Saturday, February 18, 2012


Art is Cindy’s dad. I knew him because of our friendship and family relationship with Jim and Cindy. Art is Jamie’s grandfather, our son John’s wife. Art was 83 when he went home. He was a hard working farmer, a community man, good natured, humorous, and witty. I only talked with him a few times over the last few years. Yet, at his funeral, his life spoke to me strongly.
Art had the pleasure and the honor to pass from this life in a biblical manner. He was in Florida and his heart problems were getting the best of him. The family all went to Florida to be with their dad. He had the distinct honor of being able to gather his family around his bed and give farewell words that will resonate in their hearts for the rest of their lives and mine.
When they related his farewell, I was reminded deeply of what is important. He told them, “We are family, you are family, help one another.” It instantly grabbed my heart and I heard the echoing of my grandmother’s words spoken to my mom, “keep the family together.” I could hardly keep from wailing out loud. I choked back cries and stifled tears as best as I could, but the words were from God and I could not but hear the Lord speaking to me.
Family is not only important, it is pretty much what life is about. Our families are made up of all kinds; yet they are family. Help one another. Be there for one another. The rest of the world may hate you, reject you, but family sticks with you.
I am told and I saw as a small child two aunts come to live with my grandmother to help her. She was widowed when she was in her 50’s. My aunt Minnie and uncle Clyde sold their farm and moved in with grandma. They went because she needed help. At one time, there was my grandmother, my two aunts, uncle Clyde, and my mom and dad, all living in one house so family could make it. 
I had the pleasure of meeting two young orthodox Jews who I liked immediately. They spoke of family and what it meant to them. They were the products of immigrants who came with nothing, escaping Communism, risking their lives to be free. Their parents sacrificed to give them a life and a business and now they were acutely aware of passing the legacy to their children. In Jewish circles, the family is the center of worship. The table is the altar. To be invited to share a meal in a Jewish home is to be invited to worship. It is the highest compliment of acceptance.
God established family. Built the bonds to last. It is interesting that in the book, Heaven is For Real, that when Colton went to heaven as a little child, his greatest remembrances were of family that took care of him. A grandfather that has passed before he was born cared for him in heaven. He met a sister that was a miscarriage in this world, but still a little girl in heaven. She came to play with him.
In my own family, aunt Minnie, as she was passing from this world, spoke of the family at the foot of the bed, waiting for her. Unbelievers spoke of delirium, but now I know that this godly woman was seeing beyond the veil.
I think my mom and dad have done a good job of “keeping the family together.” When we have gatherings, there is around 40 people now. I have been blessed by how the cousins love one another and get along. Marriages have welded others into the family. We are carrying on the tradition. My brother, sister, and I have been kind of doing the organizing now, but family is life. 
The church is meant to be the family of God, Jesus our brother, God our father, Holy Spirit our helper, close associate. The references to family are many in scripture as a way of understanding what God is doing with us. The bonds are meant to be strong, “help one another” “keep it together.”
This is what I have always wanted and worked for with the family of God. It has been nearly impossible. Even as the family is being fought and ridiculed in the world, broken and devastated, fathers abandoning family, women refusing to care for their children, and the church aborting their children with neglect and lifelessness, the call of God is still for family and its sanctity.
I know when I walked away, Art’s words rang true. I left with a new resolve and a clarity that had been clouded by so many things. For my family,”help one another, keep it together,” and for the church family, “help one another, keep it together.” We have those who hate us and hate family, but God is for us. He sets the solitary!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


When I attended a church planting conference in the Atlanta area a couple of years ago, I picked up a book by one of the organizers of the conference. It was titled, “Detox.” In the book David Putnam, the author, chronicled his journey to becoming so indoctrinated in the work of the church that he had lost his love of the church and his love for the simplicity of the walk of faith. As one person put it many years ago, “I am working like the devil for the Lord.”
It is so easy to become religious. It is so easy to start working for a religious system rather than for the kingdom of God. Sometimes we start out with wild eyed idealism, face the hard reality of traditions in place, compromise to make it work, and then end as toxic as what we were campaigning against. It is so easy to want to tear something down, but many never count the cost of what goes in its place once you have destroyed the old. A good example of that is the current condition in Egypt and other nations presently desiring to throw off tyranny.
Often we walk into situations with, as Nathan said the other day, “with our eyes shut wide open.” The toxic affects of religion are just like that. Jesus said that we would be persecuted and killed by those who think they are doing God’s will. With hindsight we can vilify the Catholic church and its Inquisition, but the religious spirit is active always. It knows no season or century. It is so easy, even for the most godly people, to lapse into the toxic pool of religious ooze. Most times we are blind to our own pharisaism. Legalism is comfortable to the human psyche. That is why so many fall easy prey to systems that are controlling and damaging. It is the stuff cults are made of. We can stand back and say things like, “how could they not know?” Yet, the power of authority and control can be intoxicating, not only for those who wield it, but for those who lay back and let the decisions be made for them. When people begin to detox, they often wonder how they got there. It usually is not one big deception, but small steps leading to imprisonment.
I remember attending a spirit filled meeting in Canton, Ohio years ago. The worship was exhilarating. The gathering was uplifting, but there was something in me that was wary. I attended another meeting later that week at another gathering and a word of prophecy warned me of two railroad tracks that ran parallel and seemed to be going to the same place, but the word warned that one would soon veer slightly and then dramatically, taking a route into the darkness and desert. It was clear to me that one was a deception. I began to pray earnestly about my walk and what the two tracks were. The Lord revealed to me that the meeting I had attended with the great worship was the one that was going to move into the wilderness.
So, we made the decision not to go back to that place. However, it grew to large numbers. Had wealthy and influential people in it. We had friends who continued to go there. Well, the day came that some of them began to sell their properties and move to Canada and some to Central America. Our friends moved to Central America with the leadership group. I even knew the man who put the money up for the farm in Canada. Then the whole thing began to implode. There were divorces as people left their husband’s or wive’s for their soul mates as prescribed by the group. Then our friends were killed in a plane crash in the mountains of Central America. When it was all over after a few years, I asked the Lord, “why did you warn me and not the others?” His answer came back simple and clear, “I did. They did not listen.”
Later, I ministered to some of the grown children of that group. There were messed up royally. Some walked away from the situation to live strictly a secular life; others were seeking counseling, but I never did meet one that was truly right.
That may be an extreme, but it has been played out through the years in many places with different names, same spirit. It can have the name Catholic, Pentecostal, Amish, Baptist, or any other name, but it still is the same toxic religion.
Now, we are called to be a hospital, to heal, to mend. This kind of wounding takes time. It requires building trust, because it is still church, but what kind? There is structure, but what kind? There are leaders, but what kind? Is it safe? Can I trust again? Is it a trap? We had a black lab who had been abused and we adopted him. It took months for him to realize we would feed him and give him water. He used to guard his water dish with paws on each side till he realized it was good all the time.  Strangely Jesus loves his church. No wonder the enemy is constantly offering a counterfeit. Is it the bride or the prostitute?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Can I Recover?

