Category Archives: Kingdom of God

Finding Grace In A Van Down By The River

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I can’t be held responsible for what I’ve posted today. I just hope it’s because I’m under the influence of grace.

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Romans 14:17 (Message)
God’s kingdom isn’t a matter of what you put in your stomach, for goodness ‘sake. It’s what God does with your life as he sets it right, puts it together, and completes it with

joy

I like to get goofy sometimes. I love to laugh and kid and poke fun. I even love good-natured ribbing from friends whose hearts I trust and with whom I am safe.

I laugh at Ron Burgundy and Austin Powers and the Dumb and Dumber duo. Tommy Boy gets me every time. The night I learned of my son’s tragic death six months ago, I honored his memory by pulling up Tommy Boy on my Netflix because it’s a movie my boy and I watched dozens of times together.

I love Jesus. I cry at the drop of a hat. I can be dead serious about holiness, the mars and scars of the Church and the souls of the very men and women I laugh with and at on the big screen.

I know some believers who are all business. They exude starchiness and stiff collars. People choke on the religious dust they kick up behind them. If they sing, they prefer the minor key. Should a gathering of saints start getting away from a down and dusty Bible study and rollicking laughter and silly hi-jinx ensued, you’d see them withdraw and button down. They might even clear their throat as a warning.

I once made the mistake of laughing during a student revival. No, not holy laughter. Just plain ol’ Jesus-hugging giggling. One of my peers stared my friend and me down, obviously un-happy with our unrighteous behavior.

I couldn’t now say what made us laugh while some students were on their knees and faces in the guys’ dorm at camp late one night. I do know this: it wasn’t inappropriate. I know this because my friend and I had been praying for our school chums throughout the school year. We were deadly serious about the spiritual malaise of the guys and we wanted more than anything for our buddies to have a righteous encounter with God. We were in the minority of young men in our Christian school who fasted, prayed and cried out for a move of God in our school.

But we laughed and played too.

So when Sammy glared at us and lashed out with, “what’re you laughing about? Can’t you see God is working?” I just drew up, shriveled and felt condemned.

Satan loved it.

Turns out, my buddies just experienced a typical unsustained “camp high” spiritually because a week later, it was back to business as usual. Spiritual zealots one week, dullards the next.

Whatever the reason, I know my friend and I were not to blame for our holy laughter. And I know there’s a time to laugh and a time to weep. There’s a time to fast and a time to feast. There’s a time to dance and a time to put on sackcloth and ashes.

I know these things, trust me.

These days I’m drawn to three kinds of people: people of joy, people of humility and those who are painfully honest about themselves. Well, I suppose that’s the same as the second, so I’ll also include an honorary mention: I’m enjoying being with people of grace, who dispense it freely, don’t presume upon it and who readily admit they are lost and hopeless without it because it’s the only thing that will fix everything broken about themselves and brings joyful surrender to their souls.

Dang. I guess that’s the same as the other three. In short, these days I’m gravitating to grace largely because of my son’s obituary and redemption story.

I like the Laughing Jesus that’s hanging in our home’s foyer, a gift from a friend long ago. It reminds me that the Kingdom’s not a eulogy, it’s a doxology. It captures a Jesus who redeems lost causes, not the straight and square. When we start feeling good about ourselves with regard to our morals, performance and theology, we’ve already fallen from grace.

We like to use that text on those who laugh and play too much, but isn’t it directed contextually more to the proud and religious?

It’ll be Father’s Day this weekend, my first without my only child. I wish I could thank him for the best Father’s Day gift he ever gave me.

Graham’s leaving this earth has helped me process the fuller revelation of the gospel of the kingdom, that it is full of grace and truth – yes, grace AND truth (to those who’ll be quick to rightfully remind me)…but grace comes first and always in that equation.

I can’t think of a better way to thank my boy than to kick back and watch some more Chris Farley in a van down by the river.

I’ll keep your chair warm.

In full view of my Laughing Jesus.

A Chosen Generation

Psalms 24:6
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
Selah

Miley has her Wrecking Ball, but the Almighty is wrecking a set-apart generation for the beautiful sake of His Son, Jesus.

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They are of Jacob’s generation: they are seeking the fullness of the LORD

They are of Joshua’s generation: they will boldly take possession of the land

They are of John’s generation: they are forerunners and make way for the Coming of the LORD

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You haven’t lived until you’ve filled your living room with worshipping millennials, letting them find the Father’s heart, and adding theirs to the infinite symphony of redeemed creation. This is what God is doing in the earth: He’s making His Name a praise among the nations through this amazing generation.

Sandy and I are HONORED to sit close enough to sense the stirring of this divine phenomenon week in and week out through the beautiful souls that make up our extended family.

I caught this video and, though these are not the faces of our kids in the faith, they could easily be superimposed over these. My wife and I love them beyond words and affirm their favored standing before their Father of creation.

We’re praying huge things over them; we’re asking God to receive for Himself His inheritance in them and that the Lamb of God would receive the reward of His suffering in their forever-ruined-for-Jesus testimonies.

Yes, Lord. Amen.

Perils of a Praying Church

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So you belong to a “praying church.”

In our culture, that condenses into a formula of a having at least three prayers in the main worship hour – opening, offering and closing – plus a mid-week gathering where burdens, praises and prayer requests are itemized in “bulletins” (elongated word for bullet points?) and passed out to the tiny handful of congregants where it’s more a 45-minute Bible Study, quick run-through of the handout, updates and additions with five minutes of stale prayer to close it out. But, presto, you’re a praying church!

