Savoring the Moment

Earlier today, I posted the following on Facebook:

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I wanted to give you a little more of the story.

Full Disclosure

While Dani and I were eating at Tony’s the girls running the raffle were walking around and stopped by our table. I wasn’t particularly interested in them – I was there to have an unhurried dinner with my wife, not win a t-shirt. So I took a number and they continued on.

As Dani and I were waiting for our waitress to get our change, I happened to look over and notice one of the girls walking with a limp. I opened my mouth, then closed it. My mental dialogue went something like:

“Huh, she’s walking with a limp. I wonder what happened? I wonder if I should pray for her? Does she know Jesus? Oops, she’s already walked past and I don’t really feel like tracking her down. Maybe if she comes around again…”

Dani must’ve noticed because she looked at me and said, “Why didn’t you pray for her? You’re the one who always says you want to do this stuff. Why didn’t you?” I didn’t really have any words worth saying just flimsy, flimsy excuses.

The truth is, I’ve been really shy about praying for people lately. A month or so ago I had a convicting realization that the inner voice I’d been listening to, that had been directing much of my effort as a Pastor and a Christian, wasn’t God at all. I had fallen into the lie that healing and salvation are attained through my efforts rather than God’s. It was humiliating and disheartening and I took a huge step back from prayer and evangelism and for the last couple months have felt rather aimless.

Fortunately, God’s call is irrevocable and He doesn’t change His mind. He’s been slowly moving me back to a place of trust in Him and His word. It was His idea to give us the ministry of healing, I’m just trying to be obedient. (I really suck at that most of the time.)

Also, this morning we had a great testimony from Mason (video coming soon) about stepping out in faith to pray for people and had stirred up those longings again. So, between Mason’s testimony and Dani reminding me of what is really true and important I was trapped. I had to do it. I excused myself to the bathroom to work up some courage.

When I came back, the girl was standing at my table! She had drawn my number in the raffle and wanted to get my size for the t-shirt. Holy setup Batman.

Obviously, I had to go for it. I did a short interview and found out that she had just had her third knee surgery (she was in her mid twenties) and was actually in a lot of pain. I asked her to sit, explained that I was a Pastor and that I wanted to pray for God to take away the pain in her knees. She gave me the “you’re crazy” look but let me pray for her.

After a short prayer I asked her to test it out. She felt better. Her pain had gone from a 10 to a 5. I asked her to sit again. After a second prayer she was down to a 1 and had increased her range of motion about 20 degrees. I didn’t notice any reduction in swelling, but I’ll take a 90% reduction in pain.

I asked her if she knew Jesus and she said she did, and that she and her fiancé were in-between churches. Since she lived in Waterloo I directed her to some friend’s churches and we left.

Some Take Aways

I’d like to reiterate that, on my own, I would not have prayed for this girl. I probably wouldn’t have even noticed her pain. I was too busy and then too afraid. A healing would have gone undone and my intimacy with God wouldn’t have grown simply because I was too busy. Ugh.

BUT, the healing did happen because Mason’s testimony had stirred up my heart and my wife reminded me to be the man I am called to be. Testimony and community are powerful force multipliers in the Kingdom. They call us to higher standards. They remind us that it is God who is great, not us, but that we have the privilege to serve alongside him. It is a beautiful and humbling thing to be used by God to take away someone’s pain and share with them the Good News of the Resurrected King.

That girl wasn’t healed because I am special or gifted or anointed. She was healed because Jesus is awesome. Our Resurrected King shattered the powers of sin, death and the devil on Calvary and we are messengers of that fact. We have the privilege of enforcing His Kingdom wherever we go and the kingdom of this world must give way. It is a glorious existence my friends.

Savoring the Moment

Satan can steal from us in at least three ways. He can constrict the flow of life from God to us and slow down the answers to our prayers so that we give up. He can take something we have when we give him legal access through unrepentant sin. He can also make us forget. This last seems to be his favorite tactic and the one most devastating to the Church.

The enemy causes us to forget our victories, our histories with God. He convinces us that we have to fight old battles again or that the successes of previous generations do not belong to us. He gets us busy and tired and we forget the multitudes of times God has intervened in our lives. He sucks us dry, like a bug caught in a spider’s web until we forget God’s goodness and his work in our lives.

A forgotten work of God isn’t much different than one that never happened as far as its impact on our lives. If we don’t constantly savor the presence and power of God in our lives then we become ever more paralyzed and ever more religious. What was once a vibrant interaction with God becomes a formalized ritual – an appearance of godliness devoid of life changing power.

