What God Does To Our Faces

Originally Published At Patheos.

Whenever I read the story of Moses entering the Tent of Meeting in Exodus 33, David’s words in Psalm 34:5, or Paul’s wisdom in 2 Corinthians 3:7-12, I am always intrigued by the effect God himself has on our faces. I am definitely not speaking of the insufferable, plastic Christian smile I must admit that I have worn more than once to communicate that I am just fine when in fact I am not. I am speaking of the blazing eyes of someone who exudes the love of Christ so brightly that you can almost reach out and touch it; it is the kind of captivating gaze upon which you want to stare for hours. Some of the most powerful encounters with the Lord I have ever experienced have been when I have beheld the face of someone who knows Him so intimately that his or her countenance effortlessly emanates his radiance. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that the pure in heart would see God, and you can certainly tell who has seen him because those who have seen him are like Him.

This is more than what some might call an inner light, a twinkle in the eye, or a sunny, sanguine demeanor. This is the essence of God’s love, the glory that overcomes fear and crushes demonic strongholds. When a Christian becomes conscious of this glory, unlike the type Moses encountered in the Tent which faded away, the surpassing glory never decreases and its substance spills over into the atmosphere through his or her face. No longer must we veil our heads to keep others from looking at a brilliance that slowly dissipates from view, but we have the distinct privilege of carrying a lasting and ever-increasing presence that causes those who do not know Jesus to be drawn to God. Everyone wants a King like Him; Jesus is, after all, the Desire of Nations. Far too many are just not yet aware of it.

“As He is, so are we in this world,” wrote John the Beloved (1 John 4:17), the man who knew the rhythms of the heart of the Lord more than any of the other disciples. He penned that particular passage after Christ had been raised from the dead and the Holy Spirit had been poured out at Pentecost. Yet prior to Pentecost, Jesus asked Mary Magdalene in the garden to not hold onto him because he had not yet gone to the Father (John 20:17), and although Jesus announced that he was entering into his glory right after Judas Iscariot left the table at the Last Supper, the final step in that process was him actually returning to the Father. Unless he went, the Spirit could not come. The Greek word for glory used all throughout the New Testament, doxa, means radiance, brilliance. So until the Son of Man was glorified, clothed in the white-hot radiance of God, there could be no outpouring of the Holy Ghost.

Our Father not only sent the Son to die and be raised for us, he also sent his Spirit to inhabit and rest upon us. He cannot get much nearer to us than in and on us, and the Holy Spirit who was poured out was not the spirit of a man who was about to be nailed to a wooden cross but of the man whom John the Beloved saw while on Patmos: the man Jesus who speaks with the voice of rushing waters, has feet like burnished bronze, hair white like wool and—what else?—a face beaming like the sun. As He is, so are we in this world. The Son of Man remains glorified, wrapped in light, seated at the Father’s right hand, and in that heavenly realm we are seated right there with him.

We received that Spirit, he who is a victorious, glorified Son by whose indwelling we are enabled to live and be something absolutely impossible apart from him: holy. Shame and its accompanying darkness does not, indeed it cannot, cover the face of someone saturated in holiness because in the fires of God’s love it is impossible to be conscious of regret or past sin. He can only be aware of Him who has destroyed his transgressions and exchanged them for glory. Squeaky-clean conduct and the performance-oriented work of religious striving collapses in His presence, every pretension with which we mask ourselves stripped away and replaced with the Spirit by whom we can cry out to Abba Father anytime. That is real holiness, such intimate proximity to God.

As He is, so are we: radiant, glorious, and free, with faces that blaze like torches in this dark and troubled world. How we need all need this revelation. Perhaps the next time someone prays that the Lord bless and keep us and make the light of his countenance to shine upon us—and the risen Lord has one spectacularly bright countenance—we might apprehend this truth a bit more and our own faces display the glory of God more fully.

 

Getting Over Our Embarrassment of the Supernatural

 

First posted over at Patheos Evangelical:

In response to Roger Olson’s thoughtful observations about American evangelicals being embarrassed by the supernatural on Patheos a few weeks ago, I found myself nodding my head in agreement. I share his concern and happen to believe that this is really the reason why many American millennials (my generation) are leaving the Christian faith. They find it so unbearably powerless. Few things annoy me more in church when I hear a robotic, lifeless prayer for someone who desperately needs a miracle. I can tell in my deepest heart when someone prays for healing whether or not he or she actually believes that God at the very least might intervene and heal supernaturally.

However, having been a part of several Christian churches in the United States ranging from Mennonite to Baptist, from Assembly of God to Anglican, I do understand some of the hesitancy and skeptical attitudes regarding miracles because of the heavy influence of rationalism and other naturalistic worldviews in our culture. Yet now as a graduate of an interdenominational School of Ministry which fosters a dynamic prophetic culture and has as part of its core curriculum intentional activation in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, allow me to provide some counsel to help spiritually hungry believers over this hurdle.

