The Power of God to Provide & Recognizing the Person of Jesus

moran-park

Recently I was honored with two speaking opportunities — one at the Japanese Worship Service in Battle Creek, MI and the other at our home church, Moran Park in Holland, MI.

Last weekend Pastor Bob Herman was speaking on John 6 (the multiplying of the loaves and fishes), and in discussions with him leading up to his sermon, He decided that some of my life experiences fit into the message.

It was a great experience, and I felt to privileged to introduce myself to a church I love so much and share some of the things God has taught me in my experience as a believer and missionary.

The whole message is around 30 minutes, and my segment begins at around 20 minutes in.

Listen to “Jesus Is Who He Says He Is” or perhaps a better title, “The Main Thing is to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing.”

Prophetic Deliverance

I had the benefit of receiving deliverance ministry about 18 months ago, which helped me find freedom at a whole new level in my life. This past week, I was able to study under experienced teachers and get some hands on training for five deliverances. I’ve had more than a few questions about the trip, so I thought I would share what I’ve been learning.

For those of you who are not in the know or are a little unsure of what I mean by “deliverance,” deliverance is casting out demons. It’s not figurative speech or a metaphor for some type of inner-healing ministry (though often the two go hand-in-hand). I just mean casting out demons, Jesus-style.

Some Problems with Deliverance in America

Deliverance is by no means a new ministry, but in the States it’s difficult to find people who won’t complicate it with a 29-step program, a 300-page self-help book or (in some churches) a three-hour scream session that ends with puking in a bucket. Of all the ministries in the church today, deliverance is probably the least understood and the most stigmatized.

And it makes sense — for the majority, the fact that demons can even exist would take a huge leap of the imagination. We’ve rationalized the stories we hear in the bible with explanations of psychological instability or mental illness, which may or may not have anything to do with demonization. For most of the remainder who actually do believe in demons, they find them debilitating and terrifying, lacking any knowledge of the simple authority Christ has given us.

So How Does it Work?

I don’t mean to make this overly academic — I simply haven’t studied the topic far enough beyond its practical applications to do so, but here are a few things I’ve learned about deliverance in the past couple of years:

Believers can also be demonized

A few years ago, when some close friends of mine were telling me about their own deliverance experiences, I was extremely resistant to the idea that I needed deliverance. I had the idea that believers couldn’t be demonized and more so, spirit-filled believers could not be demonized. How could God’s spirit inhabit the same space as the enemies?

This question was mostly unanswered when eventually my desire to move forward in my Christian walk overpowered my pride to be theologically right, and I went ahead to get delivered all the same.

On the other side of it, I’ve had the opportunity to do some study to explain how this works to others.

In the new testament, there are three words used to describe the concept of demon possession. The Greek words show up in our English bibles as “oppressed,” “possessed,” and “to have” as in, “she had a demon.” “To have” literally means what it sounds like, but it’s interesting that both “oppressed” (katadunasteuó) and “possessed” (daimonizomai) are often translated interchangeably and share the same core definition “to be under the power of.”

Being demonized doesn’t meant that your every move is decided by evil spirits. They can’t and don’t “own” you — God owns you. You are the victim of constant brutal attack that is so severe, it can warp your behavior and worldview permanently. Most believers are mature enough in their faith to avoid manifestations of these spirits, but being unaware of their attack, they internalize their oppressors mindsets and can act out of them.

Demons also operate at two levels, internally and externally. A rejection demon, for example, will cause you to interpret the all actions of others as rejection. Some individuals will respond by feeling hurt or by preimtively sabotaging their relationships to avoid the pain of rejection. At the same time, that demon will also go out before you to create situations or influence others to avoid you. In a sense, they’ll make you feel unapproachable.

Inner-healing starts with deliverance

When we get a headache, we reach for a bottle of aspirin. A couple pills and a few minutes later, that headache will probably go away. We’ve successfully treated the symptom.

We do the same thing in the church today. Through a heavy focus on discipleship and inner-healing, we can patch up our wounds and get ourselves on the right path. That said, often times, the underlying problems remains, and most believers admittedly are in a constant battle to be free of old habits and sins.

I was speaking last week with some pastors who have been doing an inner-healing ministry called Sozos for years. Sozos can often be long, drawn-out sessions where Sozo leaders will guide their seekers through hours of searching to find and identify past lies and hurts.

These same ministers said that after they started doing deliverance ministry about a year ago, they can get through most Sozos in less than an hour. Without the underlying cause for some of the problems attempting to conceal and avoid the issue, they can cut right to the heart of the matter.

In short, if you’ve been working at something for days/months/years and it’s still not getting better, there’s probably a deeper cause rooted in demonization.

Deliverance is about authority

Big shows of flopping around with shouting and extensive use of buckets and holy water are exactly what demons want: excuses to further torment people.

Demons respond only to authority, the kind of authority that comes directly from God. During the deliverance sessions we did last week, after praying through humility and protection, our team immediately binds any unclean spirit and prevents demonic manifestations through the authority that Christ gave us.

The team I worked with as done dozens of deliverances over the past year, and of those they have only seen a handful of people show any manifestations at all. One of these manifestations happened on a different team at the same retreat we did last week.

We were waiting and chatting before another session when we heard heavy breathing come from the next room. Rushing over to see what was wrong, we found the seeker flopping back and forth in her chair and gasping for air. We later learned that this particular woman had been involved in voodoo magic in Costa Rica. She had used black magic, and when they found out they were under attack, they went and found another voodoo witch doctor to do white magic for them. Of course, she was brimming in spiritual darkness when she showed up. As soon as she walked in the room before the team was able to pray for her, she started to manifest.

At first the team reacted poorly, and everyone was in disarray attempting to take authority of the matter. When my friend, who was leading our team, arrived into the other room, he asked if he could help. He calmly had everyone return to their seats and very quietly spoke to the spirit and commanded it to stop manifesting. In less than a minute, the demon was bound, and the rest of the deliverance session took just a few minutes.

