right now. It isn’t part of the DNA of my tribe and that is a major hole. I believe that sustained corporate intercession is the key to transformation. Intercession, entychano, is what is needed to obtain God’s promises, to pull the potential into the concrete, to enable us to declare “repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” Nothing less than anointed men and women coming together in corporate agreement with the Kingdom of God will result in changed hearts and lives. Prayer is the proving ground, the place where our hearts are overshadowed by His heart. It is the place of transformation and innovation. Prayer enables us to work more effectively because God is working with us, preparing the road ahead of us.

We don’t need more or better methods of churchmanship. We don’t need to decide if we are “missional,” “seeker sensative,” “attractional,” or “emergent.” We need to be people of prayer. We need to be people available for the Holy Ghost to use whenever and wherever He so chooses. Amen.

The Spirit of Holiness

I’ve been reading the Gospel of Luke in a new translation called The Passion Translation. I really like it. Whenever I find a translation that makes me feel like I’m hearing the Good News for the first time (again), I take it as a good thing.

In chapter two, when talking about Simeon, the translator says “the Spirit of Holiness rested upon him!” The words “Holy Spirit” have become so common to my ears that I forget God’s Spirit is, indeed, Holy. “The Spirit of Holiness” is the literal rendering of the Greek, we just change it around to “Holy Spirit” to make it sound more like regular English. But there is something about the phrase “the Spirit of Holiness” that grabbed me.

Speaking for myself, I am frequently guilty of forgetting that God is Holy. That He is the Almighty, the Beginning and the End. I’m so used to thinking of Him as “Father” or “Dad” that I lose that perspective of Him. So when I read about Simeon, I find myself asking the questions – “is the Spirit of Holiness in/on me?” “Would people choose the word ‘holy’ to describe me?” “What does holiness even look like?”

There are a lot of words I could use to describe Christians, but holy isn’t one I would think of. I think that is an error. I don’t think of Christians and holy, set apart, or sacred. Perhaps its because I grew up in church, but Christians seem pretty normal and, dare I say, worldly to me.

I have unfortunate connotations with the word holy. I think of stuffy, overly religious Pharisees or etheral, disconnected mystics. Neither stereotype is particularly attractive or the type of holiness that Jesus modeled.

Jesus was so holy that when dirty people touched him, he didn’t get dirty – they got clean. Jesus was so holy that he could dwell in the midst of sinners, love them, teach them, comfort them, and yet the sinner’s understood that he wasn’t becoming like them, he was calling them to be like him. Jesus’s very Presence caused people to want to change their behavior, to be more holy, more like God.

Jesus’s holiness resulted in rage against religion (clearing the Temple), compassion for the downtrodden (the sheep without a Shepherd) and indignation at Satan’s abuse of mankind (healing the man with the shriveled hand). Jesus was both intimately involved and connected to the world and completely of Heaven. His holiness was held in suspension with his humanity – a bizarre and irresistible combination.

So often we talk about holiness in terms of what not to do. This is completely understandable for it is the Old Testament model. In the OT, holy people weren’t allowed around the sick, dying or dead. They couldn’t drink wine or beer, couldn’t eat certain things. Holiness was defined by abstention – removing oneself from the world.

But then there is Jesus turning everything upside down again! Jesus drank, he didn’t honor the Sabbath via conventional means, he was intimately familiar with sin, sickness and disease in the lives of others. What is the New Covenant definition of holiness? I’m not sure I know. Every holiness movement I’m aware of resorts to the Old Covenant standards, in clear contradiction of Scripture. They try so hard to be biblical they stop being Christian and shackle themselves once again to the Law.

The possible exception to this might be Bethel in Redding, CA but I don’t know enough about their community to comment on it.

My current working definition of holiness is “living in this Age like we will in the next.” Since Heaven is a temporary place, I’ve chosen the Age to Come as my reference point for morality/behavior.

Will we drink alcohol in eternity? Absolutely! Ever heard of the Marriage Feast of the Lamb where Jesus will drink the fruit of the vine together with his Bride? But no one will get drunk, hence a standard for this Age.

The more and more I search the Scriptures for what life will be the more and more I find myself understanding what life in this Age should be. there is no sickness or disease in the Age to Come, why should there be any here? We’ve been given power and authority to proclaim and demonstrate the the Kingdom is “at hand” haven’t we?

I’m hungry for holiness. I want my life now to be an example of what life will be like in the Kingdom of God. I want to be renewed, transformed and conformed to the image of Jesus we see in the Scriptures. I want to hold holiness and humanity in suspension together. I want to live in the tension of God being Holy and my friend.

