On Fasting

On Sunday, we asked whoever was willing to fast and pray this week for healing for Bev. We haven’t taught on fasting for awhile, so I thought I would answer a few basic questions you might have. If you have any other questions, please let me know.

1) “What is fasting?”
I describe fasting as “abstaining from food for spiritual purposes” as opposed to dieting which is abstaining from food for physical or emotional reasons. Fasting is, traditionally, abstaining from all food and only drinking water, but there are many different types of fasts one can do. (For instance, the Daniel Fast is only eating fruits, vegetables and grains while abstaining from animal products and sweets.) Essentially, fasting is giving up something that reminds you to pray and be dependent on God.

2) “How do you fast?”
Depending on the type of fast you are called to and the duration of the fast, how you start and end a fast can be simple or rather involved. A few years back I did a 40 day water only fast. I took a couple weeks to ease off of food and then another 3 weeks to work myself back into eating again. For short periods (3 days to 7 days) you don’t really need much of a break in period – especially since you are already a very healthy eater.

On a traditional, water only, fast you generally spend your usual meal times in prayer or reading the bible. Also, as Kent said, whenever you have hunger pains it is also a signal to pray. The website freedomyou.com is an excellent resource for “how and why to fast.”

3) “When to fast?”
There are a handful of different reasons to fast. Most often people fast in order to see God breakthrough in a particular circumstance. It is essential to realize that fasting doesn’t twist God’s arm and “make” Him do something. Rather, fasting increases our understanding of our own weakness, frailty and dependence and, as Paul says, “his strength is made perfect in our weakness.” I think fasting also let’s God (and ourselves!) know that we are serious and committed to seeing something happen. When we choose to give up something essential to our bodies in order to pursue a spiritual purpose, in this case, Beverly’s healing, it shifts a lot of things on the inside. This is also why I strongly recommend fasting for a set number of days. Putting a time limit on a fast helps us from being carried away into unhealthy extremes, especially if we really want something.

Other reasons people fast include: wanting to know God better and grow in intimacy with Him, desiring a greater level of spiritual anointing and power, favor for political and business ventures, and increased understanding of Scripture or a prophetic word.

4) “Is fasting something I choose or does God have to tell me to do it?”
The answer to this question is “yes.” 🙂 In my own life, there have been seasons where fasting has been something I’ve incorporated as a weekly discipline and there have been years where I don’t fast at all except for a “big” fast of 21 or 40 days. One isn’t more spiritual or more holy than another.

When I worked at the House of Prayer I fasted once or twice a week in some fashion for a couple years. I didn’t have a physically active job, it is part of the culture and I desperately wanted to know God better. Since coming on as pastor at the Vineyard, I’ve gone on one 40 day juice fast and fasted a handful of occasions for situations like this.

I do think fasting is a discipline we benefit from and I think it is something Jesus expected his disciples to be doing (for instance, Jesus says “when you fast” in Matthew 6), however fasting is never something we should require or force people into. I only recommend fasting to people in good health – mentally and physically – and for set periods of time.

Again, if you have any questions regarding fasting, please feel free to email me or comment below. And, as always, thank you for reading.

The Gypsy Camp: My Response to “Surfing Secularism”

I’ve been asked by several people now to share my thoughts on the article “Surfing Secularism: Why Fighting the Rest of the World is a Losing Strategy for Churches“. If you haven’t read the article yet, please do so. Most of this post will be in response.

First of all, this would not be an article I would read on my own. In fact, though I’d seen it on my news feed for awhile, I was content to bypass it altogether. That is, until you started emailing me about it – which I LOVE by the way! Please keep them coming.

The reason I wouldn’t normally read this is because these types of article/arguments just don’t interest me. Not at all. Christians debating back and forth of who is right, who is wrong and what the best methodology is makes me want to blow chunks. I’ll just go about my business without any of that, thank you very much.

I think the best way I can respond to this article is to share an encounter I had with God recently.

Disclaimer: This post is going to be longer than usual. Also, I am going to mention a “gypsy camp” in probably very stereotypical ways. I do not intend any offense to the Roma people. Really quite the opposite. The Roma (gypsies) in my imagination symbolize passion, living life to the full and joy.