It was simple authority in Christ that prevented the demon from tormenting

Prophetic deliverance differentiators

There are about as many opinions about methods for deliverance as their are believers, so I recognize that it would be naive to claim that the methods we used last week were the only methods or some how the best.

That said, I have never seen or heard of a method that brought freedom that was as fast and painless as prophetic deliverance.

Here are a few of the things that we do differently:

  1. We don’t do deliverance alone. There’s little biblical precedent for the apostles or any of Jesus’s disciples operating in this ministry independently. It’s dangerous, and prophetic ministry relies on the biblical principle of testing one another’s words. We work in teams of no less than four.
  2. As I mentioned before, we do not allow demons to manifest in any way, and we never provoke demons to act. The seeker usually has already suffered enough, and we don’t want demons to get any last huzzah.
  3. Prophetic deliverance is prophetic. We don’t ask any questions of the seeker at all, but we go directly to the Holy Spirit to ask him to show us exactly what the afflicting spirit is.
  4. Prophetic deliverance focuses on identifying and casting out the chief and ruling spirit. Demons are incredibly hierarchical and legalistic. Identifying the most powerful and ruling spirit, allows our team to cast it out first and then all of its underlings.
  5. Deliverance works well when the ministers do not have a relationship with the seeker. This allows our team to be completely reliant on the Spirit to discern spirits, bringing in no history or human perspective. Family members or friends are not allowed to operate in the session, nor are they allowed to observe.

Well folks, this is already way to long for a normal blog post, but I’ve had more than a few folks asking Emi and I about our experiences, so I thought it would be worth it to get some of this down on paper. Really, this is by no means an all-encompassing description — just some trends I’ve noticed.

Whale Sharks! and Atlanta

GAAquarium
By this point, if you’re the faithful reading type, you’ve probably noticed the absence of California Trip Part II. Shortly after recovering from the illness that allotted me the free time to write the former post, I was launched into extreme busyness with school and visa applications and work. Fortunately, this holiday weekend has given me a little extra time to catch up on important things like writing. The rest of the California trip is quite important, but it’s quickly fading in my memory, so I hope to get up a short post about it soon.

More recently, Emi and I just returned from a fantastic trip down to Atlanta. Here’s a little table contents:

  1. Chick-fil-a
  2. Sharks & Fish & Groupon & Whatnot
  3. Prophetic Deliverance
  4. Seared Sashimi
  5. Tomahawk Chop

Chick-fil-a

Typical Chick-fil-a Signage
Typical Chick-fil-a Signage

For those of you who’ve been there, you’ll know that Chick-fil-a is one of the best restaurants in Georgia/the South/the whole planet. Visiting our good friends, getting ministry training and going through deliverance were really just the guise for once again tasting the exquisite flavors of fried chicken and waffle fries that were at one time reserved only for a select few south of the Mason Dixon. Though over the past decades her reach has widened to include segments of the Midwest, we Michiganders continue to wait in eager anticipation for the borders of the Chick-fil-a Empire to reach our yet culinarily-bankrupt state.

During one of two journeys to the Dwarf House of Newnan, I made a new discovery – Chick-fil-a breakfast: Fluffy scrambled eggs, cheese and bacon on an old-timey biscuit. Yes, a biscuit. Delicious.

Sharks & Fish & Groupon & Whatnot

Emi and settled in quickly at Cody and Danielle’s home. Also living in the home were Derek (another native Hollander) and three cats. The cats and I have history, which is why, with a great deal of help from the Wahls, we created a barricade for a veritable “safe house” in one of the upstairs bedrooms. To protect me and my sinuses from the literal pounds of cat hair that these three creatures can produce, the safe house was carefully swept and vacuumed, equipped with a sub-industrial air filter, and kept under lock and key days before our arrival. I considered establishing a password system of knocks to arrange for entry to the safe house but ultimately abandoned it as frivolous.

This section was supposed to be about sharks. My first ever encounter with Groupon, at Cody’s suggestion, allowed us to get a great deal to Georgia Aquarium, which houses what I’m told is the world’s largest fish tank (two-foot thick glass, 100-foot underwater tunnel, massive viewing room). It’s got four, I say, four whale sharks and a bunch of other stuff. The whole house of us (not including the cats) had to make the trip. Just watch these videos:

Whale Shark!

Jellies

Playful Otters

Killer Octopus

Big Fish Tank

Yes, according to the website, “the most magical aquarium habitat in the world.”

Prophetic Deliverance

On Friday and Saturday, we had the great opportunity to study under our good friend Vicki and Cody to learn about prophetic deliverance. I attended a ministry training the first day, and on Saturday got the chance to get my hands dirty in a few deliverances. Yes, that means casting out demons, which when done correctly in partnership with Christ, is way more fun than it sounds. I’m putting together another post on prophetic deliverance, which you can check out if you have some extra time to read.

Seared Sashimi

I’ve known my good friend Cody since we were elementary school together; I’ve enjoyed his company since we graduated high school together; and I’ve just in the past few months come to respect his taste buds. Indeed, in the past five years, Cody’s diet has gone from bulk-frozen-burritos-eaten-bite-to-bite-with-a-squeeze-of-barbecue-sauce to vegan-health-nut to well-adjusted-man-about-town. God has blessed and enlightened him.

While studying a few minutes outside of town, he stumbled upon one of Georgia’s best culinary finds (besides Chik-fil-a) — a Hawaiian-operated and themed restaurant that serves the best Cajun-seared tuna sashimi.

After lunch, our crew had a good chance to tour his school (UWG) before we headed back to ATL for the Braves game.

Tomahawk Chop

Emi’s first experience with a major league sports involved a lot of chopping. The Braves Tomahawk Chop is one of the more recent customs of a major league sports team steeped in tradition. Here’s a video explaining how it started. I won’t blame you if you get bored halfway through.

Long Boring Video

15-Second Video of Us Chopping

I’m not normally a fan of the huge-crowds lots of noise type of events, but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity for “America’s pastime.” Although the girls complained of soreness in their tomahawk chop muscles the following day, it was a great way to close out our trip.

