The Church: A Return To Pure and Simple

Several months ago when I started this blog and named it “Bonfires”, the sub title that I included was “Fanning the Flames of Pure and Simple Devotion and other extraordinary tales of Faith Filled Living”.

The whole concept of “pure & simple devotion” had become something that I had found, and still find, to be very intriguing. So much so to the point that it has become a passionate pursuit to discover what a life and a lifestyle of “Pure and Simple Devotion’ is supposed to look like. The pursuit to discover God’s heart in that concept naturally led me to His Word, which makes sense because that is where this journey originated in the first place (2 Corinthians 11:3), and it also included the Spirit of God (through the Word) speaking some things directly into my own spirit.

Out of that experience the Lord spoke to me “Six Words”, which I have expounded on in previous blogs, and which were referred to in primarily a context of how that applies to us as individuals. More recently though, this concept of “pure and simple devotion” has been strongly emphasized in my spirit in the context of the corporate Body of Christ, the Church, in representing and establishing His Kingdom in the earth.

In referring to that portion of scripture in 2 Corinthians 11:3 (But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ), we see that Paul was not addressing an individual but rather the Corinthian church corporately. So the question remains, what does “pure and simple devotion” look like, not just for me as an individual, but what does that look like in a corporate context, and how does that compare to what our experience has been with what we refer to as “the church”?

I want to briefly take just a little closer look at these three key words: pure and simple devotion.

The word pure refers to something that has no defect or blemish, in other words nothing has been added to it to dilute its state of purity, there is absolutely no division in the makeup of something pure.  The word simple is similar in that it speaks to a singularness of focus, without distraction, undivided and whole-hearted, that is sincere without any pretense or fakeness, and that is sold out and completely committed, giving itself without holding back, to the object of its attention. The word devotion itself is not generally included in the Greek lexicons, but the use of the simple greek word eis which means “to or into” (referring to Christ), carries the connotation of moving towards, positioned, and existing directly in the center of something, or in this case someone – Jesus Christ.

In Pauls exhortation to the Corinthians his concern was that their minds would be “led astray” from what had initially been established in their corporate expression as a Kingdom people, which was characterized by pure and simple devotion to Christ. The church as described in the book of Acts was the benchmark and model (and still is) that Paul and the apostles laid as the foundation for the Corinthian church. The Corinthians were now straying from that which had been established and Paul is bringing a word of correction to recenter them on the “pure & simple” Gospel of Jesus.

In looking at this scenario it is striking how true the saying is that “the more things change, the more things stay the same”. While Paul was speaking to a specific issue in the Corinthian church (of which there were several), it is obvious that the 21st century church is in dire need to take heed of the apostles forthright confrontation in our day as well. Let me explain.

In looking at Pauls history of communication with the Corinthian church, the first issue he addressed with them in his first letter had to do with their propensity to establish unhealthy allegiances to different leaders in the body, to the point that it had caused contentions and splits among them. He essentially took the better part of the first four chapters of that first letter to speak directly to this issue, as it was the antithesis of pure and simple devotion to Jesus.

The Corinthians had developed a fascination with propping up and glamorizing those with obvious giftings, choosing favorites and creating allegiances with various leaders, in essence developing a culture of celebrity that we unfortunately still see not only alive and well in our day, but it is a predominant characteristic that permeates the vast majority of our western church culture and how we operate.

Our propensity to idolize people, positions, and platforms runs counter to the pure and simple devotion that the early church was established on, it is a fleshly fatal distraction that removes a singular focus on Jesus and the Kingdom that he has entrusted us to demonstrate and to establish. Much of our modern church culture (like the Corinthians) has mistakenly chosen to exalt the flesh and in so doing, to our disgrace and detriment, we have diminished the divine. We have glorified people and positions to the point where we have allowed them to receive a portion of what is designed to be exclusively God’s! Our so-called devotion is neither pure nor simple.

Some of what I’ve described is blatantly obvious and we have no problem recognizing and calling it out; and yet there is a strain of what we call devotion that we have developed a level of comfort with which allows us to “appreciate” certain people with discernible giftings that do stand out and then desire to be associated with those people. We don’t like to call it this, but on some level it’s more or less a popularity contest. It’s human nature, but it’s not pure and simple devotion, because in it devotion to Jesus has been diluted, to some degree, with devotion to a person, a gifting, an anointing, or a platform.

Look, it can be real subtle, I’ve found myself being acclimated to that way of thinking as well. In my ministry experience pastoring churches, and then working with a ministry where I connected with pastors and leaders all over the region, I found myself identifying various ministries by the person who was leading those ministries. If I was speaking about a particular ministry, I would say “that’s so-and-so”s church”, naming the particular pastor or leader.

I have a deep respect and I do honor those in leadership positions, and due to the nature of their role and function they naturally are more visible, and for sure it’s not wrong to emulate and admire God appointed leaders and to appreciate their gifting and to glean from the wisdom they carry. But the current predominant culture of tending to glamorize such leaders, often times based on gifting and popularity alone, has hindered the very thing that the church was created for – making disciples of each and every redeemed person, conforming them into the image of Jesus, bringing them to maturity in Christ (Col 1:28). These then will in turn be the ones to go and put Jesus on display to those around them, resulting in “And the Lord added daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).

Community-a-daily-devotional-by-Vince-Miller

Thankfully though, the truth is that there is a remnant of believers who have experienced Jesus at the core of their being and are not satisfied with anything less than His fullness, whose desire is to “find out what pleases the Lord” (Eph 5:10), and passionately pursue it. To once again become a people characterized by “pure and simple devotion”.

