You see, of course, my dilemma.

So I’m listening to the Writing Excuses Season Capstone, and I’m starting to realize why I’ve never become a professional writer: I have too many hobbies. I have a lot of things I’m interested in and I do well enough at them naturally that I could have chosen any one of them to pursue professionally, but only at the expense of dropping all the others. I sing and dance; I play guitar; I write fiction and non-; I study theology and economics… but none of those turn into money, except at a very high level of development.

Developing one means dropping all the others and taking a gamble, and it’s a gamble I’ve never been willing to take. Which is odd, because I’m not particularly risk adverse. But I am proud. Too proud, for instance, to stay in my parents house for a decade, pursuing a career that might not work out. To proud to risk being accused of failure to launch.

So what have I done instead? I picked the one interest that had low barriers to entry, and easy to monetize early: sitting at a desk, organizing stuff. Small fame there, but a decent paycheck. And that’s how I became the Army Sustainment Officer I am today. It turns out my most lucrative calling is to be a bureaucrat.

That doesn’t erase the itch to accomplish something more… refined? with my life. It just steals a certain chunk of my time. So I am even now looking into refining the roughage out of the remaining hours that I have, so I can set aside time to do pursue one of my old affections. I’m going to have to shove aside one or two of my big three weekend and evening pursuits: church involvement, Facebook, and being a dad.

Do you know what I’m tired of? People standing up and announcing a lie that they heard and blaming Christians because they heard it at church. Look, we already knew the Devil goes to church. Sometimes he likes to see if he can get behind the pulpit. But he’s a tricky guy. Sometimes he lets you catch one lie just so he can push you the other way. There’s nothing devils like better, I think, than to turn around and say, “Aha! And you heard that one at church!” Yeah, you did. Let’s rev up the anguish. Let’s love God so as to avoid loving our brother.

Listen: Jesus loves you more than life itself, and it is quite possible that he loves his church even more than you. The church where people hurt you; the church where well-meaning people fed you false doctrine; the church were you didn’t do so hot yourself, and you might have left a few broken windows and some bite marks. Christ has said that he will see his bride without spot or blemish before the end, and every wrinkle, every scar, every limp and every glare, they may not just go away. That may be just where the glory comes out.

The beauty of the Saints Assembled

Psalm 133:

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity!
Like the precious oil upon the head,
Running down on the beard,
The beard of Aaron,
Running down on the edge of his garments.
Like the dew of Hermon,
Descending upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the Lord commanded the blessing—
Life forevermore.

It’s in the wee hours, and I wish I had the energy to say this with the lyricism that it deserves, but I would like to urge you, dear brother or sister, to consider the beauty of the saints assembled. How many times have you heard someone say that they can worship God better alone, out in the wilderness somewhere, surrounded by trees or enjoying some scenic vista? The reasoning usually goes that God created the wilderness and we can worship him by admiring His handiwork. If that’s you, I’d like to urge you to reconsider. You may have been catechized by 19th century romantics, rather than God’s word.

Go back to the scriptures. Do a survey, and tell me where, by instruction and by example, we are taught to find God’s presence. I’m sure you will find a prophet alone on a mountain or two, but overwhelmingly you will see people worshiping God together, in His temple, in the midst of the congregation. And where is His temple today? The saints assembled.

You say you don’t like church, you don’t care for crowds, the music annoys you, all preachers are more ignorant than you. I understand. No really, I do. I’ve had entire church movements turn to stale water in my mouth. I joined a church once and spent the next six months regretting it as the pastor preached up to the verge of heresy at least once a fortnight. Sometimes you don’t join for you. Sometimes you don’t get anything out of it. Sometimes, what God intends for you to get out of it is not the sort of thing you would have ever asked for. But life comes from the interconnectedness of the Body of Christ. You cannot be a Christian alone. You may find that you are like the appendix in the body of Christ – no one knows what you’re there for, and they’ll only let you stay if you don’t cause any trouble. Stay. Try not to cause any unnecessary trouble. If you’re hurting, ask for help. But remember: You cannot honestly say you love God if you can’t stand to be with the brethren.

Psalm 68:15-18

Mount Bashan is God’s towering mountain;
Mount Bashan is a mountain of many peaks.
Why gaze with envy, you mountain peaks,
at the mountain God desired for His dwelling?
The Lord will live there forever!
God’s chariots are tens of thousands,
thousands and thousands;
the Lord is among them in the sanctuary
as He was at Sinai.
You ascended to the heights, taking away captives;
You received gifts from people,
even from the rebellious,
so that the Lord God might live there.