I think that one of the best things we can do for one another is to share stories. We need to share testimonies of God’s Goodness, we need to remind one another of the words spoken over us and the call of God on our lives. We need to call out what is best in one another and remind ourselves of what is eternally true. This is what I hope our home groups can be – a launching pad for Kingdom invasion as the saints are fed, equipped, encouraged, empowered and healed.

I hope my story gives you courage to take your own step of faith. You are made to carry the Spirit of the Living God into the world around you. There are miracles waiting to happen, stories as yet untold. Some of them, maybe many of them, will happen wether you decide to participate or not, but don’t you want you?

We can’t substitute praying for obeying

I am putting together some teaching notes on revival for a conference I am speaking at towards the end of April and stumbled across this gut-punch from A.W. Tozer:

“Have you noticed how much praying for revival has been going on of late — and how little revival has resulted? I believe the problem is that we have been trying to substitute praying for obeying, and it simply will not work.”

As someone who spent several years regularly praying for revival each week, that statement carries a lot of “Ouch!” However, it is absolutely true and one of the draw backs I see with an overly spiritualized understanding of revival. We can’t substitute praying for obeying – no matter how fervently we pray, if we don’t actually do the stuff we’re praying about, nothing will ever change. 

Wether it is getting into better shape, making more money or starting a revival – prayer only takes us so far before tangible actions must take palce in order to realize those desires. Human beings are made to work, work is spiritual. More precise: work is the means whereby spiritual desires become physical realities. Human beings unite the spiritual and the physical – our very nature is to pull the unseen/intangible spirit world into the world perceived by our senses. That may sound rather esoteric, but take your house as an example. That house first began as a dream inside a builder’s mind. The architect put it onto paper, but it was still intangible as of yet – no one could live in it. Then a series of people took that blueprint and made it a reality – something of substance that has measurable impact on the world. No matter what we are called to do, this is the essence of who we are.

Prayer tills the soil and work plants the seed, but it is still God who makes it grow. Sowing seed into untilled soil might produce a small crop, but much will go to waste. However, having perfectly tilled soil with nothing planted is foolish and unproductive because nothing will grow. Because God sovereignly refuses to violate our free will, we have to give him something to work with – in this case, our willing and obedient hearts. Prayer, the type of intercession that births revival, is certainly strenuous, but it is not the kind of work I’m talking about here. The kind of work I am talking about is taking the risks of the Kingdom: praying for the sick, proclaiming the Good News, feeding the hungry with food and Truth. 

I know that I have been guilty all too often of wanting to substitute praying for obeying – for actually doing the stuff that Jesus commands me to do. Praying is safe, it is fun, it feels productive. And it is productive, but it will never produce a harvest on its own. Jesus said, “Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers.” Prayer mobilizes workers, it does not replace them. Conversely, obeying is work – hard work. It is inconvenient, it requires me to risk, to fail. Obedience requires me to be on point, to be in constant communion with God for the sake of others and not consumed with my own little life. Obedience is sacrifice. 

I am so thankful that Holy Spirit led me to Tozer’s quote – I needed a Reality check. I’m not in this thing called “following Jesus” to lead a safe, comfortable life. I’m in this because God revealed himself to me and called me to serve him and this is what service looks like. If God calls me, us, to do hard things, then so be it – we are more than conquerors through Christ. 

Blessing to you my friends!

“But I want you to know…”

Luke 5:17-26, the story of Jesus forgiving and healing a paralyzed man, is a really difficult story for me. Here is the story from the ESV:

17 On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal.[d] 18 And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, 19 but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. 20 And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? 23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 25 And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. 26 And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”

When Jesus sees the paraplegic man dangling in front of him, the first thing he does is forgive him his sins. This troubles the religious leaders because it goes against God’s word – only God could forgive sins and that happened only after a specific sacrifice was offered. When Jesus speaks forgiveness he effectively asserts that he is greater than the Law, even greater than the Temple – he makes himself equal to God. Of course, to us as Christians, this makes total sense. But to the Jews of Jesus’s day it was blasphemy.

Jesus addresses the religious leaders and their unbelief and then offers the most troubling part of the passage, “‘I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” so he said to the man who was paralyzed, “rise up, pick up your mat and go home.'” Why do I find this troubling? Because Jesus never required people to believe in his ability to forgive sins on faith alone – he always offered them proof through signs, wonders and miracles. In this passage Jesus directly links his authority to forgive with his ability to heal.