Well, those are my thoughts on holiness, what about you? How do you define and live out holiness? Do you have a more positive view of holiness movements than I do? If so, why and where are they?

As always, thanks for reading.

Tithing and Beyond

One of the most powerful sermons I’ve ever heard was listening to Mike Bickle share about “Financial Power Encounters” at a Onething conference a few years back. I should really see if I can find it online, because it is worth listening to a couple of times. In the message, Mike shared stories from his own life of how he would sow money into missions only to have it returned to the dime or increased dramatically. His desire to live simply in order to give generously so struck my wife and I that we made a commitment we have been privileged to keep for 5 years or more now. We committed to “double tithing” giving away two-tenths or 20 percent of our income to the church and missions. We committed to reduce our lifestyle before we reduced our giving. It is a commitment we have joyfully kept – we love giving money away to people we love and causes we support. 

Money can be a touchy subject with people. Within my own congregation, we have prided ourselves on not asking for money very often. We’ve been happy to steer clear of the money subject in order to rehabilitate the skeptics that think churches only exist to leach money from struggling families. However, I think in doing so I have deprived our people of experiencing the joy and freedom that are found in giving generously.

Tithing, giving ten percent of your gross income to God, is an ancient practice – older, in fact, than the Law itself. Tithing was first practiced by Abraham when he encountered Melchizedek. When Abraham encountered “the King of Righteousness” (which is what Melchizedek means), he was so overwhelmed with reverence that he gave a tenth of all his possessions. Melchizedek was a priest of Almighty God, without beginning and without end the book of Hebrews tells us. In any event, well before the Law was established through Moses, the principle of the tithe was in effect.

I think Abraham’s generosity, reverence and worship so impacted the heart of God that when the Law was established, God chose to officially institute the tithe as a way of honoring Abraham. Does God need our money? Certainly not. But God loved Abraham’s faith – the faith God credited to him as righteousness. I think God instituted the tithe because he wanted to call the Israelites up to a higher standard. In effect, I believe He was saying, “You are Abraham’s offspring – I want his ceiling to become your floor. Even the least of you will be as generous as he was – and the greatest of you even more!” This was where offerings came in.

Technically speaking, you can only tithe from your income, that is, give a tenth. Anything greater than 10% is an offering. As an example, in my case I tithe and give 10% of my income as an offering. I love having money designated for offering. I love being able to support my friends who work in service to the Kingdom. I love supporting our World Vision children. I love giving to the poor – for a while I used to keep $20 bills in my glove compartment so that I’d always have something to give someone on the street if they had a sign or asked for money. It is so much fun to be generous.

Have we had some lean months? Absolutely, but those are the times when the God stories really start flowing. In our nearly 7 years of marriage, my wife and I have had our insurance company call us to say we overpaid and they needed to send us a refund, same with our utility company. We’ve had money in envelopes placed in our mailbox or people give money to us at church. One time, a very generous fellow gave us $500 because we needed it to re-carpet our son’s nursery. We’ve always paid our bills and had enough to eat. In fact, with both of us working just over minimum wage jobs, we were able to pay off over $30,000 of student loan debt in 4 years – I still don’t really know how that happened, it was miraculous to say the least.

Now, am I saying that everyone needs to do what we do and give away 20% of their income? Of course not, but it is something to pray about. I would say, start with tithing. Once again, I’d like to state that the principle of tithing is pre-Law, or rather, it is part of the law of Faith – starting with Abraham and continued by all his descendants. Tithing isn’t legalistic or punitive. For a dime out of every dollar God becomes your business partner, working with you to protect, bless and prosper your finances. Does He do that anyway? I think He does, but there does seem to be something special that happens in the hearts and lives of those who tithe. Tithing is as close to an obligation as Christians have, but it is also so much more – it is the opportunity to see God work miraculously in all areas of your life, including finances.

A few points on tithing:

  • Tithing is giving 10% of your gross income to the church (it’s called the “first fruits” for that reason).
  • *Ben’s opinion* Along with the first fruits idea, if you are paid more than once a month I believe your full tithe should come out of your first paycheck. 
  • Tithing is not tipping, you don’t give more or less depending on how good the Pastor’s sermon was.
  • The tithe belongs to the local congregation of which you are a part (if you are not part of a local body then you need to be. Arms don’t live long cut off from the body).
  • The tithe should be considered “ground zero” for giving, it is just what people of faith do. Think of it this way, all your money is God’s anyway, but He will let you keep 90% of it if you will give just 10% to your local congregation.

