Tuesday, October 12, 2010

As Incense

Missions trips can be very humbling experiences. North American Christians often presume that Third World nations would languish without Western input and ministry. However, I have discovered the very opposite to be true. We need what the Third World Church has more than we think they need us to minister to them. I have just returned from Bali, Indonesia, and was again humbled as I heard, saw and experienced God moving through believers’ simple and willing hearts there. I am also convicted of a proud, neo-colonialist, patronizing, religious spirit that has so often governed Western thoughts and actions and must indeed bow and break before the manifest presence of the God we profess to proclaim.
We need what they have more than they need what we profess.

Bali is a tropical paradise, a virtual Garden of Eden. Tourist brochures tout its exceptional beaches, hot, sunny weather and unique culture and promote it as ‘The Island of the Gods’. A small, predominantly Hindu island enclave, it’s centred in the midst of the most populous Muslim nation in the world. Indonesia is BIG! Approximately 240 million people on 17,500 islands (6000 are inhabited) stretched and scattered across an area equivalent to the continental US. About 3 million live on Bali in an artistic, creative cultural community of shrines, temples, carvings, statues, ceremonies, rituals... idols. Everyday some type of festival or ceremony takes place on the island. Religious ritual pervades the atmosphere. Streets not only fill with motor scooters, but Hindu shrines and temples overflow from sidewalks into intersections. Most houses are fronted by altars laden with offerings: incense sticks burn together with little packaged ceremonial offerings dedicated to a pantheon of 30 million gods! But the real consumers of these sacrifices seem to be countless homeless dogs more than invisible hungry gods!
To further complicate the scene, the wail of Muslim muezzins also spreads over the island, calling their faithful to prayer. Five times a day, from well before sunrise till after sunset, the same monotone, mournful laments lift their dreary cry and hang over the towns and cities till they drop like a suffocating religious shroud over the land and its people.
Paul perceived ‘in all things you are very religious!’ of the Athenians,
(Acts 19:22), and this could very well apply to Bali today.
Then there is the international contingent: the Western pleasure-seekers who have discovered Bali’s beautiful beaches, constant sun, surf and club scene. New Agers ply their relativistic philosophies; hedonists indulge without moral restraints; party animals celebrate their freedom to do anything or nothing. Life here is in holiday mode, but even as the natural climate’s sweltering heat and humidity can suddenly turn to thunder and lightning, so a spiritual storm has broken over the island and its formerly comfortable status quo is being challenged.
The struggle between religion and faith in Jesus Christ is a constant daily contest here. Locally, Hinduism’s deep roots entwine the Balinese in a pervasive bondage of tradition and culture. Nationally, militant Islamic jihadists have sought to radicalize Indonesia’s moderate Muslim majority with a more extremist practise of Islam. In recent years,they even pursued a policy of ‘island-cleansing’, similar to the Balkans’ ethnic-cleansing, in which militants attacked Christian villages to cleanse the island by either forcibly evicting or murdering their Christians inhabitants.
Eight years before this last trip, I had traveled with a ministry team to Ambon, one of the exotic Maluku, (Moluccas or Spice) Islands, the easternmost group of Indonesia’s archipelago, very close to Papua-New Guinea. While there we heard eye-witness accounts from Christians persecuted by Muslim extremists: church buildings burned to the ground and their congregations ravaged; men, women and children savagely beaten; entire families slaughtered. At one point, pastors even showed us helicopter-view video footage of Christian villages under attack. Scenes of white-robed marauders pillaging from house to house, setting them afire and then hacking with machetes those who escaped the flames out the front-doors, while others fled out the back, into the jungle for refuge. Government authorities and soldiers had often stood by passively, ostrich-like in denial, doing nothing to protect the Christian minorities, even sometimes assisting their attackers!
We had flown from Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital city. It took a whole day’s journey of 3 different flights to reach our destination. Also boarding our first plane was a sinister-looking group of 6 men, robed all in white, a sign of strict Moslem adherence and dedication. I watched them suspiciously, however. Frankly, I had never seen such evil hatred in eyes before! Fortunately, they disembarked before us, at our second to last stop, just before Ambon. The government did not allow anyone to continue to Ambon without specific permission. Officials had just turned back a planeload of Western journalists weeks before, insisting there was no story there for them to report. Our team was only able to continue because we had letters of invitation from some of the city’s Christian pastors requesting our visit. Even so, we had to skirt Muslim roadblocks and travel the last leg of our journey by boat across the harbour to reach safe haven in the city.
Much of Ambon was burnt out; many buildings lay in ruins, mere empty shells. A stench of stale smoke still lingered in the air. Roads were pot-holed detours around piles of rubble. Our hotel had electricity and light at night, but it appeared that few others did. Personal armed guards accompanied us at all times. We visited a pastor whose church had just been burned down the week before by Muslim neighbours.
‘They had always seemed friendly,’ he recalled.
’But,’ he also wondered, ‘why would these ‘neighbours’ suddenly burn down my church?’
We also met Alphonse, a young believer, who had been riding his bicycle when suddenly confronted by an angry Muslim mob. One of the crowd lunged at him with a machete and cut away almost half of this young man’s face! His attackers then just moved on, seeking their next victim, leaving him for dead.
Later, we discovered over 6000 people crammed into 3 decrepit warehouses, each partitioned into tiny 20-square foot family units with about 7 people jammed into each. Forbidden for over 2 years to return to their homes only 15 kilometers away, these thousands had barely subsisted in this makeshift city. Unable to work to buy food, or grow their own, they had now used up the last of their rice and faced starvation. Fortunately, we were able to buy them a few more days’ supply. I do not know what happened to them afterwards.
We visited the governor, but he insisted there was no problem, no persecution of Christians, no refugees, no food shortages, just a few minor, temporary difficulties that the government was capably dealing with. After a few days, we returned to Jakarta and I wondered what it would take for the Indonesian government to awaken to reality. Two years later they received their wake-up call when terrorists planted 3 bombs in Bali, primarily targeting Western tourists, blowing up stores, restaurants, and night-clubs, killing over 200 Australians, Europeans, Americans and even some Canadians. Under the threats of a tourist boycott and revenue loss, the Jakarta government then launched a crackdown on Laska Jihad, Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups responsible and brought some of their leaders to trial, conviction and lengthy prison sentences. Others resisted and were killed.
Persecution still lifts its ugly head throughout the nation, however, as minority Muslim extremists continue to seek to influence and impose their views and life-style on the moderate majority.
The cost of simply being a Christian is high in Indonesia.
Three women have been convicted of the heinous crime of teaching children Bible stories in Sunday School and sentenced to 3 years in prison. ‘They’re proselytizing Moslem children!’ the radical imams screamed.
In another city, 3 young Christian girls on their way home from school were beheaded recently by radicals.
Indonesia now hangs in a spiritual balance, ponders the outcry for change and considers its response.

But the blood of the martyrs is not silent.
The Father has heard the cry of their testimony above the militant mobs and He answers!

I saw this truth in evidence during my second visit just last week. While spying out the land in prospects of a future Discipling Training Centre, I was invited to speak at a Young Adults meeting. Their pastor was a lady, a widow. According to my friends’ initial report, she sounded like a bit of a radical herself. I always appreciate an opportunity to share with young people who have a vision beyond themselves and are seeking to pour out their lives for the gospel, so I was really looking forward to this time. Little did I realize the heights and depths this evening would hold!
My friends and I arrived early and were welcomed by a group of smiling, even cheerful, young men and women. One of them led us up a couple flights of stairs to an upper room.
‘Hmmmm,’ I thought, ‘good things have happened in upper rooms!’
Not very large, kind of like a gymnasium, no window views on the outside, no outside noise to the inside. Already some had started gathering. I watched as they entered and took their places. There were chairs, but these remained stacked along the walls. Rather than taking seats or socializing with friends, each one moved forward, to the front of the auditorium, and took their place standing in successive lines that gradually filled and moved towards the back.
I felt a holy Hush! fill the air as each one consciously presented themselves before their Lord: some bowing their heads, others lifting hands, all praying, seeking His face, His Presence. I noted a simple dedication and consecration as their prime purpose in being there: to meet with Jesus individually and also as a church community. It was sobering to witness such remarkable hunger and thirst for God.
And so it began... a steady stream of prayer and praise rising from those assembling and I joined with them: asking, seeking and knocking. The room steadily filled. About 8 lines of 10 formed, each row spread across the room, each a rank in this growing army of worshipers. In time, a worship team emerged from the group, filed up to the front and took their place with their instruments: guitars, keyboard, drums, and a couple of singers. Rather than introducing themselves and a whole new format, they simply joined the song already in process, picked up the flowing theme and blended their instruments and voices together. Worship here was birthed from hungry hearts, not imposed from an imperious pulpit.
My friends and I stood at the back watching, but were steadily drawn in by the Spirit’s leading, flowing with wave after wave of His power, love and glory. It grew intense!
And that’s when I began to smell a faint aroma, a gentle but alluring fragrance... like incense wafting through the room. At first it was only a mere whiff, like a slight breeze. Old hippie memories mingling with other aromas came to my mind. I figured someone was burning incense in the room, like what I had smelled passing those those ubiquitous Balinese Hindu shrines. But, I thought, ‘That would be strange for a Christian church to worship Our God so like their neighbours worship their idols? But maybe someone’s perfume, their ‘eau de Bali’, was just a bit strong?’ Finally, my curiosity got the best of me and I approached my friend,
‘Stacey, do you smell something, like... incense?’ ‘No,’ he replied.
Then he did a sudden double-take: ‘But now that you mention it, Yes, I do smell something and it’s really strong!’
Seeking more input, I asked another friend.
‘Yeah, it sure smells like something here! What is it?’
I didn’t know, so I thought it best to go and ask the pastor.
‘Is someone burning incense here in the meeting?’ I tried to ask as discreetly as possible.
She looked at me and smiled a simple ‘No.’
‘But don’t you smell something?’
Her look further spoke to me like, ‘Yes, but what’s so exceptional about that? Doesn’t the Lord come to you in North America like that when you worship Him?’’
I decided to not pursue the matter any further and rejoined the rest of the body in worship.