My Struggle

This troubles me as a Christian, and especially as a pastor, because Jesus is my model for life and ministry. If Jesus didn’t require people to receive forgiveness of their sins by faith, then neither should I. But that is about the only thing I can ask people to do because I live a largely powerless life as a Christian. I can’t say to people with any confidence, “I want you to know that Jesus has the ability to forgive your sins, therefore, be healed! Know that what Jesus just did for your body he can do for your whole life – he is the only one who can make you right with God.” I WANT to say that, but I’m really afraid to. Putting someone’s faith and salvation on the line in that way terrifies me and seems amazingly irresponsible.

Yet Jesus did it. (John 10:37)

In John 14:11 Jesus appeals to the miracles he performed as proof of his unique relationship with God. He said that even if someone didn’t believe his words, they could at least look at his miracles to see proof of his claim to be God’s son, to be the perfect representation of the Father.  In John 15:24 Jesus acknowledges that the miracles he performed revealed the character of God (healer, redeemer, restorer) and says, “If I hadn’t done among them what no one else did, they wouldn’t be guilty of sin…” Jesus argues that it was his demonstration of the Gospel that brought condemnation and guilt on those who persisted in unbelief. Words are cheap, and it is hard to prove actual spiritual change has occured using them – so Jesus appealed to miracles as proof that what he had said actually happened. That floors me.

My Desire

I want to be able to proclaim and demonstrate the Good News of the Kingdom just like Jesus did. I want people to have absolute confidence in Jesus’s invisible work in their hearts/spirits because they have witnessed Jesus’s visible work in their body, soul or mind. If someone comes to salvation and faith in Jesus by words alone, then they have tremendous faith and will be greatly blessed (John 20:29), but if I can’t also demonstrate the Realities I speak of, then something is really, really wrong.

The burden of proof

How is anyone to trust in Jesus without proof? The claims of Christianity are off the charts. We believe that a man died on a cross 2,000 years ago, was raised from the dead and levitated into Heaven to sit on the Throne of an invisible, yet all-powerful God. We believe this man is still alive 2,000 years later and is some day soon going to descend out of Heaven to establish a literal Kingdom on the earth. We believe that this man’s sacrifice, death and resurrection secured for us eternal life and an extravagant inheritance if only we will submit ourselves to him and take up his life as our own. We believe that we will reign with him on the earth forever

Friends, believing in something that outlandish without proof takes great faith – and some people have it! But we shouldn’t be surprised if others (atheists) require some sort of proof from us. The burden of proof isn’t on them – it is on us who bear the name of Christ. I don’t look for proof of unicorns because I don’t believe they exist. If someone in my life insists that unicorns are real, they are going to have to show me some proof in real life – photoshopped images or stories of other people who have seen unicorns won’t cut it. Why should it be any different with atheists and God?

The burden of proof is only problematic if we don’t believe God will come through. Do we? Are we willing to take that risk? Reading through the book of Acts, it is striking how many times you will read “and the Lord confirmed his word through the signs that accompanied it.” How do we know it is his word if he isn’t confirming it?

I know I’m over-emphasizing miracles

I know I’m over-emphasizing miracles and I’m doing so for a reason. My intent is not to cast anyone into doubt or despair, but I do want to draw attention to a hole in our presentation of the Gospel. We are called to proclaim AND demonstrate the Gospel, just like Jesus did. Every time Jesus comissions his disciples/the Church it is for that purpose (Luke 9, Luke 11, Mark 16, Acts 2). We are in error if we know the word of God, but not his power (Matt. 22:29). 

My intent in this post is to share with you my journey in trying to live out the fullness of the Christian life and to convince you to join me in trying to do the same. I’ve tried to be transparent with my doubts and struggles, and I hope that hasn’t put you off. I am absolutely convinced that it was (and is) Jesus’s intention to pass on his miracle ministry to the Church so that we can do what he did – save sinners, represent the true nature of our Father and do what no one else can do so that those who persist in unbelief are rightfully condemned. 

Only in Jesus is there forgiveness of sins and eternal life. This is the most basic confession of the Christian faith. How people respond to that Truth will affect them for all of eternity, therefore, it is essential for us to present them with the most compelling presentation of the Gospel we can – clear arguments and a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.  I hope you will join me in trying to fill in this hole in our Gospel presentation because Jesus wants people to know that he has power and authority to forgive sins and change lives… and he wants to give  them that certainty by healing their bodies or the people they love.

