Tag Archives: experience

Prodigal Thought Podcast

podcastby Scott

Recently, I started up the Prodigal Thought Podcast. This is something that I’ve been desiring to do for a few years now and now the opportunity has afforded itself. So connect and listen at the podcast site or on iTunes.

In my most session, I discuss a very pertinent topic within the continuationist paradigm – how experience actually shapes our theology, our understanding of God. And I would argue that this is a very acceptable aspect of knowing God.

Listen to or download the 21-minute podcast episode below. Continue reading

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Apprenticeship

By Marv

Note: I’m part of something called the “Apprenticeship” in the ministry school of the Dallas House of Prayer. These are a few comments about the experience:

A friend of mine asks me how “healing school” is going. He means the Apprenticeship, and I guess that is as good a designation as any, because the goal is to follow in my older Brother’s footsteps, which are described like this:

“God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)

I think though that my friend is puzzled by the whole school aspect. For a lot of people “gifts of the Spirit” seem like something that ought just to work automatically if you got ʼem, and not something you can just take a class in if you don’t.

The idea of a learning curve in supernatural, Spirit-empowered ministry seems counter-intuitive.

So how does this work? What is it we are doing with the schooling? It’s spiritual, right? So are we somehow training our spirits? Maybe. I really don’t have a good answer to that right now. So then, is it about the mind? That’s the kind of learning we are familiar with, training the mind. I’ve had a boatload of that, by the way. Do I need some more?

Before we give in to something that is a bit of a reflex in “Spirit-filled” circled, let me come to the defense of the often-denigrated mind. “My brain,” says Woody Allen, “that’s my second-favorite organ.” Well, not entirely sure what he had in mind, but if we’re big fans of the spirit, which is made to interact with the Holy Spirit, I want to commend the mind to a close second. It’s very important especially if full function in the spirit is what we aspire to.

The mind serves as a kind of switch, directing our focus, our point of concentration. The apostle Paul tells us:

“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:6)

I figure I could teach a PhD course on setting the mind on the flesh, if anyone actually needed a lesson. Setting the mind on the Spirit, however, that’s something I could stand to beef up more than a little. And so I want to suggest that this is one thing we’re about in the curriculum of the Internship and the Apprenticeship. “Renewing the mind,” Bill Johnson says, is “when the impossible begins to look logical.”

Maybe then it’s really an unlearning curve.

A few things I’ve been unlearning:

  • A settled and confident expectation that “it” won’t work (a) this time, (b) for me. Whatever I may be telling myself in the front of my mind—based on the amazing statements of the Word of God, that the promises of God are “Yes” and”Amen,” what I seem to know in my knower is “No.” I know that I know that it’s “No.”

I am in the process of unlearning this.

  • Normal Christianity looks much like regular folk, only we have an extra compartment for Bible, Church, and God stuff. Day-to-day life is much the same for me as for the next door neighbor with whom I share a common culture. Tweak it: I don’t cuss. I think some things about history that he doesn’t. I have ideas about the far-off future that he doesn’t. But on the rudiments of how the world works, we’re just not that different.

I’ve been on this unlearning curve a good while now. What I’ve been discovering in the Apprenticeship is that I may not be as far along it as all that. But we’re moving on.

  • God tolerates me. We do use the word “love,” but I give Him credit for better taste than that. I’m quite pleased He’s let me in the door. I’m convinced He isn’t going to kick me out. He’s quite magnanimous, after all. If I sit in the corner and be quiet, maybe He’ll toss me a bone from time to time.

He’s unteaching me this putrid notion, insulting to Him as it is. As yet I have grasped a mere scintilla of His measureless love. But give me time, the infinite takes a little longer.

  • To be is to do. Time’s a wasting. We’re burning daylight.

I have known in a conceptual way that spending time with the Lord is important. This has a way of becoming just another “do this” however. I’m unlearning “relationship” as a kind of code term for holding a correct theological position or having come into a particular judicial standing or exhibiting behavior that is more or less moral, on my better days. What part of “Real, Living, Present Person” do I not understand? Whole bunches of parts, sorry to say. I fall easily into my mental ruts.

But I’m unlearning.

The Voice of the Father

by Scott

There truly is nothing like hearing the voice of the Father. He still speaks, you know. His actual voice.

From the beginning in Genesis 1, God set the precedent for His desire to communicate:

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.  3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

And it continues right through the whole of Scripture, capped off with our Lord Jesus saying in the final verses of Revelation – Yes, I am coming soon. (Hmmm. Soon. Ok, this article is not about eschatology….)

