Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Finding Purpose In Finality

We can never fully appreciate the impact made by another person’s life until that life is finally gone. What arrives in these times of loss are the unique and tender memories of their presence.  When a parent, a spouse, a child or a good friend make the final crossing ahead of us, we find ourselves left with a stunning and unfamiliar clarity created by their absence. We think we still see and hear them in the familiar places of our shared routine of life, but they are gone, now just a vapor-like memory of what was. These memories have a purpose. They are the spiritual ink and paper we will use to craft an epitaph of remembrance.

Sorrow pulls hard on our hearts in these times because our childlike thinking wanted us to believe the presence of a loved one would last forever. In the moment of realized loss, our childlikeness is starkly and quickly matured when we have to face the finality of death. We are like the first disciples approaching the tomb having heard, but not yet realizing what Jesus meant when He spoke of His future life beyond the Cross and Tomb. 

Our melancholy in death is not meant to be the station for our grief because a resurrection is always waiting for us just ahead on the path to the tomb. The feelings we are left with after a treasured life disappears will eventually be transformed by time, faith and the love of God to become the engine driving the wheels of our recovery. The fuel for this engine is our thankfulness for all the goodness of life we were privileged to share with the ones we loved. 

Death is never the end, for you or for those you loved because of the Resurrected One. In Him, what appears to be a finality is only the beginning of something new and unimaginably beautiful. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

Always The First Time

I remember the first time I kissed Jan. It was 47 years ago. We drove from Multnomah School of the Bible (now known as Multnomah University) in Portland, Oregon to the Eagle Creek trailhead in the Columbia Gorge. I had to borrow a car to make the trip. After a long hike we returned to the parking lot. Just before starting the car, it happened. I can still remember that first kiss. I have been kissing Jan’s lips several times each day ever since. Kissing Jan is always special like it was the first time. As I recalled that first kiss, the Lord began to speak to me about worship.

Over the years, I have found myself critical of some forms of worship. Pick the judgment. I have done it. I have judged worship as out of date, too flashy, not sincere enough, too controlled, sloppy, corny or too professional with lights and smoke rising. You name it I found something I did not like about how people worshipped when my heart was not in a healthy alignment with the heart of God. Finally, God said to stop it. It was an intimate experience between Jesus and His bride, and it was none of my business. It would be akin to someone peering through the window of the car I borrowed 47 years ago and saying to me as I kissed Jan for the first time, “Dude, somebody needs to show you how to kiss that girl.”

What I did not understand in those times of judgment was this one fact, for God, every time He engages with someone in worship, no matter the style, method or skill level, for Him, it is always the first time. It is like the first time two people in love experience the first kiss. For God, worship is always a tender and passionate experience. It takes His breath away. It never becomes routine.
Maybe the next time we get together with others believers, we should listen for the breath of God being taken away instead of any words of judgment or criticism being offered.

For many of us who have been in the Church for a long time and think we know it all, it would be good to go back and rediscover the first blush of our passion for God. It can be lost. It can also be rediscovered. Those first attempts were a beautifully clumsy and exploratory kind of love so filled with passion we did not care if we did it right.

The Church can become predictable week in and week out meeting with the same people doing the same form of worship. Ministry came become an industry of continually promoting the product of self. Our most intimate relationships can become drained of feeling. When worship and life in the Spirit become void of innocence and tenderness, we lose something beautiful. Only the passion of first love has the power to interrupt predictability, self-promotion and the absence of the emotion of love and replace it with the newness of a young love.

The next time you gather to worship, ask God to help you taste the first kiss of worship once again. If you do, you will be so taken with the lover of your soul that nothing else taking place in the room will matter. That is what passionate worship is looks like to those who are in love with God.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Stumbling Around in the Light

In the middle of the night (for me), I drove to the airport to pick up my daughter, Anna, who was returning home from a trip to Mexico. If you follow my writing, you know Jan, and I hit the rack early and get up early – real early, each morning. It is our best time to write, reflect and pray.

Well, this morning, I slept in late, several hours late, and got up at 7:00 am. It was a strange feeling. All my regular morning routines normally done in darkness were now being done with daylight inside the house. Turning on the coffee maker, walking through the house toward my writing chair, standing before our living room window and welcoming the new day with prayer, were normally accomplished in surrounding darkness. Doing these things seemed strange and otherworldly with so much light.

