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.

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Prayer Trigger, Prayer Target

Prayer Trigger, Prayer Target is a 10 minute teaching by a man named Arthur Burk. You can watch it here I really like Arthur’s stuff. Some folks might think it is “strange,” “weird” or “out there,” but I have found it to be practical, Biblically grounded and, above all, effective.

Prayer Trigger, Prayer Target (for those of you who chose not to watch the video) works like this:

(1) Choose a prayer trigger. Something that annoys the crap out of you is ideal.

(2) Choose someone to pray for (your prayer target). Go for the highest of the high or the lowest of the low. Choose someone you admire, respect and want to be like or choose someone so wicked you know it would be a miracle for them to find Jesus. If you chose the Godly person, pray for intimacy and/or power. If you chose the unGodly person, pray for salvation.

(3) Whenever you are triggered, launch out a 3 second prayer at your target. It can be spoken or unspoken. The key is to keep it short so that you can do it quickly and often.

(4) Give it two weeks and review. If you aren’t triggering often anymore, choose a new trigger, keep the same target. Expect things to get worse before they get better.

Here is an example from my life.

Prayer Trigger: lustful thoughts (I work out at a college gym three times per week and have the opportunity to be triggered about every 30 seconds.)

Prayer Target: power for Bill Johnson, pastor of Redding, CA

Whenever I’m triggered (i.e. am aware of a lustful thought) I launch out this prayer: “Power for Bill. Make cancer flee at his touch.” I sometimes pray more or for others things, but that is my “go to” prayer. I got really aggressive with this and started launching out prayers between every set, regardless of trigger. Pretty soon, I was lifting with all dudes – seriously.

What I need to remember, though, is that beautiful women aren’t my enemy. Lustful thoughts are. I’ve been at this for about a week and have noticed a marked decrease in triggers, both in the gym and outside it. I’ll let you know how the next week goes.

Until then, have at it and let me know your experiences.

What I Meant to Say: Pentecost and Jubilee

[Author’s Note: This is a vastly different sermon than I gave on Sunday – it is the sermon I wish I would have given, but I didn’t get the revelation of it until I was talking. Thanks for your patience with me as I develop as a messenger. Ben.]

At the start of Jesus’s ministry, he quotes the famous passage out of Isaiah 61: 1-2a

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

What is fascinating is that Jesus intentionally cuts the quotation off mid sentance. Rather than reading on to the Day of Judgement, Jesus stops, indicating that his ministry was an extension of the Year of Jubilee.

Jubilee in the Old Testament is a glorious idea, though there is no indication it was ever actually practiced. The idea of Jubilee is this — after 7 sets of 7 years, the Jewish people would call a Jubilee. This meant that all debts were forgiven, all work was put on hold, all slaves were set free and all territory was given back to its rightful owners.

In Jewish law certain families had territorial claims for eternity. Their land belonged to them and their family as an inheritance forever. However, in hard times, it was possible for the family to sell the land for a certain price and it was under the custody of the buyer until the next Jubilee, whereupon the land would be restored to its rightful owner so that the next generation would have the means of providing for themselves and elevating their circumstances.

Pentecost was a Jewish holiday that occurred 50 days after Passover. It celebrates the Israelites being freed from slavery and entering into covenant with God. After the Israelites were established in the Promised Land, Pentecost also became a festival that indicated the harvest was in full swing. It was a day of celebration, rest and remembrance for the Israelites.

In the New Testament, God does a tremendous re-writing of spiritual history. Whereas 3,000 people died on Pentecost in the old covenant, 3,000 people are saved in the new. The blood of the Passover Lamb set the church free from God’s judgment (God’s wrath would now pass over them rendering them unpunishable) and God established a new covenant — a covenant of life, grace and reconciliation and sealed the deal by pouring out His Holy Spirit. This outpouring signaled the start of a new epoch in Church history — “the Great and Glorious Day of The Lord.”

We are living in the Last Days, but not the last of the Last Days. We are living in the Great and Glorious Day preparing for the Great and Terrible Day which will be followed by Judgement Day (this is a totally different teaching that I won’t develop here). In the Day in which we are living, everyone who calls upon the Name of The Lord (Jesus) will be saved — the sign of this great truth is that the Holy Spirit should be in and upon every beleiver.

I the books of Acts, we see the disciples continuing the ministry of Jesus, even building upon it and doing things Jesus never did. They continued it because the disciples were able to heal all who came to them — and this wasn’t limited to the Apostles. Stephen the Deacon as well as Phillip the Evangelist also operated in signs and wonders. The disciples built upon this spiritual inheritance and found their sphere of influence increased, the manifest grace of God literally dripped off of them. The story’s I am referencing are Peter’s shadow healing people as he walked down the street (Acts 5) and Paul’s dirty handkerchiefs being used to heal the sick (Acts 19).

