The Fathering Spirit of Elijah

As far as we know, John the Baptizer performed no miracles. That fascinates me because he was supposed to operate in “the spirit and power of Elijah,” Luke 1. Elijah doesn’t get much air time in the Scriptures, just a few chapters really, but those few chapters are overflowing with the miraculous: withholding rain, the flour and oil that never ran out, raising the widow’s son, the confrontation with the prophets of Baal, supernatural sustenance by the brook, encountering the manifest presence of God and so on. All of that points to the power of Elijah’s ministry, but one event points to his spirit – raising up a young man to take his place.

The spirit of Elijah is the Fathering Spirit – the desire to see our sons and daughters surpass us. The spirit of Elijah is wanting our children to inherit a double portion, for our ceiling to become their floor. It is the desire to see our children equipped for every good work, spared from our mistakes and secure in their identities. Fascinating that just before God reveals Himself as Father to Israel He raised up a messenger to go before Him to “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the [disobedient] children to the wisdom of their [righteous] fathers,” Luke 1. First the physical restoration of fatherhood, then the spiritual revelation of God the Father.

Every leader must carry the spirit of Elijah. Leadership is based on call, sacrifice and service and not on gifting, knowledge or even maturity. If leadership were based on the later, then everyone who is more highly gifted, more highly educated or more mature becomes a threat to our leadership and we will cut them off. That is anti-Christ. Jesus, our head and leader, serves as our platform. He says, “you will do even greater things than me.” Presumably, this is because his leadership accelerates our progress.

Every leader is a father or mother. That means that their desire must be to see the people under their leadership surpass them. A church doesn’t thrive when it can’t function without its leader. A church is thriving when everyone honors the leadership for how they have invested, served and sacrificed so that the “kids” can go places the parents never dreamed of.

The spirit of Elijah is the desire to father/mother, mentor, disciple and grow those under our care. It is a prerequisite for a manifestation and move of God.

Parenting, mentoring, discipleship, small groups – these are not small things. They are the tangible precursors to what God is doing in the Spirit. If we want to live to see the days of revival fire then we must take seriously our call to raise up a generation that can steward and grow what we have worked for.

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Captives, Prisoners and the Year of Jubliee

God is better than we think. He proves this time and time again. Every time we put a limit on His mercy and grace, He reveals another facet of His character that is at first offensive, then consoling, then transformative.

I had this experience made clear to me last week when I was prepping for yesterday’s sermon. I was reading through Isaiah 61, taking it slow and trying to process what it was that God was speaking to us. Then I came upon this part of verse 1,

“He sent me… to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…”

I’m indebted to Bill Johnson of Redding, CA for giving me the germ of this insight – that captives and prisoners are two different kinds of people.

Captives are people suffering because of someone else’s sin. Captives are people who were sinned against – attacked, overpowered, enslaved. They are people who were taken captive.

Captives wear many different faces in our culture. They are the molested and abused, the raped, forgotten and mistreated. The aborted, the neglected, the abandoned, the alien and the orphan. It only makes sense that a God of mercy, grace, goodness and justice would act to make these wrong things right, to heal their hurts and set them free.

Prisoners are a different ball game. Prisoners are those paying the price for their own sins. Humanity loves to punish, God does not. Humanity loves to see sinners beaten down, God loves to see prisoners set free.

Anyone who embraces current suffering for past mistakes is a prisoner. A woman wracked with health-destroying guilt over a past abortion is a prisoner. A man who accepts his chronic pain as a just reward for his lifetime obesity is a prisoner. Anyone, for any reason, who never asks God to heal them because they believe their suffering is deserved is a prisoner. And Jesus came to set them free.

We often want prisoners to earn their release. We want the fat man to lose weight before his hip stops hurting. We want the abuser to have his self-worth totally destroyed before we even think of releasing him. We want our prisoners to suffer… and then some.

I understand that response – it is a natural human response. But, as Christians, we are no longer allowed to think about things naturally, for we have the mind of Christ. We have to think about things from God’s perspective.

In the Law, God said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” This was to limit carnal man’s desire for vengeance above and beyond the hurt that was caused.

More compelling, in Isaiah 55 God says,

Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon. ‘ For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the Heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts [higher] than your thoughts.’