Here is the encounter as I remember it:

I saw a huge and imposing Medieval castle. It looked weighty and awesome. I thought, ‘I need to check this out.’ So I walked through the front gates and started looking around. I saw many men and women dressed in fine clothes – they looked rich, important and majestic – they looked like kings and queens. Apparently they were too important to talk to me, because they saw me, looked away and moved on. I kept searching the castle. I got to the interior courtyard – it felt like this was the place the castle was built to defend. Planted in the middle of the courtyard was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. As I watched, the people came to eat of the fruit. As soon as they had taken a bite, they started arguing with one another – debating what was right and what was wrong, who was included in the Kingdom and who wasn’t. Their speech was full of rules, judgement and condemnation. I was really confused. I became aware of the Lord’s Presence by me and I asked Him to explain.

He said to me – ‘This is the Jaded Palace and it is a symbol of what the church in the West has become.’ I was appalled. These men and women had erected walls of cynicism and judgement because they thought following Christ was eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

I was immediately taken out of the castle and brought to the other side of the territory. There I saw a sprawling gypsy camp. Wagons and tents of various colors were clustered together with no rhyme or reason. I saw lots of campfires outside the tents and wagons. As I entered the camp, I was aware of being loved and welcome. I heard music (good gypsy/greek dancing music) and saw tons of children laughing, playing and running around. I eventually made my way to the center of the camp only to find the Tree of Life there. I saw men and women, much dirtier and more worn than those in the Palace, gathering fruit and cooking it in pots. I saw women carrying food to the elderly, sick and the lame. I saw children gathering fruit and taking it to those with injuries. The children squeezed the fruit and the juice fell on the wounds, healing them. I don’t remember The Lord saying anything in particular, but my soul felt at peace and free in this place.

I remember standing in the middle of the camp, by the tree of Life and looking out over the camp. In the distance, a long way away I saw other tents and wagons. I instinctively knew that these people considered themselves part of the camp and the people within the camp didn’t argue the point. If those outside said they were in, then they would be treated as such and welcome to eat, dance and sing.

That is the end of this particular encounter.

In my opinion, “courageously confronting the culture” too easily translates into “being a dick for Christ”. I realize that is stronger language than I typically use on this blog, but I stand by it. “Courageously confronting the culture” is just Christianese for being angry, obnoxious, belligerent, belittling and arrogant. The confrontation happens over all the wrong issues and in all the wrong ways.

Exactly where in the Gospels do we see Jesus courageously confronting the culture? When He is dealing with the religious people! The people who considered themselves set apart, holy, doctrinally pure – those were the people Jesus went out of His way to insult, rebuke and beat with whips. I share His feelings sometimes.

And the sinners we are supposed to be “courageously confronting”? I’m pretty sure Jesus would eat and drink and dance with them. I’m pretty sure Jesus would talk to them about a passionate Bridegroom God who wants to bring them to a wedding feast as His Bride. And He would sozo them – heal them, save them, deliver them – bring health, wellbeing and the Kingdom of God to bear on every aspect of their lives. He’d let them know that they were loved.

Following Jesus is about eating from the Tree of Life, not the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (the Law) only brings death – it does NOT make us more like God. Eating from the Tree of Life, embracing life giving activities and relationships and ways of being – having life to the full – that is what Jesus came to offer us.

Do realize Jesus came to offer us Life? Life to the full? Life overflowing with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, meekness and self-control? Life full of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost? Life that leaves us with unblemished consciences, free from any spot or wrinkle?

Those are the things I wish we were saying to our culture, not “confronting” them with religious dogmas and checklists. Anyhow, enough of that, onto the author’s article, “Surfing Secularism”.

I’ll admit, I hate the title. The title implies that the culture is the one calling the shots, establishing the culture, and the Church just has to ride it out.

But Jesus calls us the ekklesia the common Greek word used in His time to describe the group of people who exercised governmental authority for the well being of their city. It Jesus who has received all power and authority, not the world.

I feel like now is a good time to mention Eugene Peterson’s words from The Contemplative Pastor. In this excellent work, Peterson says that pastors (as representatives of the Church at large) should be unbusy, subversive and apocalyptic. The last two words Peterson uses are especially helpful in our dealings with the world.

