Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Possum of Discernment

This is a prophetic picture. The unfortunate creature is the Possum of Discernment and the nefarious line-painting executioner that prematurely and unceremoniously crushed out its life and dignity would be any revival machine with the words "judge not" painted in big red letters on its side.

The reason why discernment could be pictured as an (o)possum came to me while listening to a very balanced speech last week about how to process Bentley & the BAM-lets (not to be confused with Bennie & the Jets).

During his sermon, the pastor made the following insightful observation:
"Those of you with the gift of discernment have actually felt like you're on the wrong side of the fence.

"I believe that God is calling you to refine things and to speak out, but when there's a wave of excitement going through the room, the last thing you want to do is go: 'Excuse me, I gotta concern about what's going on here.'

"What you (think you) want to do is just sit down, and shut up, and maybe it would be best -- you know -- if you just went to another church because you don't fit in here."
The pastor was doing his best to value and encourage those with discernment gifts to exercise them even when it's not the most popular thing to do. And that's when I thought of the Possum of Discernment.

And why the Possum of Discernment often feels like -- and ends up as -- Revival Roadkill.

The "wave of excitement" often feels more like a thundering tsunami than a slight surge in the surf. And people with genuine gifts of discernment, coupled with some depth of biblical understanding and theology, often just get worn out/worn down by these kind of reactions:
  • You're resisting/quenching the Spirit
  • You have a religious spirit (or its variant: don't be such a Pharisee)
  • Judge not, lest ye be judged (sometimes accompanied by "thus saith the Lord")
  • Unity is where God commands the blessing, but you're sowing division
  • God often offends the mind to reveal the heart (which, being translated, means "Don't you get it? You're still wrong, no matter what.")
  • The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life
  • Have you ever repented of going to Bible college/seminary and getting filled up with man's wisdom? (not quite as common, but I was asked this once in all seriousness)
And under the weight of being routinely and repeatedly marinated in these kind of reactions, many with the gift of discernment withdraw and functionally become Possums of Discernment: they sit down, keep quiet, and hope for the best. Which inevitably leads to becoming the Revival Roadkill pictured above.

A book that was tremendously helpful to me was The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. I've loaned out my copy numerous times, and have no idea who had it last. Highly recommended.

The book includes a chapter on the all-important question: "should I stay or should I go" (cue The Clash). I can't recall the whole check-list that was included in the chapter, but I recall clearly the one line that helped me immensely: "If you came for the first time today knowing what you now know, would you stay? If the answer is a clear NO, why are you staying?"

One thing is for sure: being a Possum of Discernment is to choose passivity, and passive people are the doormat that everyone scrapes their books on. Either decide to stay and ring the four-alarm fire-bell long and loud, or decide that the better part of valor means heeding the advice of Prophet Gump: "Run, Forest! Run!"

Passivity = Possum = Roadkill.

Monday, May 12, 2008

BAM! (thunk...)

I've been getting a few emails about the "revival" in Lakeland Florida, under the auspices of Todd "Bam Bam" Bentley, wondering what my thoughts were on all of it.

A four-way email conversation between myself and some of my blogging friends has resulted in an impromptu synchro-blog: Brother Maynard (But Is It Revival?), Bill Kinnon (Good Grief, Charlie Brown), and Kingdom Grace (Healing Revival).

DISCLAIMER:

I am not a guru on this matter. Yes, I wrote a book about this kind of stuff, but that doesn't mean I'm qualified to pass judgment fairly, impartially, and omnisciently on all things Bentley.

With that disclaimer in place, here's a few thoughts anyways:

Q: Is the Holy Spirit actually at work in these meetings?

A: I don't doubt it for a second.
But the "anointing", presence, or power of the Spirit is never a rubber stamp of approval on the people being used by God. Quick examples: Samson (Judges 13-16), King Saul prophesying (naked!) in spite of himself, or Balaam being hired to curse the Israelites yet ended up prophesying blessing because of the Spirit's intervention (Numbers 22-24).

As soon as we equate the manifest, powerful presence of the Spirit with approval of theology or even methodology, we're already in trouble. Balaam's donkey could give testimony to this.
Q: But what about all those healings -- could they be true?

