Thursday, August 28, 2008

Freedom to be Poor

Quoted by Mark van Steenwyk over at Jesus Manifesto. His response is rather priceless.

“The Church must be free to be poor in order to minister among the poor. The Church must trust the Gospel enough to come among the poor with nothing to offer the poor except the Gospel, except the power to discern and the courage to expose the Gospel as it is already mediated in the life of the poor…When the Church has the freedom itself to be poor among the poor, it will know how to use what riches it has. When the Church has that freedom, it will know also how to minister among the rich and powerful. When the Church has that freedom, it will be a missionary people again in all the world. When the Church has the freedom to go out into the world with merely the Gospel to offer the world, then it will know how to use whatever else it has–money and talent and buildings and tapestries and power in politics–as sacraments of its gift of its own life to the world, as tokens of the ministry of Christ.”

–William Stringfellow in A Private and Public Faith, 1962

Done Taking Shortcuts

Rickard at Vikingson's Place:

I am done taking shortcuts. I am done cutting corners. I am done with Christian entertainment. I will never again wait in line to get in to a conference or revival to see God move. I will not drive an inch, to see something powerful or hear from fantastic prophets speaking with great accuracy. I will not pay a dime for a book filled with amazing stories about the supernatural.
Me neither. Thanks, Rickard. The whole post.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Throw Down Your Heart

is the Title of an upcoming documentary by Bela Fleck, in which he travels to Africa to explore the roots of the banjo, and collaborate with African musicians. The title comes from the African phrase that the newly captured slaves would repeat as they were shipped to the New World, knowing they would never see home again. This will be a must see!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


This is my missionary friend Kelali(or Alicia). She recently left Mozambique and is now in Israel. I think Kelali is wonderful.

In Search of the Real Jesus: Matthew

Sadly it's a lot easier for me to write about current issues than the Bible. I'm going to begin a series of posts on the Gospels, and it's not going to be easy. I suppose it should be said that I am now of the conviction that you can't read Paul, John, Isaiah, or Moses without a bedrock understanding of the life, character, and words of Jesus as the Gospels reveal him. If you want a scholar's perspective, there are lots of better places to go than here. My hope is that, rather than offer brilliant, deep new insight into the Bible, I will be able to uncover the soil that is being tilled in me personally right now.

I'm going through the Gospels one by one, slowly, in search of "Jesus on his own," apart from theologians and interpretations. Of course all is interpretation, so I'm not getting it all that pure, just perhaps cleansing myself from some embedded assumptions that I've been bringing to Jesus for awhile.

In my favor is the fact that Jesus rarely speaks in a way that needs exegetes. Mysteriously perhaps, but not academically.


You would think that the "Word" of God had something to do with words.

There's a lot of them in Matthew, and a lot from the mouth of Jesus himself. And despite our best efforts to explain, theologize, or ignore Jesus' words in favor of God-knows-what from God-knows-where, they are there as a constant measure and foundation with which to work. With which we must work. The Alpha and Omega, inconveniently, speaks for Himself.

Matthew's Jesus doesn't seem to have much to say about predestination vs. free will, nor about how our churches need to be dressed up. Nor about charismatic vs. reform vs. liturgical. He's very opinionated, but not about the things that we want to be opinionated about. He stresses certain issues over and over that we wanted to ignore. He totally ignores other issues that we had elevated to near canonical importance. He makes the Way narrow. And he makes it shockingly hard. About which things he has an opinion should give us a clue to the Way he is forging.

The inconvenience begins with John the Baptist. Preaching repentance. Worse, it's not only repentance, but that there must be the fruit of repentance. This fundamental command will be an oft-repeated theme throughout the Gospels. In 4:17 Jesus himself begins his ministry with the same- "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (later in the chapter the miraculous healings the message and the miracles coincide by mere accident? I'm thinking not.) What I'm getting from the order of operations here is this: If there is to be any obedience to the laundry list of commands and standards that Jesus sets, there must be this first: that we change the way we think. And that Jesus himself is to be the gage and the standard for the change.