  I sat and listened as the heart was poured out with the grief of years of hurt. The wounding, now many years in effect, had been inflicted years ago; yet the wounds were still raw and painful. I could identify, but these seemed deeper than I had experienced. Looking into the eyes toward the soul, there was the unmistakeable mark of betrayal.
Just days previous to this I listened as a mother lamented that her children loved God, but would not attend church because of the wounding that was inflicted on them, their parents. 
I have a friend that watched his sister be falsely accused and driven from the church. They are ones that love God, serve God, winners of souls; yet they still walk with the hurt of those events long past. I feel their pain every time I speak with them and the topic moves that way. The remembrances of that pain are not far from the surface.
My daughter reminded me of a quote from Brennan Manning, “I am deeply loved by Jesus and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” Mary went on to say that we are like babies. A baby does not return love; they just need love. We feed them, care for them, answer their every whim and cry because we love them. They did not earn it, they sometimes do not deserve it. But, we would lay down our life for our child. We do not even expect them to love us back at first. We take the fact that they are calm and sleep in our arms as some kind of love, but it is more their reception of our love and the security they feel. Jesus treats us the same way. We are loved. We did not earn it or deserve it. In fact, we have been difficult, dysfunctional, and primarily rebellious. We want our way. Amazingly he continues to love us, not based on our lack of sin, or our wonderful righteousness, but because we are his children. Family, familia!
Oh, the wonders of family. We are loved in spite of ourselves. We are prayed for, agonized over, encouraged, lectured, disciplined, you name it. But at the end of the day, you are still family. That wonderful assurance that we have in Jesus, in spite of our screw ups and failures, and blatant sin. It causes us to sing boisterously Amazing Grace.
The Lord has spoken to us that we are a hospital and that he was going to bring the wounded home. He was going to the highways and hedges to get his people. They are coming and they are a wounded mess. We have people coming that are drug addicts, mentally messed up, divorcees, multiple partners, people just living together, alcoholics, cheats, robbers, haters, the list of usual suspects. They come angry, hurt, confused, some even attempting suicide. Their whole idea of church is a bunch hypocrites sitting around judging others, pumping their particular brand of doctrine, and pompously extolling their own self righteousness. They are hard to reach and they do not trust easily.
These we are called to love. The thing that can really help in ministering to the lost is a good sense of our personal poverty and that we are on the road and not there yet. Maintaining a sense of being a pilgrim helps keep us from the legalism of self righteousness. We all fall into that trap so easily. It is like the man who quits smoking and immediately judges everyone who is still smoking. Or, I have been delivered, it was easy, what is your problem that you cannot shake it, just quit. It is not that easy for all and the battle rages in every arena for the souls of man and woman.
I understand what some age does for you. I am not so quick to judge as I was when I was young. I have experienced enough pain and failure to not be so quick to tell anyone to just get over it. I understand that it hurts and it can hurt a long time. I watched as one woman had to walk through a divorce after 50 years of marriage and now to spend the latter years of her life along. It hurts and it hurts badly.
To the human tragedy God addresses his grace through Jesus. To know you are loved is a great treasure. To see some overcome what seems to be insurmountable circumstances is a testimony of God’s love. To be rejected by mother and father and beaten and driven away would surely warp life into one of hatred and distrust, but then to see a flower blossom in that life with love, compassion, and forgiveness, can only be classified as a miracle of God’s love.
We will never do church just right. We are human and we fail in our relationships at times. But I will continue to pursue it. I will say it again, I want a move of the Holy Spirit with peace and unity. Goofiness, weirdness, control, and misuse of the gifts will not bring us peace and unity. His grace will bring peace, unity, and healing for the wounded. Oh, to trust God again with His church.