Lessons from “Experiencing God”

I’ve been re-reading a wonderful book that made a profound impact on me back in college in the early 90’s.  “Experiencing God” isn’t rocket science, but it may as well be for us American christians who seem to have become so totally overcome by the temptations of the world that we have no place for the true, historical ways of Jesus.  “Experiencing God” delves into those WAYS by looking carefully through the pages of scripture – THE written record of God’s redemptive work in human history – to see what He’s all about, how His most trusted people acted, what following Jesus really looks like, etc.  The author, Henry Blackaby, thinks that God is not dead.  He thinks that God is not only alive & well, but that He’s actively engaged in world, in communities, and in the lives of every individual!  He believes that God can and does perform miracles all day every day in & through the lives of His people.  I can’t tell you how powerfully this book is affecting me right now, it’s amazing!  If you want to truly know God and follow Him, THIS IS A MUST READ.  But be ready to get your butt kicked.  Here are some the boot kicks leaving marks on my proud & self-centered posterior at the moment:

“We must come to a place where we renounce our self-focused approach to life and turn the attention and control over to God.  When this happens, God orients us to Himself and to the purposes He is accomplishing around us.”

“The world urges us to protect, pamper, promote, comfort, and prosper ourselves.  But God tells us to deny ourselves…”

“In scripture, you never find God asking people to dream up what they want to do for Him.  He never urges His people to set impressive goals and generate grand visions for Him and His kingdom…they were not brilliant planners.  They were humble “heroes of the faith.”  God commended them for their compliance, not for their performance.”

Depending on God is not easy…but it’s good.  He can be trusted.

“It is God who is working in you, enabling you both to will and to act for His good purpose.” Philippians 2:13


I feel closest to God when…

You’ve probably heard people say things like “I feel closer to God on a hike in the forest than I do in a church building.”  You may have even said that…I have.  In fact, there are a lot of places & actions that make me feel closer to God than the traditional prescriptions.  I feel closest to God when I’m praying while running through a forest, or serving someone in need.  Running because it’s just me & Him communicating in His creation….serving because it sidelines my self-seeking nature and focuses me on Him.  How about you?

Taking it a step further, I wonder if there’s a connection between things that draw us closer to God, and His definition of the word “worship.”  Here are some things the Bible says, and doesn’t say, about WORSHIP:

  • When we read the word “worship” in the New Testament (NT), 80% of the time it’s translated from the Greek word “proskuneo” (which looks like this προσκυνέω).  The word literally means to “kiss toward”….kind of like how we would say “to blow kisses.”  
  • Not once in the NT does the word “worship” refer to singing or a time/place.
  • “Worship” is often used without much description…”they fell down and worshipped”….”Jacob worshipped while leaning on his staff”…
  • It’s not dependent upon place.  “Jesus replied, ‘believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.'” (John 4;21)
  • In perhaps the most powerful Biblical description of “worship,” found in Romans 12:1-2, we find this: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

So perhaps worship, real Biblical worship, can happen anytime at any place, as long as it involves recognizing, honoring, and communing with God in ways that empower us to follow Him.


Celebrity, Consumerism, Competition – Killing the American Church

I think this is one of the most insightful, respectfully-challenging blogs I’ve read in a long time about the state of the American Church…

(copy the link below and paste into your browser)


Christian Social Control

Transformation of people and cultures into what we were created for is God’s work; and He invites us to be His Hands through acts of service, words of truth, expressions of love. Problems happen when discouragement & impatience influence us to close our fists and take control. Whenever we fall into the sin of usurping God’s reign, ineffective domination and disillusionment are sure to follow. Read this insightful blog about an example of this from our nation’s history…

From “Story Of Grace 66” – Call of Duty (part 11): The Disaster of Changing Culture Through Laws Rather Than Through Apostolic Mission [Prohibition]

“The final gasp for political and social control of the nation by evangelical Protestants was in the 1910’s with the effort to abolish the sale, distribution and use of alcohol.  This was what is known as Prohibition. Evangelicals sought through political control and legislative power to bring America, once again, under the influence of Christ through banning its greatest vice–“the drink”.  This effort turned out to be disastrous!  It turned out to be a textbook case in the “law of unintended consequences.”  The effort to Christianize the nation through force of law created effects the entrenched “sin industry” and culture that persists to this day.

