Wednesday, July 06, 2016


As I sit and write this, I’m sitting on my front porch in rural southwestern Virginia. It’s a new porch, to me. Thunder is rolling for minutes at a time as it settles down and bellows across endless mountain valleys that surround us here.  Showers are gently falling upon our month-old garden and all of the green that invades my entire line of vision is soaking up the much-needed rain. The only sounds to be heard are birds singing and an occasional cow or rooster letting us know they’re in the vicinity. This is a great afternoon.

Roughly six weeks ago, we up and left all that we’ve known in Georgia and relocated to the rolling Appalachian hills and mountains in Virginia. We sold our home of nearly fifteen years in just two weeks’ time. We sold or gave away a lot of our belongings. I walked away from my thriving business of twenty years. Kristin packed up all of our things and we headed north into an unknown land. We had anxieties, dreams, excitement and endless wonderings of what it all would entail. The LORD spoke to us many promises about moving here.  Some of them instantly made no sense whatsoever, others are now unfolding and many more will take a lifetime to become revealed. Most all of them are too personal to disclose here, so they will dwell safely preserved in our hearts. How precious it is to have promises for ourselves and our families.

In these few weeks, we’ve quickly adjusted to many changes, many of them in the natural. We have no air conditioning, no dishwasher, Kristin hangs our laundry on an awesome clothesline everyday (that I, with great precision installed myself, I’d like to add) no TV, our neighbors are cows and horses… and yes, we’re still alive and well! I often feel like we’ve landed in a rural, mountain getaway of some sort yet we never have to leave.

Of course, many changes in the spiritual have also been intertwined in the midst of it all. I’ve confronted that being outside working in the barn until 9:30 at night or even getting up at 5:30am with your (nearly) five-year-old son because he’s ready to eat breakfast and get outside can easily busy oneself and distract from one’s spiritual life, if you’re not careful. Add on top of that the demands of restarting my business here from zero, in an entirely new environment and surroundings, and you have a recipe for strain on a spiritual life. Spiritual vitality doesn’t just happen magically because you change environments, you know. 

Perhaps I’m just wired strangely or maybe it’s just immaturity, I don’t know. I need to study. I need to pray. I need to have dedicated time of dialogue with my Heavenly Father in order to continually thrive in my inner man. Now can I interact with the Lord easier working my garden as I overlook the beautiful scenery here as opposed to zoning out in front of my television every night? You’d better believe it! But all of the goings on in this natural life and its demands still strive for my attention and gaze.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

So, after several weeks of laboring to no end to get my business running here, quite unsuccessfully I might add, I hit the pause button. I was not enduring well whatsoever. I wasn’t adjusting well to a struggling business venture. After talking with my wife and friends, I began to see that I had allowed the frustration and disappointment of my business struggles to rob me of my joy here. I’d come home after ten hours of rejection with a pretty rotten attitude overall. I wasn’t rejoicing in the opportunity or walking humbly with a thankful heart. I was dejected and grasping for my identity here in this new place. One day while I was out and had actually got a job at a new office, I had my equipment and product out. I saw a bottle of tire dressing in my product container that's called "Endurance" and a light came on. I hadn't used that stuff in months and I thought I had even thrown it out. But, there it sat to send me a simple message that I needed to hear.

Had I so quickly lost my peace, rest and joy of this new and awesome season? Had it only taken several weeks of exasperating, yet inconsequential trials for me to, on any level, surrender my anticipation of what God is orchestrating here? Lord, forgive me. I believe, help my unbelief. I had subtly, yet increasingly, succumbed to the long days of rejection and resulting failure of getting my business on its feet here. It had become interwoven into my every thought. I’d come home to this hidden place of rest angry, bitter and insecure in my position as provider for my family in this new environment. Here I am, nearly forty-three years of age and still acting juvenile in the matters of my heart towards God. Admittedly, even this wants to spin against my favor and frustrate me further, but instead I rest in the elementary fact that God has a greater plan - a plan of a greater death to deeper issues within me that these situations reveal.