I was experiencing a living metaphor of John 1:5, where John writes, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” The Lord was showing me what it should be like for a follower of Jesus 24/7. We are never in a place of darkness because it is impossible for darkness to overwhelm light. Yet at times, the level of fear and frustration I hear coming from our mouths would indicate that some of us are living like people who are stumbling through the darkness instead of people who are walking in the brilliant light of God’s presence.

Fear will always darken the spiritual environment of our lives and the words that come out of our mouths. Faith can seem fake and plastic to people, believers and non-believers alike, who have chosen to only see darkness. A religious spirit can turn off the light of hope and make everything dark and reasonable to people who no longer live in the light of faith. Just because something sounds religious does not make it wise or sourced from God's Spirit.

You and I are not supposed to live like people stumbling through dark places unsure of our spiritual footing. Wisdom invites us to employ the fruit of self-control and begin to retrain how we think and speak. Like someone walking through every room in their home at night and flipping on each light switch, it will change how we see this life. Those choices of faith will begin to illuminate each room of making your way sure and confident. It may seem strange at first like it was for me this morning when I awakened and saw everything illuminated, but after awhile, it will become your new normal. At that moment, you will begin to see this life with the eyes of God.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Reminders of Love in a Place of Loss

In the two months since my dog, Abby, died, our cat, named Mister, has assumed some of Abby’s duties. Both Abby and Mister have no tails. Mister is a Manx (he looks like a little bobcat), and Abby was an Australian Shepherd (Aussie). Aussies are called velcro dogs. They stick close to your side at all times. Wherever I went, Abby was always near me for all of her 15 years of life.

As I write, Mister is lying at my feet just like Abby used to do. He now follows me throughout our home. Until Abby’s death, Mister never did any of this. He did cat things. Mister has also taken over Abby’s old place of vigilance on our kitchen floor. From this vantage point, Abby could view four of the rooms in our home where her humans spent most of their time throughout the day. This position allowed Abby to make sure we were all safe. Since Abby died, I now find Mister laying in Abby’s old spot of canine vigilance.

Mister is teaching me something about God. We all know the verse where God promises never to leave us or forsake us. In times of loss, that has become the go-to verse for many of us. The fulfillment of the promise in that verse is not limited to a warm and reassuring feeling. It can have a tangible expression.

In all the years I have followed the Lord I have noticed something. To help us not feel alone or abandoned, God will fill our void with an expression of His love that was not anticipated. Mister is now filling a role once held by my beloved Abby. Some people who lose a spouse could never imagine that void of sorrow being filled with another person until that person walked into their life. Jan’s parents faithfully served as missionaries for over 30 years, and 5 years before their retirement, the missions agency retirement program went bust. In the remaining years, God not only replenished the damaged retirement account of my in-laws but took them past their original investment into a new place of unexpected blessing. God never leaves our life vacant of an expression of His love.

Today, look with the eyes of faith at your empty place. It takes faith to interpret loss healthily because endless sorrow and unbridled despair are also vying for that place in your life. As you take that second look, you might see something lying on the floor in front of you just like Mister is doing. Someday, if we get another dog, Mister will go back to being a cat. Right now, he is doing his best trying to be a dog-cat on assignment from God. That loving performance brings a smile to my face and a sense of hope in my heart. Both of those feelings affirm for me that our God will never leave us alone in our most painful empty place without a reassuring expression of His love.

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Greatest Blessings

In my life, the greatest blessings I received were not the result of a well-crafted human plan. I could not create the blessings I have been given. I could not predict them or see them coming. These blessings simply arrived out of the goodness of God's heart and in faith, I was given the honor to steward their presence in my life. 

When these blessings arrived, they were an Ephesians 3:20 experience that came from a place beyond what I could dare to hope or even imagine. If the goodness we experience in this life is only something we can produce, a childlike joy and anticipation will be absent. 

Each day, I look toward the "beyond" waiting to see what will walk through the separating veil between this realm and the realm of Heaven. Anticipating goodness changes everything.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Dangerous Theology

It can make some theologians nervous to say that good theology is formed from experience. The pages of Scripture are a story of God interacting with people, not a hard and cold set of impersonal facts about God.

