Beware of False Humility!

“I dedicate this book to all the Saints of the world who, like Joseph, are trying to find their way out of prison and into the palace.”

supernatural ways of royaltyWith those words, Kris Vallotton begins arguably the most impacting book of this year’s BSSM assignments. The title is somewhat self-explanatory: “The Supernatural Ways of Royalty” seeks to persuade every Christian that he/she is created and redeemed to be the King’s children. And this means something.

In fact, it means a whole lot of something!

The book is well worth reading, and the workbook is even more valuable if you must choose between the two. However, allow me to focus on one particularly meaningful facet of the content.

One reason I will long remember this material is the strong reaction it initially provoked within me. Make a note on this: When something offends you, do yourself a favour and at least explore why. My observation? It’s not typically some easy-to-dismiss reason like, “The other person is stupid.” To be sure, stupidity exists. And at times, it offends. But some of the stupidity lives close to home, like melded-to-my-bones close to home. And nothing reveals inner idiocy like exploring my offended feelings.

Here’s one example.

The Gospel uses wildly favourable language to speak about God’s children. You and I are outrageously loved. “Literally” is one of those so-overused-as-to-be-useless-now words. But here, it’s for real. We are outrageously loved, literally. Read Jesus’ parables: The Prodigal Son (Lk 15) and the Vineyard Workers (Mt 20) are particularly maddening, literally cause for full-blown outrage. Road rage has nothing on Bible rage!

Through such nonsensical grace, ultimately displayed in Christ’s death and resurrection, God invites everyone He’s ever birthed to be birthed again. New beginning and new belonging await. And the ID cards of the Kingdom’s citizens are insane! Regardless of background, training, or resumé, they read, “Madly loved child, fully redeemed image-bearer, anointed saint and Spirit-temple.”

And if you’re like me, that ID card seems poorly sized for my pocket, like trying to squeeze an iPad into skinny jeans. Great gift, just unsure how to carry it!

  • It’s uncomfortable.
  • It seems like it’s made for someone else.
  • Perhaps it’s riddled with typos.
  • Or an outright wrong address.

But to all who are in Christ, the Father insists, “No, it’s just right, precisely what I paid for.”

So let’s ask a helpful question at this point: What does it say about me (perhaps about you too) that I squirm with the way the Bible speaks about me as one of God’s children? As I already said: “The Gospel uses wildly favourable language to speak about God’s children.” It’s meant to infuse us with joy and freedom and power and hope.

Why instead does it bend some of our backs and unsettle some of our spirits?

It’s as if we might be more comfortable to be treated as a hobo. We’d rather God merely give us a shower and shave, then slip us a few bucks for a burger and direct us toward a clean doorway in which we can sleep the night.

But that’s not remotely close to what this means:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 Jn 3:1)

And that Father who calls us His own is the Cosmic King, robed in glory and authority and power, all of which He lovingly labours to bestow to us. He even labours with us and within us to train us to steward these in life-filled ways. Some (including a nasty little chatter in my head) will call this wishful thinking, presumptuous at best and arrogant at worst.

I know I’ve often believed such thoughts — unbelief masquerading as caution.

I’ve told myself that it’s because I value humility. And I value humility because Jesus values humility — duh! He “made himself nothing”, encouraged me to take the last seat at the banquet, and told me that the greatest is the one who serves all. Humility is obviously a mega-theme for Christ’s followers.

This is undeniably true, and a certifiable big deal.

So it is vital that we define humility properly.

Because $100 bills are awesome. But fakes exist. And they’re worthless. They can even get you imprisoned.

And humility is awesome. But fakes exist. And they’re worthless. They can even get you imprisoned.

And my observation: Religion is one of the prime settings for such forgeries.

God’s ways are said to be perfect. So is it any wonder that He’d have just the right touch, in giving us our identities? Vallotton says it this way:

“The truth of God’s grace humbles a man without degrading him and exults a man without inflating him.”

The Creator of our souls is the Caregiver of our souls, and His affection doesn’t need my adjustments to better balance it. He’s not in danger of spoiling us. Despite my small-mindedness, the Father knows this healthy dynamic is fully attainable:

“We can be people of humility and still be confident in who we are. Unfortunately, confidence always looks like arrogance to the insecure.”

And it’s that last part — that last word — that zings!

