Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.Eph 5:1-2
Beloved isagapētós: esteemed, favorite, worthy of love. It is the same word the Father spoke immediately following Jesus’ baptism.
“And behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved (agapētós) Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Mat 3:17
God’s love in John 3:16“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…” is agapáō love in a social or moral sense, to be fond of, to love dearly.
The difference is subtle but profound. Agapáō in John 3:16 is the love with which He loved us even when we were dead in our trespasses…by nature children of wrath. Eph 2:1-3. This is a statement of God’s character. He loved us because of who He is despite who we were. In contrast, Agapētós in Eph 5:1 is a statement about us. As believers made alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised up with him and seated with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,Eph 2:5-6 we are now esteemed as His favorites, worthy of His love.
The reason for the change in our status remains the same. For by grace, you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.Eph 2:8-9 Nevertheless we have been promoted to the rank of favored children with Jesus and seated with Him as if we’d been there the entire time.
Let that sink in…
When viewed correctly this revelation should provoke both
Gratitude and Fear.
Historically, believers embrace one or the other. We are consumed with Rom 7:15-25 “Oh what a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death?” Or we redact Romans 7 completely in lieu of Romans 8.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.Rom 8:1-2
Mind you this is Paul the Apostle speaking about himself. He went a step further in 1 Cor 4:13 when he described himself as the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. He said this in the context of addressing what I call “celebrityism” beginning in chapter three.
So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.1 Cor 3:7
“Celebrityism” is born of the “self” that Jesus requires us to deny. Mat 16:24 “I” becomes doctrine such that “My identity” supersedes His wherever “self” is not slain. It is so subtle, so seemingly normal that most do not give it a second thought. The doctrine of “I” is most clearly seen in an obsession with “My Ministry”, “My Calling”, “My gift”, “My significance” etc.
I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?1Cor 4:6-7
“Celebrityism” begins with a sincere desire to be used by God and becomes idolatry when we idolize those we wish we could be in the world. “Celebrityism” is pride unwittingly instilled by culture. It is carnal- a work of the flesh. 1 Cor 3:1-4 It is a desire to be something or someone in the world in Jesus’ name. It is a fruit of immaturity, comparison, performance, and a perverted understanding of what it means to be
Many believers wrestle with the paradox of identity IN Him. Either we are so consumed with beholding our reflection in His eyes as we imagine it that we can not even see Him. Or we are so consumed with guilt, shame, and condemnation that we can not see Him. Either way, the enemy doesn’t care if we are consumed with narcissism or self-hatred. He only needs us to be focused on the unholy trinity of
Me, Myself and I
It’s been the same game since the fall when Adam and Eve’s attention went from perfect fellowship with God to an obsession with self when their eyes went from Him to themselves and they realized they were naked. Gen 3 The enemy doesn’t need us to choose sin. He just needs us to be focused on sin. He is perfectly happy to have me indulging with impunity or shamefully struggling in the flesh to avoid it. If only we would realize that all of us are born addicted to self, that
We’d understand our identity as beloved children and be free.
That identity is a dead child of wrath revived, redeemed, and now beloved because of who God is, not because of who I am. He does not need me. He wants me. His plans are not contingent upon anything I do or fail to do. My participation is an undeserved privilege granted to me as a beloved son. If I rule and reign with Him it is only because my life is in Him. Today, I do not regret the past or wish to shut the door on it because it is covered by the blood of Jesus. Hence, my brokenness has become my blessing, my rap sheet my resume. I don’t need to affirm my or your identity in Him because the “I” is dead or still needs to be slain.
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Eph 4
The Acts 17:11 Bereans Bible study begins Ephesians 4 this week. Given the “season”, I’m going to jump ahead for in this blog post.
And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: Gen 1:14.
Seasons is “mowed“: “an appointed feast”.
Specific instructions and times for these feasts were given to Moses in Leviticus 23.
Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, Concerning the feasts of the Lord, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts. Lev 23:2
Convocation is “miqra“: a “dress rehearsal”.
What many regard as obscure, obsolete Old Testament feasts are in fact the Lord’s feasts appointed 1,948 years before Go made His covenant with Abraham. Gen 17 Each of the seven feasts is a type and shadow ofGod’s plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. Eph 1:9-10
Passover Ex 12:1-11Lev 23:48 2023 began on April 5th at sunset. The Gospels tell us Jesus was crucified “on the day of preparation” John 19:14. “The day of preparation” was the Jewish idiom for “Friday”. John is referring to preparation for the Sabbath that fell during Passover week. It was not the preparation for the Passover meal that Jesus had already eaten. Mat 26:17-29 The Feast of Unleavened Bread Lev 23:6-8 begins on Passover and continues for seven days. Jesus was crucified during Passover and resurrected three days later on the Feast of First Fruits. Lev 23:10-11 The day after Passover begins the Feast of Weeks and the counting of the Omer (sheaves of wheat) for fifty days leading up to Shavuot Lev 23:15-16. Passover to Shavuot marks the beginning and end of the wheat harvest. Christians call Shavuot Pentecost because it means “fifty”. One hundred twenty people waited fifty days in the upper room until Pentecost was fulfilled in Acts 2.
When the law was given from Sinai, God appeared in a thick cloud. Exod 19 Then the Lord spoke to the Israelites from the midst of the fire Deut 4 He showed them his great fire and they heard his words from the midst it. In Jerusalem, there was the rushing of a violent wind from heaven divided tongues, as of fire, which rested upon each one of them, and the apostolic proclamation of the Gospel in tongues. Acts 2 The Old Testament Pentecost was the giving of the 1st Covenant, the Law. The New Testament Pentecost was the giving of the 2nd Covenant, the Holy Spirit.