There are many things about living here that I thought would be so hard, that have been easy. And then other things, like restarting my business here, that I didn’t even give a thought to, that have been extremely difficult. But in it all, more layers of self, pride, identity and spiritually infantile behavior have been unearthed. So, in this I rejoice. It’s surely no secret that I am surely in need of rescuing and preserving. Thankfully, this is exactly what this ongoing mystery of salvation is all about. Identifying and walking away from the flesh that relentlessly strives for my attention as I embrace the regeneration power of Christ that enables me to come out on the other side. Not just seemingly “better” either ,but more and more conformed into His incredible image.

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 1 Peter 1:6

So what of all of this? Allow me to get to somewhat of a point, should there actually be one. I’ve been driving more miles than ever lately looking for work up here and the CD player in my truck isn’t working. So, at times I’ll scour the radio for anything - anything -that’s worth allowing into my ears. I’ll occasionally try Christian radio, usually with repeated remorse. Many songs, almost every radio spot, the live DJ and even many ads are all echoing the same recurring theme, “Get Jesus and be better.” “Trust Jesus and you’ll be happier.” “Give your life to God and all will be OK.” “Just get ‘positive’ things in your life.” If this is the currently prominent Christian message, it’s declaring that we must avoid anything that makes us sad, troubled or tested. What about growing in tough times? What about maturing in the midst of trials? What about embracing seasons of being uncomfortable and allowing God to purify us in the process?

Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 2:3

If I never make room for tough times, whether brought on by myself or simply circumstantial, to have their place, how will I ever arrive at the position where my need for a Saviour is revealed? I don’t just need Christ to rescue me once and for all. I need Him daily to save me and liberate me so that I might be conformed into the man He has destined me to be, in Him. In our depravity, pre-regeneration, we saw our need, that is if we were truly changed. It’s this same desperate need for a Saviour that must remain on this side of our adoption by the Father. Although now a son, I am still in this fallen shell of flesh that is reliant upon the power of the Spirit of God to continually move me from death to life as I embrace all that comes my way to perfect me.

Much of what I hear in these mainstream Christian themes seems to define spiritual success as being happy and “blessed.” (One radio ad even had an on-air personality sharing about how getting her leg veins lasered complimented her spiritual life and helped her find joy and confidence in herself.) We tend to go to great ends to dwell in comforts and familiarities and rarely, if ever, venture out into a position of faith because we labor to avoid any sort of trial or thing that makes us seem dependent – on God or others. We must be careful not to fight off adverse conditions and circumstances that come our way. As with several things that are before me at this moment, I must seek the Lord to find what it is that He is desiring to work out of me in the midst of it all. What is His perspective? What is this circumstance revealing about my innermost places? It’s not as much about the trial as it is what the trial is bringing to light.

But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. Matthew 24:13

Lastly, there is truly an excitement in finding others who properly find pleasure in the trials and the perfecting that they bring about in us. Only when we position ourselves to embrace all that comes our way can we mature rightly in spiritual matters. It’s surely no new discovery, we’re instructed all throughout the Scriptures to do so. Are you embracing your current circumstances and all of their embedded tests? Are you looking to escape and just avoid tough times entirely? Are you sure you’ve not mistaken God’s purifying plan for a work of the enemy? These are questions we must address. We must walk in wisdom and awareness of why we’re in the midst of whatever it is that comes our way.

So, to the wondering few, we’re alive and well here in our new home, welcoming the challenges that this new adventure entails. May the Lord continue to show us all compassion and patience as we journey along this life. May we find joy in our trials and delight that we have been given yet another opportunity to surrender our will and plans. In my heart I plan my course, but the Lord determines my steps.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Looking Upon/Seeing Through

There are few people mentioned in the Bible less than the two thieves on the cross. We don’t know their names, specific offenses, or backgrounds. We’re not told where they’re from or why they were chosen to be crucified on either side of Jesus. In fact, only five verses in Luke are dedicated to referencing them at all, even though they were strategically placed at the pinnacle of God’s plan of redemption for all of mankind.

Luke 23 tells us,Two others also, who were criminals, were being led away to be put to death with Him… One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, ‘Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!’ But the other answered, and rebuking him said, ‘Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!’ And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.’

