Road Warriors: Tips for Itinerant Ministry

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This is a subject I have been asked about most frequently by people who have been “reinventing” their lives. As we transition out of traditional roles, we are looking for more creative ways to share our message and value with the world. Continue reading

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On Being Born Again

I recently celebrated the anniversary of my “Spiritual Birthday” – the day I turn my life over to God. (which I have done many times since then). Shortly after my 19th birthday, I was invited to church by a hippie friend who stopped to “help me” when my car overheated which which left me and some friends stranded. We had planned to go to a Ted Nuggent concert that evening at a place called “Boogie Hill” but as “fate” had it, I encountered Destiny instead (No, that wasn’t his name). My life had become somewhat out of control by my late teens. My “identity” had become quite skewed by the years of meandering in rebellion and experimenting with drugs and alcohol. I say “experimenting” because we had no clue what we were doing. As long as someone was selling it, it had to be good. Later I discovered many kids were just taking pills from the mirrored cabinets in their grandparent’s  bathroom. Anyway, choosing between the Blue pill and the Red pill that often ended in “Wonderland” is another story. (Not to be confused with The Matrix trilogy)

Having a clear sense of Identity is a big deal to living a healthy life. Identity, from a psychological perspective, relates to self-image (a person’s mental model of him or herself), self-esteem, and individuality. Professor Peter Weinreich, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Ulster, gives the definition “A person’s identity is defined as the totality of one’s self-construal (Interpretation), in which how one construes oneself in the present expresses the continuity between how one construes oneself as one was in the past and how one construes oneself as one aspires to be in the future” (Weinreich, 1986a).

What the Prof is trying to say, is we interpret our sense of “Self” as we make our way through life. It is basically based upon everything we’ve ever thought, felt, said or done; what was ever said or done to us; and couple all that with what we HOPE to become… our aspirations. We often gather information and interpret identity from our surroundings the way a detective searches for clues at a crime scene. If people smile at us, generally seem happy when we are around, we tend to have fairly happy thoughts about ourselves. This makes us feel a little more self-assured in a social context and thus, have more confidence in poking our head out of the metaphorical shells we carry and thus, we take a few risks in life. If however, people seem mortified and run for cover whenever we present ourselves, then that shapes self-esteem in a rather adverse way. People who were criticized often, or abused in some way, carry shame as an internal coat of armor. The feeling of freedom or confidence is nebulous at best.

A “New Identify” is one of the blessings of the “New Birth” of Christianity. We are given a chance to wipe the identiy canvas clean and begin the work of painting a new picture, this time, hopefully with God’s help. “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Cor. 7:17 NLT) This concept had enormous appeal to me when I gave my heart to Jesus as a wide (red)-eyed 19 year old. I wanted to feel clean again. To be gifted with  a New Beginning. I WAS use to people liking me when I was younger. Not only was I a very cute child, but my personality was engaging and I made people smile. (yes, like you are now). Especially my mother. She even loved my singing. I once gave her a collection of my Eagles hits cover songs that i recorded on my tape recorder (Now called “Vintage” 70s Cassette Player Recorder on Ebay). She wept as I feverishly raked the guitar pick I was clutching across the strings of my guitar and sang in my best attempt at a country twang,

“Well I`m running down the road trying to loosen, my load, got a world of trouble on my miiiiind… lookin` for a lover who won`t blow my cover, she`s soooo hard to fiiiind, Take it eeeeasy, take it eeeeasy ..” I wasn’t sure what all that meant as a 15 year old boy but I do remember I felt squiggly inside and it made my mother swoon. My mother always believed in me. Even when I was in the Juvenile Detention Home during the summer of my 16th year. “Jeff, you are just going through a bad season but you aren’t a bad boy,” she would tell me with the conviction of a mother’s optimism. It didn’t feel like a bad season however. I was spiraling out of control like a spider being swirled in a toilet after the flush. A force bigger than me was pulling me down. Sin and Rebellion had become my constant companions and they proved to be as reckless as Mayhem of the Allstate Insurance commercials. As my life became more chaotic, my self-image became “construed” as a wild-child who shouldn’t be trusted. “Lock up your possessions, hide the women and children, Bad Influence is coming!”