California Trip Part I

 

I was looking forward to being sick. Lacking time management skills and general self-control, sickness (when it’s not completely debilitating) affords me an excuse to skip some work, stop worrying and think. It also provides me ample time to read and write, two things that consistently escape me during the regular hustle-bustle.

It’s been about two weeks since we returned from our California trip, and at the very least, I owe my readers (oh ye few and loyal) an update.

Japanese Marathon

My Japanese professor has emphasized, and correctly so, that cultural emersion is the best way to learn a language. Part of our class involves periodic “Japanese Marathons” where students are required to engage in 200 minutes or so of Japanese language activities throughout the week.

Fortunately for me, the first week of my California trip was complete emersion into Japanese culture. Unfortunately for me, my class’s Japanese marathon began on the second week.

Emi and I stayed in the decent-sized apartment that belongs collectively to my father-in-law, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and my wife’s sister’s future husband or wife’s future brother-in-law, depending on how your describe it. They’re all Japanese and speak primarily Japanese with one another all the time. I loved being able to listen to Japanese all-day every day. It was challenging and stretching, but I’ll admit that at the end of seven days, I was really craving some English conversation.

The neighborhood was Asian, as were all adjacent neighborhoods. In fact, I can probably count the number of white faces I saw that week on my fingers.

Increasing the general Japaneseness of the week was the preeminence of my sister-in-law (Mari) and wife’s future brother-in-law/now brother-in-law (Hajime), a formal event for which Japanese people pull out all the stops.

Hajime’s family wonderfully fulfills every positive cultural stereotype you can think of for Japanese. Hajime, well-studied in martial arts, and his father both are world-class sushi chef’s; one of his brothers develops video games at Konami; another brother does high-class baking in Japan; another manages and serves food at a high-class Japanese restaurant regularly visited by famous people like Mark Wahlberg; and all have training in traditional Japanese Taiko drumming. They’re pretty much awesome.

LA

There are a great number of things to do in LA, including visiting cousins, which I did not do (slaps forehead) because I simply forgot. Besides the wedding, Emi and I focused on mainly on food. Because the area of the city we stayed in is pretty much cut and paste from mainland Asia, we were able to sample some of the continent’s best, including dim sum, excellent sushi, green tea shaved snow, 85°, tea shops, and Olive Garden. Yes, Olive Garden.

Visiting Hajime’s restaurant was definitely one of the highlights our trip. It was great to see the man completely in his element, demonstrating the skills he’s crafted with over a decade of experience.

Hajime at Work

The shrimp you see at the end of the video are my new favourite type of sushi. They’re called sweet shrimp, and they were still alive about 60 seconds before I ate them. Hajime beheaded them with his bare hands (what a bad a$$), cleaned them and served them right in front of us. Everything was unbelievably delicious.

The Wedding

This blog post is getting painfully long for you, I know, so I should get to the most important part: the wedding. Mari and Hajime had a beautiful wedding, and although Mari had the general sense that everything was going to be a disaster, it ended up being perfect.
Hajime’s father, who owns the sushi restaurant, graciously and generously offered the reception at the restaurant with an all-you-can-eat buffet of excellent sushi and an open bar with high-end sake.

Mari & Hajime Crack the Sake Barrel

Hajime and his staff worked days ahead of time to prepare everything for the event. And, for the reception, a famous sushi chef flew in from Japan just to serve sushi at the wedding. Ever heard of Jiro? Compared to this guy, an amateur…

Hajime’s brother, the baker, flew back from Japan and spent three days creating the cake, which was a work of art:

Kinta’s Cake

Remember what I said about the Koshu brothers? Well, we also had the privilege of seeing a great Taiko drum demonstration at the wedding too, and the groom wasn’t too shy to participate too.

Taiko Drum Demonstration

All-in-all, it was a wonderful event, and Emi and I were so happy and blessed to be a part of it.

Foreigners & Students: Our January Update

januaryupdate

Greetings from the icy cold of Michigan, or as my Holland readers call it, “next door.”

It’s getting dangerously close to six weeks since our last post, so it seems like a good time for an update. A good friend of mine and ex-roommate prefaces his newsletter updates with a nice table of contents. So I’ll take a take page out of Megill’s proverbial book and do the same:

Table of Contents

  1. Regent University
  2. Gaijin LLC
  3. Free Time
  4. YMCA
  5. Upcoming Trip to CA
    – Mari’s Wedding
    – David & Berkeley
    – Nate & Redding
  6. Ending

Regent University

As some of you may know, Emi felt the prompting to go back to school again. With a special loathing for social media management and some dissatisfaction with the humble earnings of an otherwise rewarding career in Japanese language education—two of her many entrepreneurial exploits—Emi has decided to turn her nearly completely unemployable bachelor’s degree in psychology into a significantly more employable master’s degree in professional counseling.

I know my father-in-law is exceedingly proud to see his daughter follow in his footsteps and equally eager to hire her as soon as we’re able to move to Japan.

After a long search and more than a few phone calls with overeager recruiters from other schools, Emi settled on Regent University – a solid school with a great history, strong Christian roots, and one of the few schools in the states to offer a legitimate and reputable graduate program in Emi’s field.

So there’s that, and naturally, our new need for a literal financial miracle to pay for it. God will provide, I’m sure, or I’ll have to sell my Keurig machine.

Gaijin LLC

I’m going to talk about me for a while now. So Emi fans will need to be patient, or abandon this post altogether, which according to Google Analytics, is statistically much more likely.

With a little bit of sadness and no small degree of excitement, I’ve finally waved goodbye to my salaried full-time employment with Boileau Communications Management. My dad and brother are sad to see me move on, but since I still spend 25 hours a week in the office, they’re not too sad. It’s been a great year and a half with Boileau, and my time there really shaped my skills as a businessman and developer.