Subversive Rather than riding the waves of secularism, catering to the whims of popular culture, I like Jesus’s image of yeast infiltrating dough until the whole batch is elevated to a new level and becomes something greater than the sum of its parts.

Apocalyptic We must understand our time in history. We shouldn’t chastise the darkness being dark – that is what it is, that is the only thing it can do. We should be more concerned with wether or not the Light is shining in the Church. Are we doing the things Jesus gave us to do without question and without compromise? If not, then let’s first remove our plank before we help our brothers with their speck. I find it helpful to remember that Jesus is the Way as well as the Truth. Jesus models the Way we present the Truth.

As for the author’s three points: 1) “It’s not about them. It’s about us.” 2) “It’s not about the trappings, it’s about the offer.” and 3) “Our culture doesn’t equal God’s culture.” I agree, though I would say things differently than he does. Based on my beliefs and the encounter mentioned above, I would say 1) it’s about belonging before believing; 2) it’s about substance rather than show, and 3) American church culture isn’t even close to being like the Kingdom. If we could find a way to take Jesus at His word and do the things He did, live transformed lives full of Grace and offer the world an encounter with the Lover of their souls I think the world would take us seriously once again, but right now we aren’t even part of the discussion. Religious church culture has been marginalized and deemed irrelevant to modern life. We have yet to prove them wrong.

All in all, this was a decent article, but not something I get really excited about. I think the author articulates things the younger generations (Millennials and iGen) already intuitively know, it is only making a splash among the Boomers.

So, there are my thoughts, but I wonder about yours. What do you think – that is what I want to know. What do you think about the article and what do you think about the things I’ve mentioned here? If you are a blogger and have written a response, would you post it in the comments? I’d love to read your thoughts.

Other than that, please keep those emails coming. 🙂 Thanks for reading friends.

Insurance or Inheritance?

Is the Gospel insurance or inheritance?

That was a rhetorical question posed to me recently at a men’s retreat. I’d heard the question before, but it struck me in a new way.

Is the Gospel insurance or inheritance?

If the Gospel is insurance, the benefits pay out when I die. I “pay” my monthly premiums by going to Sunday morning service, having a daily quiet time, tithing and so on so that, when I die, I get to go to Heaven.

But, if the Gospel is an inheritance, then I receive the benefits when someone else dies. That is a profound truth. It is the difference between play-acting (hypocritical) religion and actually being the people of God.

When we treat the Gospel as insurance we tie ourselves to a religious system of “dos” and “don’ts”. It is a Gospel devoid of Grace because we are still trying to be “good enough” to get into Heaven. The result is hypocrisy, playing at being the people of God, but without any interior life change and without any power to actually set people free. All because we are living to get into Heaven when we die.

However, when we realize that the Gospel is an inheritance, everything changes.

When we surrender our lives to Christ, we are reborn through our baptism as the children of God. And if we are sons then we are also heirs. Inheritance is freely receiving what rightfully belongs to someone else. This means that everything that rightly belongs to Jesus (intimate communion with Father, power and authority to establish the Kingdom of God, righteousness, peace and joy, etc. etc.) is now accessible to us.

Inheritance is Good News. Inheritance is Grace. Inheritance means I’m dying to get Heaven into my life.

The reality that the Kingdom of God is breaking in all around us is Good News. And because the Gospel is an inheritance, all the sons and daughters of God (those who have surrendered their lives to God and have been reborn through the waters of baptism) get to play a part in seeing that Kingdom come and God’s will be done on the earth. We get to enter into the family business of setting people free, binding up broken hearts, healing the sick and making demons homeless. That, to me, is far better than some ethereal promise of “heaven” when I die. I don’t want to die and go to heaven – I want to live and see Heaven come to earth.

The Kingdom Now: Pursuing What is Available, Part 2

Worship this morning was really wonderful. God has been visiting us in a really sweet way these past couple of weeks. It isn’t flashy or glamorous, but I feel like our hearts are being recalibrated by the simple truth “God loves me.”

