When Lightning Strikes

lightning

 

Lightening is powerful. It cannot be predicted, but can be anticipated. Lightning is a meteorological phenomenon that essentially (really over simplified summary coming) is a result of the conditions above meeting appropriate, coordinating conditions below (equal electric charges of opposite polarity). When that happens, the result is a powerful flash of lightning. Other than the heat, light and energy released – lighting also oxidizes nitrogen in the air into nitrates which are deposited by rain and can fertilize plant growth. So lightning, a result of coordinating conditions above and below, is powerful AND contributes to conditions for growth. Interesting.

Revival is similar to lightning. Revival is a result of coordinating, conducive conditions above and beneath. But there is a significant, encouraging, and I believe challenging difference. To an almost total extent, the conditions “above” are always right. By that I mean that God is never not in the mood for powerful expressions, manifestations of His Spirit’s person and work that lead to greater conditions for growth. The contingency is with the conditions below.

Heaven is poised and longs to influence earth. From the beginning of the Gospel the message has been that the Kingdom is here – and to respond correctly by repentance and faith (Mark 1:15). And the concurrent imperative has been to pray for and proclaim the interests and influence of heaven on earth (Matt. 6:10, 16:19, 18:18). God has already declared and demonstrated His intent and activity: “in the last days I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh…” (Acts 2:17ff). Heaven is open and committed. The Spirit has been paid for and poured out (John 14:16-18).

The conditions below must change. Jesus implied as much with the statement, “when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). The implication being that the variable is not on the side of heaven, but earth. Jesus is looking for faith on earth. The conditions above are looking for coordinating, conducive conditions below.

The Holy Spirit can initiate activity without asking anyone’s permission – He is God. But it must be acknowledged that God has always operated through the faith and obedience of someone. He has rarely “shown up” or “moved in” without partnering with a person. In the most influential revivals of history – and their contemporary counterparts – even when it has seemed or been said that “this is a sovereign move of God” – the truth is closer to a divine partnership between heaven and earth.: somewhere, someone prayed and obeyed. Every time. The reformation. The great awakenings. Azusa. Brownsville. Topeka. Lakeland. Toronto. Redding. Every strike of lightning has resulted from coordinating, conducive conditions.

The excitement, enthusiasm and hunger that result from initial “strikes” usually foster even greater conditions for more. Testimony increased faith and hunger and expectation. Expectation creates enthusiasm. Enthusiasm generates more interest and more crowds with more of all the above. Since the days of Jesus, people have moved in mass to where the lighting of heaven is striking.

Often the question is asked as to why certain “moves of God” lift or cease. I do not believe that Heaven lost interest. I sincerely believe that earth loses hunger, anticipation, expectation… that real, humble, yielded faith wanes… and the conditions below are no longer conducive the conditions above. Lightning cannot be faked or forced. The conditions below must change.

I recognize that heaven responds to the prayers and petitions of the church. In some measure, though God’s preference never eases or ebbs, His apparent willingness to act is directly affected by the actions of His church. The idea of “waiting on the Lord” is not so much waiting for God to stir Himself from slumber, or to pay attention. Waiting on the Lord has much greater impact on me – it readies me for what God is already ready for.  I also recognize there appears to matters of timing and design from heaven. He does know the plans He has for us (they are good). But sovereignty is His arena, not mine. I am responsible for what I know, and I know that for the most part, I am not waiting on God as much He is waiting on me. If He’s looking for faith, I want Him to find it in me.

This brings me to why I am both encouraged and challenged.

I am encouraged because I know that Heaven is more ready than I am for revival. I don’t put very much stock into predictions about “what God is about to do” as if He’s been holding back and waiting for the right calendar year to line up metaphorically with an ancient timeline.  Nor do I believe He overly concerned with current events or politicians. Not in a way that would make more or less persuaded to be manifestly present in power and life. No one thing, not a person or event or the passing of time or the appearance of the moon can leverage Heaven’s interests on earth more than the shed blood of Jesus and His glorious ascension. Jesus has been exalted and has poured out the Spirit (Acts 2:32-33). Nothing greater than this can ever occur. No greater reason could ever exist for the manifest presence of the Outpoured Spirit. I do posit that the Spirit perceives when someone has started affecting the conditions below, and will let folks know that He’s “found a spot.” As such, I think the Holy Spirit forecasts manifestations of His work – not based on His own whim, but because the Son of Man has found faith on the earth.