Matthew’s record of these events informs us that these men were known as “robbers” or “thieves”. No matter what their reason for fault and sentence, they obviously shared the commonality that they both had been deemed guilty by their peers and sentenced to die a cruel death upon a cross. The Scriptures explain them to be known as malefactors or evil doers. Matthew and Mark actually state that both of these men were insulting Jesus as we see in Matthew 15: 32 – Those who were crucified with Him were also insulting Him.So, we can only wonder, when we see Luke’s account of what transpired, what changed? Was it Jesus’ response to the insults that perhaps resulted in differing outcomes in these men? One, moved to become humbled and repentant. The other, hard-hearted and entirely justified.

These differing views of Christ’s actions on our behalf brings me to the point of this message as I thoroughly believe we have the same opportunity before us today, these many years later. We, too, are transgressors sentenced to die. We, too have a Savior and King who bore our sins and looked upon us with compassion, forgiveness and immeasurable love – declaring, as ones who are prideful and arrogant, who know not what we do. Today, we are beside Him, gazing upon His sacrifice.  What will we do with it? Of course this is applicable to salvation and our embracing or rejecting the cross of Christ and His sacrificial gift of eternal life; eternal life that begins immediately, as we see in the repentant thief. We can embrace or reject this awesome gift or we can walk away, entirely justified of our actions and response.

That being said, what I write will almost always land in the hands (or should I say, on the screens) of Believers in Christ who are, at least on some level, seeking to mature and be transformed into the image of Christ. So, with that in mind, I’d like to surpass what could be presented as the “main” theme of this message and go a bit deeper and see how it applies to relationships within the Body of Christ. I surely don’t need to interview every reader to be assured that we’ve all been wronged at some point within the Church. I don’t even want to open up the box of examples and potential experiences that we’ve all had. Let’s keep it simple and focused, shall we? I’ve been in many gatherings and meetings where hurts were laid bare and healing came, that’s for sure. There is absolutely a place for this and it is often the proper approach for us to all to get to ground zero and properly address our correct role within the Body of Christ – in health and order. But we, of course, cannot stay there for we’re meant to face our error, repent and move upward and onward.

What I’ve seen little of however, are gatherings where the focus was our personal responsibility in these trying matters that arise, the other side of the coin, if you will. Even when we embark on discussing hurts and wrongs, percentages would lean 90/10 in favor of how we were wronged (often rooted in victim mentality) as opposed to taking proper responsibility for our own role in the matter. Yes, I can recall many instances where I was blindsided and had the best of intentions that resulted in unwarranted wounds, so there are, of course, exceptions. But nearly every time I’m a/the responsible party (shared or sole). So what do we do? How do we avoid this errant mentality that diminishes the unified power of the Body of Christ and make every effort to lay aside our individuality-based, self-promoting and preserving thinking (pride)?

Let us again look back to Calvary. The two crucified criminals are “hurling insults” onto Jesus. Berating him and justly so (from their position). We well know that the pattern of Jesus was humility and a laying down of His will and very life. Although this culminated on the cross, it was nothing new in the Godhead’s life in flesh and bone. These men were faced with the same opportunity we’re faced with when we encounter and look upon Jesus. As we gaze back upon the man that was Jesus (and the Spirit that now is) we too can be either as one man – hard and calloused, or as the other – softened and transformed.

We see the unrepentant thief say, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!”. The Scriptures, expounded, tell us that he was “hurling abuse, reviling and blaspheming” Jesus (as they may well both have been initially). Here we see striking similarities to what those who had Jesus crucified were always found to be saying of Him. Mark’s account even tells us clearly, ”In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes, were mocking Him among themselves and saying,He saved others; He cannot save Himself.’” Let us look and acknowledge this pattern of blame-shifting, finger-pointing and self-righteousness that can entangle us all if we’re not cautious. It can quietly infiltrate the Body of Christ as we attempt to walk humbly before God and man – primarily because it originates within an unregenerated mind of selfishness (opposing the mind of Christ). Are we always waiting for others to excuse their own behavior or for them to be the confessor of issues within our relationships? Or are we, when confronted with the humility and forgiveness of Christ, willing to look deep into our own depravity and desperate need for His help and mercy? We cannot look upon Him, see our error and wickedness and then respond with self-righteous insults upon Him or any other – at least not if we have any hope of maturing into the image of Jesus and becoming a “one-man Body of Christ.” (This is so subtly dangerous because it often originates, and then remains, in our minds alone. It dwells in darkness and breeds death – in us and in His Body.) “We know love by this, that He laid down his life for us; we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 John 3:16). He is our perfect example and in order to move deeper into Him and properly become His representation, we must endeavor to grasp this reality.