Suddenly my focus cleared and I saw it: The Word confirmed what the Spirit was doing.
‘Let my prayer be set before You as incense,
The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.’ (Ps 141:2)
‘the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints’ (Rev 5:8)
‘and the smoke of the incense with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God’ (Rev 8:4)

As incense in the Old Covenant Tabernacle and Temple order of worship typified Jesus, Our New Covenant High Priest and His finished work on The Cross, so now our prayers and praise were rising before the our Ark of The Covenant, His Throne. And in response to our worship, Our Father God was pouring out His Presence in a new and living way, a growing wave of His Glory!
The lights came on as the scent and sense of His Presence grew.
Like a wave reaching for its destiny, the Spirit moved among us, unpredictably, first this way and then that, embracing and being embraced. I felt Him dance throughout the congregation, catching up whosoever willed, playfully tossing us along the crest of His beauty and joy! Like a surfer awaiting the best next wave, I began to anticipate the Spirit’s flow so I might hop on board and, with trust as my only security, ride it until it finally broke, washing, crashing, spilling its fullness over me.
And so it continued...for over an hour. We didn’t just sing songs. Sometimes a slightly familiar melody arose and Indonesian and English words appeared on the overhead. But this was that prophesied ‘new song’ crescendoing together with heavenly choirs, each one an instrument in a great symphony led by One Composer and Conductor. Worship flowed together to and from the throne.
Inevitably I was forced to my knees, surrendering to His omnipotent mercy, my face buried in the cup of His infinite grace. I poured out all my vessel to drink of His endless love. I pretty well forgot that I was the speaker. Usually just before ministering, I find myself searching my heart, asking the Holy Spirit to not only help me speak His Word with His anointing, but to just not say anything stupid, or unnecessarily offensive.
But this time it was totally different. I found my heart and mind overflowing:
‘Lord, there’s just so much of Your Majesty here!
How can I ever do justice to all You are by anything I might say? My puny little words would only cheapen such grand themes!
How can I ever convey the fullness of what I am now seeing and experiencing?’

Suddenly a hand touched my arm. I looked up to see the pastor motion me to follow her to the front. We somehow managed to walk through the lines of worshipers without disturbing them. It was like the Red Sea parting before me. The band continued playing. I looked out over the hungry and thirsty group before me. I felt like how God must feel when facing such a sea of overwhelming devotion: here are true worshipers in spirit and in truth, firstfruits of Christ’s labour! The kingdom of heaven had truly invaded earth! ‘As it is in heaven’ had actually come ‘here on earth’! And I was a part of it! so I joined with all those ten thousand times ten thousands and thousands of thousands I knew also encircled the throne and together we sang out, ‘Worthy is the Lamb!’
Another wave of heavenly fragrance washed over me. I was out of my comfortable boat now, swimming in the River.
I felt our prayers and praise ascend, so filling and fulfilling the Lord’s desire, that He just couldn’t contain Himself either and so poured out more of His sweet fragrance of gratitude. Then our hearts were touched in turn more deeply and further overflowed! It’s called ‘LOVE’! and we were exchanging gifts.
So I began to sing out loud: just had to let it go and it flowed. I had to thank Him and let the others know God was so pleased! So pleased that: sons and daughters would simply worship Him for who He is and what He’s done; this just more fully released the River of Revelation from His throne; praise was both fruit and fragrance of His Presence! Buds, blossoms, fruit of the Tree of Life in every season!
Circumstances make no difference: poverty or plenty, famine or abundance, wilderness or palace, peace or persecution. We, His people praise because He alone is worthy! No opposition can stand against Him; no weapon formed against us will prosper. The armies of heaven follow the Lamb wherever He goes. He is going forth to conquer and so do we! The Prince of Peace has given peace and no one can take it away! And so it came: the words + the melody: a new song to the Lord!
And then a further glory, from glory to glory, a greater glory! and we got to soak it in and give it out again! Take it in and give it out! Take more in, give more out! The river flows and increases as it reaches the mouth and becomes an ocean.
‘For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord
As the waters cover the sea!’ (Hab 2:14; Isa 11:9)
I could barely stand as I sang, but the words and music kept coming! Finally, I stopped, but the Spirit kept moving through the sea of His people. I was enjoying what was happening and it was quite evident the Father was enjoying it too! My smile couldn’t stop and I felt the Father’s heart swell with joy within me!
The musicians stopped. We waited and... another wave of the Spirit rose up and broke against our shores. We needed little convincing that we are but sand.
Then the keyboard started to softly play again.
I wondered, ‘Where is this all going?’ I looked to the pastor. She was all smiles.
I thought, ‘That’s a good sign. If the pastor’s happy, it’s OK!’
Walking on water is an art; you have to step lightly from wave to wave.
I continued to wait. The silence seemed awkward at times. I wondered when the pastor would release me to start preaching, unaware that they were waiting for me. But I was so enjoying the Lord’s Presence any uncertainty quickly melted before another wave of His glory! Five... ten minutes? Can’t say I really know how long this lasted. My friends later said they were wondering when I was going to start speaking, but I just kept riding the wave!
Finally, I looked again to the pastor and motioned if I should speak.
She nodded and I tried but... my mouth wouldn’t speak!
All I could do was sing... and so we went from glory to glory again and for the next few minutes I sang my message of The Father’s Heart:
His acceptance breaking our rejection,
His peace removing our anger and anxiety,
His joy replacing our pain.
So much more than we could ever ask or think. This message has touched hearts in every nation I have preached it, but I must admit that that evening took my natural breath away and I stand in awe of the gospel, this good news of the kingdom, Our King... Jesus!
I couldn’t hold anything back even I had wanted to. What a wonderful predicament!

Like the woman with the alabaster flask of precious ointment. She washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, broke the flask and poured its ointment on him...
‘and the house was filled with the fragrance.’ (Jn 12:3)
Spectators complained and chided her for impropriety and waste, but Jesus commended her lavish outpouring upon him.
‘What this woman has done will be told as a memorial to her!’ (Mark 14:9) No one else had been in time to anoint His body. All others were too late.
So these worshipers had counted the cost and paid the price for worship in spirit and in truth.
A new song is rising in the earth. It’s the Song of the Redeemed, the Persecuted Church: Indonesian, Chinese, African, believers from every walk and nation standing through this world’s trials and tribulations, following the Lamb wherever He goes. It cannot and will not be destroyed; it will only increase as the glory of Jesus fills our hearts and all the earth!

That night I fell asleep refreshed. My air-conditioned bedroom cooled the evening air, but it was a still-lingering fragrance of worship that coloured my dreams.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Truth-Seeker: A Journey

I always believed there was a Truth.
And I knew I didn’t have it.
It was out there somewhere. Distant. Elusive. Illusory.
But I could never quite grasp it. Just when I felt I had it close enough so I could reach out and apprehend it, it mysteriously moved, shifted, kind of slipped away, beyond me... and my grasp... again.
For lack of a better term, I defined Truth as God. Much of my culture did that, so that fit my parameters too: distant... elusive... illusory... God. Didn’t matter: big ‘G’ or little ‘g’.
And Truth for me was definitely removed and remote, up there somewhere, above the clouds of confusion and ignorance and unknowing, but...
I figured, if I could just find that one first truth, one I could simply count on as absolute truth, then...
like building with stones, that first truth would lead me to a second, and then connect with a third, and... as I fit them together, building layer upon layer, they would not only stand, but eventually one day reach up and lift me above those hindersome clouds to where I would finally and triumphantly proclaim, ‘I made it, God! Aren’t you proud of me?’
All the while, however, I was oblivious to that still gaping gulf between us; not the vertical gulf, for in my mind I had already bridged that, but the horizontal one, the chasm my self had created, the one still looming between G(g)od and me. So intent on realizing my own personal truth, I had unwittingly created my own personal god: ME!

It’s hard to be god, especially all the time! You’ve got to be perfect and for humans, that demands a lot of work and striving to: meet impossible standards, realize impossible dreams, and self-fulfill your own prophecies.
I tried for a lot of years. Tried real hard. I suspected truth realization might have something to do with character, so I tried all the harder. But some days, after I had purposefully turned over a new leaf just that very morning, no one noticed by noon just what a great guy I had instantly become! That was hard to take! People can be so disappointing!

Don’t know why I was wired this way exactly, but all my pictures in elementary school had mountains in them and I don’t think it was just because I lived in British Columbia. I think it had more to do with trying to ‘Climb every mountain; ford every stream!’
Something like The Sound of Music meets Mission Impossible in my blood, urging me ever onward and upward to make the impossible possible.
Reach the unreachable; attain the unattainable.
Deceptive idealism.
Much of my spiritual journey seemed to end up with me often falling into creeks by that name. They were not only messy, slippery experiences, but most of all, embarrassing.
Self has to keep up appearances for a lot of ego and it doesn’t like to apologize for what it is not.
Unfortunately, I still seem to encounter some of these same waters at times and when you stay too long and wallow, they become, as for all pilgrims of truth, Sloughs of Despond.
And I really did fashion myself a pilgrim, or maybe even a Don Quixote on some formidable quest, forsaking the familiar, turning my back on the status quo to deliberately seek out the exotic unknown, that which could not + would not be nailed down and put in a box...like a coffin.