Backing up. Just before his ministry begins, he wanders off into the desert "to be tempted by the devil." To be? It had to happen? He did this with intent? Apparently, the guy has some serious confidence in where he's coming from. I mean, I'm often told by Christians not to go near anything that could lead to temptation. And as far as possibly brushing with demonic spirits, you're obviously seriously lacking in knowledge of the spirit realm, deluded and blind, maybe even compromised on true faith if you enter these situations. For most, rather than preach the Word believingly, it's much easier to manipulate circumstances in order to gain security and power. I'm struck that Jesus does not rely on "supernatural" strength, angels, or his divine nature to meet the devil. Nor does he avoid the confrontation. Instead, he speaks words. Little words that contain The Word, which is the mind-shaping principle of his human life. And this is sufficient to counter Satan's argument, and give his own temptable self the power to resist.

Notable: Of the three temptations, none of them are sexual in nature. Of course, when we refer to temptation, almost always implicit is that we're talking about falling into bed with each other, or looking up porn on the Internet. The temptations Jesus must face are to take political power, to prove the Father's presence and love, and to feed himself on natural food.

Matthew 5 is when the fastballs start coming. And they won't stop until the end of chapter 7. Egad, does he really mean this stuff? I mean, I'm pretty sure it's just all about "the heart," right?
Next: the Sermon on the Mount.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Earth To Charismatics...It's Just Jesus

Jared Wilson is not about to pull punches and I for one am glad:

This is not about piling on Bentley. This is about rebuking his staff, his friends, his fans, and his defenders. You got the hero you deserved. You traded the truth for a lie, you cashed in the all-surpassing worth of Jesus for an unrepentant lying adulterer and his lame magic show, and you didn't flinch when the evangelical world warned you it was gonna be a disaster.

I thought I would try and bluntly point out the problems charismatic Christianity is dealing with. It turns out Dan Edelen did it first, and he's a lot smarter and more experienced than me.

I know many who were turned on by Lakeland and its kin. A lot of them are dear to me, and I believe they have great potential. The charismatic church and a few of the Biblical doctrines and teachers played a vital role at one point in my life. But many are rapidly falling into a pit of their own making. The damage that has been done, and potentially will be done, is incalculable. I have seethed in silence many times among these people for their lack of the Gospel.

Where did you go wrong? The answer is very simple- you abandoned Jesus.

There are a million things in a Jesus-follower's life that can end up taking priority over Jesus. Here are a few things that you as a charismatic should be skeptical of:

  • Supernatural experiences
  • Long, loud prayers and the people who pray them, especially when substance is scarce
  • Your image as one who is "not religious"
  • The latest ministry or outpouring of the Spirit
  • Worship music and preaching that ignore Christ and the Gospel
  • Behaviors that are expected from worshippers
  • Instantaneous results
  • Dubious "heaven-moving" prayers and the theology that there is automatically some divine, invisible transaction going on, or anointing being released because you're praying in a loud, specially worded manner.
  • Anointings. What? do we live in the OT still? Jesus is anointed.
  • Excitement that "God is doing something." Especially when accompanied by total lack of determination to love, bear a cross, or do anything productive with your own two hands.
  • Attendance at a church because "that's where the action is." Please, have you read the NT?
  • Obscure Old Testament Bible references that are dug up and applied to life in some new, formerly secret way. Big baddie. Run for the hills.
  • Numbers, numerology, hidden codes in history or the Bible. They're useless. Stop.
  • Fear of the demonic. If you're inventing elaborate schemes to ward off demons, you're afraid of them, and if you're afraid of them, you don't fear God. If, and only if, you think it has power over you, then it does. (Harry Potter anyone?)
  • Discovering your spiritual gift or ministry calling. Who cares? Love people the way you know how.
  • What everyone else is saying. They're usually wrong, so just take it with a grain of salt.
  • A feeling in your spirit. You don't feel anything in your spirit, you feel with your senses. It may or may not be the result of the Holy Spirit. Discern please.(I've actually heard of people that claim minor-key music is demonic because it's too eerie)
  • 1 Cor 12 without 1 Cor 13. Or other passages that refer to the gifts of the Spirit. They don't really matter. Did you read the next chapter? Love matters.
  • Fear of legalism. If you're worried about being legalistic, you should do something perceived as legalistic(you heard me) so that other people will think you're legalistic, and you will begin to care less about their opinions.
  • Release from sin or bondage instantaneously. If it happens, it happens, but there is no silver bullet. Sanctification by grace is the most important process you will undergo. Read about it. There's no other way, and it takes your whole life.

