When God Puts You Into a Quarantine

quarantine

Quarantines are a real possibility, even to this day. A quarantine is imposed when a disease is contagious enough that it would harm a society: Measles, Smallpox, and the recent COVID-19 are just a few physical diseases where isolation must be imposed.

It can be severe— an epidemic, with desperate consequences if not adhered to; in some rare cases, the use of deadly force has been authorized to maintain a quarantine until the disease is no longer communicable.

This may surprise you, but there are examples of ‘quarantines’ in the Bible.

The term ‘unclean’ was used for ‘leprosy.’ Those afflicted had to isolate themselves; they had to ‘announce’ their presence when in contact with society. Lepers lived in groups away from the general populace, as a result of their disease.

In Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians, he addresses another kind of ‘quarantine.’ The situation was dire; the church had advocated a Christian living with his father’s wife.

“I have already passed judgment on this man in the name of the Lord Jesus. You must call a meeting of the church. I will be present with you in spirit, and so will the power of our Lord Jesus. Then you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns.”

1 Corinthians 5:3-5, NLT

Understanding the Principle of Usefulness

Now in a large house, there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor.”

2 Timothy 2:20, NASB

Found in God’s pantry are lots of pots and pans of various uses.  Paul writes Timothy about the ‘large house’ which is the Church inclusive. Look around Timothy, there are gold ones, and there are silver ones. They have a noble purpose fitting for such a great house. These are the ones the guests will use; they befit the significance of the Lord himself. These vessels have great value for they are made of precious metals.

There are vessels of different categories. These are the ones made of wood, and of clay. These are part of the household, make no mistake about it. But their use is one of function, they’re utilized in common and ignoble ways. (A clay ‘bed-pan’ perhaps?!)

21 “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.”

2 Timothy 2:21

Paul, the author of the New Testament doctrine of grace emphasizes the place of personal holiness. We are to ‘cleanse’ ourselves to become a vessel of honor. There is good news here:

  • All are vessels in the Father’s house. Each of us belongs to Him. He alone determines their use.
  • Things are not yet in their final state. Changes in status can be experienced. In God’s economy, clay pots can become ‘golden.’ Silver can become ‘wood.’

Some sin is contagious.

It affects believers, and the Church becomes compromised by what we’ve done. And then sometimes we are quarantined by the Holy Spirit–until the contagion passes. This spiritual disease must not be permitted.

I have experienced this several times in my own discipleship. These are not pleasant times, but there is no condemnation. I’m still His servant, His love for me stays outrageously constant. He has never turned away a sinning child who repents of their sin.

“Yes, I am His servant, but I must wait out in the hall. I haven’t been faithful. So I sit in His waiting room, waiting for His call. This is for my good. And my Father knows what is best.” 

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The Church of Many Colors

“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Ephesians 3:10-11, NIV

Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children because he was the son of his old age. Also, he made him a tunic of many colors.

Genesis 37:3, NKJV

The word “manifold” is very curious and quite engaging. In the Old Testament, this particular word is used to describe Joseph’s coat of many colors. I can only imagine that it was striped like a rainbow, or maybe even tied-dyed. Whatever it was, Joseph was quite distinctive as he wore his colorful coat.

Joseph’s coat

Paul in Ephesians 3, intentionally borrows this word to explain “the manifold wisdom of God.” Paul uses this dramatic imagery of Joseph’s coat to describe God’s wonderful wisdom that has saturated the Church. There is something variegated in this wisdom (balance, comprehension, understanding) that infuses His Church.

We are people of color. There is the wisdom given to each believer. This defines us and portrays us to the world. God’s own wisdom, defined quite incredibly in our hearts and spirits, describes our coloration and hue.

Some are merciful, and other brothers are bold. Some are kind, others are discerning.

Some are very gentle, and others are “prophetic” and sharp. A few are wise, and others can endure much. But our personal coloring should never threaten another. Those who see only blue– should never be shaken when another sees yellow.

Our fleshly attitudes would militate against this understanding. We seem to insist that everyone be green, or yellow even. But this isn’t how God through the Holy Spirit comes to our spirits. We should receive each brother and sister, in the wisdom that God has chosen, to flow and grow. It seems we are each a “prism” that reflects a certain light.

We can see the “gifts of the Holy Spirit” in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.

They are distributed (but definitely never ‘dumped.’) They come out in many ways through many different personalities and backgrounds. But it seems we are slowly learning that each believer has a definite place and purpose.

I suppose that pride confines us into something that is restrictive. We prefer ideas and proclivities we can control (or maybe label.)  Perhaps, it is we that need to be adjusted. We should see the broadness of God’s grace, and how each one is touched and shaped.

The Church is now God’s unique reservoir of wisdom and grace for the world.

We gleam with the certain light of His presence and goodness. Each believer radiates an aspect of grace from the heart of God. We are indeed the “Church of Many Colors.”

“The complaint that church is boring is never made by people in awe.” 

RC Sproul

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When Eagles Go Bad

Looking for their dinner

“I am coming soon. Continue strong in your faith so no one will take away your crown.”

Rev. 3:11, NCV

I have lived in Alaska for over 30 years.  It’s beautiful, probably one of the most enchanting places on earth, by far. Admittedly it does have an “edge” as well. It can get very cold, and we can have snow piled up waist-high in just a few hours. I have to admit though, that the winter nights up here can be excruciatingly long and dark.

But my freezer is full of salmon, halibut, caribou, and of course, moose meat. We can pick berries in the summer, with a wary eye for bears, I never carry a gun though.  We kayak, ski, and snow machine for fun. My son was a snowboarder wanna-be. We get chased by moose–I was very close to being trampled once.

I have always had a strong connection with eagles.

You can find them throughout most of North America, from Alaska and Canada to northern Mexico. About half of the world’s 70,000 bald eagles live in Alaska.  And that is a lot.  You can see them every day here if you want. (And you never let your small dog out, he can become dinner for the eagle. Seriously.)

I’ve been thinking about eagles. When I went to the dump recently I saw several of them working for the trash heaps.  I don’t know, but it really bothered me.  They had the form of an eagle; the wing span and the aloofness, but they were pathetic.  Their feathers were matted down, and they looked completely disheveled.  They were scrounging for scraps, competing with the crows.

The dump here is like a “crack house” for eagles.

A hard day’s night

Perhaps the saddest thing was they were losing their distinctive white heads. They had given it up for dump food.  This is a big problem in many towns here in Alaska.  The eagle’s heads turn in color to a dark grey.  You have to look a little closer to see that they are still bald eagles. You can’t be too sure.

In the Bible, God is identified as being an eagle. But so are Christians. There is something quite unsettling and tragic to encounter a believer addicted and controlled by their appetites. Soon they will change, as they grow more pathetic and disheveled.  They give up soaring and become wretched souls, without joy or purpose. All they know is a steady misery.

We don’t belong, and it isn’t who we are.

Those of us who struggle can’t live out of a landfill. You see, we were meant to soar, strong and free.  No matter who you are– addictions, compulsions, or mental illness. We can still become eagle Christians.

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you
from the beginning?
Have you not considered
the foundations of the earth?”

Isaiah 40:21

Deep down I want to spiritually soar–I resist living out of the dumps.  It is a heavy struggle at times, but we were re-created to fly. Please, never forget that. Keep flapping your wings. You were meant to glide with Him.

The dump is not your home.

 

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You’re a Steward of Your Pain

Some time ago I came across a story that connected. A visiting speaker stood in front of a congregation and shared a painful incident from his childhood. He wanted to bring healing. After he spoke, an elder came and spoke to him–

“You have learned how to become a proper steward of your pain.”

The visiting speaker was profoundly touched by this. Finally, something came together in his heart and soul. Yes, he did learn how to deal scripturally with those ugly things from his past. He was becoming a proper steward of his pain.

The word for steward in the original Greek is oikonomos. It literally means “a keeper of a home.” It describes a manager, a superintendent to whom the head of the house or proprietor has entrusted the management of his affairs, the diligent care of receipts and expenditures.

The issue seems to be of management, how can God use these awful things for building His Kingdom?

No question about it, we live in a world of darkness. Each of us has been touched by hard things. Scars are part of our lives. When we come to Christ they come with us. All of these grim things are a real piece of us, we have been hurt (or maybe we’ve wounded others?)

Are you a good steward of who you are? Whether you’ve experienced trauma–something physical, sexual, or perhaps a mental illness. It could be any scar you carry from your past, and no one is immune from them it seems. You’ll find freedom if you can use these things for Him and his Kingdom.

We must see and understand that Jesus has taken everything and redeems it all for His glory.

He understands us fully–our past, present, and future. He ‘knows’ us–the real and hidden us. The challenge I suppose is to take these sad events to the throne. He alone can heal and then use that which has devastated us. What was intended to destroy is now meant to build.

Satan has afflicted you in his dark attempt to destroy you.

Jesus intervenes to save. As we grow to accept this, the Holy Spirit comes as our comforter and guide. He starts to teach us true redemption, and the incredible healing that he brings with him. It really is his work, not ours. We finally understand. It’s then we become broken healers that God can use.

The light has truly overcome the dark.

We’re being taught (sometimes very slowly) to carry all of these things and plead the blood of Jesus over our past. He covers us completely. He has redeemed us. Luke 1:68 explains much clearer than I can:

“Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel because he has visited and provided redemption for his people.”

Becoming a steward of our pain is his doing. We’re able to touch others with these things that would cripple and destroy others. He has made us “managers” of these things, and we are taught to teach others, declaring that God has completely saved us. He works miracles!

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!”

2 Corinthians 5:17

We’ll sovereignly meet those who need to hear our story. We’re being transformed into authentic witnesses. Yes, at times these awful things still hurt, and I suppose that’s to be expected. But we’re learning to manage them. We’ve become real-life stewards of our pain.

That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.”

Romans 8:28, Message

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Burning Bush Believers

“Some Christians are called to endure a disproportionate amount of suffering. Such Christians are a spectacle of grace to the church, like flaming bushes unconsumed, and cause us to ask, like Moses: ‘Why is this bush not burned up?’ (Exodus 3:2-3)

“The strength and stability of these believers can be explained only by the miracle of God’s sustaining grace. The God who sustains Christians in unceasing pain is the same God — with the same grace — who sustains me in my smaller sufferings. We marvel at God’s persevering grace and grow in our confidence in Him as He governs our lives.”

— John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace

 

We all know a brother or sister who seems to be a target of an undue amount of suffering. It looks like they’re always in the furnace. All we can do really is to shake our heads and then give them double honor for their faith in God’s grace and providence.

Ministering to these sufferers can be a challenge.

What can we say to those who seem to be on “God’s anvil?” How can we bless those who are in pain?

Perhaps a simple word of calm encouragement is the most effective. In the midst of some awful difficulties, I once had a dear brother who gently and carefully quoted Philippians 1:6 to me over and over whenever we met and whenever we parted:

 “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

Philippians 1:6

It was a precious thing that he did. I didn’t mind it all, as a matter of fact, I grew to like it. At first, I’ll admit it was strange, but my faith began to ‘mix’ with the Word and I began to believe it. It’s now my favorite verse in the Bible.

He refused to preach (or counsel) at me.

He had the maturity to see what God was doing and to make himself available to God on my behalf. Perhaps that patience he showed should be for us the method of choice? I look forward to seeing him someday, someway.

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.”

Romans 5:3

A keyword in this verse is “rejoice.”

It is a good reminder that the pain we feel is not the end. These trials have a limited duration (although it seems far away). There is coming a day when we can navigate through these issues and come out on the other side. “We will shine like the stars” (Daniel 12:3).

Much wisdom is needed in our ministry to disproportionate sufferers. We should have a fear of intruding on the work the Lord is doing. We must be patient and humble in this matter. There is no rushing God, after all, it’s His work. Most importantly we must be very much ‘present’ for our friend.

“But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance”

Romans 5:3

A “word” spoken out of place can cause even more ‘heartache’ for the sufferer. Let us be careful. At times it’s better not to say anything, and that’s alright. Job’s friends were best sitting in the ash heap, saying no word.  

“The Lord God gives me
the right words
    to encourage the weary.
Each morning he awakens me
    eager to learn his teaching.”

Isaiah 50:4, CEB

Trust Jesus to show you how to love, and serve those who seem to struggle so. Ask the Father to give you the right words–He will if you only ask.

 

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He Just Showed Up!

36 “As they were saying these things, he himself stood in their midst. He said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost. 38 “Why are you troubled?” he asked them. “And why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself! Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” 

40 “Having said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 But while they still were amazed and in disbelief because of their joy, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 So they gave him a piece of a broiled fish,43 and he took it and ate in their presence.”

Luke 24:36-43

Sometimes in a story, everything gets really vivid.  Luke’s account ignites that in me.  With the flair of the dramatic– Jesus, freshly resurrected from the dead, bursts into the room and he scares the bejeezus out of everyone.  I guess it was one of those times when you just had to be there in order to really get it.