Or more to my way of thinking, I fancied myself a traveler. Never a tourist.
God forbid! (now who was my god again?) I would never be as crass, lame, nor unforgivably stupid as those tourists: you know, the ones who rent the taxis or go on city tours in double-decker buses with the driver-guide cracking the same old tired jokes he/she’s worked over every trip for the last twenty years?
Same old, same old.
Routine, routine, rut rut routine.
I prided myself that I was able to smell them a mile away and run even further in the opposite direction.
Tourists were not truth-seekers. Tourists never truly know where they are or where they’ve been. I used to ridicule them as poring over their cache of vaguely familiar photos when they got home, the ones they snapped through streaked bus windows while still driving.
‘Funny? why do all these pictures have that same dirt smudge in them!?’
I remember when I was once in Lisbon, Portugal, ‘traveling’ through the Alfama: the former Arab section of the city and oldest district not destroyed by the devastating 18th Century earthquake. Original buildings from over 600 years ago; a still working-class fishermen neighbourhood among narrow, twisting streets and alleys barely wide enough for donkeys to pass.
Sounded interesting... so I went to see it for myself.
While exploring its maze of old shops, houses and marketplaces, I heard a sudden commotion up the street ahead of me and looked up just in time to see one of Lisbon’s unique green-and-black taxis screech to an abrupt stop. Its rear passenger window rolled down.
A camera poked its eye out like a spying U-Boat's periscope, intruding on the medieval scene below.
Then one ‘Click!’ and the interloper receded, back into the anonymous black hole from where it had come. And just as quickly as it had arrived, the taxi then sped off again, its window still rolling up with its human cargo anxiously anticipating their next exciting destination.
I stood there, taken aback by the superficiality of what I had just witnessed.
I imagined what bland existence lurked behind that camera incognito.
And then a humorous scenario occurred to me:
Fast Forward to possibly 1 week later, back home in America, where I pictured ‘Fred + Martha’ looking over the photos of their recent quickie European tour.
‘So where’s this one from, Martha? I can’t remember where this was? Looks like some kind of fish market. Disgusting! Look at the way they just lay them out on the street! Probably France. Or was that Spain? They both looked the same. Or... wasn’t there another country in there too? What was it called? Something like.... Portyoucall? Do you remember? Were we there?...
Are you even sure these are our pictures?’
Some people spend their lives like they tour countries: ‘If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium!
And then, after they’ve returned home and they’re left only with memories, they have no clear recollection of where they’ve been and how it relates to their present picture.

In retrospect, however, I was more like that very tourist I mocked than I ever realized.
Essentially, I was a tourist in my own life: looking for truth, but rolling down my window only enough to poke my opinion out, ignorantly taking the moment’s snapshot, and then withdrawing once again into my self-centred darkness; anticipating the later joy of more photographs of places, people and experiences, but never able to appreciate their moments of truth while I was actually there.
And so I kept seeking and stumbling.
One day I stumbled over these lines from T.S. Eliot, a fellow truth-seeker:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.’ (Little Gidding)

But.... I wondered,
Where is that place, that first place, the first knowledge, that first stone I can count on....
the truth?’

Thursday, July 22, 2010


“To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die; plant + reap; kill + heal; break down + build up;
weep + laugh; mourn + dance; cast + gather stones; embrace + refrain; gain + lose;
hold on + let go; rip out + mend; shut up + speak up; love + hate;
A time for war and a time of peace.” (Eccles 3:1-11)
Bob Dylan set these words to music and The Byrds had us singing them in the ‘60s, but I doubt many realized they were singing God’s Word. We thought them paradoxical but catchy, words for a time of change. “Turn, turn, turn,” was our cry for revolution in society, but it was really God’s call for repentance in the human heart. It’s amazing how confused we are sometimes, understanding so little of even what we say we want.
We know little of either the times or seasons of the heart.
I used to think timing was important. Now I’m convinced: it’s absolutely crucial!

The Preacher goes on to say, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” (v 11)
But when is ‘its time’? How can we truly know when something is in or out of season?
And who determines what really is the ‘right season’?
I might think it fits perfectly, but later find out it’s completely out of sync.
I might think I have a sure-fire prophetic word for someone; but a good word must be spoken at the right time in the right spirit or… it may be pathetic, more than prophetic.
‘A word spoken in its time, how good it is!’ (Pro 15:23) But at the wrong time? ...devastating!

We need to know ‘His’ Time. The One who created everything in the first place is also the One who is able to bring it forth to fulfill its purpose at the right time. If He is able to make it,
He can also make it beautiful in the time for which it’s created.
And even if I make a mistake, God can take what the enemy intends for evil or my blunder, and make it good. (Gen 50:20) He works all things together for good to those who love Him, those called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28).
Yeah, but sometimes that takes longer than I think it should!.. and that’s where timing comes in.

I remember arriving one Sunday morning for early prayer in a church we were interim pastoring. Things were in flux; change was in the air; our future was unclear and unsettled, but a sense of excitement and beckoning adventure pervaded in my spirit. I was there first, and when I opened the door and turned on the light, I saw 3 doors standing before me on the school stage, probably props for a play practice. My first thought was: “Which one, Lord?” as in, “Which door-choice is the right one for me to walk through?”
Ever notice how the Lord often speaks when you least expect Him?
Well, without any effort at listening, I immediately heard Him say so clearly,
“They’re all right, but in My time!”
Startled, I looked again more closely at these 3 doors and wondered what future opportunities they represented. Were they 3 specific decisions, relationships, events? Narrow doors often lead into larger rooms. Were these possibly future limitations to prepare me for further service and enlargement? Jesus is the Door. We just need to discern which one... in His time.

1Chron 12:32 describes sons of Issachar who came to David at Hebron before he was king of all Israel. They even went against the popular flow, because they ‘had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.’ Historical hindsight is good if we learn from it, but foresight is preferable. It discerns and reveals the wisdom and godly character to know not only the right thing, but also the right time, so we don’t live life in ‘should-have’s.’

Few in history have found their time to be His or His Time to be theirs.
Jesus came ‘in the fullness of time’ (Gal 4:4), neither too early, nor too late.
He came exactly at the right time.
21st Century North American pragmatism would counter that He should have come in our day. He could have reached so many more millions! More people are alive today; our advanced technology and communications could reach them more effectively; He’d be seen world-wide, not just in tiny Judea. But the Bible says He came at the right time! Jesus knew who He was and He knew His time. Some still think He comes at the wrong time...too late.
Someone who knows their time as His and His as theirs is in step with God and His Purpose.
Those who do not are only trying to prove something.

Jesus didn’t have anything to prove. His first sermon was seed for all future messages and ministry:
“The time is fulfilled, - all OT prophecies about future time were now complete in Him
and the kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mark 1:15)
In other words, “Don’t put it off; drop everything else and receive the kingdom NOW!
It’s right here, don’t wait for another! The King is here! So is His kingdom, it’s for you, NOW! Don’t doubt, reach out, take it to heart! Here it is! Believe… You got it!”
This was Jesus’ essential message both then and now. Unfortunately, many people today respond the same way as some did then: “We believe in the kingdom, but it’s not time yet. It doesn’t fit our theology or our understanding. Maybe some of it is 'already'? But how much is 'not yet'? Probably more the latter: just look how much power the devil still has!”
And they spent their time debating, disputing, arguing while Jesus went about doing good to all: healing, setting captives free, manifesting the kingdom regardless of their unbelief!
Just like He does today!

Actually, the first to recognize Jesus for who He was were demons. They identified Him as the Son of God before His own people did, and added,
“Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Matt 8:29)
Jesus never let devils tell Him what time it was, especially when it was their time to be cast out.
He replied, “You’re twisted! You’re no longer in control here to say who is going to torment who for how long. I AM HERE NOW. The power of my kingdom is NOW and your time to leave is NOW. Don’t argue ...GO!”
They had no choice: they went. Their time had come.
Jesus said, “If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matt 12:28)
Note the past perfect tense. The demons did.
It is finished! And so are they. Time’s up; the King is Here! Everything else? Out!

Jesus wept over Jerusalem,
“If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!
But now they are hidden from your eyes.
…because you did not know the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:41, 44)
Even at His most difficult time, Jesus knew His Time and Purpose: who He was and what He had to do. The very night He was arrested,
‘when Jesus knew that his hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.’(Jn 13:1)
He was not intimidated by the accusations of this world, overcome by its threats, nor defeated by its reactions.
He overcame and because He did, we are!
"Excuse me...can you tell me what time it is?"


“He came to His own, and his own did not receive Him.” (Jn 1:11-13)
The Jews rejected their Messiah even when all their prophecies and signs pointed unmistakably towards Jesus. Then they unwittingly fulfilled more of those prophecies by crucifying Him.

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become children of God,
to those who believe in His name:
who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of

The new birth must not be misunderstood as merely getting our eternal ticket to heaven.
He wants us to know His time of visitation for us TODAY, His coming to abide, dwell, live and walk together with us, opening up the present treasures of His love to and through us! We are salt and light, called to make a difference HERE NOW.
He taught His disciples to pray and impact their contemporary world, not just some time in the future, but RIGHT NOW in their generation:
“Your kingdom come, Your will be done… in earth as it is in heaven.”
The other way around often seems to be many Christians’ present perspective:
“Take me to heaven soon, because my life is getting dark and unbearable here on earth!”
New birth opens a new, full life of liberty in Our Lord!
We need a fresh revelation of this truth today!

His first disciples heard Jesus call their name, “Follow me!” and that same call continues today for us to ‘deny ourselves, take up our cross,’ (Matt 16:24).
In effect, He is calling us take up our new Identity ‘in Christ’ and follow Him. Timing is ‘crucial’ (variant of its root ‘crux = cross’).
Our response shows whether it’s a walk or just talk.
Sons of God are led by the Spirit. (Rom 8:14)
We must not settle for living below our call.

We cannot afford to neither run off ahead nor lag behind in unbelief.
Both procrastination (putting off God’s timing eg. ‘Later, Dad!’)
and presumption (prematurely acting before God’s timing eg. ‘Look Ma, no hands!’)
distract, throw off balance and ultimately crash in equally devastating ditches.
Both deviate from true Christian liberty and wander in a religious wilderness of ideas, fads and traditions, far removed from our necessary central focus.
We need to be looking unto Jesus, focusing on faithfully knowing and following Him alone.
Our walk with Jesus shows how close and sensitive our relationship truly is: either with Him or not.
I’m not talking theory or theology here, but a plain and simple practical reality:
truth + love in action. Do the math: God = Love. Jesus = God. Ergo… Jesus = Love.
Jesus knew His Identity, who He was, and therefore, He knew the best action to take, especially at His most difficult, crucial times. His Cross revealed God’s love in action to a sin-sick world.

And it’s how close our walk is with Him that will bring us through our crises. The crosses-crises we go through reveal who we truly are, what’s really in us, what we’re made of, just who indeed we are truly following and serving. People can say they follow the Lord, but if their confidence is in signs, they’re still caught up in externals and empty showmanship.
However, God says, “Look at my son/daughter, ___________, (put you name in here).
They have signs following them; they are signs themselves, just like my Old Testament prophets and their children.”

Words are cheap. Actions can cloak deceptive motives. But when sons of God follow Christ in spirit and truth (both wings in His Time), the world has to take notice.