Church history indicates that signs and wonders were commonplace in Christianity up until the time of the Roman emperor Constantine (306 AD) and then curtailed abruptly at the time of emperor Theodosius (379 AD). Why the correlation with those two events? Constantine made Christianity a legal religion within the Roman Empire (previously it was illegal and there was great persecution of Christians) and Theodosius took things one step further and made Christianity the ONLY legal religion in the Roman Empire, resulting in a dramatic change of events where Christians were now the ones persecuting people.

All that to say this: I believe the Church sold its inheritance as God’s designated authority on the earth for temporal authority in the form of human government. We exchanged the Kingdom of God for the kingdom of man because we thought we could establish the Kingdom of God on the Earth in its entirety before Jesus’s return. Christianity was never meant to be a ruling religion naturally speaking, we aren’t equipped for it.

Take two of Jesus’s commands to the Church as found in the Sermon on the Mount/Plain — turn the other cheek (Matt. 5) and give to everyone who asks of you (Luke 6). It is hard to have a national guard or sustainable economy as a government with those two commands. I am all for discipling nations and transforming culture, but we have to use the strategy Jesus gave us (salt, light, leaven).

I believe the Western Church sold its inheritance (spiritual territory) to the world and has continued to do so ever since. There are seasons where our inheritance has been restored, but we’ve never kept hold of it long enough to build it back to where was.

I believe that is changing.

I believe that people are starting to get desperate within the Church. They are reading the Scriptures and thinking ‘This was never supposed to stop!’ They are passionate about fulfilling Jesus’s prayer “May Your Kingdom come and Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” They are willing to fight for, retain and build upon the spiritual inheritance of the Church.

And here is the correlation I see between Pentecost and Jubilee. Just as Jesus was a living extension of the year of Jubilee, so is the Church. We enter into the ministry of Jesus to set captives free, reconcile them with their Heavenly Father and restore them to their proper place as sons and daughters. But that lifestyle and ministry of Jubilee can only be accomplished if “the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me.”

Pentecost made Jubilee accessible to the world in the first century and Pentecost will make Jubilee accessible to the world in the twenty-first century. As we pull out from worldly ways of doing things, embrace our subversive and apocalyptic assignment as yeast and take back our identity as the children of God we will find our inheritance being restored. God wants to confirm the Gospel with signs and wonders again. He wants us to dwell in the land He has assigned to us. He says it is righteous to build on what we’ve received and leave a greater inheritance for our children. And we start by being faithful in small things. We prove we can manage dimes and we’ll get dollars.

It is an exciting time to be the Church! I think God is preparing us to ride a great wave of revival — a time where hundreds of thousands are saved, we see more healings in a day than we did in a decade and Western Culture is radically impacted by the Gospel of the Coming King. I’m thankful that God chose us to live in such a time as this.

Thanks for reading friends.

When People Aren’t Healed

As our community continues to come to terms with Beverly’s death, there are inevitable questions that arise around the topics of sickness, healing and death. This post is my attempt to steer our culture and community into dealing with these questions vulnerably, honestly and scripturally. By no means are my answers the final say on the matter – they simply represent what I believe to be true about God’s character and the topic of healing at this present time. For the purpose of clearly communicating to our community, I will address Beverly by name. If you are reading this and aren’t a part of our congregation, please insert the name of your loved one.

Was it God’s will that Beverly should die?

No, I don’t believe so. There are many issues surrounding death that we don’t understand, but here are what the Scriptures say:

“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be,” Psalm 139:16.

“Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him,” Hebrews 9:27-28.

The Scriptures say that our days are ordained, written out before time began. The Scriptures say that every person is appointed to die once in their life. The Scriptures do not say that a certain sickness or disease is your appointed end.

2 Kings 20 tells the story of King Hezekiah who became ill and was at the point of death. A prophet (!) of The Lord came and told him to get his house in order because he was soon going to die. Hezekiah wept bitterly and prayed, asking God for more time. God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and extended his life another 15 years.

Was this illness Hezekiah’s appointed end? Apparently not, even though a prophet of The Lord prophesied that it was — oops! Same with Lazarus in John 11. Lazarus’s sickness didn’t end in death (permanently), he apparently had more life to live to God’s glory.

Does God know when we are going to die? Yes, absolutely. But He doesn’t cause it and we don’t know if a certain illness is someone’s appointed end — not even super prophetic people! So we contend in prayer for healing, asking God to extend life to our loved ones and heal them from every disease.