If you belong to a church which firmly holds to cessationism, what I offer here will not register. The theological chasm that exists between the active operation of the gifts of the Spirit, specifically the supernatural ones, and the doctrine which states that such gifts ceased with the death of the last apostle is indeed wide and it is another conversation for another day. Yet I would conjecture that an increasing number of people do believe in the continuation of the gifts but simply do not know how to, as John Wimber might put it, “do the stuff”. If that’s you, here are a few suggestions.

Remember That The Holy Spirit is in Charge

Too often Christians in the West seem to have more of a belief in the devil’s ability to deceive them than in the Holy Spirit’s ability to lead them into all truth. This is an unnecessary paranoia. It is also a curious thing to hear some Christians I know talk of spiritual activity, whether angelic or demonic, as some kind of psychosomatic phenomenon, or they default to thinking anything supernatural must be evil. Psychics, tarot card readers, and witch doctors are the counterfeits; Satan can only pervert the real. The Holy Spirit is the real thing and Christians are filled with him and He can be trusted to lead all those who sincerely confess Jesus as Lord into the truth about the spiritual realm and the supernatural, which God made.

Address Excesses and Abuses and then Move on to Proper Use in a Practical Way

This is the giant elephant in the room so let’s deal with it. We have all watched in horror as television ministers with bad hair and even worse doctrine manipulate people into emotionally charged experiences, whipping them up into a frenzy as they claim to be moving in God’s power. Then the evangelist asks you to send him a check and promises that you will receive some “glory water” or a sizable financial reward in return. Yes, as with everything else in the Bible, the supernatural has been abused. But as Olson mentioned in his piece, the old saying about disuse not being the solution for abuse means that we must find a way to properly use the supernatural. What does that look like?

For starters, the most important thing to remember when ministering to someone in the power of the Holy Spirit, whether in healing or prophecy or in any other supernatural gifting, is that the person being prayed for encounters the love of God and is pointed to Jesus. The goal is to exalt Christ. You can tell when someone has a spiritual gift that they use for their own personal gain or to draw attention to themselves that that person is at best operating with impure motives or at worst is a false teacher. Anyone truly led by the Holy Spirit will always desire to bring glory to Jesus, not to himself. Perhaps to begin, when you pray for someone to be healed, have compassion and believe, like a child believes, that the person you are praying for will be healed. Call upon God and ask Him how to specifically pray. The more you do this the more you will engage the tension but will sense that still small voice of the Lord leading you.

Submit to the Holy Spirit and Create Environments to Experiment

A great way to continue activation in these gifts is to create environments within the church where everyone can learn in community. Keep Sunday morning for worship, the proclamation of the Word, and the celebration of communion, but maybe on a weeknight gather a group of parishioners and start exploring healing and prophecy with the Holy Spirit. I have seen prayers for healing and prophetic ministry modeled beautifully on several Alpha courses I have been a part of, and there are also great, biblically sound training materials available on how to do this in other contexts. Chris Gore’s Walkingin Supernatural Healing Power and its accompanying practical guide is a great place to begin learning about healing from a seasoned pastor who knows what it is like to pray for healing for many years and not see a single person healed but does see miracles regularly now, and Kris Vallotton’s handbook Basic Trainingfor the Prophetic Ministry is a solid, thorough resource with respect to prophecy.

The Apostle Paul said he wished everyone in church would speak in tongues but he also told the Corinthians that he would rather have them prophesy (1 Cor 14:5). Therefore, people needed to learn how and be trained. Just as new Christians do not internalize the Bible and theology overnight, flowing in the supernatural is a learning process which takes time. In the same way that people need a safe place to ask questions and study the Scripture when they first receive Christ, so too with the activation in the gifts. The responsibility lies with church leadership to seek the wisdom of God for just how to approach this because they know their congregation and what format and teaching style will suit best.

You will make mistakes as you learn. Do not sweat it. When messes happen, as they inevitably do, we have to be willing to clean them up. I have known people needing deliverance from their last deliverance because they have been prayed for in ways that were harmful, usually by people who were enthusiastic to see someone healed and in their zeal they wounded the person they were praying for, especially if said person was not healed after they prayed. This is disappointing but to stop praying in faith for people because some have been wounded is to functionally opt for disuse and revert back to being embarrassed about the supernatural.

