Testimony

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,'” 1 Corinthians 12:21

My friends and I have been in a season where our supplication, bible study, and praise have been blessed by an upwelling of dreams, visions, and moments of being spontaneously caught up into the Spirit in intercessory prayers that we didn’t necessarily initiate or expect.

During COVID, I’ve had a really great opportunity to connect with Christian sisters who are far away from where I live. I guess I have expanded my definition of distance church to further flung destinations than typical. It’s been a very unique time of understanding what “the Body of Christ” means.

The adaptability that COVID has necessitated has stretched my understanding of community and being involved in church. Before the strange reshaping of church-life caused by the pandemic, I focused on the individual “hand,” “ear,” “eye,” “foot,” “head,” “weaker member” components of the Body in how they are distinct from each other. Even though I knew that Paul’s whole argument is that each member needs the others, my focus was always on which “one” I was. My vision was limited to seeing Paul as arguing that we each have a place and purpose in the Body because there are enough parts for everyone to have a job, rather than that he was arguing that each of us can only operate within the Body in concert.

Not only is one part of the Body never more central than the others, but no part of the Body can even be alive without the others.

I’ve always considered myself a weaker member– indecent and needing special consideration! Yet, in this season it is the dynamics between the members of the body that are being emphasized most to me. In this understanding of the Body and its members, my role in the church is not an identity.

Right now, I find myself in ministry pairs– He sent them out in twos! (Luke 10).

My beautiful friend, Joy is a prayer warrior. She is constantly available to intercede with a sensitive spirit. We work like arteries and veins together. When she has a word or vision in prayer, the Lord will give me a confirmation or interpretation for her. When I discern a spirit or have a dream, I give it to her to take to the throne room in prayer. The same Spirit is giving gifts to both of us, and they are gifts that require a companion to be meaningful and useful (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).

Aimee operates in praise. She is moved in this season to encourage and see the goodness of God. When we are together, I tend toward truth-telling, and she builds me up in my call to do that. She checks the sharp edge of my truth-telling with the pleasantness of God that she is experiencing and exuding. In this way, she is the trained ear that regulates the tenor of my voice, and I am someone she can count on to sound out the Word clearly. Revelation 19:10 says that the essence of prophecy is to speak the gospel with clarity– a clear witness.

All the way across the world, in New Zealand, my friend Julia, who I have not seen in over a decade, pastors a church. As a leader, she is bombarded with spirits to discern between! It seems that in this time, God puts a Bible teaching on my heart and mind at the same exact time that the Berean call is being stirred up in Julia to judge between truth and lie on that same subject. There is a flow and homeostasis between us that keeps both of us spiritually unpolluted.

These three are women who I have known for a decade or more each. I met each of them in specific moments and seasons in my history– not necessarily good ones. They each first met a different version of my carnal self as I wandered down my pilgrim’s road. None of us has avoided prodigal moments. But by faith we know now what will be actualized in the future– we are saved, redeemed, sanctified, and set apart for God’s use. And we view each other through eyes of faith: as we will be, not just as we are.

Joy, Aimee, and Julia have never met, yet we are in church together every day through texts and Facebook messenger, and prayers passed from one of us to the other, ideas passed from one of us to the other. We gather together through faith as we step up with some trepidation to say, “Sister, I think the Lord is saying… I sense the Lord moving in this way… I feel that this scripture carries this word for today… I hear your burden, let me pray for you now… Stand in your conviction.” With great bravery, we share our innermost spiritual experiences, and in so doing,

the fingers move with the hand and the arm in response to the nerves and are enlivened by the heart’s blood.

The Christian faith is interpersonal. Our relationships must be safeguarded. Forgiveness and reconciliation has primacy in the church politic because the Spirit gives gifts to be shared. He gives the key to one person, the lock to another, and the diary to a third.

If God has given me a dream to give to Julia for interpretation, and then on to Joy to commit it to prayer, and then I’ll need to run to Aimee for confidence once the enemy gets on my case for being obedient in sharing within the Body what I was given; and that confidence I reflect back to Julia and Joy…how can any of that happen if there is an unresolved breech in my relationship with one of them?

Division doesn’t just diminish the work of the Spirit within our churches, it deadlocks it.

Testimony

Testimony Shared at Cypress Church Gonzales: “Do you love Me?”

I had the privilege of sharing my testimony today at Cypress Church Gonzales with Dave Anderson. In the teaching today, Dave gave instructions from John 21– Peter’s reinstatement after denying Jesus 3 times. My testimony of being a disciple, denying Jesus, and then being reinstated is the object lesson. You can find my testimony starting right before the 23:00 minute mark.