The other thief, despite his seemingly similar initial response, experienced some level of heart change, as we saw earlier. We see him say to the one on the other side of Jesus, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”

Can we imagine this occasion? (Stop and revisit the accounts again if necessary.) Close your eyes and envision this event as it transpired. The repentant thief (I hesitate to even refer to him as “thief” in light of what took place in his nature as he began to embrace Jesus) had to look over, “through” Jesus, the Savior of all mankind in order to address this other man. I feel this is quite significant as I type it, admittedly previously overlooked by myself. Let’s stop and think on this reality. He had to look through Jesus to address this other criminal with a shared need for Jesus’ redemption and mercy. Oh friends, can we glean from this revelation? Not in a “well, of course we know that” sense but in a deep-rooted reality within the depths of our hearts. This man saw the ugliness of his carnality. He saw that he was desperately in need of saving.

So what caused these differing responses between these two men who seemingly shared so much in the natural? Why did one respond rightly in humility and why did one harden his heart and hate what he saw? This, of course, is a mystery (as it is the same today). Nonetheless, we have the same challenge before us today. And what we must understand rightly is that it’s not just for yours and my good! (This too is a selfish mentality that we must shed.) It is for the benefit of the entire Body of Christ, which, at the heart of it, is not really “for us” at all! We must move from individuality-based actions and responses to corporately-minded movements. Of course it must start within us, but we must move out and broaden our understanding to see how our own strongholds and personal sin inhibits the entire Body. My sin slows down the advancement of the Kingdom of God upon the earth! My rebellion cripples and sickens the Body of Christ that exists to reveal the glory of God.

In light of the true definition of the Body, which is not some nebulous thing, but a tangible entity that is properly unified under the headship of Christ Himself to demonstrate His power and reality upon the earth and into the heavens! The very expression of God Himself upon the earth! Fueled by humility and the relentless pursuit of laying ourselves bare - vulnerable - before God and the Body. This is why it’s of utmost importance who we place ourselves around in the context of sharing in this Christian journey.  We’re all prone to adjust ourselves to the level of faith, expectation and views of those we position ourselves around. It’s simply how we’re designed. Therefore it’s imperative that we prayerfully seek God’s order – individually, for our households and for who we allow to influence our journey. The Lord must be our Guide and Helper in order to properly align us with others. Peer influence is strong – good and bad, spiritual and natural. It’s imperative that we learn to walk in the spirit above all else, at all times. This must become our constant goal!

Now is the time to step back and properly assess our function within the Body of Christ. If we’re not walking empowered by the humility and lowliness that we encounter when we see Jesus, we are destined to be found in pride and self, therefore robbing the greater Body of strength and vitality. Lacking the humility that only God can birth and maintain within us is dangerous in regards to our attempts to demonstrate the reality of Christ on the earth. When we deny our need and depravity, we risk being reviling and abusive blasphemers that oppose the redemptive power of the cross-just like those we read of in the Scriptures (who interestingly enough, we’d be quick to call out as in evil opposition of the works of Jesus). We must see ourselves likewise, if we’re ever found to be moving outside of the life-giving power of Christ within us.

In discussing this article with my wife, she pointed out that we also must be ready to build each other up, with a genuine heart – to be God’s extended hand of encouragement, not just correction or “tough words”. If we were to examine ourselves deeply, perhaps we’d see that we may be prone to avoid heaping acclamation upon others because we’ve been somehow deceived that it belittles us or even voids our own personal experience. For example, praising one’s endeavors or spiritual experiences may somehow personally insinuate that we’re spiritually failing (or in a “lesser” place). I’m learning to say, “So what if it does?!” If I’m walking rightly, in humility, then this will either reveal something lacking in my spiritual walk or a root of jealousy. And, in this specific case, either result bears good fruit! Thinking along these lines, I’m realizing that I have in fact seen this delusion play out. Seeing others endeavors through judgmental eyes can be so detrimental to the Body. It should never be allowed to become competitive so that we allow bitterness to feed our individuality and self-indulged mindsets. It’s generally entirely self-induced, in our hypercritical minds and has no place within the Body of Christ.