A few tips on going beyond tithing (into offerings)

  • God loves a cheerful giver, don’t give if it doesn’t make you happy.
  • Offerings are primarily designed for fellowship with God.
  • Offerings are you taking God up on an offer for adventure. You’re money may or may not be returned to you, but you are declaring that you trust in God’s ability to provide and you care more about serving Him than serving Mammon.
  • Choose a percentage you are going to give and don’t back down! Even if you have to sacrifice your lifestyle and fun money for awhile, don’t make light of your commitment to God.
  • Keep a journal of your financial power encounters – they are so much fun to read and the share.

Generosity is an amazing gift that keeps on giving. To own things and not be owned by them is a blessing. To give money and see the Kingdom advance on the Earth is outstanding. But to have a personal history with God full of amazing answers to prayer is the best gift of all. 

Via Negativa

I first heard of via negativa, the way of subtraction, in a college religion class. At the time I thought it was an antiquated form of philosophy/theology that really didn’t have a place in the modern world. The idea of figuring out who God is by stating what He is not seemed overly tedious – just tell me who He is! Age, it seems, has brought a small measure of wisdom – I now understand how powerful via negativa can be.

I was turned back on to this concept reading the book “Antifragile” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (a book I highly recommend if your brain is screaming for a rigorous think). Via negativa is not just a way of knowing God, it is a way of living life. 

The crux of the argument is this – life can be enhanced more from subtraction than by addition.

This has been the way Christians have lived for centuries (millennia?). Fasting, depriving oneself of food, is necessary for optimal health. Charity, giving away money and possessions, frees us from slavery to Mammon. Solitude helps you appreciate company. Silence allows you to take in the power of words. The vast majority of Christian Disciplines sprout from this way of subtraction as a way of embracing a fuller, more meaningful life.

Another kind of example might be helpful. I believe the default setting of every human being is joy. Why, then, are we so consumed with “the pursuit of happiness?” Because we have so many sources of unhappiness in our lives (bosses, morning/evening commutes, email, solicitors, malls, the evening news). I bet that getting rid of what makes you unhappy will result in a net gain of happiness far more than doing something that “makes you happy” and keeping the rest. Less is more in many cases.

Or take the story of the pope asking Michelangelo about how he carved the statue “David” from a huge block of marble. Michelangelo’s response? “I simply took away what wasn’t David.” I wonder, sometimes, if that isn’t God’s process with us? 

Anyhow, I’ve been really captivated with this way of looking at things and I thought I’d share. I hope it sparks some thoughts in you as well. Have a great weekend!

Tiers of Gifting

This post was inspired by an email I got asking if someone had a particular spiritual gift. I don’t recall ever writing about spiritual gifts, so here we go. :)

There are a wide variety of gifts and abilities given to Believers by the Holy Spirit. Some of the gifts listed in the Bible are: healing, miracles, prophecy, helps, administration, pastoring and teaching, though I believe there are also many more.

All gifts (with the exception of tongues/prayer language) are intended to benefit and build up the Body.

I tend to think of gifts in three levels, or tiers:

Tier One: Ability
Holy Spirit is the source of all the gifts and lives inside of every Christian. I believe this means that all gifts are available to all Christians. Said differently, every Christian has the potential to operate in every gift. Indeed, the purpose of Church leadership is to equip the Saints for the work of ministry – to help develop these gifts and abilities within the whole congregation so that they don’t bottle neck with a select few.

Tier Two: Gift
I define gifting as being used by The Lord repeatedly for a specific task or function. If God likes to use you in a particular way, I say you have the “gift.” Gifts are usually more pronounced than Abilities, though probably because of practice. People with gifts usually don’t recognize it; they have become so comfortable doing something (helping, administrating, healing, etc.) that they gift seems like an expression of their character. We all have different gifts. Someone may repeatedly be used to prophesy, but that doesn’t exclude them from needing to evangelize, help or offer hospitality. The Body is not intended to be a highly specialized organism – it is full of beneficial redundancies.

Tier Three: Office
When someone’s gift is developed to a high degree and is very powerful, that person gets recognition from the Body of Christ – locally, regionally, nationally, or even internationally. At this point, that person is considered to be “in office.” We generally restrict the title “office” to the five-fold ministry talked about in Ephesians (Apostle, Prophet, Pastor, Teacher, Evangelist), but I think that is a narrow view. Furthermore, I think the “gift” of the five-fold ministry is the person and their worldview, not their abilities. Anyhow, whenever someone’s gift is exceptionally strong and starts to influence other people, that person becomes responsible for how they use their gift to help others grow into Christ – in other words, they become a leader and are held to a higher standard in terms of character, doctrine and lifestyle.