“Frightened” and “terrified”–(it takes two words to describe this spooky experience.) 

Not only that, but they got really freaky, after all, He had to be a ghost!  I can only imagine their fear at that moment.  I think everyone present bolted to the door.  But wait for a second!  “The door is still locked?! OMG, what can we do?”

We see Jesus [I think he was lovingly amused] point out that he was still a human being–look at me!  Think for a second, have you ever tried to get a pet dog, who is so scared he’s peeing on the floor, to come to you?  I see the disciples kind of half crawling, stooped, and very unsure about this. 

They slowly encircle Jesus and as they come, I have to believe He’s laughing. He has returned from the dead.

He is laughing from the pure joy of one who has endured the worst of very real hell.

Jesus has come out on the other side, intact.  I believe Jesus is reveling at the moment, and he is among friends whom he loves and vice versa.  He is alive, he has done the impossible, and I can only imagine everyone is laughing and crying at the same time!

I believe each one of us has walls. 

Yes, you and I.  Walls. These borders give us security and protection.  We feel we have to have them or else.  The disciples feel like there’s security in numbers and safety in their walls that protect them.  I can so relate.

But Jesus insists on penetrating our walls.  

And suddenly we come ‘face-to-face’ with the dead one who’s now alive. 

Look closely now, it is resurrection power–and it’s the most powerful force in the universe, more intense than the sun.  A nuclear bomb can’t match this intensity of light and power. It’s funny, when Moses prostrated himself before the Lord’s glory, he changed.  Not only that, but he had to take precautions to cover his face when he returned to camp. These disciples however have just seen the glory of God first-hand.

And they weren’t even wearing protective goggles!

As broken believers, we must be prepared for any eventuality.  Jesus can and will burst into our homes, and into our very lives.  Can you hear him laugh? 

When he comes, nothing really is the same again.  He loves his disciples too much to leave them in a dark stuffy room. 

The resurrected Jesus is coming for you!

**********

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and eat with you, and you will eat with me.”

Revelation 3:20, NCV

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Pulling the King’s Carriage

A message for younger Christians going into ministry.

“Before God can commit a ministry into a person’s hands they must submit themselves to the discipline of the Lord letting Him truly be the Lord of their entire lives. We have long since dealt with the question of open sin but now God is dealing with the inward rebellion of our own wills.” 

by Bill Britton

On a dirt road in the middle of a wide field stood a beautiful carriage, something on the order of a stagecoach but all edged in gold and with beautiful carvings. It was pulled by six large chestnut horses: two in the lead, two in the middle, and two in the rear. But they were not moving, they were not pulling the carriage, and I wondered why. Then I saw the driver underneath the carriage on the ground on his back just behind the last two horses’ heels working on something between the front wheels of the carriage. I thought, “My, he is in a dangerous place; for if one of those horses kicked or stepped back, they could kill him, or if they decided to go forward, or got frightened somehow, they would pull the carriage right over him.”

But he didn’t seem afraid for he knew that those horses were disciplined and would not move till he told them to move. The horses were not stamping their feet nor acting restless, and though there were bells on their feet, the bells were not tinkling. There were pom-poms on their harness over their heads but the pom-poms were not moving. They were simply standing still and quiet waiting for the voice of the Master.

THERE WERE TWO YOUNG COLTS IN THE FIELD 

As I watched the harnessed horses I noticed two young colts coming out of the open field and they approached the carriage and seemed to say to the horses: “Come and play with us, we have many fine games, we will race with you, come catch us.” And with that, the colts kicked up their heels flicked their tails, and raced across the open field. But when they looked back and saw the horses were not following they were puzzled. They knew nothing of the harnesses and could not understand why the horses did not want to play. So they called to them: “Why do you not race with us? Are you tired? Are you too weak? Do you not have the strength to run? You are much too solemn, you need more joy in life.” But the horses answered not a word nor did they stamp their feet or toss their heads. But they stood, quiet and still, waiting for the voice of the Master. 

Again the colts called to them: “Why do you stand so in the hot sun? Come over here in the shade of this nice tree. See how green the grass is? You must be hungry, come and feed with us, it is so green and so good. You look thirsty, come drink of one of our many streams of cool clear water.” But the horses answered them not so much as a glance but stood still waiting for the command to go forward with the King.

COLTS IN THE MASTER’S CORRAL 

And then the scene changed and I saw lariat nooses fall around the necks of the two colts and they were led off to the Master’s corral for training and discipline. How sad they were as the lovely green fields disappeared and they were put into the confinement of the corral with its brown dirt and high fence. The colts ran from fence to fence seeking freedom but found that they were confined to this place of training. And then the Trainer began to work on them with His whip and His bridle. What a death for those who had been all their lives accustomed to such freedom!

They could not understand the reason for this torture, this terrible discipline. What crime had they done to deserve this? Little did they know of the responsibility that was to be theirs when they had submitted to the discipline, learned to perfectly obey the Master, and finished their training. All they knew was that this processing was the most horrible thing they had ever known.

BUT YOU MUST UNDERSTAND THERE WAS SUBMISSION AND REBELLION 

One of the colts rebelled under the training and said, “This is not for me. I like my freedom, my green hills, my flowing streams of fresh water. I will not take any more of this confinement, this terrible training.” So he found a way out jumped the fence and ran happily back to the meadows of grass. I was astonished that the Master let him go and went not after him. But He devoted His attention to the remaining colt. This colt though he had the same opportunity to escape decided to submit his own will and learn the ways of the Master.

The training got harder than ever but he was rapidly learning more and more how to obey the slightest wish of the Master and to respond to even the quietness of His voice. And I saw that had there been no training, no testing, there would have been neither submission nor rebellion from either of the colts. For in the field they did not have the choice to rebel or submit, they were sinless in their innocence. But when brought to the place of testing and training and discipline, then was made manifest the obedience of one and the rebellion of the other. And though it seemed safer not to come to the place of discipline because of the risk of being found rebellious, I saw that without this there could be no sharing of His glory, no Sonship.

INTO GOD’S HARNESS 

Finally, this period of training was over. Was he now rewarded with his freedom and sent back to the fields? Oh no. But a greater confinement than ever now took place as a harness dropped about his shoulders. Now he found there was not even the freedom to run about the small corral for in the harness he could only move where and when his Master spoke. And unless the Master spoke he stood still.

 

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For more of these and other messages: Bill Britton P.O. Box 707 Springfield, Missouri 65801-0707.  This is a faith ministry, made possible by members of the Body of Christ. Not copyrighted, may be translated or reprinted without further permission. All messages are free as the Lord provides

How to Hear God Clearly

In Deuteronomy 15:12-18, slaves who are being set free by their master after six years of service, could, if they loved and were loved by their master, could choose to remain a slave to him forever.

“But if your slave says to you, “I don’t want to leave you,” because he loves you and your family and has a good life with you, stick an awl through his ear into the door; he will be your slave for life. Also, do this to a female slave.”

Deuteronomy 15:12-18, (Exodus 21:6)

This was a decision that required elders to act as witnesses.  It was significant as well as entirely binding.  I like to think of the ceremony as a cross between a wedding and circumcision. (Sounds like fun!)

The slave would be led to a doorpost and the master would take an awl, and push it through his ear lobe.  This designated the slave to be forever “owned” by a specific master.  The slave would then wear an earring to remind everyone who they were. Herein lies a picture of the consecrated Christian.

Many times in the New Testament people called themselves bondservants of Christ.

Peter, Paul, James, and Jude each referred to themselves as “bondservants of Jesus Christ” to open up their epistles. An example:

(“Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.”)

This is not a forced servitude. This a choice made from love!

There are many believers who have done the same, they have fallen in love with their Savior.  They do not plan on a life apart from Him. They’ve decided they won’t serve anyone else. So spiritually they have gone to the doorpost, the awl is pushed through their ear, and they are marked from that point on.

Although the ear was pierced physically in the Old Testament, a spiritual kind of piercing takes place in the New. We see glimmers of that decision,

“Surely you know that when you give yourselves like slaves to obey someone, then you are really slaves of that person. The person you obey is your master. You can follow sin, which brings spiritual death, or you can obey God, which makes you right with him.”

Romans 6:16, (NCV)

Just a thought. When the prodigal son returned home from the far country he fell before his father and humbly asked,make me your servant” (Luke 15:19, 21). He, in essence, was saying to the father, “pierce my ear.” The father made him a son, but the attitude of the son’s heart had changed into the heart of a bondservant. So it must be with us.

We each will have a chance to live out a “pierced ear life.

Perhaps it’s then will we’ll truly hear His voice in a new and clearer way. Maybe this is the next step we should take. It’s not demanded, or required. Sometimes hearing Him can be a challenge, but the Father delights in this. He will share with you what’s on His heart.

“Savior, I know Thou hast allowed me absolute liberty, to serve Thee, or to go my own way. I would serve Thee forever, for I love my Master. I will not go out free. Mark my ear, Lord, that it might respond only to Thy voice.”

— Jim Elliot, Missionary, and Martyr

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It’s Time to Mend Your Nets

Tools used to mend nets

“And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them.”

Matthew 4:21, ESV

“And immediately they left their nets and followed him.”

Mark 1:18

To mend nets was tedious but necessary. You would take your net and spread it on the ground in an open space. Every knot would be carefully examined. All holes would be repaired. Nothing was overlooked. Fishing nets were painstakingly maintained. Every day, without fail.

Fish would school, and if your gear was right, and you were in a prime place, you could catch a lot. But at the same time, you could let hundreds of fish escape through a hole in your net. Each fish that escaped meant money lost.

Jesus walking along the beach surveyed the boats and crews.

Since most of these guys had worked through the night, they were tired and maybe a bit “punchy.” Some had gotten somewhat lucky, while others had very little to show for working so hard. Most likely the different crews teased each other as they unloaded.

Jesus walked through the bunches of fishermen. He looked at their hauls to see what they had caught. But it wasn’t the catch He was looking at, it was the men. It was from these laboring fishermen that He would choose. These men were rough and tumble rednecks. (If they had chewing tobacco back then, they would’ve used it.) 🙂

He stands, looks, and then commands them.

But Jesus had no desire to interview them, and then take the best of the lot.

He didn’t have a Human Resources Department, there were no tests and no forms that had to list references. He simply commanded, and those who understood followed. Only after they left it all did He get their names and addresses. I think that it is the same today.

Will we leave our boat, and leave behind your nets?

Really, you can keep mending or you can follow Him– it’s your choice. Most of the time though, decisions have a tendency to be irrevocable. Perhaps you have a moment, an instant of time to decide.

Sometimes mending nets can be back-breaking and tedious. But following the Lord Jesus is an unknown; too many choose to keep mending. Others are launched into something new, and eternally significant.

The truth that glares at you is the necessity of obedience to Jesus’ command.

There is no other voice we must hear. As a matter of fact, hearing (and really apprehending) is the only foundation we can trust to make our obedience true.

You can keep mending your nets and preparing for another night on the water. That is always your prerogative. But if you decide to follow you will need to leave what you know behind.

That is authentic discipleship.

“Rest in this – it is His business to lead, command, impel, send, call or whatever you want to call it. It is your business to obey, follow, move, respond, or what have you.”

-Jim Elliot, missionary to the Auca indians

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A Stone’s Throw Away

tumblr_static_tumblr_static_1odvenqfc6kkgwo0sg0skgsco_1280

“And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray,”

Luke 22:41

WHO KNOWS WHAT JESUS IS THINKING as he entered the Garden? His disciples followed Jesus but scripture states that he proceeded ahead of them. He knew He must find some much-needed strength through prayer— this verse tells us he went “a stone’s throw.”

Often we share in the sorrows of the people closest to us, and Jesus wants His disciples to follow him. And they do, but not all the way. They came very close but didn’t really understand the full nature of the pain that was beginning for Jesus. They slept while he agonized. He was for the first time perhaps, needing someone close.

Some who are reading this will make the same trip to the garden.

Perhaps every believer makes the trip to ‘Gethsemane,’ but not as mere observer or tourist. The garden is a distinct place of testing and of sorrow. And each disciple will experience it for themselves. The servant is not above his master.” We must follow the Lord Jesus, and it’s not going to be easy.

I’ve gone to the Garden myself, sitting in the dark, waiting for Him to come. And He does. And He is my light.

Jesus is very close. He stands by us. He listens and watches.

He completely understands what it means to be alone with sorrow. The believer can lean on Jesus as the pain continues. He sends his “Comforter” to each, as He personally escorts us through this time in the “garden.” He comes in grace and is completely kind. He truly is just a stone’s throw away.

“God is our refuge and strength,
    always ready to help in times of trouble.”

Psalm 46:1

“No physician ever weighed out medicine to his patients with half so much care and exactness as God weighs out to us every trial. Not one grain too much does He ever permit to be put in the scale.”

   Henry Ward Beecher

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Are You Carrying a Heavy Burden?