Confront the Tension and be Willing to Live in it

Sometimes people do not get healed and it is heartbreaking. Engage the pain with the Holy Spirit and keep believing and praying fervently anyway. When someone attempts to give a prophetic word they might miss it and get it wrong. Keep going after it anyway. God will cover you in your mistakes and if you are willing to learn, take correction, and persist in the pursuit you will get better at it. You are not going to deviate from Christian orthodoxy if the spirit in which you prophesy aligns with 1 Corinthians 14:2; and you will not irreparably damage someone if you make it your aim to edify, exhort or console him or her. Most importantly, every word from the Lord must be tested against the scripture and the Bible is always the reference point for processing such words, and God will never contradict what he has said.

No one likes living in the pain and tension of unanswered prayer but if our faith is not expectant even after years of struggle, what good is it? We do not have a choice to not live in this tension because only in tension can momentum spring forth. We may look like fools as we try, but that is what we signed up for when we received the revelation of Christ crucified. It is a stumbling block for many people, but it is the power of God for those being saved. Embracing the supernatural does indeed mean dying to the desire to be respected by men. Even the most intellectually astute, articulate Christian apologist will be hated by men if he bears the name of Christ.

Moreover, I can only imagine what bystanders must have thought of Jesus (probably that he was off his rocker) when he spat in the mud and then wiped it on the eyes of a blind man to minister healing to him (John 9:6-7). That was not some ancient Near Eastern cultural practice. He did what he saw his Father doing, and Father clearly told him to do it that way. Other times Jesus said the word and the person was healed. Yet other times he touched them and they were cleansed.

Jesus is our model for ministering in the supernatural and it was never a formula with the Holy Spirit back then when he was walking the earth and there is no formulaic prescription for us today. We have to be willing to cooperate with Him in relationship, listen to what he says, and then obey and watch what He does. Having witnessed and been a part of several miracles both here in America and overseas, I can personally attest that is no greater cure for embarrassment than seeing God’s miraculous power manifest in front of your own eyes. It will transform the way you see and live your life and, as the Moravian missioners used to say, the Lamb who was slain will receive the reward of his suffering. Surely Christians in the West, even those skeptical of the supernatural, want to see that happen.

The Wisdom of a Church Janitor

Originally posted over at Patheos

As I have in several seasons of my life, I am currently working as a custodian at my church. I get to clean the sanctuary, the staff offices, and just about everywhere else. It is a privilege because I get to serve God in an important and practical way, but it is challenging because I am overqualified for this job in the natural. I have a university education and skill sets that have enabled me to work in positions that are much more intellectually stimulating and spiritually fulfilling and ultimately I believe this is not a permanent station.

I will tell you that this job can be dull at times and all who have done this work will have experienced bouts of depression when there are other things we would rather be doing with our time, but because of our circumstances, change is not possible and life sometimes feels like a boring waste of breath. Yet because there is only one direction in the Kingdom, from glory to glory, we janitors are forced to learn how to push past that besetting gloom and look for God’s invitation to find Him in our uninspiring tasks. If we choose to do that, we eventually recognize that we are scrubbing sinks and toilets unto something more glorious. Believe me, it really helps.

I like to say that I am an atmosphere architect because the physical and the spiritual are intricately connected. If you walk into a church building and the place is filthy, it may indicate poor management or a lack of value for cleanliness, and those conditions affect the spiritual environment of the place. Without the custodian’s hard work, parishioners who worship there on a weekly basis or those who just stop by to pray do not get to experience the peace and serenity that a clean, orderly, sacred space provides.

But oh, the stories I could tell you. There are the stains in and on the urinals, people who do not remember or care to flush, and those lovely occasions when we have to break out the heavy-duty plunger. In the pews we find opened, unfinished Diet Cokes, and prayer requests people write on old bulletins and then leave on their seats. Memorable is the dumpster diving to retrieve the old, rotten trash that some homeless people we serve throw in the cardboard-only container. And there are hundreds of chairs to stack and the seemingly endless square feet of floor to dry-mop and then wet-mop. It’s a wonderful, very human vantage point from which to see the church and into the lives of the families I know and love so much.

We janitors make great intercessors. As we clean, we commune with God. Church bathrooms, and toilet stalls in particular, are wonderful prayer closets. Like most public restrooms they usually have decent acoustics too. Often to take my mind off the unpleasant task of wiping down a soiled porcelain throne, I’ll sing a hymn. It’s fun hearing how “then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee” resonates off the walls in a space where people rarely praise the Lord. Attitude and perspective are everything in this line of work and you learn to do what you can to stay focused on His presence when you spend hours doing a very humbling job.

We find joy in the little things and we laugh a lot, even when we are chuckling at ourselves. Toilet paper dispensers in the handicap stalls are murderously hard to open, especially when the dispenser is not positioned far enough below the handrail. I have spent more moments laughing in utter frustration as I try to get the tiny little key to fit into the keyhole on top of the dispenser only to find that there’s very little space for my hand between the rail and dispenser to wriggle it loose so I can refill the toilet paper. Trust me, since starting this job, I haven’t looked at a public bathroom stall the same way and I’m always grateful for the guy who restocks those important papers.