I’ve officially started my own company, Gaijin LLC – a web design and freelance development shop. This move should help me better prepare for the bigger transition to live in Japan in the second half of this year.

[box size=”large” border=”full”]Shameless plug: if you’re interested in my work, check it out at gaijinwebdesign.com.[/box]

“Gaijin,” since I know you’re dying to find out, means “foreigner” in Japanese. I named my company this despite its sometimes impolite and/or “otaku” (the Japanese term for obsessive fanaticism with anime or manga) connotations for two reasons:

  1. I am literally a foreigner—both to Japan but also as an ambassador of Christ to the world.
  2. It sounds really cool when you say it. Try it out. It’s pronounced like “guy” and “gin.”

Running my own business has been good for me. I operated as a freelancer for about three years while I lived in Morocco, and I’ve found being on my own motivates me to work harder, focus on prioritization and manage resources more effectively—all skillsets any businessman or future church leader is going to need.

I get to set my own hours, but with every hour of work so closely connected to putting bread on the table, I find even my shortened office hours to be doubly as productive.

Starting a new business also presents its own practical challenges—developing a brand, networking with contacts, developing new business, invoicing and headaches of accounting—but it’s a welcome variety from salary-type work.

Free Time

Even with the new business I’ve found myself having heaps more free time throughout the day, which enables me to exercise, study the bible more seriously, prioritize relationship and ministry, and focus more on my Japanese language studies.

The downside of all this—and I warn this is truly a first-world problem—is that I often find myself bored by 7:30pm. The social and business commitments I can now meet during the day, which means that by the time dinner is finished, Emi would rather dive into her studies than spend time with me, and I stare at the wall.

Wall staring by all accounts can be a worthwhile pursuit if you have the type of creative mind that animates and innovates without much focus, but for me it’s simply a feeling of being lost. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t do this for hours on end, and I certainly don’t lack any number of alternatives, but I’ll need to learn how to refocus this time so it’s not lost as it has been for the past two weeks.

So please hit me up for coffee or a phone call any time folks.

YMCA & Visa-ness

So, what else? Emi and I are also trying to get this whole visa thing worked out, and would welcome advice for anyone who knows how trailing spouse of college student visas work in Japan.

I’m applying to a dedicated language school in Japan called the YMCA. Yes, it was part of the same YMCA as we have here in the states. And no, it is not a fitness club, and I don’t know if this one has a pool.

Unlike the YMCA in America, I am told that the “Y” in Japan is a full-fledged academic institution with high schools and universities and dozens of locations. The specific YMCA I’m applying to is one in Osaka that has was seems to be a strong course in “practical Japanese.”

Anyways, this school is also really expensive (something like eight grand a year), and I’m almost certain I’ll have to sell my Keurig or otherwise drop my coffee habit altogether, but I hope it doesn’t come to that.

Trip to CA

For those of you waiting to hear more about Emi and her family, this is it.

Emi and I are making plans to head out to California at the end of February and early March. We’ve got a few stops on our journey.

Emi’s sister is getting married!

We’re so happy to be able to be a part of Mari and Hajime’s wedding. This is the main purpose for the trip, and we know it’s going to be fantastic. Emi will be a beautiful bridesmaid, naturally, and I will be the awkwardly-tall white guy standing in the corner by himself in a room with 100 people speaking Japanese. This will be a fun test for me to try out some of my hot new Japanese phrases from the most recent chapters of my sincerely relevant Genki 2 textbook, including:

  1. 死のう。Shinou.
    Translated: “Let’s die together.”
  2. ホテルを予約しておきます。Hoteru wo yoyaku shite okimasu.
    Translated: I’ll make the hotel reservations in advance.
  3. 私の母は猫を三匹も飼っていますよ。Watashi no haha wa neko wo san hiki mo katteimasu.
    Translated: My mother owns three, count them, three cats!

Berkeley Trip

Recovering from an all-nighter of unlimited sushi and sake, Emi and I are going to fly up to Berkeley and the bay area to visit our good friend David, who never disappoints with his native-like knowledge of the town’s best food and dining. David has promised to take us on a bike-ride through town and over the historic Golden Gate. Also on my to-do list is visiting Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf and anything else touristy I can do in a day there.

Redding, CA Reunions

Lastly, our trip will culminate with a day-maybe-two trip up to Redding to visit Nate at Bethel. Nate is my only groomsman who can boast he spent literally every last penny of savings to make it to my wedding. We were so honored to have him as a groomsmen, and we’re elated to visit him in California.

I’m also excited to have a look around my old stomping grounds and show Emi part of Bethel’s… unique (?) culture.

Ending

So it’s late now, and Emi’s nearly done studying, so I’ll release you from your obligation to read.

May blessings and honor take your household by force, and may God always receive the reward for his one and only son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Symptoms of Selfishness

obamacall

Exemplary public service

Yesterday, I spent most of my day helping other people. Mr. Obama called me this morning to discuss a date for me to receive the Presidential Citizen’s Medal for my acts of exemplary selfless public service. My accoladed works include:

  1. Changing a dirty diaper
  2. Cleaning up lunch dishes (after someone else cooked)
  3. Shoveling a driveway
  4. Fixing loose plumbing
  5. Spending time with sick people
  6. Walking a dog
  7. Refueling a car
  8. Ordering pizza

I’m selfish

Doing a few, moderately-inconvenient good deeds yesterday reinforced in me a conviction that I’ve had for a while now — I’m probably more selfish than the average person (please, neither disagree nor agree too emphatically with that statement). What most reinforced my conviction was that yesterday’s “selflessness” was really more of an exception than a norm. What’s more is that the opportunity for selflessness arose because my wife was busy with friends, and I failed to make substantive alternate plans. Yes, boredom and indolence made a way for thinking of others — it’s a Christmas miracle.

I spend most of the time thinking about myself or how to benefit myself. When I hear about something good that happened to someone else, my first thought (before I bring it under control) is often, “why not me?” When I hear about something bad that happened to someone else, my thoughts often go towards, “how will this ultimately affect me?” When someone asks something of me, I think, “how much work will this be, and what can I get out of it,” instead of, “okay, and what else can I do to help?”