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30, ESV

To be honest, this passage has yet to be fully processed by me. Sometimes I understand, but then I forget. Because of this, this post is preaching to me, and if you decide to bail on reading this that’s ok. I write because I truly believe that these things are possible. I don’t always put this passage in action. I ask for your forgiveness.

Jesus issues an invitation to His listeners that’s earth-shaking. He sets Himself is far above the rule of the Pharisees; these declarations can’t be explained away. Jesus puts Himself as the only one that brings true peace. That’s pretty arrogant, especially if it’s wrong.

But it’s really a false statement. Jesus bursts though this confusion, and life eternal is what He carries to each believer.

The Pharaeses have long ago decided the Law was the the Mosaic yoke that kept the people in line. Jesus taught otherwise.

“Come to Me.”

I suppose the operative word here is “Me.” Jesus Christ is the exclusive giver of peace and strength. He must be acknowledged as the believer’s complete focus–He is a man, not a religious set of rules and regulations. When we decide to follow Jesus it puts us at odds with legalism.

“All who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Interesting, the Greek word for labor means “exhausted or toiling.” The word for heavy laden has the idea of someone who is fully loaded, carrying a pile, it also has the implication of having spiritual anxiety.

All means everyone–not a select few, nor those who think that they’re doing all right on their own. “Labor and heavy laden”. Both words describe those who carry burdens, and who have backs that are bending because of a difficult load. I believe that they’re those who struggle with defeat and failure.

The rest He gives is profound. And notice the word “give.” His desire is to free us, and that dear one is a gift, it’s not earned or achieved. The word “rest” means to refresh or to make calm.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me,

We lay down our cares, concern, and all spiritual anxiety and to receive another kind of weight–His yoke. Jesus also calls us to another burden. We are called to “learn” from Him.

In training oxen, a wise farmer has the new, weaker one to be yoked with the one who is older. They are to be trained properly pull the plow. The older one teaches the younger.

Two things I ask that you consider:

  • We are learners. A student discovers that his teacher’s lessons can be challenging. I remember trying to grasp Geometry. I went around and around trying to understand. The teacher was patient, and she made an effort to communicate. In the same way the Holy Spirit works to share heavenly truths to me. One of His titles is “Teacher.”
  • The Lord deeply desires to release me from my “spiritual anxiety.” Perhaps I offend Him everytime I pick my sinful burden up. I do this fairly often. But He promises us we’ll have we’ll have a spiritual victory if we choose to follow Him.

“For I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

“Gentle.” and “Lowly in heart.” This is how He explains Himself to us, which is pretty much opposite of what we think Jesus is. Somehow when we forget the yoke, sin and Satan muddles our thinking, and we often walk out our spiritual anxiety. This is incredibly exhausting, and our fear grows and we try hide it.

I suppose to be yoke-less opens us up to everything religious effort has to offer.

The Greek for “rest” is defined as an intermission or cessation of any activity, rest or recreation. It’s good word rhat when we become quiet; outward and inward. That seems to be opposite of what we think we must do. Often we ratchet up our activity to somehow show the Father that we deserve His love.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

What Jesus offers us is His own yoke of unconditional love. He replaces out heavy burden with His gentle weight. The yoke of Jesus replaces the burden of legalism. What He gives is of no comparison to what we think we might understand.

The yoke of Jesus is fairly easy. It’s meaning in the original is wonderful. It means something that’s mild or pleasant. Jesus’ gift of a yoke replaces our spiritual anxiety. We don’t walk in the constant fear of our failure to measure up.

“Easy” and “light” is the very nature of His yoke of discipleship.

Following Him shouldn’t be grueling or hard, and yet we stilldon’t grasp this .What Jesus offers is our chance to become real. He wants us to share His yoke, but it’s not hard. Yes, we must forsake everything to be one of His followers, but Jesus offers us far more than we ever dreamed.

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Surviving the Furnace

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you cross rivers, you will not drown. When you walk through fire, you will not be burned, nor will the flames hurt you.”  

Isaiah 43:2, NCV

There is a very special immunity that is given to a believer who’s simple. They find that suddenly they have been inoculated against a supernatural reality that others can’t understand.  Passing through the waters, we find the divine presence.  We discover it and find that it covers us.

Daniel tells us of three men dropped into a super-heated furnace. Surviving was impossible, and yet they felt no heat or flame while inside. That is a tremendous thing for believers to understand.

Having Him cover us is a profound thing. 

There are many reasons this should not be happening to us, and not given any serious thought.  And yet He appears out of nowhere and declares that we are completely immune to every attack against our desperate souls.

Jesus watches over us. 

He concentrates His focus on us, and we find a strength that is almost absurd, something that doesn’t make any sense at all.  He covers us from all the ugliness that could be focused on us.  A barrier is put around us.   His care protects us and shields us from insidious attacks on our very vulnerable hearts.

Isaiah 43 declares that there is a protective grace that surrounds our souls. 

We encounter a sense that He is there and that He will not let anything destroy us.  This security is not from anything we produce, maintain or manufacture.  He brings it to us without any logical reason.  It’s called “grace” and it gives us certain protection.

This world generates so much spiritual ugliness. There is so much danger. We need help.

“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”

Ephesians 6:11 

We must enter and pass through a whole lot of difficulty and pain.  Water and fire, in abundance, are things that will happen to us.  We will deal with these things, and work our way through them.  One thing needs to be understood,   His spirit in us resists being controlled by sin. He will not be constrained by darkness.

We travel through intense times when our faith seems ludicrous when it seems weak and illogical.  But somehow we make it, and we will pass through this and other challenges.  He intervenes and brings us safety and strength.  We are indeed survivors, and we pass through all evil and darkness without being scorched or singed.

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

Philippians 1:6, NLT

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God’s Night Shift, Psalm 134:1-3

A song of ascents.

“Now bless the Lord,
all you servants of the Lord
who stand in the Lord’s house at night!
Lift up your hands in the holy place
and bless the Lord!

 May the Lord,
Maker of heaven and earth,
bless you from Zion.

Psalm 134:1-3

Not every Levite labored during the day. The night shift continued their work. Granted, no sacrifices were offered, but the “night priests” stood to protect the Ark, gather wood, and keep the incense burning and cleaned up the blood. But most importantly they must worship and pray for Israel.

“Servants of the Lord” is a phrase that resonates in my heart. Those words are both a comfort and a responsibility and that seems to open this passage up. We’ve got a Master, and we serve Him only. And I know and believe that worship was the main responsibility of the night watch!

“Christians believe that true worship is the highest and noblest activity of which man, by the grace of God, is capable.”

-John Stott

Worship is the central work of the disciple, it’s what we’re called to do. Evangelism, missions, and preaching are fine. But prayer and intercession must be the heartbeat of each believer. It’s the holy calling of the Church. When does the church service end? Never!

The service really gets going Monday through Saturday!

In this short Psalm, (just 3 verses!) we’re introduced to a group of Levites who are working the night shift. What they do is hidden–it’s not seen by others. They keep the fires stoked, gather wood, and patrol the walls. But more importantly, they stand and worship and intercede for Jerusalem.

No real recognition is given, and the spotlight is rarely shined on them.

They serve at night, vitally essential but seldom seen. And yet they intercede for the nation. They “bless” the Lord and the people of God. That’s their place and position. They must do this. Israel must be blessed. These night shift workers insist on it!

The church needs nursery workers and Sunday school teachers. So many are working behind the scenes. Often the deacons and elders of a church are rarely seen and seldom acknowledged. So much is concealed. Their work is a hidden one. But the Father sees.

In a church, someone has to clean the bathrooms and take out the garbage, and others will make coffee or shovel snow. They vacuum and straightened the chairs. They are the ones who collect the mail and prepare the overheads. There’s always something to do. And it’s a hidden work carried out with no one watching. No one, but God.

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
    to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
    and your faithfulness by night,

Psalm 92:1-2

Serving at night can be a challenge, not all can lead worship or preach the sermon on Sunday morning. Those called to do those tasks serve in the day. But those who serve the Lord at night also labor, and sometimes that hiddenness behind the scenes has its own special challenges.

This may come as a surprise, but it takes as much of the Spirit to work the night shift as it does to stand behind the podium and preach the Word. I believe that this is true! These hidden ones carry out much of the ministry of the Church. Few notice, but God Himself sees them.

“They [Levites] are exhorted to fill the night with prayer and watchfulness and to let their hearts go up in blessing to Jehovah. The voice of praise should echo through the silent night and float over the sleeping city.”

Alexander MacLaren

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Listening to Eugene Peterson

“When we sin and mess up our lives, we find that God doesn’t go off and leave us- he enters into our trouble and saves us.”

“Wisdom is the art of living skillfully in whatever actual conditions we find ourselves.”

“All the persons of faith I know are sinners, doubters, uneven performers. We are secure not because we are sure of ourselves but because we trust that God is sure of us.”

“The Bible makes it clear that every time that there is a story of faith, it is completely original. God’s creative genius is endless.”

“No text can be understood out of its entire context. The most “entire” context is Jesus. Every biblical text must be read in the living presence of Jesus. Every word of the scriptural text is a window or door leading us out of the tarpaper shacks of self into this great outdoors of God’s revelation.”

“My job is not to solve people’s problems or make them happy, but to help them see the grace operating in their lives.”

“It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words.”

“Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism, and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.”

“[Jesus] said “Follow me” and ended up with a lot of losers. And these losers ended up, through no virtue or talent of their own, becoming saints. Jesus wasn’t after the best but the worst.”

“We underestimate God and we overestimate evil. We don’t see what God is doing and conclude that he is doing nothing. We see everything that evil is doing and think it is in control of everyone.”

“Prayer is a subversive activity. It involves a more or less open act of defiance against any claim by the current regime…. [As we pray,] slowly but surely, not culture, not family, not the government, not a job, not even the tyrannous self can stand against the quiet power and creative influence of God’s sovereignty.”

“Every congregation is a congregation of sinners. As if that weren’t bad enough, they all have sinners for pastors.”

“America leads the world at present in golden-calf production.”

“Love? Yes, God loves us. But his love is passionate and seeks faithful, committed love in return. God does not want tame pets to fondle and feed; he wants mature, free people who will respond to him in authentic individuality. For that to happen there must be honesty and truth. The self must be toppled from its pedestal. There must be pure hearts and clear intelligence, confession of sin, and commitment in faith.”

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

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Listening to Brennan Manning

Here are several quotes written by Brennan Manning. They’re definitely thought-provoking and should be prayed through. I think they’re worth considering. If you like them great, if not that’s ok too.

“The gospel declares that no matter how dutiful or prayerful we are, we can’t save ourselves. What Jesus did was sufficient.”

When we wallow in guilt, remorse, and shame over real or imagined sins of the past, we are disdaining God’s gift of grace.”

“God loves you unconditionally, as you are, and not as you should be because nobody is as they should be.”

“I could more easily contain Niagara Falls in a teacup than I can comprehend the wild, uncontainable love of God.”

In my experience, self-hatred is the dominant malaise crippling Christians and stifling their growth in the Holy Spirit.”

“The splendor of a human heart that trusts it is loved unconditionally gives God more pleasure than Westminster Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel, Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony”, Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”, the sight of 10,000 butterflies in flight, or the scent of a million orchids in bloom. Trust is our gift back to God, and he finds it so enchanting that Jesus died for love of it.”

“Those who have the disease called Jesus will never be cured.”

“The men and women who are truly filled with light are those who have gazed deeply into the darkness of their own imperfect existence.”

“God loves us as we are…not as we ought to be, because we are never going to be as we ought to be.”

“The ragamuffin gospel reveals that Jesus forgives sins, including the sins of the flesh; that He is comfortable with sinners who remember how to show compassion; but that He cannot and will not have a relationship with pretenders in the Spirit.”

“The North American Church is at a critical juncture. The gospel of grace is being confused and compromised by silence, seduction, and outright subversion. The vitality of the faith is being jeopardized. The lying slogans of the fixers who carry religion like a sword of judgment pile up with impunity. Let ragamuffins everywhere gather as a confessing Church to cry out in protest. Revoke the licenses of religious leaders who falsify the idea of God. Sentence them to three years in solitude with the Bible as their only companion.”

“When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.”

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Scandalous Joy

Do the Dance-- For Him

“And David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, and David was wearing a linen ephod.”

2 Samuel 6:13-15

When I start to dance, you had better head for higher ground!  I am without question the world’s worst and the clumsiest of all.  And since my brain surgery, it has gotten even worse.  I need to use a cane now, because of all that.  (If you look up “klutz” in the dictionary you’ll see my picture lol.) 

Even so, I do love the idea of dancing, but I’m like Bozo, the circus clown, on roller skates.  I lurch from side-to-side and I’m always on the verge of falling on someone’s lap.  Which is a real hoot!

But there is just one dance that I am waiting for.

It is the dance I will have with my Savior.  There will be a day, in a place and time where He will call me and I will dance.  It will be remarkable for me, and it’s a day that I anticipate and hope comes soon. (I have been practicing, lol.)

