Saturday, June 16, 2018

Presence

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” (Exodus 33:14-15)

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” (excerpt from Psalm 139)

There are numerous examples in the Bible where the curtain is pulled back, and the omnipresent God reveals His manifest presence to His people. In other words, the God who is always there draws nearer in some way, so that His presence is unmistakably felt. As some people describe it: “God showed up.”

The Israelites, for example, wandered through the desert from Egypt to the Promised Land, led by the pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21). When Solomon dedicated the temple, the presence of God was so tangible that the priests couldn’t even perform their duties (1 Kings 8:10-11).
Conversely, there is a chilling vision given to Ezekiel when God withdrew His presence from the same temple, years later, due to corruption (Ezekiel 10:4-18).
All that to say: the presence of God is a Big Deal.

When I was a fairly new believer, we tended to use different language to describe our experience of God’s presence. Terms like “on fire” versus “cold”, for example. ‘Cold’ was probably an allusion to Jesus’ warning: “the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12), while ‘on fire’ was mostly likely inspired by the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: “were not our hearts burning?” (Luke 24:32).

I can recall a few times, as a teenager, when I would suddenly become aware that my heart had grown cold. I hadn’t ‘backslidden’ into a life of wanton debauchery or anything like that, nor was I defiantly shaking my fist at the Almighty. I was going through the usual motions of an average high school student who also attended church, but my heart had gradually grown cold.
The Spirit was always present, but my cold (distracted, inattentive) heart meant that I wasn’t aware of Him. Until I realized what had happened, and changed (repented).
There’s also those times where you have a sense of His presence being “on” something you are involved in. I recall instances in pastoral ministry where I was faced with a difficult meeting with difficult people, and would spend a lot of time leading up to said meeting in Scripture reading and prayer — for truth to be spoken with love and respect.

And yet despite the normal anxiety, I would enter the meeting with a definite sense of His presence going with me. There would inevitably be some level of fireworks before the meeting was over, but the resulting positive fruit was a testimony to His faithfulness to open and change hearts.

Conversely, like Ezekiel’s vision of God’s glory departing from the Temple, there are times where you sense the absence, or even the withdrawal of His presence — some people colloquially describe it as: “God’s not on this”.
That can usually be understood or interpreted as one way the Holy Spirit warns us to not get involved, or when it’s time to walk away.
There was a time when I was asked by a church to do something that — no matter how I tried to look at it from multiple angles and viewpoints — I knew wasn’t what the Spirit was directing me to do.

The direction the church leadership insisted that I follow wasn’t anything illegal, unethical, immoral or even unbiblical. They simply wanted me to strip out all elements of worship or overt discipleship from a ministry that I was leading, and to focus on ‘purely social events’.

There’s nothing wrong with social events, naturally. I love having fun with friends as much as anyone. ‘Community’ is one of our deepest desires, and social gatherings are a natural expression of relationships.

So, again: the leadership of the church was not asking me to do anything illegal, unethical, immoral, or unbiblical.
But from the moment the directive came down — the proverbial ‘line drawn in the sand’ — I sensed the immediate withdrawal of the Presence. As sharply as if a guillotine had dropped.
It’s one thing, as a teenager, to suddenly realize you’ve gradually cooled-off in your awareness of God’s presence. It’s another thing entirely to sense the withdrawal of the Spirit’s presence, and continue on as if nothing significant had changed. I resigned my position at the church not long afterward.

As David wrote in Psalm 139, God’s presence is everywhere, which is a comforting and encouraging thought. I just need to stay spiritually alert. And Moses summed up the other side of the coin succinctly: “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.”

God’s presence — and our awareness and cooperation — is an integral part of what it means to be “led by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16-25). Whatever the cost may be, count me in.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

A Publishing Journey

From a writer’s perspective, the saga of Post-Charismatic is something of a guided tour into the strange world of publishing, and the various and sundry ups and downs associated with it.

In the early days of this blog, there was a lot of conversation back and forth about the growing number of disillusioned people from pentecostal/charismatic churches who were opting to leave the movements they had once considered a source of spiritual vitality.