Click here to listen.

And below is a “transcript” of my testimony. These are technically my notes but I followed them very closely if you are like me and prefer to read over listen.

Testimony: John 21 

I.  Dave has asked me to share my testimony as a sort of insight into how a person, like Peter, can go from being a passionate follower of Jesus, to denying association with Jesus, and then being called back to serving the Lord as a disciple again.

A. My testimony is a lot like Peter’s. In fact, the easiest way to describe my experience as  a disciple is through the pieces of Peter’s story that are scattered throughout the gospels. 

B. In John’s gospel, we meet Simon Peter in the very first chapter and are told that he was brought to Jesus. 

    1. His brother said, “We found the Messiah!” Peter was brought to Jesus. Jesus looked right at him and said, “I’m going to call you Cephas,” meaning Rock. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus tells Simon, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” 

Woah!

C. When I met Jesus it was very much like how Peter met Jesus. My parents brought me to church. 

  I encountered Jesus and knew that He was my Messiah, my Savior at a very young age. 

  And I experienced that feeling of Jesus looking right at me and saying, “I am going to call you by a special name for a specific purpose in my Kingdom.” 

  • And I responded to that very special encounter with Jesus just like Peter did! Peter was an ardent and dedicated disciple, as was I. 
  • Being a Christian was exciting and satisfying to me in my youth.

II.  My mentor growing up, a woman named Anne, used to say Peter was, “Ready, Shoot, Aim.” 

  1. We get many glimpses of Peter’s heart throughout the Gospels. But John’s gospel, chapter 13 particularly, paints him this way: 
    1. Peter didn’t understand Jesus (John 13:7). He wanted to, but He didn’t always get what Jesus was saying.

1. Peter was all or nothing (John 13:9). 

Peter wanted to be close to Jesus and in His confidence— to be His confidant the way that John was (John 13:23-26). 

Peter was passionate (John13:37). 

Peter was the first to proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah (in Mark 8:29). He was bold and he was on board!

B. Peter’s theology about the Messiah was pretty accurate according to the rabbinical interpretation of that day- a conquering militant righteous king and deliverer— we see this at Jesus’ arrest when Peter felt it was totally appropriate to swing a sword at someone!

  • However, in John 18:10-11— When Peter drew a sword and chopped a guy’s ear off to keep Jesus from being arrested— we see that his theology was not in line with what Jesus had told Peter about Himself, or what the prophets meant when they depicted the Kingdom of God and the Messiah.
  • He believed Jesus was the Messiah, but what He believed about the Messiah was incorrect. — You and I also, can’t just believe in God we have to believe what God says about Himself.

III.  We also know that:

A. Peter chose to stop short of the cross; he chose to stop short of following Jesus to suffering (John18:15-17). 

B. Did you know John was the only male disciple at the cross because he was the only one who stuck with Jesus the whole way from Gesthemane to the Sanhedrin to the Cross?

  1. The servant girl, in Luke 22, who asked Peter if he was a disciple was asking so that he could go into the Sanhedrin with Jesus and John. 
  2. Peter could have followed Jesus to the cross. Instead he said, no, no, I’m not one of His.

3.   He lied about knowing Jesus so the he did not have to suffer with Jesus. 

C. The faith of my youth was Peter’s to a tee. I wanted the Lord. I was dedicated to all points of spiritual discipline. I wanted God to lead my life. I told a friend recently, “When I was young I was willing to be so weird for Jesus!” 

1. It is often easier to be extreme for Jesus than it is to be faithful to Him.

D. But I had a very immature understanding of Jesus. 

  1. I thought I understood what “Messiah” meant or how the Kingdom worked, but I really did not understand. 
  2. I definitely didn’t understand the Cross— I was eager for God’s Kingdom to advance, but I could not be close to Jesus’ heart until I had come close to suffering, because the Cross is suffering. 

IV.   In Luke 22:31, Jesus tells Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat…”

A. When I was 23 years old, I suffered a psychotic break. That means that I experienced a complete break from reality with delusions and hallucinations. I was like the crazy people in movies, or the people talking to themselves that you avoid during street ministry. 

B. For a month long period, I was insane. I had an intense mood swing of hyper-activity. I couldn’t sleep. I was talking at lightening speed. And behaved in erratic and irrational ways. I went missing for a brief time. I was not lucid or sane at all during this time. I was forcibly hospitalized and diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder.  

C. At that time, I did not know anything about mental health or mental illness, neither did my family. It felt like a death sentence. It seemed like this illness was going to destroy my whole future.