In the coming weeks I’ll continue to expound on what that looks like from a corporate perspective, getting back to the basics, following the prototype of the church we see throughout the book of Acts and that Paul describes as “God’s household” in Ephesians 2:20 – “…built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…”.

Returning to the “pure and simple” will seem like a bold contrast to much of what we have become accustomed to, but it is essential to reforming the church back to a place where we experience not just revival or visitation, but building a habitation consisting of living stones “jointly fit together”, where the King is enthroned and His Kingdom established. It starts with stepping away from the culture of celebrity – no more one man/woman show, it includes confirming that our purpose in God is to be conformed to the image of Christ, as well as re-establishing the importance and necessity of covenant community in that process of being conformed.

I conclude this blog with an excerpt from the book written by Bob Gladstone entitled “A Time To Build”:
“To build such a church, we must build people. I fear that the outward success of many modern ministries has usurped our vision for discipleship. We have become effective at church service as public celebrations with worship and preaching – customs that can be good but profoundly insufficient in themselves – while the Jesus way of life-on-life discipleship seems to have gotten lost in the crowd of big events and productions. Successful ministries may look good to the natural eye. But will they endure the fiery gaze of Judah’s Lion? We are happy to fill our buildings with people, but He wants to transform people into His temple. Jesus’ command to make disciples stand firm atop the mountain of His teaching. It’s just not going away.”

Amen! Until next time.

Thanksgiving… it’s different now

Thanksgiving… It’s Different Now

As long as I can remember Thanksgiving has been without a doubt my favorite of all holidays. Even as a kid growing up, the anticipation of getting together at my grandparents home for an incredible spread (my grandma made the best EVERYTHING), there with all the family – aunts, uncles, and cousins. And then of course in Michigan Thanksgiving wouldn’t be complete without Detroit Lions football. So there it was and there it is, the trifecta of the perfect holiday: the three “F’s” – Family, Food, and Football.

Throughout the years, as time passed and we all grew older, and with the passing of time we are all too familiar with the way families develop and grow and change, and yet there was a consistency, a sameness, to the special feelings that every Thanksgivings would bring. It still always came down to Family, Food, and Football, and there was nothing else like it. Of course I do realize there is quite a bit more than the “three f’s” when it comes to Thanksgiving, those are the big ones for me, but I know my wife for one doesn’t care much about the football part, sad to say, and I know that there are others in that camp besides her.

It’s true that we all have our own take on what makes Thanksgiving Day so special and dear to our hearts, and the focus is, after all, on being thankful and on giving thanks. Without a doubt, while I am thankful for the great food we enjoy, and I am indeed thankful for football (even as a suffering Lions fan), but far and away my family has been a gift that so greatly outdistances anything else, which I am exceedingly grateful for and for which I continually give thanks for. Thanks to God of course, who is the giver of every good thing, and as God is by nature inherently Good, He therefore only gives good things. Whether or not those things always make us feel good is another matter altogether, but He and His gifts are good nonetheless, without exception.

It was one year ago, on the eve of Thanksgiving day, that everything changed. My wife Theresa and I along with our two granddaughters Mia and Lilly, were already in the holiday mood, enjoying some pre-Thanksgiving Chik-fil-a. Then my phone rang. It was my daughter-in-law Fran in California. She was distraught. My son Keith was missing, he had left work the day before and hadn’t been seen since.

Of course the questions came in like a flood. How can this be, this is so unlike anything he would do. I mean I know I am his father, but I would marvel at this kid, now an incredible young man. Like when he was in college and he decided that instead of renting an apartment he would go ahead and find a cheap house to buy and fix it up so he could live in it. It was possible because he happened to be holding down a full time job as well as having a full class schedule, and oh yeah, he was a star player on the Michigan State Rugby team too. His grades suffered a little bit, but not enough from preventing him from graduating and not enough to prevent him from being accepted into the MBA program a few years after that. It’s not that he’s one of those people who are just driven, not at all, Keith just has this way about him that he truly believes there is nothing that he can’t do, and he was able to do it without the least little bit of arrogance and with a sense of humor that is completely disarming and endearing. So what in the world was going on!?

We did the only thing we could do at the time, pray as hard as we could and ask others to do the same. His friends and coworkers were making every effort to locate him as well. Just before midnight that evening I got the call from my daughter Rachel that they had recovered Keith’s body. He was gone. The agony of that moment and of countless moments since then and even up to this very moment is beyond description.

What happened? We actually basically know what happened, we are still searching for answers as to why it happened. Without going into much detail, we know that Keith got up and went to work as usual. At some point early on in the day, he left, got on his bicycle that he had with him, and started to ride. He rode for several hours, somewhere between 6 and 8 hours, from his work in Santa Cruz, down the coastline through some of the most breathtakingly beautiful country ever laid eyes on. He rode on through to Big Sur and the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge. They recovered Keith’s body near the base of that bridge.

While there many more details we know, that like I said, are not mentioned here, and even some details are still slowly becoming more clear, the bottom line is that there are way more questions than there are answers. To say this was unexpected would be the understatement of the century. Keith was the epitome of a healthy, vibrant, overflowing optimism that cared deeply about others. While I could go on to write volumes about his life and times and the deposit he left in so many lives, now is not the time.