This unshakeable unity in the Lord shakes the very foundations of what seems to be!
It’s revealed sometimes like the awesome power a united army unleashes when it marches together, in time. Such highly trained natural armies even have to break rank when crossing bridges or their synchronized co-ordination can actually cause them to collapse!
Or on the other hand, it can be like the game where the ‘leader’ mischievously falls in step closely behind the ‘follower’ without his knowing, and they walk together, step-in-step, virtually as one body. Our Heavenly Father delights in playfully exchanging places with his children, leading by walking so closely behind us, we don’t even realize He’s there. We begin to learn to lead by simply being led by His Presence!
And still other times, He intimately draws us even more closely to Himself, holding and caressing us, as a Bridegroom dances with His Bride, lifting her up for all the world to see! So Christ’s Church, His body, is rising up and advancing over all the earth!
An army of sons and daughters wedded by the New Covenant in Christ’s Blood! United in His Body and established in His Kingdom! He leads us together in His Spirit, one step at a time, to shake earth’s natural foundations, take ground in men’s hearts, disciple nations, do business, occupy and fill the earth with His glory…as the waters cover the sea!
This is our calling: to walk in His Presence and our destiny in Christ here on earth NOW ...so much more than just waiting till heaven’s ready for us.

Paul learned this walk in the Spirit and knew His leading.
In Acts 16:6-10, he and his apostolic team traveled west from Galatia, intending to preach in Ephesus, the major city of the Roman province of Asia. Big commercial, religious, political centre, important centre of influence, lots of souls for the kingdom: prime place to preach, right?

But the Holy Spirit forbade them! Or was it the devil? Can you tell the difference?

Surely, if someone is hindering the gospel, it must be the devil! Or is it?
Paul was not just trained to not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. Gal 5:16 does not equate walking in the Spirit with not fulfilling the lust of the flesh. The second is a result of the first; both are not equal. There is a great deal more to the Christian life than just not sinning (whatever that is). Our identity must be more than negatives or what we don’t do.
I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs…hey, I’m a Christian! Unnnhh! Wrong!
Canadians sometimes reason that same way. We think we are Canadians because we’re not Americans!?! That’s confusing and produces confusion! No wonder our country has gone through such identity crises.
God has not only forgiven us, but we who were former sinners are now saints. We are a new creation with a new Identity and Destiny, sanctified, set apart for His glory! Walking in the Spirit does not result from legalistically trying to not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. These are two entirely different mind-sets.
God has freed us from the works of the flesh by the faith of Jesus Christ and called us to walk in His liberty. He wants us to rejoice in this freedom and let the Holy Spirit break us through into new and future adventures in uncharted territory. It’s neither a matter of how well we can keep the letter-perfect dictates of a spiritualized Christian ‘law’, nor of how close we can come to sin without ‘losing our salvation’. It has everything to do with drawing closer day by day to Jesus and letting Him lead us in victory through the enemy’s snares and distractions in this world!

Paul didn’t just receive a preaching-healing gift to justify whatever else he wanted to do ‘in Jesus’ Name’. He had the call to live Christ, follow Christ and preach Christ wherever the Spirit led him. Not just preach and ‘do the stuff’. He was not primarily a preaching machine.
Preaching and other ‘spiritual gifts’ can even be motivated by people-pleasing pride, producing nothing other than lust of the flesh! Ask any honest preacher.
No! Paul was being trained to walk in the Spirit and know His Lord’s leading, yielding to the subtle sensitive tugs on His heart, not just following circumstantial signs.
The Holy Spirit said ‘No!’ to Asia.
At that time it was not His Time.

Paul turned north to Mysia + Bithynia. Surely this was the Lord’s direction!?
But again, “The Spirit did not permit them.”
A lesser man, led by his own feelings, would have been discouraged and turned back to Antioch, questioning whether God had ever really called him to preach in the first place. But Paul was not such a man: he and his team were not easily stopped. Going back was not an option.
Neither to the left nor right? Sounds like Moses at the Red Sea, eh?
So they went straight ahead …to Troas (Troy) and that’s where Paul had his Macedonian vision and clearly “concluded the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
Paul had felt to go to Ephesus: big city, big vision, big exposure?
But God had a bigger vision than Paul!
Paul saw only a city, but God saw Europe, a whole new continent!
Eventually, after 2 years and churches successfully established in Philippi, Thessalonica and Corinth, Paul made it to Ephesus. He later spent 3 years there and evangelized the entire area.
If Paul had only been led by his gifting, and went to Ephesus according to how he might have ‘success’, he might have had good meetings, but missed out on God’s Best.
In His time.
True sons know their Identity to walk in the Spirit + fulfill their Destiny.

IN HIS TIME - Part 3

Jesus didn’t say He’d be there just at the end to meet us when we arrive on the other side.
He says, “I AM with you always, all the way through.”
His light isn’t just at the end of the tunnel; He’s with us in the midst of the darkness and trials. He is the Light unto our path, the Lamp unto our feet.
It’s not enough to just run: we need to run with the right message, direction and timing.
We need to run with patience, endurance, perseverance and never give up.
These all relate to timing.
God’s not looking for showy sprinters, but good starters who finish well.
He’s training marathoners who will run together with Him.
He ran and finished His race well here on earth and opened up a better way for us, a new and living way. His race; we need His pace.

Too often, Christians follow wannabe shooting stars and end up crashing in ditches of legalism or license. These are poor and shameful substitutes for a personal walk in liberty with the Living God. Faith beckons us to cross the threshold, take a daring step through His revelation into the unknown, and then another and another, continually trusting God Himself has opened the way.
Jesus only spoke what He heard the Father speak. Only did what He saw the Father do.
So should we.

Only five centuries ago, much of the Church had so compromised its faith that it had lost its Christian outlook and world-view.
It had become mired in institutionalized form, rather than being a revolutionary force.
It had decided for scaffolding rather than substance.
It had so compromised itself that it became a maintenance-minded status quo of hierarchical, religious people-pleasers.
Called to bring truth to light, it had instead retreated into shadows of fear and mystery. Forsaking a clear stand in the truth of God’s Word, it had become spoiled by vain philosophies of men and painted itself into a corner, ironically defending pagan Aristotelian myth (the earth is flat and if you sail too far, you will drop over the edge) as God’s truth.
Similarly, to a large extent, so have we.

However, Christopher Columbus saw himself and his world in a different, divine light.
He derived both his identity and destiny to dispel darkness and break down old mind-sets from his namesake, Christ the Light-bearer.
He believed the Word of God. For him, Isaiah 40:9 described the ‘circle of the earth’ as a globe and this insight gave him the confidence that he could reach Oriental destinations by sailing westward. He did not believe the fear-mongers’ prophecies that he would fall over the ocean edge and perish. Rather, faith by God’s Word stirred his vision to look beyond the edge and see new lands…a new world to be discovered.
He further read, ‘The islands wait for Me,’ (Isa 60:9) and his eschatology and world-view were revolutionized. Only when the whole earth (including all those yet-to-be-discovered lands) had heard Christ’s gospel could the Lord ever come again… and not before!
Columbus realized he had God’s calling to answer, His destiny to fulfill, this job to do!
He believed His time had come. It was His time to step out in the boat.
Christopher was predestined to follow Christ his Light, break through old borders, open new horizons and discover new lands, all to the further glory of Christ’s name! Many could not grasp his vision, but Columbus sought to fulfill his part. His destiny called him into the unknown and he stepped out in faith on the Word of God.
He believed He was called according to God’s purpose, predestined by God.

Many of us face much this same dilemma in our day.
And here’s where either faith releases or religion entraps.
Rom 8:28’s ‘predestinate’ (the only form of ‘destiny’ in the New Testament) is the English translation of the Greek ‘proorizo’(4309 Strong’s Concordance). While others debated that this meant either the predetermined ‘fate’ of a sovereign God, or the answer of man’s preconceived ‘free will’, Columbus took it in its practical sense and turned his world upside down.
It literally means ‘pro’ = ‘before’ + ‘orizo’ = ‘limit, decree, boundary, horizon’; that is, ‘to see in advance’. As you approach what appears to be earth’s edge, the visible horizon steadily retreats before you. As you confront and break through the ‘old horizon’ boundary, whole new horizons repeatedly appear and further open up before you.
‘Predestinate’ then takes on a whole new perspective!
Rather than being trapped in some fatalistic box, you are now free to journey ‘before horizons’, confident He is leading you out of old world forms into new world vistas.
As in the natural, so also in the spiritual, God has also challenged and broken the religious, traditional, limiting horizons, the status quo, defeatist, God-in-the-box systems of unbelief. While others remained in port, complaining and making excuses why it couldn’t be done, Columbus set sail, opened up new horizons by faith and our world has never been the same!
He believed the Word of God rather than his contemporary fear-mongers.
He knew His time!
The Word of God releases faith to advance in the Spirit and discover new realms of His glory in the kingdom of God NOW!

That’s how the Spirit leads His children in faith.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
We are.. transformed into the same image (changed to be more like Jesus each day)
from glory to glory just as by the Spirit of the Lord!” (2Cor 3:17-18)
Even today, this same Spirit confronts and destroys old, religious, negative boundaries/mindsets and releases sons and daughters to walk in His kingdom faith
…it’s His Time!


So how can I apply this in my time…the situations I’m facing today and tomorrow?
I pray this testimony may be an encouragement to you all!

This last year has not been easy for our family, but the Lord has been with us and led us. As some of you know, Erica and I were involved with a ministry, leading a Training Centre during the last 4 years. Some of you were eagles with us then. We enjoyed wonderful times in God’s Presence. The Holy Spirit revealed our Identity (we are not turkeys, but His eagles) to release us into our Destiny (get our 2 wings to fly and soar with Christ) and fulfill God’s kingdom purpose in our lives.
However, in the midst of these ‘glories’, strong discrepancies appeared between the ministry’s professed vision-values and its actual reality. My wife and I met with the leadership and challenged what we discerned to be hypocrisy and deception. We did not seek to condemn; we simply sought to be honest and loving, at the same time. Part of an eagle’s training is to simply use both wings: speak the truth in love.
We did. It was not received. We knew our time was finished. However, for the sake of the students, I felt we needed to stay until the end of the term…another 2 ½ months. This would not be easy, but somehow I felt strongly that this was necessary.
Time did not fly by; in fact, it often seemed to grind to a halt. Especially when the ministry went into revival mode and God appeared to be suddenly blessing (?) what we had questioned! It all grew very confusing!

