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.

 

 

Testimony

Halloween on Hallowed Ground. When Christians are Roaming rather than Resurrected.

Religion is always in agreement with the spirit of the air and the spirit of the age. It has an affection for temporal things, contemporary thought, and desires to be a part of the context of its time in history.

The spirit of the air= religion loves the systems and contents of the world. The spirit of the age= religion loves the knowledge, technology, and sophistication that marks individual time periods.

Religion will always tend toward intersectionality; intersecting and assimilating, appropriating and absorbing the secular in the name of the gospel– it brings in the pagan making “faith” accessible to the unchurched utilizing whitewashed pagan rituals that are familiar to the proselyte so that it is easier for him to get to church.

Ezekiel 13 talks about false prophets “inventing their own prophecies” ahead of a time of tribulation for Israel. In the passage the Lord speaks, comparing such prophets to “jackals digging in the ruins.” These prophets were proclaiming peace in the land, when in fact the Lord was preparing judgment for Israel.

The false prophets had a nice, easy-going, happy go-lucky, “we’re all good,” message to spread that was placating the guilty consciences of people who were about to be destroyed for their sins.

The Lord says to these prophets what Jesus will say to the Pharisees centuries later:

These evil prophets deceive my people by saying “All is peaceful” when there is no peace at all! It’s as if the people have built a flimsy wall, and these prophets are trying to reinforce it by covering it with whitewash! Tell these whitewashers that their wall will soon fall down. A heavy rainstorm will undermine it; great hailstones and mighty winds will knock it down. And when the walls fall down the people will cry out, “What happened to your whitewash?” Ezekiel 13:10-12 

Just as Ezekiel debuts the equivalency of false religion and “whitewash,” Ezekiel also happens to house the term “fishermen.”

When Jesus tells the disciples they will become “fishers of men,” it is probably not so that they can relate to their new vocation in terms of their old occupation. Jesus calls them “fishers of men” because both Jeremiah and Ezekiel use the title “fishermen” to prophesy about a group of people that God ordains to go out into the nations and bring back His people from captivity. (Jeremiah 16 & Ezekiel 26-28.)

In fact, in Ezekiel 26, the completion of God’s judgment against His enemies is marked by the fishermen laying out their nets to dry. The fishermen’s job is complete once all of God’s people have been pulled out of the world so God can judge it.

“Fishermen” was not an accidental phrase on Jesus’ part– nor was whitewash. Both terms are references to Old Testament prophecy– prophesies that are for the Church Age at least in part.

The Old Testament prophesies of fishermen and whitewash are today’s evangelists and false prophecy, namely, a false gospel of peace.

Christians as evangelists are supposed to be yanking people out of their context, not putting an aquarium within church walls for them to swim around in their same old sea of humanity– we seek to comfort them with the familiar things of the world.

And here we come to the holiday case study: Halloween is all about familiarity — familiar spirits, spiritism, necromancy, and seeking the eternal in temporal beings. At Halloween the dead are venerated, prayed for, and by some, they are sought out.

Dead people are dead, gone. Jesus told His followers to “let the dead bury the dead.” Saul’s final insult to God was summoning Samuel from the grave.

There are nine specific laws in the Torah alone forbidding the use of witchcraft, sorcery, psychic practices, and mediums.

People are temporal beings. Once they are gone, they have no business on the earth save for the demonic– apparitions included.

The affinity for the spirits of the dead that our culture puts on parade at Halloween, is as an affinity for the spirit of the age and the spirit of the air— the spirit of things tied to the earth.

As Christians we are called to set out eyes on things above.

We are not called to celebrate dead things.

Yet, we celebrate many dead things– a love of culture, the idolatry of passing philosophies, beating the system we’re in; that’s not resurrection life, it’s being buried neck deep in the world.

A few months back, I was having very strong nostalgia for my “glory days.” It so happened that I was traveling back and forth through a few of my old haunts, and it was bringing up very potent memories.

This very real and nagging love and sadness for what had been, the person I was, the people I used to know, the types of jokes and drinks and cigarettes and music, the conversation, beliefs, books, and newscasts, the art, and scenery, and clothes and jewelry…I was aching for the past. The more I engaged with this wistfulness, the more I found myself puffing up with pride about “the sort of person I am,” the “things I know,” my “taste,” and I sort of developed an indignation toward my real in the flesh life.

There was this very real process of looking to the past, admiring objects that I didn’t even have anymore, and creating a pretentious scaffolding around myself. Oddly, these waves of nostalgia– and legitimate temptation– were instigated by the beautiful scenery of the places I was visiting.

My love for earthly things was literally being piqued by the Earth. The second commandment is no small thing! Thou shalt not create an idol of anything on, above, or below the earth.

