Thursday, November 27, 2008


…They’ll tell you not to eat this or that food—perfectly good food God created to be eaten heartily and with Thanksgiving by Christians! Everything God created is good, and to be received with thanks. Nothing is to be sneered at and thrown out. God’s Word and our prayers make every item in creation holy. (1 Timothy 4:3b–5 The Message)

Okay, so that’s out of context…and out of everything else. And I capitalized the T. But hey, hope you have some time to eat, argue politics with some family members (uh, in love…), and reflect on how, despite whatever is swirling around you, faith somehow whispers in your ear that God is good.

One more thing. Turkeyfest at the Vineyard was beautiful. Last Saturday morning, about 1,400 complete turkey dinners were hand delivered to families all over Greater Cincy. The room was jammin. Some people left with prophetic turkeys. Uh, meaning they didn’t have a predetermined destination, just an open heart to the H.S. and a car. Wow.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Some years back I met with a middle-aged man from Columbus who was brought to the Vineyard on a weekday afternoon by a friend. He had been concerned about some chronic issue in his life that he really didn’t want to identify and wondered if his friend knew someone he could talk to somewhat confidentially. For whatever reason, my name popped up.

The three of us sat in a little room as he began to casually share his story with me, nothing too deep. He was well dressed, polite, and a successful sales rep. After about twenty minutes of mostly listening, I asked if we could pray together and invite the Holy Spirit to come. He said he wouldn’t mind at all.

We prayed for a few minutes and then I asked God to come upon him. He promptly curled over, head over his knees, and then fell out of his chair and began to writhe on the floor like a snake, grunting as if in pain. His friend was quite surprised as we went through what I would call a low-level deliverance that lasted only about fifteen minutes. It mostly had to do with demonic harassment regarding a sexual bondage. After that, he lay on the floor like a wet dishrag for a few moments, got back up in his chair, and was a bit bewildered over his behavior. I asked if anything like that had ever happened in the past and he said no. We chatted a few more minutes and he left, in his own words, “feeling lighter.”

I bet so.

Prior to launching his public ministry, Jesus presented His mission statement in Luke chapter 4:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”

Immediately Jesus began His public ministry and gave expression to “the Lord’s favor”, the Kingdom of God. This is a classic passage for us at the Vineyard; we want to describe ourselves as a Luke 4 church. Matthew describes what happened after that announcement in Jesus’ hometown synagogue as nothing short of astonishing:

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. (Matthew 4:23, 24)

Jesus came to announce freedom to bruised, broken and bound humanity. He came to make people whole, to set them free. If you want to know what God is like and what He wants to do, look at Jesus. If you want to know what Jesus is like and what he wants to do, we should be able to look at the Church. And if the Church is to do the same work as Jesus—and he indicated we would in several places—you can be guaranteed we’ll have some supernatural encounters.

Typically in the book of Acts, with an outpouring of the Spirit comes an initial explosion of transrational experiences: people prophesy or spontaneous worship erupts or tongues occur or, at least in one instance, the facility vibrated. But when you look at what continued in the behaviors of the Church, the ongoing evidence that God was moving among them in the Spirit were: transformed lives, the activity of spiritual warfare (usually in the form of persecution), a boldness in evangelism (often accompanied with signs and wonders), and radical generosity.

I hope this series on the Holy Spirit created a desire that moved beyond the typical charismatic borders and into a longing for God-centered power that focuses on mission.

His mission.

Monday, November 17, 2008

thin places and the power of the Holy Spirit

In Celtic spirituality, caol 'ait is a term for “thin places”. A thin place is where the physical world and the spiritual realm connect, where the distance between the natural and the spirit is narrowest. Perhaps it’s what Jacob felt in Genesis 28 after his dream of a ladder into heaven:

When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” Genesis 28:16–17 (TNIV)

Christian mystics may use the term as a way to describe the moments, not the locations, where God seems to break into our world. Or we break into His world, though I’m not sure how that works. “Break into” is probably a misnomer; I’m fairly sure heaven is unguarded. For one, why? That’s probably akin to visiting the sun; let’s just slip past those pesky solar flares and drop our landing gear.

Lately I’ve been using the phrase “storming heaven”. I’m not sure where I got that; maybe it’s leftover language from my ancient Pentecostal days. I know I have a book in my library by Jay Stevens with the same name, but it’s a history of LSD from Huxley to Kerouac to Leary. Uh, not exactly charismatic stuff.

But I think the term squares with an account in Acts. Peter and John bring a healing touch to a physically handicapped forty-something man who panhandled each day by one of the temple entrances. Remarkably, he’s instantly healed. Peter explains what just happened to all the Jews gathered as a result and basically says: “Change the way you think about everything. Anyone who doesn’t listen to Messiah Jesus will be cut off.”