Really and truly, the pattern is set that our God is a communicative God via speaking, via His great acts, through providential guiding, through His people, through the written word of Scripture, and so on.

And we know the great voice of God ultimately came through The Word, Jesus.

The Word sets the example – only doing that which the Father is doing (John 5:19) and only speaking that which the Father is speaking (John 8:28).

He is not so bothered with setting up excellent programmes and super-duper campaigns and blow-your-mind slogans. He hears the voice of the Father, he sees the acts of the Father, and that is what compels him into action.

And it is this voice, the voice of the Father that I desire, for we do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Father. I suppose starvation from the words of the Father would make us worse off than starvation from bread. The psalmist said, ‘Your love is better than life’ (Ps 63:3), and I gather the same is true of the Father’s voice.

It is powerful, gentle, strengthening, true, tender, gracious, kind, loving, caring, faithful, and so much more. It cuts through confusion and fear and bitterness and exhaustion and a whole host of other things that hold us down.

I’m stirred.

I love this poetic expression of the voice of the Lord found in Psalm 29:

3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD thunders over the mighty waters.
4 The voice of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is majestic.
5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon leap like a calf,
Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the LORD strikes
with flashes of lightning.
8 The voice of the LORD shakes the desert;
the LORD shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the LORD twists the oaks
and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

Pretty powerful stuff – breaking strong cedars, making a nation leap like a calf, shaking deserts, twisting oaks (or some versions translate that last one as ‘makes the deer give birth’).

The voice of the Father is no patty-cake, patty-cake game. It is powerful, even in its whisper.

And so I’ve recently been re-drawn in to that reality that we cannot simply live on bread – as individuals, as churches. We must live on the words, every word, that proceeds from the mouth of God.

He meant it that way long ago. He means it that way today. He will mean also mean it for the age to come.

Heaven Is For Real – Book Review

by Scott

Most people are aware of the recently published and extremely controversial book by Rob Bell entitled Love Wins. But that book has drown out much engagement with other controversial books that have recently been released, including the one I speak of in this article. This book is not so much about a theology of heaven or hell, it’s rather an account of a nearly 4-year old boy’s trip to heaven. And, thus, you have the title, Heaven Is For Real.

So what’s the story?

It all centres around an extremely painful (both physical and emotional) event occurring one day in the life of little Colton Burpo (please lay aside any chuckling at the last name, as I will use it somewhat regularly). Following the bursting of his appendix in late February 2003, with neither his parents nor doctor realising such had happened for 5 full days, Colton finds himself intensely ill and on an operating table. It is during that time that Colton made his trip to heaven, a rather quick one from a human standpoint (3 minutes), but seemingly much longer from a heavenly perspective.

Of course, as I said, this is not nearly as contentious as Bell’s Love Wins. But it has still caused concern for some (i.e. here), with much of the controversy probably revolving around 2 main areas: 1) some of it’s possible theological ideas and 2) building theology on someone’s experience, especially that of a 4-year old. So I will address these two areas as I review  the book, though they will probably bleed together.

Here we have a book written by Colton’s father, Todd Burpo, though he is assisted by best-selling author, Lynn Vincent (most known as a co-author in Same Kind of Different As Me). One thing of import to note is that Todd Burpo is actually a pastor. He leads a small Methodist congregation in the small town of Imperial, Nebraska. But what is also of interest is that Colton’s story is being told by Todd, a father recounting the unique ways of how he came to learn of his son’s own supposed visit to heaven.

What you must understand is that this was just as much a struggle and challenge for Todd, and his wife, Sonja, as it will be for some Christians to read and believe this was an authentic visit to heaven. From the first time Colton tells of his visit (about 4 months following all of the surgeries) through to the present day, both parents have to ‘work through’ some things themselves.

So, if you read the book (or my review), don’t think you are the only one struggling with some of the things Colton says about heaven. His parents are walking through it much more than you and I, especially noting Colton’s father is a solid, evangelical believer (as far as I can tell from reading the book).

Some of the theological ‘problems’ in the book are not major ones as I understand theological problems. Probably the most difficult one, at least for evangelicals to swallow, is when Colton explains that all people in heaven have wings that help them fly and lights above their heads (think more of a shining brightness and not a gold circle as portrayed in cartoons). This is one of those places where Todd, the father, shares his struggle:

I couldn’t remember angels having lights over their heads specifically – or halos, as some would call them – but I also knew that Colton’s experience of angels in storybooks and Scripture did not include lights over angels’ heads. And he didn’t even know the world halo. I don’t know that he’d ever even seen one, since our bedtime Bible stories and the Sunday school lessons at church are closely aligned with Scripture. (p72-73)

I think it is interesting to consider this statement – ‘And he [Colton] didn’t even know the world halo.’