A: Some are probably real.
And probably a significant amount won't be, but it will be hard to tell, because a lot of healing-claiming types will say they're healed even when they aren't. Their belief in the necessity of a "positive confession" means they have no choice but to say they're healed, even if there's absolutely zero evidence of it. (Wendy, my sagacious wife, wonders where the line between "speaking in faith" and "bald-faced lying" might be.)

And, typically but regrettably, some reports of healing will be exaggerated, embellished, or simply proven later to be complete fabrications. I truly wish, as someone who does believe in the Spirit's power to provide physical healing (and having witnessed some genuine healings myself), that this were not so, but unfortunately...
Q: Does Todd Bentley have wacky teachings that are of the incredulous forehead-slapping variety?

A: Do bears fart in the woods?
If you spend even a little time wandering through the bowels of Todd's website (later sanitized to remove the most obviously outlandish posts; later still, the entire website has been deleted), you can easily find stuff (like partnering with angels of finance, or claiming that St. Paul told Todd during a visit to Paul's cabin in the third heaven that the book of Hebrews was co-written by Paul and Abraham the Patriarch) that ranges from straining credulity to outright laughable. Don't take my word for it -- try reading some of Todd's sermon transcripts. Not everything is bogus and "out there", but there's an abundance that is.
Q: Must I really cast my discernment under the wheels of the revival bus in order to receive what the Spirit may be genuinely doing down there?

A: Only if the Spirit has decided that the Book that He inspired is no longer relevant.
I've posted on the famous Bereans (Acts 17:11) before, but it should really be said here again:
  1. The Bereans were eager and teachable, not judgmental, critical, or nit-picky. They didn't want to miss what God was doing (as this newcomer named Paul was telling it).

  2. The Bereans were NOT gullible and naively accepting anything that came their way. They kept the Bible as their source and grid for evaluating what they were hearing, regardless of any oratorial skills Paul possessed or how many signs and wonders he may have performed in their midst.
So, I guess I could sum up with: don't assume the worst of everything, but don't let "revival fever" affect your brain. Don't be paranoid, but don't be gullible. You will not quench the Spirit by checking things by the Book that the Spirit co-authored. Or, to quote a more reputable source than yours truly:
"Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil." (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Ink Blots

The Younger threw back his head and drank in a deep lungful of the fragrant spring air. "Ah, do you ever get tired of that 'it's spring and everything's gonna be all right' kind of feeling?" he asked his walking companion. The trees, freshly green and bursting with new blossoms, seemed to wave in agreement in the warm breeze.

The Elder chuckled as he adjusted his cap. "No, it's an irrepressible feeling of youthfulness and joy that even the most depressing of winters cannot oppose," he replied. "Although I must make brief mention of the wind, which seems determined to make me part ways with my Mariners' headwear."

The Younger turned to give the Elder an appreciative look as they ambled along the ocean-side boardwalk. "Wow, before the Mariners bit, you were sounding pretty poetic, even deep," he teased his friend.

They shared a laugh, the kind born of a long and comfortable friendship. The Elder paused mid-step suddenly, and with a sly look, remarked, "I suppose that's why I still have some hope for the state of the church these days. No matter how depressing the winter of transition has been, I still believe that spring will inevitably return."

The Younger stopped and turned back to face his friend, with a thoughtful tilt of his head, "Are we going to develop a weather-based metaphor for our ecclesial ponderings, then?"


The Elder shrugged, "That would be an interesting exercise, now that you mention it. In fact, I was hoping that we could explore the use of metaphors in our spiritual journey when we met today. Maybe this could serve as a good segue?"

As they resumed their relaxed pace, the Younger conceded, "Sure, I guess developing new metaphors would be a good starting point, as long as," and his glance was as slyly conspiratorial as the Elder's had just been, "it doesn't become our new foundationalism, eh?"

The Elder rolled his eyes and chose not to be baited into that direction. "Well, let's just have a quick look at the various metaphors that are already in the Bible, then. Which ones come to mind first?"