When I don’t take God at His word regarding who I am in Christ, then I’m left trying to prove myself to myself, and that’s been a miserably tough crowd. When purchased and redeemed people continue to view themselves through any lens other the God’s, then a low view of self is natural. In fact, it even feels proper to spiritualize our low self-esteem. We’d never say it, but the sentiments brew beneath the layers:

  • “I’m suspicious of those Christians who don’t feel defeated and despairing?”
  • “Isn’t it spiritual to feel perpetually aware of my shortcomings?”
  • “Isn’t there some old hymn somewhere that said I’m a worm?”
  • “A rare manuscript of the Psalms suggests this translation: This is the day that the Lord has made, let us find shame and then dwell in it?”
  • “In a way, self-loathing probably glorifies God. It keeps us small, so that He’ll seem big. Don’t want to flirt with dreams or aspirations. Boo on those!”

Sarcasm aside, arrogance should be guarded against. This is obvious. Blatant self-centredness is anti-Kingdom. But the stunner is that one can overcompensate in the other direction, plunge into a false humility, and discover an alternative path to self-obsession. Both authentic arrogance and false humility hinder the grace of God in a life. Both imprison.

Many of us have taken a strange comfort in Romans 3:23, when it affirms that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Whew! At least I know my feelings of failure are par for the course.

But the subtler-yet-undeniable point in the verse is this: We were created for glory.

  • We are designed in accordance with divinity.
  • We are shaped for the sacred.
  • We are honed for heaven.
  • We are crafted for Christlikeness.

As it was in the beginning, so it shall be at the end. For we can be sure that the One who has begun a good work in us will see it through to completion. We’re told that Christ came to destroy the works of the devil.

You can count false humility among his targets.

Thirst for Normal

new normalThe phrase “new normal” typically describes the subtle slide from one standard to another. What was once a fair expectation has been overtaken or replaced by another. Time to redefine “normal”.

However, there are times when “normal” isn’t intended for replacement. Sometimes we’re supposed to insist on keeping it just as it is.

when heaven invades earthBefore the BSSM school year started, we were assigned to read a book by Bill Johnson, titled, “When Heaven Invades Earth”. The problem was that we somehow missed that notice, so rather than read it leisurely last summer, we read it frantically on top of all the assignments that were doled out when school began. For that reason (and some refreshing for this post), I determined to review my notes from the first time through. The book is easy for me to recommend, and most Christians I know (perhaps non-Christians too) will find it challenging and inspiring. It may awaken hunger in your spirit, and more than a few readers have pointed to it as one that served as a catalyst in their spiritual journeys toward deeper experiences of the Kingdom of God.

When we were in China years ago, I paid fresh attention to Watchman Nee. The book I most recall was “The Normal Christian Life”. The provocative problem was that Nee’s description of “normal” wasn’t anything like I was experiencing. Here are a few select quotes for your sampling (with my brief commentary after each one):

  • “I must first have the sense of God’s possession of me before I can have the sense of His presence with me.”
    • Translation: Don’t bother nonsensically longing to feel God with you, if you haven’t actively committed to being with Him.
  • “Do you know, my friends, that the Spirit within you is very God? Oh that our eyes were opened to see the greatness of God’s gift! Oh that we might realize the vastness of the resources secreted in our own hearts! I could shout with joy as I think, ‘The Spirit who dwells within me is no mere influence, but a living Person; He is very God. The infinite God is within my heart!’ I am at a loss to convey to you the blessedness of this discovery, that the Holy Spirit dwelling within my heart is a Person.”
    • The reality of God housing Himself in you is a stunning and overwhelming thought. Nee was bowled over by the wonder of it, and the infinite possibilities that came into existence by God’s indwelling.
  • “It is a great thing when I discover I am no longer my own but His. If the ten shillings in my pocket belong to me, then I have full authority over them. But if they belong to another who has committed them to me in trust, then I cannot buy what I please with them, and I dare not lose them. Real Christian life begins with knowing this.”
    • Lordship is the game-changing truth in the Christian life. Anything less than full-out surrender to Jesus is the playing of games. If we are his, then he is Lord and Master, and all that is his is ours as well. But if he is not Lord and Master, then we are not his. We are merely our own, and we are limited to whatever means we can muster. The contrast between these paths is stark. Scripture says light VS dark or life VS death.
  • “There is nothing stereotyped about God’s dealings with His children. Therefore, we must not by our prejudices and preconceptions make watertight compartments for the working out His Spirit, either in our own lives or in the lives of others. We must leave God free to work as He wills and to leave what evidence He pleases of the work He does.”
    • God does what He wants, apparently feeling free from every pressure to meet our expectations or function within our parameters. To think otherwise would be akin to bird-watching with eyes fixated on a single branch, while griping at every bird that chose to land anywhere other than the spot your gaze was locked on.

Ever read a “Christian book” that made you wonder if you were even a Christian at all?! Nee’s book was that type of challenging. So trust Bill Johnson to open his book with a chapter by the same title: “The Normal Christian Life”. And in the early going, he drops this thought:

“It is abnormal for a Christian not to have an appetite for the impossible. It has been written into our spiritual DNA to hunger for the impossibilities around us to bow at the name of Jesus.”