D. This experience was very scary. It was embarrassing. It left me feeling deeply insecure about my identity— how could I be useful to God, or to anyone, if my mind could just break at any moment? 

E. The hyper-active “mania” mood swing was followed by a heavy depression. I could not understand why God bothered making me, if He was going to make me so defective. All of my hopes, expectations, and dreams were dashed. The Bible tells us that “hope deferred makes the heart sick,” (Proverbs 13:12). That was true for me.

F. For seven years after my “manic” episode and the psychosis, I could not approach God and I stopped identifying myself as a Christian. I stayed far away from church. Not only did I feel let down by God, but my psychosis had so many spiritual and supernatural elements to it, that I became afraid that if I prayed or read my Bible I would go crazy again— that was a terrible lie of the enemy that I accepted. Fear and disappointment kept me from Jesus for seven years. 

G. This was 7 years of intense sifting. My faith was being sifted…so that it could mature.

V.   Like Peter, when my moment of testing came, the moment to use deeds not words— “I’ll follow you anywhere, Jesus! I’ll be obedient to the point of death!” became: “…but bipolar disorder? No Jesus. I’ll stay out here by the fire… When the servant girl comes to ask if I’m yours, I’ll have to politely deny You. When the servant girl invites me into the Sanhedrin, into Your suffering, I’ll politely decline. Bipolar disorder doesn’t fit into my model of Christian suffering. When the servant girl asks, I’ll say, ‘I can’t go to that cross.’ That cross is too costly! In fact, maybe, Jesus, You’re not the Messiah I thought You were. I’m going to stay outside. I’ve just realized that everything I thought I was sure about, I’m not so sure about.”

A. So instead of following Jesus toward the cross He had for me (like John did), I ran away from my Lord, alone, and weeping bitterly (like Peter did in Matthew 26:75)

B. My diagnosis with a mental illness brought me to a point where Jesus didn’t make sense to me. Like a disciple, I had heard everything He said. I had loved the teachings. I had followed Him around and believed the miracles. 

C. But I could not follow Him to the door that the cross and the resurrection were behind. My own personal “door to the Sanhedrin,” the door that if I went through it, led to my flesh being crucified, where all my self-sufficiency and pride would be brutalized by mental illness.

D. I have often told people that my psychotic break and receiving a life-long diagnosis of bipolar disorder was like experiencing my own death.

E. Would I get to be completely restored by Jesus’ resurrection power? I was too afraid to find out. That was the door I just couldn’t go through with Him. My faith was too immature to allow Jesus to walk me through my mental illness. I thought He abandoned me and that I’d be better off on my own.

VI.  Jesus prophesied over Peter, and I believe this is for me too:

A. He said “Simon, Simon, Satan has demanded to have you and to sift you like wheat, But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have repented and turned again, strengthen your brothers.”  (Luke 22:31 paraphrase.) 

B. If you are being sifted, when you are being sifted, and you think, “I can’t get to the other side of this suffering with Jesus. I can’t go before the court of public opinion and be judged and humiliated, falsely accused and afraid with Jesus. I don’t know that if I stick with Jesus it’ll all turn out ‘alright’ in the end. That’s not a cross I can go to— any cross but this cross, Lord. I must have been wrong, because this does not look like Christian victory. I don’t think this is a Messiah that I can follow…What was my life as a disciple for?”

C. Jesus has prayed for you. (And Jesus’ prayers are always answered!) He has prayed that your faith will not fail. He knows you will “turn again” to Him, and when you have turned again you will strengthen your brothers.

VII.   When Jesus rose from the grave he told the women: “Go tell my disciples AND Peter,” Mark 16:7 (ESV). Other versions says, “Go tell my disciples INCLUDING Peter.” 

  — Either way it is translated, Mark 16:7 tells us two things: 1. Peter had separated himself from the group of disciples. 2. Jesus still had plans for Peter.

  1. He still had plans for me during the 7 years I was in denial. He still has plans for you. Even if its been years that you just couldn’t bear the name of Christ, He still has plans for you as His disciple.

B. In John 12, Jesus tells his disciples: Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

C. And His question to me, His question to you, His question to Peter is “do you love me?” 

D. No matter what has transpired between you and God, all He wants to know is: “Do you love me?” 

1. Pain, disappointment, confusion, shame— these turn many away from following the Lord. But Jesus turns us to Himself again with the gentlest question: Do you love me?

2. Today, I say:

“Yes, Lord, you know I do.”

3. And I hope today that you will also say: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

VIII. Dave has been giving some wonderful instructions and insight on just how it is that we say that to Jesus. So I’ll turn it back over to him. 