For most of my “seriously attempting to be a true Believer” life, I’ve been too individually focused in my attempt to see the Body of Christ manifest Itself (and errantly responded). What can I do? What can I say? What do I need to change in me? How can I change you? How was I hurt and why did “they” do this or that to me? Why don’t they like me enough? Value me enough? Esteem me enough? Love me enough? All of these individuality-based mindsets are just flat out crippling to the proper function of the Body (whether they’re valid assumptions or not). Self-justification and presumption, in my opinion, are murderers of achieving the proper order and function of the Body of Christ. In my experience, it’s kept me in bondage to self and pride for far too long. It can overthrow our thought-life and become a stronghold that often goes unnoticed, if not addressed and submitted to the Lord. There’s something often untapped about walking in the freedom and empowerment of the Spirit that frees us from the expectations that we, often unknowingly, set in place – over ourselves and then project onto others.

Let us not be found walking in the manner of the revilers of the humility and love of Jesus! May we be found looking upon His awesome works and respond properly, positioning ourselves to be moved to meekness which will lead us to a much greater vision of properly being a corporate demonstration of Christ upon the earth. May we embrace the redemption that is extended to us by the Great Rescuer. What is our reward? Residence with Christ Himself! Jesus stated, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” to the repentant one. This is the greatest reward that enables us to walk freed of the bondage we place upon ourselves and others. Releasing ourselves and, again, others, frees us to fully embrace our need for Jesus and His redemption – our only hope. In Christ alone is our confidence to rightly walk out our role within His Body that now inhabits this earth, on His behalf. May we willingly walk in a place of submission unto Him and humility unto others. In this place, we thrive, for in Christ, we find our true identity. A redeemed people walking in Body-increasing abundant life, with gazes off of self and set on Jesus Christ, fueled by the very Spirit of God. Let us look upon and through Jesus, friends. Through Him alone will we find our proper place. Amen.

Thursday, October 01, 2015


Psalm 111:2 The great works of the LORD are sought out by all who delight in them.

A couple of years ago, I found myself in a “post-birth of our son” groove, in regards to making (and actually finding) time to study the Scriptures again, like I had grown accustomed to. For a couple of years previous it was pretty much my profession, albeit unpaid of course. I remember posting on facebook how excited I was to be studying again. When I ran into an acquaintance a day or so after I had posted this fact, they commented, “So I saw you’ve gone back to school. What are you studying?” “Studying?” I asked. “Ummm… oh yea. No, I’m not in school”, I went on to say and then explain further. (Of course “studying” must mean school of some sort to most.) Even here in the tight grip of the dreadful Bible Belt, studying the Bible is a pretty foreign idea for many a “layman”. Of course pastors, Bible college students and Sunday School teachers have to study. Right? But all others? Nah. Outside of going through Bible study books that walk you through texts by the hand and often tell you what the Scriptures are saying (via the author and/or denomination that it represents), little is often done to dive into the Word of God on our own.

Admittedly, I generally enjoy studying the Bible. Despite my loathing of studying and preparing back in the days of high school, these days I usually get great understanding and revelation from what I look into. But not always, of course. Laziness, low expectations and disinterest in general still thwart my intentional time in the Word. Why is that? Am I too distracted? Too busy? Too entirely disinterested because I’m too often enamored with fleshly indulgences and comforts to make the time? Yes, and more.  I’m 100% assured that the enemy uses many tactics and frustrations to keep me out of the studying of the Scriptures, but primarily, the blame is on me. I’m responsible to study to show myself approved (2 Timothy 2:15). Too often I find myself waiting until I "feel like it". Not once can I remember ever taking the time to dive into the Scriptures and then end up wishing I had done something else.