Addiction

That selfishness doesn’t pay off should not be any groundbreaking revelation for any of you (if it is, please visit your pastor, and he can give you a list of reasons why it isn’t so). What might be revelation to you is that selfishness is an addiction. And like any addiction, as I’ve indulged in it more, it has become tougher to recognize it. To compensate for it, I’ll even warp my perceptions of scripture. “Treat others as you want to be treated,” is interpreted as, “just take care of yourself and expect others to take care of themselves, and it’ll all be okay.”

Symptoms of an addiction

I did a little research on some of the symptoms of addiction, and I distilled a little list to help you out if you’re selfish like me:

1. Denial

“You’re selfish.” | “No I’m not.” | “Denial! It’s the first sign.”

There’s no winning this argument. We’re all a little selfish.

2. Dependency

We are dependent on selfishness to make us feel better. When I’m feeling unfulfilled or anxious, my first impulse is, “I need to relax.” Instead of going to visit my friends, or a prayer meeting, or outreach or my family’s place, I decide it’s better to stay home. If I go to one of those places, I might be coerced to think of someone besides myself, and that’s what’s causing my stress and anxiety, right?

It might never occur to you that the fulfillment or release of anxiety you’re looking for is in the service of others.

3. Not being yourself

When you’re selfish, you’re not being yourself. You are princes and princesses of the most high king. Your lives are filled with purpose, and you were created to worship the king and serve one another. If you’re watching TV four hours a day and guarding your time against anyone who might make a demand of you, you’re not being yourself.

To build on that, selfishness doesn’t always take on the appearance of self-absorption. Sometimes when I’m always helping out and volunteering for everything, I am being the most selfish. My motivation stops being to help others and begins to focus on how good it feels for others to need me. Being yourself doesn’t mean running yourself ragged and over-committing yourself to helping others. Wise and selfless people know what’s too much and prioritize their time carefully.

4. Spending resources to support your addiction

An addict will spend or do anything to feed their addiction, even if it’s beyond their budget or outright illegal. We may choose at first to not “take the extra mile,” but eventually we’ll stop walking the first mile too. When we find we have no money, no time, or no resources to even cover our minimum responsibilities, we know our spending is out of line.

I won’t begrudge you your flat screen TV, your fancy drapes or your costly hobbies. There’s more than enough money in the kingdom for you to have those things, and I can trust you to hear from God what is exactly too much. But a good sign of selfishness is the prioritization of how your spend your resources. My time and my money are my two biggest resources, and I know when I can tell when I’m being stingy with both.

5. Inability to quit

Any smoker will quit for a day or two, and any selfish person will take a short-term mission trip or volunteer for a season, but selflessness doesn’t operate in seasons — it’s a lifestyle and an identity.

You might feel great coming off of that two-week relief trip to Guatemala, but while you’re giving each-other high fives, remember that those people you saw who lost their homes in the mudslide are still there along with millions of other people in the world. If you get swept up in the positive emotions that accompany service (and those emotions are not at all a bad thing), it’s easy to forget the pain and challenges you had to face to achieve them. Let your victories motivate you to do more.

The first step

In any AA testimonial, the first thing you’ll hear a recovering alcoholic say is “My name is ____, and I’m an alcoholic.” Why don’t we start our own personal confessions? I’ll take the first step.

[quote]Hello. My name is Erich, and I’m selfish.”[/quote]

A New Model for Testimony

I had a thought about a new model for testimony. When I say “new,” I mean new relative to what we’re doing now in turn-of-the-millennium  in America because this model for testimony has existed for quite some time — I’ll get to that later.

A short disclaimer: if you’re reading this thinking, “Erich heard my testimony and hated it, so he wrote this post,” please note that I haven’t read or heard anyone’s testimony recently, and this isn’t written about anyone in particular. It’s as much a critique on myself as it is anyone else.

In general, a great churchy testimony goes something like this (fill in the braces with your own details):

A Great Churchy Testimony

Part 1: The Family Background

“I was born into a [good/bad] family, and I [never/always] heard about Jesus while growing up.” (≈5% of story)

Part 2: The Original Sin

“I began doing some somewhat interesting sins like looking at porn/sniffing Sharpies/smoking weed].” (≈10% of story)

Part 3: The Shocking Revelation of Past Sin

“My life started to sound like a sexy Hollywood drama because of how much fascinating sin I was involved in. I was [addicted to cocaine/having affair with the president of a big company/staring death in the face/buying hundreds of Sharpies to sniff].” (≈60% of story)

Important note: If you don’t have any really juicy sins here, please magnify small ones out of proportion to make them seem super bad and interesting.

Part 4: The “I Saw the Light” Moment

“Jesus showed up. [A friend told me about it/10 friends told me/I walked into a random church/the clouds opened up and I saw the light].”

“I [immediately/eventually] said “yes” to Jesus.” (≈20% of story)

Part 5: Yay, Life is Boring

Ready for the big one?

“Now I’m [happy/at peace]; I’ve given up all my interesting sins. [I put down the bong/quit drinking/trashed my Rap and Bob Marley CDs/ burned all my Sharpies].”

“So now my life is as terrifyingly boring as yours is. I’ve become one of you; so even if I have some weird tattoos, you don’t need to be afraid of me.” (≈5% of story)

And that’s it.

Where’s the Emphasis?

I must also admit that I am not the first to make this critique of the testimony model, but it bears repetition since as a culture we have yet to grasp the point.

Although the speaker may pump more raw emotion into Part 4, the emphasis of this model is clearly on the sexiest, dirtiest, greasiest sins you can come up with. And why not? For a rhetorical strategy, it works brilliantly: the darker the secrets we reveal are, the brighter the salvation seems when it comes. Doesn’t this glorify Jesus even more?