I formed my theology about God’s goodness at 2:00 am several years ago when my world was falling apart after a significant injury and a resulting surgery. I arrived at a hopeless place where despair wanted to overcome my life. At that moment, I cried out to God, and He met me as I began to fall into a bottomless pit of despair where a lie waited to consume my life.

I asked God what was going on. He said He did not create the despair I was going through, but He would use my experience to reveal His goodness to me. I will never forget His words, “If you can understand my goodness here in this dark and painful place, that definition will work anywhere and at any time in the future.” At that moment, my interaction with God created and affirmed a personal theology that God is always good even when I find myself overwhelmed by pain and suffering. My theology followed my experience – an experience confirmed in Scripture and by the life experiences of those who went before me on this journey of faith.

A theologian is similar to an anthropologist who studies culture as people live and interact with the world around them and with each other. Where some theologians get in trouble is when they place acts of faith in submission to their theology. Theology does not take the lead over faith in importance. Scripture tells us it is impossible to please God without faith. It does not say we please God with a well-crafted theological statement.

Faith requires an experience where it can be exercised. In the experience of our faith is where we discover the personal understanding of our theology. When God created the Earth and the humans who would walk on its surface we developed our theology defining a creative God. When the Church was empowered on the Day of Pentecost, we created an aspect of our theology about a person called Holy Spirit. An experience where faith is exercised in response to God is the laboratory where our theology is discovered and defined.

The revelation of God is always expanding. As someone wisely said, “All of the Bible is God, but not all of God is in the Bible.” As that expansion and its accompanying revelation continue to unfold, we should always be learning new aspects of God. He is not changing in the expansion. We are merely discovering something new about an unchanging, yet unimaginably expansive God. The cutting edge of that expansion is where a nervous theologian fears to tread. An increase in our understanding of a particular truth can appear to some to be an attack on one specific version of orthodoxy a theologian subscribes to and lives to defend. At this juncture, we must relate to each other with wisdom and mercy.

All our experiences should be studied in light of Scripture and in consideration of Church history, whether we like a particular piece of our shared history or not. Add to that study the guiding hand of God’s Spirit in our current experience and we can make a safe theological journey. In that process, we can be led to a new frontier of faith where we will experience something previously unexplored that will require us to expand our current understanding of theology without ever violating the essence of truth.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Global Reset

You know the feeling you get when you hear words in your heart that are not typical in your normal vocabulary. The words get your attention because you know its God speaking and not your imagination. I heard two words like that a few days ago. The words were, “Global Reset.”

When I heard those words, I understood them to mean an experience of such magnitude that it would produce wonder and absolute awe in each culture on Earth. Its magnificence would focus worldwide attention on the one thing that was taking place. Across the globe, people would be willing to put aside their petty issues, division and their limited understanding of reality in exchange for what the reset promised.

The reset is so huge in its scope that it's not on our radar as a possibility. It would be akin to the promise of Ephesians 3:20 as something, “…abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.”

This Global Reset will be a worldwide move of God so profound in its dimension that none of us will have a historical reference point for what takes place. This release of Heaven on Earth would literally begin to shift the sound the Earth is making from its current state of groaning to the sounds of celebration in anticipation of what is being released through the people of God. (Romans 8:20-22)

This reset will exceed what has taken place in the awakenings, revivals, and reformations in the past. It will be unimaginable because it is beyond any human ability to produce even with the best of our collective labor, creativity, and sacrifice. It will be God showing up in such transformative power that it would be akin to an alien invasion of Earth where all eyes are focused on what is transpiring. A reset of this magnitude will be the beginning of something utterly new on Earth. When the Global Reset finally takes place, it will change everyone and everything.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Stirring Your Passion

When I awakened this morning, I began to think of what would happen if the masses of people who follow Jesus Christ became an active part of the reformation currently taking place in our culture. Today, many believers feel distant from the subject. They think discussions about reformation take place in the rarified air breathed only by theologians.