As For Easter…
“Easter actually originated as an ancient pagan celebration of the spring equinox. In Christianity, the day was dedicated to observing the resurrection of Jesus Christ, celebrated around the time of the Jewish Passover. However, with the spread of the Gospel of Christ, early Christians who did not participate in Jewish customs eventually merged their observances with the pagan spring festival, recognizing Easter as “resurrection day.”History of Easter
The Passover meal that Jesus ate with His disciples and is repeated yearly by Orthodox Jews and Messianic believers is called the Seddar. It has fifteen steps the first of which is the removal of Leaven from the home. Leaven (yeast) represents Egypt out of which Israel emerged into the desert. For us, it is worldliness, false teaching, sin, etc. The leaven is not to be touched so the father takes a candle for light and a feather and goes about the house sweeping the hidden leaven into a bag. When all the leaven is collected both bag and feather are burned. Of course, yeast is not found scattered in most houses today. Therefore pieces of unleavened bread are traditionally hidden like the pagan easter eggs parents hide for children today.
Jesus was removing Leaven in John 2 when He cleansed the Temple during the feast of Unleavened Bread.
It was Passover when He fed the five thousand and The Feast of Unleavened Bread when He declared
Where Passover represents our justification (the remission of sin), The Feast of Unleavened Bread represents our ongoing sanctification. Justification is an exclusive work of God. Sanctification takes place in partnership with God. Justification is instantaneous. Sanctification is ongoing as we become Holy even as He is Holy. “Holy” is to be separate from the world.
Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, 2 Cor 6:14-18
This is not an obsolete Old Testament ceremonial law but a New Testament command for those already justified by grace through faith. Eph 2:8-10 Our part in sweeping the leaven from our lives is illustrated by Paul in the book of Romans.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.Rom 12:1-2
As for those who claim the feasts are not for today Paul is clear that they are. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.1 Cor 5:8
Leaven includes but is not limited to the thoughts, words, and actions that we do not want to acknowledge as sin. It is the worldliness we justify, rationalize, and minimize to avoid the fact that friendship with the world is enmity with God. Opposition implies stubbornness which is idolatry. 1 Sam 15:23 Active opposition looks like a violent attack.
Leaven compels us to make idols of politicians, celebrities, political parties, denominations, faith streams and wealth, etc. Mark 14:8-20 Leaven might be the music or tattoo that we think gives us the “cultural cred” we covet. We rationalize that they open doors for the gospel.
Leaven is the beloved tradition that emerges from syncretism. Syncretism pleases man in the name of God rather than God for the sake of man.
Leaven is false prophecy, false signs and wonders, and, the false teaching that deep down we suspect or even know is unbiblical.
Leaven confuses loyalty with faithfulness, pride with anointing, intention with action, and cognitive dissonance with faith. Leaven fuels offense and even rage when our loyalties and wrong beliefs are challenged. Leaven always seeks its own and with it approval from the world rather than God who opposes it. 1 John 2:15-16
I’m not a Methodist. But given that I live in Appalachia, I find the alleged connection between John and Charles Wesley, the Methodist revival, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread rather poignant. After having profound personal encounters with God, the Wesleys preached the necessity of sanctification through personal holiness in thoughts, words, and actions. This is the point for Christians during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It was in this context that Paul wrote.
Now, this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Eph 4:17-32
March 1st marked a year since we moved to Greeneville TN and since I last wrote about my best childhood friend Craig Hammerly. Craig was the unauthorized friend with whom I used to play in the woods between our houses when we were 6 or 7 years old. I say “unauthorized” because Craig was that “bad kid”. My mother forbade our friendship. So I’d grab my Tonka dump truck, excavator, and matchbox cars and meet Craig secretly to play. Craig didn’t have any toys so it was up to me. Craig lived alone with his grandfather. Rumor had it that he “did… things to Craig” – the kind of things that people didn’t talk about let alone do anything about in those days. Craig got held back in the third grade and we eventually grew apart. He grew grew more angry and became the school bully that everyone was afraid to fight. Craig couldn’t read but he was good at fighting. Man could he punch hard. Elementary school mythology had it that “he’d knocked out a high school kid when he was in the sixth grade. Even the teachers were afraid of him.” He moved away before we got to Jr. High. Ironically after 50 years I felt prompted to look him up on the internet. He was all over the internet. Craig, who called himself Damien Knight had been on drugs and in and out of jail for most of his life. He’d been arrested again just a week before.
Craig beat his roommate to death with his fists.
Craig is by definition,dead in his trespasses. Eph 2:1
The Acts 17:11 Bereans Bible study just finished Ephesians chapter 3. We ended last session with all of us pondering the breadth and length and height and depth and the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, Eph 3:18-19 We all agreed that His love is best understood in contrast with who we were; dead people appointed to wrath Eph 2:1-3 versus who we are today
God’s definition of love is counterintuitive to that of the world.
Even more counterintuitive is that “Dead in our trespasses” puts all of us on equal footing with Craig and even the worst serial killer.
That’s a hard red pill for some.
It’s not that our actions here on earth equal those of Dahlmer. Rather it is that all dead people are equally dead. Jesus clearly illustrates this principle in Luke 13:1-5…No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish...
At the end of the day the only thing that any of us brings to our salvation is our sin.