We Are Your Church

As we’ve been working through 1 Corinthians at church, our pastor has been pounding home just what it means to be the church – we are Christ’s body, God’s temple; if anyone destroys God’s temple, He will destroy them, etc – I’ve been reminded of a vision I once had. I went to look up the notes I’d written down, and discovered I had been a very bad writer indeed. So this is another attempt to say what I saw. (I say “vision” loosely. I had some pictures come to my mind as a kind of story. Those pictures have stayed with me over the years as a kind of tying together of some themes from scripture. They have been helpful for me to remember.) So:

I saw myself walking through a large mansion, with many floors and hallways stringing rooms in many directions, and I knew that this was the house that God was building, a temple not made by human hands. It was full of rooms, but not full of people, because every part of the house was made up of people – the foundation was Jesus Christ, and the walls and floors and ceilings were made up of the members of His church, each person tightly fitted to the next. The thing that struck me was that the house looked empty. The problem with a house made out of people is that there’s nobody in the house. Who is it for?

I saw that there was a steady flow of visitors to the house – people who were not part of the church. They would tour the rooms, see the architecture and the arrangement of the rooms, the fixtures, the lighting. For some it was like a tour of a museum, or a famous landmark – interesting, but not inspiring. And I thought to myself, that surely the house wasn’t meant for their benefit. Surely we are meant for something more than tourism! But there were others who were able to see more than that – something of God’s design for the world, a reflection of His glory. These people were overcome with awe at the splendor of what God was doing there., and they began giving themselves over to different rooms and walls until they laid down their lives completely and became a part of the building. And I saw that the house was intended for them, in the sense that they were brought there for the sake of the house.

Then I noticed that the air around me was flowing, not like the air of a fan, or the steady flow of a breeze, but the in and out of a bellows, or breathing. I looked around to see what was making the air flow like that, and I saw that the walls and floors were moving. The rooms were oddly shaped, with hardly any straight lines or regular angles, and the hallways connected everything in a kind of bewildering pattern. Each room was constantly changing. Some rooms were expanding and contracting, like giant lungs, which is what was causing the air to flow through the building. Some rooms were actively growing, dividing into new rooms, and changing function as the changed shape. Some rooms were even moving from one part of the house to another! Slowly it dawned on me that it wasn’t just the stones that were alive. The building as a whole was functioning as a living organism. The house itself was alive! Then I could see the house from the outside and saw that the building was slowly taking on the shape of a man, and I remembered what it says in Ephesians – “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man…”

Next, I saw that the entire house was shaken by a terrible earthquake. The ground shook with such force, that I was sure that the entire structure would be broken in half. Whole wings did collapse, and many rooms fell from a great height to be completely severed from the construction, but the building as a whole was not destroyed. However, the earthquake did start a fire that swept through every room, and it burned for a long time, because there was no system for fire suppression, and the rooms that had survived the earthquake were the ones that were most open to air movement throughout the building. When the dust had cleared and the fires had finally stopped, I saw that the house had changed dramatically. Instead of pristine, chiseled blocks, they were smoke blackened and scarred. Not one block was left untouched. They all had chips had broken off, and a network of cracks spidering through them. Dark ravine-like lines traveled the course of every block. The whole thing looked ready to crumble.

I was dismayed. It seemed completely pointless. What good was it to build a building with such character – a living building – only to subject it to earthquake and fire. There had been no attempt at all to protect the building from the dangers of natural disaster. In fact, it looked deliberate, which made the destruction of such value even more meaningless. Why would God do this to the living stones of His own dwelling place? It was awful! Then I heard a voice say,

But now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” Now this “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire. (Heb 12:26-29)

Slowly, my perspective was pulled back from the building, and as my view expanded, I saw something different. The house was now covered in a tight network of statues. Every wall was bas-relief; every pillar was a pose. Every floor and ceiling was covered in mosaic. It was as if the earthquake was the last “ting!”, breaking the plaster off a cast iron mold. God was building a house for himself, for his dwelling, according to His glory, and He wasn’t concerned about the impression He made on people who couldn’t see the whole picture.

scope creep

One of the honors my church has given me in the last few months is the privilege of writing study notes to go along with the Sunday Sermon. These notes are then available for use by home groups that meet throughout the week. We’ve been working through 1 Corinthians, and today I’m supposed to be working on the “how do you build on Paul’s foundation” part of chapter 3, but I’m stymied because of how hard this section pulls on my heartstrings. Build the church, man. That is what I am about.