When I wrote the book, The Sound of Reformation, I did not write an academic treatise on the subject. I wrote a concept book. Many excellent works on the subject of reformation already exist. What was not present was a simple publication that could be approached by the everyday man and woman who has stood at a distance from what appeared to be such a heady subject. I wrote it for the busy church leader who has considered the topic too complicated to take on amidst an already strenuous ministerial calendar.

This morning, I received a kind and affirming email from a man in Europe who picked up a copy of my book from our European distributor. He wrote, “The Sound of Reformation, which I have just finished, touched so many areas of my life that God has been speaking into. It has stirred a passion in me, and it is already swirling around with excitement for my part to play.”

My newfound European friend expressed precisely my desire for anything I write, but especially the goal I wanted to accomplish in writing The Sound of Reformation. Much of what we have tried to convey about reformation has been too complicated and unapproachable by the masses. As a result, many in the Church have not had their passion stirred and have yet to discover their unique part to play in the reformation taking place in each culture on Earth.

This is your time to discover and engage your part. You have amazing things to do with God. Discovering that calling and engaging its possibilities will stir a passion you did not know you had.

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Courageous Example

Martin Luther King, Jr. has always been a man I admired both as a statesman and a fellow pastor. He was a man of courage who made choices many of us would hesitate to make. I want to pause and remember his life and sacrifice on this day when we as a nation honor his life and ministry.

The following is an excerpt from a speech titled, I Have Been To The Mountaintop. King gave this speech the day before he was assassinated. The words have always struck a deep place in my soul. His speech was prophetic of the tragic events that would unfold the next day on our family's black and white TV.

"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I’m happy, tonight.
I’m not worried about anything.
I’m not fearing any man.
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

On this day when we remember a great man and a brother in Christ, I want to become more like him, a man of courage when courage was a dangerous choice.

Thank you, Martin.

Breaching the Realm of Heaven

Breach / brēCH / to make a gap in and breakthrough (a wall, barrier, or defense).

I researched the word “breach” after watching a video of a whale breaching. The whale swam half of its body out of the water into thin air then crashed back into the ocean with a huge splash. I have always felt whales had to be smiling when they put on such spectacular displays.

Watching the video of the whale, I thought of the many times in the summer when I dove into a lake or the ocean to enter the realm of the underwater world. My experience was like that of the whale. We each entered realms not our own for a temporary visit to experience awe and wonder.

I also thought of a movie I once watched. An unexplored realm hung before an explorer like a vertical wall of water held in space by a supernatural force. The explorer pushed his face against the shimmering substance and pressed through the barrier into another world to see what was not visible to those who stood behind him.

Yesterday, at Living Waters Church in Medford, Oregon, we breached the barrier between this world and eternity. Our worship team always does an excellent job using their musical gifts and worship leading ability to honor God. It is never a performance. It is pure and powerful worship. What was profound yesterday and became a breaching moment was when Ryan Rhoden stepped up on the platform and pastored the moment we were experiencing. 

At the end of worship, Ryan asked us to linger because something was taking place in the Spirit. No longer was the clock defing our time together, neither was the worship team or Ryan. The Spirit was inviting us to breach realms. In the wait, we stepped into the realm of Heaven and received what could not have been experienced had we not allowed the time for people to take a breaching step of faith. This moment came because we heard the words, “Let’s wait here for a moment.” In the waiting came the breaching.

For years, many of us who have led the Church believed our primary task was to center our gathering around a sermon or the latest expression of worship. At other times, we thought if we could just gain another skillset or another academic degree we could somehow move our churches past a limiting barrier of growth when all along, the most powerful thing we could have done was to help people breach realms.

In recent years, many of us learned that hosting the presence of God is the primary task of Spirit-led leadership in both the church and in culture. Each time we gather for a church service, a business meeting or when two friends meet for coffee, there will be an opportunity to breach realms. It is in these moments of breaching where something supernatural is released that we will bring back to our natural realm to change how we see and live this life. Breaching always precedes breakthrough.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Cloud of God's Glory

People have different reactions to the unexplainable events of God. A person can respond with joy, suspicion or outright dismissal. These responses come for a variety of reasons. Something took place several years ago that could create one of those responses as you read what I am about to write.

My daughter, Anna, was one of the stage artists at Bethel Church in Redding, California when a glory cloud formed in the sanctuary. It was a beautiful and unusual event. I have watched the video and felt joy and amazement. In the video, you can see specks of gold swirling inside the cloud as it moved across the sanctuary. 