To dance is to liberate your heart.  You must cancel out all self-consciousness.  If you are self-aware, you will never enter into the joy and wonder of the dance.  You will be a perpetual wallflower, living only on the edges.  And, you will be very sad.

It seems you must dance in your heart before you can ever dance with your feet.

I desperately would dance.  I see Him clearly on that day when I have no cane and am as graceful as I hope to be. I will not be watching you, (sorry) but I will see only Him.  I believe that my heart will beat exclusively for Him.

Some of you have been crippled; smashed in the awful gears of life.

But I also hope that your life can be also astonishingly full of grace– you have endured so much, and yet Jesus intends to occupy your thoughts and vision.  When I am with Him, my heart will finally be free to dance. You will find Him to be the “Dancing Lord.’

“Young women and young men, together with the elderly, will celebrate and dance because I will comfort them and turn their sorrow into happiness.”

Jeremiah 31:12-14

Listening to A.W. Tozer

I believe that these quotes by A.W Tozer will really touch your heart. I’ve tremendous respect for him and his ministry. His is a voice that we really don’t hear too often anymore–but we should.

― A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God: The Human Thirst for the Divine

“Between the scribe who has read and the prophet who has seen there is a difference as wide as the sea. We are today overrun with orthodox scribes, but the prophets, where are they? The hard voice of the scribe sounds over evangelicalism, but the Church waits for the tender voice of the saint who has penetrated the veil and has gazed with an inward eye upon the Wonder that is God. And yet, thus to penetrate, to push in sensitive living experience into the holy Presence, is a privilege open to every child of God.”

“Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long, in vain.”

“To men and women everywhere Jesus says, “Come unto me, and I will give you rest.” The rest He offers is the rest of meekness, the blessed relief which comes when we accept ourselves for what we are and cease to pretend.”

“Whoever defends himself will have himself for defense, and he will have no other. But let him come defenseless before the Lord and he will have for his defender no less than God Himself.”

“How tragic that we in this dark day have had our seeking done for us by our teachers.”

“Lord, make me childlike. Deliver me from the urge to compete with another for place or prestige or position. I would be simple and artless as a little child. Deliver me from pose and pretense. Forgive me for thinking of myself. Help me to forget myself and find my true peace in beholding Thee. That Thou mayest answer this prayer I humble myself before Thee. Lay upon me Thy easy yoke of self-forgetfulness that through it I may find rest. Amen.”

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Jumpstarting a Prayer Life

We must (MUST!) pray as believers in Jesus.

Prayer is the oxygen of our spiritual life. We must breathe, or else. When I go to my doctor she puts an oximeter on my finger so she can assess how my lungs are using oxygen.

I suppose if we would put it on our “spiritual finger,” might it reveal something?

We don’t know exactly know how to pray, and I don’t think communicating with God isn’t easy for us. We must be taught. The desperate disciples wanted to learn how to pray–they didn’t know how, (Luke 11:1-2). We also need to have Jesus teach us.

We can only learn how if the Spirit teaches us.

Also, we must practice praying. We may do it terribly rotten, but we shouldn’t give up–it’s not natural–I suppose it’s supernatural. We will learn by doing. We may get discouraged but we must keep at it. Even if you’re a pro, the Holy Spirit will make sure you keep learning new things. Our walk should always grow deeper. If you’re a good student He is happy to teach you.

For me praying the Psalms is good practice, and there are 150 of them. The Jewish people have a 4000-year start on us–they’ve used the Psalms as their prayer/praise book. My sense is that this covers every human need–the entirety of our spiritual walk!

I think that Psalms 103 might be a great place to get started.

I’ve been told by some that the “Lord’s Prayer” is quite useful as well. I guess if you honestly take it phrase by phrase, something good will happen. I’m still learning (and I suspect I still will).

Below we find a way to jumpstart our prayer life. I hope you can use it.

One more thought.Conversational Prayer” has been a good thing for me lately. Talk with Jesus as if He was in the same room with you (He is) and just converse. I once heard of a man who put an empty chair in his prayer closet, it helped him understand that Jesus was right there with him. He said it really helped.

Share with Him your ups and downs, and it’s okay if you feel like you’re screwing it up. Relax. He’s your Father. He loves you.

He wants to be with you so much. He has many things to show you.

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Restore the Sparkle or I Will Die

Trials are hard, at times they seem to suffocate us and weaken our walk with God. David shares with us his own difficulty in these six verses.

Buckle your seat belt folks!

 

Commentary, Psalm 13

For the choir director: A psalm of David.
 

Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

V. 1-2, David believes that he has been forgotten. A phrase is repeated an astounding four times, “How long?”  It seems that impatience is a significant issue for him. Often when it gets this bad, we desperately look around to find anything to fill the gap. Anything.

Something else struck me. Within these two verses, you’ll find five hard questions. Whenever you find a question in the psalms especially, you must stop reading and take a closer look–why is he asking this?

V. 2, “Anguish…sorrow, every day.” Somehow David is alert enough to recognize (and admit) that his life is saturated with real difficulty. It seems it comes and when it comes there’s  no relief– it’s a constant, gnawing, challenging pain which can be physical, emotional, or spiritual (or all three).

Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!” Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.

V. 3,  Turn and answer me, O Lord my God! Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.” (I love this version–“sparkle). David knew that life could be exceptional, it was meant to gleam and shine. There is much more than just breathing in life. He speaks of being restored. He looks toward God to change his world again.

V. 4, Also, he is quite aware that his life is being threatened. The word, “gloat” is an interesting translation. It has the idea of relishing someone else’s failure. The dark prince savors your defeat. He has been looking forward to this desperate moment. The enemy rejoices at his failures.

But I trust in your unfailing love.
    I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord
    because he is good to me.

V. 5,  But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me.” The Lord has covered David with His hand. His life has been saved by a love that never falters or weakens. Never! He knows that God has rescued him.

Notice how David responds to the wonderful goodness of God.

  • I trust. 
  • I rejoice.
  • I sing.

V. 6,  Tremendous verse; it is really wonderful. When we finally get to this last verse, we see that we have “run the gauntlet” with David. And we have learned how to sing.

Often good jewelers display their diamond necklaces on a black background. The darkness intensifies the brightness of the jewels. They become even more beautiful to look at. David is singing and praising the Lord in His nearness. The darkness has only strengthened his faith.

I truly believe that this is what we were made to do.

Becoming Hidden

servant-king

“But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.”

Mark 10:44

I must admit that I’m processing something right now.

I suppose its implications could turn everything upside down,’ at least for me anyway. Some scientists have postulated that our planet is due for a complete magnetic switchover. This is when the north becomes south and vice versa. My issues at this moment are not quite that cosmic.

There are 7,000,000,000+ people now alive on this planet.

Sometimes I wonder if many of my issues come from not seeing this. It seems that there’s an intoxication of success when we become increasingly confused over ‘who’ we are. We think it’s about our efforts and our giftedness. Pride drives us, even among mature Christian believers. This demands another look.

3 “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”

Philippians 2

Jesus was not driven like we seem to be.

We, on the other hand, think we need to be assertive, (or at least the Christian version of it.) and push our way forward. However, Jesus’ message and teaching were all about emptying Himself into being God and becoming a servant of servants. This is the arresting fact we fail to consider–

Jesus did all of this while wearing a towel, not a crown!

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet.”  

John 13:3-5

He could have just done a ‘teaching’ on servanthood and I’m reasonably certain it would have been enough. But instead, Jesus put ‘skin on His words’ and actually got down on His knees to wash dirty feet. His disciples freaked out when they saw him do this.

It was something that the disciples would never forget.

6 “Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,

 he humbled himself in obedience to God
   and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”

How can we not do this? Isn’t this the Father’s will for us?

These are hard questions to ask, but to be perfectly honest, isn’t our discipleship mean that we empty ourselves daily? Can we find peace and fulfillment by becoming unknown? Is this what we’re missing in becoming Christlike?

These are very hard questions.

“Humility is perfect quietness of heart, It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble.”   

Andrew Murray

 

(All verses are from Philippians 2, NLT, unless noted.)

 

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Why this Waste?

 “A woman approached him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume. She poured it on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw it, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This might have been sold for a great deal and given to the poor.”

Matthew 26:7-9

Is it possible we’re missing something here?

Just previously Jesus warned His disciples that He was about to be crucified. Apparently, they didn’t understand. And immediately after that, the Pharisees and elders begin to get serious about putting Him to death. The word “plot” is used. At this point, things have gotten deadly.

Jesus is at the home of Simon the leper; he’s eating and drinking. Simon is a little-known character with a common name; perhaps he’s a man whom Jesus had healed? (He and his home would’ve been unclean if his disease was present.)

In comes a woman carrying an alabaster jar that was only used for holding perfume of the highest quality. John 12 tells us that this was Mary, the sister of Martha (remember that story)?

She carries an alabaster perfume which was extremely expensive, worth almost a year’s wages. What she’s about to do is extravagant, the neck of the bottle is broken and Mary begins to pour it on the feet of Jesus.

The cost of the poured-out perfume is exorbitant.

Immediately the disciples object. This seems to be the first time that they agree that what she was doing was totally out of line. They can’t believe what she’s doing is okay. All they can see is something too extravagant, and far too lavish.

They considered the cost–it’s almost a year’s wages. “Why was this perfume wasted?” That’s a logical analysis. “The oil could’ve been sold!” It would have helped a lot of poor people who could have really used it. The book of John amplifies all of this:

“But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.”

John 12:4-6

If we try to think this through we just might agree with them. That’s a lot of money, and it’s such a waste. (You might have dumped it down the drain, Mary.)

A week from this Jesus-Mary-anointing, the Lord would be whipped, and struggle through the streets of Jerusalem carrying an obscenely heavy cross. Jesus would then be stripped of His clothing and then be crucified. Some have suggested that the scent of the perfumed oil would still be present. Perhaps He noticed?

Interesting what small things can do.

“It is in the process of being worshipped that God communicates His presence to men.”

   C.S. Lewis

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Furnace People

The Furnace

“I have refined you, but not as silver is refined. Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering.

Isaiah 48:10

“Once we have come through the ‘furnace of humiliation,’ desperately, fearfully clinging to Christ for all He is worth, then we are fully equipped to march into somebody else’s furnace.”

‘Blessed with Bipolar”

Becoming a real and authentic person starts with the responses that we’ve made in the presence of Jesus. Amazingly, this simple faith becomes the prerequisite, granting us the right to enter into the promises of the Lord. If you have those promises you may enter in. However, without faith in those promises, you won’t find anything real.

You will not be able to handle the Kingdom of God unless you’re walking out of a life of brokenness and humility!

Furnace people will often recognize those without any real and tangible connection with God’s work. There are furnace promises, but they, without truly understanding them will walk around in unreality. Often ‘they get religion.’ These are those who land on “the rocky soil.” They become ‘quasi-disciples’ who will do and say things that they really don’t really understand.

But furnace people have a connection to that which is honest and true. The Spirit refuses to give them up. They won’t tolerate anything false or manipulative.  Their own hearts are being transformed by the fire, and it seems only then are qualified to minister God’s grace. Only furnace people can enter in. You will know them by their scars.

The Church has a tremendous need for those who have withstood the furnace of humiliation.

After we endure its ugliness and its great evil, we’ll discover that we’re in an altogether different place than when we first started. The Church is waiting for those who went in and then come out on the other side. Again, the furnace of affliction will have done its work.

I was thinking today about Joseph, and his ordeal, as found in the Book of Genesis chapters 37-50.  He was a rare kind of person. Perhaps, one in a thousand. You may emulate but never exceed his faith. His confidence in the Lord was true and came from his lousy circumstances.

Furnace people have the ability to function gracefully at this particular stage.

Furnace people are sovereignly brought to a place where they can minister the grace of God into desperate situations. We must convince ourselves, that furnace people have a gift.  They have been through the worst.  They may be battered and bruised.  But they still stand.  We must look to those who are the gracious agents of a loving God.

Our brothers and sisters have carried the Word with wisdom and grace. They come to us, through the fire. But will we receive them?

My hope is that you will personally grasp what God has worked for you. That really is your truest calling.  The things good or bad, that have happened are part of how you’ll understand grace. He waits for you to respond.  Will you come to Him, through the grace you find in flames? The most gracious people you’ll ever meet are those who endured God’s furnace.

 “He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord.”

Malachi 3:3

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A Burning Bush, or Blackberries?

“Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes, The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

In some odd way, our lives seem to be always getting interrupted by God. And it can happen a lot. We need to see the invisible. When we can, it can be quite amazing. Our night sky here in Alaska is wonderful. If it’s clear out, it’s amazing what you can see.

Probably the most phenomenal night skies were in Mexico though, while camping on the beach. As I lay there I looked and the Milky Way was on full display. It really was as good as it could be. It seemed there were 10x more stars than ever before.

Once as I gazed up, a weird sort of fear gripped me, it was almost a panic.