I love that the famous passage “My thoughts are higher than your thoughts” is in the context of forgiveness and mercy. An evil man can turn and be completely forgiven – that is totally Divine, not a human response at all. And it is possible because of the sacrifice of Jesus.

Isaiah 61 goes on to say that this is the year of the Lord’s favor, another way of saying “Jubilee.” The year of Jubilee was the year of canceling debts, restoring inheritance and livelihood. It was a year that offered hope for the next generation, a Divine course correction for the entire nation.

It didn’t matter why you were in debt when Jubilee came around, all was forgiven. It didn’t matter if calamity had overtaken you or if you had been a terrible manager and spent yourself into debt you could not pay. When the shofar sounded you got a new lease on life, a chance to do things better.

Jesus is our Jubliee – our forgiveness of debt, our reclaimed inheritance, our new lease on life. Whatever you were before you came to Jesus – captive or prisoner – you have the assurance that it has all been paid for. You no longer need to punish yourself nor look to punish others. God will restore your fortunes, heal your hurts and offer you a life far more glorious than punishment or revenge.

It is time to let the Lamb receive the reward of his suffering. It is time to turn over our ashes and receive his beauty bestowed on us. It is time to let go of our mourning and enter into his joy. It is time to reject depression and despair and embrace the hope he offers to us.

Continued punishment only cheapens Jesus’s sacrifice. Please trust me, what he suffered was more than enough. It is time to trust and believe in what God has accomplished for us. It is time to forgive and receive forgiveness. It is time to submit ourselves in humble reverence to a God who is so much bigger and so much better than we could ever possibly imagine.

Theology and Doxology

At a recent men’s retreat, my friend Adam said something that struck me in a powerful way. It has provided me with days of contemplation, serious conviction and a desire to live differently. His statement?

“When your theology exceeds your doxology you know you are in trouble.”

Now, since I haven’t been to seminary, I had to put it into plain-speak so I could understand it. Here is my best attempt at paraphrasing:

“When the depth of your knowledge exceeds the extravagance of your worship unbelief has taken root and you are on the verge of idolatry.”

Even the simplest and most basic truths of Christianity are glorious – the all-powerful God who created the Heavens and the Earth knows me, loves me and is interested in my life; where I was once destined for eternal torment I am now destined for eternal life because God took on flesh and died in my place; God Himself dwells inside of me and wants me to learn how to co-operate with Him to establish His rule and reign on the Earth… and I could go on and on.

Pick any one of those truths and really think about what it means – it is almost beyond our comprehension, yet it is absolutely true. But I rarely live with any present awareness of those truths, most of the time those Realities roll off my heart without any discernible impact. If that isn’t sin, I don’t know what is.

You see, to know these truths and NOT worship reveals unbelief at some level. Somewhere along the line I have taken a truth, “God loves me” for instance, and built a case of unbelief against it. I have a whole case file of hurts, unanswered prayers and scenarios that could have played out better and I blame God for them. I listen more closely to the voice of the Accuser than the voice of my Lord and conclude that God is liar and He doesn’t really love me – for if He really loved me, then such and such wouldn’t have happened. By partnering with the Enemy through unbelief I allow him to rob me of knowing God’s love and the security that brings and I allow him to rob God of my worship of Him. In essence, I worship my past experiences rather than God. I believe they are more potent and more real than He is. That is called idolatry.

So my challenge, our challenge, is to set aside the case file and really enter in to belief. It is to trust God – who He is and what He says – and to understand that He is the only thing that is Really Real, Eternally Constant and Unshakable. Our challenge is to let God’s Word weigh most heavily on our hearts and allow it to propel us into worship. And, interestingly enough, worshiping God leads to new understanding of who He is and we get caught up in the virtuous cycle of delight – constantly worshipping and finding new reasons to worship.

I think all of us have room to grow in the expression and extravagance of our worship. There are something like 10 distinct words for ‘worship’ in the Bible. They span the range of falling prostrate on the ground, spinning in circles while shouting, raising up one’s hands, dancing wildly, and sitting in humble reverance. I was raised among the “frozen chosen”, so every one of those expressions sound terrifying to me except for the last one. Not terrifying because I don’t think God is worthy, terrifying because I wonder what people will think. Here again is idolatry. I value my reputation, my sense of propriety and my fear of man more than I value worshipping God to the extent He deserves. Damn it – I didn’t know my idolatry, unbelief and rebellion ran so deep.