I decided — at the encouragement of several blogging friends — to begin what I conceived of as “the mother of all research projects”: a series of blog posts to unpack the why’s behind the growing number of people who would self-identify as ‘post-charismatic’.

It didn’t take long in my research to realize that a blog series wouldn’t do the topic justice. Instead, what was tentatively billed as “the Post-Charismatic Project” would be published as a subsection of my blog — an extremely large (and growing) subsection, as twenty months of research and writing took shape.

Even before it’s release, several people suggested that I should look into getting the content published in book form. I did my best to “shop” the proposal around, but received zero response (note: possibly because my query letters sucked). So I went ahead with my initial plan and designed a website-within-a-blog for the content.


In hindsight, I have no idea what inspired me to create this banner art.

The website went public in early 2006, and word spread quickly around the digital world known as the ‘blogosphere’. A fellow blogger — Brother Maynard from Subversive Influence (who also provided invaluable critique/push-back of the early drafts) — created a forum for the website, where readers could interact on the various issues raised by the Project. To say the forum was inundated with lively debate would be a classic understatement.
The publishing angle took an unexpected turn later that same year — what was considered the ‘holy grail’ of blogging: the opportunity for a blogger to become a published author. An email arrived from jolly olde England, inquiring about the Post-Charismatic Project.
At first, I thought the email was the digital equivalent of a prank phone call. Just in case, I decided to contact the company in question, and inquired whether or not a certain name was associated with them.

“You mean our senior acquisitions editor?” the polite British woman asked over the phone. “I would take any email from him very seriously, if I were you.”
And then it hit me: I had been ‘discovered’. I was going to be published.
After a whirlwind of signing contracts and untangling governmental red tape surrounding a Canadian writer and a British publishing house, I was knee-deep in the process of having editors scour through my book, suggesting additions, deletions, areas where the material could be tightened up, and so on. It was a fun learning curve.

I was even treated to that odd feeling that accompanies the first glimpse of the proposed cover art. Initially, I wasn’t a huge fan of either design, to be honest, but that’s part of the swirl of publication: you don’t have control over what the publisher decides (and they’re the experts, so you have to trust their instincts).

In the end, they chose the second cover design, which was the better of the two in my limited opinion.

And then another unexpected turn occurred.

It took almost two years for Post-Charismatic? to be released in the UK, and over a year later before it finally became available on this side of the Atlantic. The book was being marketed in the UK, and I was already receiving emails and letters from readers, yet the North American release was indefinitely delayed with no explanation.
As I later discovered, the British company had been bought out by an American publishing house, and their ‘rules’ for publication were quite different. In short, their sales department had determined I didn’t qualify to be published, but since legally-binding contracts had been signed, they were contractually obligated to the first print run. But that was as far as they would (grudgingly) go.

For a writer, this was understandably frustrating and not a little deflating. The three-year print run came and went, and the muffled thud you may have heard was the (apparent) end of my shelf life as a published author.

But in the months following the end of the print run, I continued to receive inquiries about the book’s availability, and also requests for a Kindle version. And I realized that there was another option available to me: self-publishing.

It took almost half a year of wrangling with the American company, but I finally managed to obtain an official — on company letterhead ’n’ everything — ‘authorial rights reversal’, which means I was once more in legal control of what I did with my work.

Post-Charismatic 2.0 was a proper second edition of the original manuscript — updated, edited (yet again, ruthlessly) — and with the new framing story of a fictional Charismatics Anonymous meeting to introduce and conclude the book.

The learning curve to create both print and e-book formats was steep but rewarding, and having complete artistic control of my own work was well worth it.

I could never have predicted how this publishing journey would unfold, back when I began researching for ‘a few blog posts’, but it’s been a challenging, satisfying, and ultimately empowering education.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Speculative Fiction: Roots of Another Kind

I don’t remember how old I was when I chanced upon The Runaway Robot in my school library (twelve, perhaps?), but I believe it was the first science fiction book I’d ever read.