We prayed so long and so hard for Beverly – we even fasted! Didn’t God hear us?

Yes, God hears our prayers (1 Kings 8:28; 2 Kings 20:5; Psalm 66:19; Acts 10:31) and I believe they were particularly pleasing to Him. You see, praying in faith for someone’s healing is a declaration of faith in God’s character — that He is Good, gracious, kind and merciful. Praying for healing means we believe God is a healer, redeemer and savior. It means we believe He is more powerful than sin, sickness, disease or even death itself.

Fasting and prayer is not a formula. God isn’t a vending machine where we put in a certain quantity of time praying or fasting and out pops a healing. Formulas and recipes would be magic, reducing God to some impersonal force to be manipulated through our efforts. God is a Person who works through relationship and mystery. I don’t know how healing works, but I believe it is God’s desire to see His people come to Him in their distress because they believe He can help.

Additionally, God isn’t holding out on us. It isn’t as though He is holding healing or Holy Spirit up in Heaven and stingily dispensing Grace to those who grovel most effectively. I believe God wants people to be healed more than we do. I believe He is a lavish Lover who love to give exceedingly extravagant gifts to those He loves (which is everyone).

So, if God wanted to see Beverly healed even more than we did, why wasn’t she healed?

I don’t know.

I don’t know, I don’t think anyone does, but I’m not going to say stupid things or create false doctrines to try and bridge the gap between my expectation and my experience. God has enough “roses in His garden”, enough “angels in the choir”, He didn’t need to take someone we love for that purpose. I know we try to take comfort in those kinds of statements, but they betray a twisted understanding of God’s character, please don’t use them with those grieving the loss of a loved one.

Jesus healed everyone who came to him. So did the apostles in the book of Acts, except for Paul, who was a slacker. (Kidding, just checking if you’re still paying attention.) I believe Jesus lived an intentionally average life in the Spirit, just par for the course; he expected us to surpass him in every way — number of miracles, quality of miracles, number of people able to perform miracles, etc. Obviously, we aren’t there, we lost something along the way — is anyone else outraged by that? I know I am.

Back to the point, we can’t create false doctrines out of our experiences that misrepresent the heart of God. Jesus healed all who came to him. He never taught the Disciples a theology of unanswered prayer; that challenges me! [begin rant] I can’t bring the Word of God down to my experience, I have to press into the lifestyle it says I should have. How much are we willing to fight for? The enemy has taken territory that rightfully belongs to the children of God and it is time to take it back! Healing, miracles, signs and wonders – these are our birthright and we’ve been content to trade it away for the soup of a middle class lifestyle! [/end rant]

The truth is, Beverly is healed. Beverly is in glory, exactly where she wants to be. She is no longer struggling with sickness or pain. There is only a resurrected body and eternal reward in her future. Her faith has become sight and that is an amazing Reality.

Could we have done more?

This is a losing question, there is no fruit at the end of this road. The truth is, we could always do more, but no one was intentionally slacking because they wished Beverly ill. We acted as best with could with the understanding we had.

And the Gospel isn’t about how hard we work anyway. It is about living by faith, acting in accordance with the heart of God and being obedient to what He asks us to do. The Gospel is the Good News of God’s actions on our behalf, not the other way around. Don’t torture yourself rehearing what you could have said or done differently. It won’t produce anything worth while. You did good church, you did good.

Tips for caring for those who have lost someone dear

1) Don’t say stupid things. 🙂 Sometimes it is best to not say anything at all. Nothing you can say is going to make it feel better, but a compassionate presence is always welcome.

2) Listen. Grief brings up all sorts of memories, be there to listen.

3) Take thoughtful initiative. “Call me if you need anything” is a platitude that is never acted upon. They aren’t thinking of what they need and people hate to be a burden, so think for them. Lawns need to be mowed, dishes need to be washed, laundry needs to get folded. Politely, lovingly and firmly insert yourself into their business.

4) Be sensitive to their needs. Losing a loved one is overwhelming. Not only are people struggling with the emotions of loss, they are making tons of decisions and talking with outrageous amounts of people. They might not want to answer another “How ya doin'” question. They might not want company. They might just want some quiet and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

5) Use technology to help you remember. Everyone else goes back to normal after the funeral and the family is left with the difficult task of creating a new normal. It is human nature to forget the things that don’t directly impact your life, but remember anyway. Put a reminder in your phone to give the family a call or to invite them over for game night. Send them a card on some random Tuesday just to let them know you’re thinking of them.

There isn’t a “right” or “perfect” way to care for someone in their loss, so don’t worry about it. Concern yourself with loving them well, praying for them and being thoughtful on their behalf. Trust that they will be able to communicate with you when they need something other than what you are offering.