The question that inevitably must always be answered in situations like this is: where do we go from here? Because the reality is that everything is different now. And yet in the midst of all that darkness, all that despair, there remains One who never changes, One who goes with us into those dark places and gently leads us back into the light, and His name is Jesus.

In previous blogs I spoke about “six words” that the Lord impressed upon me as significant in the pursuit of “pure and simple devotion”. These six words consisted of three two-word phrases (feel free to read the previous blogs), one of which was “stay free”. The concept of “stay free” has primarily and most importantly to do with staying free from offense, of maintaining an “unoffendable heart”. The residual effects of harboring offense, whether it be inter-personal, or even between us and God, are far reaching and insidious, and they cause us to rot from the inside out, effecting our ability to maintain a firm grip on reality. John Bevere aptly calls it “the bait of Satan”, and in Luke 17:1 and Matthew 24:10 Jesus warns us that it is lurking nearby and it will destroy us if we give it the chance.

Just because we grieve we are not somehow exhibiting a lack of faith and is no indicator of an offended heart. I have said that grief is a neighborhood that I pass through every day, but I refuse to live there. I can grieve Keith’s absence, while still experiencing great joy in my life, while still living a life that is overflowing with gratitude, because by the grace of God I have maintained an unoffendable heart.

Keith is so so special to me and I miss him more than I can describe, we had for many years a deep and meaningful father/son relationship that will be cherished for a lifetime. Recently as I was contemplating life and family, the Lord challenged me. He said “count your blessings”. I thought, ok, Lord couldn’t you come up with something more original than “count your blessings”? And yet I knew immediately what he was referring to. He was referring to how special and what an incredible blessing each of my other children are and have been to me and to our family. Let me expound.

We’ll start with Jimmy. “Jimmy Lee” came into my life (along with his mom ;-)) when he was about seven years old. Jimmy is a year older than the youngest Rachel, a year younger than Keith and three years younger than the oldest Bryan. From day one Jimmy has never been a “step” son, he has been my son and I loved him and still love him as a father loves any of his children. I can go on and on about all of my kids, but I have seen in Jimmy the heart of God literally become huge in Jimmy’s life. He is a musician and a worshipper – he and his wife GG have traveled across the state and country as sought after worship leaders and are now helping to plant a church in Tampa. Jimmy and GG and the granddaughters Mia and Lilly have been a Godsend for Theresa and I personally and it has been a joy to be so close to them, both the fact that they are here in Florida, and that our hearts really are knit together in so many ways.

The oldest son Bryan is really one of the kindest souls who values so deeply each member of our family. I cherish the memories of spending countless hours when Bryan was little either in the side yard throwing the football, or in the driveway shooting hoops, or as they were growing up coaching each of the boys little league teams. Bryan as a young boy had developed rapidly as an athlete – he was known for his huge legs for his age – when he was twelve he had the legs of about a 17 year old. He was unstoppable in football, the other dads would be in the stands or along the sidelines and I would watch them marvel and gush about “that Bonzelaar kid” and I distinctly remember thinking to myself at one of those times that I would always remember the pride that I felt in that moment. Now Bryan is every niece and nephews favorite uncle and is one of the most generous and thoughtful persons you will ever meet.

Rachel is the only girl and the youngest. She is the toughest and most strong-willed. She is determined and relentless, and she has a heart to please God above anything else. She loves with reckless abandon and wants the absolute best for everyone. Of all the kids growing up, Rachel and Keith probably had the closest relationship. Rachel has an uncanny ability to bring people together, I have witnessed her do it ever since she was young girl. I proudly say that she is a “daddy’s girl” and always will be. Growing up she wasn’t particularly career minded but always said she really just wanted to be a mom, and she is an incredible mom. Within the last couple years she’s had a dream of pursuing a career in real estate, and true to form she has developed the expertise and people skills that have led to incredible success in the field. She is a rock who is madly in love with Jesus.

So Lord, consider my blessings counted. Actually Lord once I started counting my blessings it became obvious I could start counting and probably never stop.

I’ll close with a couple of excerpts from some correspondence first between Keith and his sister Rachel, and then something that Rachel wrote jus a couple days ago that exemplify so beautifully the heart of thanksgiving in the midst of our most difficult challenge.

The following is just an excerpt of a long letter as Keith poured out his heart to his sister Rachel concerning relationship advice:

One of my favorite authors, John Piper, has made his life message this simple but profound truth: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

What does this mean? It means that we can exalt God by
trusting in Him and desiring Him above anything else in life–more than companionship, more than romance, more than marriage. When we do, our lives say louder than words that He is more fulfilling than all these things.

Unlike all the fleeting pleasures of this world, when we make God the object of our soul’s longing, He truly satisfies us–we find the lasting peace and joy we long for. Only then can we have a healthy, happy relationship, because instead of the relationship being our reason for living, it becomes an expression of the fact that we’re living for Someone GREATER.”

Following is a post written by Rachel as she remembers her beloved brother:

As we enter into the week of Thanksgiving my heart can’t help but feel saddened as I have prepared myself for the anniversary of the loss of someone so special, so amazing and such an intricate part of my family and who I am. The blow that comes from losing someone, not just so close to the holidays, but also in such a tragic way is paralyzing. Our family has endured the most heart wrenching year, figuring out how to cope with that loss. Trying to understand the pain he experienced. Trying to make sense of his choice. Trying to figure out how to live with that void his death has left us all with.

BUT! In all circumstances we must always remember to give thanks to Him. And that is what I strive for, long for and fight for.