I suspect my earliest interest in what is known as ‘speculative fiction’ was sparked by the original Lost In Space television series, and later reinforced by Star Trek (TOS). I was already an avid reader as a child, but once I discovered sci-fi, I knew it was time to leave The Hardy Boys behind.

Junior & Senior high school saw my reading list expand greatly, as science fiction/fantasy became one of my favorite genres. Authors such as Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, Douglas Adams, George Orwell, and Jules Verne became household names for me.

One of the early gems that I discovered was Aaron Wolfe’s Invasion; Wolfe later turned out to be Dean Koontz, writing under a pseudonym. The Laser Books publishing imprint was curated by the late Roger Elwood, to whom I — at the ripe old age of thirteen — naively sent a manuscript of a sci-fi dreck-let that I’d written. He declined my submission (graciously).

Andre Norton was also one of my go-to favorites, as the bookshelf in my writing office demonstrates to this day. Her ability to write on both sides of the sci-fi/fantasy genre, and to create complex and interesting worlds — often based on her research into ancient cultures — was remarkable and inspirational.

(Never underestimate the value of anthropological and historical research when it comes to creating fictionalized societies.)



Michael Crichton’s many books have joined Ms. Norton on my shelf. Crichton is an excellent example of ‘hard’ science fiction (as is Asimov) — speculative stories set in the future but based on real science of today. Crichton is another author who invests a great deal of time researching new technological break-throughs before crafting a story around them.

Sporadic diversions to authors with names like King, Grisham, Clancy, Koontz, Ludlum and Connelly have been known to occur, but they are just that: sporadic.

Fantasy continues to be represented by J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy and associated tales, and the recent discovery of ‘The King-Killer Chronicles’ by Patrick Rothfuss (please excuse me while I add my voice to  those calling upon Rothfuss to take less the 5-6 years between installments).

As Stephen King states in his worthy tome, On Writing: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

I’m always doing the former, and am now seven months into an obsessive focus on the latter. (That’s called foreshadowing — it’s a literary device that means: “Currently writing the first draft of a new novel.”)

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Crucible (Messy Revival)


photo source: Wiki Commons
“The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart.” (Proverbs 17:3)

Purify my heart
Let me be as gold and precious silver
Refiner’s fire
My heart’s one desire is to be holy
Set apart for You, Lord
(Refiner’s Fire, Brian Doerksen)

The process of refining silver, in the era when the book of Proverbs was written, is an evocative picture of how our hearts are refined. It’s a “made for sermon illustration” metaphor that I really like.

Silver is purified by the refiner, who brings increasing heat to bear on the unrefined metal. As the heat increases, all the impurities rise to the surface, and the refiner skims them off. The process is repeated until the desired result is achieved: a clear reflection of the refiner’s face in the silver.

The spiritual parallel is stunning; God refining our character until He sees a clear reflection of Jesus in us.
But as anyone who has experienced the refining process can tell you, when the heat gets turned up, it’s uncomfortable. (That’s an understatement of, shall we say, ‘biblical proportions’.)
At the same time, achieving the desired result makes the uncomfortable process worth it in the end. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11)
Whenever we pray for more of the Spirit’s power and presence in our lives, we should not be surprised that the heat gets turned up, and some of our “schtuff” flares up in our face.
That’s how it works, after all. More of the Spirit’s work in our lives means more refining as part of the overall package. There are ‘mountain top’ moments that are exhilarating, but there are also difficult ‘valleys’ — both are part of the Spirit’s work in our lives.

Which is why things can get wild and woolly during times of revival. The Holy Spirit is poured out in ways that go beyond ‘typical’ — the ‘omni’ presence of God becomes the ‘manifest’ presence — and there are a wide range of responses from people.

Some sin will be stirred up by the Enemy, trying his darndest to discredit what the Spirit is doing. And the critics of renewal movements delight in pointing this out, as if the presence of sinful activity ‘proves’ that God is not involved.

And some sin will be stirred up by the presence of the Holy Spirit, so it can be dealt with. That’s what a good Refiner does.
‘Revival’ is always connected to repentance. Whether it’s people coming to faith for the first time, or believers having the low-burning embers of their faith fanned into flame once again, repentance unto a holy life is normal.
There should be nothing shocking about sinful patterns being forced to the surface during times of revival/renewal. That’s how the Refiner’s fire works. The heat is on.

