The Gift of Mercy

The Gift of Mercy

Of the seven spiritual gifts listed in Romans 12, the last – but, I believe, the greatest yet least appreciated and most abused – is mercy.

As I watch and sense what God is doing with an emerging new spiritual generation, I see that their dominant characteristic is mercy. I also have begun to realize that God wants to use “mercies” (those with the primary spiritual gift of mercy) as catalysts to unleash additional gifts in others. That, in turn, will bring this rising generation to new pastures where God wants to dwell among us.

This doesn’t mean everyone in this new spiritual generation has mercy as their dominant individual spiritual gift. But as a whole, they nonetheless seem to collectively exhibit the main motivations of mercy – which are a deep, personal craving for the presence of God and for genuine intimacy with others.

As a result, this rising generation has little interest or patience with the moral and cultural wars of my generation, or with our prevailing hypocrisy as we tried to fix everyone else but failed to exhibit God’s presence in our own lives. Nor can they understand the focus on programs and institutions – with a resulting lack of authentic community – among older Christians.

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Following God’s Presence

Today in the jail, after two hours of powerful ministry between the men one to another, they stopped and said they decided earlier this week to do something for me. They then stood around me, laid hands on me, and prayed the most wonderful, tender prayers of blessing I’ve ever heard.

I cried as I realized what they were doing, because they’ve learned – maybe with some of them for the first time in their lives – to give rather than always take or receive.

After months of mentoring them on “being” the church (see my blog, The Church in D Pod), they heeded God’s gentle call to new pastures. As a result, they now “get” it and wonderful life is flowing between them and from them – even to me!

How many church leaders – who so closely guard the microphone and the prerogatives of their front podium as they try to direct even God himself during their closely scripted and controlled Sunday services – have ever experienced the joy of being just one of many?

Do they realize they have no monopoly on the many spiritual gifts God wants us to give as acts of worship, to Him and in fellowship one with another?

If not, then they are missing the blessing of letting life and ministry flow under the prompting of the Holy Spirit – not simply from them, but to and around them.

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Discovering Our Motivational Gifts

Each of us is born with a personality that’s uniquely tailored to what God created us to do with our lives.

OptionsUnderstanding God’s calling, and the associated personality He’s gifted us with, is not difficult: Our calling matches our gifts, and our gifts match our passions.

Furthermore, when we use our gifts and fulfill our calling according to God’s will, we feel His pleasure – in addition to our own.

There’s a problem, however, when our validation comes from using our gifts or pursing our calling, instead of pleasing God. Rather than being content with God saying “well done, thou good and faithful servant,” we seek legitimacy in who we are, what we do, how others react to us, or in the results of our actions.

Such validation comes from and is focused on us, rather than God.

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The Church in D Pod

This Sunday, like most Sundays, I will be fellowshipping with the “Church in D Pod” at the local jail.

D Pod is a unit housing around a hundred men, and God has been pouring out his new wine in an exciting way among those inmates.

A couple of months ago, I started shifting my focus from “conducting” church services “for” the men. God was challenging me to start mentoring and training them instead to “be” the church by learning to minister one to another.

At the same time, God sovereignly arranged for two brothers from Africa — where Christians generally are way ahead of their American brothers and sisters on these issues — to be jailed in that unit. They, too, understood the concept of ministering one to another and started fostering authentic fellowship among the men.

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The Sunday “God Show” at Your Friendly Podium Church

When did “church” become a podium-focused “God Show” watched by passive spectators for an hour or so each Sunday morning?

Where do we even find that in Scripture?

I believe that the days of the “podium church” and the Sunday “God show”are passing — where we gaze each Sunday past the back of the head in front of us to passively watch carefully scripted ministry delivered from a front podium through a tightly controlled microphone.

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New Wine Sucks

As God brings forth new wine in a new generation, there’s a fundamental dynamic that can’t be ignored. To put it bluntly, new wine sucks!

In my younger days, I was an amateur wine maker. So I know what Jesus means when he says, “no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better.'” (Luke 5:39)

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New Wine And Old Skins

Here’s an interesting article, reprinted below, on how people will stick to what they believe or think even in the face of contrary facts or circumstances. As I’ve watched people react to challenges and controversies Something Newover the last couple of months, and to God bursting old wine skins as he brings forth new wine, I can believe it!