So today, and this week, I CHOOSE TO BE THANKFUL! I’m thankful God gave me a brother that changed my life. I’m thankful for who he was, and how having in my life made me a better person. I’m thankful to have had a brother that loved me and supported me. I’m thankful I had a brother that knew how to make me laugh. I’m thankful I had a brother that cared about me. I’m thankful I had a brother that taught me how to fight for something I wanted. I’m thankful I had a brother that showed me how to be humble. I’m thankful I had a brother that laughed with his whole body. I’m thankful I had a brother that always thought he knew everything and would debate with me until the vein in his forehead popped out. I’m thankful I had a brother that could do the best Napoleon Dynamite, Chris Farley or Jim Carrey impersonation. I’m thankful I had a brother that could give the best hug a person will ever experience. I’m thankful I had a brother who was transparent and honest and wasn’t afraid to tell me when I was making stupid decisions. I’m thankful I had a brother who showed me what true passion is. I’m thankful I had a brother that taught me how to love people with everything inside of me. I’m thankful I had a brother that would call me and greet me with a strange voice and ridiculous statement that would make me laugh every single time.

I’m thankful I had Keith. 34 years with him is better than no time at all. And for that reason I’m choosing to live in a place of Thanksgiving this week. Your story isn’t over Keith; I choose to carry it on through me. I love you so much big brother! Miss you to the 🌚 and back!

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Thes 5:18

Grab a Towel

There are a few things in modern church culture that make me a little uneasy (ok I’ll admit probably more than just a few), but there’s one in particular that I’ll take a minute to point out here. And it has to do with this idea of putting people on some sort of pedestal that are in ministry (usually the “platform” kind of ministry). A lot of it is done under the pretense of “giving honor where honor is due” (which along with “blessed and highly favored” is probably one of the most trite and inauthentic christian catch phrases you will ever hear). Now don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe in honoring those that have given their lives to serve God and others, and as such have been entrusted with a position of leadership – we do well to honor such individuals. But lets look at how we do it.

Having been a pastor and leader in the church, people do quite often want to address you using a title attached to your name, for me a lot of people refer to me as Pastor Tim, and I don’t have a problem with that, it’s perfectly appropriate, but I have a problem when folks insist that other people besides themselves call me (or anyone else) by a certain title; I don’t mind being called Pastor Tim (or any of a variety of other titles people have assigned to me) and I don’t mind being called just Tim either (I actually prefer it) – but either way it’s not a big deal to me. Or how about when people insist that others address them in a certain way, such as “Potentate Paul” or whatever else. I recall one instance while pastoring we were getting to know some new people in the church who had come to our congregation with experience in previous ministry, and in speaking with the wife she mentioned in the course of the conversation that she and her husband would like to be addressed as “Evangelist” so-and-so. Initially I thought she was trying to be funny and I came this close to busting out laughing before I realized she was serious. And then there’s the deal about making a show about “seats of honor”, and grand entrances by the “stars of the show”, just suffice it to say that I’ve seen this way too many times at way too many places. I just helped officiate a funeral and this church had about a half dozen or so really huge chairs on the platform that the leaders sat on – it felt like I was sitting on some sort of throne or something. The thing is I know the pastor of that church well – he really is a humble guy – but that was just the culture of that church. Bottom line, sometimes this stuff is legit (it’s not wrong address someone as apostle who actually is an apostle), but quite often it is not legit – and is fraught with soulish origins.

There’s a lot of off the wall stuff that people think and say and do when it comes to attributing perceived “super spiritual powers” as it were, to leaders or other so-called “famous” people in the church. I remember my friend Michael Tyrrell tell about a conference he was helping lead worship at, during some of the breaks between sessions people would come down and just sit in the seats where a couple of the conference speakers had been sitting. When Michael asked them what they were doing their explanation was something along the lines of “we wanted sit where the one’s who were carrying the special anointing were sitting”. As if the anointing was like some sort of perfume you put on or something and some of it rubbed off on the chair they were sitting on and then the next person came along to sit on the chair so that some of the residual perfume left on that chair would rub off on them. You can’t make this stuff up. Another example is when we were working with Eddie James. For a brief period of time when we were with him Eddie was the worship director at one of the largest megachurches in the midwest led by a megastar televangelist. There was also a popular Bible College connected with the ministry and I remember at times the TV evangelist/pastor would hand down some of his personal items such as old suits and the like to some of the bible college students. I was amazed at how these kids jockeyed for position to get their hands on some of this stuff and once they had it how they thought that all of a sudden their giftings and anointing would somehow be magnified multiple times (usually only if they were wearing the handed down apparel). Come on people!

I do have to say this – I know I’ve painted a picture of what we would consider dysfunctional tendencies in the Body, but even in the midst of these dysfunctions I have also encountered so many, because of their hunger and yearning to embrace an authentic experience with God, that even in these environments they have become infused with a fire and a passion to know Him, to Love Him, and to serve Him and others as well, and have found a way to be filled with His fullness and walk as mature believers.

Which brings me back to the primary premise of this blog: “fanning the flames of pure & simple devotion”. Making Jesus the center of our existence and our experience. You see what I have previously described can be directly attributed to the fact that somehow there has been a distraction and a deception that ever so insidiously takes our focus off Jesus, and in that vacuum we turn our eyes on ourselves and our own ways.