If you find yourself crying out for more of the Spirit, and sin & the temptation to sin seems to flare up — don’t rebuke the devil (except where appropriate) and don’t allow yourself to become discouraged. Instead, recognize the hand of the Refiner, and co-operate with the Spirit’s purifying work.

The heat is on. And the end result will be worth it.
Purify my heart
Cleanse me from my sin, deep within
I choose to be holy
Set apart for You, my Master
Ready to do Your will
(Refiner’s Fire, Brian Doerksen)

Monday, April 23, 2018

Satan Sends an Emoji


image source: Wikicommons
In the Olden Days of Yesteryear, Satan would often phone church people to personally congratulate them when they took on tasks normally reserved for him. “You’re doing one helluva job. Keep up the good work!”

These days, things have gotten much busier, and wanting to keep up with the times and technology, the Devil is now sending diabolically clever emoji’s to signal his approval.

The task at hand, as it has been for many years, is two-fold:
(A) Demoralize church leaders to the point where they quit.

(B) Failing that, surround said leaders with enough toxicity that they can only survive by building walls of protection around themselves.
For example: in the Olden Days, the well-timed phone call — preferably during Sunday lunch — that interrupts the leader’s family time with a barrage of criticism. Meal-time ruined; leader’s motives, gifts and passion called into question; spouse & children witnesses to the carnage which in turn (dis)colors their view of church. Perfect!

The caller hangs up, tingling with a rush of self-righteous adrenaline — “I really gave them a piece of my mind held them accountable.”

And Satan sends an emoji.

For those eager not to miss out on the bandwagon, there are many ways to earn these congratulatory dopamine-enhancers (far more satisfying than a mere ‘like’ or ‘retweet’). Here’s a partial list:

The Declaration Of Defamation that shows up in a leader’s mail slot in the church office, from that most-prolific of all letter-writers: “Anonymous”. (No, not the hacker vigilantes...)
The recurring line-up of ‘the usual suspects’ outside the pastor’s office, ready to grind their Axe of Agenda because the pastor has (in their opinion) somehow failed them God in a recent sermon.
The young worship leader who devotes hours and hours of practice, prayer, and using their gifts for the Kingdom, only to be told that numerous people plan to boycott the next time they lead worship because they don’t like (a) the volume, (b) the drums, (c) the songs, or (d) (fill in pet musical peeve here).
Or the equally disembowelling dagger: “You’re not anointed” or “you’re leading from ‘the flesh’ and not from the Spirit” (because these people can discern a leader’s heart and motives, just like God can).
The prickly email sent from a parishioner with a laundry list of complaints spiritual concerns, speaking “on behalf of a lot of people” (to give their criticism added weight).
Those who delight in spreading gossip under the guise of ‘concern’: “You know, a lot of people are saying (blank) about you behind your back — I just thought you should know”.
The grumpy person in the lobby — arms crossed, brow furrowed — compelled by All That Is Holy to accuse the leader of being aloof, unapproachable, or ‘looking defensive’ (while remaining blissfully unaware of the irony).
This is only a partial list, of course. With time, effort, and a little creativity, the possibilities and permutations are simply endless. The Enemy appreciates the additional help. Be diligent, and don’t ever take your foot off the gas pedal.

And Satan sends an emoji.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Rise Above

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun..” (Ecc. 1:9)

You could read King Solomon’s words, and conclude (easily): nothing changes, and that’s just a little depressing. Solomon’s phrase is a bit more poetic — “all things are wearisome” — but he means the same thing.

Today, we might employ a different slogan: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Wars and rumors of war, corporate greed, political intrigue, church intrigue, betrayal — “saying me ‘yes’ but doing me ‘no’” — and the list goes on into infinity. All things are wearisome, indeed.