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

The second time I went to school to learn to be a minister was much better than the first. It was thicker, richer. And one of the first things that I realized was that my charismatic, independent, localized vision for the church was just too small. It didn’t even cover richness and breadth of the interconnected networks of secular society, and the church is greater than that.

Look, Nebuchadnezzar saw it. Daniel tells us his vision about the layered statue, with the golden head and clayey feet. The statue represented the governments of nations, and the stone which destroyed that statue was Jesus Christ. But what is the mountain that came from that stone, if it isn’t the church?

The shape of that mountain is important. It’s a single mountain that covers the entire earth. As I realized once in a conversation with some Mormon missionaries, it’s a single mountain, not a mountain range. So Daniel 2:” the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever.” No interruptions. That casts down any assertions that there was a true church, which stopped, and then an intermediate period with no church, or a false church, followed by a restored true church.

At the same time, the mountain is a good deal bigger than the statue. It’s a mountain, not a hill, so it’s taller than the statue, and it clearly covers more ground. I take that to mean that it lasts longer through the generations (hello? forever?), and that it touches more of society. Local congregations, private associations, friendships, national governments… all of these things, inasmuch as they are real and valid ways for people to relate to each other and work together and form a society, will be subsumed in the world-mountain that is the church.

All of it. I can’t read the news without my vision of the church getting bigger. I can’t read about economics without my vision of the church getting better. I can’t think about business, or logistics, or farming, without my vision of the church getting bigger.

And here’s Paul talking about building the church, like it’s all okay. Now, it’s not enough to be a component of God’s active retrofit of all of human civilization, he wants me (us) to build it. That’s exciting. It’s astounding. And it’s not too daunting, because as best I can tell, the church universal is still only made up of the church local. I build up the church by building up my church.

And, hey, look. I get to help build the church by writing review questions for a sermon about building the church. The challenge is following the sermon, and not the pictures in my head. (And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here…”) Talk about scope creep!

A Key to Spiritual Growth

I count three experiences that had the biggest impact on my understanding of revival and spiritual growth.

The first one was a revival (or maybe a series of revivals) that came through my church and school when I was in high school and into college. If you’re familiar with the Toronto Blessing, there was a connection to that. But it was a tradition of revival that can be traced back at least as far as the Azusa Street and Welsh revivals at the beginning of the 20th century: The Holy Spirit moves on a people, and people respond with extra church services and prayer meetings. These meetings are characterized by profound spiritual experiences and a huge emotional impact. These experiences result in changed lives. People pray for this kind of revival. We acknowledge the value of quiet seasons in our spiritual lives. But the ideal state for the church is revival, and if it’s been too long since the last revival, that’s a sign that something may be seriously wrong – which again is a cause for prayer for revival.

Under this mindset, the most unaccountable thing is when people in the leadership decide to stop the meetings, curtail emotional outbursts, and turn people’s attention back to daily life. Every time that happened, we were perplexed, and sought answers why anybody would ever want to do that. Is the pastor afraid of people who don’t want the revival? Doesn’t he understand God’s work?

Just as often, we took the revival underground. Nobody can stop private prayer meetings, can they? So my friends and I – high school students – held meetings in each others homes, where we prayed for revival and prayed for each other. We crashed youth group prayer meetings of other churches. And eventually, our church would have another set of extra meetings.

When I went to college, I took the revival with me. My roommate and I hosted meetings around the Prayer Tower at ORU. We prophesied over each other. We expected our little revival to overwhelm the chapel schedule and even take precidence over classes. And to a certain extent, it did. Meetings, ours and others’, grew and multiplied. Meetings of 50-100 students around the prayer tower were common. Worship services broke out in the dining hall.

And then it waned. People went back to classes, went apostate as they gave priority to study over prayer. Mandatory chapel services were not allowed to lapse into a free-for-all. And we, the local revivalists, were scandalized. Why would anybody ever want to do that? Don’t they understand God’s work?

I have to confess that there was a personal advantage to these revivalistic meetings: they made me normal, maybe even cool. It would take a long pile of introspection to analyse why that was, but it should suffice to say that, the more revivals there are, the more friends I have, and the more impressive I appear. So not only did my worldview push me toward these kinds of meetings, so did the part of me that likes to be flattered.

The second experience came right on the heels of the first: I dropped out of school and moved across the country to go to a school at a church where the revival never stops. Okay, there were other factors involved. But for the purposes of this essay, I went there, and one of the deciding factors was to learn about ministry at a place where they do it right, with “right” being defined as “the revival never stops.” A place where the leadership doesn’t get distracted from what really matters.

