The Jubilee Project

Fellowship at Hodel's & Thoughts on Romans 8

While at Hodel's in Bakersfield, CA recently, I got into a conversation with Tracie and Jonathan Eymann (from the same Jubilee described in the Jubilee Project.) Tracie was talking about the way we can see God working behind the scenes to use every bad situation for eventual good, like a slow-motion chain reaction that leads to results and brings glory to God.

We talked about the movie "Signs" (remember that old M. Night Shyamalan movie with Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix?) how that's actually a decent cinematic example of how seemingly random conditions and circumstances, when guided by God, work in concert to produce a chain reaction of results at the right time to accomplish a goal.

signs-5051ce1076cfa.jpg

Tracie talked about how God did that with their housing and other circumstances both bad and good (minus the weird M. Night Shyamalan plot twists and aliens), and her testimony was encouraging.

I was reminded of the house we once rented in north Goleta across the freeway from Jubilee.

When we first decided to move back to Goleta to be closer to our church and reduce commute time, my first thought was to find an inexpensive apartment--well, "inexpensive" for Goleta. And then an actual house was offered for a huge discount (because it had been sitting for a long time and they were desperate to get it rented), at almost the exact same price of a family-sized apartment.

So we took it because it fit our budget, a very unexpected blessing from God.

And being in that larger space gave me a chance to have a real office for the nine months we were there when I desperately needed a quiet home office space to spit out 200+ pages of material over a few months, and it had become difficult to do that in other spaces.

We had the house (and office) just long enough for me to finish that project. The timing couldn't have been better.

But then disaster struck in mid-2016. Some unexpected misfortunes struck our self-employed businesses.

We wanted to stay in the area to continue ministering at Jubilee, and we were willing to live in just about any downsized living situation to make it work. At the time we had been researching about the tiny house "small living" lifestyle, which was intriguing and seemed like a possible solution. Then, miraculously (to make a long story short), a tiny house fell into our lap at just the right time.

Through all of these changes, the Lord was faithful to answer and confirm each step of the way, each big change, and He did it through all sorts of ways, sometimes "signs and wonders," other times through reading the Word, other times through words of wisdom or knowledge from a wide variety of people in the Body of Christ.

Disaster struck again--a much bigger one. My father died unexpectedly. This set off a series of events (to make a long story short) that led to us moving yet again, this time to another part of the state. We needed to make the move immediately (for a variety of personal reasons I won't get into here).

What's been amazing to see in hindsight: if all of those previous housing changes had not happened when they happened, making that move would have been impossible. It was one of the few times in my life since 2003 that I was not bound to a rental lease or mortgage, and that change happened exactly when that flexibility was needed the most to make a sudden move to deal with a crisis.

Open Doors and Romans 8 Transformation: What Does It All Mean?

Of course, when God is involved it's never really about just one situation or one person or one set of earthly circumstances. This situation described above, for example, has opened up a door of ministry to other situations that have been on my intercessory prayer list for years. And I've already seen a few miracles and spiritual breakthroughs that wouldn't have happened if all the tumultuous things described above had not taken place.

Just hearing Tracie's story of all the crazy cause-and-effect symphonies in her life, how God made one thing lead to another, which led to this thing over here, which opened this door over there, was deeply encouraging.

Why?

Because God really is the Author and Finisher of our faith, and His promise in Romans 8 ("He will use all things for good...") rings true: He will use all things in our lives, good or bad, to bring glory to His name and transform us into miniature versions of Christ. That's how the second half of Romans 8 defines the "good" that God will bring out of all things: the "good" is being made more like Christ.

The promise is not that He uses all things to make our lives more comfortable or increase our standard of living. We have to read that verse in Romans 8 in context with the whole chapter, then interpret the chapter within the context of the whole book.

It's clear.

His primary goal for us is not earthly temporal prosperity or having a high standard of living that demands endless work to keep going. If greed or a subtle desire for the "good life" has secretly been at (or near) the heart of our motivation, we should not be surprised if God eventually exposes that self-centeredness and uses our misfortunes to help us move past those secret motivations.

(And sometimes the "help" He provides is not pleasant.)

The promise in Romans 8 is first and foremost about inner transformation of the heart, not being granted comfortable, enriched earthly lives. (To see proof of this, we need only look at the lives of people in church history, from the Apostle Paul who wrote Romans to people like Back to Jerusalem's Simon Zhao of China.)

Frankly, the big changes described above were torturous on every level, and in many areas the pain hasn't lessened. This is common. For millions of Christians throughout history and millions alive today, their biggest afflictions were (are) not always swept away or resolved during their lifetime. 

But in the midst of the excruciating pain, a simple question returns again and again to my heart: is God here, at our sides, present in all of it? Is He still Emmanuel, God With Us?

As we made the transition, I could see God's hand in it everywhere, whether I liked it or not. And the Body of Christ (which can be found almost everywhere we go on this earth, thanks to the Great Commission) played a big role when people from my old church where my dad used to pastor--people I haven't seen for years or even decades--came out of the woodwork and made us meals, bought us dinner, sent us care packages/gifts or greeting cards in the mail, visited us to cheer us up, and even offered to help with certain aspects of the crisis. They went out of their way beyond the easy text message or email and inconvenienced themselves greatly in some instances. It was moving and eye-opening to see what the church can be like.

Cause-and-Effect Symphonies and True Joy

The point of everything above is summed up by what Tracie was saying at Hodel's: God is good at orchestrating events to achieve His desired outcome. It might be a blow to the ego or our sense of self-government or self-assertion (or our sense of satisfaction in our moral goodness and spiritual sturdiness), but these outcomes have less to do with us (or our "good deeds") than we might expect.