One of my initial bogs was entitled “Six Words” and I described how God in the spirit of “Pure and Simple Devotion” had actually spoken to me six words that He wanted me to focus in on. Those six words I have since come to realize have been a catalyst to a journey of embracing the simplicity of knowing and loving Jesus on deeper levels of intimacy as well as practical experience. So what were the six words? They are actually three separate two word phrases: “Love Hard”, “Stand Firm”, and “Stay Free”. I knew these words were not just for me but could be a means of communicating a heart for undivided devotion to Jesus that is dynamic in it’s simplicity and liberating in it’s practice.

So in this blog I wanted to expound on that first two word phrase: Love Hard. Like I described in a previous blog (see “Six Words”), when the Lord dropped these in my spirit my initial response was “huh?” That’s it? So I had a choice, either blow it off and have the attitude that God will reveal more when He’s ready so I’ll sit back until then, or… I dive in and start digging.

Speaking of digging, in this day and age it seems we’ve become huge fans of the “download”. We download and upload tons of information all the time at the click of a button and we think this should transfer over into the spiritual realm as well – we say, “Lord, let me just stand here while You download Your wellsprings of wisdom and revelation into my spirit so that I can impress my friends and family.” That prayer usually gets answered something like this…
Lord: My child I have heard your prayer, here take this, it is required for what you are asking.
COG (Child of God): Lord what is this?
Lord: It’s a shovel
COG: ummm… what for Lord?
Lord: So you can begin to dig
COG: but what about my download? – you know, those wellsprings of wisdom and revelation
Lord: Yeah so here’s the deal, the wells of my wisdom and revelation are most often obtained through process, through the journey of seeking and searching and finding, through persistence and perseverance. It’s a method I’m rather fond of, because it brings us closer together, and it brings out the best in you, and it forms something in you that makes you look more like me. So just remember, you don’t download wells, you dig them. That’s not to say I won’t ever give you a download, but just leave that to me and go ahead and start digging.

So when the Lord gave me those six words, I started digging. It started with “Love Hard”.

Wow, love… it’s not like there aren’t volumes on the subject all throughout scripture, it is the primary “fruit of the Spirit” that every tenet of faith is established upon. So then, where to begin.

For me, when I think of my “favorite” scripture passages, at the top of the rather long list is Matthew 22:37-40, it’s what we know as “The Great Commandment”: And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

I mean Jesus himself singled this one out and basically said if we don’t get this one (and the second one) right, that everything else, every belief or conviction or doctrine that we establish as important in our lives, will come crashing to the ground in a heap in the absence of the understanding and application of these two commandments.

There is another passage spoken by Jesus regarding this subject that I find quite interesting, it’s John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Ok, so in my mind, as simple as it is, I hear this question emerge: “Jesus says He is giving us a new commandment – but it sounds an awful lot like the Great Commandment – so what’s the difference, what’s new about it?

Of course the Great Commandment we’ve referenced was first spoken by God to Moses in Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19. In both these Old Testament verses, in the original Hebrew text the word used for love was the word “ahab”. One commentary describes the meaning of this word like this: “Ahab is remarkably similar to the English word “love” in that its range of meanings covers the same ideas. Ahab can refer to loving God, loving one’s friend, romantic love, love of ideals, love of pleasures, and so on.” So as it does in English the word love in these passages has somewhat of a generic connotation.

This is not so when we look at the “new commandment” passage in John 13. Of course the original text in this case is Greek, which has at least four different words that in English would simply be “love”. In the John 13 passage the word Jesus uses is translated as the Greek word for love “agape”. In Christian circles we are most likely familiar with the word itself but may not understand the depth of the meaning. Here again from a commentary is a description of the Greek word for love “agape”: “A word to which Christianity gave new meaning. Outside of the NT, it rarely occurs in existing Greek manuscripts of the period. Agape denotes an undefeatable benevolence and unconquerable goodwill that always seeks the highest good of the other person, no matter what he does. It is the self-giving love that gives freely without asking anything in return, and does not consider the worth of its object. Agape is more a love by choice than philos, which is love by chance; and it refers to the will rather than the emotion. Agape describes the unconditional love God has for the world.

Agape love is not natural, it is supernatural – it requires something that goes beyond my human abilities to pull it off. Before Jesus came on the scene it had never been seen by human eyes to even know what it looks like. So when He says this is a new commandment he is speaking of something that goes beyond the Great Commandment – in the words of what might be a pop song you’d hear on the radio “you ain’t never seen a love like this before”.

So as I study that passage in John it strikes me how practical Jesus is, how he never asks us to do something without first showing us how its done. In understanding the context for Jesus’ new commandment statement in John 13:34, we look at the scene in the beginning of the chapter, it was at the time of the last supper. Jesus knew that his time on earth with the disciples was to soon end, so this demonstration takes on a special significance.

We know the story, Jesus took a towel, wrapped it around His waist and began to wash the disciples feet. In the verses where we see this scene play out, there is so much to be drawn out, so much significance in each verse, we could literally write books regarding the implications of this one act and the dialog recorded here.

So Jesus makes the bold statement on essentially the last night he would be with them all together, and commanded them to “love one another; just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another”. ‘How do we love one another? Jesus had just showed them by example when he washed their feet and then said you also should do just as I have done to you.

Of course there is so much more that has been written in scripture regarding love – the love of God, the love for God, and love for others. In the New Testament most of the exhortations regarding love have to do with us loving one another, it is sort of a litmus test of our love for God, and our love for others is reflected by our willingness to serve others, to give and to sacrifice with no expectation of getting anything in return.