Thanks for reading friends.

Shameless Audacity

Luke 11

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”

And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his shameless audacity he will rise and give him whatever he needs. [emphasis mine] And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

The Heart Posture of Prayer
When the Disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he not only taught them a model prayer, he also taught them the proper heart posture of prayer. The heart posture of shameless audacity and persistance.

Audacity, shamelessness, insolence, impudence, boldness to the point of being rude, indecency, immodesty – all this and more is bound up in the greek word anaideia which Jesus uses to describe the man asking his friend for bread in the middle of the night. That is the word, that is the heart posture, that Jesus instructs us to have in prayer.

I find that so fascinating. This isn’t a conference on prayer where the disciples come together to talk about what “works.” No human in their right mind would approach the Almighty Creator of the Universe in that way. We would choose awe, reverence, fear. Yet Jesus teaches us that effective prayer is like a man banging on his friend’s door, shouting for the whole neighborhood to hear or like a widow who nags to death the judge ruling on her case.

Now, God is not an unjust judge or a reluctant and lazy friend – those two characters are clearly contrasts to God’s generosity and extravagence. But that is how God wants us to approach Him. God wants us to wear Him out asking for the things we want, He wants us to come before Him with boldness, even rudeness, He wants us to make a scene.

I think of Hannah praying for a son and the priest, Eli, thinking she was drunk. I think of Phineas stalking through the Israelite camp to kill the man having sex with a foreign woman. I think of Elijah stretching himself out over the widow’s son and crying out to God for Him to raise the dead. There are obviously other stories as well, but those particular stories represent to me the extreme lengths people go to in order to get an answer to their prayers.

It occurs to me that we are too polite when we pray. Certainly, the kind of praying Jesus talks about here is uncomfortable and embarrassing to my Midwestern sensibilities. It also occurs to me that Jesus doesn’t give a rip. I am now a citizen of his Kingdom – I need to embrace the culture of that Kingdom, not live in it as a foreigner.

To bring this down to a practical level, let’s talk about praying for healing.

Praying for Healing
In the past, my prayers have often been along the lines of: “God, would you please heal __________. Let your Holy Spirit come, set wrong things right and heal their body. Amen.” My prayer is often a little more extended than that, but along the same lines.

Do you see how impotent that is? Would you… please…let your Spirit come… The whole posture of that prayer assumes God is reluctant, that He only doles out healing and Holy Spirit to those who ask most nicely, or grovel most effectively. Does Jesus pray anything like that in the Bible? No! The exception being “let this cup pass from me” and guess what? That prayer wasn’t answered either.

As I’ve been meditating on this passage and trying to internalize Jesus’s teaching I’ve been trying out different language. This past Sunday, praying for a man with a sore hip I said, “God, heal this hip! Spirit manifest Yourself in power. Your Kingdom is here and in your Kingdom there is no sickness or disease, so pain, leave now!” And guess what… nothing happened.

The man I was praying for didn’t walk away with any relief, but I am absolutely convinced that my prayer was more in line with Jesus’s teaching than ever before. Coming before God with anaideia is coming before God with the assumption, even presumption, that His Spirit is waiting to obey our command. Do we have any right to command God’s Spirit? Absolutely not! But Jesus’s death and resurrection secured for us an everlasting love.

Shameless Audacity is only possible because of the Cross
I think that Jesus teaches his disciples to pray in this way because it is only possible to embrace this heart posture if we really believe in the potency of the Cross. If we don’t believe God loves us like He loves Jesus, we will never pray with impudence, we’ll be too afraid. If we only see ourselves as servants, we will never issue commands.

Prayer was a battle of persistence even for Jesus. How much more so for us? If Jesus taught his disciples not just once, but twice, how important persistent and shameless audacity was in prayer then I think it is something we should pay attention to. It isn’t easy, it goes against everything I know, but it is what Jesus taught.

I want to learn how to pray the way that Jesus did. I want his level of intimacy, I want his level of breakthrough. Truth be told – I want more than what he had. There is an old saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” I’ll adjust that to say, “When in the Kingdom, pray like the King.” That is what proves our citizenship. That is what marks us as heirs. To do otherwise is not a sign of devotion, but of defection. We must allow ourselves to be governed by what God says, not by what we think is best.