Todd makes similar statements a few times throughout the book, which seems to point to the fact that he does not want to manipulate what his son shares about the visit to or vision of heaven. Matter of fact, early on in the book’s account, Todd shares how one of his questions almost led Colton to answer in a certain way. Mr. Burpo did not want to walk down that road, but instead try to understand his 4-year old’s explanation of heaven. This could be a strong pointer that authenticity is quite likely.

Outside of the wings and lights above the heads, I don’t believe there were any other statements that challenge evangelical Christian beliefs (as if Colton even knows what theology or evangelicalism is).

One of the more personally challenging aspects of the book is Colton’s explanations of what he saw in heaven. They seem to come straight out of more ‘literal’ reading of Revelation – i.e. as if heaven really has streets of gold, as if we really will be hanging out in the clouds, etc.

For Todd, the father, these more literal descriptions seem to be a point of confirmation that Colton’s visit to heaven was real. But, for me, the main problem is that I see the book of Revelation, and other such Hebrew apocalyptic and prophetic visions, as just that – visions.

Revelation uses a lot of imagery to describe a greater reality of the kingdom of heaven. Thus, the pictures and the images and the numbers are more ‘symbolic’ or ‘figurative’, if you will. I’m not trying to strip Revelation of it’s truth as God’s word in Scripture. It literally means what it literally means. John really meant what he meant in describing that heavenly vision. But we have to ask what the heavenly vision literally meant and pointed to as God gave the vision to John, the apostle.

But what brings me solace, at least from a more theological standpoint, is that I realise that God has always accommodated himself to those to whom he reveals himself. Some of us might know of John Calvin’s description of God’s revelation being like baby-talk. If God spoke God-talk to 4-year old’s, or 34-year old’s or 74-year old’s, we wouldn’t understand him. Therefore, God accommodates to our level, speaks our language, makes himself understandable with where we are at, all to help us get glimpses of who he is in all his glory.

And so, for Colton to describe what he saw in the way he did, as if from a more ‘literal’ or ‘traditional’ sense (better words fail me right here), I have no problem with such. Again, though his father is a pastor, remember that, at just under 4-years old, there is not too much of a chance that Colton had been indoctrinated with what I might identify as a ‘traditional’ mentality of heaven – Jesus riding on actual white horse, people wearing white robes with sashes, everyone (or just angels) with wings, lights above people’s heads, even a future cosmic war to come (as if to support premillenialism). And so I very much believe Christ came to a young boy, a pure and simple-hearted young boy, and revealed himself in a way that Colton would understand.

And, if heaven happens to literally look like what Colton explains, then I’m fine with it. But I still think this is more vision-imagery explaining a greater reality. But my theology has been known to be wrong in other places.

I think there are some other telling factors that contribute to this being an authentic visit-vision. One is that, while in heaven, Colton says he met Todd’s grandfather who was affectionately known as Pop. Now, this might not seem a biggie, but the thing is that Pop had died almost 25 years before Colton was born. Colton had never met his great-grandfather and didn’t know anything about him. So, for Colton to tell his dad about Pop, well, you can imagine the shock of such. See more details in the book, p85-91.

Another interesting factor, maybe even more mind-boggling, is when Colton came up to his parents and said, ‘Mommy, I have two sisters.’ But, at that time, all he had was one older sister, Cassie. They thought he was also talking about his female cousin. But Colton replied, ‘No. I have two sisters, You had a baby die in your tummy, didn’t you?’

Well, lo and behold, Sonja Burpo had had a miscarriage. And they had never mentioned this to Colton (who would to a 4-year old), not to mention that a 4-year old would not even know what a miscarriage is. Needless to say, that was an extremely emotional and stirring night in the Burpo family. See see p93-97 for more.

There are a few other interesting accounts such as how Colton knew about his dad’s calling to be a pastor (p90-91).

But one of the more mind-boggling accounts is Colton’s confirmation of what Jesus physically looked like. Since the visit to heaven, when Todd and Sonja would see pictures of Jesus, they would ask Colton if that is what Jesus looked like. Every time Colton would answer in the negative. Yet, one day, Todd received an email from a pastor friend in Colorado. The email was forwarded about a young Lithuanian-American girl named Akiane Karmarik. She, too, had claimed visions of heaven, all subsequently leading to her atheist mother becoming a Christian.