Anyhow, during the question and answer time, a metaphor of pursuing what is available came to me and I wanted to flesh it out a little more here.

After the Rebellion and before the Cross, humanity was separated from God by the Great Wall of Sin. Longer than we could imagine, higher than we could climb and covered with razor wire that would cut to ribbons anyone who tried to climb up on their own, the Great Wall of Sin kept us confined to the kingdom of darkness. We couldn’t save ourselves, we were trapped.

Then came Jesus with the powder-keg of Grace that was the Cross. Jesus’s death and resurrection blew a gaping hole in the wall, making a way for us to come into the Kingdom of God and find our identity as sons and daughters of God.

With that freedom now available to us, wouldn’t it be silly to simply stand at the wall and admire the hole?

I’m eternally grateful for the Cross and all that it accomplished. Without Jesus paying my debt, dying in my place, I would be condemned to a life of darkness and slavery to sin. But the Cross is just a doorway into the Kingdom, a bridge, a hole, whatever metaphor you want to use – it isn’t the whole of the Christian life.

Continuing with our analogy, wouldn’t it be silly to stand just inside or outside the prison and simply admire the hole that Jesus’s sacrifice made? Wouldn’t it make more sense to journey into the Kingdom, seeking out the King who loved us so much so as to send His Son to die for us in order to make a Way for us to come to Him?

I think all of us have to go through a stage on our journey with Jesus where we admire the hole He made through the Cross. We have to weep and mourn. We have to understand that we couldn’t ever do it on our own. We have to realize that our sin, our very nature, was to be rebellious and separated from God and without our Baptism into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we would be doomed. But I think it is a mistake to stay there.

I think Jesus died to set us free so that we could explore, examine and own the Kingdom of God. He wants us to enter into that Promised Land. He wants us to find our inheritance and sons and daughters of the King. He wants us to know and be known by the Lover of Our Souls.

I think NOT pursuing what is available is a tragic mistake. I think it dishonors the sacrifice Jesus made to set us free.

And here is where the analogy breaks down – we can both “explore” and “stay at the hole”. We can discover the Kingdom of God and call people out of darkness in the same hour. In fact, I’d argue that the more we explore, the deeper we go into the Kingdom, the more people will be drawn to find freedom through Jesus and do the same.

So, those are some additional thoughts on this topic. I appreciate you all reading. Have a great one!

I am not paper trained

Every once and awhile I pretend I can fiddle. I break out my instrument and instructional manual and terrorize the neighbors. I was reading up on fiddling the other day and came across a funny insight. Fiddlers have a term for violinists who switch from sheet music to trying to play by ear. They call them “paper trained.”

“Paper trained” violinists never seem to make good fiddlers. They are afraid to make messes, afraid to experiment, afraid of wrong notes. Old time fiddlers couldn’t care less. You hear a tune you like and squeak and squawk until you bang it out as good or better than the original. Old time fiddlers valued spirit and passion, creativity and experimentation. The fiddle is a true pioneer instrument.

I am not a paper trained pastor. I have no seminary degrees, just a burning love for Jesus. I squeak and I squawk. I make messes in the House. I know what the Gospel is supposed to sound like, but no composed sheet music sounds like it.

I have questions. Questions about the Gospel, questions about salvation and questions about the Christian life. I have so many questions that I often feel disqualified to be a pastor. I feel like we should have someone leading who has more answers.

Then I remember that God isn’t a static body of information to be mastered, but a living, moving, breathing Person. And that makes me feel better. If God were a subject to be comprehended, a professor with professional mastery would be the best person to lead. But if God is a Person to be loved, sought out, adored, wooed and wedded, then a lovesick and relentless hunter is what you need.

I’d like to say I am a seeker, but that word carries a foul taste for me with the “seeker sensative” movement. I prefer hunter. I know my quarry – I’ve studied His movements, I know His ways, I’m sensitive to His moods – it is only a matter of time before He is found. And, when I find Him, I think I will be surprised because I think I will find that He is the one who has actually been stalking me.

I can’t wait to be caught by that Lion. What a glorious day that will be. But for now the hunt is on. I carry in my heart the melody of the Gospel of the Kingdom and I will continue to squeak and squawk until it comes out on earth the way I hear it in Heaven.