There is part of me that fears what my congregation would look like if everyone cut loose in worship like I am proposing here. What would newcomers think? Does that even matter? Would people be so distracted by others that they wouldn’t be able to engage in worshipping God? Do I cater to anemic hearts or do I throw everyone in the deep end trusting that God will teach them how to walk on water in the midst of the storm? I don’t really have good answers to these questions, so if anyone reading this has any thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

What I do know is that it is time to dethrone my idol of self. My unbelief, my idolatry, my rebellion and my fear of man have to go. I have sworn my allegiance to Jesus, He is the only King I shall have. Dear Lord, please help me.

What I Meant to Say: Metanoia (Repentance)

Matthew 4:17 is the nucleus of Jesus’s life and ministry. “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near,” is the essence of Jesus’s work on the earth. Everything we see in the Gospels flows from it. Therefore, it is essential that we understand what Jesus means in those first few words recorded in Matthew.

I’ll preface this by admitting that the word “repentance” has a lot of baggage associated with it. The word has been damaged in our culture and is in great need of explanation so that we can understand it correctly. Repentance is the absolute first step to salvation – it is imperative that we understand it well and can explain it to others.

Let us first examine what repentance is not.

When we proclaim the Good News, we want people to repent. However, getting people to repent is not us trying to convict other people of their sins so that they will turn to Jesus for forgiveness. Convicting people of their sins is Holy Spirit’s job (see John 16). A great many saints have taken this approach through the years and God, in His mercy, has allowed it to be fruitful. Even still, I do not think this is the most effective means of advancing the Gospel.

I’d like to go on to explain what repentance is by comparing and contrasting two Greek words, metanoia and paranoia.

Paranoia is a word we are familiar with in English. It describes a disease wherein someone is absolutely consumed with thoughts of other people, specifically, that other people are out to “get them” or do them harm. This is exactly what the word paranoia means in Greek – para means “alongside” or “beside” and noia is the word for “thinking” or “mind.” So, paranoia has a double meaning – it can mean “outside your mind” (meaning madness), or it can mean “thinking about the people beside you.” Paranoia is literally the fear of man, being consumed with thinking about the people around you and what they are thinking about you. Paranoia is a disease of the enemy that steals, kills and destroys a sound mind.

Metanoia is commonly translated as repent, which is really unfortunate because that isn’t anything like what the word means in Greek. If you think about it, re means “to do again” and pent is from the word penitent which means “feeling or expressing sorrow for sin.” So repent literally means “to feel sorry and do penance over (and over) again.” Yuck. But it helps explain why we evangelize the way we do. We’re trying to get people to feel sorry for their sins.

Contrast that with the actual Greek word metanoia. Meta can mean “to change” or “above” and noia once again means “mind” or “thinking.” So metanoia also has two meanings – “to change your mind/thinking” or “to think about the things above,” meaning God. If paranoia is being concerned with what other people think of you, metanoia is being concerned with what God thinks of you.

So, what does Jesus mean when he says, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near”? I think what he means is this: “The Kingdom of Heaven, God’s reign and rule, has come near to you. I’ve proved it by healing the sick, casting out demons and even raising the dead. God is real, and He is coming as a King to overthrow His enemies and establish His Kingdom on the earth. How are you going to live in response to what you have seen and heard? Are you on God’s side or not? I am the Way, the Truth and the Life – I am God’s terms of peace. If you will submit to me as your Lord and Savior I will spare you from the wrath that is soon to come on the earth. If you don’t, them you stand condemned already as those that have rebelled against God and rejected His terms of peace.”

The sentence I highlighted above, “How are you going to live in response to what you have seen and heard”, is what I understand Jesus to mean with the word metanoia. Repentance can only happen when we have been confronted with the Superior Reality of God’s Kingdom. When we see God’s Kingdom triumph over the kingdom of this world through signs, wonders, miracles, love, mercy and forgiveness then we have a choice to make – will we align with Immanuel (the God in our midst) or will we continue our allegiance to the Prince of this world through unbelief, skepticism, cynicism, fear, revenge and unforgiveness? While metanoia is oftentimes accompanied by remorse over sin (Acts 2:37), it isn’t always (see Acts 10).

