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?

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“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.

Theological Designations

“The word ‘sinner’ is a theological designation. It is essential to insist upon this. It is not a moralistic judgment. It is not a word that places humans somewhere along a continuum ranging from angel to ape, assessing them as relatively ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It designates humans in relation to God and sees them separated from God. Sinner means something is awry between humans and God. In that state, people may be wicked, unhappy, anxious, and poor. Or, they may be virtuous, happy, and affluent. Those items are not part of the judgment.

Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor

My friend Marty recently blogged his way through Eugene Peterson’s (must read) book The Contemplative Pastor. In the course of his blogging, Marty posted an extended version of the quote above and offered his thoughts. Today, I thought I’d do the same because that quote has stuck in my brain for weeks and something that tenacious is a good indicator of Holy Spirit’s involvement.

Peterson articulates something I have known intuitively for a long time, but never had language for. “Sin” and “sinner” are theological terms, not moral ones. For that matter, “saint” is also a theological term and not a moral one. But we are so used to thinking in moral terms (sinner = bad and saint = good) that it requires a considerable amount of conscious effort to rid ourselves of the habit and think correctly about these ideas.

Peterson says, “‘Sinner’ means something is awry between humans and God. In that state, people may be wicked, unhappy, anxious, and poor. Or, they may be virtuous, happy and affluent. Those items are not part of the judgement.”

In the town where I live I encounter an overwhelming number of virtuous sinners. They live decent lives. They pay taxes and vote. They love their families and work hard. They are civically minded and engaged. And… they are sinners, because they refuse to submit to Jesus as their Lord (ultimate authority) and Savior (the only way to the Father – aka salvation). These very virtuous sinners aren’t falling apart at the seams – in fact, they are doing quite well by any moral, ethical or economic standard you choose. But they are spiritually impoverished for they live as enemies of God, His Kingdom and His Christ.

I’m really done with the evangelistic model of trying to convince people they are no-good, dirty, rotten sinners. I’m not convinced it is effective and it isn’t something I’ve been able to make myself do, so how can I expect the people I pastor to do it? So the question I have been asking myself is this – Is there a better way?

I believe there is.

When Jesus begins his ministry, he begins with a call, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” Jesus then proceeds to demonstrate God’s power, rule and reign over all the created order – over sickness, disease and death, over natural elements and over demons. Each and every demonstration of God’s power was to drive home the message that God’s Kingdom was breaking in all around them and people had better decide whether to be for God and His King or against them. The decision to “be on God’s side” was shown by a transformed life – living as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven and abiding by the laws of that land.

Much of Jesus’s message and ministry bypassed moral objections. His proclamation and demonstration showed (a) that God was very real and very powerful, (b) that God’s Kingdom was invading the sovereign territory of their experience and (c) that to submit to God and His Christ was life and to continue to remain in rebellion to God was death. Jesus’s evangelistic model didn’t rely on convincing people they were sinners or on convincing people how much their Father loved them – He simply modeled that God existed and was Good. After modeling the character of God and explaining what life in the Kingdom was like, Jesus let people make their own decisions.

I think we are called to do the same.

I think we are called to let people know what life in the Kingdom is like, according to the Bible. I think we are called to display and declare the character of our King. I think we are called to proclaim and demonstrate that God is and that God is Good.

I know of no better way to do that than what we in the Vineyard call “Power Evangelism,” that is – using the gifts of the Spirit to provide an unbeliever with a God encounter. It might be prophecy, healing or a supernaturally empowered act of compassion – but whatever it is, it lets that person know that God sees them, knows them, loves them and wants them.

Once people have encountered God, their hearts are open to receiving the Gospel message. It is at this point that a clear, concise and rational presentation of the Gospel is in order. Power evangelism is never anti-rational, it is super-rational, that is, it is rational and experiential and appeals to much more than the mind, but the spirit, soul and body as well. The reason we need to present an accurate Scriptural portrayal of the Kingdom is simple – that person needs to decide wether or not they want to follow Jesus as their King and live by His laws. Some people do. Some people don’t. Either way, that isn’t for us to decide. We are called to present the Gospel, make disciples and teach those disciples to obey what Jesus commanded. It is Holy Spirit’s job to convert. It is our job to make converts into disciples.

For me, this process is what addresses the theological component of “sin,” “sinner” and “saint.” This type of evangelism deals with the issues of allegience, loyalty and the kingliness of Jesus. In the course of this God encounter people might also get a glimpse of their moral short comings, much like Peter did when Jesus provided him with the miraculous catch of fish – that is good, but it isn’t the goal. Our goal is to accurately display the Reality of the Kingdom and the heart of our King and to invite them to “come and see” or “follow Me.”