There is obviously much more to say on this subject, but this is a good start. To recap:
* Every believer has the potential to operate in any of the gifts of the Spirit
* If you find God repeatedly using you in a certain way to bless and encourage others, you are gifted in that area.
* If your gift is so highly developed that you start getting corporate recognition from the Body (locally, regionally, etc.) and have the ability to influence people, you are considered to have an office.

As always, thanks for reading.

What I Meant to Say: Mother’s Day

Yesterday was a fun day – I’m glad we got to celebrate the women of our congregation the way that we did. You’re all wonderful!

A brief recap of yesterday’s message:

* It wasn’t an accident that God chose Mother’s Day, 1979 to birth a new move of the Spirit that we now call the Vineyard. God’s Spirit is attractive and tremendously effective at bringing people to Christ, but God wants to make sure these converts are brought into a family, not left as orphans with an instruction manual.

* Women carry the Presence of God in a special way. We see that with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and in Mary Magdalene, the first witness to the resurrection. Women are an essential part of God’s plan to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” And they aren’t relegated to “just” the multiply part. :)

* We saw that, at the end of his life, Paul’s primary concern was for his spiritual son to grow, mature and step into his calling. For all the work Paul did, all the churches he planted and letters he wrote, when push came to shove, Timothy was forefront on his mind. I think that is a tremendously powerful lesson. Are we taking our role as spiritual Fathers and Mothers seriously and pouring into the next generation? If not, we may need to rethink our priorities.

* We have amazing women in our congregation. I took the time to honor a few by name, but that list wasn’t exhaustive by any means. I’m really thankful to have such wonderful women in my life – thank you for being who you are, you inspire me to be more than I am.

I realize I didn’t say that as concisely yesterday as I did here, but this is what I meant to say. I think you guys are great. I love being your pastor!

Happy (belated) Mother’s Day to you all!

Ben

Learning About Love

Love is a concept/experience/lifestyle that is central to understanding the Gospel. “For God so loved the world…” “Love the LORD your God…” “They’ll know you’re my disciples is you love one another…” For all the talk of love in the Bible (at least 686 mentions) I don’t feel I understand it very well – particularly not God’s love for me.

I get Jesus as King, that makes sense to me and I could preach it all day. But Jesus as Bridegroom, Jesus as Lover? I feel like a fish trying to climb a tree.

My initial reaction to the unknown is to study. I thought, I’m going to look up every verse on love, study the context and implications and learn how to love God and people. And God, in His infinite gentleness reminded me that I can know why something is and still not know what it is.

For instance, I could give you a lecture on the Aurora Borealis. I could tell you what the name means, the detailed scientific explanation of how the electrically charged particles from the sun interact with the Earth’s magnetic field to create the various hues of color. You would have an in depth understanding of why this event occurs. But I would argue you don’t know what the Northern Lights really are until you’ve stood on a frosty plain in the middle of the night and seen this cascade of colors transform a barren landscape into an ethereal paradise. There would be a gap between your understanding and your experience.

That is how it is with me and the love of God. Cognitavely, I get it, but I feel like I still haven’t surrendered myself to the full experience. And to continue in this vein of honesty, I’m not really sure how to.

When I was 11, I had a tremendous encounter with God that changed the course of my life. A camp counselor had prayed for me and Holy Spirit decided to stop by for a visit. Without expectation or warning, I was suddenly in the midst of an encounter with the love of God. I remember weeping openly, totally undone. I was so transformed that I committed myself to serving God from that time forward. I feel like I’ve been chasing that encounter and looking for the Presence of God ever since.

I’m aware of the fact that I’m trying too hard and I need to let this love just happen, like I did when I was 11. Unfortunately, that is much harder said than done. If anyone has any tips on how you connect with God and feel His love, I would appreciate hearing from you. Have a great weekend everyone!

Reclaiming Outrage and Indignation

I’ll admit that outraged and indignant aren’t usually the first words that come to mind when I think of Jesus – not even the second, third or fourth. Though I know it isn’t accurate, I still tend to think of Jesus as the long-haired hippy of my youth, sitting with children in a field of flowers and teaching everyone to be nice. And then I read the Bible and see that Jesus is a multifaceted and complex person, not so easily written off by sentimental Hallmark cards.

Indignation is defined as “anger or annoyance provoked by what is perceived as unfair treatment.” Outrage is indignation on Red Bull. It is a little easier to see Jesus’s indignation with that definition in mind.

Remember the man with leprosy who said to Jesus, “If you’re willing, you can make me clean”? Jesus was indignant and said, “I am willing! Be clean!” Some translations says that Jesus was moved with compassion. I’d like to suggest that the two ought to be the same thing of a Christian. Perceiving injustice and unfair treatment ought to provoke something within us, fill us with compassion and cause us to take action.

