Archive for October, 2010

The Pool at Bethesda

Jesus was a noted healer. He trained his apostles to be healers as well. Both Jesus and the apostles used God’s supernatural power as a matter of course. I believe we can do the same. I do, however, believe that the use of supernatural power needs to fall within the constraints of both the new covenant and the lordship of Jesus. I discuss the importance of this framework in my post of Oct. 13, 2010 Gentlemen This is a Football. So what does the use of supernatural power, within the constraints of the lordship of Jesus and the new covenant look like?



Led by Jesus

New covenant supernaturalism under the lordship of Jesus, will reflect Jesus’ ministry on earth. Jesus said he could only do what he saw the Father doing (Jn. 5:19). This was said in the context of his healing at the Pool of Bethesda in John 5. This passage is a good place to understand how Jesus used supernatural power. Jesus came to a place where there were all sorts of disabled people. He healed one. The passage even says he slipped away into the crowd that was there after healing that one person. It doesn’t sound like he had a large healing meeting, although it was exactly the place to do one.

Jesus was led by God, or he didn’t use his supernatural power. Should we try to do things differently? In fact in Jn. 15:5 Jesus said that apart from him we can do nothing. I see a lot of prayer for healings that don’t work and some that do. I suspect that the ones that don’t take, no matter how much faith was involved, is because someone is trying to heal on their own authority (something that God give us), but without the leading of the Spirit. At least this is one reason. Jesus also said lack of faith affected healing. If we decide who to heal, without Jesus’ leading, who is acting as Lord? Our ministry needs to reflect the lordship of Jesus…he leads, we follow. It also is within the framework of the new covenant. We listen to what the Holy Spirit puts in our hearts and minds; then we obey.

Healing, Not Mere Curing

Jesus Healed, Not Merely Cured

Jesus was highly interested in proclaiming his kingdom. He often did this by first validating it with supernaturalism. In fact he taught his apostles to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons (Matt. 10:8). Sometimes the apostles were successful, sometimes they weren’t (Matt. 17:14-21). He also told them to proclaim the kingdom (Matt. 10:7; Lk. 9:2). Supernaturalism, as Jesus used it, was seldom, if ever, an end in itself. It was used to validate his lordship and his kingdom.

I see a lot of what I’d call trying to cure people instead of heal them. Let me explain how I’m using these words. A cure is what a doctor does. He fixes a problem. If you have a bum knee, he fixes it. But Jesus aim was much more profound. He wanted to move people toward his Kingdom. He wanted them to understand that he is Lord. Again the John 5 passage is instructive. Jesus cures a man (Jn. 5:9). He slips away into the crowd, without proclaiming who he was or explaining the gospel of the kingdom (v.13). But, he later finds the man and further explains who he was and deals with spiritual issues (vv. 14-15).

I believe our use of supernaturalism needs to be hemmed in within the same boundaries within which Jesus functioned. He followed the leading of the Father; we follow his leading through the Spirit. This constrains our ministry where it belongs, firmly under his Lordship and within the framework of our spiritual operating system, the new covenant (see Spiritual Operating Systems). I personally believe that a significant part of lack of success in supernatural ministry is due to our choosing explicitly or tacitly to step outside of our God given parameters.

  • Can we have spiritual power and authority but not the go ahead to use it? What would happen to a bank employee who used the combination to the safe when she wasn’t supposed to?
  • Do you believe there is any room for supernaturalism today? Do you think supernaturalism is culturally or geographically bound?
  • Is supernaturalism a part of the ministry God has called you to?
  • Do you feel that your ministry behavior falls within the constraints of the new covenant and the lordship of Jesus?
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Gentlemen this is a football

Back in the days of the late, great coach Vince Lombardi, the Green Bay Packers had a most interesting beginning to pre-season training. All the players knew that at the first team meeting, the legendary coach would waste no time getting straight to the point. Many of the men, half Lombardi’s age and twice his size, were openly fearful, dreading the encounter. The coach did not disappoint them, and, in fact, delivered his message in one of the great one-liners of all time. Football in hand, Lombardi walked to the front of the room, took several seconds to look over the assemblage in silence, held out the pigskin in front of him, and said, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” In only five words, Lombardi communicated his point: We’re going to start with the basics and make sure we’re executing all the fundamentals.[1]

Going Back to the Fundamentals

We need to go back to the fundamentals of Christianity. I’m not necessarily talking about the fundamentals of fundamentalists, although there will be overlap. I’m talking about the skeletal foundations that everything hangs on. In particular, I’m talking about the two interlocking doctrines everything in Christianity hangs on, the new covenant and the Lordship of Jesus. Why these two doctrines? Because the new covenant is the only spiritual operating system of our faith. I explain this, comparing it to the law in Spiritual Operating Systems.