But even more interesting is the fact that, following some of the visions, Akiane painted a portrait picture of Christ (now quite famous). You see, Colton had given negative responses to each picture of Christ that his parents had asked him about. But, after Todd called for Colton to come look at the picture in the email, asking if this picture was a correct representation of Christ, Colton just stood there in shock for a long moment without saying anything. Finally, after his dad nudged him in the arm, Colton responded, ‘Dad, that one’s right.’

No doubt, for some, this might seem more Twilight Zone than reality. And this leads to one of the major hang-ups with the book – building our beliefs and theology around someone’s experience, especially a 4-year old’s. Let me just go ahead and say that my desire is to not build my beliefs around Colton’s experience, just as I would not expect people to build their beliefs and theology based upon some of the personal revelations, prophecies and 2 or 3 more prophetic dreams God has given me in my life. It’s not worth doing such, though it also isn’t worth approaching every single account with cynicism.

But, with Colton’s situation, I believe Christ accommodated to a little 4-year old to reveal himself. God accommodates to me as a 31-year old pastor. God accommodated to a 100-year old man in Abraham, a life-threatening persecutor of God’s people in Paul, a strong-willed one in Peter who denied Christ at such a time as he did, and on and on. I am not trying to say Colton and Abraham or Colton and Paul are to be considered one and the same. Even Todd and Sonja, his parents, argue this. All I am saying is that understanding God has always been in the context of God making himself known to people where they are at, in their language, within their grasp, i.e., in baby-talk.

So I have no problem in believing that God brought little Colton to heaven, or gave a vision of heaven, during those pained and life-threatening days of multiple surgeries in early 2003. I am not going to stick this book somewhere between Galatians and Ephesians as what needs to be recognised as canonical revelation in the Bible. But I personally think it a beautiful account of God’s grace to not just a young little boy, but to a family. And I suppose the book can become an encouragement to others as well.

So, for me, it was great to read this account of little Colton’s visit to heaven.

I end with a saying from one wise man long ago:

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

The Great Non-Charismatic Trump Card

by Scott

Those who know me know I am a charismatic-continuationist. For me, at least with where I am heading in this article, this boils down to mainly two things: 1) I am committed to the reality that all gifts of the Spirit are still available to the church today and 2) I also come from a church perspective and heritage that has traditionally emphasised the importance of the times when the church gathers together in its varying ways.

But, I am also a teacher-theologian at heart. Not the most esteemed by any means. But the ministry gift of teacher seems to be the greatest measure of gifting in my calling in God.

Knowing this fact, I am continually thinking through the in’s and out’s of charismatic-continuationist perspectives and experiences. Sometimes the analysation can kick into overload.

Yet, the odd thing is that I have also experienced some very ecstatic things in my life (not always personally, though sometimes, but also with regards to others in various gatherings). I’ve reached a point in my life where nothing really shocks me. I think there are definitely some general guidelines we must take to heart as we gather together, and as a shepherd within a local church context I do consider my role of protection quite important and sobering. But, at least for me, I believe 1 Cor 14:33 has turned into the great non-charismatic trump card for many – For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

Or other versions might say God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

What can possibly happen for some of us is that anything outside of the more normal, structured order of service can easily be seen as disorderly. And this disorder, and confusion, are definitely out of bounds. Structure and regulation carry great import, and we find that 1 Cor 14:33 provides both the grounds for our stance and the subsequent comfort in guarding against anything out of order (or weird).

Of course, in some extreme cases, this verse has been used as a manipulative tool of control. Yet, this is probably few and far between. But even as this verse provides the grounds for comfort to our structure, at times it can still cause a little too much limitation.

You see, I’m always amazed at the Corinthian situation. I mean this church was nuts. ABSOLUTELY NUTS!

There was incest, people suing one another, gluttony and drunkenness at the Lord’s table and, of course, extreme abuse of the gifts of the Spirit. Though I have encountered some difficult personal situations in my younger life as a church leader, I have not come close to the Corinthian mess with which Paul had to deal.

So one can expect a heavy hand into their situation. For goodness sake, Paul desired that people would no longer fall asleep (die) because of their disrespect for the unity of the body of Christ at the Lord’s table (1 Cor 11:30). So, when we come to things like the gathering of the Corinthian ekklesia, Paul laid out some really harsh guidelines, though, interestingly enough, he did not ever shut things down for good.