I began to hate my life. Not that I wasn’t having fun. It was a blast being That Guy who lightened up the party and made things more interesting. “What crazy, stupid thing will he do next?” Not only did I provide entertainment, I was usually the one driving my friends around AND provided the “refreshments.” My relationship with my parents had become very tense and I felt like a stranger in my home. I didn’t belong there… or anywhere for that matter. I felt lost like a prodigal son who wandered to a far country who was now on the outside, looking in. An Oursider. I came to believe that is Who I AM… and curiously, i liked it.

ImageAs I heard the preacher that night, something burned in my heart. Like Hydrogen Peroxide bubbling over a pussy wound, I felt the Presence of God foaming up and lifting away the infectious material of what my soul had become. I suddenly wanted to be clean again. I had new images forming in my mind of who I wanted to Be. I saw myself helping my parents in the kitchen, being a pretty good guy, we were all laughing… and loving. And I saw myself helping old ladies across the street which was odd since we lived in the country and there was only a corn field on the other side. But I was New. Helpful and kind, with my wildness held in check. I saw myself loving people with a reckless abandon.

I don’t remember a lot of what the preacher said that night. To be truthful, it was reminiscent of the way Charlie Brown heard his teacher. There was however,  a moment when the preacher was asking if anyone wanted to be “Saved.”  He had my attention. I don’t ever remember the priest of my catholic upbringing ever asking that in church. “Come to the front and be ‘Born Again’… this is your night If you are a way from God, this is your time to come home.”  That’s it! I wanted to be Born Again, have a new start. My hippie friend sitting in the pew to my right, grabbed my wrist and thrust my hand into the air for all to see. “This is what you want man!” He said with a crazed look in his eye. With that, he pulled me to my feet and led me by elbow first to the front of the room.

We dropped to our knees and hippie pressed my face into the blue fabric of the pew on the front row. My first thought was imaging how “Pew” got its name and why is he holding me down? Then I felt warm hands pressing on my back as people I didn’t know prayed my soul away from the clutches of hell. A warming sensation flooded over me like waves of warm honey love. Eventually, the heavy hand lifted from the back of my head and I felt the skin of my forehead burn with an imprint of the pew’s fabric. I felt marked with God’s favor and acceptence. Beautiful smiling faces of some “Babes in Christ” greeted me as they hugged me and welcomed me as a “brother in the Lord” as they called me. That felt wonderful. A new identity began forming from that very moment. I was no longer the Rebel without a Cause, I was now a Brother in the Lord… a child of God.

T. S. Eliot observed, “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” That evening, many years ago now was a new beginning for me. I couldn’t wait to share the news with my new girlfriend who eventually agreed to marry me. That ending that gave way to a new beginning wasn’t the first time that happened for me. But that is a story for another blog.

 

Truth Held in Tension

My mind became very busy after I awoke this morning. I reached recklessly for my cell phone on the table next to the bed and touched the screen to light up the time. “5:05 AM Sunday, August 4, 2013” Once I noticed the time, I felt committed to begin my day. Prior to looking at the time however, I had already been processing for a while somewhere inside my sleepy self.

It is interesting how the waking moments can become a “thin place” of hearing the Voice of God. It is apparent that there is a part of me actually communicating with Him. “A thin place” is an ancient Celtic belief, where the boundary between heaven and earth is especially thin. It’s a place where we can sense the divine more readily.[i] I have noticed there are specific places like that but none so consistent as when coming out of a REM stage of sleeping where I had been experiencing dreaming.

As I lay there thawing out in the sheets, I waited for my mind to catch up to my spirit, which had already been quite active.  It was as if I had my own private movie theatre so I could watch previews of coming attractions. Except none of the upcoming films appealed to me. The images looked negative and none too favorable. Actually, they were the opposite outcome of what I believed God for. But then another thought came to me… this is a test.

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”[ii] So, this test is an opportunity for “great joy.” Not just a smile, or warm fuzzy feeling, but “Great” joy. How do I accept this as truth when I don’t know where my family will be living in less than a month and I have no official employment to leverage a deal?

How can I reconcile the facts that exist, to the truths I believed? God has promised in His word that according to the apostle Paul, “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.[iii] When we sold our home of seventeen years and left our ministry and careers to pursue our High Call, we stood on the promise Jesus made about leaving houses for His sake.