I started to tremble and shake. I got up and ran to our tent. I just couldn’t handle the incredible universe with no buffer. I was completely undone and reduced to a quivering speck of dust. I tried to tell my wife Lynn what had just happened to me, but I couldn’t. I was too scrambled. I couldn’t speak.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Reflecting on this, I now realize I had experienced “awe.” It was something much more common a few generations ago. There is a kind of existential crisis which we side-step in these more modern times. We rarely contemplate the night sky. We seldom, if ever, have seen fire in a bush.

It seems we have traded our awareness of a truly Almighty God, and in turn, we get to pick all blackberries we can haul.

We reason it out, and we feel that we have made a better bargain. But when we extricate this from our souls, don’t be surprised if we suddenly find that we have become spiritual paupers.

Maybe we should learn to see through things; each of us has the opportunity now to see the spiritual world that swirls around us. Why wait for heaven? Ask our Father to reveal His glory now in this present moment. Learn to see that which can’t be seen, but by faith.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the skies announce what his hands have made.”

Psalms 19:1, NCV

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The Limp of the True Believer

Crutches at the Table

“David asked, “Is there no one still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?” Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in both feet.”‘ 

 2 Samuel 9:3, NIV 

This crippled man was named Mephibosheth.  He was injured by the actions of a nurse;  she dropped him as she was trying to escape the palace (2 Sam. 4:4).  It was not of Mephibosheth’s doing, but someone else made a mistake, and it totally and irrevocably changed his life.

He would always be disabled.

If you haul out your old musty commentaries, you’ll find that Mephibosheth’s name means, “shame,” and I really believe that this would’ve been an integral part–maybe ‘subtle’ is a better word here, of how people treated him. But David was a different sort of king (as kings go), and he elevates Mephibosheth to the feasting table.

King David wants to include him!

Interesting. I believe that there are a great many people like Mephibosheth.  They’ve been injured by someone else’s stumbling.  It seems we pass these things on to each other.  And the lameness we inflict may not be physical.  It may be spiritual or emotional.  Sometimes we injure others without knowing what we have really done to them.

Jesus made some powerful statements about people who injure others.  

Some of the most vicious and evil woundings that are done are usually on a moral or spiritual level.  People can heal physically over time, but the wounds of the spirit are incredibly devastating.  When someone harms us on this level it can completely undo us, for a lifetime. (And perhaps, maybe forever).

We are capable of much evil.  We affect others in ways we don’t understand.  We need to seek God’s grace right now; we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of diminishing or minimizing what we have done. A vital point to consider: We cannot go on crippling others without injuring ourselves.

Wounded people wound. But healed people can often become healers themselves.

We can read of King David’s truly majestic treatment of Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9. He actively blessed him, and perhaps that is the proactive action we ought to take. We must make the effort– to bless others.

As a king, this was a very minor incident. Hardly worth recording in the lofty affairs of state. But as a man–to restore Mephibosheth, was definitely one of his greatest decisions. Kindness and gentleness should always be a key part of someone who is in authority, especially over others.

There’s another concept here– we discover something that is profoundly true about us in Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus.  It’s here, in 1:5, that we see that God our Father, acts like David, and receives Mephibosheth; just like God receives us to Himself. We find that we’re adopted, loved, and held, and we get a prime place at the table!

We may use crutches, but we walk by faith. And that may be the greatest lesson in this portion of scripture–and the most profound experience we can have as believers.

God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.”

Ephesians 1:5, NLT

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The Snare: Psalm 91

caged-bird

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.” 

Psalm 91:1-2, NIV

This psalm focuses on being intimate with our heavenly Father.

Throughout the entire chapter, we see personal pronouns used. In contrast to other psalms that are directed to the nation, this one is written to an individual. This personal focus makes this a favorite psalm for many.

Shelter and shadow, refuge and fortress are the opening ‘word pictures’ used very elegantly. The psalmist writes what he knows, and it is apparent that he understands deeply the needs of the human spirit, and its protection. Each of these four words creates a common link between believers. Each of us needs a working understanding of all four protections.

Dwelling, resting, and ‘saying’ are necessary elements for the word pictures to work.

I should ‘dwell’ in God’s sheltered care. All too often, I wander out past the security of the Lord (or maybe I’m lured out?) But there is safety in having God so close to us. His proximity is for my protection.

“Surely he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”

Psalm 91:3-4

silhouette-bird-on-branch-grangerV.v. 3-4, maintains its personal or familiar tone. ‘Save you’ (salvation) is far more that a theological term.  For the psalmist, however, it’s not about ‘doctrine’; rather the psalm is an embrace. He is rescued from the trap, and the sickness that seems so contagious never touches him. Moving from metaphor to metaphor, he engages our imaginations to ‘see’ God’s salvation. The writer knows his stuff.

The Lord is pictured as a protective bird that covers his chicks.

 

We have a sure confidence as we gather together in that warm and safe spot under His wing. Whatever is after us has to go through God first. His presence is formidable. In His company is found our only safety.

“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.”

Romans 8:31, 33

All of heaven is rallying for your well-being. You are sure of this based on your faith in God’s own word. He has ‘busted us’ out of a dark cage, and now defends you against all your enemies. And that is a very good thing.

 

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The Whip Which Heals

John 2:14-17, NCV

 “In the Temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves. He saw others sitting at tables, exchanging different kinds of money. 15 Jesus made a whip out of cords and forced all of them, both the sheep and cattle, to leave the Temple. He turned over the tables and scattered the money of those who were exchanging it. 16 Then he said to those who were selling pigeons, “Take these things out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a place for buying and selling!”

17 When this happened, the followers remembered what was written in the Scriptures: “My strong love for your Temple completely controls me.”

He used a whip. The text tells us that. Jesus carefully took cords and braided a whip. What can I say? I’m amazed at His reaction to what He saw going down in the Temple. What Jesus saw grieved His heart so intensely that there wasn’t anything else He could do. The last verse of the passage tells us that His “strong love” for the Temple was what provoked Jesus’ response.

I think we should consider three different whips.

  • The one Jesus carefully braided to “cleanse the Temple.”
  • The one used on Jesus’ back as part of our atonement. (Isaiah 53:4-6).
  • The one that believers experience in the ways God disciplines us as His children.

All three are critical to see and know. Each carries a significance to this particular teaching. All three carry their own “pain.” We discover that the Temple becomes “pure” again. We learn that His pain becomes our salvation. And finally, I get the discipline to become holy.

There are many times when Jesus has used the “whip” on me!

Not a leather one mind you, but a braided cord of discipline and sonship. What He saw taking place in the marketplace of “me” (I’m His temple now), can bring Jesus grief and sorrow. You see, I am the residence of the Holy Spirit, and He fully intends to make me conform. Hebrews 12 tells me what to expect as a son.

“For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.”

Hebrews 12:7-8, (in context)

It’s best to remember that Jesus was beaten almost to death for my sin. So “whips” often happen when the will and purposes of God occur. It’s His way of cleansing through the effort of the Holy Spirit. I believe that certain “things” will only take place when the whip is cracked. His loving discipline is what we need.

Think about this for a moment.

“But he was wounded for the wrong we did;
    he was crushed for the evil we did.
The punishment, which made us well, was given to him,
    and we are healed because of his wounds.”

Isaiah 53:5, (context. 4-7)

Yes, a whip carefully used is needful, and yes, it will bring us pain. But the three can show us spiritual realities. It’s through each that we see God doing His work. I should warn you–this is not a “prosperity” gospel. There’s not “a blab it and grab it” theology. Just reading Hebrews 11 and 12 should alert you to what’s real.

God understands us. He knows exactly what we need to have so we might grow up in Him. Trust and obey.

“We may feel God’s hand as a Father upon us when He strikes us as well as when He strokes us.”

   Abraham Wright

When You Set Yourself on Fire

Difficulty and pain sometimes come from others, and challenges to the Lordship of Jesus often come from our unique circumstances.

But what if it was something we’ve done?

I remember the classic picture of a Buddhist monk who sat in the middle of a street. He was serene as he soaked himself with gasoline, and lit himself on fire as a protest against a war he believed was wrong and evil. He burned himself in front of the cameras.

All too often we’re pretty much responsible for our own self-immolation. It is we (and we alone) that set ourselves ablaze. Sin affects our minds and hearts. We set ourselves on fire.

When we sin– when we walk in ‘known’ disobedience we always put ourselves in an awful place. We love it but learn to hate it too. But we continue to do it regardless of the awful death that ensues.

God promises to forgive us. Out of our ashes, He keeps bringing us life and hope.

You can be forgiven. You can find life again, even if you’re fully responsible for the evil we’ve done to yourself. Yes, we all sin, and yes we walk in our own personal rebellion. But Jesus knows it all. These awful things we’ve all done can be forgiven.

As a man and a preacher of the Gospel, I realize that I choose to sin. In spite of all I know and teach I realize that I can live in the ashes of my own making. As one who also struggles with bipolar, I understand that I’m even more susceptible to doing awful things. I understand that I choose darkness even though others sometimes call me “a man of God.”

As you read this I’m praying that you find His forgiveness and mercy. You’ve come a long way it seems, but you must see His blood that was ‘released’ from His veins and arteries for you.

He desperately loves you–even if you’ve set yourself on fire, and sit in the ashes of your doing.

“To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.”

Isaiah 61:3

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Our Father is in Control

Tapestry: Front and Back

 “Thus says the Lord, You shall not go up or fight against your relatives the people of Israel. Every man return to his home, for this thing is from me.’ So they listened to the word of the Lord and went home again, according to the word of the Lord.”  

 1 Kings 12:24, KJV

You can never accuse the Lord of being cold and distant and aloof.  He doesn’t detach Himself from the needs of His people.  He doesn’t ever disconnect and isolate Himself from you.  On the contrary, He is constantly thinking and acting on your behalf.  He is a proactive God, and that’s impressive.

The God of the Bible is always intensively involved in the affairs and concerns of His covenant people.

What we see as a muddled-up mess is actually His work. Perhaps in eternity we’ll see and understand. We see the backside of the tapestry now but (I assure you) we’ll know the beauty of His handiwork.

“For this thing is from Me.” 

God directs a confused king who has significant issues.  (Sound familiar?) God decides that the civil war between Judah and Israel is wrong.  In 1 Kings 12, He sends His prophet Shemaiah to stand before the king of Judah, and speak out a word to the nation.  The Lord is involved, and it is He who is actively enmeshed in this issue.

“For this thing is from Me.” 

There is something here that can mystify and perplex the best of us.  He begins to weave and guide His active presence into the confusing issues of that time.  He is not a “landlord God,”  but He is intensely involved in our affairs.  He initiates and directs the very things that concern us.

“For this thing is from Me.” 

The text clearly opens up this ugly situation.  In the midst of this bizarre issue, God has assumed control.  His prophet Shemaiah carries this a Word of power into a room of possibly explosive personalities.  Now the arrogance of the king can be a strong and strange thing.  But God decides and moves wherever He wills. Kings are never an issue when God enters in. They must serve now, like anyone else.

Dear one, He is incredibly involved in your affairs. 

He draws you and He has engaged to be intricately focused on your situation.  “For this thing is from Me.”  and that truth opens up His purposes to our desperate poverty.  We may try very hard to try to maintain control and direction.  But God directs and superintends. 

He is big enough to touch and direct my small heart.  We will come into confusion if we try to sidestep His lordship.

 “The Lord can control a king’s mind as he controls a river;  he can direct it as he pleases.” 

Proverbs 21:1

bry-signat (1)

Bitter Water

In Exodus 15 there’s an incident that carries weight for today. Israel has come to the springs of Marah. The water is bitter. The people turn to Moses. They challenge him and the complaint voraciously. “Why have you brought us here?” They press Moses to the point of mutiny. They are furious.

Some commentators believe this bitter water was a laxative, and anyone who drank this “bitter” water made many trips to the outhouse!

Moses is shown a branch of a common tree. The Lord speaks a word of the direction he’s to throw the branch directly into the spring. It’ll cure the water, and make it sweet and drinkable.

t seems to me that this awful cross cures the bitterness we absorb as we make our way through life.

The cross of Jesus is critically important. When that ugly tree touches our lives it makes what is bitter sweet. He has changed us by that incredible sacrifice on the hill of Golgotha.

.

Those Strange Christians

I was thinking about this today.

Do you have any idea how ridiculous unbelievers must see us? Just imagine for a minute that you’re on the outside of faith looking in.

———————

They get very solemn as they slowly take the bread and wine. They say that when they sing it’s to God Himself. Some get loud raising hands in surrender to Him. Some will even dance in the worship of someone who’s invisible. How bizarre is that?

They call a man who died a long time ago, they declare that He was their Lord and Master.

They’re gathering to read from a special and “magical” book, and they say that it speaks to them. They talk about living a life separated from Him. They truly think that others need to join them in this silly group. They regard each other as brothers and sisters and they serve each other.