With gifts of the Spirit, we see some restrictive guidelines laid out:

If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. (1 Cor 14:27-32)

By no means do I believe that Paul was laying out some command for all-time in that, if you have 4 prophecies come forth in your church’s gathering, then you are grieving the Spirit and disobeying God. Of course, if one doesn’t believe prophecy or tongues are still given and/or needed today, then we don’t have to worry about these instructions. But I do not believe Paul is limiting us to 2 or 3 prophecies or messages in tongues for all-time sake.

Then, following these instructive words to the Corinthians, Paul comes in with that great trump card: For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

As long as nothing comes out of order, out of place, out of the listed structure in the bulletin (we have a bulletin, but you might have it somewhere else), we can feel safe and truly comfortable. Yet, it is interesting that one of the names of the Spirit is that of Comforter (even if we want to translate parakletos differently from Comforter, the Spirit is still a Comforter). And so I suppose we should expect to be uncomfortable at times to know the comforting work of the Comforter. Possibly even feeling a little uncomfortable as we assemble together.

But we are told we serve a God who is a God of order, of peace.

Of course he is.

But sometimes I am very aware that the order and peace of God comes in different ways than what we would expect, or command. I suppose I can remind us of a few biblical examples:

  • Isaiah walked around naked for 3 years as a prophetic action pointing out what would happen to the Egyptians (Isa 20:1-4)
  • Hannah prayed so fervently for a son that Eli thought she was drunk (1 Sam 1:9-16)
  • When Nehemiah and Ezra read the Law to the Jews, they mourned and wept (Neh 8:9)
  • Jesus had a spitting ministry, or he healed people by use of saliva, sometimes mixed with mud (Mark 7:33; 8:23; John 9:6-7)
  • Following the outpouring of the Spirit, the onlookers declared that those speaking in tongues must have been drunk (Acts 2:1-13). As a side note, the behaviour identified with drunkness was probably not the activity of tongues, since the people understood what was being said in their own language, and no one speaks in another language by getting drunk. Rather, other behaviour must have exhibited other forms of strangeness.
  • Not to mention the varied reactions during exorcisms (i.e. Mark 1:23-28; Luke 4:33-35)

You see, when we examine the spectrum of the biblical text, we see tensions right across it. That’s because differing people were writing to differing groups in differing areas at differing times. And they definitely weren’t thinking about all the details of a 21st century global world.

So when it comes to our church gatherings, we cannot easily run to 1 Cor 14:33 and state it as a stamp of approval on how we are to see the order of God come into our midst. I think it would miss both the dynamic of God and the dynamic of the Scripture text.

Of course, the biblical text tells us that God is not a God of disorder, rather he is a God of peace. But the text, that same God-breathed text, also makes clear that our God is a God of ‘disorder’ at times. Shall we survey Genesis to Revelation? Or let’s just consider the bullet points above. I think Isaiah would have made a few of us blush. I suppose spitting on someone would not be considered the most well-mannered of actions.

So when the church gathers, there is no doubt in my mind there are things that the shepherds, the elders, must consider. Again, I am involved in such week in and week out. And I have had to deal with those awkward moments. Not a lot. But I have some. But I would never give up allowing people to pray spontaneously, prophesy, burst forth in a psalm, hymn or spiritual song, share a message in tongues, weep in repentance, or shout with joy exuberant all to make sure we never ever felt uncomfortable. I believe such would be a great grievance to God’s Spirit. And we would miss out on these instructions of Paul within the same Corinthian context:

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. (1 Cor 14:26)

Did we catch that? – each of you has…..

Not just pastors and assistant pastors and worship leaders.

Of course everything must be done to build up. But we have to make space for such so that we can be built up.

In the end, there is no doubt that leaders are called to lead, protect, guard and wisely administrate (not in a secretarial way, but more in a leading way, as I believe the Greek word intends in 1 Cor 12:28). And sometimes we will need to bring an end to something that is causing disorder, we will have to correct, all with wisdom and grace.

But we will also, at times, need to allow for something a little ‘disorderly’ to happen that the Spirit might do the work that he and he alone can do. To stop that out of tune song, to stop the sobbing of repentance, to clamp down on prophecies, well, this could be just as disorderly than to allow for them.

I hope we can agree that there is no straight and hard line to this. But I also hope that, from now on, 1 Cor 14:33 is not simply seen as the fall back or trump card to protect us from what God might stir amongst his people in a somewhat spontaneous and unexpected way. Even if the spontaneity causes a little discomfort.

He is with us. He will lead us. He will give us discernment and wisdom. Let’s make some space for the body to be the body in our gatherings.