Testimony

Interview at Cypress Church: How to Explain “Being Born Again”

I had the incredible privilege of being asked to share with my church family yesterday. Find the link highlighted below.

Here is a wonderful message from Ben Sobels, co-author of the Discipleship Gospel and pastor of my home church, Cypress Church in Salinas, CA. Pastor Ben interviews me toward the end of his sermon as the object lesson of sorts.

The teaching is on John 3:1-8– Nicodemus asking Jesus, “how is a man born again?”

Questions People Asked Jesus #1: How Can One Be Born Again?

Testimony

“A farmer went out to plant some seeds.” Matthew 13:3

In church this Sunday, our congregation was drawn by the leadership into a time of prayer to turn our faces to the New Year with purpose and humility.

During the service, “enough” was the word of the hour for me. It was impressed on me, while I prayed, that there is already “enough” to accomplish the work God has set out for us as people, as a church, as the Church, and as people of the Kingdom sown into the world (Ephesians 2:8-10; Matthew 13:37).

It is easy at year’s end to reflect on how hard the year has been. All over Facebook, I see people writing how glad they are that 2018 is over, and that they have high hopes and determination to make 2019 a better year, or even the best year yet.

We focus on change when 2018, in fact, had enough and 2019 has the same enough that we needed yesterday and will need tomorrow.

When we focus on change we operate in complaint, dissatisfaction, and disbelief.

Consider this: What God plants is accomplished.

The seed has to die to sprout; it has to struggle to take root and simultaneously reach its shoot through the soil. The one who planted it might not be the one who waters it. It will mature over time, and it bears fruit at the right time. (John12:24; 1 Corinthians 3:6-7; Mark 11:12-25.)

The seed goes through death and pain and struggle over its course. It experiences phases of unseen dormancy but also times of radiant flourishing.

But it was not change the seed needed. It didn’t need anything to change to make one season good or another bad.

When God plants a seed, that seed has everything it needs within it to run the race the Lord has set for it.

It will accomplish bearing fruit because God has already written that into the seed.

The length of seasons. The course of the race. The construct of time, is what’s difficult.

He who has begun a good work in you will be faithful to carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

Jesus is the “Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 3:18). Jesus’ offering for our sin preceded our need for it.

Faith is the principle of the seed– all that is needed is already there and governed over time by the One that wrote into that seed the work He created for it (Matthew 17:20).

Mountains will be moved by the principle of a seed.

Abraham had faith in the impossible– that a nation as innumerable as stars and as plentiful as sand would be birthed for him by a barren woman; and that this nomad would inherit not only a land promised to him but all the nations of the earth. (Hebrews 11:8-12; Romans 4:13; Galatians 4:21-31.)

He never saw any of it happen. He knew his son of promise; but the full expanse of God’s promises to him he never saw. He only saw Isaac– the seed.

Today we know that through Jesus and by the Holy Spirit that people of all nations have been adopted to Abraham as an inheritance. And we are still by faith watching the seed’s tendrils grow into the fullness of every promise made not just to Abraham but even back to Noah and to Adam.

We have faith like a mustard seed now; we will see the landscape of the earth reshaped in the fullness of time later (Isaiah 40-42).

May your New Year be filled with contentment, expectancy, and belief in the eternal nature of our God.

He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. There is no shadow of turning in Him. His word does not return void. He sends rain and snow and it doesn’t return to heaven until it makes the seeds bud and flourish for the farmer. (Hebrews 13:8; Isaiah 55:10; James 1:17.)

Maybe last year was bad. But don’t spend time trying to figure out how to make this one better, or make yourself better, or your kids better, or your income better.

I’m not gunna tell you to pray more, or focus on having more faith, or being more grateful.

I mean, I could, those are all good.

My recommendation is that you meditate on, study, and reframe every thought (take your thoughts captive) to this: God is eternal.

What God is doing in your life is eternal. It is outside of time. It’s not better or worse year to year. It is according to His eternal purposes (Psalm 57:2).

When He made you a new creation, He changed you once and for all and gave you enough.

He planted His word within you and abides in you by the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 13:23; John 15-17; 2 Corinthians 5:17.)

And this wasn’t for your own aggrandizement. It was so you would have what it takes to be living in a dying body for a life that is outside of time (Philippians 2:6; 2 Corinthians 4:16.)

You don’t need to make resolutions because God is the one who is resolved (Luke 9:51).

As a Christian, you are in Someone else’s agenda and on Someone else’s time.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me. And the life I live now in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 

Live eternally this year. Full of hope in God’s “enough.”