Jesus is Lord. There is no other. He is the center of our faith. This phrase, Jesus is Lord, was the first doctrinal statement of the Church. I go into its implications for ministry in Ministry with Jesus as Lord. I go into the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord; the core, the frame, the essence, the all in Jesus Manifesto. I further develop this theme in: Jesus as Our Capstone, Jesus as the Cornerstone, and A Body without a Head. These are the fundamentals of our faith. Salvation, as important as it is in not the center of our faith. We can understand true salvation only if we understand the Lordship of Christ. Inerrancy of the Bible is not the center of our faith, we can believe the veracity of every word of the Bible and still miss Jesus. Paul warned us about this when he said the letter kills but the Spirit gives life. That was written in the context of explaining the importance of the new covenant.

Two Important Filters

More specifically we need to learn, when it comes to our faith, we need to start with the basics, making sure we’re executing the fundamentals. We need to use the reality of the Lordship of Jesus and the operating system of the new covenant to filter all other doctrines and practices. If they don’t fit within that simple framework, they are most assuredly wrong. In Tail of the Snake I used the new covenant as a filter to investigate the veracity of two common doctrines, the doctrine of cessation and the doctrine of covering. I showed that both of them don’t make the grade because they are a violation of the new covenant. I could have just as easily done the same by using the Lordship of Jesus as a filter. They both fail on that count too. The doctrine of cessation is making the written word of God rather than the living Word of God lord. The doctrine of covering is making some human leader lord.

We are Christians. Jesus Christ is Lord. There is no other. Those who are truly Christians have a covenantal relationship with Jesus, sealed with his blood (Lk. 22:20, I Cor. 11:25, 12:24). This is how our faith works, there is no other operating system.

  • Have you ever thought of the Lordship of Jesus and the new covenant as filters? 
  • What doctrines have you believed that don’t fit the framework? These are traditions and doctrines of men. 
  • What happens if these are deeply held doctrines or practices? What if they give you comfort and strength? 



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Sometimes you only see the tail

My wife recently found an excellent metaphor that has been extremely practical for her. I’ve found it helpful too; so I’d like to share it with you. Here is the metaphor: Whenever you see the tail of the snake slipping into the brush, run away. To check around to find out what kind snake lives in the brush is dangerous.

What is the tail of the snake? It is anything that can separate us from God or his love.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38-39.) Nothing is able to separate us from the love of God. But if we pursue something that has that potential, it can kill us. That has always been Satan’s intent. He wants to disconnect us from God and his love. He’ll do anything and use any method to do it. What’s worse, he does it in ways that seem so absolutely right and reasonable to us. The snake’s message to Eve was both enticing and reasonable. If it hadn’t have been, it wouldn’t have been effective.

So how do we tell when we are seeing the tail of the snake? We ask a couple of questions: Does this in any way disconnect me from the direct communication with God I have through the new covenant? Does this disconnect me from the love of God? Let me give a couple of examples of the tail of the snake, which seem so reasonable, yet disconnect us from the direct communication with God we have in the new covenant.

The Doctrine of Cessation

When you see the tail, run away

The doctrine of cessation posits that all supernaturalism has “ceased” sometime after the writing of the New Testament. Some proponents of this doctrine place the cessation of supernaturalism at the final acceptance of the cannon at the Third Council of Carthage in A.D. 397. Other’s place it at the death of the last of Jesus’ disciple/apostles about A.D. 100. Note there are nearly 300 years between these two dates. For some reason the cessationists can’t even agree when supernaturalism stopped. Some even posit that supernaturalism still occurs, just not here in the West.

Why is this the tail of the snake? Once we think about it, the doctrine of cessation is a direct negation of the new covenant. In the new covenant,the Holy Spirit puts the law in our hearts and minds (Heb. 8:10). That is supernatural. God is speaking to us directly, which is a mystical, supernatural experience. If God only speaks to us through the Scriptures, as those who believe the doctrine of cessation contend, then we can only find truth in the Scriptures, which themselves actually say: He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor. 3:6).