Therefore, revival is always a possibility. If Heaven is ready now – then any delay or diminishing is not on Heaven’s side but ours. If the Son of Man is looking for faith, I want to be found with it. I want to be the conducive, coordinating “spot” below where lightning of God may strike again and again. And, by faith, I can hear the peals of thunder in the distance even now.

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

 

star-of-bethlehem

 

The words to the carol begin, “God rest you merry, gentlemen.” The comma goes after merry. The word “rest” is a verb and in the oldest use it means “make.” It is saying, “God make you merry, gentlemen (the general audience). God make you joyful, and let nothing you dismay – let nothing frighten or trouble you.

And then the narrator explains how God has had provided for their merriment and quieted their anxious souls. Remember, says the caroler, that Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day. To save us all from Satan’s power while we were gone astray. So, Christ has saved us from a fierce enemy, and from the fruit of our own folly.  The oldest versions then say, “this brings” or “which brings tidings of comfort of Joy.” Remembering what Christ has done for us brings news of comfort and joy.

The actual origins of this song are not known, and I can’t find anywhere that says if the writer developed it from scripture. But the main refrain of the song is extracted directly from Jeremiah 31:13, “Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.” Young women (same word in Hebrew as virgins) will dance and be glad. Why this? It is a symbol of hope – it’s why the “young” dance – because they represent anticipation of the future – anticipation dances when there is hope. Why hope? Because of what the Lord has done and promises to do. God says, “I will turn their mourning into gladness.” I will turn their sad song into a happy song. HOW? I will give them comfort and joy.

The first thing he gives is comfort. This is not just a hug and a “there, there.” The word carries the connotations of deep empathy – it sounds like the low-toned sigh of a caring adult quieting a troubled child. God says, “I will comfort you.” How? Immanuel. God with us. God saving us. Earlier, in v. 11, the prophet says the Lord will deliver Jacob and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they. God will comfort us by being bigger and truer and stronger than the things that trouble us, even and especially the things that are stronger than we are. He will be present: bringing down the noise, quieting the alarms, the voices, the pressures, the threats, the fears, anxieties, and un-ending expectations. He comforts us by confronting these things. Christ comforts us by His own victory over them.

The term Christus Victor refers to a Christian understanding of the atonement which views Christ’s death as the means by which the powers of evil, which held humankind under their dominion, were defeated. The idea is this: Christ is victor. Christ in his death and resurrection overcame the hostile powers that hold humanity in subjection, those powers variously understood as the devil, sin, the law and its condemnation, and fear and anxiety and even death.”

Christus Victor is rooted in the Incarnation and how Christ entered into human misery and wickedness and thus redeemed it. The Christus Victor view of the Atonement is a drama, a passion story of God triumphing over the powers of darkness and liberating humanity from the bondage of sin. He redeems us from everything that was stronger than we were. He comforts us by His victory over all our fears.

His comfort precedes and produces joy. Comfort comes first because it is the voice of truth. It displaces lie and shadow and threat. Comfort settles the soul. It prepares the way for joy. Joy cannot long abide in the troubled soul. Without comfort, joy is temporary, elusive – crowded out. So, He comforts us – that He may cause us to have joy.

He would comfort your soul – that he may cause your joy. Where are you troubled? “Benign” things: Life? Work, family, finances? Or does fear, unrest, regret, or pain trouble your soul? Christ has overcome. He is truth. He is love. He is power and grace. He is stronger. He Is Immanuel.  God rest you merry, dear friend. Let nothing you dismay. He wants you to dance again. Tidings of comfort and joy indeed.