In 1 Samuel 15:23 we read, “Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshipping idols.”

Witchcraft and idolatry are natural companions. They arise out of, and within each other. It is our love of dead things that gives us a love of dead religion.

Religion is obsessed with the riches of the earth. It wants its earthly reward. It is of the world but not in the world. Rather than being in the world but not of it. It venerates all things dead– dead works, dead rituals, dead people.

It’s little wonder that the Catholic holiday of All Hallow’s Eve is such a natural companion for the Neo-pagan holiday Samhain.

People make a big deal about Halloween, and about Christians participating in the festivities or about churches participating in the festivities.

And I think it is a big deal. It’s something you have to be thoughtful about- examine 1 Corinthians 10. But firstly, be prayerful about. Regardless of whether or not you go trick or treating, or go to a vigil mass, you need to be in prayer at this time about the dead things you are involved with all year that need to be laid to rest.

Is Halloween even the worst way you are tied up in culture?

The Lord has been showing me how much I am a product of this age. I’m seeing how much I love philosophizing, and thinking, and talking in super smart post-modern ways. He’s showing me where my treasure lies; and how many of my peers are like me, and how we are turning the gospel into intellectual rhetoric, throwing up flimsy walls to house ridiculous aquariums; and we are fawning over yellow books by dead Austrians, and all the new books, and just a lot of dead spirituality that generally damns.

The fellowship of light and darkness is of equal concern in July as it is in October.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Testimony

Who’s afraid of Yom Kippur? My devotional journey as a Wilderness Christian.

This devotional is a repost from last year’s Fall Feasts series. It gives both background on Yom Kippur and my personal relationship with “the Old Covenant.” This year during Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot I will be diving deeper into the Sabbatical calendar as a meta-narrative of the Bible. As Chuck Missler says, “for Jews their calendar is their catechism.” This fall I would like to attempt to use the Hebrew Calendar as an inspiration to look deeply at: the salvation plan, the gospel, the kingdom, the Trinity, and discipleship. Rosh Hashanah kicks off the Fall Feasts on September 29 this year. Please look forward to the 2019 Fall Feasts series entitled, “Salvation on our Heads, the Gospel on our Feet.”

I have been a little stumped on what to write about for Yom Kippur. My week got hijacked by a burning need to understand covenant theologies vs. dispensational theologies and all the “progressive” versions of those theologies in between.

It wasn’t a completely unrelated pursuit.

Christians are often curious about how the Old Testament figures into salvation by grace through faith. This definitely raises the question of why I would be interested in writing about the Fall Feasts as someone saved under the New Covenant of grace, not justified by the law?

To be fair, I am going to write about the liturgical holidays too. Perhaps I have more of a thing for calendars than I do Levitical law!—and a thing for celebrating as many holidays as possible!

I do have a pretty interesting background theologically that gives me a peculiar love for both the Old and New Covenants.

I was born into a Portuguese Catholic family that converted to Pentecostalism. Yes, conversion is the appropriate word, just for information’s sake, because evangelicals of all denominations believe in a personal conversion moment where one is born again in Christ, which Catholics absolutely do not.

From Pentecostalism, my mother lead the charge as we journeyed into Messianic teachings, then into the fundamentals of Calvary Chapel born from the Jesus Movement, then into a charismatic inner healing ministry with prosperity doctrines as incidentals, then I personally branched out as a teenager to attend a Presbyterian church where I was first exposed to post-modern mysticism and spiritual formation disciplines. I also spent a lot of time singing at a Lutheran church in high school with all the High Church formalities and completed my “theological confusion studies” at Azusa Pacific University which in 2004 was just flirting with ecumenical and inclusive theologies where I visited the seeker-sensitive and emergent meccas– Saddleback and Mosaic– albeit unimpressed. I was impressed by the Billy Graham crusade that I went to as a freshman in college— I only went because Jars of Clay was playing at it. Witnessing one of Graham’s crusades kept the revivalist ember alive somewhere in my soul.

I also got to see Francis Chan an abundance of times in Azusa’s compulsary chapels. In reality he may as well have been my pastor in terms of percentage of sermons I sat under in my college years.

So what does all this have to do with Yom Kippur? I don’t know, maybe nothing!

But, you know, I think it does. The theologies and pastors I have sat under really all come from a heritage of restorationism in one way or another. Restorationism is that old Puritan desire to return to the biblical basics of the church.

The Restoration movement could ultimately be pinned on Luther and it has taken a multitude of names over the centuries. Now we call it emerging…(not my favorite term.)

We all have a sinking feeling, and perhaps a sincere concern, that we have added so many costumes, preoccupations, and presumptions to our religious practice that we render it void. I think many of us probably fear that our personal devotional lives have gone in the same way of becoming so pretentious that we are pretty useless to the cause of the Gospel.