As one who was once a vocal proponent of the doctrine of cessation, I can tell you this is the tail of the snake. It separates you from direct communication with God and will dry up your soul. And, from personal experience, I can tell you that once you start listening to God and obeying, your spiritual life and your ministry effectiveness will blossom. Diabolically, the doctrine of cessation negates the new covenant by lifting high and honoring God’s written word.

The Doctrine of Covering

This is what the tail is connected to

The doctrine of covering, like the doctrine of cessation, really has no biblical basis. Instead they both are developed by theologizing. They string together a bunch of theological arguments to justify what they already believe. They might even take a few verses out of context to do so. What is the doctrine of covering? It posits that we all need the “covering” of a significant spiritual leader who can place his spiritual mantle on us. We receive our spiritual authority through this other leader’s authority. Can you see the tale of the snake?

Here again the new covenant is being violated. We have to reach Jesus through someone else. This is the Roman Catholic hierarchical system being unleashed within Protestantism, usually Pentecostalism. Diabolically, the doctrine of covering negates the new covenant by lifting high and honoring godly leaders.

True biblical lifestyle doesn’t negate our accountability to other Christians, it just doesn’t allow for that to come through hierarchical power structures, which by their very nature lead to abuse. Instead we are accountable to one another under one head, Jesus Christ. Let me state it another way. We are accountable to Jesus. He often uses other trusted Christians in that process. It is not uncommon for him to use our local church; perhaps only an individual in it or perhaps the entire body. But no other human has positional authority over us. However, we need to wisely submit to the wisdom of experienced Christians, once we recognize the voice of Jesus coming through them. But they don’t own a mantle for us and they can’t cover us with something they don’t have.

  • Have you been caught up in either of these doctrines which separate us from Christ? What does Jesus want you to do about that? 
  • What other ideas, doctrines, practices or enticements can separate us from God or his love? 
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the tail of the snake to you in your personal life. What is he showing you?
  • How fast can you run?
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Who was healed the most?

In warfare there is a gruesome concept called collateral damage. This is when there is damage that is unintended or incidental to the intended outcome. We want to bomb the Taliban; we unintentionally kill innocent villagers, collateral damage. I believe that Jesus understood the power of doing collateral good. Let me give you an example; the interaction between Jesus and the Syrophoenician Woman.

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

This has been a troubling passage for me and many of my friends. Jesus doesn’t come across as the nicest guy here. In fact, he called a woman a dog to her face. Frankly, that has bothered me more than a little. I’ve now come to view this passage a bit differently. All sorts of wonderful ministry is happening here. Could it be that I’ve misunderstood this passage and failed to learn its lessons?

Ministry to the Woman

This is a mother at the point of her most desperate need. Her beloved child is being controlled and systematically destroyed by an evil spirit. She goes to a famous Jewish leader, humbles herself, even calls him Lord. He, however, seemingly rebuffs her by reiterating the mutually understood prejudice between Gentiles and Jews. In essence, he is asking her a question. Are you going to accept this perception of you as a crumb eating dog? Her response was, “Call me what you want, but you, sir, have the ability to help my daughter.” At that point, Jesus used one of the most powerful healing tools; restoring through re-storying. Jesus gave her a new way of looking at herself; the heroic woman of great faith, the mama who changed her beloved daughter’s life and the gentile worthy of God’s attention.

Ministry to the Disciples

The disciples were bigots. All they could see was the clothing and cultural habits of a Syrophoenician, and a woman to boot. Obviously this was not the kind of person who should be allow to bother the Teacher. But she wouldn’t take no for an answer. Typical, those Syrophoenicians; they just don’t know their place! “Jesus, please give this Gentile dog a swift kick.” Instead of what they expected, Jesus not only engages her but complements her and does everything she asked for and more. This was one of Jesus’ first volleys in his campaign to change a bunch of Jewish bigots into the founders of a worldwide faith; one that accepts everyone, despite ethnicity, culture, status or financial position.

Ministry to the Girl

This girl is healed with a simple statement based on the mother’s faith. From that point on, her life was better on every level. But, which ministry was more important? Where was Jesus’ focus? He spoke the most to the woman. Was that his real ministry focus? The ministry to the disciples has played itself out over and over again for 21 centuries. Was that his focus? The mother’s original request was for the healing of the daughter and it was done. Was that Jesus’ principle ministry in this passage?