That should be really good news to all but the unholy trinity of
“My Identity” is a favorite theme in the church these days. If there is anything good in me now it is Jesus. My identity is in him Col 3:3 “But what about 2 Cor 5:17?” “I thought all things are made new.” Yes, they are and yes you are. But only in Christ Jesus. Narcissism hates that. Narcissism can not survive in Christ Jesus. Thankfully, the Father is conforming us to the image of His SonRom 8:29 in an ongoing process of transformation and renewal Rom 12:1-2.
Once again we don’t worship a God of this or that. Our God is a God of this and that. So often believers skip Oh wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?… Rom 7:24-25 to the so much sweeter Rom 8:1-2 where There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus… Yet, we must embrace and internalize both if we are to do more than just scratch the surface of His love that surpasses knowledge.
Oh wretched man…
I raised a few eyebrows when I wrote about my Holston experience in For the Love of Sid. It was inspired by the Toy Story character that everyone loves to hate. Some were disturbed that I would still identify with the evil Sid. “I refuse to see you as Sid,” said one friend. “But you have a new identity now!” assured another. Well…
Yes and No
I ended up living on my own at 14 and subsequently took Craigs place in the community. Suddenly I was that bad kid with whom mothers forbade their children to associate. I walked a lonely angry path that eventually landed me in jail. I could have easily been where Craig is today. But I came face to face with thelove that surpasses knowledgeamidst a point blank shotgun blast. I wasn’t looking for God. I was looking to die. Little did I know I was already dead. Jesus showed up and saved me. And not just from the shotgun. He saved me from me. Why me and not Craig? If you say it is because there was something different about me then you’ve missed the point entirely.
I’m no longer dead in my trespasses. Nor am I consumed by guilt, shame, and condemnation. Still, I am very much Sid. I am Craig. I am Jeffery Dahlmer. The only difference is that I am in Christ Jesus.
God loved me and still loves me in spite of me not because of me.
God loves me because of who He is.
This is such a deep core truth and just the beginning of His love that surpasses knowledge.
The best I can do today is to be grateful and love the people like me that He sends my way.Luke 7:47
I shared the story of Craig and me with some of the boys with whom I work. You know you’ve hit a nerve in boys when they just look you long and hard in the eye and don’t say word. Only one boy asked a question. “How does that make you feel Mr. Brian?” “Sad” I began
We ended the Bible study session with my favorite allegory about a righteous African King whom everyone loved and respected. His word was unshakable. He said what he meant and meant what he said.
One day his administrators reported that someone was stealing chickens in the village. If you’ve been to places like Mozambique then you know that “chicken thieves die!” So the King made a decree. When the thief was caught he would receive one hundred stripes, enough to potentially kill a grown man.
The next day the thief was caught and brought before the king. It was the kings mother. The king was distraught. Still he commanded that she be stripped and tied to the whipping post. “One hundred lashes!” cried the king, “and not one less.” “If I even think you are holding back I will have you executed.” The men assigned to the task moved solemnly toward the kings mother. “Wait!” cried the King. “There’s one more thing.” The King stood and removed his shirt. Then covering his mother with his own body the King exclaimed,
Even this does not begin to describe the love that surpasses knowledge.
Even so, Passover has officially started as I publish this.
The name “Gray Hope Missionaries” has occasionally caused a few eyebrows to rise. “What does that even mean?” they ask with a familiar reticence in their voice. I’ll admit it does sound a bit self-centered. I originally coined the title with the idea of it being a conversation starter. That’s manipulation code for initiating an evangelistic or “support us” sales pitch.
We all know God’s will requires funding.
Gray is the color between black and white, light and dark. It’s how I imagine hope. It’s also a Scotch Irish name that literally means hope. According to Google, the family crest which may or may not be my family crest, is an anchor.
That we live in the gray is another way of saying we see as in a glass darkly.
We need as much hope as we can get.
If you ask a missionary what life on the mission field is like you will often get an oral or written narrative along the lines of our most recent Hope In Time Newsletter, the ministry with whom we currently serve. Yes, we really do what we say. That’s not the point. Increasingly, we find ourselves cringing at what inevitably ends up looking like horn-tooting, self-promotion. It’s a Catch 22. We can’t be accountable to supporters without pictures of us doing what we say we do. But then it’s hard to direct the reader’s attention to God while staring at our mugs amidst a story about some tin we just nailed.
I’ve come to almost despise the drudgery of self-promotion if only because it’s not biblical. Mat 6:1-4 When I think back to the marketing videos I regularly produced until two years ago I am embarrassed that I cultivated so much narcissism and self-aggrandizement. Yet narcissism and embellishment are just good business these days. They are expected and even praised in our consumer culture. That this is accompanied by a corresponding subconscious distrust of anyone asking for money seems rather ironic. That we associate meekness and humility with failure, and grandiosity with success, may offer some insight into why our culture has so little wisdom and discernment and continues to select psychopaths as leaders.
But I digress.
In my experience, being a missionary has been more about coming to terms with things that people preoccupied with the first world rat race never have time or perhaps the desire to think about.
I liken it to peelingan onion.
We began with peeling away our previous assumptions about ourselves, missions work, God, His Word and the world, as well all the ethical dilemmas that result from pride-ridden dreams of being a “world changer”.
This is counterintuitive as we are taught that success is contingent upon one’s ability to portray it.
Next came a season of preaching one thing and doing another. In my case that looked like talking about abiding while franticly striving to live up to prophetic words about my being a “world changer”.