This is what I have become convinced of and what I intend to put to the test over the next few months. I’ll be sure to write about my encounters and let you know how it goes.

Thanks for reading friends.

Testimony: A Healed Shoulder

Hello again everyone. I have a story I’d like to share with you about a friend of mine being healed of a shoulder injury.

As most of you know, I love stories of God healing people supernaturally; they are a vital part of my faith journey. I am on the hunt for the manifest Kingdom of God in my life and stories like this keep me going. It can be really discouraging living on the front lines of faith . It is tempting to pull back, lower my expectations of the Gospel to the purely human elements and live safely, not risking my reputation or emotions on something like a move of God, which is totally outside of my control.

But I can’t.

I have become convinced of a Gospel that surpasses my understanding. I’ve become convinced that God loves me, and everyone around me, with a passionate and unyielding love that will not rest until every single one of His children has been set free from the bondage of sin. Part of that freedom, part of the Kingdom of God, is the supernatural restoration of the human body. We were never meant to live with sickness, disease or death – those are products of sin which mastered the human race at the Rebellion. But sin and all of its effects have been overcome by the life, death and resurrection of God’s Beloved Son, Jesus.

Ok, enough preaching – onto the story!

“K” and her shoulder

Around Thanksgiving, I noticed my friend “K” struggling to put on her coat. I walked over to see what was the matter and she simply said she was having some shoulder pain. I helped her put on her coat, prayed for her, didn’t see her healed and moved on.

A week or so later I saw “K” at church again and asked about her shoulder. She mentioned she had gone to see a shoulder specialist. They did an MRI and discovered that she had a full thickness tear in her rotator cuff as well as some bone spurs. The specialist told her that she would need surgery to repair the tear and that her recovery would be fairly extensive – at least 6 weeks with a wedge under her arm and her shoulder imobilized. I asked if I could pray for her again and she said yes, “K” specifically asked that the rotator cuff would be healed before the doctors eyes as a testimony of His power. We prayed, once again nothing happened.

We continued praying for the next several weeks, not just “K” and I, but many people from the congregation laid hands on her and prayed in faith. Still, nothing seemed to happen.

That is, until two days ago.

On Monday, “K” went in for surgery to repair her rotator cuff. The same specialist who had seen her torn rotator cuff on the MRI was the one doing the surgery. The surgeon opened up her shoulder to examine what needed to be done. Imagine his surprise to see a pristine, full intact rotator cuff — “K” had been healed!

I don’t know how healing happens – I only know that it does and that it comes in ways I don’t expect. I wasn’t expecting “K” to be healed at this point, I was expecting to chalk up another victory for the “not yet” of the Kingdom. But God answered “K”‘s prayer specifically and at the proper time. “K” was able to say to her surgeon, the very same on who did the MRI and found the tear, “I prayed and God healed me.” Outstanding.

God is a God who heals. His Kingdom is breaking in all around us if only we have eyes to see it. I am so thankful for “K”s healing because it reminds me that God sees us, He hears us and He is willing to act on our behalf. That is so glorious and so humbling all at the same time. I’m thankful that “K” didn’t quit asking for prayer. I’m thankful that we are a congregation who is tenacious about praying for healing.

I hope this encourages you and inspires you like it does me. I hope that if you are someone in need of healing that you don’t give up asking for prayer – you aren’t a burden, you aren’t an inconvenience, you aren’t taking up too much time. We love you and we want to pray for you.

I also hope that this whets your appetite for the things of God. There is more, there is so much more that God has in store for those who love Him. We haven’t even begun to explore the treasures Jesus made available to us through His blood. This is just the beginning, just a foretaste of the Kingdom to come. I believe that we can experience more – more love, more healing, more of God’s Presence – if we will ask for it. The riches of the Kingdom of God are given to the poor in spirit – those who know their lack, are hungry and desperate. We can no longer live in the state of “Whatever” as in “Yeah, whatever. God will either do it or He won’t, it doesn’t matter.” Yes! It does matter! And we have a direct and dramatic impact on the events of history through our prayers, intercession and declarations. It is time to get hungry. It is time to get desperate. It is time to trash “Plan B” and put all our chips on a move of God.

This is the cry of my heart. I hope and pray that it will become yours as well.

Until He comes,
Ben