They tell us that Jesus is God in human flesh, who was put to death on a cross and is now alive. They also believe that His blood saves them from their “sin.” These very odd ones think this man is going to return and rule the world, physically bring the Kingdom of God to this planet.

How very odd of them. How very strange these Christians are.

—————————

There exists a letter written to Diogenes, who is known as the Cynic. It was written around 130 AD. This letter itself is fairly extensive. I suggest that you read it in its entirety. It describes the faith and beliefs of the Christian to a man who really has no idea about them but wants to understand–here is a small portion of this epistle. Remember that this is one of the very first observations of our Faith:

“They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory.” 

The Lord and Master of All.

“A Christian is not a person who believes in his head the teachings of the Bible. Satan believes in his head the teachings of the Bible!  A Christian is a person who has died with Christ, whose stiff neck has been broken, whose brazen forehead has been shattered, whose stony heart has been crushed, whose pride has been slain, and whose life is now mastered by Jesus Christ.”

–John Piper

No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.”

John 15:15

It seems that the purpose of life is not to find our freedom. It’s really meant to find our Master.

Yes, the idea of being a slave to anyone is repugnant. We chafe at this, and yet man was never meant to be separated from the Lordship of Jesus. We’re instructed repeatedly with the New Testament idea that “our life is not our own”  Over and over God proclaims Himself as the King.

That troubles us somewhat.

Not so much when life is fairly good, granted, but in those hard moments when a decision must be made between enjoying the titillating “lusts of the flesh,” or accepting the fruits of the Spirit. This is one of those “lordship moments.” They come and go, and they show us exactly who we are.

If you’re really going to be authentic–a legitimate and real disciple, then you must determine who is going to be “boss.” This isn’t one of those casual decisions. You must securely fix it in your heart.

Your decision must become a settled issue.

The thief on the cross knew salvation, he was promised an eternity with God simply by faith. But I submit to you that he had put himself under the Lordship of Jesus, simply by recognizing the sign, “the King of the Jews.” I believe he saw and understood its implications. Jesus was King!

This is a very hard word for some, but many of our personal issues hinge on this.

I know this first-hand. It can be a monumental struggle. You must admit to not only having Jesus as your Savior, but you also must put your life under His total Lordship.  You need to pick up your cross daily in order to follow.  You need to learn how to kneel.

I’ve chosen a crown to open up this post–it’s done on purpose.  I simply want you to to understand the supreme call He has on your life. Here’s Bob Dylan, and he nails this idea down:

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You must learn here and now how to kneel before the Sovereign King

If you’re a believer and are having issues, please dear one, contact me. If anything I can pray with you.

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Love That Covers Other’s Sin

“And don’t build an altar that requires steps; you might expose yourself when you climb up”.

Exodus 20:26

“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.”

1 Peter 4:8

While I lived in the SOS Ministry house in the Mission District of San Francisco a dear brother taught me this principle.  Living in a Christian community is a really wonderful thing.  But it also could be a tremendous challenge at times.  What Michael taught me, allowed my understanding to grow to meet the need of the moment.

The principle is this:  

We are called to cover up our brother’s nakedness.

 Throughout the scripture “being naked, or nakedness” is always a shame.  It comes welded to the concept of being vulnerable or exposed to the sight of everyone else.  It also carries the idea of sin; it’s sin that everyone can see; it is self-evident.

For those of us who often sin, we latch onto the idea of keeping a lid on it, and being secretive about it.  There will be people who will never know.  Often sex sins, drugs, and alcohol sin, are kept hidden from the view of family and friends, and the Church.

Noah and His Nakedness, Genesis 9

“Noah became a farmer and planted a vineyard. When he drank wine made from his grapes, he became drunk and lay naked in his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, looked at his naked father and told his brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth got a coat and, carrying it on both their shoulders, they walked backwards into the tent and covered their father.”

“They turned their faces away so that they did not see their father’s nakedness.”  

Genesis 9:20-24

It’s hard to process this patriarch’s gross sin. 

However in all fairness, Noah had lost everything in the flood, so perhaps we should be gentle with him. On the other hand, people who cover up the nakedness of others seem to be gentle and humble.  They would never, ever dream of making a scandal.  They are trustworthy and understand to a great degree the things that make a man or woman of God.

Leviticus 18 is the “magnum opus” of nakedness.

We are pretty much told over and over in this chapter, not to ever uncover another. Actually is pretty emphatic and somewhat redundant. But I think the Lord wanted it repeated this way.

Our vulnerabilities are there for all to see.  But there are also men and women who go out of their way to protect and shield.  They are safe people, in the classic sense of the word.  They cover-up, but never in a negative or criminal way, but in love and blessing. (If it is a serious crime, the police should be involved.)

Mature believers will step forward and protect the open areas of others. 

Quite often we are exposed, open to attack on our weaknesses.  Mature believers will step forward and protect the open areas of others.  They will refuse to judge or point out sins.  But they will stand in the gap, shielding and protecting.

God’s final word on nakedness is in Revelation 3:18, and this is a good place to conclude this post,

“My advice to you is to buy pure gold from me, gold purified by fire—only then will you truly be rich. And to purchase from me white garments, clean and pure, so you won’t be naked and ashamed; and to get medicine from me to heal your eyes and give you back your sight.”

 

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Braided Up With Him, Isaiah 40:31

wait_bench_ocean

Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.

Isaiah 40:31, NASB

The particular word for “wait” is a much more active word than we think.

It’s not a passive word in the original Hebrew.  It does not mean being apathetic or lazy. Sometimes we wait in line at the grocery store, or maybe we’re waiting on a phone call. We regularly wait all the time, and usually, we don’t even realize it.

The Hebrew word for “wait” used in v. 31 is qāvâ which means, ‘to bind together by twisting.’

It literally means to “braid, or twist, using a rope.” It becomes an interesting word picture? Sometimes we only take the English idea of waiting and turn it turns into a frustrating delay. Often, this is why we lose out on what ‘wait’ is really about. I have to believe the Holy Spirit wants to teach this idea of becoming ‘braided up with God.’

All too often we are limited by our definitions, and not God’s Word. 

For those of us who are ill— physically or mentally, just to be told simply, “wait on the Lord” is a real challenge. Often, we will end up resenting this counsel (and the counselor) because we have misunderstood what it means to really ‘wait.’ We come tantalizing close to this critical idea, but we never quite make it through the doorway.

Yet when I truly wait on God, I’m actually braiding myself into Him.

He becomes my strength; He is now the strong cord I am braided into. (Perhaps this is how He imparts strength and might to His people?) We need this, and the Lord is quite eager to lead us into this new kind of intimacy.

The promise in Isaiah 40:31 tells us about new strength–the eagle’s wings, holy stamina. This verse is relevant to us today, and we need this kind of strength now. I only want to encourage you in your own prayer time, to see yourself intertwined with the Lord, and to recognize the good gift of the Holy Spirit freely given.

“Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!”

Psalm 27:14

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How to Prepare for Water Baptism

water-baptism1

“Those who accepted his message were baptized.” (Acts 2:41)  

 “Repent and be baptized.” (Acts 2:38) 

 “Having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your  faith in the power of God.” (Col. 2:12)  

Perhaps one of the most significant decisions we’ll make is to follow Jesus Christ into the waters of baptism.  This is just obedience to the Lord’s command to be baptized. It’s one of the ways that our discipleship becomes public, but it’s intensely private as well. Ideally, it will forever alter your life. At least that is the Father’s intention.

Baptism becomes a public pronouncement or declaration to the physically seen world and to the invisibly unseen world of the Spirit. 

It takes faith to be authentically prepared for baptism.  You will be taking a stand. By faith, you’re making public your allegiance to Christ. It is a step of something living.

“Baptism was to put a line of demarcation between your past sins when you are buried with Him by Baptism–you are burying your past sins–eradicating them–putting a line in the sand saying that old man is dead and he is no longer alive anymore and I rise up to walk in the newness of life.”

T.D. Jakes

I suggest that you prayerfully attend to the steps listed below.  You will find there is a big difference between truly being baptized, and just getting wet!

The interrogative process can be used to solidify the faith before man and in front of His people. In a sense, it’s much like the vows made by a husband and wife in the vows of marriage.

I.  A series of questions are asked, to which the reply is always, “I renounce them.”

  1. Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
  2. Do you renounce the evil powers of this world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
  3. Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?

II.  The second half also must be asked, to which the reply is always, “I do.”

  1. Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
  2. Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
  3. Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?

III.  The Apostle’s Creed can be recited publicly (or privately in prayer).

This is our faith boiled down to its core essence. This declaration helps set us apart from the World, the flesh, and the devil:

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, who was crucified, died and was buried.

He descended into hell. and on the third day, He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church,  the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”

This needs to be understood and accepted. I suppose we will develop these into living discipleship; you’ll that water baptism is analogous to a master key that opens the door to a special joy. Obeying the command to be baptized pleases Jesus. And that is what we long to do.

“Indeed, baptism is a vow, a sacred vow of the believer to follow Christ. Just as a wedding celebrates the fusion of two hearts, baptism celebrates the union of sinner with Savior.”

–Max Lucado

Baptism is an outward expression of inward faith.

–Watchman Nee

Baptism separates the tire kickers from the car buyers.

    –Max Lucado

A special word to “older” believers: There may come a time when you feel that you would want to be baptized again.  I believe that this is not only allowable but commendable.  You may have not had a good understanding of the baptismal process, but now it makes sense.  I would encourage you to follow your heart. God will honor your rededication. Ask your pastor or elder what they think.

 

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Little Christs

Luke 9:1-6, Amplified

Now Jesus called together the twelve [disciples] and gave them [the right to exercise] power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases. Then He sent them out [on a brief journey] to preach the kingdom of God and to perform healing. 

And He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey [that might encumber you]—neither a walking stick, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not even have two [b]tunics apiece. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that city [to go to another]. And as for all those who do not welcome you, when you leave that city, shake the dust off your feet [breaking all ties with them] as a testimony against them [that they rejected My message].” 

So they began going from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing the sick everywhere.

A disciple’s perspective:

Jesus called the twelve of us together that day for a reason–He wanted us to start doing His work, which, I admit wasn’t really in my thinking. But this was His plan, and He knew exactly what He was doing. I didn’t feel remotely competent, and the thought of doing what Jesus did seemed a bit sacrilegious. I was very intimidated.

But now I can see that was what He intended all along, to push us into the supernatural–preaching, healing, and exorcising demons. He wanted us to touch people, to meet the needs of the desperate, and by doing so, extend the kingdom of God.

We were all skeptical, obviously. We weren’t Jesus, not by a long shot, and we had no right or ability to do miracles. On our own, I we were still fishermen and tax collectors. And honestly, what Jesus was asking (or commanding?) was for us to leave what we felt was comfortable and to step into His sandals. He wanted us to be just like Him.

He gave us His authority and power–it was His to give.

I suppose that this was the key to it all. We had witnessed fantastic miracles, stunning things that pretty much undid us. Jesus repeatedly defied the laws of nature—with just a word. And we’re His disciples, so I suppose that meant we needed to step out and touch people just like He taught. I guess that was Jesus’ plan for us all along. We just thought it wouldn’t happened this quick.

So the power and authority was given and we became “little Christs.”

Two by two we went in different directions to discover for ourselves what would happen. The needs we encountered were substantial. The world was a needy place that made its home in the pain and darkness of the demonized and the desperate. It seemed overwhelming. I think we all felt weak and very inadequate.

It’s funny, but we suddenly saw all these people through His eyes–it’s like we never had seen them before. We were now cloaked in Jesus’ very own power. When we laid hands on people astonishing miracles began to happen. All at once there were needs all around us. And the people kept coming.

I began to understand what it really meant to love people. We had left the relative safety of learners and had now became doers. I suppose we realized that there was an incredible difference between the two. We were all astonished by what we saw, at that moment we had few doubts about what was happening inside of us.

It changed us like nothing else could!

Being made into “little Christs” made perfect sense. We saw fantastic miracles and dramatic victories over dark demons. The things we had seen Jesus do were now the things we were doing! Suddenly everything came together and we understood many of the words that He had tried to drill into our thick skulls.

From village to village we went–we stayed with whoever wanted us. The needs we saw were staggering, from sunrise to sunset people came. Wherever we turned there seemed to be somebody else, but Jesus’ own authority was always present, it never diminished or weakened. It was like a bubbling spring that never once ran dry.

I suppose what happened inside me was just as much a miracle as we had seen Him do for others.

I was astonished–up to now I never realized how exciting it was to follow the Lord Jesus. What a joy to see the face of a man or woman who was set free. It was such a thrill to touch a little boy’s dead eyes and suddenly realize that he could see!

So this is what it honestly means to be His disciple!

“Truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

John 14:12

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The Hidden Power of the Kingdom

Mix it up and watch out!

 “He told them another parable.” 

“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

Matthew 13:33

One version says 50 lbs (or 40 liters for your metric fiends) of flour. Crazy, why that much is beyond me–some figured it out and it would be enough bread for 100 people at least. Far more flour and yeast that was close to normal use. The parable that Jesus taught would certainly be humorous to the listeners. I suppose their imaginations were in overdrive.