And it is good to know that my Lion, my Lover, isn’t paper trained either.

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.

The Kingdom Now: Pursuing What Is Available

I have a burning desire to see God’s Kingdom come and His will be done here on earth, just as it is in heaven. Far more than a rote phrase in the Disciple’s Prayer, this pursuit has become my passion – the thing I am willing to suffer most for in order to see it accomplished. I have a singular desire to see the Kingdom of God collide with and overcome the kingdom of this world and see Holy Spirit set wrong things right, especially in the areas of sickness, disease and death.

I will never stand before God and have to apologize for the way I am living my life. I will never stand before the Judgement Seat and say “I’m sorry God, I thought you were more loving. I thought you wanted to heal more people. I thought the Cross accomplished more…” No! God is the most overwhelmingly loving, caring and generous person I know. He wants to see people saved, healed and delivered far more than I do.

I’ve seen some amazing things in my life. A girl saved from the brink of death, a rotator cuff miraculously healed and a friend healed of Lyme’s disease. I’ve also had some major disappointments – a friend who didn’t rise from the dead despite me praying for him for six hours, other friends with chronic pain who haven’t been healed despite months of prayer and, most recently, a beautiful woman who wasn’t healed of blindness.

It is that last disappointment that prompted this post.

My wife and I host a college ministry on Thursday nights and it is a beautiful time of loving one another, worshipping and sharing what Father is teaching us. Since the start of the year, a young woman, let’s call her M, has been attending with friends. M is slowly losing her sight, to the point that now school work is almost impossible for her and she is going to have to receive some training for how to operate certain technologies usually reserved for the blind.

I was sharing last night about some of the things Father has been teaching me, especially my passion for healing and what I believe Jesus accomplished on the cross. I noticed M silently crying on the couch so, after I was done and we had started singing, I went to be with her.

We ended up talking for a long time after the majority of the group had left. She told me about her life, how losing her sight had affected her and her parents and the various ways she was trying to cope. At one point I heard her say, “I’ve been trying to convince myself that I don’t need my eyes to see the beauty around me” and that stuck in my heart like a knife. This woman has growing debt because her insurance won’t cover her treatments, she is in serious chronic pain, she feels increasingly lonely and isolated, she probably wont be able to finish school and now is trying to convince herself that she doesn’t really need her eyes.

My heart broke for her. I knew that the compassion I had for her suffering was only a small fraction of what Father felt for her, but she still wasn’t healed when I laid my hands on her and prayed.

I once heard Randy Clark give a message called “The Agony of Defeat” and it is the price he pays for the healing ministry. People come from around the world to get prayer from “the man of God” and sometimes nothing happens. I understand that agony a little differently now than I did when I first heard that message.

It is painful, embarrassing and humiliating to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom and not see fruit. It is a sincerely painful experience to believe with all your heart that God can heal, WANTS to heal, and still nothing happens. I feel like a fake, a huckster, some charlatan peddling snake oil as the cure for what ails you. Many times it makes me want to give up. It seems like the reasonable thing would be to give up preaching and believing in the supernatural to simply focus on what is humanly possible. But a friend gave me a beautiful definition of reason recently. He said that reason is “the leveraging of facts to prove an inferior reality.”

Facts devoid of God’s power, desire and intent are an inferior reality. The Superior Reality is the way we see God acting in the ministry of Jesus, what we call the Kingdom of God. I can never bring the Bible down to my level of experience when I preach and teach – it must always remain the standard that my life conforms to. God isn’t on trial, I am – we are. What will we do with what has been entrusted to us? What will we fight for? How fiercely will we pursue what is available to us?

Those questions keep me awake at night. They keep a fire burning hot within me to see what is possible. I really do believe that God exists, that He is a rewarder of those who earnestly seek Him and that He is a God who heals. I’m willing to stake everything on those beliefs.

I willing to pursue this on my own, but I’d much rather do so with a group of people who share this same passion. So, if any of you are reading this, please drop me a line, either an email or a comment. Perhaps we can figure out how to meet and pray and encourage one another in this pursuit.

As always, thank you for reading.