Tuesday, May 22, 2007


This past weekend I talked about three tests that I believe Peter describes in his first letter. Actually, I think the entire Bible consistently brings up these three: the Faith Test (can God be trusted?), the Character Test (can I be trusted?) and the Willing Heart Test (am I willing to change?).

For me, this idea of God testing us is a little nerve-wracking; I hated tests in school…the clammy feeling in your hands, the sound of the clock ticking, wondering if everyone else is ahead of you, and the sinking feeling that you studied the wrong things. Ouch.

I mentioned that even those who have no concept of God often have a grid for the idea of testing—usually saying it’s “character development”, as in: whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.

But the philosopher in me would respond to the agnostic view with “why?” For whom is character being developed? If this is all there is to life—we are born, we breathe, we die—for what purpose is character being developed? Simply to live in some reasonable social order to avoid pain with other human beings that live and breathe and die in a short span as well?

That always brings me back to: it seems to me that if there are tests, there is a Tester…Someone who officiates the giving of tests for a purpose. In school, the purpose of a test is to ensure that the pupil has a grasp of the knowledge the teacher deems important. It’s assumed that having that knowledge will help the student handle the next level of living in order to ultimately function as an adult. It is purposeful.

And that’s why I believe God—the Ultimate Teacher—tests us. Testing tackles three questions, the first being: What is God’s will for me? The simplest and most straightforward answer is to make me like Jesus. We had a saying around here years ago: come as you are, you’ll be loved. That accurately expresses the heart of God. But when we come as we are to Jesus, I can almost guarantee that we won’t stay the same—we’ll change.

I quoted Rabbi Workmanstein: “God’s compassion draws us to Him as we are; His holiness demands that we change.”

There is no real tension between mercy (“come as you are”) and holiness (“you must change”) if we see them both as prescriptive for wholeness. God will make us into “little Christs”, replicas of His Son. That’s His business. But that raises another question: Why?

Perhaps there are two reasons. First, so He and I can deeply enjoy each other. The more He cleans me up—that is, in motives and heart—the closer I can get to Him, allowing a greater mutual enjoyment of all that He is. Second, so I can be used for His purposes. Each of us is a tool for God to accomplish His work.

Those two elements are actually a picture of marriage: a fulfilling, intimate relationship…with a mission to accomplish (to provide a working metaphor of the unconditional love God has for His church). I like thinking that my marriage has a mission that I am responsible for.

Which then brings me to another (and last) question: What’s God’s method to accomplish this?—Tests.

God spoke through the prophet Zechariah and said that He will “refine (His people) as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, 'They are My people,' and they will say, 'The Lord is my God.'" (Zechariah 13:9 New American Standard). Another time He reminded Jeremiah "I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind..." (Jeremiah 17:10a New American Standard).

When Abraham took his son Isaac upon the mountain to plunge a knife through Isaac’s—the child of the promise—breastbone, God never wanted a human sacrifice. That’s abominable. But Abraham did what God said. With his hand poised in the air ready to kill, God calls out “Abraham! Don’t stretch out your hand against the boy. Now I know that you’re obedient…” Did God limit His foreknowledge of what Abraham would do? That’s a theological discussion for another time (I’m personally not an open theism advocate).

But I can bet that Abraham knew now how far he would go to walk with his God. Abraham passed his test.

And believe me, from time to time we all have our Isaacs.


  1. This is good, Dave. For years, we've sung "be glorified in me". I, for one, was clueless. I love the way He's taking us deeper into the understanding of that process. When you believe there's purpose in the pain, it gives us strength to carry on. That we would live for one thing- to know Him and make Him known.

  2. What would God do if I failed the test? Would He still love me?

  3. Maybe someone else will elaborate. I thought to share this truth. These promises never cease to amaze me:

    Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? Romans 8:35

    For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:38-39

    Wow. As we think about this (ponder, meditate, chew), it will become part of us, and we will be changed.

  4. I've failed God's tests too many times to count. It's interesting how sometimes we hear songs that describe exactly where we are...

    From Avalon -- Always Have, Always Will

    Some days I'm running wild
    Some days we're reconciled
    But I wonder all the while
    Why you put up with me, when...

    I wrestle most days
    To find ways to do as I please

    I always have, I always will
    You saved me once, You save me still
    My longing heart, Your love alone can fil
    You always have, always will

    I was born with a wayward heart
    Still I live with a restless spirit
    My soul is so well worn
    You'd think I'd have arrived by now
    I'm caught in the trappings of
    My search for lasting love
    I've made mistakes enough
    To last me a lifetime

    I still slip, I still fall
    But I'll always run back to you


    I'm gonna keep trusting You
    I see what You've seen me through
    I'm goin' where You have gone (yeah)
    I'm letting You lead me on
    All my days (always and forever)
    Never far (never leave me never)
    Here I'll stay (ever love me ever)
    Here's my heart
    I'll always love You, love You

  5. Even when sin, disappointments and failing come, they are sheltered by the grace of God. There is a realm of God's favor in which you walk. It is not found everywhere; nor does everyone walk in it, only those who accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.
    It is through this gift of grace that we have access to God the Father. So when you think of your life before God, think of the way He wraps you in His loving care. Sure there are moments when you feel distracted from Him. Sin captures your attention, or a sense of loneliness redirects your thoughts.
    However, there are no variables with God. He remains the same, just as His love toward you remains constant. Every good thing that comes your way is an act of His grace. Every answer to prayer is His personal response to your need.
    His grace washes over your life like sunlight on a cloudless day. Hurt and pain, while they may invade, cannot change the presence of God's grace. Grace is not dependent on circumstances.
    The operation of grace is not less or more because you did or did not do a certain thing. Grace is a gift and always will be. We stand in its light for now. One day we will walk its streets.