A student can be pressured or prodded to study and still learn, but oh how great is a willing student that loves the subject and the material. Perhaps a good analogy/comparison would be how hard it is to sit my four year old son down to study and practice writing compared with a college student who is devouring a subject that he enjoys and delights in because he wants to devote his life to its vocation. A mature student should handle things differently, with responsibility of course, but also with interest and greater purpose.

This being said, in regards to studying the Scriptures, this text is speaking of much more than just Bible study. So let’s take a minute to dissect Psalm 111:2. The great works of the LORD are sought out by all who delight in them. For starters, the psalmist likely had a much different understanding and approach to the “great works of the LORD” than you and I. They would regularly recount what God had done in their land, in their people, in their very own lives. They would, in the presence of others, declare and remember what the Lord had done in their midst. We see this in many places, as in Psalm 77:11 which states, I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I especially like Psalm 133:5 that says, I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your doings; I muse on the work of Your hands. These works are His acts, deeds, labors and achievements. From days of old to the here and now, His handiwork is displayed. From how He created mankind with His very own breath to how that very same breath holds us together still today, His works are limitless!

Are we likewise enamored with the works of the Lord? Too often I forget all that He has done in my own life. He miraculously healed me of a stroke. He aligned my life with an awesome woman who chose to covenant her life with me in marriage. He gave me the gift of a son, an unknown desire of my very own heart. He rescued me time and time again, in the natural and in the spiritual paths of my life in the last forty-two years. We tend to get so wrapped up in the “needs” and demands of today that we can be prone to forget about the wonders of old, in our own lives and in the lives of our spiritual forefathers. We must dedicate time, personally and with others, as we explore the immeasurable works of the Lord in our lives.

As the psalmist shows us, these works can be “sought out”. The Greek is “darash” and is understood to mean “to enquire of/to study/to frequent a place/to investigate”. The works of the Lord can, of course, be found in His Scriptures as well as in our own lives. We can seek them out and investigate them in the writings that we can study in the Word as well as how we can recount and investigate the occurrences in our own lives. We can find His patterns, His intentions, His ways of speaking and moving amongst His people throughout history as well as today. As one of the definitions states, we need to “frequent” the works of the Lord, daily, hourly, moment by moment as we go through the rigors of each day. In actuality, all that we put our hands to should somehow be relevant to raising our eyes above our circumstances and seeing the handiwork of the Father in the midst of it all.

So, we must see the awesome works of the Lord as tangible and relevant to our lives as we strive to live as Christ and leave the ways of our flesh behind. And we must enquire of these works. We must investigate what the Lord has done and is now doing. We must invest our time in meditating on these things! It’s not about becoming a Bible scholar or preparing for a sermon. It’s about making the remarkable works of the Lord our dwelling. So what is the key? I would say that we, the Body of Christ, have lost our delight in the works of the Lord. We’ve forgotten to remember, as simple as that sounds. We discuss a lot of things, but rarely recount the works of the Lord in our lives and in the lives of those who have gone before us. It pains me to say that we’re basically forgoing leaving a legacy of the works of the Lord. We’re simply not passing on accounts of His handiwork from generation to generation – from Scriptural accounts and surely not from personal experience. It’s no wonder that it often looks like the Church is dead. In many ways, She is surely ailing. We delight in many things – religious successes, building grand campuses, elevating personal endeavors in the name of God, etc., but too often I feel we forsake the delight in Gods works.

This word “delight” in Greek is “chephets” and insinuates purpose/longing/taking pleasure in. Where is our delight? Where is our longing? Do we truly delight in what the Lord has done? Does it excite and move us into a realm of seeking out His mysteries and works and then to find others to share this good news with? How often do We have an approach that is motivated by excitement and delight? One that says, “Wait until I tell you what the Lord has done!!!” Tiresome and impersonal accounts of Christianity are passing on spiritual lethargy and we who are called according to His purpose must shake ourselves from our slumber and turn our gaze back onto the Father and His great works! If we have any chance of passing on anything empowering and life-changing to those who are in the next generation, we must regain the awe and delight of God once more. We owe it to our children and the generations to come to reclaim this delight in our own lives.