There are (at minimum) two possible strategies we could choose as a response to these Ecclesiastes moments:
  1. Give up. “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” (Isa. 22:13)
  2. Dig in. “Let us not become weary in doing good…” (Gal. 6:9)
It’s been fifteen years since I wrote a little article entitled ‘Detoxing from Church’. I was blown away by how many people contacted me to thank me for writing it. That short article spawned several follow-up blog posts over the next couple of years, and was later the genesis for a book by the same title.
The original article was, at one point, included as a link on another website that warned readers to “brace” themselves before reading it. I took it as a compliment, although I’m pretty sure that was not their intent. (Insert smiley emoticon here)
Fast-forward fifteen years.

There are still a lot of people who are disillusioned with, and often wounded by, the church. People crushed under controlling leadership and willfully-blind church boards. Leaders savaged by agenda-driven back-stabbers in the congregation who would throw their own mothers under the bus.

Ecclesiastes moment: Give up, or dig in?

Recently, on separate occasions, I have heard statements made about “those people” (who have left a church) that need serious reconsideration.
  1. “They’re disobeying God’s Word by not being ‘in fellowship’. Jesus loves the church, but they don’t.”
    (wincing) We need to be really, really careful about judging the hearts of those who have left. Honestly, whenever I hear this statement, I wonder how people can be so defensive and un-reflective that their go-to answer is dripping in merciless judgement. Disillusioned people are in pain; don’t add to it.

    (Yes, there are unhealthy people who leave churches because they couldn’t control the leaders, but even so, our words — and attitudes — need to be grace-filled and not defensive.)
  2. “They’ve been disillusioned by the church, and so they chose to leave the faith.”
    Seriously? Leaving a particular church = rejecting Jesus? That’s an equation with zero connection to reality. It actually sounds much more like an excuse than an explanation — ‘yes, there’s a problem, but it’s 100% on them, not us’.
This is where we need to reconsider how we approach the topic — a ‘rise above’ moment, if you will.

Jesus is the kind of guy who would go out searching for one lost sheep. He wouldn’t sit in the synagogue and blame the lost sheep for leaving. He would go and look for it, and throw a party to celebrate once He’d brought the sheep home (Luke 15:3-6).

And if the synagogue church is behaving in ways less than God-honoring, His solution would be the same as it was throughout biblical history, Old Testament and New: REPENT.

Ecclesiastes moment: Give up, or dig in?

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Roots

I was born and raised in Canada, with a minor stint mid-elementary school in the United States (job transfer for my dad). Aside from a briefly altered accent, courtesy of Tennessee, my upbringing was quintessentially Canadian. But below the surface, there were also Scottish influences at work. I just didn’t recognize it.

After all, I reasoned, I was your average, typical, garden-variety, ‘normal’ Canadian. But with Scottish roots.

My mother used to play pipe ’n’ drum records from time to time when I was quite young. I naturally assumed all Canadian kids grew up hearing the melodic allure of the bagpipe.

How else to explain my instinctive love of playing in a Celtic-rock band later? Some strange genetic connection with jigs and reels, I guess. The roots that run deep inevitably reveal themselves above-ground.

The same is true in our spiritual lives, as well.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody — after all, Jesus did teach us that whatever is in our hearts will leak out eventually:
“Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:44-45)
One of the areas where this has shown up, time and again, is in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. I’ve seen two distinct outcomes whenever the topic — and especially the practice — of spiritual gifts comes up:
  1. The most obvious is the polarization between those who believe that all of the gifts are still in operation today (continuationists) versus those who insist that certain gifts were restricted to the early church (cessationists).
    (This post is not concerned with that discussion.)
  2. The other outcome is the pendulum swing that many followers of Jesus have taken over the years: what began as a sincere hunger for discovering and using the Spirit’s gifts (and the excitement of seeing God at work) later cooled off and, at times, shriveled into a functional cessationism (believing in the gifts but not practicing them).
Everyone’s story and experience is unique, of course, but a common denominator among those for whom initial enthusiasm for the gifts of the Spirit has faded away is not the gifts themselves, but often the character of those exercising the gifts.

For example, anyone with unresolved anger issues will have a hard time bringing a prophetic word that “strengthens and encourages”. Their anger will (dis)color the expression of their gift. Pride and finding one’s identity in spiritual gifts, rather than in Jesus, will also taint the use of the gifts. Ditto for the (worldly) ambition to be in the spotlight. Etc.