We would assume that’s not the way to win friends, but the church grew to five-thousand men.

And they dragged Peter and John off to jail. The next day they stood before the high priest and the ruling leaders. It’s easy to gloss over this and not realize how terrifying that would have been; the next step could be execution. Imagine being dragged as a terrorist before the religious equivalent of Dick Cheney. After being interrogated, it reads that Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and then threw a roundhouse sermon on Psalm 118 about “rejecting the cornerstone”.

They couldn’t figure out how to punish Peter and John because all the people were still seriously praising God for what they had seen, so they let them go. They got back with their friends, explained what happened, and a spontaneous prayer meeting broke out. They finished praying with this: “…And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give your servants great boldness in their preaching. Send your healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:29, 30 NLT)

Sounds to me like they stormed heaven and were asking for two things: boldness in talking about Jesus and supernatural evidence to be manifested in His name. They all got filled with the Spirit and then the house physically shook. Now that’s a thin place.

I think that’s what I want to see. I want God to fill us. I don’t want to prescribe how that should look like in a corporate setting. I’m suspect of “charismatic promptings and instruction”. Been there. Seems to me the disciples had no clue what this corporate mysterious “filling of the Holy Spirit” should look like. Did they expect the house to shake? They just wanted boldness and evidence.

Somehow I think that’s the right approach.

Only one catch: perhaps as often as not, it’s somewhat dependent on the level of our desperation. Maybe the thin places are as narrow as our hunger.

Come, Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

introducing the holy spirit

Joe launched us beautifully into this new series on the Holy Spirit. I think we’re in for a wild ride.

Doctor Luke certainly doesn’t help smooth the ride. Scholars have long said that it’s nearly impossible to develop a theology of the Holy Spirit based on the book of Acts. But maybe that’s the point; try describing the wind. It reminds me of the children's poem Who Has Seen the Wind? by romantic poet Christina Rossetti:
Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:

But when the leaves hang trembling

The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?

Neither you nor I:

But when the trees bow down their heads

The wind is passing by.

Perhaps it’s easier to see the effects of the Holy Spirit than to systematize the means.

In the second chapter of Acts, we learn that after Jesus was resurrected and returned to His Father, there was a mix of 120 men and women praying in the large, upper room of a house. The disciples were there. Jesus’ brothers. Mary, the mother of Jesus was there. And suddenly a massive train-like noise, perhaps as a tornado sounds, filled the room. Then a glowing light, like fire, exploded and scattered above their heads, flickered over each one of them and they began to speak in languages they had never learned…turning Mother Mary into one of the first Pentecostals. The power was so intense that they must have stumbled out into the streets looking glazed because the Jews who had come to the festival of Pentecost thought they were drunk.

But as people began to listen to them, some who had come from countries all over the Mideast began to recognize their own dialects and heard them worshipping God.

In my private prayer, I like to pray in tongues, in a language I’ve never learned.

Forty years ago, there was a combination of two waves that rocked the Church boat: it was the Jesus movement and the charismatic movement. The Jesus movement stunned the traditional church; it was marked by huge numbers of the alternative culture—hippies, the disenfranchised, the disillusioned counter-culture, and to the shock of the conservative church, even Democrats—were getting born again. The institutional, mainline church had become increasingly ineffective in its ability to read the emerging culture and communicate with it.

The charismatic movement, almost simultaneously, saw the worldwide outbreak of spiritual gifts in every denomination. Hard-line Pentecostals were shocked that even Catholics were speaking in tongues. That’s not how it was supposed to work. There was upheaval in denominational churches. It was as if God dropped a spiritual atomic bomb in the middle of the global sanctuary and said “Let’s shake things up!” In the 1500’s it was the Reformation; in the 1700’s it was Methodism. In the 1800’s it was Finney and the evangelicals.

The Jesus movement and the charismatic movement of the 20th century were, in my opinion, divine invasive surgical operations of God to blood-let the introverted, unfocused, homogeneous club the Church had become. It had its own subculture with its own language, music and practices…and institutionalized and unproductive. When believers stop connecting with lost people, God drops the bomb.

Were there excesses and craziness in all of that? You bet! What a mess. My own family was spread out and one-by-one we each came to Christ and got blasted by the Holy Spirit. We were so crazy we should have been locked up. My mom was in her 50’s and turned into a Jesus freak. One day my sister-in-law was at the Cincinnati Zoo and heard two people from India talking and said “Hey, that sounds like my prayer language!” She ran up to them and says “Do you know what I’m saying?”—and started speaking in tongues. They looked at her like she was from another planet, gathered their children close to them and walked away. Quickly. We were not well.

I have seen a lot. And through it all, look how normal I turned out.

Okay, maybe that’s not such a strong endorsement.