Jesus used this spontaneous incident to heal everyone around him. He has one simple conversation and collateral good is breaking out all over. That collateral good continues to reverberate over and over through the centuries. I think we need to learn to be like Jesus, listening to the Father and squeezing every drop of collateral good that can come out of each situation.

  • Have I missed anyone? Was anyone else potentially healed by the collateral good in this situation? What about the Syrophoenician villagers who heard the story and knew the girl?
  • Can we control collateral good?
  • Does it help to try to reap collateral good or is it something that just happens?
  • Do you think Jesus intentionally made a point with the disciples? What does this tell you about the discipleship you are participating in?
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Vitorio[1] probably came into a relationship with Jesus last night. This happened as my friend Toño and I ate hamburgers with him at the local Burger King. The lesson God is teaching me about this situation is not how Vitorio came to faith but rather the process that was required for his heart to open to the point where Toño and I had earned the right to be heard.

I’ve known Vitorio for about five months. I first met him when he came to our English as a second language class in San Rafael, CA. Vitorio didn’t speak a word of English. That’s not a figure of speech, its literal…he really didn’t speak a word of English. To this day, he gets the numbers one and two mixed up in his head. When Vitorio came to our class, he found a bunch of his fellow countrymen sitting around talking with “gringos” cracking jokes, making lots of mistakes in English and helping one another learn to speak English. All of this was done with a coke and some of Laura’s (my fellow teacher) famous baked goods in their hands.

My friend Ryan and I also met up with Vitorio when we passed out donuts and coffee to the guys waiting for work early Sunday morning. July was particularly cold here in the Bay Area. One morning while we were passing out coffee I notice that Vitorio was shivering. Without really thinking about it, I took off my jacket and told him to get warm. He wanted to be polite but he was so cold that he just smiled, thanked me and huddled into my jacket. About ten minutes later, just as I was getting ready to leave, Vitorio returned my jacket with effusive thanks.

When I got home that morning, Jesus began to speak to me about Vitorio.

Jesus: “Do you think that’s the only time Vitorio is cold?”

Ross: “No, Lord.”

Jesus: “What do you think I would have done? In fact, what did I tell you to do with a jacket if someone asks for it?”

Ross: “You told us to give it to them.”

Jesus: “Figure of speech, hyperbole, or literal?”

Ross: “I think I get your point.”

Jesus: “Not yet; go find him and give him your jacket.”

I spent a frustrating Monday morning looking for Vitorio and not finding him. However, he was at language class on Friday evening. I told him I needed to speak to him privately after class.

Ross: “My friend, I have an apology to make to you.”

Vitorio: “For what.”

Ross: “You were cold and I took my jacket back. Jesus has been talking to me about that. Here’s your jacket. Please forgive me for my insensitivity. Jesus wouldn’t have done that.”

Vitorio has not opened up to me right away. Our original relationship was strictly on a needs basis. Slowly but surely, little by little, I’ve become someone who can be trusted because my love for Vitorio is consistent and real. It is shown not only in my intentional actions and what I say, but in my tone of voice, my gestures, the pats on the back and my willingness to laugh at his jokes. Most of this is tacit on my part, but it has been noticed by Vitorio. With Vitorio, as with most people, I have needed to earn the right to be heard. Eating burgers and sharing Jesus had a long prequel. If Vitorio was telling this story, he probably would bring out all sorts of incidents that haven’t occurred to me.

A Good Place to Share Jesus

Here’s the point; we need to engage people not ambush them. To do that, we need to live life with them, be their friends. Most of us feel much better with an occasional guilt assuaging ambush. We love to minister to the homeless because we are always in a position of power with them. Ever met a homeless person who didn’t know the words of the gospel? I didn’t think so. They’re ambushed on a weekly basis. Building enough trust to eat burgers and share Jesus requires quite a bit of time and investment. We need to be open to those instantaneous, finding the man of peace moments. They happen and we need to be able to respond very quickly. But we also need to be investing in the lives of many people. Some will eventually lead to burgers and Jesus. Others will just be loved but perhaps never enter the Kingdom. Our job is to take them as far as they are willing to go. And, to be listening to the Lord of the harvest who is walking this journey of friendship with us.

  • With whom are we building the right to be heard? 
  • How much of trust building is based on incidents we don’t even remember? How much is tone of voice and pats on the back? Can we fake that?
  • What if they never come to faith? Is Kingdom work still being done if we only feed them and give them our jacket?
  • How long does it take? When do we give up? How can we know?