A newer (but for reals classic) model

I could call this above model, which culminates in the salvation moment, the “American” model because it’s really fashionable to bash on America these days, but that wouldn’t be so honest — his model pervades the entirety of the church. Our obsession with the grit of pre-Jesus life may be fueled by our love for Hollywood gangster flicks, but it comes from a pattern of bad thinking that’s as old as Adam — a focus outside of Jesus.

You may be saying, “wait a minute, isn’t the new testament all about redemption from sin and salvation? Paul even said, “I’m the greatest of sinners!”

Well, you’re right. The gospel is about redemption from sin, but that’s not all its about. In fact, the majority of the New Testament is about what people do after they meet Jesus, not before. On top of that, the stories of the NT’s greatest heroes almost always feature God as the main character. Peter and Paul might take home the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, but Jesus and the Holy Spirit always hog the lime light.  There’s rarely any focus on pre-Jesus sin, or even on reasons why people come to Jesus.

Let’s look at an example from the Book of Acts:

Luke’s Account of Paul’s Testimony (with Some Serious Abridgment for Brevity’s Sake)

Part 1: Paul’s Past (AKA Saul, the Sinner)

Luke spends all of about four short sentences on Paul’s life before the conversion story. It’s probably ≈1% of the story, but I’m too lazy to count the words and actually calculate it.

  • Acts 7:58b “Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.”
  • Acts 8: 1-3 “And Saul approved of their killing him… But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.”

Part 2: Paul’s Conversion

Acts 9:1-19 covers Paul’s conversion story. Featured in the story are bolts of lightning, episodes of blindness, trippy visions, radical faith and hospitality, gross scales and possibly a very confused donkey. I’ll let you read it. (≈6-7% of the story)

Part 3: Paul’s Boring Life after Conversion

After his radical conversion, Paul becomes a wonderful, sweeth-mouthed Christian, right?  He works a straight nine to five in tent-making, pays his taxes and tithes, and stays out of trouble. In short, he keeps it cool, but on occasion does a few groovy things which include:

  • Plays a central role in Acts 9, and the last half of the book 14-28.
  • Begins public preaching of the gospel only days after his conversion
  • Narrowly escapes death on a dozen occasions
  • Miraculous healings
  • Battles sorcerers
  • Debates top Greecian scholars on their own classroom floors
  • Survives and possibly is raised from the dead after public stoning
  • Survives a shipwreck and saves everyone on board
  • Gets stranded in Malta
  • Survives a poisonous snake attack
  • Travels the greater part of the Middle East and Asia Minor preaching the gospel in every town and city on the way
  • Goes to prison on multiple occasions
  • Writes a few letters, which become half the New Testament

The story of Paul’s acts after his conversion account for over 90% of the story.

In-yo-face rhetorical questions:

  1. How much does Luke or Paul talk about his upbringing? Nada.
  2. How much time does the New Testament to devote to Paul’s first introduction to sin? Zilch.
  3. How peaceful and boring is Paul’s life after (or during) the conversion? Not at all!
  4. How much time does Luke spend on Paul’s life after Jesus shows up? Over 90%.

Some Advantages of the New/Classic Model

Before this blog post gets too long (too late, I know), let’s look at a few advantages on this model.

  1. Most importantly, this model focuses on what God is doing/has done, not on what we are doing/have done.
  2. When “the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophesy” (Rev 19:10), it’s important to discuss behaviors and events that we want to recreate, not those we don’t.
  3. We get to stay out of unhealthy obsession with sin. The juicy details don’t help us “be ignorant to the ways of evil” (Romans16:19).
  4. It creates a challenge for us to questions which events in our life are most important. It’s true, our conversion is critical, but it’s not the only important event in our life. Our testimonies should show how God has transformed us by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).
  5. It attracts people to the gospel with interesting stories of how exciting God can really be (see Mark 16:15-18 for a description of some post-salvation awesomeness).

 

[box type=”info”]Photo by zdenadel.[/box]

Battle Creek Message

[box type=”note”]
An approximate transcription of a few stories I shared at the Japanese Language Worship Service in Battle Creek, MI on Saturday, October 19, 2013.
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Introducing Erich & Emi

Good evening. My name is Erich Boileau and this is my wife Emi. I’ve been part of the Japanese Christian community in West Michigan for about a year now, and we’ve really enjoyed our experiences with you.

Here’s a little background about myself:

  • I grew up in Holland, MI and I studied English at Grand Valley State University.
  • I joined the Japanese Christian community last year just after I returned from two and a half years doing the Lord’s work in Morocco.
  • Emi and I are planning to leave sometime next summer for Japan to start our lives as missionaries to the Japanese people.

What I’d like to talk about today is how I started thinking about Holy Spirit as an active person, instead of a vapor or silent ghost watching from above. Hebrews 4:12 says “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, dividing soul and spirit.” The Word of God is living and active.

Freshman Year

The year is 2006 and I’m finishing up my first year at Grand Valley State University. I would say, and people who knew me would say that my identity was almost entirely built on my intellect. From my AP classes in high school, I arrived at college with 38 credits and established myself in a Sophomore standing from my first semester. I was quite proud of this among other accomplishments. In fact, years later, a close friend I’ve known since I was 11 confided that he never thought I would become a true believer. I was “far too caught up in logic and principles,” he said.

[quote style=”boxed” float=”left”]I had this idea that if everyone just thought like me, if everyone could just see the world the way I did, the world would be a much better place.[/quote]

My dream was to become an English teacher. Some of my greatest mentors and role models up to that point had been secondary school English teaches, so I figured that was the best way to change the world — teach the next generation. I was not nearly so conceded as to think “I had it all figured out,” but I was proud enough to think that I was on the right path. I had this idea that if everyone just thought like me, if everyone could just see the world the way I did, the world would be a much better place. It’s ridiculous,  know, but we’re all tempted to think just this way.

The Voice of One Crying in the Desert

This all changed when a friend came back from the mission field. My friend Herbert was on furlough, visiting Holland for his brother’s wedding, and though we had known each other since middle school, we didn’t often talk, and I seized the opportunity to sit him down at a coffee shop and hear about his adventures — few if any of my school friends had gone as far as Africa, and those rarely more than a week or two.