Finally, the last day of the semester arrived and our class shared in a time of communion. Students were speaking their hearts and I felt I needed to also.
So after others had shared about how they were facing changes, I also told them about ours: this would probably be our last year as leaders in the Training Centre. Many responded: some with understanding; others were upset. It’s not easy to go against the flow of what appears. However, I felt I had to take a stand, be honest publicly and leave the rest to the Lord.

That was on Friday. Sunday night was graduation. Monday we were finished!
So I thought: “Now I can just kick back and finally rest…let’s get a movie!”

Do you think God can speak any way He wants?

He definitely speaks through His Word and His Spirit in many ways: people, circumstances, thoughts, feelings, dreams, but what about movies?
Is He free to speak and confirm whatever way He wants? Come and See!

Looking through the titles on the DVD racks, I thought I should get a chick flick for Erica. Found one, but can’t even remember what it was now. But just in case she didn’t like my first choice, I thought I’d better get a back-up. I walked up and down the rows, sampling different covers. I picked them up and checked them over, then put them down again. One seemed to linger longer in my hands: a baseball story called “Off the Black”. Never heard of it! The popular movies all had multiple copies on the shelf; this one stood alone. So much for it being well-known and popular! Nick Nolte was the lead actor. I’d heard of him, but nothing too earth-shaking. Put it down, continued sampling. No particular movie suited my mood or taste, and I found myself back with “Off the Black”.
I reread the storyline. Again put it down, and picked it up a third time.
Finally I decided, “Oh, why not?!’ and took it home.

That evening we watched the chick flick, but Erica lost interest halfway through and went to bed. However, I was now in vacation mode and wanted some amusement. I wanted to turn my mind off and just relax.
Curious, I popped in “Off the Black”.
Scene opened: a baseball diamond. Nick Nolte’s character, a somewhat rounded, 60ish and balding umpire calls out, “Ball Four!” and in walks the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. ‘Off the Black’ means ‘off target; outside the strike zone’. That meant a loss for the teenage pitcher and he was not a happy camper. He’s so upset, in fact, he wants revenge for what he views as a bad call that cost him the game. So he and a couple of his buddies decide to trash the ump’s yard. A few nights later, 2:30 in the morning, they strike: general mayhem, toilet paper strewn throughout the trees, a rock crashes through Nick’s car’s side window. Inside, ‘Nick’ is passed out in his easy chair, surrounded by empty beer bottles, TV still on, but no one’s watching …not much of a life! But the breaking window awakens him, he rises, stumbles groggily to the doorway and catches the pitcher as he tries to make his getaway.
“What…? Who…? he stammers, trying to assess what’s going on and what he’ll do.
He can only threaten, “You’ll pay for this! You’re going to fix this up… or else!”
“Ah, stop bugging me, old man!”
“Old man!? I’ll show you!”
But before either of them does anything foolish, the teenager relents and over the next few afternoons, returns to clean up his mess. The two even begin to strike up a friendly relationship.
Also during this time, Nick receives an invitation to an upcoming high school grad reunion. He graduated in 1966. Same year as me! Hmmmm!?
Looking at his life, he feels like a real loser, a turkey, no eagle at all. No family, no measure of any success whatever. He feels he has nothing to share with old grad friends. But somehow this crazy idea gets in his head. He fights it, but the next day when the kid comes over, he makes his offer.
“I’ve got this invitation to my grad reunion. I was thinking about going, but then I figured I really got nothing to tell anyone ...no stories, no family, no exciting experiences. But then I was also thinkin’… that window’s gonna cost you a lot to fix and seein’ you haven’t got money like that, uhh… so I was thinking, how about you come with me to the grad, be my son for the day, and we’ll call it even, hey?”
“You’re crazy!” and the kid stormed off.
However, he reconsidered, came back in a few hours, and both agreed to the deal.
Over the next few days, their relationship grew and suddenly the scene shifts to a boat out in a lake and the two of them fishing. The shadows show it’s late afternoon; the kid’s impatience shows they haven’t had much luck.

‘Want to call it a day? Haven't had any bites all day.”
Nick replies, ‘You're a real whiner, you know that! Do you know Henry Schmidt?’

… I believe I dropped off the couch! I could not believe my ears! Had I heard correctly? Wasn’t that my name?

Nick continued. I listened, scarcely able to take in what followed.
“This fellow was a pitcher from Texas. In his rookie year, he played for the Dodgers, won 20 games. Know what he did for his 2nd year?
He sent in his 2nd season contract unsigned with a note attached to it: I do not like to live in the East & I won't report.
He never played another game in the majors.”

‘Why?’ the kid asked.


Because Henry Schmidt knew he had to walk away.
Because some voice deep inside of him was telling him it was time.
Now, do you have a voice deep inside of you that's telling you, “It’s time?”’

And that was the end of it! A couple minutes' dialogue out in a boat, totally unrelated to the rest of the movie, a scene out of nowhere with my name in it! It’s not like my name is that popular that it pops up normally in books or movies. I sat there…literally dumbfounded!
I reached for the remote and pressed Replay. Played it again. Sure enough…that was my name! Clearly I was not hearing things.
And then the message!
Henry Schmidt knew he had to walk away because he had a voice deep inside telling him it was time!
That fit! I played it again…and again…and again.
But then I started second guessing: maybe someone’s made a mistake or they’re playing a cruel joke on me. But it was no mistake. I thought of waking Erica up. But then I figured if it was true, it would keep until morning.
It was true. Check out the movie for yourself. In fact, I’ve attached it to the end of this blog. I don’t know if the director really knew why he was putting that scene in his movie, but I am convinced it was solely and ultimately for my benefit! The message and its timing were extraordinary! Exactly the issue I had been facing! Precisely what we had felt, but without any external confirmations! In fact, what evidence there was seemed to show I was dead wrong!

My confidence level soared! I googled ‘Henry Schmidt’ and sure enough: he was not a fictional character, but a real pitcher, played his rookie season for Brooklyn in 1903. Exactly like Nick had described!
It’s not my name in the movie that was so amazing, but how I’d chosen it (or had it chosen me?) the very day after our classes finished, neither a week/month/year before or after, but that very day!
The timing was more than incidental; it was Godcidental!
And the message: it was a prophetic word for us to know that regardless of what people said or what things looked like, it was God’s opinion and timing that mattered most.
Not too many stood with us during the test, but the Lord wanted us to know He was standing with us! And He led us away when it was the right time in His time.
Paul writes, “But the Lord stood with me” (2Tim 4:17) and when it comes right down to it, what else really matters?

Do you have a voice deep inside you telling you, ‘It’s time?’

P.S. Click on the following and you can actually check out the actual scene itself!
Isn’t God amazing?

Saturday, June 5, 2010


This is a first for me!!!
My 6th trip to Ghana & Nigeria and finally I am able to not only phone out(that 1st was in 2001), but I can access my own blog & let you know:
There was a time this was known as The Dark Continent, but the Holy Spirit has changed all that superstition and my report is:
The Light is filling this continent to overflowing.
The warfare is intense, but Christ has already conquered and through Him we, His Church, are more than conquerors!
I'm here in the middle of what used to be a civil war zone, centre of slavery, dumping ground for so-called cursed babies whose mothers had died giving them birth. BUT GOD has turned what the devil meant for evil to good.
"Out of the eater has come something to eat;
out of the bitter God has brought something sweet."
Bitter waters are our opportunity to apply The Cross to our situation & see sweet healing come. This is the testimony coming out of the Depths of Africa's Heart. What has been misused, abused, raped, terrorized, taken for granted, written off as only good for exploiting, God has rather said,
"Out of Africa (Egypt) I have brought forth my son."
"This is my pearl of great price and I have bought the entire field!"
I see a fire coming out of Africa, breaking through the Moslem offensive, turning its terror by the unconquerable message of The Resurrection, triumphing over:
all false religious + political systems,
greed + deceptive economic manipulations,
till the gospel of God's Heart touches every nation
& His glory fills the earth as the waters cover the sea!

It's happened + it's happening: The Light is shining; the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.
They received what we gave but now the West needs what they've got!
Here's a good report: the giants are big, but Our God is bigger!
Don't settle for a remnant when God reveals Harvest!
Let's go in & take the land!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Out-of-the-Box Apostolic Breaking Centres

God is far greater than our natural mind’s understanding. In Christ there is always more than we can ever ask or think. His ways are higher than ours; His understanding is far beyond our limited comprehension. Although we try so often to figure God out, He simply will not be put in a box.
God hates boxes; He always breaks out of them. They tried to put Jesus in a box once. He broke out. It’s called The Resurrection.
God is more than we can figure out and this essential Nature therefore challenges all of our mental, emotional, theological and religious boxes. He changes us from box-making to box-breaking. True apostolic ministry reflects His Nature. It does not focus on form or programs, but reveals a five-fold pattern to help believers recognize, confront and break out of these boxes, affirmed in their new Identity in Christ, equipped in His Word + Spirit, and released into their true Destiny!
Scripture provides our model:

‘And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.’ (Eph 4:11-12)

God gives gifts to equip and release the saints to do the work of ministry and increase the body’s effectiveness. To this end, there is a need for the Lord to raise up more than Bible schools and seminaries in our day. Our Western church has unfortunately focused lopsidedly on the intellectual side of faith and therefore teeters on irrevelance. By teaching academic and theological decision-making rather than modelling apostolic and prophetic disciple-making, we overlook His call to personally walk with God and vitally impact our communities. Just as Jesus trained His 12 disciples and the Early Church mentored its next generations, so our vision must be to raise up a responsive, radical generation in our day, filled with His Word + Spirit, confident in who they are 'in Christ' and passionate to fulfill His purpose.
There is so much more in Christ’s Person + Purpose than we have grasped. Purpose is good, but it doesn’t drive the Church. When I read the Scripture: it was the Spirit who drove Jesus into the wilderness, not just purpose. We have to get our priorities clear: Christ must be in the driver’s seat, not our vision, desire or any other nice-sounding religious substitute. He has given us the tools and now we need to learn how to use them. We need the Word + Spirit together in our lives to break through into new and greater realms of knowing Him and obeying His will. Together, the Word + Spirit lead us into a greater reality and awareness of His Presence and Power, the fullness of His life.
God has called us to this cutting-edge lifestyle with Him which will also challenge and equip the next generation of disciples.