I can hardly recall the start of when I began longing for “more” in my Christian life. Key words in such prayers often included freedom, joy, holiness, power, delight. My inner critic, always alert and often vocal, would accuse me: “You think you’re special? You think you deserve more than you’re already getting? You think you’re better than others?” And on it would go. But another voice, I believe informed by Scripture and engaged by Holy Spirit, would quietly stutter, “I think I’m supposed to want these. I even think God wants to grant these. I think Jesus died for exactly such gifts to be given.” And so that desire remained — weak at times, but like crispy grass in days of drought, it always hung around just alive enough to persist.

Today I’d say it this way: If ever your experience of the cosmos-sized, resurrection-ignited Kingdom feels like a hunt for decency based on human intelligence and ingenuity, you can be sure a massive rip-off has occurred.

Said another way: When a movement starts with a miracle, mundane can never be accepted as a “new normal”.

So when your spirit longs for “more of God”, don’t be duped by the cynicism of others’ or the feels-so-small scope of your own experience. Of an Infinite One there is always more to discover! And if you ever feel like your spiritual hunger is misunderstood or judged or mocked, Pastor Bill offers this word of courage:

“Biblical passion is a mysterious mixture of humility, supernatural hunger, and faith. I pursue because I have been pursued. Lethargy must not be found in me. And if the average Christian life around me falls short of the biblical standard, I must pursue against the grain.”

Re-reading this draft, I’m fearful that someone somewhere could read that last section as a veiled bit of griping that my spiritual pursuit has felt lonelier than I’d have hoped. That’s not the case. I’ve been unusually blessed by a long list of others who have nurtured and nudged me since before I was old enough to be properly grateful for their efforts. For every such season, be thankful and gracious.

But allow it to be said, some of the miles God calls you to walk will be walked alone.

Some of those miles will be walked utterly alone.

At least it will feel like it.

And how does one handle those legs of the journey? Again, by being thankful and gracious — thankful for God’s persistent-even-when-I-don’t-feel-it presence and gracious toward all those around you, ranging from curious inquirers to cautious observers, from caring friends to critical opponents.

salt-lickThank you, Father for all that You’ve shown us of Yourself. Thank you also for all that still awaits our discovery. How magnificent to encounter You as the Living Water. How gracious that You insist on first being salt on our tongues, driving us to thirst for the fullness of “normal”!

Lick wildly, my friends! 🙂

BSSM Basics

As I look back on our time at BSSM, I realize that the vast majority of you aren’t even aware of the basic rhythms that have governed our lives this year. Allow me to use this post to share some of those details:

Our school schedule revolved around a steady hub of large-group (1300 people) sessions Monday-Thursday, 12:00-3:45 PM. That block of time was a blend of school-wide prayer (30 mins), a class/presentation (75-90 mins), worship (45-60 mins), and another class/presentation (whatever time remained). More of these days than I can count were exceptional — intellectually stimulating, emotionally stirring, and spiritually challenging. Many a day, Shannon and I walked to the van together at the end, with one of us feeling compelled to say, “So how was that day for you?” The other would simply reply, “I’m going to need some time before answering. Can we just be quiet together for now?” And the first would reply with a nod of unspoken and relieved agreement. 🙂

On top of that basic flow of schedule, these pieces also existed:

Monday: Small Groups met 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM.  Shannon was in a group of five women, and I was in a group of four men. (All of these groups were comprised of people from our RG — that will make sense a bit further down the page.) At the beginning of the year, every group member was assigned to lead their Small Group once, after which the group “elected” one of their members to lead for the rest of the year. Both of us held our leaders and groups in high regard. Both of our groups also had to battle through experiences of misunderstanding or disagreement. I simply say that as a word of encouragement that any relationship worth nurturing will have rough patches. If you’ve ever been a Small Group that felt less-than-glorious, then yay! You were experiencing the real thing — working to see broken lives redeemed, yours and others’, in the sacred space that can only be created by genuine relationships. Those times of rubbing? Those are the perfect opportunities for the most significant growth. We are wise not to waste them by clamming up or chickening out or moving on.

Tuesday:  This was our day for “elective courses”, with every student adding a 90-minute session to either his/her morning or afternoon. Each student was permitted four different selections throughout the course of the year, and each course ran for five weeks. Through the year, I had opportunity to be involved in these classes:

Union with God: This was something of a Christian history class, with special focus on some well-known and unknown mystics. I’ve long loved that stuff, but this was likely my least impacting class of the year.