“And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life.” Jesus Himself said that. We seriously could use one of those houses right now, I was thinking to myself.

I was feeling the frustration mounting of not having steady income. After all, I reasoned, I need housing accommodations, I need to pay tuition, we have bills… ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ Wait, these are things Jesus said, “Don’t worry about those things… your daddy knows you need them. But seek first the Kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.”

Truth. One of the more challenging times in our journey with God, is learning to be comfortable with mystery. Keeping our faith strong and heart at peace in the “in-between place,” is a crucial discipline to embrace. The in-between place is a place where truth is held in tension, between a need and the fulfillment of a promise.

It is one thing to obey God and live a life of faith, when our most pressing needs are satisfied. It is another thing altogether to live your life of faith according to the revelation you received, but having not received the desired outcome. I feel the swell of doubt trying to exalt itself over the revelation of the goodness of God. My doubt, like a prosecuting attorney, has so much circumstantial evidence to build a case. But to trust God only when a favorable outcome is guaranteed isn’t faith that pleases Him.

My heart rests when I choose to believe He is intentional in His interaction in our lives. “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”[iv] So, because I can’t see how a promise will be met, should I “cast away my confidence” and consider Him unfaithful? Isn’t living with mystery what a life of faith is all about?

Just an hour ago, my 14 year old daughter asked me to take her to Target to make an exchange of something she had purchased. Feeling a sense of urgency since she wasn’t empowered by a license to drive herself, she wanted a commitment from me. When I assured her I would drive her there in the afternoon, she let out a deep sigh of relief.

As peace settled her stormy agitation, she skipped out of my room onto her next activity. Her daddy promised her, so she could release the burden of an unresolved issue. She is now living comfortably in the in-between place. She is at peace knowing her daddy promised her, and I have a happy heart because she counted me faithful to my word. Trust like this is the fabric of relationship.

So beyond a trust issue, I also believe when our faith is tested, there is something deeper being worked into our character. We already looked at a verse about endurance, but I also believe a deep hunger also is stirred. Hunger is necessary because hunger assures that we will be faithful to steward the answer once it is birthed. We don’t always do well when our answers come to us easily.

Consider Hannah, the mother of Samuel the Prophet. She was barren and without hope of barring children apart from a miracle. In her desperation, a hunger was birthed in her that helped her fulfill her destiny. She presented the child she had birthed through her pain back to the Lord. When miracles and ministries are birthed through desperation, we tend to treasure them more than if no price had been paid.

Bill Johnson tells a story of a prophecy he received from Mario Murillo twenty years ago. It came to him during the years when Bill felt the frustration of living in the tension of “theory without fruit”. Bill hadn’t seen any miracle of healing in spite of believing for them after praying for many people. Mario referred to the story of Hannah and her closed womb referring to Bill’s present season of desperation.

He said, “God has closed up the realm of the miraculous to you, not as punishment, but to draw you into the desperation needed to maintain it as a lifestyle once you received your breakthrough.” This testimony is inspiring consider the realm of the miraculous that Bill stewards so well in his ministry today. Entire nations are impacted by his obedience to the revelation he embraced and contended for.

So, as I sit here today in my virtual barrenness, I am left to ponder my own motivations for wanting to experience breakthrough in Supernatural Provision. Am I looking for God to come through because I merely need a place for my family in the next month or is there something more? Yes, of course we need the promised provision, but in contending for this “miracle”, I believe we will open up a new realm that we can help other people experience for themselves.

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My conclusion to the matter after processing, while enjoying my morning cup of French Roast, is I am right where God wants me. I am responding to an invitation to embrace His realm of the miraculous which includes being comfortable with mystery. Truth needs to be held in tension.  Wisdom, and not reasoning apart from God, is the operating system, which allows us to process these tensions.

When we grapple with truths held in tension with wisdom, faith is released in our hearts that positions us to bless the world around us.  The testing of our faith produces something glorious. Remember, this is only a test and this kind of test I am reminded, is taken with great joy!


[ii] James 1:2-4 NLT

[iii] Philippians 4:19 NLT

[iv] Romans 8:28 NLT

Living Naturally Supernatural

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“Hey Mate, our visas are in order and plane tickets are booked. We should be back on the 29th of August. Looking forward to seeing you all! I closed the email and felt a curious mix of angst and excitement swirl around in my gut. Our friends from Australia would indeed be returning to their home at the end of summer.  So in forty days, we would need to know where we will be living, and me not having regular employment. This is what I have longed for, to prove the Kingdom is real and living life in such a way that intervention from Heaven is a natural part of everyday existence.