Shameless audacity is not something that happens overnight. It takes time for us to adjust. But if we want to grow in prayer, if we want to be co-creators with God, people who release and advance God’s Kingdom, then it is absolutely essential.

“Preach my word, not your experience.”

On May 8, 1977 John Wimber started preaching to his fledgling congregation out of the Gospel of Luke. Four months later, John was at a crossroads. The “problem” is that Luke, as one scholar put it, is the Charismatic Gospel – meaning, there is more about the work of the Holy Spirit in Luke than in Matthew and Mark combined. Preaching through Luke, John Wimber was confronted with the healing ministry of Jesus, the “show and tell” of Gospel proclamation.

John prayed and felt the Lord’s invitation to learn to preach, teach and minister like Jesus did. So they began praying for sick people to be healed. The results were disasterous. The first couple Sundays, the people on the prayer team actually caught the sicknesses of the people they were praying for. No one was healed.

For the next ten months John continued to preach out of Luke, almost every sermon was on healing. After the sermon, a ministry time was offered. People who wanted to receive prayer would go to the designated ministry area and the prayer team would pray – sometimes for hours at a time. One particular time, John had been praying for several hours for a man to be healed and nothing was happening. John fell to the floor and cried. He said something to the effect of “Lord, we’re doing what You’re saying and it isn’t working. It isn’t fair. Why aren’t you backing up Your word?”

(By the way, this is a paraphrased version of the account taken from John’s testimony in Power Healing. I’m doing my best to report it from memory.)

Then, John had two encounters. One was after his first successful healing – as he was driving home, he saw a giant honeycomb imprinted across the sky. Honey was dripping down from heaven and falling on people who were in a variety of postures. Some people were on their knees, gladly receiving and sharing while others brushed the honey off in an aggravated way. The honey symbolized God’s mercy, which includes physical healing. God was saying to John, “My mercy is there, you need to learn how to position yourself under it. The problem isn’t on My end. Don’t beg me for healing again.”

As John was meditating on the Honeycomb Vision he felt the Lord saying to him, “Preach my word, not your experience.” So John continued to preach that God was a healer, that Holy Spirit was still at work and that we, as disciples, were called to carry on the mission and ministry of Jesus. Shortly after this time, God began to do amazing things in their corporate gatherings and what we now know and The Vineyard Movement was born.

John’s story has encouraged me greatly, especially his Honeycomb Vision and God’s command to preach His word and not our own experience. I’ve been as guilty as anyone of elevating my experience above God’s word, of building a case file against God and letting that weigh most heavily on my heart. It has only led to depression, discouragement and wanting to quit pastoral ministry. My experience really only matters when it is in alignment with who God says He is. Otherwise it is just noise.

As John saw in his vision, the problem isn’t on God’s end. The problem is in our inability to posture ourselves to receive what God is wanting to give. I’ve committed in my heart to never again beg God for healing or the healing anointing – it has already been given. Instead, I’ve committed myself to learning how to posture my heart to receive God’s mercy and to learn how to co-operate with Holy Spirit in advancing God’s Rule and Reign on the earth.

One thing that has helped me in this endeavor is watching my son Emory learn to walk. I want him to walk. I model for him every day what walking looks like. I hold him up so that he can practice moving his legs. I hold him by the hand so that he can keep his balance.

But when he took his own independent steps, I was overjoyed.

It didn’t matter that they were wobbly and weak. It didn’t matter that he fell down and cried. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t do it perfectly right off the bat. I was happy he was trying, learning, growing. And that led me to help him less. I started offering my finger fewer and fewer times. I let him struggle and fall more often because getting up on his own made him stronger and gave him more opportunities to practice his skills.

It is the same way with all of us who are learning how to do the things that Jesus did. Father is overjoyed with our weak, wobbling steps. He isn’t grumpy that we aren’t doing it perfectly right off the bat. He is letting us fall so that we can get back up, so that we can practice our skills and get stronger.

God is a healer. God commissioned us to heal, it is one of the things Believers are supposed to do. We can ignore that for our own convenience, or, we can embark on the painful, humbling, even humiliating journey of learning how to posture our hearts and co-operate with Holy Spirit.

What we can’t do is bring His word down to the level of our experience. We can’t dumb down what He says and we can’t elevate what we experience. What we do is seek to experience what His word says. It may not happen all the time, even most of the time… and we set those experiences aside. Then we stand up and try it again.