I could go on. There was a man with a shriveled hand, a women whose back was bent in half, the money changers perpetuating a system of religious slavery… Jesus very impolitely upset the apple cart in each instance. He was not overly concerned with public opinion or what would be good for business. He was zealous and passionate, outraged by man’s injustice to man.

How many Christian men do you know that could walk into, say, a football stadium and drive out all the vendors and instill such fear into the security guards that they do nothing but stand on the sideline? That is what Jesus did in the Temple. I used to think that was a shabby illustration, until I learned how many children are sold or traded in the sex slave industry at sporting events, and Iowa is at the crossroads of the nation, smack dab in the middle of it.

My intent isn’t to stir up a lot of machismo within the Church. My hope is to elevate us to a greater level of awareness and action. I’m tired of being in the camp of limp and powerless Christianity. I want to burn for something… and that something is the Kingdom of God.

I’ve been reading a lot about vaccinations lately. As many of you know, the idea behind vaccines is to administer a sub-clinical dose of something so that the body will build a resistance and immunity, a process known as hormesis. I fear that the Western Church has been vaccinated against agape, love in action. We’ve built up such immunity to the Gospel message of a God of Justice that we’ve settled for a definition of agape as loving inaction. James would be pissed.

We suffer from chronic, low grade outrage in the West. Taxes, bills, road rage, email, and hectic schedules all contribute to our sense of entitelment. We’re “outraged” when there isn’t a parking spot close to the door, “so mad” that our neighbor’s dog pooped in our yard – come on folks, can we care about something important?

What about the fact that 1.2 million children are aborted in the U.S. alone every year? That is the equivilent of 333 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings happening every day of the school year. What about the fact that there are now more slaves in the world today than ever before in history? What about the fact that the most prosperous nation in history is also the most indebted, has the most incarcerated citizens and has hungry and homeless people dying in its streets every day?

And we’re concerned there might not be enough Tickle Me Elmos to go around?

I realize that some people might misconstrue my ideas of outrage and indignation for self-righteousness, a ‘savior of the world’ mentality. I assure you, I have no such delusions of grandeur. This world is a sinking ship, no matter what I do, or we do, we aren’t going to create the Kingdom of Heaven on the earth through our own efforts – only Jesus can do that.

I love the idea of transforming cities and discipling nations – that energizes me and gets my blood pumping. But it is naive and unbiblical to think that we are going to make the world a progressively better place until Jesus says “I guess they did it without me, might as well go back.” Not very “saviorish”. But that doesn’t mean we give up, huddle up and let the enemy continue to ravage the world around us. We fight, we make a difference one by one.

I think the Starfish Story illustrates this perfectly:

A young man is walking along the ocean and sees a beach on which thousands and thousands of starfish have washed ashore. Further along he sees an old man, walking slowly and stooping often, picking up one starfish after another and tossing each one gently into the ocean.

“Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?,” he asks.

“Because the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them further in they will die.”

“But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it! You can’t possibly save them all, you can’t even save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you work all day, your efforts won’t make any difference at all.”

The old man listened calmly and then bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the sea. “It made a difference to that one.”

“It made a difference to that one.” In the case of evangelism and salvation, it makes an eternal difference. Do we give up and call it vanity knowing we can’t save everyone and that this world is going to turn to ash? Not at all. The Kingdom we inherit is eternal, unshakable and only going to be revealed in its fullness at the end of the Age. Then we will see the impact of all the hours we spent throwing starfish back into the sea.

We can’t lose – the cross, death and resurrection of Christ assures us victory. Our task now is to prove our faithfulness and the quality of our character, not to God, but to ourselves. Will we hold on to our integrity when no one else is watching? Will we give ourselves wholeheartedly to the work of the Kingdom since we’ve accepted the promise of so great a reward?

I hope so. I want us to be the miraculous burning bush for all the world to see. It isn’t surprising to see trees spontaneously combust in the dry and brittle climate of the desert. But it is surprising to see one burn and burn and burn, longer than is right or that naturally makes sense. Anyone can burn with love for Jesus, passion for Justice or righteous indignation for a couple weeks or months, but I want to burn for decades. I want to more vigorously follow Christ at the end of my life than I do right now. I am hungry for my inheritance.

John Wesley is attributed with saying, “Set yourself on fire and people will come for miles to watch you burn.” That may be true, but I’d rather spark something in them. I don’t want spectators, I want a community of torches.

Will you burn with me?