Which going back to some of the crazy stuff we see in our modern church culture today, we need to lay aside our striving for titles, of our posturing and primping in an effort to be seen, and instead of reaching for a microphone we need to reach for a towel. Take your eyes off yourself and put them back on Jesus and follow his example in the way that he commanded us to.

We talk about honor, we honor others not by showering them with adoration or by addressing them with superfluous titles, we honor them by following their example in as much as they follow the example of Jesus.

So here are my final words: Love Hard! Keep your eyes on Jesus and grab a towel.

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The Rise and Fall of the Fake Fathers

I love the emerging generations. I love the teenagers and the 20 somethings, and you know what, I love the 30 somethings too. Funny that as time goes on you even to start to think of 30 somethings as part of the “emerging generations”. Probably because you can look back at your own 30 something self and realize that you were still emerging then too. Come to think of it I’m pretty sure I’m still emerging even now in a lot of ways; maybe that’s part of the problem – people decide at some point that they’ve “emerged” enough and in the process they become disconnected to the ones who are still emerging.

I love being a father. As a father I love being around my kids (and now grandkids). I just like to watch them, always have. My wife and I have four great kids, and I would like to say they have brought us nothing but joy but of course it really wouldn’t be the truth. Not that they haven’t and that they don’t continue to bring us immense joy, and pride and all that, but there have been hard times and steep challenges along the way. It’s part of the deal, the real deal.

We have also been graced by God to be considered as a spiritual mother and father to those of whom the Lord has divinely placed in our lives. They too have brought us great joy, but have also provided ample challenges along the way. It’s part of the deal, the real deal.

As a father with a fathers heart there is a phenomenon that I have embraced with mixed emotions, and that is the rising awareness as well as the intentional practice of connecting the generations of fathers and mothers to sons and daughters in the spiritual sense. I say mixed emotions because while this is completely the heart of Father God and recognize it as an authentic movement, there are those who have embraced it as just another opportunity to gather to themselves people with a legitimate need for real fathering and mothering in the faith, only to use them for their own sense of self-importance or even for their own gain. This is the rise of the fake fathers, the counterfeits who grab the social media headlines and self appointed seats of honor, while the authentic fathers and mothers pour out their lives selflessly with no fanfare, yet they are the ones who are molding a generation of Kingdom builders and world changers. In the end the authentic, the God-ordained, will prevail, while the pretenders will slip pitifully into oblivion.

And so my wife and I are at the point in our lives now where we are doing a little bit more reflecting than we probably ever have. Maybe it’s because we’ve just got a lot more to reflect on. When you’re 25 or 30 your vault where you store up stuff to reflect on just really isn’t that full, and besides, at that age it just seems like more or less a waste of time anyway, the focus is more like – on to the next thing! And hurry!!

When you turn the corner of 50 and you’re staring 60 straight in the eyes all of a sudden you start seeing all those 20 and 30 somethings going peddle to the metal in an effort to make their mark in the world (whether it be business or career, as well as spiritually – Kingdom endeavors), and you see yourself at that age, and it causes you to reflect, and to remember. And now you have the ability to take those experiences of your 30 year old self and place them in the context of the greater timeline of your life, and you see more clearly what was being accomplished both in yourself and what God was doing through you for His glory. It’s almost always not what you thought it was when you were in the heat of pushing through it, or at the least there was so much more, there was something greater going on.

I write all this at the risk of sounding old. Wait… I just went back and reread the last several paragraphs, and… I definitely do sound old. OK so I’m not 30 anymore – chronologically at least – but I’m still in the arena (reference to one of my favorite Teddy Roosevelt quotes) and I’m still running this race and I’m not jumping off any time soon, so these young dudes had better lace up their Nike’s nice and tight if they expect to keep up. I really hope and pray that they pass me up and I expect they will, but the more we can run together the more we will see the Body of Christ built up and the Kingdom of God advanced.

One of the great disappointments in life is to have seen so many become engulfed in the flames of love and passion for Jesus, consumed with a desire to live for Him and share His love with others, only to see barely a flicker years later, and in some cases that flame has seemed to go out altogether. On the flip side one of the great encouragements is to witness those who have continued to burn with a passion and an intensity, even though seasons and assignments may shift and change, their perseverance and commitment does not. Though they have experienced much, they have not given in to the siren song of our culture to just coast on in, to step aside, take it easy, to disengage, and to “get out of the way” as it were.

In all this there is a dynamic that I have become aware of through observation over the years, and that is wherever the older generation of seasoned saints who have maintained the “fire in their bones”, connect with and impart to the emerging generation of living stones and fiery messengers, there is something that can best be described as a sort of “synergy of the ages” (a term borrowed from Dutch Sheets in his book “An Appeal to Heaven”), that this connection somehow becomes a wind that blows on the flames of destiny in the lives of those who are so connected.

Where I have seen an absence of this dynamic, where the flames of passion and the wind of revival begin to flow in a corporate way, and movement begins to happen, especially when initialized through the emerging generations as it very often does, with a life and a vibrancy, an innocence and a purity, when that special visitation is entrusted to a predominately youthful core of leaders, and there is a neglect of intentionally soliciting input or oversight from proven fathers and mothers in the faith, the life span and impact of these movements are regrettably short lived and diminished. Too often the prevailing attitude is “we got this”, and they go on to fall into all sorts of quagmires that ultimately lead to the demise of what was being established. Of course the fear often times is that the older generation will just try to recreate in some way how God had moved in their experience (a valid concern for sure), which is something we’ll have to expound on more at another time.