Turns out telling people they are “world changers” is also a marketing strategy.
This recurring motif frequently ends in missionary burnout. Either we learn that,
“His strength is made perfect in weakness. We would rather boast in our infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon us. For when we are weak, then we are strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-10
or we quit.
This may seem simplistic to those whose careers and prosperity are the fruit of their dependency on God. But try it after slaying prosperity on the altar. This is where we encounter our inner Judas.
Mary, therefore, took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” John 12:3-6
The temptation to do everything apart from the literal commands of Jesus can be strong. There’s always an excuse. I have learned that given a severe enough tragedy or perceived inequity, and there always is, darn near any worldly strategy can be justified in support of financing God’s will.
Yet Jesus assured us there will be no human solution to the world’s suffering and problems. That includes poverty, climate change, and injustice to name a few. The Christian walk is not about world-changing effort and success let alone how God uses the almighty “us” to do it. It’s about being broken as we learn we can not. Only brokenness teaches us to be utterly dependent upon Jesus.That is thekingdom definition of success.
It begins with accepting the abject silliness of our self-imagined significance. John 15:1-17
“You can do nothing” is not hyperbole. “Nothing” means “nothing”. Hence, I’m thinking a better word for “missionary” might be
“Abidinary” – one who abides in the vine.
In our case, becoming an “abidinary” has meant dwelling both literally and prophetically in the wilderness. This has been especially true since moving into the mountains when the entire world was locked down. Our driver’s licenses expired and we don’t have a car. Every time we are tempted to think it is coming to an end, another mutation and mutant worldly narrative kicks in. We are stunned and amazed at what the world has become and is becoming. It seems that everything we knew could happen – but probably wouldn’t – is happening. Maybe you can relate. Each time we learn that normal isn’t coming back the Lord brings us back into the Book of Exodus. We shed another onion layer as we look into the type and shadow of our own impatience, impertinence, and ingratitude. Sometimes we are at the Springs of Marah in Exodus 15 grumbling that the living water is not sweetened to our taste. Other times we are in Exodus 32 carving a golden calf 2.0. Our calf isn’t made of gold but steak dinners and dreams of RV living while touring the US.
Meanwhile, God keeps placing us at the proverbial entrance to the Leviticus 8:35 tent.
For the record, I am not claiming to be a Levitical Priest.
Rather there is just so much history and depth in the original Tabernacle and Priesthood. Leviticus 8 is about the consecration and ordination of the priests. Many believers discount the Old Testament, especially Leviticus. “That was the old covenant,” they say. “Only the new one applies today.” And let’s be honest. Detailed descriptions of donning one hundred pounds of priestly garb before tying a bull to the altar, slaughtering it in the heat, and spreading the blood and guts around can be boring and well…gross.
Still, everything points directly to Jesus and lends greater depth to our understanding of Him and our relationshipwith Him.
The bull was first and foremost symbolic of the priest tying himself to the altar. What took place there was a prophetic depiction of Jesus who would be both the final and perfect sacrifice as well as the high priest who offered it. It was symbolic of the depth of what is required if indeed we offer ourselves as living sacrifices. Rom 12:1-2.
Meanwhile, we sing “Come to the altar” as if it were an invitation to hug Santa Claus.
The altar is an invitation to tie ourselves up, be slain and die.
The tying, which is submission, is up to us. The slaying is a job for the High Priest. That’s Jesus. Anyone who has ever slaughtered a bull knows the sheer brutality, labor and gore involved. That the same sacrifice was immediately repeated with a ram only makes the scene seem more burdensome and intense. We may not slaughter animals as a propitiation for sin today. But shouldn’t our alter calls reflect the same sober intensity? Interestingly, Lev 8:3 lends deeper context to the scene when we consider that the entire congregation was required to be present.
This was church.
The Levitical Priests were just getting started.
“And you shall not go outside the entrance of the tent of meeting for seven days, until the days of your ordination are completed, for it will take seven days to ordain you. As has been done today, the Lord has commanded to be done to make atonement for you. At the entrance of the tent of meeting you shall remain day and night for seven days, performing what the Lord has charged, so that you do not die, for so I have been commanded.” Lev 8:33-35
There is mind-numbing, soul-shaking, typological, depth to this for those who understand. Suffice it to say that in addition to the wilderness, this is the place where God has repeatedly placed Cathy and me for the better part of two years. It is an uncomfortable place, albeit an often joyful place, a paradoxical place filled with futility and hope and the realization that our best efforts are analogous to a finger painting by a three-year-old presented to his father. Perhaps the desire to please God alone would qualify as an acceptable sacrifice. But then who can honestly say they do that? Hence, the bible says our best efforts are filthy rags. It seems more likely that our worldly displays before man for which people so often praise us has become our reward in full. Peeling the onion has shown us that
The counterfeit of true worship and sacrifice is the worship of one’s own reflection in the eyes of another and as we might imagine it in the eyes ofGod.
We are the tabernacle today. The tent entrance is symbolic of the place of coming to terms with ourselves as God reveals the deepest parts of ourselves in answer to prayer. Residual parts we don’t like and wish were not there. It is always parts we wish were not there that need to be cut away, discarded or burned. The altar is hard work. But the hardest part is in the submission to waiting.
The entrance to the tent is a most necessary place.