They came to a park bench overlooking the bay, and after quickly dusting off the sun-dried evidence of recent bird migrations, sat down. "Well, the most common ones that I seem to hear," began the Younger, "would be the Body, the Kingdom, family – like children, sons, daughters, and so on – temple, citizens of heaven…"

"Don't forget Isaiah using agrarian language like 'planting of the Lord'," suggested the Elder. "It's a kind of garden metaphor, even if it's not clearly called that."
"And the many different metaphors Jesus used to describe the Kingdom," the Younger chimed in enthusiastically. "Like a treasure in a field, or the pearl of great price."

"And St. Paul's use of military metaphors in Ephesians," suggested the Elder with equal enthusiasm.

A sudden silence that followed his last statement; the only sound was the breeze teasing the small sailboats across the water in front of them.

"What? Did I say something wrong? Unbiblical? Heretical?" asked the Elder, looking genuinely puzzled.

The Younger shifted uncomfortably on the bench. "Well," he reluctantly began, "I've never been much of a fan of military language when talking about the Kingdom or the people of the Kingdom."

His eyes searched the now-expressionless face of his older friend. "I think you'll find that many, if not most, in my generation don't respond well to army metaphors."

"Hmm," replied the Elder, nodding as he studiously contemplated the few clouds dotting the blue sky above the wind-swept waters. "Well, I can understand your reticence to embrace that as a metaphor, but it is in the Book," he finally said, glancing at his young friend, who was likewise casting a brooding stare at the waves and tiny boats scurrying past.

After a longer pause, the Elder finally broke the silence. "Do you recall, from your college days, the Rorschach test?"
"Wasn't that the ink blot guy?" asked the Younger, remembering. "He would show people ink blots and they would tell him what they thought the blots signified. Wasn't that supposed to 'reveal' more about the person than the ink blot itself?"

The Elder nodded, "Something like that. Sort of like the old joke about the person taking the test seeing 'sex' in everything and accuses the guy giving the test of drawing dirty pictures... But getting back to metaphors of the Kingdom," he continued, "would it be safe to say that Jesus in particular used various metaphors in order to bring an expanded understanding of the Kingdom to His listeners?"

"Yeah, that was sort of the opposite of His parables, in a way," replied the Younger. "Parables to hide truth and make people work to figure it out, but metaphors of what the Kingdom is like in order to bring greater illumination. Although even then, some of Jesus' parables – like the sower and the seed, for example – were supposed to bring clarity about the Kingdom, yet only for those willing to do the hard work of being those with 'eyes to see and ears to hear'."

"Jesus sure breaks all the rules of clear and concise communication, doesn’t He?" laughed the Elder. "Not to mention all the church marketing guru-speak."

"Don't get me started on church marketing!" warned the Younger, his mood lightening and his countenance darkening at the same time as he laughed and waved an accusing finger in the direction of the Elder.

"Okay, back to metaphors," said the Elder, pausing briefly before continuing. He began counting on his fingertips. "Let's cut to the chase and say, first of all, that it's plausible – I think it would be safe to say – that all the metaphors in the Bible are simultaneously true about the Kingdom. Second, as metaphors, they're intended to bring clarity to our understanding of the Kingdom. Even when we sometimes have to do the hard work of figuring out what Jesus is trying to communicate through some of the parables."

As the Younger nodded, the Elder continued. "Third – and this is where we need to tread a little more carefully – the Kingdom is so multi-faceted, like a finely-cut diamond, that we dare not isolate the various biblical metaphors from each other, or we run the risk of developing a lop-sided, simplistic, or at best inadequate understanding of the Kingdom and our role within it."
The Elder slowed down his speech and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees as he stared over the bay. "And fourth, in some ways, our preference for certain metaphors of the Kingdom – like a spiritual ink blot test – may say more about us than it does about the Kingdom."

He leaned back and looked at his friend. "Maybe the things we want to exaggerate out of proportion – say, gardening metaphors -- says something more about what makes the Kingdom comfortable for us. And de-emphasizing metaphors that make us uncomfortable – military ones like 'army' – may say something equally revealing about us. Something disturbing, to be honest."

The Younger never let his gaze stray from his friend’s eyes. "Disturbing? How so?"