I have been privileged to be connected to a few of these fiery fathers in the faith, the ones who have selflessly and courageously poured into my life, who have been straight up and spoken the truth in love. They have shown me that it is possible to step on someones toes without messing up their shine, because it was me who was the one getting stepped on when need be. They understood what it meant to invest their lives into the generations coming up behind them and to impart into others what they had been entrusted by God with in their own lives, they didn’t even consider holding on to it for their own glory, but took joy in giving it away.

One such man that my wife and I have had the privilege to see and experience this up close and personal is a guy named Kent Henry. We met and got to know Kent close to twelve years ago now, and when we were pastoring a church in Tampa Kent came and poured into us and into our region several times over those years. Kent is a forerunner, a pioneer, and a father in the modern worship music movement that we have seen evolve and explode into a massively powerful expression. Kent is fearlessly devoted and he helped blaze a trail and release a sound that was characterized by bringing an intimacy and transparency in worship that was focused on the presence of the Lord. The Integrity albums that he led worship on were groundbreaking and have been an inspiration for not only every significant worship movement and artist, but for the Body of Christ at large. Kent continues to be a resource as he has determined to pour himself out for the generations following.

We would bring Kent to our church not simply to lead worship, but more importantly to bring an impartation – to the emerging worshippers who were just beginning to understand the anointing they were beginning to move in, and to bring a fathers affirmation and admonition (see the following pic). There was teaching, exhortation, and activation, and most importantly there was impartation, and I have seen first hand the impact that a fathers impartation has had for those on the receiving end. They were put on a trajectory that propelled them deeper into the Fathers heart, which resulted in an acceleration of skill, creativity, and anointing while remaining centered and focused on Jesus.

A few weeks ago I had a dream and in the dream Kent Henry was in amongst a group of young people as he usually is, and he was attempting to speak into them, but by and large they seemed disinterested and almost totally oblivious. They were completely unaware that an authentic father was in their midst, and did not see the value of taking heed to what he was trying to impart to them.

As I pondered the dream I realized that in the dream Kent represented what I would consider to be the authentic Fathers and Mothers of this day who are not being heard by or who are disconnected from the emerging generations that are now rising up to find their role and take their place in being agents of transformation in bringing revelation of Kingdom into the earth.

I say now is the time for the authentic Fathers and Mothers to arise, to pour their lives into a generation and into a people, to take authority over every obstacle that inhibits this coming together, that the “synergy of the ages” will be put on full display, to the glory of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Hey, I’m all in, how about you? Young or old, we’re in this together and we need one another, let’s come together and just see what happens, I have a feeling it’s going to be awesome.

Happy Fathers Day!

Six Words

Simple words, spoken to a simple man, by an infinite God. What an incredible thing to think that God speaks to us. But I mean why wouldn’t He, He created us after all, why would He have created us if He didn’t want to interact with us in some way. I know some people who actually talk to their goldfish, as if the slimey little things could actually understand what was being said. Dude, I’m not positive (because number one I’ve never been a goldfish and number two I’ve never read any clinical studies about it), but I’m pretty sure your goldfish can’t hear you let alone even begin to understand you. And yet for some reason we try. My point being that God does actually speak to us, He desires to communicate and converse in a relational way, even though we are quite often just slightly more predisposed to hearing and understanding His voice than a goldfish is to hearing and understanding our voice.

Which is why I am thankful that He chooses to speak to me in simple terms, because I am a simple man, that is, and I’ll just say it… I’m not very smart. I don’t mean like I’m a moron or anything like that, but I’m for sure not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I’ve often said that I’m just barely smart enough to even realize that I’m not that smart. I’ve seen a lot of people who are not very smart who actually think they are quite brilliant. It’s not a pretty sight, although at times it can be kind of fun to watch, but then again at other times it can be completely exasperating.

But back to the point that He speaks to us. Yes He does. I recall the time very early on in my relationship with the Lord and I was just beginning to seriously pursue fellowship with other believers, and some of the things that they were saying and the way they were saying it just really boggled my mind. I mean they would say things like “Yeah the Lord really spoke to my heart and He impressed on me to do this or that”, I just kept hearing these people talk about how God spoke to them in some way and they said it in what seemed to me to be kind of a casual or even flippant way, as if it was no big deal. Well I was certain that this had to be one of the most outrageous things I had ever heard. As they were sharing about how “God had spoken to them” I kept looking out of the corner of my eye at everyone else in the room because I was sure I would see eyeballs popping and jaws dropping at these spectacular claims, I was awestruck! This is the God of the universe we’re talking about!

Well that was a few decades ago now, and those early days of hearing others tell of hearing the voice of God, experiencing His leading, and sensing His presence awakened a desire in me to know Him, to experience Him to the fullest with every aspect of my being. I wanted to hear his voice just like they did, but I never wanted it to ever become too casual, I never want to lose the sense of awe, the fascination, the thrill of just hearing His slightest whisper, of feeling His gentle touch.

This is still an ongoing process for me, hearing His voice I mean, I’m quite sure He most likely is speaking to me a lot more that I am picking up on. There’s probably a lot of good stuff that He has made pretty plain to me that still just goes over my head. The thing is when I miss it many times my wife will catch it and then she’ll have to lay it out there for me, which in itself can be a humbling experience, but is one that I am grateful for (although not right away).