It is at the entrance to the tent of our tabernacle that we wrestle with drudgery, immobility, and loneliness. We are all strangers in a strange land. But Honduras is a place where no matter how low and slow we go we will never be seen as equal, a part of, or the same. We are gringos. We are opportunity and blessing, consumers and cash. Sometimes we are bipedal ATMs. The deafening silence so devoid of true fellowship at the tabernacle door can produce the temptation to retrieve what was slain and return to comfort in the land of the prospering dead. We are here for seven days, however long or short a time that may actually be, according to His will and “so that (we) do not die.” There may be a different season and assignment on the horizon. In the meantime, this is what it looks like to learn to abide. John 15:5
We’ve been full-time missionaries in Honduras for 4 years now. October will mark 5 years since we left Hawaii for IRIS Global Harvest School of Missions in Mozambique the cost of which remains the only outstanding debt that we owe. That’s ironic because the longer I am on the mission field the more I realize how priceless that experience was. And while we had a graduation ceremony, I am increasingly aware that I have yet to graduate.
I suspect that is by design.
While Rolland and Heidi Baker both hold Ph.Ds in Theology, they never formally taught on that subject. When we arrived we were greeted with,
“A lot of you came here to learn how to do missions. The truth is you came here to die.”
I have often wondered about that and it occurs to me that we’d probably have something called Bakerism today with Bakerists arguing with other “ists” over other “isms” had the school tried to condense the sovereign will of God into a university-style syllabus. Instead, we began and ended with the idea that missions flow from intimacy with, and dependency on Jesus. The implication was that intimacy must be sought.
It can not be humanly imparted or taught.
There was also an underlying motif regarding the inseparable connection between intimacy with God and suffering. This seems counter-intuitive when you consider the theological streams where the Bakers are most often embraced and those that reject them. Whatever you may think about them, the fact remains that the revival that so many crave was birthed out of suffering in Mozambique and has been the norm for the better part of two decades. Until recently most of this suffering was the direct result of storms, flooding and resulting famine. As of this writing, people have been beheaded in a village where we did an outreach. Untold numbers have been shot. Tens of thousands are fleeing radical Islamists who have created yet another internal refugee crisis. We are praying for Mozambique and expect more revival.
The rest of the church would do well to observe and learn while it prays.
That’s not to say there wasn’t any teaching. There was a whole range of teachings from various celebrity pulpits from around the world that may or may not have been endorsed by the staff. As for the Bakers themselves, Heidi modeled more than taught and always emphasized that “love looks like something.” She would occasionally give a hermeneutic on a specific passage of scripture like Jesus’s approach to the woman at the well as a model of her trademark “low and slow” “honor those we serve” approach to missions. Rolland was more the mystic and taught like Miyagi from The Karate Kid. His lectures resembled a cross between a stand-up comedy act and a Zen Koan possibly designed to leave people scratching their heads for years. He would lob one-liners like hand grenades into the crowd and then giggle as student brows collectively knit together.
“Ah yes, pray the money in they say”. “Well…hehehe what if God says no?”
“Lots of people argue about what God is or isn’t.” He’s a God of this.” “No he’s a God of that.” They say. “Well what if He’s a God of this and that?”.
He’d talk about miracles and missionary tales but mostly about the miracle giver in a way that sounded like a Song of Solomon 2.0. It definitely made the “macho” in me squirm. Then he’d run around the pavilion shouting “BOOF!”, pretending to shoot people with his microphone while hundreds of twenty-somethings fell down consumed with what I viewed as sheer bandwagon fallacy laughter. I wasn’t having it. I was mad. I’d come here to learn how to do missions not act like a stupid drunk kid. I remember Rolland paused and looked at me for a moment before deciding to forgo the “Boof”. My offense immediately melted into a conviction that I had failed the “become as a little child test”. I then experienced the rejection of a little child deemed unworthy of the “Boof”. Mission accomplished. I know it sounds silly. But God has different ways of tearing our old wineskins apart and causing old wine to flow like blood and more often tears on the floor. I have since learned that silly is often an easier path through ears and into hearts than are hardcore theological arguments. That is not to say that theological correctness isn’t important. It most certainly is. Anyway, Heidi addressed getting knocked down in a later session, “If you don’t get knocked down, just get down.” she said.
Turns out – nothing quenches Holy Spirit so much as pride.
Those who regularly read my blogs may have detected that I am always repenting and reforming as I am being conformed. I am fully aware that I will always know in part and see in a glass darkly until the perfect comes and I am known as I am fully known. Still, I thirst for righteousness and have very little patience for blatant fraud and heresy. I am not a cessationist. Rather I am passionate about “testing everything while holding fast to what is good.” 1 Thess 5:20-21 There are some false theological streams in which some Harvest school graduates are immersed that I find downright scary if for no other reason than they and their disciples are going to melt like snowflakes in a flame amidst the call to endure what is coming. I want to know Him far more than I want anything from Him. I think Rolland and Heidi would agree. That said, If I never see another miracle, sign, or wonder again and it would have absolute zero impact on my faith.
Both Cathy and I experienced full supernatural deliverances when we surrendered to the Lord. We know that we serve a personal God who actively intervenes in His creation according to His sovereign will. We’ve seen God cast out demons in people and seen tumors disappear. Twice we saw the miraculous replication of food. Once in Honduras when we didn’t ask for it,
and once in Mozambique after Heidi had a group of five-year-olds pray. We’ve seen cataracts dissolve, deaf ears opened and lame people dance when they previously couldn’t even stand. We’ve been delivered from what should have been sudden death at least three times while on the mission field. Only God knows the actual count. We’ve seen the other side in action as well. Still, most times we don’t see anything happen when we pray. Some would call that proof of stupidity.