In this blog we will look at the development of this issue and then the lessons that we learn as it relates to being on apostolic mission.  Namely, we will see what happens when the church focuses on shaping culture through conformity rather than transforming through apostolic mission.     

The Development
There was no single issue which displayed the animosity with the new wave of post-Civil War flood of immigrants as the issue of alcohol. It was largely argued by Prohibitionists that if you legally rid alcohol from the nation you will wipe out the majority of other vices. Though no one doubted the problems and even disasters that occurred from the abuse of alcohol, the Prohibitionist movement took on larger meanings.  Billy Sunday, the best known evangelist of this period, said…

 “Take drink away and most of the other problems that immigrants created in cities would disappear.”
This idea was built upon strands of social research that had been conducted.  In the 1840’s a businessman from Portland, Maine called Neal Dow, made a study on the effects of alcohol there and discovered an astonishing range of evils. Family violence, crime, poverty, a loss of production in factories were, as he put it, “alcohol related.” In 1851 he persuaded the state legislature to pass the “Maine Law” which banned the sale of alcohol. 13 of 30 states passed similar laws by 1855. 

Counter to this emphasis was the rise of the Republican Party (the party of Abraham Lincoln) which was seeking to broaden its base,    began recruiting Irish and German Catholics, and German and Scandinavian Lutherans who were generally opposed to Prohibition, took its anti-alcohol stance off its platform. 

Yet after the Civil War militant women took up the cause and enlisted evangelical/Protestant churches into its army. A battle hymn written by Julia Nelson went:
And where are the hands red with slaughter?
Behold them each day as you pass
The places where death and destruction
Are retailed at ten cents a glass.
One of the key anti-alcohol movements was the Anti-Saloon League. And the league leaders insisted that the league was simply “the churches [and the decent people] organized against the saloon.” But the fact is that this movement was rural or small-town against the culture being formed by the immigration boom. Alphonso Alva Hopkins (a leader in the temperance movement) stated this…
“Our boast has been that we are a Christian people, with Morality at the center of our civilization. Foreign control and conquest is rapidly making us un-Christian, with immorality enthroned in power. Be-sodden Europe, worse scourged than by war, famine and pestilence sends here her drink makers, her drunkards, or her…habitual drinkers, with all their un-American and anti-American ideals of morality and government; they are absorbed into our national life, but not assimilated; with no liberty from whence they came, they demand unrestricted liberty among us, even to license the things we loathe…they have set up for us their own moral standards, which are grossly immoral; they govern our great cities…” 
By 1916, 21 states had banned saloons. In 1917 Congress submitted the 18th Amendment which was ratified in 1919. This changed the Constitution to ban “the manufacture, sale and transportation of intoxicating liquors.” Christians haled this as the dawning of a new era. Billy Sunday in Norfolk Virginia triumphed…
“Good-by John Barleycorn, the reign of tears is over…The slums will soon be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs. Men will walk upright now, women will smile, and children will laugh. Hell will be forever rent.”
The Unintended Effects of Prohibition
1) Prohibition brought about a qualitative and permanent change in the scale and sophistication of organized crime in America. Non Anglo-Saxon minorities consolidated themselves. In New York bootlegging was 1/2 Jewish,  1/4 Italian, and then 1/4 Polish and Irish. In Chicago it was the same story. Prohibition simply transferred the sale of alcohol to criminal sources away from legitimate retailers. The criminal elements had more finances than the police forces which would have to fight them.  John Torrio, who ran large-scale bootlegging in Chicago from 1920-24, retired to Italy in 1925 with a fortune $30 million. No one in the history of the world had made this kind of money from organized crime. Studies by the Justice Department’s Law Enforcement Assistance Administration in the 1970’s indicate that the beginning of Prohibition in the 1920’s was the starting point of the most identifiable crime-families, which continue to flourish today.