To clarify, I don’t want to do away with the English understanding of repentance, that is, “to feel sorry for our sins.” As Disciples of King Jesus growing in holiness, we will experience sorrow for our sins. We will grieve how we have hurt God’s heart through willful disobedience and we will ache over how we have caused pain to those we love when we act contrary to our true nature. What I am trying to make clear is that, as it pertains to Evangelism, we are required to confront people with the Reality of God’s Kingdom in such a way that it gets them to think about God. And if we can get them to ask questions like “What does God think about me? Are we on good terms? Were Jesus to come back right now and establish the Kingdom, would I be on the winning side or losing side?” so much the better.

I long for the Church to reclaim metanoia. I long for us to look for ways to change people’s hearts and minds by demonstrating the true Gospel of Grace. I long to see Disciples of Jesus carry His Presence in such a powerful way that whenever we walk into a room, we can truthfully say, “the Kingdom of Heaven has come near to you.”

I believe that day is coming. I believe it is promised to us in the Scriptures. My prayer is that I will live to see it, even pastor a group of people who will be the living embodiment of the “greater things.” Amen, let it indeed be so!

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.

My Take on “Digging Wells: A Parable”

I love parables. Especially ones that stick with you and/or require independent thought. As much as I love stories, they can sometimes lead to shallow thinking – as in, I tell you a story in such a way that you see what I want you to see, how I want you to see it so that, in the end, you agree with me. Stories certainly have their place, but it is no accident that Jesus taught in parables and rarely explained them. Some of His parables still leave people wondering what He was talking about.

I love that parables make you think and reflect. Unreflective Christianity has a tendency to go lock-step with the culture and that scares me. So the counter-cultural and subversive parables of Jesus are a true Godsend. My parable isn’t quite that good, but I hope it caused you to think. In case you missed the parable, scroll down, read it and leave a comment before you continue… Thanks!

My thoughts
To me, this is a parable about perseverance and going deep in the most important things, which are, by necessity, quite few.

It is a parable about human nature and our tendency to wander even though we’re told exactly what to do.

The people of the village were dying of thirst, but in order to find the thing that would give them life, they had to go low – much lower than they had anticipated, much lower than they were willing to go. They had to dig and dig, deeper and deeper in the same place. Instead, they got distracted. They dug down a little and didn’t find what they wanted, so they tried somewhere else. They put in all the work they needed to in order to find life, but it was a dispersed effort which resulted in failure – if only they had kept digging down and down in the same hole!

The holes, for me, are different aspects of Christianity. They can represent the love of God, prayer, service, miracles, worship. Digging deep in any of those wells will result in an encounter with Jesus, the Water of Life, which is the whole point. But a dispersed, half-hearted and distracted effort in five or six holes will kill you, unless you can drink from someone else’s well.

Remember John 4 and the Samaritan woman at the well? Jacob the Patriarch had dug a well people were still drinking from hundreds of years later, yet it was unable to satisfy. But when Jesus came, he offered an endless supply of living water to whoever would dig a well through relationship with him.

I think there are very few topics that are “well worthy,” things you can give your life to for years and never regret. I think growing in understanding of God’s love for you and your love for God is pretty much it. The way you grow in that understanding might look a lot of different ways – service to the poor, prayer, worship or bible study, maybe even a combination of all of those – but the goal remains connection with the heart of God.

There are definitely more things to dig out of this particular parable, but those are the insights I thought I would share.

Thanks for reading friends!

Digging Wells: A Parable

I vaguely remember reading this parable somewhere. I can’t give credit to the original source though I want to, for it is a parable to live by.

There was once a wise and holy man on pilgrimage in a distant land. In his travels, the old man came upon a village in desperate circumstances.

“There is no water,” cried the village chief. “There has been a drought for many years and now we are about to die. Please, teach us how to find water.”

The old man paused to pray before answering – “The Lord says there is water beneath your feet. You need only dig down 10 feet and you will find a spring of water that will save you, your family and your village. May God bless you in your work.” And then the old man carried on.

A month or so later, the old man returned to the village, everything was barren. He went to the center of town where the village chief lived only to find 10 holes, each a foot deep. The whole village had died of thirst.