Others would say we need to grow in faith. Luke 17:6
I just listened to a podcast featuring Dick Brogden. He told a story of when in his twenties he had fervently and faithfully prayed for a Kenyan woman to be raised from the dead. Suddenly her body jerked upward. “Praise God!” he exclaimed. Then he realized a particularly large woman had just sat on the end of the stretcher and the leverage had jerked the body upward. He felt stupid and angry at God and asked the Lord why? The answer he got was that God would trust him with His power when He could trust him with His glory. Dick had to admit that if God had raised the woman from the dead he would have written newsletters and given testimony thanking God but also making darn sure that everyone knew that Dick had been heavily involved. I think a lot about that when I write about what we do. I am absolutely convinced that if anyone is ever raised from the dead when I pray it will be because enough of Brian has died and been flushed away. It will not because of any grandiose growth in my faith.
The miracle of suffering
I recently read about David and Svea Flood a Swedish missionary couple who went to the Congo in 1921. Long story short the village chief prevented them from witnessing to anyone for fearing of angering the village spirits. Only one young boy who was allowed to sell them chicken and eggs heard the gospel. They felt like failures and then lost everything. Svea died, another couple adopted their young daughter Aggie, and David returned to the West where he deconstructed and fell away from the faith. Aggie grew up in South Dakota. Long story short she eventually learned what had happened in Africa. She did more research and found that the boy to whom her parents had ministered was now a pastor that led his entire village to Christ. At last count, 110,000 people had been baptized as a result of that single seed. Aggie then sought out her 73-year-old birth father who was alcoholic and still very angry with God. He cried when she told him that his efforts had not been in vain. In the end he reconciled with her and with the God of this and that.
So why does God do miracles sometimes and not others? Better yet, why does God do miracles at all?
One reason is for unbelievers to take notice. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” John 4:48 Signs and wonders follow the preaching of the gospel. Mark 16:20. As for sign chasers, I always imagine Jesus shaking His head and rolling his eyes just before He performed a miracle.
For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?Mat 9:5
Yet even Jesus could do nothing apart from His Father. John 5:19 Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing. John 15:5. It would seem to me that in addition to dying to self, miracles are contingent upon our alignment with the will of God. True alignment with God looks like people weeping on their faces not men in thousand-dollar suits in celebrity pulpits boldly declaring a self-ordained anointing, power and authority to align God’s will with theirs.
I have a hypothesis.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” Mat 7:21-23
Have you ever stopped and really considered that passage? Better yet, have you ever scrutinized yourself in accordance with those three verses especially in the context of your most treasured assumptions about God? That passage is in my opinion the scariest one in the entire bible. It is entirely possible to be doing all the right things even supernatural things for all the wrong reasons and not even know it. The remaining question is, “how can I really know if God knows me?” Even more, “do I even want to be known by God, or do I just want a cheap fire insurance policy and freedom from the anxiety that we used to call conviction of sin?”
“…If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” 1 Cor 8:1-2.
That’s encouraging. But then “who loves God?” I mean – I feel like I do. Still, Jesus said, “If you love me keep my commandments.” John 14:15 I just murdered the same guy ten times today, coveted my neighbor’s stuff and committed a host of other sins in my mind. Mat 5-6 Now what? Do I redact the scriptures that make me uncomfortable, find a teacher with a more palatable hermeneutic or face the truth – “oh what a wretched man I am!”? Sigh…I guess I’d better head on back to the old throne of grace and say “sorry”… Yes, I know my wretchedness is covered by the shed blood of Jesus and that there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. Rom 8 Of course, I am saved by grace through faith that is not even my own so that I can’t brag about it. Eph 2:8-9 Still, the fact remains that I don’t always obey His commandments. Not only because I can not but because I choose not. Again, I don’t have self-esteem or identity issues. I’ve heard countless feel-good sermons over the last fifteen years explaining my identity and why I am the righteousness of Christ… The fact remains that Mat 7:21-23 is still there in its unredacted form declaring that not everyone who thinks they are saved and doing the will of God will be saved in the end. Maybe I just need to sing “I am a friend of God” and “Reckless Love” until I believe it. Or maybe as George Mueller wrote I need the simultaneous recognition of my utter depravity with the grace and miracle covering of the blood of Jesus. Maybe I need a full and realistic view of my filthy rag works and the offscouring of all things that I am in the context of His righteousness in which I am so miraculously clothed. It doesn’t matter that I am a missionary. Any time I take an honest look at my reflection in the dark glass, the truth of ME strikes Acts 2:43 (Phobos) terror in my heart. It is, I think, a fruit of sincerity in that it produces “a broken and contrite heart that God will not despise.” Psalm 51:17 That in turn yields a return of the joy of His salvation. Psalm 51:12 It results in wisdom Prov 9:10 and genuine life application alignment with God Prov 3:5-8 the verification and validation of which some times but not always, maybe, just might be confirmed by a sign or a wonder.
It was during our first trip to Honduras that I also made my first trip to a third-world dump and saw children eating raw garbage.
Meanwhile, Cathy went to a river baptism where she and three girls got covered in gold dust. Previous to this I saw a video featuring falling gold dust and people who claimed to awaken with divine dental work in the form of mysterious gold fillings and gold teeth. All of it sounded ridiculous to me but I kept my mouth shut. All I knew was that I’d just witnessed the worst, most heart-wrenching poverty I’d ever seen. I told Cathy I felt like I’d been hit upside the head with a cement block.