The Writer’s Eye:  This is the first “creative writing” course I’ve ever taken. Each week we were given different assignments to awaken our creativity and push us to compose pieces of different genres and flavours. Then we’d share them and receive feedback. I found it to be a fair bit of fun. 🙂

Growing in Intimacy through Prayer: This course was led by Leslie Crandall, a woman that I greatly appreciated throughout the course of the year. I would be among those Christians who desire their prayer lives to be “better”. This class was designed to help; I think it did, though I still have plenty of room for growth.

Preaching:  This was a class I waited for. Space was limited for all of these classes, and the online sign-up process could be fairly intense once it opened. I was grateful for the chance to study under Dann Farrelly, our primary Bible teacher for the year — one of the finest Bible teachers I’ve had anywhere. And I’ve had a lot of great ones! The class aimed to provide every student a chance to present a short sermon and then to receive feedback from classmates. While I completely appreciate that goal, this particular student would have happily forgone that opportunity for more instruction and discussion on the subject of preaching. Still well worth the choice.

Wednesday: This was the morning when our Revival Group (RG) met each week for a ninety-minute gathering. Our RG was led by a Revival Group Pastor (RGP) Katrina and her six interns (3rd Year students). This was an extraordinary and special group of people — many of whom I will remember fondly many years down the road. Honestly, I considered RG my highlight most weeks. I’d have had to been near death to ever miss a Wednesday! The group was comprised of sixty-three people plus the seven leaders mentioned above, and no two meetings were ever the same. However, the tone of the group was consistently warm and welcoming, safe and stretching, affirming and challenging. Openness and vulnerability were modelled and called forth. I recall one meeting early in the year where our RGP shared her story with noteworthy grace and honesty. Group members were then invited to share in response, as they felt led. As stories poured forth recounting abuse, addiction, pornography, cutting, depression, same-sex attraction, and more battles that were being waged by those in the room, I remember thinking, “Okay. This is for real. We are putting our cards down with one another and seeking healing and freedom for one another. Let’s go!” Other weeks ranged from joyful silliness to sweet worship to intense prayer to risk-filled sharing to peaceful rest to more! Tears, hugs, and laughter were steadily present, and I confess already: If I miss any facet of BSSM today or in the future, it may well be RG. It was a precious group to be a part of, to be sure. Here’s a photo from our last meeting. Shannon and I are in the top-left corner.

Revival Group

Thursday: Every BSSM student was signed up for some form of City Service. These were ministries and efforts aimed at blessing the city of Redding in a host of ways. Every Thursday afternoon, I rushed from class a sliver early to get to my City Service.

For the first half of the year, I was part of a Treasure-Hunting team. I had heard of such a “game” years ago, and my curiosity overpowered my fear to sign up. What’s Treasure-Hunting? In short, it is this: A team of six to eight of us would spend a few minutes in listening prayer. We’d basically ask God, “Show us who you want us to bless today. Give us some clues about the ‘treasure’ that you wish us to find today.” Then each member would quickly write down any “clues” he/she was perceiving. These could be anything: Names of people, details of appearances, locations in town, body parts needing healing, along with any random words/images/details. We’d then share our lists and work quite quickly to discern any patterns in what we’d written. We’d set off for a hinted-at destination and proceed to fan out in pairs “looking for clues”. If we found someone, we’d quietly pray and kindly approach, trusting that God had set up the meeting in the first place. Over twelve-plus weeks, we offered comfort and encouragement to dozens of strangers, saw a number of healings occur, and led some folks toward decisions of commitment or recommitment to Jesus. We also got rebuffed outrightly and not-so-subtly dodged more times than one could count. We battled inner fear more than I’d wish to admit (let’s say nearly every single time), and persisted in showing up again next week to keep learning about prayer and trust and listening and loving. I was grateful to be part of this experience, even when I wasn’t. 🙂

For the second part of the year, I was part of a team that did “yard work” for a beautiful park area in Redding. I thoroughly enjoyed the team I worked with, and the physical labour was a welcome change during what was likely my most exercise-deprived year of life. However, children’s schedules, sicknesses, travel, and the occasional need to trade in an absence for some “breathing space” led me to be about half-regular in this effort.

Evenings: Nearly all weekday evenings were spent doing homework after we tucked in the kids. I’ve done six years of post-secondary education, along with several courses on top of that. I love learning, and school suits me well. But suffice it to say, I was surprised by the homework load. It wasn’t wildly academic: No exams or research papers. But lots of reading and writing, much of which was far more heart-level than the average course of study. Soul-searching isn’t fast or light.

Friday: This was a no-school day each week for the two of us and our preschooler. Most weeks saw us split the day into shifts with each of us spending some one-on-one with a fun four-year-old, while the other rested or read or whatever.