Thanks for reading; Merry Christmas,

‘Dav

 

Do you want to live a long and prosperous life?

prosperity

Sounds like the start of an infomercial. But it’s not an idea birthed by late-night marketing professionals. It’s an ancient query, posed by David  in Psalm 34:12-14. He offers this rhetorical question, “Hey! Do you want to live life, loving your days and see good?” The question presupposes an affirmative response, “uhm, yes please.” He offers a succinct solution to what you seek. The answer isn’t found in super-secret-strategies or narcissistic navel gazing. It’s about living by grace.

Keep your tongue from evil and lips from lies.

Interesting. The first thing David tells his audience is to watch how they talk. David apparently knew that how we talk – to and about others in particular – has a direct impact on our lives. Does he mean that our words have some sort of karma-like effect on our lives? Or is he pointing out that our words can most often be the first source of trouble and pain in life? I think it is mostly the latter. If we speak unclean and unkind words to or about others, or if our speech is littered with guile, we partner with everything ugly and invite the same in our lives. Where you find sour speech, you will not find happy hearts. There is a symbiotic relationship between destructive words and decaying lives.

Turn from evil and do good.

It follows that next David urges a change in our behavior (but remember he first insists we change the way we talk). Turn away from evil – by turning toward good. The Psalmist posits that the way we abandon evil is to embrace good. Doing good is turning from evil. You pretty much can’t do both at once. Don’t bother making a list of things to “stop doing” and then try real hard to not do them. Change what you focus on altogether.  Most of us don’t have to turn away from great violence or other horrid vices. This is more about the small stuff. In any given day we are presented with a thousand opportunities to make a better choice, to choose a kinder course. To encourage. To give. To serve. To do good.  Take advantage of every opportunity. Make doing good an adventure. What good thing can you do for even one person today?  I wager that you’ll discover your life is richer. Doing good is the good life.

Seek peace and work to maintain it.

Nothing ruins life more than strife. And few things shorten life as fast. The one who would prize a prosperous life should pursue and protect peace. It may cost you your pride, but pride is worthless anyway. Seek to bring peace where there isn’t any, and protect peace by precluding the poisons of envy, accusation, and quick-offense. Peace doesn’t mean everyone agrees and has had their expectations satisfied. Peace means we honor one another enough to adjust our expectations. Peace means we stop feeling the need to control others. Peace means we treat others the way we’d really like to be treated. Peace means we look for opportunities to forgive. Peace means we assume the best instead of suspect the worst. Peace has to be protected; don’t we always protect our valuables?

Apparently David recognized that a long and prosperous life has more to do with our words, our actions, and our relationships than almost anything else. May the grace of Jesus Christ fill and flow through what you say and what you as it governs and guides your relationships.

Live long and prosper.

Keeping Your Ask Big

Ask

Cruise control is for cars, not life.

Sure, life is a marathon and not a sprint, and patience proves a powerful ally. And yes, a great deal of life is getting up, showing up, doing what’s right, and then doing it again. But consistency is no excuse for apathy.

I am stirred by the encounter that Solomon has with the Lord in 2 Chronicles 1:7. At a very early point in Solomon’s reign, shortly after sacred inaugural events (including 1000 burnt offerings), one night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, “Ask! What shall I give you?”

God essentially dares Solomon to dream. God commands Solomon to ask from Him – with a powerful inference that He expected Solomon to ask big.  I cannot imagine a better way to begin a career as king – or anything else for that matter.

Think of it, Israel had already experienced significant success, wealth, and power under the reign of David. David essentially did all the heavy lifting. Solomon could – could – have eased into cruise control and just enjoyed the echoes of David’s reign.

But on this night God appears to him and says, “ASK!” Now, I have for years read this passage and attributed the wonder of this opportunity to God responding to something Solomon had done right – as if Solomon had picked the winning numbers in a lottery and “boom” God rewards Solomon with the greatest question ever.

But perhaps not. Perhaps this question reveals something about God, rather than something about Solomon. Perhaps we see a God who invites us to ask – and ask big. No, I don’t mean a God who invites us to selfishness or greed or discontent or gluttony – not at all. I mean a God who is glorified by great expectations.