It may not be obvious at first, but what’s in the root system will leak out eventually. Expose enthusiastic young believers to enough people who are more concerned with their gifting than allowing the Spirit to refine their character, and the outcome is inevitable: disillusionment, withdrawal, and functional cessationism.

So, for the sake of the Body, let’s tend to our roots.
I’d like to suggest that we humbly choose to seek the Spirit as fervently for His character as for His gifts.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Pray the Change (Part Two)


photo source: Wikicommons
“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you.”

If I were to ever receive a letter from the Apostle Paul, informing me that he and his co-workers were constantly praying for me, I’d be pretty encouraged. Actually, I’m really encouraged, touched, and grateful when anybody tells me that they’ve been praying for me. When I was in college, letters from my grandparents often closed with: “we pray for you daily”, which always warmed my heart.

In Colossians 1:9-14, Paul goes beyond simply telling people that he’s praying for them, and gives us a window into what exactly he’s praying on their behalf. (Paul does the same thing for the church in Ephesus, which I’ve written about here.)

Given that Paul writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, it’s always fascinating to consider what the Spirit is saying is important for a leader like Paul to pray about:
“We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Now, let’s just slow down and unpack this short prayer a bit.

Paul begins with praying that the Colossians (and us) will be filled with the “knowledge of his will”. Typically, we 21st century people have a tendency to read the phrase “God’s will” and immediately translate it to mean “vocation/calling”. We’re kinda weird that way — always equating God’s will with work, rather than God’s will for our character as disciples of Jesus.

Read the whole phrase again: “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way”. God’s will = living a life worthy of Him. Of course, “pleasing Him in every way” will have practical implications for our vocation, ethics, morality, etc., but that’s the out-working of our calling, not the calling itself.

Paul then gives us some immediate examples of what that will look like:
  • “bearing fruit in every good work,
  • “growing in the knowledge of God,
  • “being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,
  • “and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.”
That’s a fascinating list of spiritual outcomes that qualify as living a life worthy of God, that pleases Him in every way:
  • Good works
    • Thoughts and prayers should always be coupled with action.
  • Growing in knowledge
    • Some people may advocate for a theology-lite approach to their faith, but that’s not what Paul says is pleasing to God.
  • Strengthened by His power so we can be patient and have spiritual endurance
    • It’s tempting to only read “strengthened by His power” and assume it’s about us becoming spiritual giants, but in reality, it’s about the spiritual strength we need to patiently endure whatever life throws at us.
  • Having a continual sense of awe, wonder, and thankfulness
    • The “joy of our salvation” isn’t just a poetic phrase from the Psalms — the simple fact that we’re saved, forgiven, and accepted by God should be a source of perpetual joy.
And then, to underline his point, Paul concludes his short prayer with a truly inspiring reminder:
“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
In this brief summation to his prayer, Paul — and the Holy Spirit — reminds us of our true identity as a company of the redeemed and forgiven.

Try praying that over yourself and your loved ones, and see what kind of difference prayer makes!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Pray the Change You Want to See

Back in the day when the picture at left was both current and accurate, God taught me some very important, practical, and paradigm-shifting things about prayer and “stepping up”.

Towards the end of my second year of Bible college, I found myself in multiple conversations with fellow students where the Question Of The Day could be summed up:
“Is it just me, or does the spiritual atmosphere in our college kinda, well... suck?”
It had been a very different year than my experience as a freshman the year before. The spiritual vibrancy we had enjoyed now appeared lacking, and there seemed to be some kind of spiritual malaise that was throwing a good chunk of the student body into a funk.

During one of those conversations, I was reminded (probably by the Holy Spirit) of the late-night prayer sessions that I’d seen happening in the college chapel every night around 11:00pm during my freshman year.
(All freshman were required to do “student service” to help defray the costs of the school, and I had been assigned the ‘night watchman’ role. Hence my noticing the late-night prayer time.)
“Does anyone remember that prayer meeting that used to meet in the chapel last year?” I asked my friends. “Is it still happening?”