2) Prohibition made city improvement impossible. General Smadley Butler of the US Marine Corps was put in charge of the Philadelphia police to clean up the city in  1924. He gave up the job after two years explaining it to be a “waste of time.” Walter Ligget who was the foremost living expert on the subject testified to the House Judiciary Committee in 1930 that….
“…there is considerably more hard liquor being drunk than there was before the days of Prohibition and…drunk in more evil surroundings. He said [Washington D.C. had 300 bars before Prohibition: now it had 700 speakeasies, supplied by 4000 bootleggers. Police records showed that arrest for alcohol has tripled over the decade. Massachusetts has jumped from 1000 licensed saloons to 4000 speakeasies…Kansas was dry before Prohibition yet there was not a town where a total stranger could not tell you where to get a drink in fifteen minutes.”
A small desert town named Las Vegas was transformed into the world’s gambling capital. Because of Prohibition untold millions of dollars was reinvested into gambling, prostitution, and other assorted evils.
3) Prohibition drove division between the city and smaller towns of America. Bootleggers operated with public approval in the cities. Most urban men (not women) agreed with Mencken that Prohibition was the work of “ignorant bumpkins from the cow states who resent the fact that they had to swill raw corn liquor while city slickers got good wine and whiskey.”

The 18th Amendment was overturned by the 21st Amendment in 1933.

Christians can win the political war but lose the culture.  Even though Prohibition was a major win for evangelical Christians, the 1920’s cemented the end of the cultural control of pre-Civil War evangelical Protestantism. The nation began to develop an alternative culture through the entertainment industry. This could be represented in the developments of Hollywood and Jazz.

Hollywood was founded in 1887 by two strict Methodists, Horace and Daeidea Wilcox. The hope was to turn it into a haven for religious practice. When it was incorporated into a city in 1903 it banned liquor and the growing industry of movie houses. In 1910 it was forced to incorporate itself with Los Angeles in order to get water. However, in 1913 Los Angeles signed a petition with over 10,000 citizens to ban movie-making because it would bring immorality. By then, however, the Hollywood payroll was $20 million annually. The cultural momentum could not be stopped by force of law and regulation.
In 1890 there was not a single amusement arcade in New York. By 1900 there were a thousand. By 1908 there were 400 in New York City alone and they were spreading all across Northern cities. Many of these arcades contained Nickelodeons. These were movie pictures that could be seen for a nickle. They were silent and cheap. This had an extremely high appeal to the poor urban, non-English speaking immigrants. The Nickelodeons, arcades, and theaters were mostly owned by Jews. But the movie’s shorts were owned largely by Protestants. Thus Jews began to move to California where the litigation and governmental regulation was very lax and started their own movie patent companies. It was there that poor Jews of immediate immigrant stock began to build today’s movie empires. In 1915 Universal City was built by Carl Laemmle (1867-1939) and was producing a movie a day. William Fox (1879- 1927), born in Hungary, built the movie chain Twentieth Century-Fox.,  Louis B. Mayer (1885-1957), born in Russia, built Metro-Godwyn-Mayer. The Warner Brothers were two of nine children of a poor cobber from Poland.  In 1920 Gloria Swanson, who starred in Cecil B. Demille’s Male and Female (1919) and Why Change Your Wife (1920), built herself a twenty-two room, five bath “palace”, floored it in black marble, put in golden bath tubs and hung it in peacock silk. She said… 
☆☆☆“I will be every inch and moment a star.”☆☆☆
Jazz was also indicative of the entertainment change. The 1920’s had mass motoring, screaming advertising, endless movies, records sold by the millions–but above all it had jazz. Protestant America was rich in song, but not in a polyphonic music tradition. Yet blacks, though discouraged in many things, were encouraged to develop in music. Jazz was the development of blues and spirituals learned on the plantation combined with the folk music predominant in America. Yet this music was not bound by the old rules. In 1920 Dorthy Parker sang…
“I like to have a Martini/ Two at the very most./ After three I’m under the table./ After four I’m under the host.”

This whole effort was disastrous because the goal was not the expansion of God’s Story of Grace but rather the effort to gain Christian control of the nation.  The effort was not the expansion of God’s reign and rule through the gospel, it was the resurgence of legal control to a lifestyle that once was. 


Trusting God With My Identity

A long time ago, when I was young & stupid, I had a definite vision of who I was going to be & what I was going to do.  Mostly, I wanted to do great things…very specific great things that would make a big difference in the world.