I think the whole issue can be summed up in one simple word: JESUS. You forgot about him, and now you're paying the price. Every bullet point above speaks to a lack of knowledge of the real Jesus. There is nothing in the Bible that is not about Jesus. There is nothing the Spirit does in your life that is not about Jesus. Legitimate ministries, prophets, and outpourings exist to lift up Jesus.

Some people who are part of this movement are going to say "Oops, our image is tarnished, let's mouth an apology and then set someone else up in place to be worshipped and purvey the same old spiritual junk-food. That way the money will keep coming in and we'll get to continue to retain our high profiles in ministry." There are statements flying around the charismato-sphere like "this doesn't mean the healings weren't real," and apologetic statements that ask for grace for the Bentleys, and then spotlight on the great things that his ministry is doing, or how we can be sure that God will use this, or that this is a time to pray and not criticize...

Rather, the response from people like God TV, the "apostles," ministries, and pastors who introduced this insanity to their sheep should be something like "We've been appallingly wrong for a long time about what really matters and about how Jesus manifests himself in the lives of his followers." Followed by a commitment to leave the spotlight for a long time and undergo a long restoration of Biblical faith in their individual lives.

Who is willing to undergo a deep, cleansing conviction that they have largely failed Jesus(and the Holy Spirit for that matter), the narrow Way he inaugurated, the Church he is building, and reprove others for the same? Maybe this disaster will cause deep-seated questioning in you about many of your underlying assumptions concerning the supremacy of Christ, the Way you are conformed to His image, the trustworthiness of subjective experiences, the purpose of healing and the supernatural, and the identity of the Holy Spirit. Your credibility is rapidly failing(a good thing).

I was taught in my charismatic experience to say "God doesn't use perfect people" and that people with moral failures can still move in the supernatural. The temptation to take this attitude will be strong and it will be saddening to have to reject a whole slew of real or imagined miracles, but the fact is that the real Church can and will reject a person's authority, teaching, healing gift, even entire ministries, when they abandon the Gospel and the real Jesus Christ.

More articles on the subject:

Northwest Musings

Subversive Influence

Sola Dei Gloria

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

We Have, and It's On!

**This is what I wrote just before the news broke that Todd Bentley and his wife are probably going to get divorced**

Well, I saw Todd Bentley the other night.

Shane Claiborne calls this type of thing "spiritual masturbation." It feels good for a second, but doesn't really produce anything.

It used to come down to the miracles for me: if they're real, then something's going on and we shouldn't squelch it. It no longer means anything to me whether or not anyone is getting healed in the revivals.

Why doesn't it matter? Because even if every single healing is genuine, the thinking behind what is happening at the revivals is cancerous to Biblical faith. Absent is the gospel of Jesus Christ effecting transformation in followers. Absent is the Jesus of the Gospels. The Jesus who takes up his cross on my behalf. Who demands that if will be his follower, I will do the same. The Jesus whose greatest command is "love each other," and who demonstrates that love by being publicly stripped of dignity, denounced as a charlatan and a phony and a failure, appearing a helpless loser, getting his body torn to shreds, and in the end still praying "Father forgive them..."

Here, I need Jesus, but I also REALLY need to be in the presence of Todd Bentley. I need to come under the anointing. I need the revival to fall on me. I need "the fire." I need to believe everthing I'm told. I need to give money to the ministry(cliche, over-spiritualized pleading and promises of tenfold reward included in the price. Verbatim quote- "Maybe you'll write one check for $100,000!!!")I need to experience a healing miracle. I need to fall over. I need to be on that stage, I need him to touch me and say "bam," I need to listen to him posture around the stage and proclaim to large crowds the huge success of his ten-year healing ministry.

Evidently it's still a big secret for many that just because you say Jesus' name all the time doesn't mean you have the real Jesus in mind. There, I've let the cat out of the bag. Looks like the Christian music industry has some serious housecleaning to do. Let me say it again for emphasis, and for those who have not heretofore understand this very simple concept:

Just because you say Jesus' name all the time doesn't mean you have the real Jesus in mind.

"In mind." His first command in the book of Mark, Repent--change your mind, the way you think. Change your faulty, incorrect, small-picture, blinders-on, TV-conditioned, junk-food stupor induced, prescription drug fogged, Wal-Mart approved concept of who God is into a concept that is shaped by the Jesus of the New Testament.