Too often I fear that I tolerate atrophied expectations. I begin a day or start a task using the same measuring stick I used before, almost as if the goal was just to finish something instead of achieve something.

But what if I heard the voice of God each morning, inviting me to “ASK!” What if each week’s goals, every day’s appointments were predicated on elevated expectations – based on a big ask?

I am challenged to keep a big ask. I don’t want to set the cruise-control and just go through the motions, being satisfied with getting things over. I want to hear the voice of a Great-Big-Good-God who invites me to approach life, daily, with elevated expectations.

Ask! Dream! Imagine! Risk! Dare! Expect!

“Lord, help me to inhale hope and ask big today. And then to do the same thing tomorrow. Help me to keep a big ask.”

‘Dav

Renewed Resolve to Preach and Practice the Gospel

the-gospel

At the local church where I serve as teaching pastor, we are in the middle of a series called “The Good News” – we’re surveying the gospel as presented by Mark.

It is a very healthy thing to read through the gospels, letting them speak for themselves to us about Jesus, His ministry, mission and the Kingdom of God. What Mark records for the reader (his intent is to present “the beginning of the Good News”) tells us what Mark believed (probably from Peter’s preaching and tutelage) was important for the reader to know of Jesus.

Again, if I let myself just listen to Mark, then I feel like I am bombarded with powerful, compassionate images of a Christ who spends a great deal of time driving out unclean spirits and healing the sick. And with each sequential occurrence, whether individual or the masses, the crowds become more desperate for Jesus, and His fame (people spreading the testimony of Jesus) grows. The more Jesus heals and delivers, the more people do everything they can to get to Him or to bring others to Him. When Jesus was just being Jesus – he could not even hide from people if he tried. (Yes, there are also those who grow increasingly hostile to Jesus – but this isn’t about them right now). As I read I am overwhelmed with passion, with desire, with delight and deep longing.

And then I pause to consider the trends, the fads, the programs, and paper-back buzzwords and techno-idolatry that I see pushed as “how we’re going to really reach this generation.” Let’s be clear – I love technology and I love communication, leadership and administration. I don’t have time or interest to defend myself on those fronts. My point is that if more leaders were more honest – a great deal of what is pushed and polished has nothing to do with what occupied so much of Christ’s time and energy. I struggle with wanting a better facility, more staff, more funds for more sophisticated operations, and all the same stuff that most leaders wish they had more of or better. And I don’t apologize for wanting all of it. There’s no reason not to be excellent.

But the gospel. The gospel itself is really, really enough. It’s more than enough. There isn’t a facility in my county that could contain the people crowding inside if they thought Jesus was really there touching broken lives. No one would care about acoustics or esthetics. Like those so many long years ago, they’d come to hear and be healed. I believe the Gospel is still powerful. I believe it is still the power of God. I believe the Name of Jesus still authorizes healing and deliverance. I believe untold numbers of people need both. I believe the gospel still works.

So with renewed resolve I will preach and practice the gospel. I trust the Holy Spirit to help me, to guide me, to teach and lead me – and to be the Power and Presence of Christ to us and through us now. My world still needs good news; the Gospel is still the best news.

Holiness and Authority

cross

The man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue (Mark 1:21-28) cried out in fear when he saw Jesus, “have you come to destroy us?” He continued, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

That interaction, that phrase caught my meditation afresh this morning. Mark precedes and follows the story emphasizing that Jesus ministered with authority – this exorcism exemplifying such authority. So, assuming a theme of “authority” reading this passage, I take fresh note of what appeared to intimidate the unclean spirit.

The spirit did not cry out that Jesus was the “mighty one” (although He is) or that Jesus was the “powerful one” (although He is), or that Jesus was the “wise one” (although He is). What tormented this tormentor was this: “You are the Holy One of God.” Is it plausible that the authority Jesus radiated found its epicenter in the Holiness he bore?