Turn off your television. Throw your devices into a drawer for the night. Gather your family. Blow off the weekday dust from your Bibles and see what the Lord has done. I’m a believer that only when we take the time to see what He has done in others can we more fully see what He is now doing in us –and vice-versa! A friend recently told me he’s been learning about “the labor, diligence and work it requires to continue in the faith… and our continual surrender.” Too long we’ve been taught (and teaching) to just “rest” in Christ. Yes, there is a resting in His finished work. This however is surely no excuse to be a spiritual sloth. His work, His acts, His deeds and achievements must compel me to move! They must fuel me to respond and to seek out His awesome works. Lord help Us to delight in You again! Stir in Our hearts and minds a longing to seek out Your life-giving movements displayed throughout all the ages.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

From Or In?

So many Believers are sold a doctrine of lies that are entirely unobtainable as a Christian. "Accepting Jesus" is sold as a fix-it-all sort of magic wand to wave. Depressed? Try Jesus. Addicted? Repeat some words. Struggling to just get by? Jesus can somehow fix all that ails you in a moment. Friends, this is crippling for anyone who truly desires to follow Christ, victoriously. Life on this side of the Cross is full of pains, struggles and failures. The difference? Where your hope lies. If it's in your own try-harder, do-better attitude, you're sunk. If it's in the power of Christ with self laid to rest, there is hope beyond it all. God is well aware of my weaknesses and failures. He invites me to Himself, unaffected by my shortcomings.

Jesus told us, "In the world you'll have tribulations: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world, there's nothing for you to fear." For far too many years I walked in constant condemnation that I must be doing something wrong because my Christian walk was... well... hard. I fail. I fall. I wrestle with disbelief. I have real struggles and tribulation, just as Jesus foretold. So, today, I no longer errantly assume I must be doing something wrong because adversity is always lurking in the shadows. I rejoice instead in the Light that is Christ Who has overcome it all. It's His goodness, His faithfulness and His strength that enables me to stand. The confession of my inability unleashes His absolute ability. Standing in His ability alone is quite freeing and contains the proper exchange necessary to live a victorious life as a Believer.

Oswald Chambers said, "An average view of the Christian life is that it means deliverance FROM trouble. It is deliverance IN trouble, which is very different." Well said. May we transition properly from our incorrect thinking on these matters and begin to embrace and find joy in our weakness.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Stony Ground

As I read through some of the book of Matthew this morning, I came across the words of Jesus. Words spoken from a human tongue just like yours and mine. Released into the air in such a mysterious way so that others with physical ears to ear, could discern what came forth. Just as you and I address one another, God wrapped in flesh uttered lovely words of life that have crossed the great expanse of time. Some were harsh of course but all were pointing to one thing – man is fallen, drowning in his despicable state and He came as our One true Light and Hope – our Rescuer.

I seemed to hover over the words of the sower parable, explained. I was drawn into their imagery and purpose as I read and re-read them. If there was ever a specific teaching within a parable that seemingly sums up modern-day Christianity as you and I know it, it would be the explanation of the seed that was sown on the rocky places. (Matthew 13:20 and 21) 

For months now, I cannot seem to shake an inescapable thought pattern in regards to how I respond to trials in my life. As I’m quickly nearing forty-two years of age, I constantly seem to unearth old thought structures that contradict the teachings of Christ. Years and years of bad doctrines, some self-imposed, some from preachers who just never took the time to properly explain the Word. Either way, I truly do relish confronting these traditions and skewed views, thankful that the Holy Spirit desires to guide me into Truth.

So what about this “rocky ground” allegory that Jesus told us about? There are some specifics I’d like to draw out, if I may. But first, let’s state these two verses. The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy;  yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.This one he speaks of received the truth - willingly and immediately – even joyfully! He embraced it and did not respond with prideful rejection. However, when affliction and persecution comes his way, he falls away and intentionally abandons the truth. Jesus tells us that this is because of several reasons. Let’s dissect them a bit in order to go a little deeper.