I see Training Centres rising up: not degree-granting institutions. Christians: true disciples and apostles, don’t get their identity from special letters in front of or behind their names: they receive it by the Father's name written in their hearts and on their foreheads.
I see Equipping Bases helping disciples answer the call of God on their lives, discovering who they really are in Christ, and then releasing apostles to His harvest fields.
But those who would be sent first need to be discipled. You may jump into an envelope, but you can't lick it. Apostles are simply 'sent ones'; they cannot send themselves. Someone else needs to lick your envelope to send you. It’s not enough for you to just want to run; you must have the message burning in your heart before you race into the fields. Otherwise, you will be like young Ahimaaz who wanted to run to King David with news of the battle, but didn’t have the message. When he arrived, he had to step aside in favour of another who did. The Lord wants all of us to be ready to carry His full gospel so we will not be disqualified in the day He would use us. (2Sam 18:19-32)
Young race horses need to be trained.
To carry this gospel, we need both the power of the Holy Spirit and the truth of His Word. The Pharisees prided themselves on knowing God's Word, but Jesus reproved them for twisting their knowledge of God into vain traditions and producing dead religion. All their study and formulae for righteousness only brought them to where they did not recognize the Word Himself when He appeared before them in the flesh. Jesus admonished them, ‘You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.’ (John 5:39)
They declared and believed in the concept and doctrine of a Messiah, but when Jesus The True Messiah actually came, they said,
‘You’re not Him! Your ministry does not line up with our understanding of who Messiah should be. The real Messiah will come to set Israel free from Roman political domination. He would not break the law by healing on the Sabbath like you do; and He definitely would never call God His Father!'
Jesus offended them (John 5:18).
He did not fit the Pharisee box, so they rejected Him.
‘He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.’ (John 1:11-12)

When Jesus’ disciples left all to follow and serve Him, He began their training by revealing His identity. They needed to clearly know who He was in order to know who they were. Effective leaders know who they follow.
Matthew 16:13-27 recounts how Jesus brought His disciples to Caesarea Philippi, the Jordan River's source, to reveal and release this truth in their hearts and minds.
He asked them, 'Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?'
And they responded by giving others’ opinions: 'John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.'
Then He challenged them even more directly: 'But who do you say that I am?'
Simon Peter spoke out: 'You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!'
Jesus commended this confession of faith as the very foundation and life of His church. It is absolutely clear: membership in the body of Christ comes through first identifying and confessing Christ, not reciting some doctrinal creed. Regarding salvation, the old saying is true: 'It’s not what you know, but who you know that counts!' Just like a river, salvation flows from the source. The gift of Salvation opens only by clearly recognizing and acknowledging The Saviour – Jesus! A Christian's personal identity is inextricably linked to who Jesus is in us and who we are in Christ.

Having clarified His identity, Jesus then proceeded to further reveal His destiny and purpose: He was going to Jerusalem to suffer, die and be raised to life again on the third day. However, this second revelation proved more difficult for the disciples to grasp. Peter once again spoke out, but this time he sternly rebuked the very One he had just moments before confessed to be God! The Greek here actually conveys the sense that he physically grabbed and forcefully shook Jesus!
'Far be it from You, Lord,' Peter declared, 'this shall not happen to You.' (Matt 16:22)
Peter and the other disciples could not understand how Jesus’ death could possibly be God’s plan. Jesus directly confronted this confused mind-set. He not only rebuked Peter, but the spirit at the heart of this opposition – Satan, the opponent and adversary of every one of God’s purposes.
Scripture clearly describes Jesus’ ministry mandate: 'For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.' (1John 3:8)
The disciples could not fathom Christ’s kingdom and how it was to be established and administered. Their worldview and kingdom mind-set were very much akin to that of the Pharisees: an earthly government with earthly means and methods. Having just confessed Jesus as Messiah, their understanding was that they would now triumphantly turn toward Jerusalem with Him to receive this kingdom, not to die.
Jesus and His Way were challenging their boxes again and this made them uncomfortable.
But God is always bigger than our box and a large part of fulfilling our purpose (ie. plundering the devil's goods) comes only through our hearts and minds being freed from reasonable unbelief and rebellion, so that we follow Christ wherever He leads, regardless of our earthly expectation. This applies especially when He leads us to 'our Jerusalems' to die.

Jesus dealt similarly with this identity/destiny issue when John the Baptist sent two of his disciples from prison asking, ‘Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?' Jesus first answered John’s disciples by pointing out all the miraculous works He was doing, signs confirming that indeed that Coming One had Come. John had also come to a place where his expectation of who Jesus was and what he understood concerning His identity did not coincide. There were gaps in his understanding. Had he missed something? Christ answered John’s questions concerning His identity, but then revealed even more about John's.
'Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.
For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.
And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear!' (Matt 11:7-15)
Jesus not only informed His listeners about His true identity, but also John's; and then gave even further revelation about what actually constitutes the kingdom of God!

Jesus identified John the Baptist as ‘a prophet… and more than a prophet.’(v9)
John had a greater ministry than we understand; probably even greater than John himself understood at times, as evidenced by his apparent doubts about Jesus at this point. Jesus said that none ‘born of woman’ came close to being as great as John: who he was or what he did. In other words, no ordinary, natural-born person compared with him. No one born until that time, including such Old Testament heroes as Moses, David, or Elijah, was greater. John was the greatest!

Did Jesus mean that John did greater miracles? ...but not one single miracle is recorded in John’s ministry!

Did John preach better sermons? ...his words definitely hit their intended target, but what truly singled him out as the greatest and even more than a prophet?

Prophets under the Old Covenant were raised up and commissioned by God to call Israel back to His holy standard of righteousness that had been revealed at Sinai. Israel’s entire history from Sinai to their Babylonian Captivity had been a continuous cycle of rebellion, repentance and short-lived restorations. God hated this idolatry and even told Jeremiah to stop praying for them at one point! 70 years in Babylon cleansed them from their idol-worshiping once for all and after they returned to Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah, idolatry never again raised its ugly head.
God broke their idolatry box.
However, the scribes and Pharisees then led Israel astray by their religious traditions, legalistic interpretations and additions to the law. Essentially, they created a god out of their own concept of the law! They missed the law’s true purpose. They couldn’t comprehend that it was never meant to save anyone, but rather intended to convict of sin, drive them to their knees and bring them to Christ.

'The law was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made;
... confined all under sin that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
The law was our schoolmaster, to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.' (Gal 3:19-24)
When John the Baptist came out of the Judean wilderness preaching, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,' (Matt 3:2) he was therefore calling Israel back into covenant relationship with their God. He confronted sin in whatever shape and form it was present, especially when it wore religious, Pharisaical garments.
John knew his call and God’s purpose for his life. At his birth, his father Zechariah had prophesied, 'he will be great in the sight of the Lord… filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb… and turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord.' (Luke 1:15-16)
Even more essentially, John knew his own identity. When priests and Levites came from Jerusalem asking, “Who are you?” he denied he was Christ, Elijah or ‘the Prophet,’ but simply quoted Isaiah 40:3:
'I am the voice on one crying in the wilderness,
Make straight the way of the Lord.' (John 1:23)
John knew both who he was and who he wasn’t.
John was the watershed marker for the end of the Old Covenant and the beginning of the New.
He was not ‘the Prophet’ foretold by Moses (John 1:21), but John pointed to Him.
Even more, Jesus revealed that, if they could receive it, John was the Elijah prophesied to come in Malachi 3:1 and 4:5. Therefore, for those who are willing, this Scripture has indeed been fulfilled (Matt 11:14). There was definitely more to John than he himself, or Jesus’ disciples understood then, or than most believers even today understand.
John’s ministry exceeded that of any Old Covenant prophet before him. He had called Israel to return to God’s standard of righteousness and virtually the entire nation responded! Yet he saw even further. He witnessed the heavens open, the Holy Spirit descend as a dove and heard the Father’s voice mark Jesus as His Beloved Son.
John called Israel to behold Jesus Christ their Messiah and receive the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)
Only the Lamb could forgive Israel’s sin once for all.
Only the Lamb could break the cycle of religious idolatry, fulfill the Old Covenant and bring in the New!
John knew who he was and so he was able to recognize Christ and proclaim what God was doing through Him. What a privilege!
No other Old Testament prophet had been given such honour to fully reveal the identity of Israel’s promised Messiah.
However, after stating the true greatness of John the Baptist’s ministry, Jesus reveals an even greater truth to believers: our identity today ‘in Christ’ and His subsequent call on our lives surpasses even what John the Baptist knew!
Oh, it just keeps on getting better and better!
‘But he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force.' (Matt 11:11-12)
Once the Cross came into effect, our sins were forgiven and washed away by Christ’s Blood. The Holy Spirit’s presence and power was poured out at Pentecost to confirm we are sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, no longer slaves or orphans. What were once merely vague, mysterious shadows is now clear revelation light.

And God is on the offensive through us! Jesus is building His Church: a passionate, zealous army that will march against the gates of hell. Those called, filled and released in the power of the Spirit dispossess the enemy, take the kingdom and possess the land. Hell’s prison gates will not prevail.
'The whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.' (Habakkuk 2:14)
John had not been able to fully comprehend this prophecy, nor did he live to see it fulfilled. However, even the least in the kingdom of heaven now has this privilege: to know Him and walk in His Spirit. A dwarf on a mountain sees further than a giant in the valley. Jesus has enthroned us with Him on Mount Zion, given us His view of the whole earth and called us to fill it with His glory. In Christ, we truly are greater than John or anything he ever imagined!