Actually, we discovered — NO. The guys responsible had all graduated. As far as we could tell, student-initiated prayer had fallen by the wayside.

Hmm. Lack of prayer + a spiritual funk… It wasn’t hard to do the math. My illustrious roommate, Ritchard, and I decided that — even if nobody else joined us — our dorm room, at 11:00pm, would be devoted to a time of prayer.
And I dropped by the Dean’s office and asked if I could become an RA for the next college year — leading a weekly small group of my peers.
And all through my junior year at Bible college, intercessory prayer was a nightly occurrence in our dorm room. Sometimes, it was just Ritchard and I; other times, the room was jammed full of guys praying together for each other and for God to move in our school.

More than once, other students would drop by to ask us to pray for specific situations happening elsewhere in our dorm. As the year progressed, we learned that God had been speaking similar things to the rest of the student body, and there were actually numerous prayer groups meeting, late at night, in both the men’s and women’s dorms.

No-one was surprised at the change in the atmosphere in our college. The spiritual vibrancy was very noticeable, particularly in the areas of worship and community. There was a sense of expectation, and an awareness that God was doing something remarkable in our student body.

A popular slogan in recent years has been a quote from Ghandhi: “Be the change you want to see”. There’s a lot of truth in that saying; it’s why I became an RA at college, “stepping up” so I could be part of the solution.

But ultimately, we’re following a Savior who tells us:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
And if we’re wanting to have a spiritual impact, then we need to paraphrase the slogan slightly, and PRAY the change we want to see.

Because, as it turns out, the old saying is true: “Prayer changes things”. Starting with us.

“Stepping up” = Pray the change.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Ministry DNA -- One Shot Only


photo source: Wikicommons
“Whatever you hook ‘em with,
“Ya gotta feed ‘em.”

George Mercado taught me many crucial lessons in ministry during our six years together. One of the many pithy proverbs that summed up important values was the saying above.

The “spiritual DNA” — or the foundational building blocks of ministry — are the most important first steps in launching a new ministry of any kind.

That’s not exactly news, I’ll admit, nor is it rocket science, but it’s true. You get one chance — just one — to set the culture, ethos, values and “vibe” for a new ministry initiative. It’s really, really difficult to change a culture once it’s established. Hence the need to go slow in order to start well.
(And by ministry “vibe”, I simply mean that as a leader, you set the example by demonstrating the ministry values and practices — “more is caught than taught”, as they say. You can’t direct from behind; you have to lead the way.)
Another saying that I have begun using in recent years (perhaps not as pithy as George’s, but I’m working on it): “It’s too late to build the foundation if you’re already living on the first floor.” It’s just another way of pointing out that it’s far wiser to put in the (however long it takes) patient work of building and communicating and demonstrating the DNA clearly and repeatedly before launching a new ministry initiative (or church plant, or whatever).

That’s where the nugget of wisdom that George shared with me provides a helpful grid for what kind of “ministry DNA” will get infused into the ministry.
“Whatever you hook ‘em with, you gotta feed ‘em.”
  • If we seek to attract people through entertainment, we will reap people who expect to be entertained.
  • If we call people to a discipling community, we will attract people who want to be part of a discipling community. (And discipled people understand that the Great Commission is part of being a disciple.)
  • If we cast a shallow vision, we will reap shallow people. (As noted above, it’s notoriously difficult — if not impossible — to attract people through entertainment and expect they will later morph into spiritually mature people with a heart to serve others.)
  • If we call people back to their first love (Rev. 2:1-5), encourage them to rekindle the use of their spiritual gifts for the good of others (2 Tim. 1:6-7), and call them to Jesus-style serving (John 13:12-17), we will reap a community of believers that, while not perfect, will at least be heading in the right direction.
You get one shot — just one — to install the DNA that will shape a new ministry for years to come. Once it’s embedded, it’s bedrock — which can either be an encouraging word or a sobering warning. That’s why George’s proverb should give us all pause.
“Whatever you hook ‘em with, you gotta feed ‘em.”