In Todd's gatherings, there is no cross, no Gospel, no love of enemies, strangers, poor, helpless, and rejected, no forsaking of wealth(unless it's to unload all your cash into the ministry's coffers), no rejection of empire, no death to self, no transformation of the inner being. Implicit or explicit. Just the glitz and hype that America desperately needs to satiate its incredible appetite for the Next Big Thing. Wealth, religion, media and the illusion of safety and security failed to give us what we wanted, so now we're trying emotionalized circuses with rockstar ministers upon whom we're told our hopes for healing/success/wealth/revival/spiritual progress depend.

The good fruit Jesus was looking for(and didn't find) on the fig tree would be the product of inner transformation, the absorption of the gospel into one's bones and marrow, the intimate knowing of the real Jesus, followed by sacrificial, self-emptying love for people that don't deserve it. That's quite a different recipe than super-spiritual talk and Christianese prayers aimed at instantly changing circumstances to secure the most enjoyable, healthy life we can think of.

Todd Bentley himself doesn't really bother me. He's just another guy that got it wrong. I am however, extremely disgusted at the church culture that produced him. To produce real disciples, one needs to stick to the real Jesus. The real church is very simply, directly, repeatedly described by Jesus himself. So simply that it's a wonder there's still even a discussion about how to "do church." Did we not read even one of the Gospels?

Oh look, here it is: Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Care for the sick. Comfort the rejected. Befriend the poor. Give water to the thirsty, food to the hungry. Pray for the Kingdom of God to come. Preach that the kingdom of God has come. Point to Jesus incessantly. Repent and believe in Jesus. Take up your cross and follow Jesus.

***So that was my opinion two days ago. Now things are, well, confirmed for me. Like I said above, I care about 15 cents for whether these miracles are actually taking place. Loveless Christianity with lots of miracles is simply not Christianity.

When pretentiously named God TV says "any criticism of Todd Bentley is demonic" we have to start asking "who are these religious absolutist crusaders trying to lord it over Jesus' sheep?"

This is why I am light years more attracted to the work of someone like Shane Claiborne, than the neo-Pentecostal ringmasters and manipulators. Because when Shane talks, I forget about Shane and I see the Kingdom of God springing forth from Christ's all-consuming love. I don't have to ask "is he for real?" because he and his activities are not really the focus. If he sinned dreadfully and fell from public favor, "the move of God" would not suffer one iota. People in grassroots movements like the Simple Way, whose website begins with "Dream Big, Live Small," are being transformed and ceasing to obey the masters of hype, wealth, empire, advertising, celebrity, and crowd opinion in favor of the red-letter Jesus. Here's one amazing story where a crowd raised $80,000 at one event to dig wells in Africa for those without water, ALMOST $2000 OF IT RAISED BY HOMELESS PEOPLE WHO SCOURED THE GROUND DURING THE EVENT, LOOKING FOR SPARE CHANGE.

Oh BTW, whenever someone says "any criticism of this is demonic," it's demonic.

Here is what I want out of a revival(and hopefully what Biblical revival would look like):

1. The purification and incessant proclamation of the gospel.

2. The transformation of people's inner being to the point where they are loving sacrificially like Jesus insists they do in Matthew 5-7, and throughout the gospels, producing the "good fruit" of John 15.

3. A total lack of celebrities. The media would not know what to do with it, because those effecting the biggest change would be in the shadows. Those who were in the spotlight would not take very much credit, nor would they frantically insist(into the microphone) on their own humility with statements like "It's not me it's God!" They would JUST BE. And they would talk about Jesus a lot. The real Jesus.

4. Many "quiet miracles" happening nowhere near tents, microphones, stages, or anointed ones. Happening among the poorest of the poor, those not even seeking them, and provoking a widespread and deeper knowledge of Jesus and his Way.

5. Conversions, not under the banner of hype or empty promises, but under the gospel. The ongoing conversion of followers of Jesus. Also under the gospel.

6. A desertion of the empire's norms and expectations, and an engagement in lifestyles that are preposterous and foolish and seem to promise no empirically verifiable reward whatsoever, but that are characterized by simplicity, community, and cross-love.

I'm sure I could go on. I'll leave it at this: Many people have said to critics of Lakeland "get your own revival."

I respond with: "We have, and it's on!"