24 November 2008

...In plenty and in want...

Phil 4:11-12 “...for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”

I never noticed before that Paul says he’s learned how to face ‘plenty’ and ‘abundance’.

I think it’s common to read this passage and hear something like, “I’ve learned how to be poor, and be just as content as someone who is wealthy.” Lord knows, I’ve read it that way or years. And it’s tempting to say that it’s a lot easier to be content in abundance than in poverty...but he truth is, I don’t think I believe it any more.

Shortly after Re and I married I went from making copies at Nike to contract web development and thereby actually doubled my income over night. There aren’t too many times a person gets to experience that in one life. And while it still wasn’t a ton of money by most (American) measures, it was a huge change in lifestyle and for the next two years or so I quite literally made more money than I knew what to do with.

This past year, my business was feeling the current economic blowout way in the early stages when few people would dream of saying things like ‘worst economy since the Great Depression’ and this year I’ve been more broke and lived on less income than I ever have since leaving home.

But you know, I really think that Re and I are OK. The year has been a very painful process of learning to let go of the things that feel important but really aren’t. It’s fascinating really that my spiritual and personal lives (what an odd concept, to deliberately segment our lives..) have been really great. It’s just the professional life that has been so terribly hard.

Still, the thing I wanted to write about was this notion that the real bugger about money, whether you have a lot or a little, is contentment. Poverty threatens my contentment with fear and anxiety. Those emotions tend to be acute and painful, but also short lived and easier to deal with. Laugh in the face of fear and it runs skittering like a little kitty. Abundance threatens my contentment too, but with feelings that are not usually painful. Instead of fear over the electricity getting shut off is fear that today’s success will not be repeatable tomorrow. Instead of depression there is ambition. Instead of ‘Will God come through?” it’s “Will God come through again.”

To my knowledge, the only thing the Word ever names as a direct threat to my soul is wealth. (Mk 8:36) Just for the record, I’m not a prosperity gospel kind of guy, but nor am I a poverty gospel kind of guy. I think God will tend toward making us prosper financially, but I also think that few things seem as likely to corrupt a person as money.

Again, contentment is the thing. I want to get to a place in my heart where money is a non issue to me the same way egg nog is. Yes, that’s a good image. I LOVE egg nog and when it shows up each year you can see me doing the King of the Christmas Drinks dance in front of the dairy case. It’s wonderful, it’s lovely and it contributes several pounds to my waist each year. When it’s in the shelves early, like this year – the day after Halloween for goodness sake – it’s a happy surprise. But when it’s gone I don’t really miss it. I just think, “that sure was fun” and don’t give it another thought until it surprises me next year.

It’s premature to say that I have learned the lesson as Paul puts it in Philippians, but I can certainly begin to see what he’s talking about. In these months the choice has been simple enough: freak out constantly over things you have no ability to influence or control and give in to the ‘do something’ panic voice, or listen to Jesus. Take Him at His word and think about the lilies of the field – choose contentment over anxiety.

Six months ago it was probably six anxiety days for every content day. Now, I’d say it’s the opposite ratio – and I’m looking forward very much to my poor box turkey.

23 November 2008

A high-water mark

Today at church I wound up as the teacher for the high school group and we were talking about prayer and how all the book knowledge and good intentions were ultimately pointless unless you put them into practice in the real world. More to the point, there was little value in talking about the gifts of the spirit if you never walked in those gifts...

Paul says an interesting thing in Roans 15:19, “...in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Holy Spirit; so that from Jerusalem, and round about even unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.”

In the past I have always thought of Paul as the level headed apostle, the logical one next to John who is the spooky/touchy/feely one. And Romans, as I’ve been told thousands of times, is Paul’s logical masterpiece. The ultimate systematic explanation of Christian theology. And here, right at the climax of Paul’s precept-by-precept textbook, is this line about miracles...and I have overlooked it entirely until recently. Can I conclude from this verse that to preach the gospel without signs and wonders and the power of the Holy Spirit makes it incomplete? To be honest, more and more I’m feeling like that’s far more true than not true.

As we’re closing in on the end of class, Seth walks in and tells me his dad is having a kidney stone attack and could I come and pray with him when I’m done. (memo to Seth: kidney stones suck very, very much. It’s ok to seek prayer right now.) Anyway, since this seems like a perfect opportunity to practice what I was just preaching I tell the class, let’s go and kick some butt.

Just a few words about ‘Dad’ - this dude has had, no exaggeration, more kidney stones than he has teeth. The last two he passed were 4mm and 5mm! And as we were talking a few weeks ago he was sharing how his wife had recently realized how he is always getting hurt, including these stones, just prior to some kind of ministry. In this case, he was fine one minute and when the pastor started talking about something very close to his heart, the stones started, and he told me later this morning that he’s come to a place where he can endure a ‘normal’ stone pretty well but this one hit like a freight train was a ‘where’s the vicidin’ moment.

Anyway, me and the teens walk in and everybody has their heads down praying. (not for D. It was part of the service) So we sneak over to his chair and get next to D. to start praying. 60 seconds later I ask him, “Are we getting any traction? Is anything happening?” and he looks over at me sort of stunned. And he whispers “It’s all gone! All of a sudden, its gone!”

I think that deserves a Booya. :)
Good ol’ Jesus. Nothin’ beats Jesus.

I don’t remember if I wrote about this or not, but about a month ago I saw a girl’s leg leg grow about an inch or so right in front of me, and then again on film since the guy next to me filmed it. I wasn’t part of the prayer in that case, but it represented a new high-water mark in the kinds of healing that I’ve personally witnessed. Today was a new high-water mark for the kinds of healings I’ve personally participated in. Needles to say...well perhaps it is always needed...is just to state plainly and often how I had exactly zero tom do with the healing, my role is only to show up and pray as directed.

Bill Johnson says something about miracles that we say at Boot Camp – the problem with experiencing God or witnessing a miracle, is that you are then responsible to bring that same truth to others. You can no longer claim that you just didn’t know. Back to Dar Williams’ quote,

“Now we have to live with what we did with what we saw.”

As I pushed the send button on this entry, I went back to my sent items box to try and nail down the date of the other recent healing...and it looks as though I never wrote about it. DOH!

OK, so about a month and a half ago, I was in the circulation to teach an Alpha class to the Junior High class. As it happened, the class was on healing. Now for most of this class, I’m basically reading from a lesson guide. And toward the end the book says “How do we pray for the sick?” and then there’s basically a script that walks a person through a typical, generic healing prayer.

Well Kirk is there with me as my wingman ad he’s been helping along the way. When we get to this part I turn to him and we start playacting the script.
‘Kirk, where does it hurt?’ and he points to his ankle.
‘What did you do? How long has this been going on?’ and he tells about a water ski accident.
Blah, blah, blah, we finish the script and I turn to the kids to say “Any questions?”
...but they’re all looking at Kirk. So I turn my head and Kirk has this weird puzzled look on his face and he’s twisting and flexing his leg and ankle.
“Everything OK?”
“It worked.”
“What worked?”
“The prayer. My leg is fine now.”
Keep in mind, I’m thinking that we were just acting. We were just following the script. So now I’m thinking, “OK, Kirk – the show’s over bub. They get it.”
But he’s serious – turns out he wasn’t acting at all. At least the injury he described was real and he’d torn his hamstring almost a year earlier and it had never healed which was causing his a lot of secondary problems like back pain and an overworked ankle. And right there in front of the junior high kids, Jesus fixed it...whether we were acting or not. :)