Unfortunately, many believers do not clearly grasp their identity in Christ Jesus and consequently are not released into their destiny.
We often continue to perceive God’s call and provision through Old Covenant glasses and fall short of our fullness in Christ. We fail to take hold of all that has now come into effect through Christ’s Death, Resurrection and Ascension to the throne of the universe. Too often we do not enter the full, abundant life Christ has purchased for us, but continue to live far below what is already ours, passively accepting the lies, half-truths and condemnations of the enemy and false teachers. We remain ignorant of both who we are in Christ and what His call and plan is for us!
In God’s timetable, 'The law and the prophets were until John.' (Luke 16:16) The law fulfills its purpose when it leads us to the end of ourselves where we see our total incapacity and admit we need a Saviour. We cannot save ourselves; we need Christ. The Old Testament law then becomes obsolete, and must give way to the ‘law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.’ (Rom 8:2)
We are called and empowered to ‘walk in the Spirit’ (Gal 5:16); the counterfeit religious crutches of either legalism or license are not options for believers. We do not overcome lusts of the flesh by substituting a new system of religious principles and formulae for the true, simple gospel. Having begun in the Spirit, God calls us to continue in faith, releasing the life of Christ in us! However, we are often like ‘foolish Galatians,’ who lack understanding and revert to dead forms of religious behaviour. Since Jesus announced, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of heaven is at hand!' (Mark 1:15) the Holy Spirit has been empowering believers to believe the whole gospel, break the box, step out of the boat and walk on the waters of life, trusting God to move in and through them!

Apollos was such a man in such a boat. He was highly educated, fervent in spirit, gifted to speak powerfully, but living beneath Christ’s standard –below the spiritual poverty line. He knew only the baptism of John and therefore he needed Aquila and Priscilla to take him aside and 'explain the way of God more accurately.' (Acts 18:24-28)
Apollos had a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. So he humbled himself and received scriptural instruction from the Holy Spirit through others. He went through God’s Bible school. After receiving ministry of a fuller revelation of the kingdom of God, he was able to refute even those Jews who resisted the gospel, 'showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ-Messiah, the very One the prophets had foretold, the goal of all Old Covenant prophecy.

Apostolic ministry goes beyond John’s revelation of 'baptism of repentance for remission of sins’ (Luke 3:3). John himself prophesied that the Messiah would bring a subsequent baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire (Luke 3:16). The saying,‘Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven’ might make a catchy bumper sticker, but it is bad theology. This statement is only a first part of a whole truth and by itself incomplete. There is more than a ticket to heaven in Jesus! Sins are forgiven and reckoned buried through baptism in Christ, but the power of the Holy Spirit also releases Christ’s very life in and through us. Christ Himself lives through us! And His divine fire burns through us to pull down opposing gates of hell and set even more captives free!

Paul later met another group of 12 disciples in Ephesus who knew only the baptism of John and had not ‘so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.’ (Acts 19:1-10) He preached the whole gospel to them. They believed, received and were not only baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus but, when Paul laid his hands on them, they all spoke in tongues and prophesied.

What did they prophesy? Rev 17:19 says 'the spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus.' I believe they prophesied about Jesus, the New Covenant He fulfilled, and the kingdom of God that He established as a present reality, not just a future promise. They became witnesses to the Holy Spirit’s outpouring in and through them. I am sure they no longer questioned whether the Holy Spirit existed. He had filled them and they overflowed with His power!

Paul was greatly encouraged and returned to the synagogue in Ephesus where he
‘spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God.’ (Acts 19:8)
But when some of the Jews, unable to make the transition from the Old Covenant to the New, did not believe but hardened their hearts, Paul moved his Training Centre into Tyrannus’ house. This became the base for an equipping and releasing ministry that spread the gospel throughout the entire Roman province of Asia in the next two years!
Our prayer is that God will raise up such Training Centres throughout our land: equipping and sending bases, truly apostolic centres to the nations, not just forms with the fashionable 'apostolic' buzzword attached. As with Jesus and His 12, our heart’s desire is to affirm disciples in their identity and release them to their destiny in Christ. Because we need the full function of the five-fold ministry to bring the church to maturity, we must raise up and release the equipping ministries of the apostle, evangelist, pastor, prophet and teacher:
Evangelists like Philip who will be so led by the Spirit they will leave their multitudes to minister to whomever God directs.
Prophets like Stephen who will preach the good news with a full anointing even if it cuts their hearers to the heart and costs them their lives.
Teachers like Aquila and Priscilla who will ‘explain the way of God more accurately’.
Pastors who will have a heart to shepherd God's flock and not flee like hirelings.
Apostles who will not just call themselves so, but will, like Paul, disciple both individuals and entire churches to know and follow the Lord's leading.
Like Apollos and the Ephesus 12, we need to welcome and embrace each one and take to heart all that Jesus is and has for His Church.
Let us yield to the Holy Spirit as He brings more of His New Covenant truth to light and be ‘established in the present truth.’ (2Pet 1:12)

Church history teaches that many who have been part of previous waves of revival unfortunately resist God’s next waves and do not move with Him from glory to glory. We can only move into the next glory when we have left the last one behind. God has worked in the past and undoubtedly will move again. We must be led by His Presence, rather than comfort-seeking, people-pleasing pressures.
Christ has given us His Word + Spirit, truth + grace, faith + love, as well as charisma + character in right balance. He calls us to mount up with these wings like eagles – the wings of His Word + Spirit. They always agree with and witness to one another. The Holy Spirit gives life to the Word’s truth and the Word gives substance to the Spirit’s power.
Flying on only one wing is not an option! We need both wings in balance. Only when we fly with both wings will we begin to see God's kingdom come more fully here... on earth as it is in heaven.
He is so much more than we can fully comprehend and just when we might think we have Him figured out, He breaks out of 'the box' again, moves on ahead and looks for us to follow. His sheep know His voice and follow The Lamb wherever He leads.
The Father freely reveals our identity to release us into our destiny in Christ.
Are you ready to step out of your boat and walk on the waters?
Will you stick with your 'box' (come on, admit it: your old ways are leaking and ready to sink!) or break out and live the Jesus adventure?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Crisis of Character

Sometimes the most exciting things happen at the most unexpected times. You just have to be ready!
Here's our latest example... a few weeks ago, my wife and I were driving into Vancouver the day after the Olympics had begun. We had not planned on being there or doing this. Transportation advisories had discouraged people from driving their cars into the city: traffic restrictions, blocked-off routes, anticipated delays, the sheer volume of vehicles. All these factors had successfully persuaded most drivers to park their cars and instead take the SkyTrain into the city. But we had got a call that morning from friends who were arriving unexpectedly that same day at Vancouver airport and needed a ride to Abbotsford, so we thought: while we're already going into the city, why not take an hour-long rabbit-trail downtown in our little grey Honda Civic that wouldn't take up much space and see what was happening?
So there we were... naively driving down the freeway, talking about things: how I was feeling that the last while had seemed quite uneventful in our lives, not too much happening day-by-day, not many opportunities for ministry, things pretty well predictably the same each day, ho-hum, not very much excitement at all until...

I pulled off at the 1st Avenue Exit and all of a sudden, large black SUVs came out of nowhere, blocked off our right side, and simultaneously on our left, two others effectively did the same. Just like that, we were boxed in! The car immediately in front of us stopped dead and so did we! I didn't have time to think. Right at that same moment, an ear-shattering 'Boom!' shook our car. We both sat stunned. I looked more closely to the right, but the three SUVs' windows were tinted so I couldn't see from the outside in; you know, the kind that either the FBI or Mafia drive. I was hoping they weren't the latter.
But before I could further evaluate the situation, a squad of full-body-armoured figures surrounded us: helmets, fatigues, even machine guns held high, aimed and ready to fire. Ten, twelve, maybe. I didn't have time to make an exact count. The Boom! had commanded all my attention.
Then four doors opened in the car right in front of us and four hooded individuals exited from each door, two on each side, reversed their direction, and started walking towards our car! I couldn't believe what I was seeing: had we somehow happened on: a terrorist assault? one of the billion-dollar-Olympic security practise sessions? El-Qaeda's Olympic team entry? a foreign invasion? a scene out of Terminator VII?
I even wondered, "Had I been speeding and this was an Olympic-sized speed trap?" Somewhat of an over-the-top reaction, eh? Perhaps I was really still asleep at home in my bed and this was only a wild dream?
But no...those guys in body armour with machine guns didn't go away. They were very real. I just hoped they were the 'good guys' on 'our' side.
But these 4 in the hoodies heading towards us were really unnerving! And most unsettling was the one from the rear driver's side: dark, unshaven, his raised hoodie concealing most of his face made him look even more mysterious and sinister. My apprehension peaked when I noticed his right hand fumbling some object from his pocket as he continued walking toward us; he was only a few steps away and the object clearly was... a handgun! Thoughts raced through my mind, "What if these 4 hoodies and the 10 machine guns are on opposite sides and decide to shoot out their disagreement right here now with us in the middle?'
He took another step towards us.
I cried out to Erica, "Get down!" In the same motion, I reached clumsily for the door lock to ensure this guy and his gun would not be able to gain access to our car. Really! How ridiculous! As if one little door lock was going to protect us against him and his gun: he could have easily shot out our window if he'd wanted!
He was now right at my window. I tried to hide myself by retracting my body under the steering wheel. As if!
But then... he kept walking right on by and disappeared behind our view. I heaved a sigh of inner relief! We were still alive! But Erica's curiosity kept getting the better of her and she lifted her head above the dashboard to see what was going on. "Erica, Get down!" I shouted, as quietly as possible, and that's when we spontaneously invented this peculiar game of bobble-head: everytime she poked her head above the dash, I would put my hand on her head and push her down.
Then the scene changed. One of the full-armoured machine-gun toters on our passenger side produced a loud-hailer megaphone and boomed out, "You... in the front seat!"
We both wondered, "Is that 'You' us?"
"Drop everything. Put your hands up... in the air... slowly... open the door. Get out of the car!"
I dropped everything just in case he really did mean us. You don't want to be wrong in a situation like that. You could be dead wrong. However, I couldn't see very clearly from my hiding-place beneath the dashboard, so I wasn't exactly sure. I waited, and with no subsequent reaction from the guys with the guns, I inched my head up a little, over the dashboard, just enough so my eyes could discern whether or not we were indeed their object of attention. However, their focus seemed fully directed two cars ahead of us, on the one in front of the 4 hoodies'. I could see more clearly now: the guns were not pointing at us, but straight ahead at that second car. More relief!
It's amazing how you really don't have time to think about what you will do at a time like this.
You either respond or react. That decision has been made a long time before.