I wonder if (our) authority is often muted by a casual relationship with Holiness. I cannot entertain or partner with the unclean in one moment and then expect to exercise dominion over it in the next. I don’t mean that a believer should muster and trust in his or her own “holiness.” That’s just laughable. I mean that the Holy Spirit makes me Holy, and because He does, I choose to live that way. I recognize that the Holy One abides in me. I recognize that I belong to and have been made one with Christ – The Holy One of God. And I live that way because I can and because I should. The Holy Spirit makes me Holy.

I reject a casual relationship with Holiness for this reason among many: I suspect there is a causal relationship between the Holiness I am conscious of and authority I exercise.

Starting and Finishing Your Day Better

holy-spirit-cloud

“It is good to proclaim your unfailing love in the morning, your faithfulness in the evening” (Psalm 92:2)

What if I did that?

I think there is more than just poetic rhythm here. Often I’ve read a phrase like this and wondered, “what if I did that?” I don’t mean just give thanks or sing praise (v. 1), I mean literally, actually proclaiming (stating, celebrating, meditating upon) His unfailing love in the morning (like, when I first get up and as I go about the early moments of my day) and actually proclaiming (stating, celebrating, reflecting upon) His faithfulness in the evening (before I initiate the days-end rituals, and as I lie staring at the dark ceiling before sleep takes me). What if I did that?

What if my mornings were greeted by grateful and praise-filled thoughts and words of God’s unfailing love? I can’t think of a better way to begin a day. Consider the bright hope that would be painted across the canvas of my imagination. Think of the peace that would join the start of each day’s journey. Imagine the confidence, the anticipation of good, and the readiness to rejoice. And, I wonder how much more I might be quick to lavish love on others. What if I did that?

And then, what if my evenings were tucked-in with grateful and praise-filled thoughts and words of God’s faithfulness? I could savor the goodness of God. I could view the day’s events through the lens of God’s faithfulness, and fuel the faith for the day to come with the burning coals of gratitude from today. Imagine the peace that would accompany my rest. Consider the potential of displacing of regret, resentment, and discontent with gladness, gratitude, and trust. And imagine what hope will greet my morning. What if I did that?

What if you did?

Thanks for reading,

‘Dav

Whosoever Has the Most Joy Wins

winning

A merry heart has a continual feast.

I am fan of joy. I have mentioned joy a couple of times, here and there, on this blog. I readily admit that joy is one my favorite themes. I have also found that it is one of the most helpful disciplines in living-out-my-faith. There are a host of solid reasons that scripture invites, implores and enjoins us time and again to rejoice in the Lord – always. And Proverbs 15:15 provides a second-to-none good reason: “a merry heart has a continual feast”. Today’s paraphrase thereof: Whosoever has the most joy, wins.

Joy is the Finish Line

I think that it is reasonable to say that, both in terms of short and long term goals, people want joy. We were made for it. A great deal of the things we do and accumulate are means to enlarge or secure our joy. Trouble is, a great many of those things fall short. Or, in order to sustain the “joy” they give us – we need more or better or new means to joy. However, if I am able to decide to derive joy from and in The Lord – His presence, His promise, His faithfulness, His truth, etc. – then I have a direct, immediate source and reason for joy. I can literally feast on joy now, and not wait until circumstances, people, conditions or assets change. I win!

Joy is Winning

Furthermore, joy precludes and displaces the junk that keeps me from winning. There are a host of loser-attitudes that joy squeezes out of the room like light does shadow. I cannot rejoice and complain at the same time. I cannot rejoice and be bitter. I can’t rejoice and blame others. I can’t rejoice and criticize others. I can’t rejoice and be negative. I can’t rejoice and be greedy. I can’t rejoice and be afraid. I can’t rejoice and be bored. I can’t rejoice and be impatient. I can’t rejoice and lust. I can’t rejoice and lose my temper. I can’t rejoice and despair. I can’t rejoice and give up. But I can rejoice and be grateful, hopeful, patient, positive, kind, gentle, faithful, grateful, optimistic, bold, fearless, encouraging, generous, grateful, content, forgiving, innocent and grateful. With joy I can persevere. With joy I can stand. With joy I can hope. With joy I can rise. With joy I am strong. Really, really strong. I win!