Saturday: Our primary family day typically saw us around home, where kids played with friends and adults did all those keep-your-life-working-well tasks that need doing at some point. We travelled less than we thought we might, rarely venturing more than twenty minutes from town.

Sunday: Every BSSM student was assigned to one of Bethel’s eight services each weekend. We had ID cards that we had to swipe at school each day to track our attendance; those were used to track church attendance too! As a family with kids, we were granted some stability to attend the same one all year, rather than rotating through different times/locations. So every Sunday, we’d head to Twin View (the smaller Bethel campus, not the one you’d ever see featured on online videos) for 11:30 AM. Many afternoons were spent picnicking or visiting with friends at a local park or lake, where kids could busy themselves and adults could chat. Then we buckled up to do it all again the next morning.

This post has been largely logistics. For those who were curious, now you know. For those wishing for deeper details, they’re coming. If you’re wondering something specific, leave a comment and ask a question: If I see a potential post as a possible reply, I’ll go for it. Otherwise, I’ll use upcoming posts to press into more personal reflections from the year, as they come to my mind.

Much love to you all. Thanks for every bit of support and encouragement and care that you’ve sent our way this year.

Blur

blurredNine months ago, I posted about our entry in to a sabbatical period that would see both Shannon and me studying at BSSM in Redding for the upcoming year.

The steady but stealthy flow of time has turned “upcoming” into “nearly over”. At the beginning of this season, I felt compelled to share a series of posts (starting HERE) that sought to answer to then-frequent question: “How did this plan come about?”

As my last two posts mentioned, I had an intention to regularly blog through the school year, as a means to both processing for myself and sharing for others who were interested to follow along. However, let’s say that I seriously underestimated the intensity of the schedule during this span. Anything beyond school and family stood little chance of inclusion. I’m a bit disappointed by that, but I wouldn’t play it differently even if I was given another chance.

However, now school is over. And I still feel a strong need for both me-processing and you-sharing. We will be home in Canada in three weeks, so this window of time involves that combination of tying up loose ends in one location while shifting brain cells ahead to another awaiting location. In between those two wave lengths, I hope to do some of the blogging I intended to do in the past months as well. If both you and I are lucky, I even hope to pull Shannon in for a few “guest posts”.

There. Now the intent has been expressed.

Time to get typing. 🙂

Draw Near to God

When we set out to spend this block of time at BSSM, I imagined blogging weekly. I assumed there’d always be things to share and process in this way.

And there are. There are always things to share. But these is not time to share them! It’s an intense environment, one that is likely best unpacked over years after, so that’s how it’ll be done.

But some things need to be share. This post is one of those.

DrawNear604x180-604x180Here’s the set-up: Quickly into the New Year, I sensed a real struggle inside myself. It has a fierceness to it, that I knew I’d be a fool to march on alone. So I invited others in. The following bit is a prayer request I emailed out to friends around the map. It cites a Facebook post I made to my closest circle here. If the note-within-a-note-within-a-post format gives you a cheap Inception-special-effect, enjoy it. 🙂

Hey friends,

I sent out a prayer request to my Revival Group last night. This is the BSSM-equivalent of a Care Group (70 people, led by a staff pastor and a team of interns). But if some prayers are good, then surely more prayers are better. If you’ve got them, I’ll take them.

Below is what I wrote last night before bed. Suffice it to say that my soul just feels a unique heaviness right now, and I’m feeling like I need some form of… sigh… something to get to where I’m supposed to be. I’m trusting that God knows how to get me there. If you’d lift that prayer on my behalf, I’d be grateful.

Hey friends, may I ask you to lift me up in prayer in the days ahead?

I need… SOMETHING… in a bad way.

For all the growth that God has initiated in me this year, I just really feel like I need something major to shift in me. If 2017 is a year for breakthroughs (as Bill said), then I’m in line.

I felt like an internal mess today, and I could it feel coming for a while. If anyone at school had addressed me or touched me or approached me “just right”, I’d have burst all over them! I counted it as a tender mercy that God “protected” me from getting drawn for prophetic dance this morning — no joke! Our RG would have buried a member in that moment.

To be blunt, I just feel very needy right now, and that seems to drive me quickly to a place of sadness. I’m not relating freely to God right now, and part of me just wants to stew in that for a bit. I need a softening and a sensitivity and a sweetness to return in fresh ways.

I do believe that God has a great call upon my life, but I’m feeling as though He needs to do major renovations on me for that to move forward. I felt hopeful that this was the year for such work, but now I’m wasting brain cells stressing over how far I haven’t come. Disappointment mixes with doubt, stirs in fear, and blends with insecurity to form a brutal cocktail that I’m sipping right now.

Sigh.

For tonight, I’ve shed my tears and steamed my shower, and I’m headed to bed early, convinced that God will have better access to me when I’m unconscious on this particular day.