What do you think? What does this parable mean to you?

Emory Favor

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Yesterday, December 26 of 2013, my wife gave birth to our first child, Emory Favor. My world was turned upside-down in an instant and I don’t think I have ever been more in love. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this new reality, hence a blog post! 😀

My wife and I have been waiting two full years for Emory. Around Christmas time in 2011, Dani woke up from a nap and heard The Lord say, “Emory Favor” in her spirit. She knew instantly that was the name of our first child. She also knew it would be a boy because she “saw” the spelling. No one in our family has that name, so we knew God was intentionally trying to tell us something.

Emory means “home strength” and also “powerful” and “brave”. We felt those were specific words over our son’s life as well as things God wants to do in the lives of our family and friends. We believe God is in the process of making strong homes – mothers, fathers and singles who love one another well and are able to welcome children (biological, adopted, foster and spiritual) into their families as an earthly representation of God adopting us into His family. Family is a powerful redemptive force and requires bravery and courage for everyone involved.

Emory’s middle name is Favor, more a declaration than a name really. We believe that Emory is supernaturally favored by God. That may sound grandious, but he is my son, so deal. 😉 In all truthfulness, we feel like God has shown favor to us by blessing us with such a gift and we feel that His grace and favor will overflow into our family, congregation and city. We are declaring that this is a favored place in the heart of God.

So that is a little of Emory’s backstory, but I really want to write about what happened yesterday.

We went to bed Christmas night with the anticipation that Emory was coming soon. We asked our midwife, Leilani, to sleep over at our house in case. We laid down around 9:30 and by midnight we were downstairs, Dani having some powerful contractions. Her water broke about 1:40am and that is when I called in some reinforcements. My sister Caitie and our friends Ieshia and Morgan all drove through the middle of the night from different places around Iowa to come and help – I can’t thank them enough, it was so great to have them around. Leilani’s husband, Ken, also came over for support which was awesome.

As you may have figured out, we had a home birth. I’ll admit now that I was a little nervous about it, but having now gone through it, I wouldn’t do it any other way unless absolutely necessary. It was magical. The seven hours from water breaking to baby coming out flew by. Dani pushed for 2 and a half hours and it felt like minutes. She was exhausted by the end (go figure), but she rocked the birth like a champ. Dani never flipped out or lost her cool. When the contractions came she was focused and fierce; and when they left, she was her normal happy and funny self. She didn’t have any drugs or any interventions, she went totally natural. I have never been more impressed with Dani. I know she is an amazing woman, but D***. She delivered Emory in a squatting position, me seated behind her and her arms wrapped around my legs, and all of our friends waving flags and singing to Jesus. The Presence of God in our home was palpable. Then came the main event…

Seeing my son come out of my wife’s body is the single most amazing thing I have ever seen. Period.

Nothing in my experience compares to the sheer power and awesomeness of seeing a woman give birth. The closest I can come is when I was baptized with the Holy Spirit and that was awesome and emotional, but in a different way. This was primal and real and right. And seeing Dani pick up our son, towel him off and, with cord still attached, begin to rock him and tell him how much she loved him – that is something I will cherish forever. I am glad we made the decisions we did because it allowed for a life-changing experience. Home birth may not be for everyone, but it is the right thing for us.

We weren’t in a rush to get Emory weighed or measured – we had more important things to do, like hold him and kiss him and rest skin-to-skin. Mommy and Daddy sat and watched the little guy as the placenta worked its way out. Emory was so alert and so quiet. He has the most beautiful blue eyes. It was fun to look him over and see both Dani and I in him. So far, he seems to have his daddy’s hairline, nose, mouth and frame. He got his fingers, toes and chin from his momma.

Emory is a big boy, 9lbs and 21inches long. His head is 13.75 inches around and his chest 14. He’s built like a tank. That may or may not seem like a large baby to you, but my wife is 5′ nothing and all of 100lbs soaking wet. She gained 40lbs this pregnancy and he was a quarter of it. Seeing a baby that big come out of a woman that small seems impossible. Dani did have some tearing from the birth and lost enough blood to warrant some additional fluids, so an ambulance ride and some sutures later, mommy came back to give the little guy a snack. He wasn’t a super strong nurser from the start, but he is getting it. He has an amazingly patient mom who is a gifted teacher, he will be fine. It seems like he needed to get some amniotic fluid out of his stomach before he really worked up an appetite.