(As an aside, it used to be said that those who attended church on Sunday mornings love their pastor; those who return on Sunday night, their church; those who tighten ranks and gather at the midweek prayer service love Jesus. That’s what they say.)

Be that as it may…

Acts 12 recounts a rapid-fire, edge-of-the-seat, thrilling episode in the annals of the early (praying) church. One of them Herod dudes (hard to keep them all straight), not the Herod of the Christmas story but the one of the early Acts – Agrippa One, specifically – wanted to shut down the Church. His leadership in Jerusalem was coming under closer scrutiny from the higher-ups in Rome because those cultish “people of the Way” were gaining momentum in the empire.

Not cool, Harry.

So Harry began a scorched-earth policy. First, he killed off the Senior Pastor of the First Congregational Church of Jerusalem. Then he started manhandling deacons (well, is that such a bad thing?), arresting committees, jailing worship leaders, framing the worship band, railroading trustees, thugging on staff and incarcerating members. He created a culture of fear. The church went underground.

What seemed like a brilliant move but would blow up in his face, was to arrest the darling of the Church, the first eyewitness of the Capital-R Resurrection, the preacher who brought a city to its knees, and the Apostle who moved the levers and ran the show. Peter. As Luther to the Reformation, so Peter to the Early (praying) Church.

The timing couldn’t have been more or less popular, depending on which side of the Passover continuum you fell. During the highest, holiest feast of the year, when scads and scads of people made their pilgrimage to the Capital, Herod took this high-profile quarry into custody. He sent 16, count ’em, soldiers to arrest him with plans to bring him out after the feast, try him and publicly execute him.

So he thought.

One night, while the (praying) Church gathered in secret and interceded non-stop for their apostle, an angel of the LORD kicked Pete in his sleep (sleep?!?) and led him out past two sleeping guards, an outer guard, a heavy door, another guard, another fastened-down gate, and all the way out through a final IRON gate and into the city. Luke tells us that the chains on Peter simply “fell off ” and that the gates opened “of their own accord” (?!?) and none, nada, zero guards stopped him. The angel, bathed in light, stayed with Peter out into the city and left him only when the coast was clear. Pretty much right up to another gate.

The Gate of a (praying) Church.

A dumbstruck Peter, who had up until this moment thought he was still snug in his cell, dreaming about a jailbreak, realized it was really happening! Wow! Wait’ll my church family hears about this!

He arrives at an outer Gate, the home of a prominent family in his hometown. Inside, his Bros and Sis’s were praying fastidiously.

Knock.

Nothing.

Knock, knock.

Still not a movement. Is this the right house?

Another knock, this time more forceful and demanding.

A crack of light appears and a silhouette approaches stealthily. Rhoda. Rose.

“Who’s there?” There’s a whispered shrillness to her query.

“It’s Peter!” he announces.

The servant girl gets lockjaw. Maybe a squeak erupts as she adds voice recognition to his self-address and her eyes get wide. Peter can almost make out the whites in the darkness and smiles broadly. Five minutes earlier he was chained between temple guards, now he’s about to shock the living daylights out of a prayer meeting!

Luke doesn’t leave out a detail, he reports it exactly as it happened. He tells us that Rhoda wheels around and busts up the prayer meeting with the announcement that Peter is FREE! But she left Peter outside a locked gate, standing in the very unsafe outdoors!

Ah, good times, good times…

(COMMA ALERT) Meanwhile, as Peter, who earlier was gated and guarded from getting out, and was now gated from getting in, on the inside, in the (prayer) meeting, Rhoda’s news is not received with enthusiasm.

“You’re mistaken…”

Knock.

“It can’t be him…”

Knock, knock.

“It must be his guardian angel…”

Knock! Knock! Knock, knock, knock!!!

“WHAT IS ALL THAT KNOCKING!”

“Uh, guys…ummm…don’t know how to tell you this, but…uh…Rhoda’s right…”

Indeed. But the point of all this is to ask: if the church was gathered, praying earnestly (Acts 12:5,12), what, pray tell, were they praying for?

Is it possible they were only trusting God to encourage their brother, protect him from torture, give him grace to endure to the end, to finish well, to be gloriously received into heaven???

How uninformed to believe for a release, after all! For their brother to be restored to the ministry of the gospel!

The church had form. The church even had zeal. They even had determination.

What they lacked was faith!

Do we make our prayers too predictable and safe? Do we embrace a box and stuff our prayers inside its walls?

And, just one more thing…satan’s prisons have gates, yes, but so do churches! (see v13) Our gates are gates of “just enough.”

Just enough belief.
Just enough prayer.
Just enough zeal.
Just enough religion.
Just enough expectancy.
Just enough hope.
Just enough faith.

But that? Oh, it wouldn’t be prudent to ask for so much! Let’s just believe for…this much.

Is that how your church prays?

Is that how you pray?

Believe me, this story has me asking myself the same thing.

Wouldn’t His Kingdom come more powerfully to broken marriages, captive souls, prodigal sons, pervasive sin, cultural atheism, deceived minds, dark territory, impossible strongholds, aggressive rebellion, relentless attack and hopeless despair if we…

…could just hear what’s on God’s heart, to hear His intentions, to believe what He says on a matter, then pray that back to Him? If only…oh, if only…then, when no daunting prison or stronghold can contain our confident hopes…we won’t be taken by surprise.