What Jesus taught in these stories was incredibly practical and it engaged the listeners. They would leave and the stories would stick. Whether they realized it or not, His truth would impact them.

These stories were like bombs that would eventually explode in the hearts of the people.

Sooner or later, maybe when they least expected it, these parables would suddenly make sense. A lightning strike. Very seldom did they connect immediately. We can see this by the disciples’ desire to have them explained. They didn’t get it at first. But when Jesus illuminated them, they understood.

I believe that the Kingdom of God is hidden in us and it has outrageous power.

It works secretly, it’s not visible to anyone. It just does its stuff. The yeast, combined with the flour is a hidden process–something that isn’t observable. Perhaps that’s the way God’s kingdom comes, quietly, secretly but powerfully. Once the flour and yeast combine it’s pretty difficult to stop it.

That kingdom is working in our lives.

And most of the time it’s a hidden work. We can’t understand the process or grasp how it’s happening. We seldom know what God is doing. We may concentrate on being a witness to our neighbor, (which is a good thing, please do) but perhaps the Holy Spirit is working instead on our patience or love.

Usually, what we think is going on isn’t.

I’ve been in ministry for almost 40 years now, and I’ve tried to be faithful and worked on my discernment. But it seems I don’t quite grasp yet what the Father is doing inside of me. And I admit, I’m not really sure what’s going on in the lives of those I teach and counsel. Most of the time, I have no idea what he’s doing.

And that’s alright. I know he loves me very much and I trust him to work in me.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Philippians 1:6

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The Fellowship of Pain

“In one of the villages, Jesus met a man with an advanced case of leprosy. When the man saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground, begging to be healed. “Lord,” he said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”

Luke 5:12, NLT

The Bible text reveals a man who is desperate.  His leprosy has advanced; he is covered with it from ‘head-to-toe.’ He’s an outcast now, completely infected by something he never asked for; he is ‘unclean’ and completely without hope. There is no treatment, the doctors can do nothing.

The leper knows that without the touch of Jesus, he’ll never be healed. 

He knows it; he doesn’t need to be convinced by anyone over the complete hopelessness of his condition. He has heard that he can do incredible miracles. Could it be that Jesus can heal his sickness? The leper comes and falls on his knees before the Lord, with his face in the dirt. This man is completely broken; he has no hope, except for Jesus. What else can he do?

Our diseases differ, but our lives have been completely changed by our pain. We all have this in common. 

Our pain and darkness vary. Some hurt more, some less. But we’ve all come to the place where we no longer have illusions of somehow being made whole. Whenever we meet, I think there should be a secret handshake or a password. We all share a comradeship— we’re all part of the same community.  We’re a broken club of tired and decidedly unclean misfits.

We belong to the fellowship of pain.

Lying in the dirt, we start to believe the unbelievable.  Our faith doesn’t activate our healing, as much as it simply guides us to Jesus. We can kneel, and perhaps that’s all we need to do. His presence drives away the fear, the doubt, and the pain. He’s come, and somehow we begin to hope for mercy. Only he can carry us through this.

In times past I’ve struggled with deep dark depression. I’ve had to take meds.  But when I come into Jesus’ presence, all my melancholy is driven out. He comes and I start to hope again.  Am I a stellar example of perfect discipleship?  I think not. But isn’t about us becoming “angels,” perhaps it’s more about us learning how to kneel, and to allow Jesus to touch our hearts.

You must do this, repeatedly.

“The power of the Church is not a parade of flawless people, but of a flawless Christ who embraces our flaws.”

“The Church is not made up of whole people, rather of the broken people who find wholeness in a Christ who was broken for us.”   

–Mike Yaconelli

 

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We Serve, First of All

servant-king

“But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.”

Mark 10:44

I admit that I’m processing something right now.

I suppose its implications could turn everything ‘upside down,’ at least for me anyway. Some scientists have postulated that our planet is due for a complete magnetic switchover. This is when the north becomes south and vice versa. My issues at this moment are not quite that cosmic.

There are 7,000,000,000+ people now alive on this planet.

Sometimes I wonder if many of my issues come from not seeing this. It seems that there’s an intoxication of success when we become increasingly confused over ‘who’ we are. We think it’s about our efforts, our giftedness. Pride drives us, even among mature Christian believers.

3 “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”

Philippians 2

Jesus was not driven like we seem to be.

We, on the other hand, think we need to be assertive, (at least the Christian version of it) and push our way forward. However, Jesus’ message and teaching were all about emptying Himself of being God and becoming a servant of servants. This is the arresting fact we fail to consider–

Jesus did all of this while wearing a towel, not a crown.

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet.  

John 13:3-5

He could have just done a ‘teaching’ on servanthood and I’m certain it would have been more than sufficient. But instead, Jesus put ‘skin on His words’ and actually got down on His knees to wash dirty feet. His disciples freaked out when they saw him do this.

It was something they could never forget.

6 “Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,

 he humbled himself in obedience to God
   and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”

How can we not do this???

This is a hard question to ask, but to be perfectly honest, does our discipleship include emptying ourselves daily? Can we find peace and fulfillment by becoming an unknown? Is this what we’re missing in becoming Christlike? These are very hard questions.

Just perhaps we must look around and look for the lowest place that we can find. Just maybe that’s really God’s will for us??

“Humility is perfect quietness of heart, It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me.”

“It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble.”   

Andrew Murray

(All verses in this post are from Philippians 2, NLT, unless noted.)

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Speaking His Language

Peter Warms Himself

“The girl asked Peter, “Aren’t you one of Jesus’ disciples?”

“No,” he said, “I am not!”

“The police and the household servants were standing around a fire they had made, for it was cold. And Peter stood there with them, warming himself.”

John 18:17-18, Living Bible

The Galileans had a distinct accent. Just as we easily identify someone from Boston just by the tone and cadence of their speech, Peter had that distinct drawl that told everyone that he came from that same province as Jesus. It was something he couldn’t conceal.

Peter was a very different man in his three years of being with Jesus. And you might say that had transformed him–you might even say that he was now a marked man, the enemy was now quite aware of him. He was no longer a captain of a small fishing boat looking for a catch. He was now the leader of Jesus’ disciples.

The entire text (18:15-18) reveals a confrontation that Peter had with a servant girl, and we hear him making a bold-faced lie. At this very moment Peter was fulfilling the “promise” that Jesus had predicted (Matthew 26:31-32).

What was going through Peter’s head at that moment?

She was a simple servant girl, perhaps one who ministered at the gate of the high priest’s home. It’s interesting that she is the first one to question Peter’s duplicity. Most likely she was just doing her job, watching and listening. She was probably quite alert.

It’s easy to point our finger at Peter. He was a coward, and when he was put on the spot he bailed. People hate cowards–we extol those who take a definite stand against evil. But he was frightened, scared of being connected with Jesus–the man on trial. There was much at stake here.

We also speak with an accent. I know it might be a stretch–but being with Jesus has fundamentally changed us. Our lives now have a specific dialect that others hear, we’re not the same people that we once were.

We open our mouths and others can hear the Kingdom of God. We can’t hide that dialect.

Sometimes I try to pretend that I haven’t been with Jesus, and I’m very ashamed of that. Like Peter, I stand with the others and choose to warm myself by their fire, and I try very hard to make myself inconspicuous. But all I have to do is open my mouth, and I betray who I really am.

It’s really funny, but even servant girls know that I belong to him. He has fundamentally touched me.

“To stand before the Holy One of eternity is to change.”

Richard Foster

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When the Father Runs

Luke 15:20-24

20 “And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’”

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”

“Cursed is the man that feeds the swine.” That’s the commentary on Jewish ritual cleanness. The prodigal knew this, but when you’re starving, tradition is thrown out the window. It’s really hard to be spiritually correct when your stomach is growling. In verse 17, we see that the prodigal suddenly realized his condition. Notice the change:

It took sometime for this to happen. But it was a true and a complete repentance. A total alteration of his mind and heart took place at that point. And I must assume, when he finally made the decision to return, he didn’t even say ‘good bye’ to the pigs.

It’s the Father’s reaction that fascinates me.

How does God see us? Is he angry or frustrated? And yes I suppose, there is ample reason for him to treat us with caution. Deep down, we know exactly how dark we are, and on a superficial level we realize our dirt doesn’t belong in heaven. And yet the father is in a party frame of mind. That isn’t rational.

There were no tests to see if the repentance was real.

Did he really repent, or was it all for show? The text tell us that he was hungry, maybe he just wanted a hand-out? Did he meet the criteria needed for reinstatement? It amazes me, there wasn’t a 30 day waiting period to determine whether the prodigal had truly repented. No, the party started when the father hugged his son.

Do you see the “suddenness” of this part of the story?

At least for me, the pace quickens, and I imagine the whole household jumped up to get in the act. Verse 10 explains the joy that reverberates through heaven at this, Just so, I tell you, “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Joy seems to be the key thought to really “get” these verses. If we can’t see it saturate (like a sponge) we’ll never understand this parable. Its not hard if you can read it with excitement and anticipation. If you decide to do so, it’ll make a lot of sense, and it’ll be less mysterious.

This story is as much about the father as it’s about the son.

In it we see the character of the Father revealed. We see his joy, and excitement over his son’s return. Right from the start we see him running, (v. 20) moving to his son. I can see a weeping father giving his son a big bear hug and lots of kisses. He has hoped and dreamed about this moment.

Golly, there is so much to be said: there’s a ring and shoes and a roasted calf. But I think that the overwhelming lesson is the joy of the father. It tells me much about what he’s like–and he’s not at all what I thought he’d be.

I’m convinced, after 30 years of reading this parable, that He’s the Father who is always moving, and he runs to meet us. He’s the One who is filled with joy at our return. Please dear one, take Him at His word.

“What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God!”

1 John 3:1. MSG

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A Spectacle of Grace

Some Christians are called to endure. These believers are a spectacle of grace to the church, like flaming bushes unconsumed, and cause us to ask, like Moses:

‘Why is this bush not burned up?’

Exodus 3:2-3

The strength and stability of these believers can be explained only by the miracle of God’s sustaining grace. The God who sustains Christians in unceasing pain is the same God — with the same grace — who sustains me in my smaller sufferings. We marvel at God’s persevering grace and grow in our confidence in Him as He governs our lives.

— John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace”

All of us know a brother or sister who seems to be a target of an undue amount of suffering. It seems like they’re always in the furnace. Perhaps we should give them double honor for their faith in God’s grace and providence. Their hurt is typically inside, and most carry this pain apart from others’ knowledge. They cry when they think no one is looking.

What can we say to those who seem to be in a white-hot furnace? How can we bless those who are in so much pain? They hurt deeply, and honestly, at times we have no idea what they’re having to endure. They’re being challenged in ways we never imagined. We should realize that their burden would probably destroy us.

Ministering to these sufferers can be a real challenge. Even if God is directing you!

Sometimes just a word of simple encouragement is all that is needed. A phone call or an email is good, and it’s the work of a believer to actively lift each other up like this. This is how the Church is meant to be. We watch out for each other, we care for each brother and sister, and it’s a joy to serve each other like this.

But sometimes it might be necessary to speak directly into their awful storm.

In the midst of some awful difficulties in my early walk, I had a dear brother who was so kind. He gently (and carefully) quoted Philippians 1:6 to me over and over. It was wonderful and so encouraging–he blessed me with that promise and it’s now my “life verse” fifty years later!

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Philippians 1:6, ESV

A good reminder for us is that the pain we feel right now is not the end. Our trials have a finite duration (although it seems far away). There’s coming a day when the difficulty will suddenly cease and we’ll come out on the other side. “We’ll shine like the stars,” scripture promises us. (Daniel 12:3). I really believe we’ll see that.

Much wisdom is needed in our ministry to disproportionate sufferers. We should have a fear of intruding on the work the Lord is doing in their spiritual heart. We must be patient and humble in this matter. There is no rushing God, after all, it’s His work. Most importantly we must be very much ‘present’ for our friend.

“But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance.”

Romans 5:3

But please understand. A “word” spoken out of place can cause even more ‘heartache’ for the sufferer. Let’s be careful. At times it’s better not to say anything, and to be honest, that’s okay. Job’s friends were best sitting in the ash heap saying not a word.  Please dear one, be aware, alert, and very wise about these things.

Just wait on God—-be sensitive, discerning, and pray a whole lot. It’s no small thing to speak to those who are hurting so deeply.

“The Lord God gives me the right words to encourage the weary. Each morning he awakens me eager to learn his teaching.”

Isaiah 50:4, CEB

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Without a Wound?

angel6

The subject of “the pool at Bethesda” alludes to the Thorton Wilder play, “The Angel that Troubled the Waters.” 

The play is based on the biblical verses of John 5:1-4, however, it changes the end of the parable. 