[1] Not his real name.

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Strange Stereotype of Mysticism

My spiritual formation was in an environment where the word mysticism was almost a dirty word.  Mysticism was strange and inappropriate for good Christians. In fact, if we wanted to blow off someone’s views we could label them mystical. That usually shut them up because it was like calling them a nut job. To tell the truth, my friends and I had no idea what mysticism really is. We were mimicking the way our leaders and professors behaved, who were in turn copying those who influenced them. That’s a good recipe for worldly Christianity. That is how the foundational principles of the world slowly worm their way into our thinking. I believe, no, I know this is exactly what has happened with our view of mysticism. And, I’m going to back up that strong statement.

Use the Wrong Operating System and Perish

Our relationship with God is based on a covenantal relationship. That covenant is called the new covenant in the Bible (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:7-12). It is the covenant of Christians as opposed to the old covenant of the Law, which was for the Hebrew Nation. If we live according to the wrong covenant, it is like trying to run a computer on the wrong operating system. I developed this idea in my post Spiritual Operating Systems.

If we use the wrong operating system, i.e. live outside of the new covenant, we are risking living a dry, rigid form of Christianity (if it can really be called Christian) which imperils our souls. Heb. 8:7 says of the law: For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. The old covenant of the law is better than no covenant, but it just can’t hold a candle to the new covenant. Here’s what Paul also says about living in the wrong covenant in 2 Cor. 3:6: He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.  

Living by the rule, principles, concepts, precepts or ideas of the old covenant kills us. To live by the letter kills our souls. Is there something wrong with the Law, with Biblical principles, with doctrine (all forms of the letter that kills)? No, they are good, in that they instruct, convict and confirm. They are just inadequate to allow us to live in the new covenant. Paul likens living that way to slavery. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code (Rom. 7:6). It is the Spirit who gives life. We live in the new covenant, the covenant of the Spirit. We are ministers of this new covenant, by the power of the Spirit, not by trying to follow the rules in our own human ability.

A Mystical Covenant

The new covenant, by its very nature, by its interaction with the Spirit of God, rather than some mere written document, is mystical. Here are the three definitions of mysticism from the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary:

1: the experience of mystical union or direct communion with ultimate reality reported by mystics

2: the belief that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality can be attained through subjective experience (as intuition or insight)

3a : vague speculation : a belief without sound basis b : a theory postulating the possibility of direct and intuitive acquisition of ineffable knowledge or power.[1]

The way the new covenant works fits very nicely with definitions 1, 2 and 3b. We can have mystical union with God (def. 1). That’s what our relationship is all about; just read Jn. 15:1-16. The new covenant explicitly states that he will put the law in our hearts and minds (Heb. 8:10). That’s def. 2 and 3b. The only way the new covenant doesn’t fit these definitions is the idea of vague speculation, a belief without sound basis. The Spirit, the information he speaks to our hearts and minds is quite sound. And it can be confirmed with the written word and should be. That is the point of the Scriptures in the new covenant; otherwise they might kills our souls.

  • Are you a mystic? 
  • Has your spiritual formation unsoundly belittled mysticism?
  • Where does our fear of mysticism come from, since it doesn’t come from the Bible?
  • Is it possible to live in the new covenant without hearing from God (mysticism)?



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Well, it has happened once again. I found a penny from heaven as I walked and prayed this morning. You can read my other five pennies from heaven stories in Pennies from HeavenPennies from Heaven Continue and More Pennies from Heaven. My wife noted this morning before I went for my walk that she walks the same streets I do, yet she doesn’t find any pennies from heaven. I can only conclude that God wants me to find them. I guess it is his project for me.

The Story

I found the penny fairly early on in my walk in an area where I’ve never found any pennies before. The penny was a 2003 D, shiny but a bit scuffed up. When I found it I immediately began to look for someone to share it with. I had to walk about two blocks before I found anyone. As I walked down Orchard street a woman parked her car, got out and began to walk down the sidewalk about fifteen feet in front of me. She was Hispanic.

“¿Disculpe, habla Ud. Español?” (Excuse me, do you speak Spanish?) I’ll transition to English, although the conversation was in Spanish.

“Yes, I speak Spanish.”

“This penny is yours (I get a shy smile from her.) Let me explain. About two weeks ago I had a dream that I’d find pennies. In the dream God told me that I was to tell the next person I saw that this penny was from him. He wanted them to know that God loves them and he wants a relationship with them.”