The good outcomes (which have heart transformation as their primary goal) flow from His grace and mercy (i.e. we don't merit them); and He, the Finisher of our faith, is undaunted by our mistakes or the disasters that fill our lives, and He is able to conquer and repurpose those dark, sad things.

It's no wonder then that true joy is found in longing for God and pursuing Him. As C. S. Lewis defined it, the true nature of joy isn't a state of ecstatic happiness or unbroken cheerfulness and effervescence; it is the intense longing for and simultaneous togetherness that the soul experiences in God--that "stab of joy" that strikes from unexpected directions as we walk with Him through life.

And sometimes that kind of joy only finds its maturity in the places we least expect.

IMG_1469.jpg

Good Things Happening In The Local Church

Good things are happening. Although after starting this new "David's Tabernacle" project (which you can read about on the home page of my site, if you don't know what it is) I've encountered a great deal of spiritual opposition from many sources -- some of it quite discouraging -- and although at certain times the amount of participation has been lower than I expected and hoped, I can say truthfully that it has had a powerful effect on our lives and community, and we're only three or four weeks into it.

I was thinking about something that worship leader Don Moen, the founder of Worship In Action, said in a recent interview with David Santistevan, that it's God's presence that changes people, not the grandiosity of our stage production and musical presentation during church services. This David's Tabernacle project has, as I've come to discover, been all about that: we have zero production, really, we're not even on a stage; we're just standing in a room with a guitar and singing/praying our little hearts out for hours at a time in some cases, and then doing our best to bring the Manifest Presence of God that draws near to us (and transforms our character as we behold Him!) out into the world with us when we leave.

It might not be a very big thing in the eyes of certain people in the world or even in the church, but when we're all gathered together in that little room, plunking away on a guitar late into the night, we encounter the hugeness of Heaven, and we realize that we're opening our hearts to Someone bigger than anything we could ever ask or imagine.

Thank You, Abba Father, for this opportunity! Although we're in a little room, You open the windows of Heaven, and it feels like we're standing in a place like this:

65 Hours of Prayer and Worship in Ten Days -- Has It Made Any Difference?

It's been 10 days since we started the David's Tabernacle Project. We're certainly short of the long-term goal (of 24/7 prayer/worship) but I haven't been worried about that. I've been so in awe of everything -- as far as how adding these extra hours of voluntary prayer/worship has changed people's lives -- that I'm too busy thanking God for all the amazing testimonies to worry too much about the numbers. 

There's nothing particularly complicated about this. It's a response to God's Biblical promise from James 4:8: "Draw near to Him and He will draw near to you..."

So what happens when God draws near to us? The more time we spend with Him directly and with His Body (by spending time with other believers in a local church family), the more we behold His glory in a variety of ways. 2 Corinthians 3:18 gives us this promise:

"But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord" (NKJV).

So has all this intense intercessory prayer and "music-based" worship (as opposed to worship done in other non-musical ways) made a difference?

Not only have I seen breakthroughs in people's lives happen in the last 10 days -- and I'm talking major breakthroughs that we've been praying about for YEARS -- but the fruit of the Spirit has multiplied abundantly in others and in myself. All of this spiritual fruit is not staying in the four walls of the church either. People take the Presence of Christ out with them, and it has been affecting the lives of people we encounter in public.

I will confess one thing though: I've been physically EXHAUSTED. Granted, this thing is set up so that it's not like ONE person is doing a marathon session of prayer or worship for 24 hours -- we share the load and each person usually volunteers 1-2 hours of their time for a single "shift" -- but still it's been more demanding physically than I had anticipated. (I think it's a sign that I just need to get in better physical shape.)

But it has all been worth it. And people are expressing great enthusiasm about continuing the project. Only God knows where it will go from here. I just hope we follow Him.

Here's a group of us during a prayer "shift":

The Kingdom Always Has Enough Room and Is Never Out of Time

Theme that came about this morning in worship: "You have set my feet in a spacious place," from Psalm 31:8. When we are with Him, when we're walking in constant communion with Him in the spirit, He sets our spirits in a spacious place: His eternal presence!

I saw a picture of a vast land full of life and beauty stretching out for hundreds of miles, and one person had it all to themselves to explore as they walked with God in the cool of the evening, and it created this sense that, in God, there is never overcrowding. You might be standing in an overcrowded subway train, unable to move, but in your spirit you are standing in a spacious place and you have peace because you have the mind of Christ. There is enough room in Christ for anyone who believes in Him and receives His Spirit that dwells in us. God always has a spacious place, and He always has enough time for you.

image.jpg

Day 2: One Song Down, Eight Hours to Go

My voice was already raspy/fading on the first song, and I thought, "Lord, how is this going to happen for eight more hours?" But my voice cleared up and as we got going it all became almost effortless in the Holy Spirit as His presence drew near. And, by the way, it's not that we're singing 500 songs back to back. There is what I'll call "improvised liturgy," where we flow with spontaneity into times of intercessory prayer for awhile, all while music keeps playing quietly in the background, then maybe we'll flow back into another song, then maybe we'll just sing "spiritual songs" where lyrics are improvised in the moment to express adoration in our own words, then flow back into a worship song, then flow into a time of reading and/or declaring Scripture, then maybe more prayer or another song. Also, for really lengthy sessions, I will take a 10 minute break after an hour or so to pick a new batch of songs, take quick bathroom break etc, though during the breaks we try to keep the vibe going by playing a worship CD softly in the background and/or do some quiet devotion time in the Word.

But in general "improvised liturgy" really makes the time fly fast. And the empowering, life-giving Presence of Christ gives alertness and strength even in the early hours of the morning.

Jesus, and the powerful communion we can have with Him, is better than coffee. :-) 

image.jpg