Now she was ranting to me about pixy dust on her cheeks?!!
Still, I had to admit it was pretty strange. It disappeared the moment we tried to remove it from her skin but it stayed on the three girls for days. A picture of them hung on our wall in Hawaii for years.
Pretty soon gold dust testimonies were rampant throughout charismania until some big-name megachurches notorious for hosting “glory clouds” got caught pouring gold glitter into air ducts.
“Gold dust mold dust. Whatever!” I thought and dismissed the whole thing.
Then I heard a podcast featuring a pastor who claimed to have seen gold dust in his church. He’d been in Jerusalem praying when a Rabbi approached him to ask what he was doing. “Why I’m praying for the peace of Jerusalem.” The pastor replied. That sparked the Rabbi’s interest. Somehow the conversation got around to the subject of gold dust at which point the Rabbi freaked out. “Gold dust is falling on the gentiles?! Gold dust is falling on the gentiles!!” He exclaimed. Apparently, somewhere within extra-biblical Jewish literature, there is an expected prophetic sign of the coming of Messiah involving gold dust falling on the gentiles.
The betrothal or engagement period for a Jewish marriage is one year. During this time the bride and groom do not see each other at all.After the betrothal ceremony, and just before leaving for a year to prepare a home for his future bride, the bridegroom would give her a Matan. According to the Rabbi, this was traditionally a gift of gold and signified a pledge of his love for her. It was to be a reminder, that he was thinking of her while they were apart and that he would return at the appointed time to receive her as his wife.
“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”
Suddenly, the absurd didn’t seem quite so absurd.
Fast forward to Cerro Azul Meambar Honduras last year. It was about a week after our house was destroyed in the landslide. We had the clothes on our backs, food, and a temporary place to lay our heads but otherwise, we didn’t know what we should do. We knew worse things can and do happen. Still, there is an element of suffering in losing everything you own and finding oneself suddenly homeless in the third world. Should I throw in the towel and go home? Oh shut up, Brian! Instead of throwing in the towel, we threw ourselves into outreaches to get food, water purifiers, beds, and clothing, etc. to those most in need. It was mostly selfish.
After all the best way to cope when you are hurting is to help someone who is hurting more.
Cathy was sick on the last day and wasn’t with us as we delivered the last bags of rice and beans. The crisis adrenaline was wearing off as we headed back to our vehicle and I started to experience some oh so irrational and unspiritual feelings of lostness as waves of fleshy negativity rushed through my brain. Was God punishing us? Was this a warning? “His sheep hear His voice.” Did I not hear Him? Had I gone against his will by moving here? Did Mat 7:21-23 apply to me? Shut up Brian! Sure I could acknowledge the theological error cognitively but the emotions remained.
That’s part of being a fallen human on a fallen earth.
The post-hurricane heat and humidity were heavy that day. Suddenly a cool breeze picked up and blew on my face as the four of us approached our vehicle. We all noticed a small whirlwind of gold dust swirling by the front passenger door where I had previously been sitting. It was more than a little freakish to see gold dust-covering just my side of the car. I’d never seen anything like it. All I can say is that it brought tears to my eyes and I can not describe the completely irrational yet profound sense of relief, assurance, and peace that converged with what I was seeing. It was as if God was inaudibly speaking,
“Don’t worry. I know you.”
Since then Cathy and I have become more eschatologically oriented in our approach to the gospel. Not in a conspiratorial, “the vaccine is the mark of the beast” sort of way as so many seem prone. But in the sense that the primary task in missions is a participation in the preparation of a spotless bride for a wedding and a wedding feast.
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. Rev 19:6-10
That preparation includes studying ourselves approved as we are commanded to do. 2 Tim 2:15 so we can be good Acts 17:11 Bereans and avoid being deceived. Mat 24:4 It also involves watching and praying and miracles, healings, signs and wonders. Some are for all the world to see. Others may be very personal. After all, the very first miracle Jesus ever performed was only known by a few. John 2 The preparation of the bride involves knowing the grace, love, and kindness of God. It also involves knowing His severity and coming wrath. It involves blessing and the experience of abundance. It involves suffering, loss and persecution. 2 Tim 3:12
Our God is a God of this and that.
If we are to know Him we must first know about Him through His word. Sorry, but reading books by people who claim to go to heaven and dialogue with the Father everyday instead is not going to cut it. Yet if we only know about Him and never know Him personally then what does it matter if we know about Him at all? Even worse, if I claim to know Him but the things I know contradict what He says about Himself in His word then who is it that I know? Hence Mat 7:21-23
Yeah, that’s a mind-bender.
As I often explain to atheists when they strive to refute Christianity, I love my wife. I can not prove to them that I love my wife. Neither can they prove that I don’t. I know that I know and that’s all there is to it. Intimacy with God works the same. By the same token, I don’t take every intimate interaction with my wife and make a doctrine of marriage out of it. Instead, I look to God’s word and compare myself, my experience and my marriage to His standard. Everything that is true, everything that matters is rooted in the fact that Jesus is the bridegroom and we are His bride. We expectantly await his return in faith with the hope that we will not be found naked Rev 16:15 and or without wedding garments Mat 22:11-14. We do so despite experiences and external circumstances not because of them. Tribulation, suffering, and persecution remain the only real guarantees for us in this age. Still, the promise of our blessed hope remains. Titus 2:13 I’m not about to make a doctrine out of my gold dust experience. And you shouldn’t use it to support or refute those of anyone else. Sound doctrine is derived from scripture alone. Still, if Jesus places His hand on your shoulder in a breeze, lights a bush on fire and speaks to you through it, or gifts you with a gold dust Matan while you wait, that’s great. I recommend receiving it the same way you are called to receive the James 1:1-4 joy of having your faith tested and with a clear understanding of its purpose. Don’t dismiss it, or worse – make it an idol of it as so many do. Just be grateful and receive His peace and the blessed assurance that He knows you. Then get back to the business of knowing Him more through His word, spending time in the secret place with Him so you can more fully obey Him, love Him and become more fully conformed to His image such that He knows you even more.