The play tells of a physician who comes to the pool of Bethesda, hoping to see the stir, and then be the first in the water, and healed of his melancholy and debilitating depression.  An angel appears and troubles the water. Everybody at the pool hopes to be the first one in and to be healed of their disability.

…………………………………………………………………

An angel appears and blocks the physician at the very moment he is ready to step into the pool and be healed.

Angel: “Drawback, physician, this moment is not for you.”angel1

Physician: “Angelic visitor, I pray thee, listen to my prayer.

Angel: “This healing dear physician, is not for you.”

Physician: “Surely, surely, the angels are wise. Surely, O Prince, you are not deceived by my apparent wholeness. Your eyes can see the nets in which my wings are caught; the sin into which all my endeavors sink half-performed, cannot be concealed from you.”

Angel: “I know.”

Physician: “Oh, in such an hour was I born, and doubly fearful to me is the flaw in my heart. Must I drag my shame, Prince and Singer, all my days more bowed than my neighbor?”

Angel: Without your wound where would your power be?” 

“It is your very sadness that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men. The very angels themselves, cannot persuade the wretched, and blundering children on earth, as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In Love’s service, only the wounded soldiers can serve. Drawback.”

Later, the person who enters the pool first, and was healed rejoices in his good fortune, then turns to the physician before leaving and says:

“But come with me first, an hour only, to my home. My son is lost in dark thoughts. I — I do not understand him, and only you have ever lifted his mood.”

“Only an hour… my daughter, since her child has died, sits in the shadow. She will not listen to us, but she will listen to you.”

For me, the play pierces with the ‘bullet message’ of this wonderful line— “Without your wound where would your power be?“ This seems to me to be a slow percolating of Paul’s teaching, mainly, that it’s through my weaknesses that I can truly minister to others like Jesus. It’s the Apostle Paul declaring it’s the weak things that work to create something solid and true in us. And I hope this grows in the many lives that this ministry, alaskabibleteacher.com reaches.

I hope so anyway. Pray for me.

 

I first encountered this excerpt in the book, “Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging,” by Brennan Manning. The book is a worthy read, and worth finding if you can.

Please check out Brennan Manning’s Facebook page for more info.

 

 

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He Kisses Broken Lips

kiss-596093_960_720

“The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’”

Luke 7:34

God in some profound way, accommodates Himself to your ‘sickness.’ He will never turn or pull away. There is nothing you have done that ‘disgusts’ Him. Nothing. He sent His own Son to give His life for you.

He has this beautiful quality about Him–He becomes quite tender and gentle around any spiritual disease. He gravitates to the broken ones. His love for sinners is a well-established fact we must consider frequently.

In his book Mortal Lessons (Touchstone Books, 1987) physician Richard Selzer describes a scene in a hospital room after he had performed surgery on a young woman’s face:

“I stand by the bed where the young woman lies. . . her face, postoperative . . . her mouth twisted in palsy . . . clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, one of the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be that way from now on. I had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh, I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had cut this little nerve. Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to be in a world all their own in the evening lamplight . . . isolated from me . . private.”

“Who are they? I ask myself . . .

“He and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously. The young woman speaks. “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks. “Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.” She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says, “it’s kind of cute.” All at once I know who he is.”

“I understand, and I lower my gaze.”

“One is not bold in an encounter with the divine. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers. . . to show her that their kiss still works.”

This is who Jesus has always been to you.

And if you think you are getting to be a great kisser or are looking desirable, I feel sorry for you. For it’s He who wraps himself around our hurts, our brokenness and our ugly, our ever-present sin.

Those of you who want to draw big, dark lines between my humanity and my sin, go right ahead, but I’m not joining you. And I don’t really understand you.

I need Jesus so much to love me like I really am: brokenness, memories, wounds, sins, addictions, lies, death, fear….all of it. (Take all it, Lord Jesus.) If I don’t present this broken, messed up person to Jesus, my faith is dishonest, and my understanding of it will become a way of continuing the ruse and pretense of being “good.”

God truly loves the unlovely.

He is wildly passionate about those who have been disfigured by sin. Those who turn with pretense find a sort of ‘spiritual Botox’ that can only hide their blemishes. But coming to him with all we can muster we’ll find in Him our healing and real acceptance.

You see, you’re the young woman in this story. The kisses of your Savior are yours. Unconditionally. And forever.

For some reason, He delights in kissing crooked lips.

Meeting Judas Iscariot

Matthew 27:3-10

My name is Judas Iscariot, and I betrayed my Lord. It really had nothing to do with avarice or greed. The money was fine, don’t get me wrong, but that isn’t why I turned him into the authorities. I simply did what they couldn’t. I wanted to force Jesus’ hand, so he had to drive the Romans out of our country. I was mistaken, I see that now.

Jesus loved each of us, including me. But I didn’t see it at the time.

When he knelt to wash my feet, it shook me. When he stripped down to his undergarments, I admit I had some serious doubts. Behaving like a common slave wasn’t really in my thinking. It would take extra work to shape him, and to deaden such strange behavior. But it would be worth it in the end, if only Jesus would cooperate.

In my mind, I knew that Jesus only needed the right moment to become the next ruler of Israel. That was his destiny, and I was going to help him bring it to pass. I knew that God had called me–this was my purpose. I’d be the kingmaker, and Jesus would certainly reward me.

Some have said that Satan was inside me.

But I hardly noticed. Instead, I was filled with excitement. Finally, the other disciples would come to my side, and together we could make it happen. Enough kneeling, no more groveling–we’re going to rule Israel and end the wicked Roman occupation. I truly believed this. He was our Messiah, our deliverer.

The tricky part was to convince Jesus, to try to manipulate him if necessary, to get him to take control.

My plan was simplicity itself–after I met with the Pharisees, I’d lead them to the garden where Jesus was staying. They insisted on an armed escort, just in case there was trouble among the disciples. I suppose that was prudent, but my part in all of this was simply to give Jesus a kiss on the cheek, to signify that he was the one to the soldiers.

I assumed he would resist and fight. I was so wrong.

Nothing went as planned. Jesus didn’t take charge, and he certainly didn’t overthrow the government. As a matter of fact, you could say that the opposite happened; he was silent and refused to answer most of their questions. I did hear him say, “My kingdom is not of this world.” I should have listened.

I realized way too late, that I helped shed innocent blood. I went back to the priests who hired me, and I insisted they take back the silver. They refused. I threw the bag at their feet and left the temple. Ugly thoughts now filled my mind, and I knew without a doubt that I was completely lost.

Please excuse me, but I have a date with a rope.

The Prayer of a Minor Prophet

by A.W. Tozer

His Ordination Prayer as a Pastor, serving in the Christian and Missionary Alliance

August 18, 1920

O Lord, I have heard Thy voice and was afraid. Thou has called me to an awesome task in a grave and perilous hour. Thou art about to shake all nations and the earth and also heaven, that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. O Lord, my Lord, Thou has stooped to honor me to be Thy servant. No man taketh this honor upon himself save he that is called of God as was Aaron. Thou has ordained me Thy messenger to them that are stubborn of heart and hard of hearing. They have rejected Thee, the Master, and it is not to be expected that they will receive me, the servant.

My God, I shall not waste time deploring my weakness nor my unfittedness for the work.

The responsibility is not mine, but Thine. Thou has said, “I knew thee – I ordained thee – I sanctified thee,” and Thou hast also said, “Thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak.” Who am I to argue with Thee or to call into question Thy sovereign choice? The decision is not mine but Thine. So be it, Lord. Thy will, not mine, be done.

Well do I know, Thou God of the prophets and the apostles, that as long as I honor Thee Thou will honor me. Help me therefore to take this solemn vow to honor Thee in all my future life and labors, whether by gain or by loss, by life or by death, and then to keep that vow unbroken while I live.

It is time, O God, for Thee to work, for the enemy has entered into Thy pastures and the sheep are torn and scattered. And false shepherds abound who deny the danger and laugh at the perils which surround Thy flock. The sheep are deceived by these hirelings and follow them with touching loyalty while the wolf closes in to kill and destroy. I beseech Thee, give me sharp eyes to detect the presence of the enemy; give me understanding to see and courage to report what I see faithfully. Make my voice so like Thine own that even the sick sheep will recognize it and follow Thee.

Lord Jesus, I come to Thee for spiritual preparation.

Lay Thy hand upon me. Anoint me with the oil of the New Testament prophet. Forbid that I should be come a religious scribe and thus lose my prophetic calling. Save me from the curse that lies dark across the modern clergy, the curse of compromise, of imitation, of professionalism. Save me from the error of judging a church by its size, its popularity or the amount of its yearly offering. Help me to remember that I am a prophet – not a promoter, not a religious manager, but a prophet. Let me never become a slave to crowds. Heal my soul of carnal ambitions and deliver me from the itch for publicity. Save me from bondage to things. Let me not waste my days puttering around the house. Lay Thy terror upon me, O God, and drive me to the place of prayer where I may wrestle with principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world. Deliver me from overeating and late sleeping. Teach me self-discipline that I may be a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

I accept hard work and small rewards in this life.

I ask for no easy place. I shall try to be blind to the little ways that could make life easier. If others seek the smoother path I shall try to take the hard way without judging them too harshly. I shall expect opposition and try to take it quietly when it comes. Or if, as sometimes it falleth out to Thy servants, I should have grateful gifts pressed upon me by Thy kindly people, stand by me then and save me from the blight that often follows. Teach me to use whatever I receive in such manner that will not injure my soul nor diminish my spiritual power. And if in Thy permissive providence honor should come to me from Thy church, let me not forget in that hour that I am unworthy of the least of Thy mercies, and that if men knew me as intimately as I know myself they would withhold their honors or bestow them upon others more worthy to receive them.

And now, O Lord of heaven and earth, I consecrate my remaining days to Thee; let them be many or few, as Thou wilt. Let me stand before the great or minister to the poor and lowly; that choice is not mine, and I would not influence it if I could. I am Thy servant to do Thy will, and that will is sweeter to me than position or riches or fame and I choose it above all things on earth or in heaven.

Though I am chosen of Thee and honored by a high and holy calling, let me never forget that I am but a man of dust and ashes, a man with all the natural faults and passions that plague the race of men. I pray Thee, therefore, my Lord and Redeemer, save me from myself and from all the injuries I may do myself while trying to be a blessing to others. Fill me with Thy power by the Holy Spirit, and I will go in Thy strength and tell of Thy righteousness, even Thine only. I will spread abroad the message of redeeming love while my normal powers endure.

Then, dear Lord, when I am old and weary and too tired to go on, have a place ready for me above, and make me to be numbered with Thy saints in glory everlasting. Amen.

AMEN.

“Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee;and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee,
and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.

Jeremiah 1:5, KJV

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The Scum

“But when some of the Jewish religious leaders saw him eating with these men of ill repute, they said to his disciples, “How can he stand it, to eat with such scum?”

Mark 2:16

There are four different types of people listed in Mark 2. This is an amazing passage that really does need a closer look. We really do must understand what Jesus did, and what He insisted we do as followers. Is there room for that? There’s something here in verse 16 which we must think about:

  • Jesus, (He’s happily eating and listening)
  • the Pharisees, (the bad guys with religious issues)
  • the disciples, (a mixed bunch of nobodies)
  • the scum, (tax-collectors, harlots, and all-around rascals)

A question is asked by the Pharisees to the disciples–perhaps these religious leaders want Jesus’ followers to see the awful ramifications of the Lord’s conduct. Perhaps the Pharisees wanted to confuse these followers. A divide and conquer strategy?

Jesus has chosen to be with outcasts.

And I believe this was a deliberate decision. Jesus wanted to fellowship, but the religious leaders were not invited. Too bad.

He is eating with these “men of ill repute.” The old KJV brings out a different take, “How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?” Now, this is fascinating.

I believe that Jesus chooses to be with those who have lost their way. I believe that He desires people who will never measure up. In a sense, He is rejecting religion over incompetence.

“When Jesus heard this, he told them, “It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 2:17

I’m encouraged by His decision. It tells me that I still have hope.

Jesus’ Favorite Rascal
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Am I Like Peter?

To follow Him can be really hard. There doesn’t seem to be any contingency plans for any who are looking to escape such a drastic call. Jesus either is, or He isn’t our Lord. “Do you also want to leave?” This is a question that will be asked to every disciple–sometimes once, and sometimes repeatedly.

There are these crystalline moments when I must make a decision. Will I take up my cross and go with Him? There doesn’t seem to be any room in Jesus’ band for ‘almost’ disciples. That scares me sometimes.

Today’s cross is waiting for me. I’m afraid at times that I won’t be able to take the next step as a true follower. Am I just fooling myself?

All of heaven seems to stand on tiptoe to see what I’m going to do next.

Who am I really?

Being obedient to Jesus is far from easy. We must have His Spirit.

“After this, many of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance:

“Do you also want to leave?”

“Peter replied, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.”

John 6:66-69, The Message

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Image from Wikipedia, verses are from The Message Bible by Eugene Peterson.