I’m not seeking pity. I’m not even really seeking counsel. Revival Group is such a strange phenomenon. Most of us know little of each other’s lives, yet we know much at the same time. We’re deeply acquainted strangers, some of us. But the Spirit that’s crafting those special connections sets us up to call on one another and to carry one another. And if you’re game to carry me for a time, then I’d be grateful if you approached the Father on my behalf.

I have a tonne of admiration and care for all of you. Thanks for being who you are and for offering yourselves to the Lord and the rest of us.

A week later, I felt compelled to provide an update as a lot had happened. Several friends commented on how valuable they felt it was to share the inner workings of our spiritual lives more freely with one another and on how encouraging it is to hear testimonies of God at work in His people. I hope this post might achieve both of those.

Here is the next email-citing-Facebook-post that I sent out:

Hi all,

Exactly one week ago, I requested prayer from each of you. An update is in order. (The following is a message I posted to my BSSM Revival Group, and am tweaking slightly for you.)

On the heels of that message, I was feeling fairly desperate for God to respond to an undefined-but-intense sense of need. I attempted to push into this through all the steps I could think of:

  • I pulled a number of home-friends in for prayer support, sharing a similar update with them through email.
  • Shannon sent me on a private two-day retreat last weekend.
  • One of my major “retreat tasks” was revisiting and cataloging every prophetic word (these were given when people had prayerfully listened to they believed God wanted them to share with me) I had record of, back to 2014.
  • I did a lot of soaking (restful and still worship/prayer/meditation) and strumming.
  • I fasted for an “undefined period”, that ended up defining itself as three days.
  • I tried “Processing with Holy Spirit”, as Leslie Crandall described back on December 5.
  • I pressed into corporate worship settings with more intensity and hunger.
  • I openly received smiles, touches, hugs, comments, prayers from any kind people handing them out.
  • I started going to bed earlier and began a swimming-for-exercise routine every second morning — just did my 4th today. (Sometimes we need supernatural things, but some pretty-natural things can help too. 🙂 )

Within days, I sensed God shifting things inside of me. But the moves were subtle, nothing like the seismic shift I was seeking. To clarify, I’m typically quite tempered in my expectations. I struggle to dream wildly, and my “bold prayers” are a work in progress. That said, I had a very real sense of this being a season of major transition. I have no past history with “numbers stuff”, but I have had a months-long, to-the-point-of-ridiculous run of seeing sequences of ones on clocks and signs and what-not. Some view these digits as symbolic of transitions and shifts. That is intriguing, but those “heavenly algorithms” only confirmed what I already knew from charting my life-story to heeding the stirrings in my heart: “Lord, I believe You are up to something bigger than usual inside of me. And I really need it to happen.”

As I said, the first shifts were subtle, almost unnoticeable:

  • A sliver more breathing room for my spirit, enough to not die. 🙂
  • A sense of God’s responsiveness as I dialoged with Him with in prayer. (I kid you not: Leslie’s lesson on “Processing with Holy Spirit” will be one of my great takeaways of this year. That has the potential to change a lot for me, from today until my 120th birthday. After that, it probably won’t change anything anymore. 😉 )
  • Gentle reminders of things I once believed (even weakly), related to prophetic words given in years past and the perceptions I had in those days of what God was up to in my life.

As I write these, I realize these might sound big. But they didn’t feel big. At least, not nearly as big as I was looking for. But enough for the moment.

On the first night of my retreat, a friend from home texted me. (You know who you are!) This is a fellow younger than myself, whose family visited us in Redding over Christmas break. He and his wife are very supportive of us being here and perhaps on a similar path, though fewer steps along. Impressive to me, he determined to ask God for a message to share with me — a prophetic word. This self-confessed “raw rookie” received this as he prayed for me:

“I saw someone climbing a mountain, someone summiting a massive mountain in a moment of glory and triumph. Then I was reminded very clearly that great moments like that do not happen without incredible amounts of time, training, work, and even pain. I saw images of someone struggling to climb a particularly difficult stretch of that mountain.”

He closed by timidly hoping there might be some bit of encouragement in the image and left it at that. In honesty, I found strength in the fact that he cared enough about me to push beyond his comfort zone and share. The image was meaningful as well, though I confess that prophetic words have seldom impacted me as much as they seem to impact others. And that brings up this next bit.

On the second night of my retreat, Shannon and I exchanged a few text messages. She challenged me on the hearing that should be given to prophetic words. For her, these forms of encouragement wield great weight, like nothing less than personalized-from-God, perfect-for-the-moment, fitted-just-for-her messages of strength and inspiration. I took her words to heart as best I could. And I went to bed.

Weekend ended, school resumed. Monday rolled past.