In the endyou might know this about God. Others might know about that. But none of us really know God until we know Him as the God of this and that.
One of the most frequent questions we are asked by visitors is,
“What is it like to be a missionary?”
To be a missionary is to pursue brokenness. It is first and foremost about love. Love in the context of a relationship with God and with each other. Everything we do is rooted in intimacy with Him and each other in Him. The greater the intimacy the greater our recognition of our dependence. Dependence on God is a to key success on the mission field. It is the understanding that apart from relationship, the words “love” and “God” are meaningless.
Sometimes the gospel is more effectively preached with a smile, a hug or a small act of kindness that leaves people with questions rather than answers to questions they never asked.
Being a missionary means understanding that preaching a sermon and cleaning a toilet might be one in the same.
Being a missionary means having set schedules that rarely pan out because like everyone else, missionaries are gifted and dysfunctional. It is understanding that the patience spoken of in James 1:4 is an end and not just a means.
Some days begin at 3 AM in the back of a pick-up truck on a muddy road in the rain and end at 10pm in the same. Others might start at 10 and end at 3. Sometimes we are hot, hungry thirsty and sick. Sometimes we are cool, relaxed and full of energy. Sometimes we have electricity and water. Sometimes we don’t. The periodic absence of first world comforts begets a greater sense of gratitude for the little comforts we once took for granted.
Being a missionary means not punching a time clock
or looking for one to punch.
It means not coveting Friday and a bigger paycheck. It means not working for the next vacation or retirement. It means not being afraid of being late or failing to perform. It means not being distracted by materialism, the latest styles or trends or the busyness of first world life. It means not being consumed by sports, politics and sewer-stream news.
It means keeping the eternal end in mind.
It is freedom from fear of suffering and the death that no one escapes.
Being a missionary means being willing to live in the desert, proverbial and literal rather than paradise.
Being a missionary means more than being a humanitarian.
It means honoring an old man or shaking a hand dripping with slime at the dump knowing that you can wash your hands, but he can’t and may die because of it.
It means traveling for an entire day to hug a suffering child.
It means paying attention to the little things, those who don’t matter to the world.
It means understanding the words of Mother Teresa,
“the most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved.”
That these words apply to eternity.
That eternity apart from God is the quintessence of loneliness.
We can tell people ad infinitum that Jesus loves them, put on our best Jesus smile and our best Jesus act in hopes that they will see Jesus in us and raise their hand at an alter call. We can pat ourselves and each other on the back in celebration of decisions for Jesus on a given day.
But at the end of the day it’s about us seeing Jesus in them, “in the least of these” in the ONE in front of us.
It means staying in touch with what breaks God’s heart.
There is a reason that it is written twenty-three times in the New Testament that Jesus had compassion. Compassion (literally to suffer with) is the door to God’s heart. Knowing what breaks His heart is the key to intimacy with Him. Intimacy with Him is the path to joy in Him. Being a missionary is about joy. It is the freedom to follow the call of God we received as a fruit of our relationship with Him. It is a freedom that comes with the knowledge and understanding that if we delight ourselves in Him he will give us the desires of our Heart, of His heart. He has.
Well it’s been a long time coming but it should come as no surprise to those who know us well that we are giving all to become full time missionaries.
Granted we’ve been short term missionaries in Honduras since 2008, however this different.
We have also run a faith based transitional home and lived with furloughed inmates since 2005 which probably seems crazy enough to most, however we’ve always had financial security, and a place to lay our heads in a paradise that most people only dream of visiting. In a word we have lived the proverbial American dream.
Giving everything up now in hopes of serving the poorest of the poor in the most impoverished and worn torn corners of the world might sound like foolishness to some. However this has been our dream since before we were married. In fact we have both known since we were children that we were made for this day.
As Christians we are called to live and walk by faith. There’s really nothing in the bible that even hints that we should play it safe. In fact Jesus gave us the formula for success. Those who will lose their lives for His sake will gain true life. And so we are going. We are going with a goal of loving the lost and unloved in hopes of one day becoming love ourselves. This is our theory. This our plan. To be perfectly honest we don’t really know what that looks like or even means at this point. We are simply stepping out with child like faith, knowing only that we know nothing especially in terms of what lies ahead. We are only certain that God has called us to a deeper place, a place of knowing Him more, a place of acquaintance with His sorrows and with those sorrows, an unspeakable joy that we know will be our inheritance if we remain obedient to His call.
We will be departing Kauai to attend the IRIS Global Harvest School of Missions in Pemba Mozambique on Oct 4th. This is a turning point and not just an event. God willing we will eventually be in places like South Sudan, Honduras and wherever the Lord calls us from here on out.
Follow us here if you’d like periodic updates as we journey deeper into the heart of God and endeavor to love Him by loving His children here on earth.