Isaiah 9:6-8 tells us that God’s Kingdom, from the incarnation onward, has been and will continue to be ever advancing. As such, God is constantly fermenting new wine — and providing new wine skins to contain it — as his progressive plan of redemption moves forward from one spiritual generation to each successive spiritual generation (which can include individuals of all ages!). God’s active and ever expanding intervention in history is clear, and his tendency to discard the old while bringing in the new is repeatedly seen in Scripture.

Yet it never failed to fascinate me, as a graduate student in church history back in the 1970s, to see how — time and time again — most Christians reject God’s new wine of new anointing for new generations. Instead, they choose to stick with their old wine and old wine skins.

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New Covenant Fellowship? Beware!

New Covenant Fellowship? Beware!

New Covenant Fellowship in Manassas, Virginia, started out as a great church twenty-five years ago under a gifted pastor who’s since left. Under the current “pastor/elders” (the term they choose for themselves), massive numbers of additional people have left as the church sinks into cult practices and cult doctrines. As a result, attendance has plunged from thousands to barely thirty adults on Sunday mornings.

  • Robin Bayles, the current senior “pastor/elder”, has been secretly enriching himself with around $200k annually from church funds for a sizable salary, a generous housing allowance, numerous benefits and various other perks amounting to somewhere around a million dollars in total Phonyover the last several years — despite the tiny size of the congregation and the fact that he doesn’t even work at the church but works for an unrelated organization. When his self-enrichment was exposed, he denied it and falsely claimed to have taken only a small fraction of the true amount.
  • Robin Bayles has personally acquired and gained wealth from numerous investment rental properties purchased with funds taken from the church. He also has been employed nearly full time for many years — and earns a significant income — from his separate employer. Nonetheless, he has tried to manipulate his shrinking congregation and justify his self-enrichment from church funds with false pleas of poverty.

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Confessions of an Excommunicant

Yup. It’s true. In 2009, I was “disfellowshipped” from New Covenant Fellowship in Manassas, Virginia – and in an odd sort of way I felt deeply honored!

I first posted this for a few months on my old blog in 2009, but decided to dust it off and make it public once again under its original publication date. Fortunately, it migrated over – with its original publication date and original comments still preserved – when I set up this new blog in late 2009.

I’m re-posting my story because many others have experienced similar fates as they try to deal with abusive leaders who hide their leadership sins behind a wall of unaccountability and by intimidating – and then expelling – all voices of integrity from their church.

I hope my experience encourages others to have the courage to raise legitimate concerns under Biblical procedures, even if it means being kicked out of your church. Stand firm, because there is life after “excommunication”!

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Dealing with Chronic Fatigue

My closest friends have seen me walk through some very difficult times with my health over the last several years. Where others see the “together”, upbeat and accomplished Jim, they see the reserved, careful and slow-paced Jim who is learning to live with chronic fatigue.

This all started several years ago. I had founded and was running a number of successful international businesses, including a law firm and a cutting edge scientific consulting firm. But in 2006 I had to walk away from it all due to debilitating chronic fatigue that began more than a year earlier.

Stress As a Factor

At first, I thought I was struggling with routine burnout – which I now realize may have been a factor but was not the full story. In early 2008, my doctors discovered that I had been suffering from a very rare autoimmune condition called systemic sclerosis (sometimes known as scleroderma).

Initially, I was relieved to know that my fatigue wasn’t “all in my head” and that I really hadn’t gotten lazy. But that didn’t make the fatigue or the impact it was having on my life any less devastating.

Eventually, as I researched systemic sclerosis and talked to my doctors, I learned that stress – as typically is the case in many autoimmune diseases – was a big issue. It doesn’t necessary cause the disease, but it can trigger the onset and then exasperate the symptoms.

With me, those symptoms – which on top of the fatigue also included mild depression, chronic pain and joint stiffness – had become so bad that in 2007 I couldn’t function anymore in the basic aspects of life. By early 2008 I was reduced to walking with a cane due to the fatigue and the overall pain, and my prospects were bleak.

I ended up losing everything: my marriage, my family, my businesses, my wealth and eventually my sense of self.

Since then, God has been bringing resolution to many of the stressful relationships that were making things worse – sometimes by giving me the grace to let folks go who couldn’t otherwise handle my deteriorating situation.

As I began to find my validity in how He defines me – rather than how I and others were defining me – I’ve seen great improvements. As part of that process, I’ve also been learning to manage any stress that still occasionally surfaces by understanding, more and more, that God – rather than some circumstance – is sovereign over my life!