When the cloud first appeared, and the gold began to manifest, specks of gold rose in the cloud like it was rising to Heaven in concert with those worshipping. A few moments later, the gold specks began to fall all over the sanctuary. No one prayed the glory cloud into the sanctuary. It was simply a gift from God. Of course, as with anything that could rock the boat of a religious spirit, some have criticized the event thinking it was man-made. 

My daughter was painting a piece of prophetic art when the cloud released its gold. The gold specks fell into the wet paint of Anna’s artwork. The piece Anna was working on had to do with hope. Anna sold the original at the conclusion of the service and was commissioned to do two more of the same.

The God you love and serve is not one who lives in the box of our fear, disbelief or doubt. He lives beyond. He is beyond our fear of death and beyond our thoughts of lack. He is beyond the next step of faith we will take in our life-journey. He is beyond all things, yet near. He works in both dimensions because we need a God who is living beyond the limitations of this world, and yet always close enough to embrace us in our time of need.

Today, as you worship God without demanding anything from Him but the joy of His presence, a cloud of glory will swirl around your life. You may not see it, but it is always there when He is lifted up. For reasons unknown to any of us, occasionally that glory will manifest in this realm in a very tangible way leaving us with a hope that far outweighs any sorrow or trouble we may be experiencing. Miracles, hope, and glory are always embedded in the artwork of Heaven. Faith is the admission price to enter God's gallery to view His magnificent work. Pay that price and you will be amazed at what you see.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Current Cultural Frustration

This is a very emotional and adrenaline-driven time in our nation. People are feeling frustrated with the current state of affairs. Every clickbait button on our computer screen, each controversy of faith or culture, foolish, and the foolish and demeaning words spoken in private or public are immediately thrust into our face. It is like we are trying to take a drink from a fire hose running at full blast. It is an impossible task. 

Frustration is an interesting word. The first half of its definition describes a person who is upset or annoyed with something. It is in the second half of its definition where we discover what actually fuels frustration. It describes a person who feels unable to achieve or attain something. Frustration comes when we feel helpless to bring change to the things that annoy or upset us. 

The feeling of helplessness is what empowers our frustration. This state of emotion is a critical juncture that must be navigated carefully. It is here where sin lurks waiting to find an opportunity to reveal itself in the justification of our frustration. Revolutions have fed on the feeling of helplessness since the beginning of time. 

If you are feeling helpless as the result of an unchecked frustration, confess it to the Lord as a sin. As a follower of Jesus Christ, you are never helpless - ever.  Feelings of helplessness that open the door to sin are disempowered in the light of confession. The simple act of disclosing to God your feeling of helpless frustration will take the rough edge off your emotions and help you realize something greater is at work than just an unbridled display of human emotion. It is at the point of confession where you will discover how to respond to people who live trapped in theirvfrustration. Your words will then become supernaturally empowered because you will have rediscovered your only true source of hope.

“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Proverbs 10:19).

Friday, January 12, 2018

Lead With Your Head

I watched a video of a motorcycle cop riding his bike through a set of narrowly spaced cones in a riding competition. It was amazing to see his balance, discipline, and timing. He was trained to do these maneuvers. It did not come naturally. When you train to ride a motorcycle, you will hear your instructor repeatedly tell you to lead each turn by first turning your head in the direction you want to go. The motorcycle will follow you into your place of focus.

This is a perfect example of why we need to continually yield to the renewing work of the Spirit when it comes to our minds and how we think. We will lead the entirety of our lives by how we choose to think. The next step you take today will be the result of the direction in which your thinking is currently focused.

As long as you and I continue to live on this Earth, we will never arrive at the final destination of a fully renewed mind. It is a life-long process. We are always having our thinking challenged by the Spirit. That challenge is part of a growing and vital faith. Once we think we have any aspect of this life or God’s Kingdom completely figured out, we would be like a motorcycle cop who forgot to lead a tight turn with his head. When this happens we can run off course and miss a vital turn of faith.

Keep turning your head toward the things of God. If you do this, you will make the tight turns in life you never thought possible had you kept looking straight ahead.