There was a lot of other stuff going on in my life, but eventually one thing started to really stand out was that the revival didn’t accomplish anything. We had the music and the meetings and the powerful spiritual experiences. We had conferences and guest speakers. We had numerical church growth. But we didn’t have much in the way of conversions, or discernable spiritual growth. We had kids who became teenagers and then adults, but life was life. Even with all the meetings, everything was fundamentally the same.

Around my second year at MorningStar School of Ministry, I overheard a conversation. A lady was telling her friend that she had dropped out of the school because she was seeing negative spiritual development in her life. The implication was that, somehow, pursuing the things of the Spirit in this way had caused her to decline spiritually. I was scandalized. And I think I was scandalized because I could see similar effects in my own life.

Another conversation that stands out to me was a phone call I made to my old roommate back at ORU. He was still eagerly expecting the coming revival that was going to sweep through the town. They had had many false starts, but it was coming soon. My gut reaction was: so what? What will you do then? Because my church is pretty much vived, and it doesn’t seem to make any difference. It was exciting, but so is Six Flags. Some people, however, have to live there, and it doesn’t mean so much for them.

There were other things at that church that weren’t working out for me, indirectly related to revivalism as well. Many, many assumptions I had about who God is and how he works were either undermined there, or obstructed, until ultimately I fell flat. All I had left was “Jesus died on the cross for my sins” and “the Bible is true.” It was a long process putting everything back together again. Probably that was a good thing, but the experience itself was awful. I couldn’t hardly walk straight for fear that I was inconsistent with my own philosophy. Give me fear, famine, plague, and sword; take away every comfort from me; but Father, please don’t ever leave me without a cohesive worldview again.

The last experience comes much later in my life. I’d been married, had a child, gone to grad school, dropped out, been unemployed, and we were living with my in-laws. And this church we joined ! It was nothing. It was everything. In all respects, it was a normal contemporary church, slightly on the larger side. There were nice people. We made friends with them.

The best way I can put it is this: I have a short list o things I’m actually good at. Church is one of them. I can sing, and I can talk. I’m “inclined to teach,” as the scriptures say. I’m used to jumping into a church feet first. They’re always short on leaders, and I usually have something I can contribute. It wasn’t that way at Cornerstone Church of Knoxville. Within a few weeks, I knew that my place would be to sit down and keep silent. There were new converts at that church with more spiritual maturity than me. I wasn’t qualified to be an assistant home group leader. I may not be yet. Over the year and a half that I was there before joining the Army, and through my wife’s experience, longer still. I saw significant spiritual growth all around me, and an impressive array of simple maturity.

I would say that I’ve never seen anything like it, but that’s not entirely true. I’ve seen hints at this church and that, but without being a member it would be hard to say. But at this church, I was a member.

I was the slightest in the House—
I took the smallest Room—
At night, my little Lamp, and Book—
And one Geranium—

So stationed I could catch the Mint
That never ceased to fall—
And just my Basket—
Let me think—I’m sure—
That this was all—

I sat and watched, and caught the mint, and it was very subtle, but this is what I think made the difference: expositional preaching. Every Sunday, a pastor would preach a sermon from a preselected text, methodically working our way thorugh the entirety of a larger passage. Every Sunday, that pastor preached the gospel. I don’t mean that he found a way to slip in the fact that Jesus died for our sins, nor do I mean that he managed to end every sermon with a rousing appeal for conversion, though those elements were present here and there. I mean that the gospel was intrensic to the topic of the text. Somehow, every Sunday, the pastor made it plain what this psalm, or that paragraph in I Corinthians had to do with Jesus. Every Sunday it became a little clearer that everything, everything, everything was summed up in Jesus: hardship and happiness, education and healing, roles of men and women, providing for your family – everything. Every passage in scripture, either tacit or explicit, is talking about Jesus. He is the one through whom the world was made, and he is the one in whom all things will be compiled, so how could it be otherwise?

And by this thorough, detailed, explication of this gospel, like running a powerful microscope over every cell in the body, we grew. I saw my wife mature, endure hardship, and change the focus of her life, in accordance with the gospel. I saw it in my friends. I trust they saw similar growth in me.

Everything I had been hoping for in the powerful experiences of revivalism were being accrued quietly through by means of the regular expositional preaching of the gospel.