Overall, as I’ve been re-discovering the joy and wonder of life, most of the more severe symptoms of the disease have abated. The pain has lessened (although I still need various medications, but at greatly reduced doses) and since early this year the intensity of the fatigue has decreased.

Nonetheless, I still have fairly constant, low-level chronic fatigue.

Running Out of Energy

To those wondering about chronic fatigue, the best way to describe it is to contrast my life with “normal” folks.

Most folks wake up each morning with essentially a full reservoir of energy. Think of it as a big gallon jar (although the size of the jar will vary from person to person) that’s filled with stamina and spunk.

Someone who is healthy uses and replenishes the energy in their jar throughout a typical day. They do some things that are a net energy drain, but they also restore their stamina by doing other things that energize them. Those things vary from person to person, but their jar very seldom runs totally dry and after a good night’s sleep the jar usually is full again and ready for a new day. (And please, don’t tell me how drained you are at the end of the day — unless you have experienced chronic fatigue, you have no idea how much energy you really have even after a particularly exhausting day!)

Someone suffering from chronic fatigue has the same gallon jar, but they struggle with all of the expectations – both their own and from others – of what they once could do each day with their normal reservoir of energy. But now the gallon jar is never full – it is partially empty even when they wake up from a good night’s sleep. More significantly, as they participate in the activities of life, those things that once energized them can’t replenish their energy as quickly as before.

Two Kinds of Fatigue

With my systemic sclerosis, I’ve experienced two kinds of chronic fatigue. With one kind, the valve used to draw energy out of my jar is very, very constricted. I can’t suck much energy out at any one time. It’s like stepping on the gas pedal, but the car barely sputters along and lacks power. There’s gas in the tank, but I just can’t get it flowing fast enough to run the engine at full speed.

That’s what it was like when my fatigue started and I ended up divesting myself of all of my business and professional interests. I just couldn’t get enough energy flowing to do much of anything. The simple, routine tasks of life were nearly impossible — even when I was motivated and wanting to do more.

With the second kind of chronic fatigue, the valve is able to handle a full flow of energy and I rev up my engine just like normal people. The problem is, there’s just not as much energy to keep that flow going. In this example, I step on the pedal and the car accelerates to 60 mph just fine, but it’s just not going to go very far before the tank runs dry. To use another analogy, I am “good in the moment” and full of spunk and life, but when the task at hand is finished, so am I! This is more like my life now, although I’ve learned some important coping mechanisms.

Pacing Myself

Under either type of chronic fatigue, I’ve learned to pace myself if I want to keep from depleting my energy jar. I don’t have as much energy in my jar as most folks, and even if I’m able to get a good flow of stamina going, I know I can’t replenish that energy fast enough to take on the whole day at a “normal” pace.

This means I need to carefully regulate my activities throughout the day so that I don’t use more energy than is needed for the entire day and it’s expected activities, while also protecting my ability to do those things that energize me (howbeit more slowly than normal) – which may be a nap, lunch with a close friend, taking a quiet walk, reading a good book, generally just chillin’ out, bass fishing or whatever.

For those suffering from chronic fatigue, and those dealing with this condition in friends and loved ones, accept what’s happening. Denial is deadly! Everyone involved needs to adapt to an entirely new reality. If you have chronic fatigue, don’t beat up on yourself because you can’t do everything you once did at the pace you once did it. Such guilt only causes more stress and makes your situation worse. Rather, find joy in simplifying your life and learning to focus on what’s truly important. Also learn to let others do some of the things for you that you previously did yourself – for me, allowing this remains very hard but I’m learning to adjust.

Most of all, learn to monitor how much energy you have left in your jar at any given time, how much energy is needed (and how quickly you need it) when evaluating what you should and shouldn’t do, avoid over-doing things, and find time for the things that uniquely replenish your energy reserves (while factoring in the reality that it will take longer than normal).

Adjusting to Reality

When dealing with chronic fatigue, you will feel guilty and struggle for a season over what you can’t do. Others may not understand your slower pace, or why you can be perfectly “normal” when doing one thing but then need to excuse yourself from further activities. But if that relationship is worth keeping, they will learn to accept and understand your limitations. But most of all, take joy in learning all of the new things you can do as you re-order the obligations and responsibilities of life. If you let it, that will be a wonderful journey of discovery.