On Tuesday, one of our fine Revival Group members (You know who you are too!) approached me with a hug and an inquiry of how I was doing. In the course of listening to me, he said:

“You know, as I’m looking at you, I just had this picture of a very large mountain.”

The guy who hasn’t always given much weight to prophetic words – yeah, that guy was pretty attentive at that moment. Just saying.

My friend continued, “This very large mountain was lit on its upper portion, but the bottom portion was darker. The whole mountain was being hit with a snowstorm, and I could see a man slowly inching his way up the mountain. Every step he took was in faith, and I felt as though the Lord was saying that you have been on the bottom portion of the mountain, but you are inching your way toward the lit portion. You’re on a great journey of encountering the Lord in every season and section of life. I also felt like the snow was like fear, but you only need a perspective shift. The snow was actually the Lord releasing delight over you, and He is readying you to experience His glory in new ways.”

That marked a corner in my past week.

It may well be a larger-scale corner than that.

And then today — 1/11 on the calendar. Leslie Crandall — yeah, that same one — was our guest leader in Revival Group. As she gave instructions for our very loosely structured time, I wondered how I would proceed. What would Holy Spirit prompt me to do? I sat in my seat, with eyes closed, for quite some time. I debated with myself whether I was sitting there because that was the easy and safe thing to do, or whether I was sitting there because He wanted me to sit there. I determined it was His idea. So I sat. I became unusually attuned to my body and to the fact that my breathing was quite shallow. I sensed His prompting to deepen my breathes as much as possible. Each breath continued to feel deeper than the previous one. I imagined my lungs stretching. In these moments, my mind reflected on the two mountain images given to me by faithful brothers, and “a moment” developed. It was one of those moments one best not forget.

It was as if God were saying, “I am increasing your capacity. I am strengthening your feet and improving your balance and lengthening your stride and enlarging your lungs. In keeping me seated, it was as if God were saying, “You have what you need right where you are. You need not hunt it down. But be certain that you breathe as deeply as possible from all you are given.”

Then some moments later, I felt prompted to complete my journal entry sitting in the middle of the room. I believe this act was God’s way of saying, “When you are breathing deeply of all that I provide, don’t breathe alone. Position yourself in the middle of other God-seekers, give and take together, and resist every devil-driven urge to hide. Men like Moses and Gideon and Joshua were not made to hide. You are not made to hide either. So step with strength, breathe in deeply, and move with confident attentiveness to the One who is all you need.”

If spiritual mathematics exist, I have no idea of the exchange rate between units of prayer and units of divine response. But this post is meant to serve as both a testimony to God’s faithfulness and a note of gratitude for every ounce of prayer you devoted to me in the past week.

Thank you, Father. And thank you, friends.

And thank you, friends for reading.

I’d love to interact with you through the comments section of this blog or the Facebook/Twitter link that led you here. 

Let me close like this…

In Acts 17:27, Paul sketched his understanding of why God does much of what He does:

“God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”

draw near squareWhatever you’re needing, reach out for Him in every way you know how. Pull others in, and lay yourself open before Him. And believe, even when it’s hard, the truth that He is not far from any one of us. 

And He is not far from you.

Sharpen Your Blade

“Sharpen your blade, Lord.”

Recently in the flow of worship, that line of prayer passed through my lips.

It has not been my intention to let so much time pass between blog posts. I have an ever-growing list of “blog ideas” accumulating as our time at BSSM continues. But forming wonderings into words — as much as I love the task — I’ve struggled to find the time. Allow me a few lines before bed swallows me up.

sword-sharpening

Hebrews 4:12 describes a wild weapon of God’s:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

At the risk of causing confusion, allow me to say: “Word of God” includes, but is not limited to, the leather-bound Scripture book that many of us hold dear. That’s not some spooky way of saying the Bible is insufficient or incomplete. It’s simply an acknowledgment that the thoughts of a infinite Being don’t squeeze well into even a couple thousand tissue-thin pages. What we’ve heard from Him is certainly enough, but it is equally certainly not-exhaustive.

But the message of Hebrews 4:12 is this: Everything you do hear from Him has a point.

Quite literally.

When God interfaces with us, He comes for real.

People have a nifty knack for using much verbiage to unveil little value. The People-Maker: He’s not nearly so nifty or knacky. Some preachers receive props from listeners shouting, “That’s a good word.” You hear from God, and you’re apt to shake your stabbed hand and suck the blood of your fingers. You may need a friend with a handkerchief.