See, I don’t feel that the Old Testament is the mold for clunky trappings and phony tall hats. I don’t think it’s antithetical to the New Testament. I think the Old Testament and it’s Old Covenant laws is Relationship With God For Dummies.

I have gleaned four core beliefs about God from tagging along on my mother’s spiritual sojourning. The following are unshakable foundations for how I read, interpret, and organize my understanding of the unity of the Bible:

  1. God does not change His mind. (Numbers 23:19)
  2. The physical and the spiritual are one reality, though mercifully, humans have a thin veil separating their perception of the spiritual activity in their physical reality. (Talk to anyone who has done hallucigenics, had a psychotic break, experiences prophetic dreams, has been a missionary, knows a Satanist, has read Genesis 3:7, knows anything about Eastern Orthodox or Catholic beliefs on the spiritual realm, has the unfortunate experience of having seen demons, or just entertains philosophical sytems other than Western scientific rationalism and materialism.) Based on the premise that we live in an equally spiritual and physical reality, I believe that God’s physical laws and promises are in no way separate from His spiritual laws and promises. In other words, Christians are the spiritual children of Abraham and have been grafted into the physical promises of Abraham along with his spiritual promises. My belief in both of these statements is ultimately grounded in that I see no significant difference, in the Old or New Testament, between how the physical and spiritual components of reality are treated.
  3. God is Triune in the Old and New Testaments. He did not become Triune over time, neither in revelation nor in relationship to humans. (Genesis 1, Judges 6, John 1-3.) Therefore, the Levitical laws were as much from the heart of Jesus as from the heart of the Father. (John 12: 44-50)
  4. God has always been more concerned with the heart’s condition than outward disciplines. That concept did not originate in Matthew 5– in fact Jesus turned up the heat on the law, judging the heart he made the law even harder to keep! Laws are to discipline the flesh. The more yielding a heart is the more free a person is from strict disciplines. (1 Samuel 15:22-23, Psalm 40:6, 1 Corinthians 8:1-10:13, and everything written about King David.)

Therefore, celebrating, and I do mean celebrating, any component of the Old Covenant does not automatically make a person a Hebrew Roots legalist. In my case, it’s just something I enjoy.

I don’t depend on the Day of Atonement to give me salvation for just one year. I depend on that atoning Good Friday long ago for my salvation forever.

I neither think that my works please God, nor do I disparage any work I do in pursuit of Him. I know where my eternal rest comes from. I know how it was that I became enrobed in righteousness. And remembering an earthly day of “solemn rest,” 1, 3, 7, or 52 sunsets a year as a foreshadowing of my Eternal Rest does not make me forget one iota that only faith pleases God.

By faith I know that God both demands sacrifice and is the sacrifice; that He simultaniously demands perfection and that He irrationally, literally, by choice sees me as perfect.

And if you choose to read Leviticus 23:26-32, regarding the institution of the Day of Atonement, let me give you the key words/phrases of faithful practice that are as applicable today as they were 3,000 years ago when the Torah was given:

  1. Be careful (1 Corinthians 16:13)
  2. Holy assembly (Hebrews 10:23-25)
  3. Deny yourselves (Matthew 16:24)
  4. Offerings of purification are made for you making you right with God (1 John 2:2)
  5. All who do not deny themselves will be cut off from God (Luke 9:24)

Be free in Jesus name. Even free enough to be unafraid of the Law– because in Jesus, it ain’t got nothing on you! (John 5:45)

 

 

Testimony

Shavuot and Pentecost. The Spirit vs. the Computer Virus.

So today, God answered a prayer of mine. This “answer” was a two and a half hour conversation with “Mike” from Apple care, while he carefully tried to ferret out and extract malware from my laptop.

How on earth is that an answer to prayer? I’m glad you asked. I have been praying– reluctantly– that God would educate me, in just the right proportion, about spiritual warfare.

Now, I know that spiritual warfare is a big, amorphous, difficult topic. It’s been overblown, outplayed, and contrived by some who have loved to herald their prowess and stature as spiritual warriors. And by others it has been reduced and boxed up as little more than a Christian jargon idiom that has about as much flavor as a communion wafer.

Well, “Mike,” my Apple genius gave me a little education today about how malware and viruses work on computers and what their goals are. Let me narrate and then unpack.

According to my Apple genius, malware and viruses are decidedly different in their goals. Simply put viruses destroy computers. They completely annihilate them. That’s it. Boring and brutal. Malware on the other hand “takes over” computers. The point of malware is to nestle into your computer, steal your personal information for fraudulent purposes, and to slowly take control of the operating system.