“Well, I don’t know (very shyly).” In a Hispanic culture, with this tone of voice, that can mean more like ‘I’m thinking about it, rather than a rejection.

“This God I’m talking about is Jesus Christ. He loves you. You are going to have to decide what you are going to do with that. But he is looking for you (another shy smile). Enjoy your penny.”

My Lessons

As I pondered this experience I began to realize, more than ever, that this was something set up by God. I really don’t have any control over it, other than refuse to participate. Further, there can be all sorts of details, of which I have no control, which might or might not mean something to the person I’m speaking with.

I noted, for example that the woman this morning kept looking at my walking hat (a Stanford Cardinals baseball cap). Does Stanford mean something to her? Cardinals? Baseball? I don’t know. For some reason I kept talking to her with a Castilian accent. Normally, I’ve lost my accent from Spain since I’ve been back in the US. That’s because I’ve been working with Hispanic day workers a number of times a week. This accent is loaded with meaning for Spanish speakers, some of it good, most of it bad. It can carry a tone of distinction, like the Queen’s English. However, to Hispanics, it also can carry the tone of distain and oppression. Why did I keep reverting to an accent I’ve mostly lost? It certainly wasn’t any lack of respect for her. How was she taking that? I don’t know.

After I left this woman, I realized that this conversation (some details of which I’ve left out) was a bit more extensive than most of my other pennies from heaven encounters. I felt I needed to emphasize her need to choose God, that he was pursuing her. What did that mean? Why did I do that other than I felt I needed to say it? I don’t know. Am I willing to leave that a mystery? Well, honestly I don’t have much of a choice other than to force a conversation and beginning to ask a bunch of intrusive questions. I’d do that if I really felt God ask me to do so, but I haven’t felt that nudge yet. So, I’m left, time after time (this is the sixth time so far in two and one half weeks) with mystery and no clear conclusion. I’d love to have this lead to a clear conclusion. I love leading people to the Lord. I love finding people of peace and I love planting churches. But God hasn’t done that with the pennies from heaven yet. In fact, I would love to be a spiritual hero with these stories. At best, right now, I feel more like a semi-faithful plodder.

However, I can pray. So, as I walked my merry way onto San Pablo Av. I prayed for this woman. I Asked God to do anything and everything he could to pursue her. What will he do with that? I don’t know, and I’m OK with that.

  • Do you find the mysterious aspects and situations of our faith frustrating, inviting or a bit of both?
  • If you were in my shoes, what would you want to happen next? I find myself wanting to find a person of peace and plant a church in my neighborhood. What do you think God will do with that desire?
  • I’m no longer surprised when I find coins on my walk, particularly pennies. Is that good or are there potential dangers in becoming too familiar with God’s patterns in our lives?
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Our God is a God of justice. However, because of our cultural milieu, we tend to misunderstand the biblical idea of justice. We have two issues that keep us from truly understanding what the Bible means when it uses the words just or justice.

First, we tend to naturally think of it as legality. If someone has broken the law, they need to experience justice (i.e. legal retribution). This is really not the focus of what the Bible is talking about when it speaks of justice, although it is tangentially involved.  

Second, because we are Westerners, we misunderstand how God himself judges. Western based cultures (that is, Greek based cultures) are focused on ideas. We “judge” somebody by what they say and “believe.” But “belief” becomes what ideas we say and/or agree to be correct. The Hebrews, on the other hand, were an action based culture. You can tell who someone is, and what someone “believes” by what they do. Because belief and action are rightly welded together in the Hebrew mindset (and the mindset of God); one’s beliefs can easily be judged by what one does. Salvation, belief and behavior are all of one single cloth. In this mindset, if one says “Jesus is my Savior.” The correct response is, “Good, show me by the way you live.” Mere statements about being in agreement with the truth of doctrine don’t count for anything (Js 2:18-19).

Once we understand this, we end up reading Jesus’ statements with much more clarity.

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matt. 25:41-46)

That should send a shudder of fear through many of us American evangelicals. That was the point of Jesus’ story. It was aimed at religious people who mistakenly thought that membership in the right religious club and knowing the arcane religious doctrinal rules gave them a free pass to heaven. But Jesus’ response to this was “Be careful, I’m going to judge you by what you do.” Is that works salvation? No, it is salvation that shows itself in works. And since works are the telltale sign of true salvation, those works can be judged. The salvation itself is still the gracious act of God; we are still sinners in need of salvation. We aren’t earning our salvation; we are living it out in daily life.