We get to serve from the very top. Jesus said, whoever is least in the Kingdom is the greatest (Matthew 19:30). Moreover, one cannot get much higher than being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph. 2:6), and we janitors learn to live from there. While we do not enjoy a high position of economic status or social prestige, the real honor is to go even higher in the spirit, being led, of course, by the Holy Spirit. When I vacuum the carpets and take out the trash in the staff offices, I often think of myself as doing a prophetic act in each of their lives. As I execute my mundane chores, I pray that any demonic assignments against the specific staff members be canceled and for anything else that may be afflicting them to be cleansed from them. When I wash windows, I intercede for the whole church, praying that the Body would get clearer vision for its mission to the community and the world. I also often ask the Holy Spirit how I can pray for the person whose office I’m cleaning, and what scriptures to declare over them. If I don’t happen to hear anything, Psalm 90:17 is my go-to: “May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon [you] and establish the work of [your hands]–yes, establish the work of [your] hands.”

Since we are commanded to do everything unto the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31), it is impossible for janitorial work to be anything less than washing the feet of Jesus himself; it is worship in its purest form. Once, while giving a coat of paint to a room I prayed for a refreshing wave of God’s presence to come to the church. The next day, quite randomly, a parishioner stopped me in the hall to tell me: “You know, your presence really refreshes everything around here.” She did not know that I had been painting, much less what I’d prayed. Such encouraging words are gold to a janitor.

We janitors are safe, can be trusted, and we are good listeners. Precious heart-to-heart conversations happen more often than you might think on the job. People seem to know instinctively that they can confide in a man next to a mop bucket without fear. Given all the solitude we cultivate with God, it is no wonder.

In his very short, but powerful book The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence wrote, “Since we believe that God is always with us, no matter what we may be doing, why shouldn’t we stop for a while to adore Him, to praise Him, to offer Him our hearts, and to thank Him?” That is how he lived, moment by moment, washing mounds of dishes, encountering the Lord in the menial, mundane things.

Such is the awesome wisdom with which we church janitors are well-acquainted.

Songwriting with Holy Spirit

So I sort of began this conversation with Holy Spirit, moment-by-moment, figuring that if the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead is now living inside of me, he might know a thing or two about what words to use for a song. Shoot, he might even have something to say with respect to how to begin.

Read More

Pushing Past Obstacles To Create Beautiful Things

It's kind of paradoxical but often times the most beautiful things we creative-types make are during seasons or disappointment, distress, or heartbreak. When I made my debut release album, an extended play called Song of Psalms, I was in a trying season. It was my second year of Bible school at Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in Redding, CA and God was stretching me and, let me assure you, there was nothing romantic about it. In the back of my mind I could recall the words of the Apostle Paul about sharing in the sufferings of Christ that one might also share in his glory. Late at night, after my roommates had gone to bed, I would sit on the couch and fervently pray, desperate to encounter God and find some peace. I've since learned to find my peace first, then pray. Makes a huge difference.

I had no car, almost no money, no job prospects, the ones I applied for weren't hiring or never called me back and I was living in a poor neighborhood. The year was not going how I had hoped or envisioned. God was purifying me of some offensive, cynical attitudes during that time and there were other painful situations in my life that for the sake of time I won't go into, but suffice it to say, it was the pits.

What I did have was my creativity, my dreams, and prophetic words from God that I banked on regarding my endeavors. I figured that because I had those promises, the grace to accomplish them was also there and the fact that my circumstances were less than ideal was no excuse.

So I began the process of doing something I'd never done before, independently writing and producing my very first album. During that time I told several people I had absolutely no idea what I was I doing but I refused let my ignorance keep me from the dream. I came up with an idea for an EP, God gave me the name of the album one day as I was praying about it, I made an outline, set a list of goals on a timeline, and held myself accountable to it, and I followed through. It was a very rough process and there were times when I wanted to throw the towel in and just stop fighting through it, but because I knew I was called to it and dream would not die, I made a promise with myself and to God that I would finish what I started no matter how many snafus I ran into—and there were plenty of those, including a few 'I'm going to tear-my-hair-out' moments. 

I have heard it said that passion gives pain a purpose. It's true. I certainly don't like pain (who does?) and I don't cry cute. But I realized that if I never pushed past the hassles and obstacles that stood in my way, the dreams that had been stirring in my heart for years were going to die a slow agonizing death and I had too much fire in my gut to accept that. As I persisted the pain also became more manageable. In fact, I am working on a second album now and the process is now much easier even as certain painful circumstances have remained. What took hours to push through now takes only thirty minutes.

So to the musicians and creative-types out there, when the pain shows up it is not meant to paralyze you but is itself an invitation for you to persevere and produce something beautiful.