Love, but don’t smother. Care, but don’t pity.

Thanks for reading this beast of a post. I hope this helps answer some questions and gives you some concrete actions steps to care for those in mourning. If you have any additional questions, comments or viewpoints, please comment below or shoot me an email at vineyardcommunitychurch319@gmail.com

Thanks again for reading!

A Sacrifice of Praise

Losing someone you love and admire 12 hours before you preach an Easter sermon isn’t an experience I’d wish on anyone, but it has produced some profound revelations for me.

The main revelation is that in the midst of grief and suffering and pain, God is still worthy to be praised. No circumstance, no matter how devastating, changes the Good News of Jesus’s resurrection and ascension. Death died on Friday – Jesus lives on.

“Precious in the sight of The Lord is the death of his saints… I will offer a sacrifice of praise,” says David in Psalm 116. A sacrifice is a sacrifice because it costs you something. Choosing joyful worship in the midst of grief is a costly sacrifice. Confessing God’s Goodness when everything in life seems contrary to that requires faith. The enemy wants to crush our spirits – he can’t stand the Light of Life and Hope in the human soul; so we weather his storm and shine all the brighter for the darkness.

I’m reminded that we live in the unshakable Kingdom of God. Everything that can be shaken will be shaken in our lives, so that everything that is not of God will fall away. What remains standing when the dust settles is a priceless treasure – a Kingdom, full of faith, hope and love, inhabited by saints who love their Lover more than life itself. The world isn’t worthy of such beauty.

I’m so proud of how we’ve handled Beverly’s sickness and death. I’m glad we fasted, prayed and believed for her healing. I’m glad we arranged meals and help for the family. And I’m amazed that we were able to worship together this morning with arms lifted high. Well done church.

Pain Will Not Define Us

We’re 22 hours into our 24 hour prayer watch for Bev. I’m sitting at church listening to Rend Collective Experiment’s “The Art of Celebration.” One phrase in particular stuck out to me in the first song – “pain will not define us”.

Pain will not define us. No matter what happens to Beverly, pain will not discolor our view of life or of God. Pain is not the final word.

We are a people of joy, a people of prayer. We are a people with Resurrection Fire burning in our hearts. We are the Light standing in defiance to the darkness of despair. We are more than conquerors through the Risen Son of God. We will not bow to the inferior power of death.

“Take heart, I have overcome the world,” Jesus says. “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die.”

Though we mourn at death, we don’t mourn as those who have no hope. Death is never the end for the people of God. Death is our final rebirth into the Kingdom.

I am still believing for a miracle for Bev. And I’ll continue to believe and hope and fight and pray until The Lord tells me otherwise.

I’m thankful for you, church. I’m thankful that all through the night the Saints were praying. I’m thankful that we are a people of prayer, a people that contend for those we love, a people that believe God still works miracles. Well done friends.

The Kingdom Now: Pursuing What is Available, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am not paper trained

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kingdom Now: Pursuing What Is Available

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

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

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

It is that last disappointment that prompted this post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always, thank you for reading.

My Declarations for 2014

Last night, my wife and I had our first college ministry event of the New Year. Dani asked the students to write down what they thought God was asking them to do and to turn it into a declaration of intent. There were some really great things that came out – words about trust, dependency and growing in love. My declaration was this: I will stop for the one.

“Stop for the one” is a phrase I’ve taken from Heidi Baker. It means be present with the person I’m with, seeing everyone around me with eyes of love and compassion. It means to stop, literally stop, my frantic lifestyle and actually see people. It means to help someone change a tire on the side of the road. It means to help a stranger find their way. It means to love and serve, one person at a time.

I have a confession: I don’t tend to think in terms of individuals. I tend to think in groups and communities and movements. I think of preaching to crowds and statidums, not ministering to a single person. I think of cities, states and nations being transformed with the Gospel – not a man, or a woman, or a child.

But God calls us each by name.

God doesn’t look down from Heaven and see some ambiguous city. He looks down and sees Ben, Dani and Emory living next to Brian and Becca who live across from Jenna and Bekah. He sees each of us as ourself.

“Stop for the one” is the Sermon on the Mount, the Good Samaritan, the parable of the Sheep and the Goats. It is stopping for blind Bartimaeus or the woman with incessant bleeding. Stopping for the one is the way Jesus ministered. He certainly taught crowds and multitudes, but he never lost sight of the individuals – he was never too busy, too hurried or too important to stop for a single person.

That challenges me. I realize I have a lot to learn about loving people – seeing people. Lord, help.