How then does Jesus judge us? He judges us by the way we treat the powerless, those who aren’t in a position to reap the benefits of our society and its laws. He even names a representative group: the poor who don’t have enough to eat or drink or clothes to wear, powerless foreigners, and even bad people in prison. They are exactly the kinds of people we don’t want our kids to befriend.

Power, Politics, Self Interest and Salvation

We need to take this one step further. How do our political stances represent how we deal with the powerless, and what does that say about our eternal security? Ouch, it is a painful question, but one that should be asked, since our salvation rests on it.

Recently in California a bill was passed which allows children in the state foster care system the ability to receive benefits until they are 21 if they go to college or work (see here). This was done instead of the status quo, which was to throw them on the street with a plastic bag for their luggage when they turned 18. This new law was fought by the party normally thought of as the one which represent the Christians, even though it wouldn’t cost additional taxes (see here). How does that square with Matt. 25?

How do we treat the poor and powerless foreigner among us? They are humans loved by God, not political ping pong balls. The poor foreigner in the Bible had little or no legal rights either. God’s people were expected to defend them and treat them well. How are we doing? Based on what we think, say, act and vote towards the powerless foreigners among us, where would Jesus send us at the end of the age? Can we really justify anything by saying they broke our law by being here? What would Jesus say about that law and our defense of it?

I’m not saying these things as a political statement. Nor am I saying that we need to have our political stances exactly right to go to heaven. I’m saying that our behavior, the way we vote and the stances we take, which affect those who don’t have our privileges, show who we really are. We can’t dichotomize faith away from political stances and their consequences. Our behavior and stances are much more telling than the doctrinal statements we ascribe to. And they are the very things that show God what our heart is like. Chilling isn’t it? That was Jesus’ point. Let’s all pay attention.

  • How do the stances of the most vocally political among evangelicals in the United States match Jesus’ statement in Matt. 25? What should we do about that?
  • What other issues do we need to examine carefully? What about sexual moral issues?
  • If you are like me, you begin to wonder what other stances of mine have a hidden result of harming the powerless? What can we do about that? How can we begin to judge our own stances?
  • Does every evangelical have to be politically the same or the member of the same party? Does any party capture the Christian value system? Can any party capture the Christian value system? What does that do to our politics?
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2009 Puerto Connonwealth Quarter

For the last two weeks I’ve been finding coins which leads to evangelism opportunities. You can catch up on the details in my earlier post Pennies from Heaven and Pennies from Heaven Continue. Here is my latest story, which happened this morning.

As I prayer walked my neighborhood this morning I came across not a penny but a new shiny quarter, the 2009 Puerto Rico Commonwealth quarter. This was the first non-penny I had encountered since having my dream on Sept. 18th. Since this was outside of the usual pattern (a non-penny), was I to give this to the next person I saw or was I supposed to just pocket the coin? I asked the Lord and the answer was, proceed as usual. I asked him what to say since this was not a penny as per the dream. He indicated that I was just to refer to it as a coin. So I began looking for someone to talk with.

As I rounded the corner of a street I saw a man who was probably in his early 70’s. He was washing the leaves out of the gutter of the street in front of his house. I approached him and said, “This quarter is for you. It comes with a story.” He smiled and indicated he wanted to hear the story.

“Two weeks ago on Saturday I had a dream that I would start to find coins while I walked. This is the fifth coin I have found. In the dream I was instructed to tell the next person I see that God loves them and he wants a relationship with them. So, here’s your coin.”

“Well, thank you very much.” He said with a big smile on his face.

“Does the year 2009 or Puerto Rico mean anything to you?”

“I don’t think so.”

“O.K. well, enjoy your quarter.”

What am I learning from this little God given project? I think there are a few lessons I’ve learned so far. Jesus only did what he saw the Father doing (Jn. 5:19). This experience for me has been much like Jesus’ experience with the woman at the well in John 4. I can only do or say what God gives me to say, so I am utterly dependent on him. Frankly, my own nature would be to push the evangelistic effort more. But I don’t know everything God is doing. If I push it I risk taking it out of God’s hands and taking control myself.