The bottom line is that you need to get comfortable with figuring out your own pace and activities so that you minimize how frequently your energy jar runs dry. It will take some time, but I’m learning that it certainly can be done.

Despite it all, I have found that a slower paced life – where I can take the time to relish fulfilling relationships, focus on the truly important things of life, and enjoy those things that renew my energy – is more fulfilling than my past life. For that, I’m grateful and I can’t imagine ever going back to the hectic, stress-filled existence I once fought so hard to foolishly preserve.

In an odd way, I have become a better and a happier person.

~ Jim Wright

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Fellowship and Light

Self Delusion

Self Delusion

“This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:5-9 (KJV)

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Woundedness

On Sunday I taught men in the jail, using Psalms 116:5-7 (ESV), about moving from woundedness to life. I challenged them not to settle for mere comfort when confronting hurt, but to embrace life instead.

Gracious is the LORD, and righteous;
   our God is merciful.
The LORD preserves the simple;
   when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest;
   for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.

When hurt and wounded, too often all we can muster is a desire for God’s comfort or soothing presence. Although he’ll sometimes do that, what he really wants is to move us past woundedness into brokenness – that low place where we are willing to surrender to him. Only then can we hope to experience the bountiful life, both in us and around us, that comes from finding and finally doing God’s joyous will.

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Sufficient Grace

Sufficient Grace

When did Christians start believing that God wants us to always be healthy, wealthy and free of adversity?

If asked directly, most believers would deny that’s what they think. But our actions say otherwise.

A Devastating Diagnosis

I started noticing this when I contracted a rare, degenerative autoimmune disease called systemic sclerosis (aka scleroderma). It took years to finally link my symptoms to a specific diagnosis, but when it came, it was devastating.

Although it initially hit me hard, it seemed to hit others even harder.

As family and friends learned of my condition, they often reacted with shock. Some simply deserted me – usually because they couldn’t deal with their own pain or awkwardness over my condition. Other times, they left because I couldn’t continue being the fount of money or financial security they had come to expect. I quickly learned who were my true friends, and my true family.

Praying At God

Among my remaining friends, many responded by asking to pray over me. Sometimes they’d say that God told them I’d be healed. Although God hadn’t told me that, I would be gracious, let them pray and listen to their assurances. I appreciated their concern, but what struck me most was how they were reacting more out of their own anxieties than anything else.

Because their theology couldn’t explain why God allowed this to happen to me, they needed to vigorously pray at God and at me in order to drown out their own uncertainties and insecurities. They knew that if this could happen to me, then it could happen to them or their loved ones. That’s not what they signed up for when they became Christians!

Rather than “hearing” from God about my situation, they were telling God what He needed to do or what they thought He should do. After all, if He’s God and all powerful, loving and just, then they couldn’t understand why bad things happen to good Christians.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate prayers! But prayers motivated by anxiety over God’s seeming failings, and by our own fears over sickness and adversities, quickly become tiring to the purported beneficiary.

I have one very close friend who’s an associate pastor. He has cancer and would duck out of church several minutes early to avoid all of the “words from God” and anxiety-filled prayers that otherwise descended on him at the end of each service. I could relate (although things have since cooled down for me, and, I understand, for him too).

Touching God’s Heart

When I was first diagnosed, maybe one out of twenty-five of my remaining friends and acquaintances, at most, would actually come and pray for me in the security of God’s sovereignty and could then truly touch God’s heart regarding my condition. And God’s heart was to simply say He was with me. By ministering from that place of peace which only comes from total surrender to God’s will – without presumption or expectation of outcome – their prayers were like cool drinks in a barren land.

Those ministering out of anxiety, however, couldn’t understand why God would let this happen. Implicit was the assumption that God owed me, and Christians in general, a free pass when it comes to the realities of our fallen world and imperfect mortal bodies.

But there’s no such promise in Scripture. Rather, God simply assures us that His grace is sufficient for all that may befall us.

Peace Despite an Uncertain Fate

I have several very close friends who also have faced a life threatening issue or other major crisis. Once they were able to accept God’s grace in their situations, and surrender to His will without precondition or expectation of outcome, a depth of fellowship and understanding developed that’s hard to describe. To a person, we would not trade that grace for anything – including health and healing.

I’m no saint, and I have my down days. I want to be a good steward and so I struggle at times with my future and with what, if any, plans and decisions I can make given my uncertain fate. But generally, the high price of admission has been worth the grace gained as God embraced my infirmities.