Herb has had a big impact on my life since then, so you should know a more about him. Now, this isn’t Herb’s testimony; it’s mine, so I’ll try to keep it brief. Herb will have to forgive me for what is an absurd oversimplification of his call to missions:

[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]The stories he told me as we discussed his adventures in sub-Saharan Africa shook me to very the core.[/quote]

When we were still in high school, Herb’s family heard from God that they were supposed to go to Italy, so they did. They packed their bags and left, even though their twin sons only had a year or so left in their studies. As soon as they got settled in Italy, Herb individually heard the call of God to go the darkest places in the world. He did his research, got connected with a Mozambique-focused organization called Iris, and packed his bags (with even less than last time) and moved off to Africa.

The stories he told me as we discussed his adventures in sub-Saharan Africa shook me to the core. I heard stories about whole villages’ blind people returned their sight. Stories about countless deaf ears opened. Stories about whole divisions of Congolese armies dropping their guns and praising God when they heard the message of freedom.

I had heard stories like this before, but this was different. This time, it was it was a trusted friend telling the stories. And what’s more is that this time (and I only realized this months afterwards) the Holy Spirit was convicting me. The Holy Spirit was living and active in my life.

Bait

God had caught me. Some people are first attracted to God through their studies. They think, and they arrive at the conclusion that God must be God — it just makes sense. You would think that would have been me, but it wasn’t. Others are first attracted to God because of a “God moment.” I guess anything could be called that, but I’m talking about light breaking through the clouds epiphany types. Yet others first come to realize the gravity of their sin, and perhaps out of fear or desire for forgiveness seek Jesus.

All of these things we need from God, but the bait that got me was power. There was something about the inexplicable, bend-natures-laws, logic-defying power of God that drew me in. I wanted it. I wanted to be close to it.

This was not that God I heard about growing up in a Christian community. This was not some grand, divine watchmaker watching his work unfold from light-years away. No, this was a God who was living and active.

Transformation

There is a much longer story, but for the sake of brevity in a testimony that is already getting long, I’ll just say the next few months after that coffee-date, I saw a radical transformation in my life. I would meet for bible studies with a few friends five nights a week from 7:00 or 8:00 at night until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. I was baptized, and I was baptized in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was living and active.

Bethel

[quote]I was shocked as we counted the number who had been healed. It was’t two or three; it was nearly a hundred![/quote]

I want to tell you a couple of stories. Fast forward a year and half. I’m attending a school called Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in Redding, CA. This is a place where students come from all over the globe to learn about the power of God. They learn how to be vessels capable of representing God.

To the great stress of all my relatives, especially my parents who at the time had no exposure to this type of Christianity, I had dropped out of college and moved hundreds of miles from home. I promised to finish school, and I would later return to finish my degree.

Bethel, as you can guess from it’s name, has one focus on seeing God act in the supernatural. Healings particularly are pursued fervently. I remember in one class period, our teacher Bill asked everyone who was suffering any type of illness to stand up — no matter how small the illness. Of our class of around 400 students, probably half of the room stood. Some of them had simple problems like bad eyesight, achy knees or headaches, but some had illnesses which were much more severe. The teacher asked us to lay hands and pray for one another, especially the sick, so we did.

After a few minutes, Bill asked that everyone be seated except for people who received a healing. I was shocked as we counted the number who had been healed. It was’t two or three; it was nearly a hundred! We praised God for what he had done.

Drug Rehab Outreach

One of the requirements for school was participating in one of the school’s weakly outreach programs. I remember when we were selecting our outreaches at the beginning of the school year, the Lord spoke to me specifically about joining the Drug Rehabilitation group. Since I didn’t particularly like addicts or enjoy spending time with smelly middle-aged men, I cleverly fleeced the Lord by making it my second choice on my application.

I was selected for the Drug Rehab outreach.

I wasn’t unhappy about it because I knew God asked me to be there in the first place, but I wasn’t excited about it either. Once a week, we would drive north of town to a damp halfway house whose mission was to help recovering addicts stay out of trouble and away from controlled substances until they could step out on their own. The house was woefully under-lit and reeked of mold, dust, cigarettes and whatever leftover food the men had cooked up for lunch.

The statistics for men in a program like this aren’t very good — depending on the drug or location, relapse rates can be between 40% – 60%.

But God had a plan and a purpose for their lives, and we went to share that with them. Over months, we built up relationships, and towards the end of our program, our outreach leader organized a longer night-service for “healing.” Depending on the week, our outreach team had anywhere from 5 – 12 people, but as the date approached for the healing service, members of team started to drop out until, when the night of the service arrived, only my leader and I remained.

I was nervous because it was my first time leading a service, and even though the room only had maybe 20 – 25 people in it, I felt anxious.

[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]…It occurred to me that this was no cramp, but it was actually something called a “Word of Knowledge” described in 1st Corinthians as one of the spiritual gifts.[/quote]

My leader gave a very simple message on the Lord’s prayer, focusing on the part where Jesus says, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.” You see, in heaven there is no disease, no sickness, no death or despair. In heaven, everyone is whole, and no one suffers. From Jesus’s prayer, we can see that we ought to pray for God’s will and perfect kingdom to be on Earth just the way they are in heaven.

While my leader was speaking, I got a leg cramp in my right calf. It was really bad, and I was trying to not look to uncomfortable as I sat in front of everyone. It was strange because I didn’t have any issues with that leg, and I’ve really never had a cramp like that before. After a few minutes, it occurred to me that this was no cramp, but it was actually something called a “Word of Knowledge” described in 1st Corinthians as one of the spiritual gifts. God was actually telling me that someone in the room had a problem with their right ankle that we needed to pray for.