Mac’s supposedly cannot get viruses. Mac’s have built-in protection from viruses that would obliterate them. They can, however get malware. While “Mike,” my Apple genius took me through folder after folder checking for unnecessary, suspicious, and known-to-be-harmful downloads in my system, I noticed that with every step we took to rid my laptop of the malware, we lost more control over my desktop. The malware was reacting to our efforts to unseat it!

At first I had control over my cursor arrow, then I didn’t, then the arrow disappeared all together and in it’s place a little blue ring was bouncing around my screen against my commands. I asked, “Is there a person operating the malware in my computer?”

I was told “no,” that malware is created, written code, a logarithm, that once released just does what it’s made for. I said, “but it’s reacting to you being here, and accessing my screen. It is taking more control, and blocking our efforts the closer we get to find it.”

“Well-written malware, like all technology, can have a degree of artificial intelligence and can seem like some person in a dark room is running it.”

Because the malware was reacting so strongly to our efforts to trash it, we had to go into “safe mode.” Safe mode requires a special key-combo to log into your laptop and allows you to move freely without the malware’s interference. You can only do so much in safe mode, because it is separate from your main user profile. So you can clean up a lot, but eventually you have to go back and confront the malware head-on with special malware software.

Fittingly, the software’s logo is a warrior’s helmet pretty similar to Gerard Butler’s in 300. This special reinforcement warrior cut through the malware’s defense but in the end, the malware was sophisticated enough, and had been in my computer long enough, that I had to wipe my laptop clean.

With a clean computer, malware flushed out with the rest, I now have the task before me of watching out for identity theft and fraudulent behavior in my accounts. The malware had been watching my passwords by controlling my internet activity– actually its maneuvers to steal my identity was the final frustration with my computer’s performance that got me to call for help.

And for me that is a near complete education about the battle we face that “is not against flesh and blood.”

Here are some really confidence-building things that I see from comparing my computer virus to the spiritual realm:

  1. Christians, like Mac’s, can’t get viruses that destroy, only malware that controls. We don’t need to fear death, but we should be aware of defeat.
  2. Just like the malware reacted to my Apple genius cleaning up my laptop, our spiritual enemies react to God’s cleaning up in our lives, and will try to block us even more the more free we get.
  3. Malware is created, artificial intelligence. I love this one. I recently came across a writer that said “God and Satan are not equals. Satan is created. God is not.” Forces against us do not have “real” intelligence. They operate in a similar type of bondage to what we do before we are in Christ. True intelligence to move and respond in real time, requires the freedom we receive in Christ. We have a big advantage in that!
  4. We get to hide in “safe-mode” to get spiritual work done away from malicious forces. “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of my God, he is my refuge and my fortress: my God in whom I trust,” Psalm 91:1-2.
  5. Just like the software that we downloaded to cut through the code that we couldn’t see or didn’t have skill to find, we have warrior angels and heavenly hosts that the Lord orders to our aid. “For he will give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your way. They will lift you up in their hands, so that you don’t even strike your foot on a stone,” Psalm 91:11-12.
  6. And of course, at the end of the day, after all our battling, after all our efforts, if nothing can be done, if nothing can be saved: it is all wiped clean so that it is in fact, all saved.
  7. Yet, even then, there is still need to be diligent, because when you see your identity in Christ being challenged, distorted, misused– made fraudulent– then you know that you yourself have been restored, but what was stolen from you before salvation is still being used against you. And little by little as these red flags arise, you address the issue and take back your identity, take back your riches, and become a whole, inviolable person, complete and un-breached.

So why share this testimony during Shavuot/Pentecost? Well, because many of us want to live in the Spirit, under the Spirit, but according to the Law.

You want to know what I mean? We want freedom in Christ from sin, guilt, shame, and legalism. We want to be empowered by the gifts of the Spirit. We want to be impactful for Christ in measurable ways. But we don’t want the Spirit or the spiritual to be real.

We want this wonderful transforming gift that Jesus gave us, as he said, “I am sending someone greater than me to help you,” (John 14; 16.) At the same time though, we don’t want that transformation to be supernatural– we’d like for it to very much come through natural processes.

Well, that is the Law.

Natural processes are legalistic processes. They are governed by physics and morality and reason. And because they are governed by those laws, they are limited by those laws.

We also know that, of course, we are in a natural world, so we can’t just throw the natural “Law Baby” out with the bath water, which is why I personally still have great respect and honor for the place of the Law in Christian life and devotion.

But there is an irreplaceable, irrepressible importance to seeing the spiritual as real, if you are to embrace the Holy Spirit as real, and to operate in that glorious, victorious “safe-mode.”

“Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known My name. He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him, and show him My salvation,” Psalm 91:14-16.

I often feel afraid of this topic, and these things, but maybe that’s because I believe more in malware’s realness than I do in my Apple Genius’s realness.