Second, Paul said:

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. (I Cor. 3:6-8)

I don’t know if God has someone else to water and perhaps even another person to harvest. Jesus is the Lord of the harvest (Lk. 10:2) and I’m not. In this particular case I feel that God is asking me to speak only when he arranges the situation and I’m to say only what he gives me to say. I’m not projecting this situation to any other person or situation. All of us should follow the Lord and do exactly what he tells us to do.

Is this a test of obedience? I have no idea, but I do what to do my best to be as obedient to what God tells me to do and not go beyond what he tells me to do. I’m sure there are more lessons coming and I’m anxious to learn them.

  • Does God have you on a special project? If not, were he to call you to one would you follow, even if it were potentially embarrassing?
  • How would you know if God called you to a special project?
  • How can I know when this is to end?
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I was reading an article this morning that got me thinking about the difference between guilt and shame. You can read that article here. I think it is instructive that there are a number of fundamental differences between guilt and shame. Guilt can be healthy response to wrong doing. Shame, on the other hand, is always caustic, abusive and destructive. With this in mind, I’d like to highlight a few thoughts that came out of reading this article which highlight the difference between guilt and shame.


Shame has a dark presence behind it.

Shame comes from the voice of others or directly from the devil. It can be that destructive voice of another human telling us that we don’t measure up and will probably never measure up. It can come from our own view of ourselves, as it has become twisted by the statements, values and view of others. It can also come directly from the devil. One of his names is the accuser. His accusation towards us is meant to destroy us as a person. We need to understand that no matter where we perceive these accusations as coming from, others, ourselves or the devil, in reality they have really come from one source and that source is diabolical. He may use the statements of others or even our own internal voice, to accuse us, but he is the original source.

Guilt, on the other hand, can come from a self realization that we have violated our own moral code. It can also be the internal voice of the Holy Spirit reminding us that we have done wrong. Either way, it is a healthy response to an unhealthy action. Both of these are trying to point us back to healthy behavior and a healthy view of self, a sinner who can be controlled by the Holy Spirit and needs to be under the control of the Holy Spirit.


Shame is destructive to us on the deepest level. It corrodes our relationship with God, our relationship with others and even our relationship with ourselves. It is never healthy. Shame drives us away from God, causing us to feel that he will not accept us, will never forgive us and will not embrace us in love. That is a lie; a lie which is intended to permanently alienate us from our maker and Lord.

In the same way, shame can alienate us from others. It causes us to believe we are not worthy to be loved and accepted, so we might as well not even try. Once we are alienated from God and others, the final coup de grace is to even alienate us from ourselves. This can become a deep self loathing and hatred which can lead to self destruction.

Guilt leads us entirely in the other direction. The Holy Spirit wants us to renew our relationship with our loving Master. He wants us to do one simple thing, confess so we can repent and renew our relationship, unencumbered by shame. Through confession, repentance and forgiveness, our deep covenantal friendship with God can returned to full engagement, completely unencumbered. God wants to keep our relationship free flowing, with dialog back and forth. He realizes that if we are struggling with guilt, or even worse with shame, we cannot freely engage him and experience his warmth and love toward us.

Health Response

There is only one healthy response to shame when we experience it. It doesn’t matter if it comes to us through the voice of critical people, our own internal critic or the accuser himself. We need to expose the lie, so it loses

Guilt can actually lead to a healthy conclusion

 its power. While the seed of shame may be factually true (we have sinned) its direction is totally false (away from God and others and towards alienation). Once we recognize shame for what it is, we can also recognize that shame is never healthy and drives us in the wrong direction. This in turn allows us to turn in the right direction; toward God and others. With God, all we need to do is confess, repent and accept God’s love, patience, longsuffering and most of all forgiveness and grace.

When we realize our inappropriate behavior has harmed others, it may require asking for their forgiveness as well. Simple, straightforward and sincere is always best. We can’t control how this will be received, because we can’t control the behavior and heart of others. We need to sincerely apologize and then realize that from that point on, their response is out of our control and not really our concern. If they accept our sincere apology enjoy the renewed friendship. If they don’t, lovingly pray for them and wait for them to get their own heart in order.

  • How do you think the desire to control relates to shame and guilt?
  • What are some of the emotional indicators that help us distinguish guilt from shame?
  • What is the difference between pointing out inappropriate behavior and shaming someone? How can we make sure we don’t move from one to the other without realizing it?
  • Can shame, as I’ve defined it, ever be good? Can guilt, as I’ve described it, ever be bad?
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