Jesus teaching includes the topic of Heaven’s intervention in our lives relative to supernatural provision. Consider His words written in the last four verses of Matthew chapter six in the NLT“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

 That seems reasonable. We do not need to be out of this house for forty days, a later day will bring its own worries. For today, I am at peace. “Once I was young, and now I am old. Yet I have never seen the godly abandoned or their children begging for bread.” (Psa. 37:25 NLT) I have seen the hand of Providence move many times since I began leaning toward the Kingdom many years ago. The telling of the stories would fill the space of many books. In the last year alone, provision came through unexpected sources and usually in the nick of time.

Many years ago, while attending a school of ministry in Tulsa, our oldest daughter had some medical issues needing attention. Sheri and I were both attending school and our provision was very tight. After taking our girl to the doctor, we needed to pay the bill, which totaled $45.00. The very next day, as we were leaving our apartment, I noticed in my peripheral something flapping on the outside of the door as I pulled it closed behind me. There was an envelope taped anonymously to the door containing $50 cash. That was enough for the doctor’s bill and a $5 tithe!

During the years of raising up the church we pastored, we witnessed the favor and blessing of God in countless ways. Provision was realized not only in our ministry, but also in our personal lives. A man, gifted in construction, offered by the grace of God, to build us a house. On two different occasions during the building project, friends from our church blessed us with checks of $10,000.00! Both couples told us that they are doing it because of being “prompted of the Lord to do so.” Many stories are coming to my remembrance causing my heart to beat faster with excitement and gratitude.

The book of Revelation 19:10, contains a statement that reveals the power of talking about God’s dealing in our lives. “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”  Miracles in your life demonstrate the nature of God. Every story we tell of breakthrough carries the potential to release the power of Jesus into a hopeless situation. When we share what God has done, it causes faith to explode as the testimony prophecies His desire to do the miracle again! So, when we are in seasons of need, it is good to rehearse the ways God has moved in our past. Your history with God becomes a message to enable others as well to step into the same miracles you’ve experienced.

I have also noticed a correlation between my expectation of good things happening and God’s provision even in small occurrences every day. Give us this day our daily bread.”  I have discovered that if I hold beliefs that limit my experience of God’s abundance, it is my responsibility to change those beliefs. If I believe God is good, and His intentions toward me are favorable, then I am open to unexpected blessings and surprises throughout my day. It is up to me to take advantage of opportunities through aligning my actions to meet opportunity, but I keep my heart open to abundance through gratitude and expectation.

 “Faith gives substance to our hopes, and makes us certain of realities we do not see.” (See Heb. 11:1 NEB) Hope means to cherish a desire with anticipation. But what about, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick?” (Pro. 13:12) What if our hearts have been disappointed so many times our faith becomes irrelevant because we’ve learned to despise our own hope?

Mark Chironna writes in, Beyond the Shadow of Doubt: “Hope is experienced at a feeling level of the soul and is triggered by our imaginations. If our memories are disappointing, then our hopes are not active. Memory and hope are inseparable. We build our hopes through life most often by the remembrances of past successes or the dream to overcome past failures. Either way, our imaginations are built upon the foundations of our memories.

 If you have had little success in building energizing memories based on affirming life experiences, your hope for the future can be weak or nonexistent. Your blocks from the past need to be reconciled and removed.”

 I moved to California two years ago with a sick heart. Having experienced years of disappointments and losses, with little time to heal, I had to take a bold step to recover my heart. There comes a time when every wounded person arrives at a very important moment. Will they open up their heart to the Love of God and allow Him to touch the painful areas of their life? I have since experienced many encounters that have brought tremendous healing and breakthrough.

Sometimes, we move forward in life with bold steps full of assurance and bravado. Other times, we walk tentatively, like carefully stepping out on a pond covered by thin ice listening for the ominous sound of cracking. In my present season of discovery, I walk somewhere in between the two, with confidence and yet trepidation. One thing I am certain of, I’m going to have great stories to tell!