So, no need to wait until the Holiday Season to start feasting. Dig in! The merry heart has a continual feast. Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say it – rejoice.

Be a winner. Rejoice.

Thanks for reading,

‘Dav

Fresh Hope from Former Promises

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Isaiah 43:18-19,  “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

Isaiah 44:2-3, “Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you: Fear not O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing upon your descendants.”

There are a handful of approaches to interpreting and applying ancient prophesies like these.

One way is to read these words and seize upon them as if they were written freshly to the reader. The words are, or have become, God’s specific word to the reader at and for the time of their reading. It is not uncommon to hear that someone has read or remembered these words and re-presented them as the “right now” word of the Lord to the immediate audience and circumstance. One problem with this approach is that it requires a suspension of a great many other facts, including that these words were written to a specific people at a specific time and place and with a specific purpose. If these words were aimed at ancient Israel and their circumstances, did they miss? Have they hovered like Noah’s second dove only to finally descend on the contemporary reader? And if so, which reader? Who gains the right to claim the great promises from these passages?

Another approach is to view these prophetic passages through the long lens of history – and leave them there. It is to assert that Yahweh said this to them, and only them. This approach makes these words interesting, but only as inspiring as reading historical narratives. Having studied them, we might then just place these words on the appropriate shelf in the library – codified accordingly. Tidy, but empty.

I think a better option exists. The contemporary reader can read and re-read these words and find in them revelation and affirmation of the nature of God. We may draw from these passages fresh hope from the same God who breathed these words through His prophets. We can take courage and be inspired by the way God spoke to and about people like us who also blew it – sometimes big time. People who also found themselves thinking things used to better than now, or looking desperately for hope in troubling times. Or people that find themselves in places that seem dry. Or people whose concern for their children, for the next generation, weighs heavily upon them.

What did God say to these people? What does what He said affirm about Who He is and how we can trust Him? What hope can we draw from these words?

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

Hey friends, do not live in the past. It takes no faith to live there. Don’t daydream in the rear view mirror. God isn’t out of ideas; He’s the most creative and optimistic Being in the cosmos. He has more up His sleeve than left-overs. Anticipate something fresh, new and life-giving from Heaven. Even if there seems to be no natural way forward, nor any probable means of provision – what God will do will result in you and me declaring His praise. So, lean forward! Look up! Anticipate the goodness of God, right now.

Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you: Fear not, O Jacob my servant…whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams upon the dry ground; I will pour Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing upon your descendants.

Listen carefully to the Lord who gave you life – He is the One who will give you help.  Do not be afraid. Really: banish fear. Have no company with it. It is not an adviser, but an accuser. Don’t be overwhelmed by what appears to be desperate circumstances. God’s solution for dry and desert places isn’t incremental change, but rather an outpouring of His Spirit. His solution for your poverty is His generosity. In a moment He can change the landscape and climate of your circumstances. So, open up wide and stir your thirst – He will meet you there. But not only you. Know this: He has no interest in single-generation visitation. What God does in and for you and in your midst – He intends to continue. He promises to remain present and powerful with your descendants. What God starts, He sustains. So, have the same attitude as heaven and pray and plan in the same portion as He promises – with an eye on your descendants continuing to benefit from the blessing of the Lord.

There is fresh hope to be extracted from former promises. Indeed, every promise of God is “yes” in Jesus; He fulfills every good thing God has promised to us. And because of that, we may say “amen” to His promises – no matter when they were promised.

Thanks for reading; I hope you’re encouraged today

‘Dav

 

 

His Face, my heart

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Psalm 27:8, “You have said, ‘Seek my Face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your Face, Lord, do I seek.'”

You initiate this relationship. You invite me. You call me. You choose me.

I respond. I choose. I decide. I seek.

My seeking does not earn your invite; Your invite enables my seeking.

I believe You want me. I believe you call me. I believe you desire my company. You want my face.

You want my face.

So I seek yours.

You have said, “Seek My Face.”
My heart says to you, “Your Face, Lord, do I seek.”