Ministry Time

[quote]I asked him a very simple question, “Do you want to be shorter or taller?”[/quote]

After the outreach leader finished his message, we moved into prophetic ministry. When I say “prophetic ministry” or “prophesy,” what I mean is simply listening to what God is saying about someone, and telling them what we hear. We told people who they truly were — not their sin or their pasts, but who God had created them to be: kings, queens, sons and daughters of the most-high God. As we did this, the room warmed and you could watch as their faces changed when they learned their true identity and giftings. Faith was growing in the room.

After prophetic ministry, we moved into healing ministry. Before we asked who wanted prayer, I knew that I was supposed to find out if anyone had trouble with their right ankle, so I asked, nervously hoping that at least one person would say yes. To my surprise, 5 people responded immediately. One had trouble sleeping, the pain in her right foot was so bad. Another had just sprained his ankle the day before.

One of the last guys to say something said that he had actually been shot in combat, and when they did surgery they put a metal post in his thigh, which made one leg shorter than the other. Beyond the issues that recovering from surgery bring, walking for years on a short leg had caused misalignment in his hips and spine, which gave him awful back pain all the time.

Just as he was finishing his description, both my leader and I were filled with faith that he would be healed. It must have been funny to watch as my friend and I pushed and shoved each other to be the first to get to this guy and pray. Eventually, my leader relented and let me lead the prayer. Meanwhile, he started to call out to everyone in the room, “come, come quickly if you want to see a miracle!”

I had the man sit down on a chair and extend both of his legs out. We could see that his right leg was about an inch shorter than the other one. It wasn’t much, but it had been enough to cause so much pain.

I asked him a very simple question, “Do you want to be shorter or taller?” That got a good laugh from everyone, and we eventually agreed that he should be taller.

I took his short leg in my hand and I commanded it, “in the name of Jesus Christ, grow.”

The leg grew in my hands about half an inch. Everyone saw it and marveled.

“Thank you Lord for what you’re doing!” We prayed, “Please finish this miracle as a testament of your love. In the name of Jesus Christ, grow.”

[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]The leg grew the rest of the way out, and instantly, all of the pain in the man’s back left him. [/quote]

The leg grew the rest of the way out, and instantly, all of the pain in the man’s back left him. Faith was so thick in the room, I think anything could have happened. We prayed for the others with foot pain, then began to pray for other illnesses and sicknesses in the room. I can’t remember perfectly, but I think God healed everyone in that room we prayed for that night. When we ran out of things to pray for, we had residents call up sick residents and started to pray for them over the phone.

The Holy Spirit was living and active.

Invitation to More

The reason I shared these stories tonight is that we don’t often discuss the power of God. Sometimes I think we’re afraid of it, that if we know what God is capable of doing, we might actually have to change our lives to see it happen. My challenge from this testimony tonight is that we start to think more about the power of God.

Please, after the service, if you’re interested in hearing more about the Holy Spirit or have questions about my testimony, come talk to me.

Thank you very much.

On throwing away five keys

ErichKeys

I threw away five keys today, which seems as good as a reason as any to write. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. I mean throwing out some old keys, not the writing; although I’ve been putting that on the back burner for the past four or five years too. The occupants of my key ring have been multiplying almost monthly with bulky car key fobs and half a dozen grocery store memberships – it was becoming incredibly difficult to find a pair of skinny jeans whose pockets will contain both a ring of 15 odd shapes and my fingers.

One was for the house I finished renting in September. It was one of those designer kinds. The background was black with a twisted Asian-style dragon and the Chinese characters for “Courage” and “Love” in white. I didn’t pick it – my landlord gave it to me when I got the house, and though Cory and I left six copies of the key in house when we left, I forgot to return the original. I really liked it though, and I was a little sad to see it go, but I knew I shouldn’t keep it because my landlord could be a cheap about things sometimes, and it’s unlikely he changed the lock. I’m careful to say “lock” singular because although the house had in fact three entrances, we were provided only a single key to the back door. He left two other keys in one of the kitchen drawers, but they didn’t open anything.

[Brace yourselves for nostalgic, border-line corniness.]

The key was pretty beat up, and probably not just from my pocket but the previous tenants’ as well. The house was beat up too, and although I cursed its thin walls and cheap single-pane windows last winter, I had a lot of great memories there. It was the first house I’ve ever rented, and it was only a stone’s throw from downtown; so whenever I wanted, I could easily walk down to JP’s for a cappuccino or soup. I made it my Sunday tradition to leave the house no sooner than 10:30 am, and mosey downtown for a late morning/early afternoon of reading. Now I just drive on my Sundays.

It was also the house where Emi was baptized in the Holy Spirit and first learned about the power of God, but that’s a longer story.

It’s a funny thing about keys. When I evaluate how likely I am to use them again, I have to consider the time I spent in their houses. Of course, I mean this in the most literal sense – not in some heavy-handed metaphor about casting away memories or anything.

The second key was for Emi’s old apartment in the building adjacent to our new one, which makes two keys I probably should have returned when we moved out, but the wedding week and the few weeks following were pretty crazy, and I don’t think the landlords noticed or keep track of that kind of thing.

The last three keys? Who knows what doors they belong to. My best guess is Cody’s second apartment in Atlanta where I couch surfed for two months, maybe Herb and Sarah’s old place in KC where I narrowly escaped permanent disfigurement at the mouths of bed bugs, and maybe an old office key. They were all standard grey, and thoroughly unremarkable copies.

Okay, I’ll end with some thoughts about God and Jesus because most of you like that kind of stuff. I often find myself grateful these days. I’m sure most people in their first months of marriage encounter similar feelings, but like them the emotions feel unique and special to me. Emi and I are quite happy in our two-bedroom apartment and feel that in our seven short weeks of marriage, we’re only a white picket fence and two kids shy of American perfection. How’s that for an almost-immigrant and her American hubby in their mid-twenties?

That said, our proverbial “hearts” are metaphorically starting to “burn” for something more substantial, and Emi often states how much she wants to go to Japan sooner, which I find hilarious since she was a hairs-breadth away from revoking her Japanese citizenship when I was first getting to know her a year ago. It’s funny how God changes our hearts.