Yahweh’s words carried creative power in Genesis. He formed and filled the cosmos by what He said. So you can bet that when we construct — even unwittingly — rags of rebellion or coverings of callousness, He calls the Spirit to the sharpening stone to prepare His Sword. And when the Holy Assassin appears and runs His blade through your supposed substance, it’s both astonishing and awesome to discover: You are filling up as you are bleeding out.

kid-band-aidMy daughters love to put band-aids on their “owies”. I’ve tried to explain that their role is mostly for covering cuts, to keep germs out and blood in. But my girls think they are far more magical! They imagine these brown (Disney characters if we’re splurging) sticky strips to undo bruises, soothe hurt feelings, and make rainbows rise in the sky. So we stick them on, in an effort to bring comfort beyond their capacity. And little girls smile.

Allow me to say that the BSSM school-supply list did not mention nearly enough band-aids. Friends from home — friends that genuinely care — often ask quite sincerely, “So how’s BSSM?” I’ve yet to possess enough nerve to reply, “It’s a bloodbath.” But I could. Because it is.

More than deadly-sharp, God’s word is deadly-accurate. Hebrews 4:12 says so. The blade lives, for crying out loud! It moves! It bends and angles and dives and drives. It contorts and connives and schemes and sees. No random wounds by this weapon. It wedges itself into the crevices it discovers under our less-obscuring-than-we-imagined layers. Once in place, it hammers and heaves until the breaking point arrives.  There is no thought or attitude or motivation that is immune. He’s coming in — all the way in. The slicing is part of the saving. The bleeding blends with the birthing.

The laceration’s
An invitation
To re-creation.

And when you have felt life flow in through your wounds, then it shocks you not, to hear your lips praying, “Sharpen your blade, Lord.”

In Search of Identity

Our class schedule at BSSM has a steady diet of Bible and theology. We recently spent time looking at the creation and fall of humanity, and I had opportunity to share with the class some thoughts that have been significant for me. There were enough inquiries and requests for clarification that I determined it was worth the effort to put them in writing.

Here we go…

creationFrom the very beginning, people have been the unique apex of Creation. We alone bear the image of God. The first titles that Scripture would drive us to place upon God are Creator and Ruler. So as one would expect, God designed us to be rulers and creators. From a place of perfect harmony with our Maker, we are set to fill His world with vivid depictions of His qualities through gracious and powerful ways in which we steward life within our lives, families, and world.

However, sin changes all of this. The divine image is fragmented like a shattered mirror. Our hands get bloodied as they attempt to reset the shards of our broken identity, and we find ourselves exposed to a scope of shame, insecurity, and fear far larger than our hiding skills can handle. And when one’s legitimate identity is lost, no other option exists: We will seek an illegitimate replacement.

In the aftermath of Adam and Eve’s rebellion, God pronounces the “curses” that will fall upon them. Check Genesis 3:16-19 below:

16 To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.”

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

Adam’s role of producer now faces new challenges. The attention and intensity required for sustenance will spike. He will throw himself into working and weeding, and seldom will he receive the payoff he anticipates.

Eve’s role of procreator now faces new challenges. The pain and struggle involved in bringing forth new life will climb. She will throw herself into nurturing and nourishing, and seldom will she receive the payoff she anticipates.

These are the curses, so we are told. However, grace always shows up in the most surprising places. A slow look at our great ancestors departing God’s garden provides a rich revelation.

Perhaps all human ventures can be found in two words:

  • Tasks
  • People

The timeless temptation to establish our own identities repeatedly drives us to these realms.

Tasks: We will seek to be known by what we can do. We will pursue productivity, chasing greater efficiency and higher levels of competence. Through achievement, we will carve out our place in the world and establish our reputation as a person of value.

People: We will seek to be known by who we know. We will pour ourselves into family or friends. We will nurture connections and construct networks. Through relationships, we will carve out our place in the world and establish our reputation as a person of value.

Except that we won’t.

Hidden in the darkness of sin’s curse is a measure of divine grace: God will never allow us to find satisfaction in false identity.

Adam may toil rigorously and relentlessly, but the thorns and the thistles will never allow him to attain the heights or harvest of which he dreams. His restlessness will find no rest in tasks.

And Eve may relate dotingly and devotedly, but the pains of labour will become the pains of love, and no amount of pouring herself out will result in her feeling filled up. Her restlessness will find no rest in people.

Even the affliction of the Fall displays the affection of the Father.

Said another way: Sometimes our hearts’ homelessness is God’s gift to lead us to Himself.

Saint Augustine knew it well:

“Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.”

The thorns’ piercing provides shocking protection. The contractions’ strain houses surprising shelter. The Father refuses that we would find rest apart from Him, and in His gracious move of loving redemption, He turns even curses into blessing. We will whine and wander, sweat and swear. But we will remain migrants until we find our way home to the One who makes and re-makes us.

And this is a sign of God’s kindness toward us as the ones He dearly loves.