The Elder turned toward the Younger and leaned in as he said, "Maybe, just like the Rorschach ink blots, our preference or avoidance of biblical metaphors for the Kingdom reveals that we're still trying to control the Kingdom, and make it about us, instead of about Him. What if, when we say 'I'm not comfortable with that metaphor', we're really simply choosing to ignore Kingdom reality that makes us uneasy?"

The Younger nodded slowly, mulling over the implications. "Or when we say, 'I prefer this metaphor', we're really saying that we're enamored with one aspect of the Kingdom," he suggested. "I wonder why? Because it makes us feel good? Because it doesn't challenge our status quo or demand anything sacrificial of us?" He frowned, shaking his head. "This isn't how I would have expected a discussion on metaphors to go, to be honest!"
The Elder suddenly laughed out loud, breaking the tension and sending nearby scavenging birds screaming into the air in shock. "Then I guess what we're really saying is:
The one metaphor we should never use about the Kingdom is 'smorgasbord', eh?"
And he laughed again, as the Younger shook his head and ruefully let out a long-suffering sigh.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Ambushed

What is "conversational prayer", anyway?

That was the initial thought in my mind – as a 16-year-old dishwasher at a summer camp – when one of the guys in our cabin group suggested it as a way to end our Bible study time one sweltering afternoon. As it turns out, it was just an effort to involve the whole group by having everyone contribute a couple of sentences to the closing prayer instead of having just one person do it.

Hardly what you'd call "living on the edge", but it did break the routine at this theologically very conservative camp. However, what happened during this somewhat-stiff-but-still-participatory prayer time was outside of any of our mental or spiritual grids.

We had gotten about halfway around the circle of prayer, and suddenly, all of us were acutely aware of something dramatic happening amongst us. None of us had asked for it, or prayed about it, but suddenly, the presence of the Holy Spirit filled that little cabin.

I remember lying on the top bunk, looking up at the worn rafters – autographed roughly by a succession of campers over the years – and not knowing if I wanted to laugh or cry, but definitely feeling a surge of Life flowing through me.

A few moments later – or was it much longer? – that acute sense of the Spirit left as quietly as He had arrived, and after a short, hushed silence, the prayer time resumed. But as the final "amen" was spoken, the whispers and comments began to immediately buzz around the room.

My co-worker on the bottom bunk – with the unlikely but self-chosen nickname of "Ferd" – stood up and peered at me over the edge of my upper bunk, eyes wide. "Did you FEEL that?" was all he could say, voice hushed with awe. I could only laugh and nod.

Sitting up and looking around our cabin, it was immediately obvious that every person present had been affected by this visitation of the Spirit – even the two guys who claimed to not be interested in Jesus (that changed dramatically over the next two days).

There had been no visions, prophecies, or speaking tongues (this was a decidedly non-charismatic denominational camp which discounted such things anyways), but there wasn't a person in that room who hadn't had a very real sense of the Spirit's presence and touch on our lives – whether we had the theological grid to understand or the vocabulary to put the experience into adequate words or not.

Brother Maynard has suggested that September should be a month of post-charismatics giving voice to what apostolic leadership could/should look like. I'd like to propose a synchro-blog to get the ball rolling – namely, as I've just shared my earliest "charismatic" experience (after becoming a Christian, that is), let's remind ourselves and tell each other our stories of how we first became acquainted with, and eager for, the felt presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Crossroads DTS 2006

Wendy and I did our DTS ("Discipleship Training School") at the same base we later were staff at (until the infamous incident with a local self-proclaimed "apostle", but that's another story).

YWAM Okanagan was the location for a "Crossroads DTS" (family-friendy) for a diverse collection of adult students hailing from Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Korea, Japan, America (the Virgin Islands & Alaska), and Canada (Wendy & I).

The team of students became a tight-knit community of friends and co-labourers, and one of the fascinating things about this group of people was that -- just a generation or so earlier -- our respective countries had been at war with each other. And yet here we were, bonding together as we each experienced our DTS together.



Sample from my weekly DTS journal: my handwriting sucks big time,
so I used photoshop and some creativity to make it legible)