  6. Ah, thank you. It was rhetoric question, actually. When I felt like I failed his test, the process would be, regret, confess, and felt his grace, sometimes not right away, but I know nothing would separate us from his love!

  7. This isn't a comment specifically about the message, but about a comment you made either this weekend or last about the Vineyard Pastors' Conference in Anaheim. If I heard you right, I think you said that Bert Waggoner (director of Assoc. of Vineyard Churches) said that the Vineyard is not evangelical. Did I hear that correctly? I always thought Wimber stressed that we were evangelical- and even Rich Nathan's book about our theology and practice is called
    Empowered Evangelicals. Maybe you can clarify that for me. Thanks a lot!

  8. What I meant to say (hey, that's a theme of mine on this blog...) was that Bert Waggoner was making the point that we're not just a "prayer movement", or just a "healing movement", or just an "evangelical movement", or just a "charismatic movement", or just a "church renewal movement", etc, etc...but rather we embrace the whole Kingdom. We are a "Kingdom"-oriented church, maybe best described in Luke 4:18 & 19. Or as Jesus told the twelve when He first sent them out: "Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously." (Matthew 10:7-8 Message Bible). And as theologian G. E. Ladd described, the Kingdom is both now and not yet.

  9. Dave,
    I hope that you get a chance to read this being that it was a few weeks ago that you gave this sermon. I have failed my test. All three of them. A brief history. I enjoyed a very close relationship with Jesus as a teenager, and early adult life. I became lost for some reason for a long time. Recently I was deployed to Afghanistan and encountered many dangerous situations. My loving wife started multiple prayer chains to keep me safe. Jesus spared my life, and I am thankfull to all you Vineyard folks for your support. I find myself deployed again but this time in Sacramento CA. Jesus put me to the test. The first two months here, I failed all of them. My addictions got the best of me. I decided to fight back and turn my energy into something positive. I began to grow again in my love for Jesus, and my wife and children. I had a renewed sense that I was headed down the road to Jesus again. However, now I am in a crisis. My wife has decided to leave me. I feel as if my legs have been cut out from beneath me. She started down the road to Jesus before me, and has left me behind trying to catch up. She has lost all hope in me, and has closed her heart to me. I so very much want to be with her on this road, but I cannot convince her that I am even on the same road as her, and that I very much want to walk by her side down this road. She only sees the addiction issues that I have, and does not see that my heart is very much willing. She is so important to me. She has stood by my side for many years. I want to thank the folks at Vineyard for supporting me while I was in danger in Afghanistan. I have to appologize to all at Vinyard for failing all my tests. Right now, I am at an all time low. I cannot fathom being without my wife Kim during my journey down this road. I am so far behind her on this road, and she cannot see me. I only have one week to change her mind. I will do whatever it takes to show her my love and to prove my faithfullness. I hope that Dave can show this message to all at Vineyard on 03 June, or 10 June so maybe my wife Kim can get the message. Dave, please think about showing this message. It is very important to me. Maybe read parts of this message so my wife will be touched. I want her to get my message and to allow me back into her life. If anyone out there can call me and offer me hope, I would very much appreciate it. 513-638-5232. I find this time more troubling than all my time in a war zone. I am hurting very badly, and my wife's cold heart towards me is tearing at my very soul. Thank you all for taking the time to listen.

  10. Dave, I hope you get this message today. I know this sermon was a few weeks ago, and I pray that you will get a chance to read this before your sermon on 03 June 2007. I have failed all three of my tests. I was deployed in Afghanistan and was in harms way many many times. My loving wife put forth prayer chains and for some reason, Jesus has spared my life. I find myself deployed again, however only to Sacramento CA. My first two months here I fell into some old addictions. I realized that my behavior was leading me down the wrong path. During my early adult life, I was very close to Jesus. I lost that somewhere down the road. I turned my energy into a more positive idea, and began to climb onto the right path toward Jesus. I find myself today in a crisis. My wife has decided to leave me. She is so far down the road to Jesus that she does not see me following. I am so far behind her, and I cannot seem to catch up. She has beaten her addictions, and is moving on. I so much want to travel with her down this road, but she has closed her heart to me. I love her with all my heart and soul, yet I cannot get through to her. I have hurt her so deeply, and she cannot forgive me. She has beaten her addictions and is moving on. (interesting that our addictions are the same). I want to apologize to her and to the folks at Vineyard. Everyone was pulling for me to remain safe while I was in a war zone, yet I have failed when I got back. Dave, I hope you can post this at Vineyard during your sermon on 3 June, or 10 June. I know that may be impossible, but could you please tell Kim that I love her, and to please forgive me for what I have done. Ask her to open up her heart to let me in one more time. I will do whatever it takes to earn her trust. If anyone out there has a message for me, or wants to call and offer some hope, I sure could use it right now. I have fallen and just need some loving kind words. Being away from my wife and family has taken the wind out of my sails. Dave, please do what you can to help me get through to Kim. I am at my last hope of saving my marriage.

  11. sorry, I posted twice. I thought the first did not go through.