Dani’s parents came up yesterday and her mom stayed overnight which was a huge blessing. She worked the “grandma shift” and took a fussy baby from 3:30am to 7 so that an exhausted mommy and daddy could sleep a few hours. That was so helpful. Things seem less desperate when you aren’t sleep deprived.

Today he has been sleeping and nursing and looking cute. Thanks to everyone who has been praying for us, we know it helped. I’ll try to keep you all updated. You can also follow us on Facebook (BenDani Dau) or check out my wife’s blog (beholdtobecome.wordpress.com) for more.

Thanks for reading friends. Love you all. Ben

Following the Leader

Credit belongs to: fancysomedisneymagic.tumblr.com

Peter Pan is one of the favorite movies in the Dau household, I think mostly because Peter and Amy have a similar taste in hair styles. One of my favorite parts of the movie is when the Lost Boys are marching to fight some Indians and sing “Following the Leader.” This song came to mind today as I was reading my friend Marty’s blog post on leadership. You can follow his series here. Marty has been exploring the lack of leadership references in the Bible and that is something especially striking to me. We are rarely exhorted to “lead” in the Bible and frequently asked to “follow.” This got my thinking about my role as a pastor and the Lord led me to 1 Corinthians 11:1 where Paul says, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” 

We live in a leadership obsessed culture. The quality of a pastor is determined by his ability to vision cast, move people from being the “community” to the “core” and generally act like a CEO of a religious goods and services company. But we don’t see that precedent anywhere in the Scriptures. Paul says “follow my example,” sure. But he follows it up with “as I follow the example of Christ.” Paul, one of the premier apostles, evangelists, teachers and prophets and pastors of the New Testament, doesn’t describe himself as a leader, but as a follower. He doesn’t say that he has it all figured out and that people should follow him, rather he says, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me,” Philippians 3:12. Paul hadn’t attained perfection when he wrote this, but was vigorously following Jesus’ lead.

Jesus is our Leader. Jesus is our Good Shepherd. We follow Him. This thing we call “leadership” in the Church is really followership. As I write that last word, little red squiggles come up under it. “Followership” is evidently not a word. We have created a word “leadership” and given it a state of being and definition, but have not given the same attention to the importance of following. But we are called to be followers, not leaders. “Leaders” in the Church are really those who have been following for a longer period of time, or with greater zeal and intensity. They are further down the road of Christian Discipleship, so it looks like they are blazing new trails, but really they are following the path that the Good Shepherd marked out for them.

It is not false modesty to say that I am not a strong leader. But I am giving it my all to be a good follower. I am doing the best I can to listen to Jesus and walk in lock-step with the Spirit. It is my prayer that you will join me in doing the same.

Personal Epiphany

I had a revelation this morning after reading and thinking about a blog post I read this morning from fellow Vineyard Pastor Marty Boller. You can read his entry here. Eugene Peterson’s quote of George Arthur Buttrick really spoke to me. His quote was, ‘Pastors think people come to church to hear sermons. They don’t; they come to pray and to learn to pray.’

<DING!>

People don’t come to church to hear me preach! They come to worship God. That sounds so simple and obvious, but somewhere along in my spiritual formation I picked up the idea that the Sunday Morning Sermon was the be-all, end-all of spiritual life. I somehow came to the conclusion that the pastor’s sermon was the deciding factor in spiritual growth for the week rather than obedience to the Holy Spirit. And just this morning I realized that I carried that misconception into my own work as a pastor. This placed an undue amount of stress on me to the point where I really came to dread preparing a sermon. However, with the realization that it really is about God and it really isn’t about me, I can relax and do what I love to do – tell people about Jesus!

My goal as a pastor isn’t to fill people’s head with trivia, it is to help them engage with God in daily life throughout the week. I can and will do that through teaching the Bible, but mostly it will be through prayer, counsel and living by example.

I really can’t explain how much this revelation has given me relief. I didn’t even know I was carrying such an idolatrous attitude (thinking it was all about me) until the Holy Spirit spoke through Mr. Peterson today. God really is our Good Shepherd and the Holy Spirit really will lead us into all Truth. We just need to remember to follow and to listen.