Now, I want to keep my charismatic credentials clear: I still believe in the Holy Spirit. I still believe He does things from time to time that are… less that subtle. Miracles, prophecy, all of that. But still more powerful is the regular preaching of God’s word. People have to be carefully, carefully taught. And things that you think are too obvious to mention are the things that must be eplicitly stated, or they will be abandoned shortly. Most importantly, we cannot hope to skip steps. The window into the spiritual world, against the expectations of so many, is usually through the mind. We must take down every vain imagination, one at a time.

Skipping Church

I don’t think I’ll be going to church today.

It’s the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, and I’m a US Army officer, deployed. I know how the service is going to go, and it isn’t going to have much to do with Jesus.

I’m as patriotic as I know how to be, and I feel the weight of the events of that day, though I’m sure I don’t feel it as heavily as some. 9/11 isn’t a harrowing echo in my soul, because I love Jesus more than America.

The United States may still be the greatest nation in the world, if only because we are still the most Christian nation in the world, and even our charlatans must live according to some shadow of Christian principle. We are involved in two wars that may, in some strange sense, be considered acts of charity.

But noble intentions and holy obedience are two different things. And the travesty that happened 10 years ago is nothing, compared to the triumph that happened 2000 years ago. The memory of the twin towers is no substitute for Jesus Christ.

For the armed forces, true Christianity is practiced mostly on the down-low. I’m forbidden to evangelize, except in pre-announced, private settings. People ask me in quiet, personal conversations what kind of religion I practice, and if I will pray for them. As an officer, I can enforce ethical standards, but not explain why those standards must exist.

Meanwhile, in public settings, God is invoked, without any inquiry into the nature and character of this God, without any discussion of what he has done, or what we might owe him. He will come to our aid, in some stabilizing way, because he is God, and we have mentioned him.

On a day like today, when a 10-year milestone falls on the Lord’s day, The service will go like this: Everything is combined to make a display of unity, and the heroes of our war will be remembered. The Creator of the universe will certainly be mentioned. His Son may or may not be referred to, by a brave chaplain who wants to do what’s right. But the redeeming work of the Jesus’ death and resurrection will not be put on full display; it will not be given proper honor on the dearest day of all. There may be a cross, but it will not stand taller than the towers.

I don’t know how many people will think to call that kind of service wrong, or how many will roll their eyes and say I’m making something out of nothing. I am sure, that around the world this kind of subversion of the gospel will be going on, as has been done in many times and places. But I’m not used to it, and I don’t like it. I’ve always been in a place where religion was unregulated. There was always room for a little dissent.

Please pray for the soldiers, and for all the other armed service members. I know many of you do pray, for protection and for strength. But pray also for the condition of our souls. Their bodies are in danger to enemy fire and to privation, but their souls are in danger of anemia and even hellfire. Pray for chaplains to learn to read their Bibles more deeply than they have been, and to see the current of the gospel surging under every text. Pray for leaders to see their sinful nature and look to the cross in repentance. Pray for every converted Christian to learn the gospel deep enough that they may every day, quietly if they must, always preach.

The church in the army is hardly persecuted, but it is asleep.


I’m not sure if this is a Christian thing, a communication thing, or just a Kyle thing, but I’m starting to notice a trend, where I will either point something out, or ask a question, and the person hearing me will respond by attempting to reassure me. Except I wasn’t looking for reassurances.

For instance, Sunday was the first time in over three years that I was given the opportunity to play guitar as a part of the normal worship service. About half the way through the set, I looked down and saw that the little light was out that says my guitar is plugged into the sound system. I’m up here strumming and it’s not doing anything. Fortunately our music leader is perfectly capable of carrying the whole thing by himself, so there was no real loss. But after the service, I was asking people, “could you hear me play?” Every one of them gave me the same response: “Don’t worry. It sounded fine.” But I wasn’t worried about how it sounded. I just wanted to know if my guitar was broken!

Last week was field training for the class I’m taking. Four days camping, with guns. My job was to coordinate with some brand-new soldiers in their first combat scenario with a real lieutenant. They’re in school; I’m in school. So I get to practice leading, and they get to practice following. Much fun is had all around. But as I started to prepare, I realized we had 4-5 different scenarios listed in our packet and I couldn’t tell which one were were going to do. A lot of good it would do to brief my soldiers on one mission and something completely different happens. So I’m frantically asking people, “wait, which one is it?” and everyone’s telling me, “don’t worry; you’ll do fine.” Not if I’ve got the wrong mission, I won’t!
Continue reading “Reassurances”