But the desire to hear His voice is strong in me, can you really say you desire to hear His voice? I’m asking you, seriously, not a casual kind of wishful thinking, an unrealistic I’m waiting for an audible voice kind of desire. I mean a desperate “GOD I WANT TO KNOW YOU, I WANT TO HEAR YOU” cry from the depths of your soul. He responds to that. And the more you hear Him and the more you know Him, it just stirs that desire to want Him even more, because He is just so vast.

So the Lord spoke to me recently as I was reading and meditating His word (which is how He speaks to us the vast majority of the time by the way). Don’t get shook up because I use the word “meditating”, it just means I was thinking about it, you know, pondering it. Here’s the thing, when the Lord does speak something to you, here’s the typical response (at least it usually is for me): “What was that Lord?” “What did you say?” “Can you please repeat that?” “What exactly do you mean by that?” “Can you please have at least three people tell me the exact same thing so that I know it’s you?”

Look it’s ok to ask questions when the Lord speaks to you, in fact most of the time what He speaks is designed so as to cause us to ask questions – it’s His way of engaging us, in leading us to a deeper more intimate place with Him, of creating avenues for dialog and revelation and so much more.

So like I was saying, the Lord spoke to me recently. In the spirit of “pure and simple” (because as I said, I am a simple man) He spoke to me six words. Ah there it is finally, the title of the blog, I was wondering when we would finally get to that. So what were the six words? I’ll tell you next time. No not really, this isn’t a television series, these are the six words:
Love Hard
Stand Firm
Stay Free

Of course when He spoke these words I went through the whole series of questions that I listed previously. Which has led me on a journey that in just these few simple words there is a breadth and a depth of discovery that draws me closer to Him and brings a deeper revelation into His heart. The next few blog entries I’ll take you along on that journey and we’ll see where these six simple words will lead us.

Bonfires – What’s this all about?

Welcome to my initial offering of a regular blog that I am entitling “Bonfires: Fanning the flames of pure and simple devotion and other extraordinary tales of faith filled living”. My intentions are to post something on a regular basis, the initial goal is twice a month (possibly bi-weekly) and we’ll see where it goes from there.

Ok so why should you pay any attention whatsoever to anything I might have to say on some blog post? Unless it’s entertaining and informative in some way I suppose you shouldn’t, oh and interesting too; I’ve tried reading things that aren’t that interesting and it’s honestly just a bad experience, and I for sure don’t want to give anyone a bad reading experience. I had a bad experience at a sushi place once and I’ve pretty much given up on it since then, I would hate to write something that after reading it the person said “well that really sucked, what a waste of time.” I want to provide a reading experience that essentially doesn’t suck and isn’t a waste of anyone’s time.

Why am I calling it “Bonfires” and basically what is it about? I liked Bonfires because it’s kind of a take on my last name but also I liked the idea of being a place to gather and socialize and talk about some things in a setting that is relaxed and less formal, a place where we can be open and honest, to be transparent and real with no pretense, and to talk about raw truth but always seasoned with grace. The subtitle really gets more into the primary focus of the blog: “Fanning the flames of pure and simple devotion and other extraordinary tales of faith filled living”.

Amidst the talk of spiritual “revival” and “awakening” it seems we often times neglect the fact that the revival or awakening that we are created for is far more than an isolated encounter, and that while essential to the “born again” experience where we become infused with the life of Christ through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, that encounter should be the beginning of a journey of faith that is continually taking us deeper and deeper into the Heart of God. And that journey of faith and the process of being conformed into the image of Jesus is both exciting and terrifying, it is both exhilarating and monotonous, it is both strenuous and effortless, and it requires perseverance and it requires focus. My deep desire is to help keep us on the path of perseverance, and to maintain a focus to keep the main thing the main thing, and the main thing is simply Jesus.

The concept of “pure and simple devotion” is taken from 2 Corinthians 11:3, “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” Paul here is writing to the Corinthians because, just as Eve was deceived into believing that God was not true to His Word and that He wasn’t inherently good, the Corinthians were being swayed in their thinking to the point of believing something different (a lie) concerning Jesus – contrary to the truth regarding Jesus that the Holy Spirit through Paul had revealed to them.

The heart of this is that we stay locked in to the person of Jesus, the heart of Jesus, and the teachings of Jesus. If we allow ourselves to let other things and other voices distract us from being wholly and completely tuned in to Jesus and to the Holy Spirit of God, we become susceptible to deception, some subtle and some not so subtle, and that keeps us from our highest potential in Christ.

Just to be clear, while I will write with an unwavering commitment to sound doctrine, this is not a blog given to apologetics or detailed teaching on theological perspectives (which I have a great appreciation for), but there are plenty of those around and quite frankly to most people they are bor-ring. We are going to keep it on the beauty of the simplicity of knowing Jesus and knowing the Truth of His Word.

Now the second part of that subtitle should be fun as well, “other extraordinary tales of faith filled living”. Interspersed in my blog will be stories of the life and times of our family and experiences. I feel like our story is pretty interesting, as we’ve stepped out on this journey we’ve gotten to see and experience things that I quite frankly never would have dreamed, and I have quite often marveled at how some pretty ordinary people like ourselves have found ourselves involved in some pretty extraordinary scenarios. So if we have crossed paths in any way over the years don’t be surprised if your name somehow pops up in the course of describing some escapade or adventure. And then if I can figure out some of the technical stuff I’ll add some pictures and we’ll make it a fun and enjoyable time for everyone. As they say… stay tuned!