Unless you too have been there, I suspect this is hard to understand.

It’s not fatalism – far from it. It’s life from brokenness. It’s peace and calm from being able to finally surrender to God’s perfect will, even with no idea what His will may be, because you finally understand – both at the logical and also at the emotional level – that life only has significance and fulfillment in him. He created us, so who knows better what to do with our lives?

It’s not premised on any assumption of outcome, other than knowing that your life never belonged to you anyway and it’s God’s to do with as He pleases – even to the point of death.

Becoming Whole Despite Infirmities

I’m in God’s hands. If His will is to call me home, that’s OK. If His will is healing, that’s OK too. If it’s something in between, then there is peace in the promise of His grace for the journey.

It is, more than anything else, being with Jesus in the garden on the night He was betrayed. He was all too human as He cried out for deliverance from His impending cross. After getting past His initial deep, deep anguish, Jesus found assurance only when He could truly say to the Father “not my will, but thy will be done.” He could then endure the cross because of the resulting peace that comes from trust and obedience.

To my healthy friends, think about this. If everyone who made Jesus their Lord suddenly experienced perfect health, perfect wealth, and no adversity or pain, then who would come to Jesus for Jesus’ sake? No one, that’s who! We would all flock to him for what He can do for us, rather than for what He wants of us.

And what does He want? Simply everything, including our will and our very lives. He then uses our total commitment to redeem His creation, despite its fallenness

… and to reconcile people to Himself, despite our brokenness.

In His wisdom, God normally doesn’t exempt us from our frailties or the consequences of a fallen world. Rather, He makes us complete in our weakness. Our lives then demonstrate that His grace is sufficient, despite the consequences of humanity’s rebellion, and that it is only through Him that we become whole, despite our infirmities.

I truly don’t know what God intends for me. I only know that I need to walk in His grace and abide in His will day-by-day as I trust my future to Him – without any presumption of outcome.

When He’s done with this life, He’ll take me home. Until then, my life is His and my imperfect desire is to serve Him with all I have, and all I am, as He gives me grace for the journey ahead.

(c) Copyright 2009, Fulcrum Ministries. All Rights Reserved.


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Soon after writing this in early 2009, my systemic sclerosis began to slowly and miraculously retreat and by the end of 2009 had gone into low level remission – to the astonishment of my doctors. Needless to say, however, the experience of dealing with the implications and initial health effects from the disease changed me deeply.

In late 2011, my symptoms started re-surging, and in early 2012 a pulmonary function test indicated that the disease had entered my lungs, which is not good.

Although I don’t know what the future holds, I nonetheless remain eternally grateful to have found sufficient grace. Or, to put it more accurately, that Sufficient Grace found me. 

Been Hearing God Lately?

joy

Life and Joy

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how Jesus fellowshipped with Adam.

It was in the garden, where the two of them walked side by side and talked face to face in the cool of the evening. Jesus met Adam in his full humanity, where life sprang forth both in and around Adam.

It took me a long time to learn that it’s OK to be human and that God wanted to meet me too in my full humanity.

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God Shows Up

As “Mr. Analytical,” I’m the least probable person I know to be doing pastoral counseling, but God seems to have given me a special grace to walk with people to those places where He wants to meet them in very powerful, transforming and healing ways. I guess it’s one of those spiritual ironies that God uses to confound us. He works through the least likely to insure that the glory is His.

Whether in the jail or in my home study, I deal weekly with issues that – believe me – exceed anything you might imagine. But the Lord meets us in amazing ways, and men and women find freedom in just one or two sessions from decades of emotional and spiritual bondage.

God shows up!

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Pentecost in the Local Jail

Pentecost in the Local Jail

In 2007 over 75 men in the local jail – comprising more than a forth of those incarcerated in the “modular” building – had a dramatic encounter with God.

For some time, I’d been feeling that we were falling short with the men who were coming to the Lord or re-dedicating their lives through various outreaches in the jail. God was bringing men to salvation on a weekly basis, and over the previous months I’d been involved in scores of men becoming Christians. Others involved in ministry at the jail were having similar reports.

We were being successful in leading the men to Christ and were doing a good job teaching them God’s principles. The men had a heart to follow the Lord, and a basic understanding of how God wanted them to act and live.

The problem, however, was that they lacked the power to do so effectively, and when they got out, they were falling prey to old habits and circumstances. Although they had hearts that want more of God, and had understanding, they lacked the power to be overcomers.

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