1 Peter 4:1-11.

 

 

 

Testimony

Festivities or Fasting. You had Forty Days to Spend this Christmas.

Every year, I promise myself that I will go easy on Christmas this year.

I’ll spend less, I say. I’ll schedule less outings. No caroling this year. We can skip baking cookies; that’s just a mess anyway. We can bow out of one or two charitable activities.

Last year, I used old pictures (gasp!) for our Christmas cards. And this year, though I have bought $80 worth of Christmas stamps already…I am not going to send out Christmas cards. I thought I was compromising by opting for generic store bought holiday cards. One thing led to another, and I’m scrapping ’em altogether this year.

I’ll have seasonal greeting cards on hand for the next 40 years.

Listen, I’m gunna level with y’all here: I am pretty sure the credit cards I just consolidated were by majority “the ghosts of Christmases past.”

For someone with seasonal affective disorder– amongst other brain challenges– a desperate attempt to cheer up the dark days of December seems logical on a surface level.

My large extended family has also always been big time fans of the holidays. Forced Family Fun is an important component of familial culture on my mom’s side.

This means observance with gifts, decorations, and gluttony are vital for maintaining positive internal relations with the clan.

My daughter, mom, and grandmother also are all born on the same day in December!

So come on, we go big or go home. ‘Tis the season.

Here’s what I have noticed about the time between mid-November and New Year’s Eve: things fall through the cracks.

In the past several years, I’ve seen insurance renewals, logical budgeting, personal boundaries, and even people forgotten in the over-scheduling that is inherent to six weeks of celebration.

We can’t realistically expect to quadruple our responsibilities for a month and a half and still attend to our normal routine.

I have a hard time keeping up on a normal day, so if I’m gunna get all festive, you better believe just about everything else falls to the wayside.

I sabotage my New Year by exhausting my finances, family, and body; cluttering my calendar, home, and mind; and diverting my priorities, attention, and spirituality for 6 whole weeks out of 52!

That is 11.5% of my year– more than a tenth of my year– spent in inattention.

I sacrifice peace, calm, purpose, intentionality, and contentment to indulge for nearly a tenth of my year.

There is a lot a person could accomplish in six weeks– 40 days– with the passion, unrestraint, and commitment that we reserve for the holidays.

Like, crossing over into the Promised Land? Preparing for conquer, victory, sanctification, establishment, and blessing?

That’s what the Israelites were on the precipice of in the Book of Numbers. They were standing at the border of all things New.

About to say goodbye to their rock-star leader Moses. About to test their mettle, their resolve– their ability to lean hard on God’s promises.

But it was at this crucial point that they are sabotaged by Balaam and their attention is diverted to feasting, carousing, indulgence.

They put aside what they know is good for living and spend just a little time treating themselves to just a little bad behavior.

Do you know that Christmas Day is the deadliest day of the year?

And nope, sorry, it’s not drunk driving accidents. Nor is it suicide. Oddly, there’s a spike in suicide at Easter.

Christmas Day is the deadliest day of the year due to negligence. It is possible to stack up more deaths nation wide due to neglect!– inattention– than any other way.

Drug overdose doesn’t kill a record number of people on a single day every year. Drunk driving, shootings, smoking. None of those compare.

How does the enemy of our souls harvest as many of us as possible in a single day? Distract us.

And it’s so insidious. The way that people die on Christmas:

Not going to the hospital when he feels tightening in his chest, after all, he doesn’t want to disrupt the holiday dinner. The kids are having fun; don’t bother them.

More people die in house fires at Christmas. There are not more house fires at Christmas; but people are more distracted and therefore more likely to die in the house fires at Christmas.

We just aren’t paying attention.

Every pastor and Christian thought leader encourages us to focus in periods of 40 days.

Fast, pray, diet, give…for 40 days! That’s always the pitch.

And come on, we never do it. Or never finish it. Somehow, I am a perpetual quitter at 33 days. I can be intentional for 33 days but not 40 for some reason.

So, yeah, we can’t wage war in the spirit, we can’t tarry, for 40 days.

But we sure can drink, spend, eat, travel, instigate pointless quibbles, and have sad, lonely, “I’m-the-only-single-cousin” bar hook-ups in the ol’ hometown.

Satan easily steals, kills, and destroys your new year utilizing these 40 days of inattention and compromise.

At the borderland of your year, your promises, your hopes, your expectations for God’s goodness and purpose– His newness. And we let the enemy work us over and set us back and shake us just before we enter in.

That’s the embattlement of this season. Don’t miss it. See it. Attend to it.