But I still had no assurance that the whole place wasn't going to explode in a hail of gunfire at any moment!
I saw movement in the suspect vehicle and slowly, a figure emerged from the back passenger side.
"First: put your hands over your head. Next: turn around. Then: start walking back towards us!"
The figure turned and became more identifiable: a man, medium height, disheveled, thin... even gaunt, long greying hair, a rather 'disconnected' look to his face. But one word immediately resonated in my mind: ugly. Not a merely physical ugly, but something beyond that: a spiritual ugly... evil personified. His greasy, dirty hair straggling to his shoulders was in turn strangled by an artwork of leaping, menacing, flaming neck tattoos. He started moving towards the megaphone and our car. It felt like the devil himself was approaching. Was he going to submit or erupt?
Henry, get down!
But my curiosity got the better of me and my eyes were soon peering over the dash again, watching I knew not what unfold around us.
'Ugly' soon stood right in front of our car and was quickly surrounded by the machine-gunners. The unshaven hoodie dude moved in, grabbed 'Ugly's' arms, and quickly handcuffed them behind his back. That was assuring: it was looking more like both the machine-gun + hoodie dudes were indeed on the same side and I was growing more hopeful that their side also was our side!
My breathing steadied a bit more. My confidence and eyes both rose a little higher, over the dashboard.
"OK!" the megaphone bellowed. "You, driver! Same thing: drop everything, raise your hands, open the door, slowly exit your vehicle!"
By this time, both Erica and I were transfixed, drinking in the amazing scene transpiring around us.
Life was suddenly very exciting... too exciting, really!
We watched and this time a woman emerged, turned and walked straight towards us. As she approached our car, she started protesting, "What's going on here? We're just out for a drive! We haven't done anything! What's the idea? How can this be happening? We haven't done anything!"
You know how you can sometmes just tell automatically when someone isn't telling the truth? Well, this was clearly one of those times. Every word she protested just mounted more evidence against her. Another of the hoodies, this time a woman, grabbed her arms and, as with 'Ugly', quickly handcuffed 'The Lady doth Protest too Much methinks'.
Then the megaphoner played out the same procedure with a third man in the backseat. However, when this one turned and made his way toward us, he somehow didn't do everything as asked. 3 or 4 of the body-armoured machine-gunners immediately surrounded him, and not only slapped handcuffs on him, but took the extra precaution and threw him down to the ground right in front of our car! I raised my head higher above the dash to see his head facedown on the pavement right under our hood. My eyes joined the focused surveillance of 4 loaded machine-guns. He was not going anywhere!
There were no more suspects in the vehicle. The unshaven hoodie dude sidled over to my window, gave me a curious grin and I read his lips through the glass, "Are you all right?"
I don't know why, but I didn't really hear him. I somehow felt I first needed to see his lips mouth those words, rather than just hear words without knowing their source. I wanted proof these were in fact his words. I needed to connect those words with that man. I finally felt enough assurance he was indeed on 'our side', so I gingerly rolled my window part ways down and asked incoherently,
"So... are we going to be on the 6 o'clock News?"
"Don't think so," he replied. "You've had enough excitement for one day, haven't you? You should be on your way home in a few minutes."
In a short time, the machine-gunners had corralled the 3 detainees off to one side. Erica and I both sat up in our seats and shared a mutual hug of relief. Within a few minutes, what had appeared to be an alarming terrorist attack had turned rather to be a routine police drug-dealer takedown. Arms that had minutes ago threatened machine-gunfire now waved us through the maze of black SUVs.
The 3 suspects sat to the side on a grassy knoll, hoods pulled over their heads. The Lady was no longer protesting. 'Ugly' was still ugly, even with his new hoodie. 'Face-in-the-ground' was turned right side up.
The crisis had come and gone. We resumed our drive downtown, somewhat still in shock and awe, wondering what all indeed had taken place in this, our Olympic experience! And we hadn't even entered the city yet!
But one major change had already happened in me: I learned to be content at home: the seemingly unexciting, all-too-predictable, everyday, not-too-much-is-happening... securing... times on this road of life.
You just can't ever tell what might happen at the next exit!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Crisis of Character - 2

You are who you are. Not just who you think you are or try to present yourself to be to others. The first is reality; all others are mere masks.
And there is nothing like a crisis to strip away those masks and let the truth of who you really are either be exposed to your shame or revealed to His glory.
When I previously wrote in Crisis of Character about our episode with the Olympic SWAT team, I recounted my own spontaneous response to the rapid course of events. There was no time for logical, formulated response: immediate reactions simply flowed from who I am; it was me, for better or worse. In retrospect, I find it hilarious how I tried to evade the approaching gun-toting hoodie by ducking under our steering wheel and locking the door. I mean, he'd already seen us and had the guy been intent on doing us harm, our burrowing down would surely not have saved us. He could have easily shot out the window. But here I was, frantically trying to lock the door!
However, my biggest surprise was our all-too-evident innate and insatiable curiosity to try and see what was happening! Encircled by a task force of a dozen highly-armed gunmen, potentially in the middle of a terrorist shoot-out, and still Erica & I could not resist sticking our noses up above the dashboard to try and figure out what was all going on around us! Even with a highly suspect gunman coming at us, this primary need to know seemed to overrule any possible danger and nothing could keep us crouched down, out of sight. We wanted to see, and our sense of adventure overcame the possible peril.
So we are who we are, even if that means discovering certain traits and qualities about our selves we would rather not own too closely. That's still who we are and before we can change, we need to recognize and acknowledge them.
Jesus confidently knew and consistently demonstrated who He was. Even as man, He was one with The Great 'I AM' and not only clearly proclaimed, 'I AM The Way, The Truth and The Life,' but acted in accordance. He not only stated He and The Father are One, but demonstrated this with all His life. Scripture not only teaches truth about Christ, but also evidences that truth in who Christ was and is. Jesus is The Word of God. The Word made flesh. The Bible's internal evidence elucidates a Man not at all caught up with Himself, but the express image and embodiment of The Father's selfless Love. Scripture does not only talk about love, nor just say Jesus is God's love; it reveals Him to be The Father's Love in word and deed, thought and action.
God is Love. Love in its essence does not look to itself, but to the welfare of others.
Jesus is Love. These are not merely words: hypocritcal double-talk or double-mindedness. He does not only say this; Jesus Himself is the revelation of what He says and His actions clearly and consistently demonstrate this. No duplicity, just simplicity. The Man and His Message are one!
One of the most profoundly beautiful illustrations of this simple, selfless love comes in Jesus' arrest in Gethsemane. This episode is both a richly vivid drama and a poignant black-and-white snapshot of this truth in action. The lines in the battle between Darkness and Light are clear here; evil and good stand in stark contrast. There is no mixture, no grey area, no middle ground. Jesus came into the garden with his disciples to pray; Judas came with troops to prey upon Him. This is the crisis point of Jesus' life and ministry. He had said this is why He came into the world, and here we see His Person fully embrace and fulfill His Purpose. Identity Releases Destiiny in this moving portrait, especially in John's gospel.
John 18:4 recounts that in the face of this menacing attack: perhaps 100 or even more soldiers against 1 unarmed Man,
'Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward.'
Any ordinary man in such a situation would, I believe, be concerned with his own self-preservation and, desiring to protect his own life, turn and run in the opposite direction from such a mob. I would probably seek out any possible escape route or refuge: perhaps a tree, a bush, even under a steering wheel! any hiding place that would afford some shelter from the ensuing trial. But there is no indication of flight here at all. Troops, lanterns, torches, weapons... none of these caused Jesus to flinch from His purpose. He stood His ground.
Knowing 'all things that are about to come upon us' would only be more incentive for us mere mortals to make our escape ahead of time. But Jesus knew the full details of what was awaiting Him beforehand and still He did not run. Rather, He faced the crisis, confronted the confronters and embraced His Cross.
He asked them who they were seeking. They answered, 'Jesus of Nazareth'. He did not to try to evade recognition or hide amongst His group of disciples to avoid capture. His disciples were the opposite of Spartacus' who all proclaimed his name as their own to conceal their leader's identity in their midst. No: these disciples rather forsook Him and fled for their own lives while one of His own, Judas, had already singled him out with a kiss.
When Jesus replied, 'I AM HE', the soldiers did not advance to arrest Him. Quite the opposite: John says they drew back and fell to the ground! An amazing reversal of the naturally to-be-expected roles! Were Jesus only a mere man facing such a crisis: an entire detachment threatening, his own disciples sleeping, confused and even betraying Him, He could not have stood. In this scene with all against Him, you'd think Jesus would be the one falling back, trying to avoid capture, but NO! He's the one advancing towards them! and they're the ones falling back!
Then, as they tried to pick themselves up from the ground, He again answered them, 'I AM the one; so if you seek me, then let these others go their way.'
Not only does He make no attempt here to rally his sleeping troops, but Jesus does all He can to clarify their non-involvement and secure their release. Furthermore, He mounts no self-defense at all. Most would cry out like the woman driver in my story, 'What's going on here? We haven't done anything wrong! It's not fair! We were just here for a snooze in the park!'
Quite clearly, Jesus had no intention of defending Himself: He had a much bigger view in mind. He knew what this drama was all about. He had come to die and nothing was going to deter this. There was no self here to protect; never had been and never will be. He is God and has nothing to prove. His life speaks. The time had come. As a lamb led to the slaughter, He was dumb to His shearers. He did not protest, but rather submitted to the process. He gave His life and enacted The New Covenant in His Blood.
Jesus went forward and so must we. His Church can neither continue sleeping nor falling back. We must press forward. Weighing possible detriment to our own reputations if we stand and follow only exposes us as cowardly hypocrites. Nor can we react as Peter; such violence betrays the very spirit of the One we say we follow. He is I AM WHO I AM and so we must allow Him to live WHO HE IS in and through us. His purity, integrity and humility are essential commodities in even contemporary North American Christian life. They are neither fashionable, expendable nor negotiable; they are His ever necessary costly evidences of His Presence.
Jesus initiated and established His New Covenant: the Kingdom of God is now unfolding in the drama of human history. His Passion was no mere play, but Act I of an entirely new revolutionary reality. His followers are not mere actors called to mouth His lines on life's stage, but to live out His Word as led by His Spirit through who we are in Him and He is us. Agents of revelation. Ambassadors of decisive change, bringing on earth as it is in heaven. He went forward, His Kingdom continues to move forward and so must we. Let us pull down strongholds, move mountains and crash gates of hell -- for His glory!