As a young man, I had laser-like focus on the goals I was chasing.  I knew exactly what I wanted to do…what GOD wanted me to do…to change the world and make a name for myself.  There were people in my life in those years who were like superheroes to me, and I wanted to be just like them.  I set out to master the skills & traits of the young men I admired most, working hard to mimic their success.  In many ways, this worked well for me for several years; but eventually I began to struggle.  We all struggle with lots of things, and some of those struggles define ages of our lives and the lessons we fight to learn for the future.  There were several years in my past when, although many aspects of life & ministry were falling into place wonderfully, I wasn’t experiencing the dream I had chased, and was feeling like I was wearing someone else’s shoes.

I’ve gone through “identity crisis” a few times….it’s incredibly painful…but I’ve learned that God can be trusted.  I’m still learning to trust that God loves me indelibly and is proud of me even though I can’t change the world or be like those superheroes of my past.  I can just be me, and depend on Him that it’s enough.  He can be trusted with my reputation and fears.  He can be trusted to run my life, to interpret my past and teach me about my future.

Trusting God with one’s identity is a great challenge.  There are lots of loud voices vying for attention, but the One who knit me together body & soul still speaks & leads.  Today, I’m thankful that God still speaks, even though it’s 30 years later and I’m still stupid.  His voice is clear and terrible and beautiful when I remove distractions and sit with Him alone with my Bible in the woods.  This is part of what He told me this morning at Cooper Mountain Nature Park while I sat there in the stillness of the bright morning dew…listening.

I hope you can experience this too…He’s there waiting.


The Best Project We Ever Cancelled

About 2-years ago, Mr. & Mrs. Rader’s healthy, school-aged daughter Cali became seriously ill with an infection to the brain called viral encephalitis.  Since then, she has had a very difficult time, and has been at Providence Child Center in Portland, slowly recovering ever since.  This March, the Raders were informed that Cali would likely be ready to transition back home later this year.  She has reached the point where she can propel her wheelchair on her own and is interacting with others, among other signs of recovery.  The trouble is that the Rader home is not ready, having been built in 1954.  The Raders decided that they need to do whatever it takes to transform their home into compliance with ADA requirements, and have embarked on a massive addition project.  Mr. Rader is acting as the “general contractor” and builder, although he works full-time in an unrelated trade and has never done anything like this.  He has successfully obtained permits, redone the septic system, and recently finished the foundations with the help of Cali’s uncle (a contractor), friends & family members.  Their goal is to “dry-in” the addition before the rainy season kicks in mid-October.  Big Doug and I visited Roger in July, and he was totally overwhelmed and needing support.  We were so moved by the magnitude of the project, and desire to help them bring their daughter home, that we took the bull by the horns and scheduled to take over the framing portion of the project….praying that God would supply skilled volunteers for this big job, mainly from their church family at Newberg Christian Church (NCC).  What none of us knew at the time was that wheels of support were also spinning with NCC.

After finishing up the Homeless Liaison Project in Beaverton on Aug.31 I set my sights on the Rader project, which was supposed to start in less than 2 weeks.  I had conversations with senior pastor David Case, as well as service project coordinator Meredith Dougherty.  I was shocked to hear that over 100 volunteers, including many licensed contractors and trades professionals, had signed up to not just help….but to take it over!  They were completely overwhelmed by people offering to volunteer, donate materials & labor, and by contractors stepping up to oversee the process.  Have you ever been really excited to do something special for someone, only to find out that they or someone else had already done it?  It kind of takes the wind out of your sails…but this was different…this puts wind INTO my sails!  What an amazing example of what the local church is all about!  Meredith asked me if I was OK with them taking it over without Catalyst’s help, and I explained how excited I was that they were…not only that, but the weekend we had set aside for the Rader project can be used to assist yet another family in need instead.

I work with churches all the time to pull off big projects for people in need, and I’ve rarely seen the magnitude of committed care that NCC is bringing to bear on behalf of this family.  I’m truly amazed and inspired.  Way to go, Newberg Christian Church!

BTW, a “Go Fund Me” page has been created to help the Raders with material costs.  If you are interested in supporting this project with funding, visit