1.       He had “no firm root in himself”. Have you ever planted a garden? Perhaps a tree? Right now we have two-inch carrot sprouts in our garden. They’ve grown from seed, but their roots are surely very shallow and are not well established at all. Even the slightest tug at the greens would easily yank the entire young root system right out of the ground. Now, let’s imagine we walk around to the front of my house. There before us would stand a towering magnolia tree. I’ve been told it’s at least fifty years old. How ridiculous would it look for us to attempt to push over this behemoth of a tree? Its roots are indeed firm, digging deep into the earth-established. We’ve likely all seen an acorn cracked open, producing a tiny green shoot under a light bed of leaves.  This is the beginning. How long must it take for that little acorn to grow into a mighty oak that spreads out tall and wide? How long has the growing process been for our lofty magnolia? This, my friend is the Christ-life journey. Scores have been told to “just make a decision” and all will magically be OK. Just attend services, do a Bible study if you have time and try to hold on until the end. If you encounter troubles and trials, it’s the devil attacking you and/or you’re backslidden. However, time and time and time again Jesus tells us in advance there is a cost. There will be trials. There will be afflictions. There will be rough times – of growth. So, stay put Believer. Dig your feet down deep into the dirt of faith and become established in your identity in Christ. Be willing to let the process of growth run its course. Don’t be as Eve in the Garden and look to the right and to the left, wondering if there’s a better way outside of the Father. Keep your eyes fixed on your Hope and Assurance. Get rooted!

2.       As we read, this man in the parable “immediately receive(d) the word with joy” but it was “only temporary”. The Greek word used here is explained as insinuating a temporal season. From what Jesus explains, we could easily assume it was a favorable one. Just yesterday I heard a prominent preacher on the radio speaking of this “favor” of God. He exhorted his listeners to pursue this “perfect place” of favor from God and somehow reside there 24/7. Oh how we set each other up for absolute failure! If only there were a way for me to line up an interview for him to sit down and deliver this message to the disciples. What of their imprisonment? What of their persecutions for being named among the followers of Christ? What of their pains of laying down their livelihoods and worldly comforts to pursue this Christ? What would you say oh pastor to Stephen as he’s being run out of the city gates to be stoned by the angry mob? This message is only applicable to we who have a skewed view of salvation and entirely lack the understanding of walking out the salvation process. You see, in our age of Christiandom, we promote excitement and feel-good experiences above all else. Meetings work people into an emotional frenzy until they “receive the word with joy”. However it is only “temporary” and too often entirely based upon immediate response, not longevity. How many “rededications” and “recommitments” must we all endure? This summed up my meager Christian life for so, so many years. Too many! I failed to understand that the call of salvation was a life-long journey of triumphs and failures. It’s OK friend, to fall. It does not disqualify you or mean you’re outside of God’s hand. Get up! Remain in the joy of the Lord that is not circumstantial. Stay spiritually alert and do not allow the word that you’ve received to only remain as a temporary season.

3.       “When affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.Jesus is bought and sold like some sort of spiritual drug. A fix that will miraculously take you out of your predicaments and troubles. Unhappy? Try Jesus! Broke? Give your money to God (ie: a religious organization) so that you can get more in return! Depressed? Lonely? Lacking purpose? Just “get God” and all will turn favorable for you, right? *sigh* Don’t get me wrong, with a life rooted and established upon the Rock that is Christ, your life will have a much different outcome. That being said, you may or may not see physical evidence of the fullness of all that is going on in and around you. A true follower, the “seed on the good soil” follower that we see in verse 23, is more concerned with enduring the journey all the way to the end. As Jesus told us in Matthew 24:13, “He that endures to the end shall be saved”. To the end! Also, as I mentioned in the “root” point earlier, what of those who see every single trial and struggle as an attack from the enemy meant for harm? Of course this is not entirely ruled out but all is only an opportunity to see our need for, and reliance upon, our Heavenly Father. As I feel like I always say, it’s all about our perspective. We don’t always need to avert every little thing that attempts to thwart our spiritual growth. In fact, perhaps we should embrace it and see that oft times it’s been brought our way to conform us into the image of Christ Himself.

Someone I know is having a pretty trying time right now in a certain area of life. My initial response in prayer was to ask the Lord to free them of this burden – to see this trial pass quickly and become an easier path to be walked out. Quickly, I felt this was an incorrect prayer, rooted in my own personal convictions and preference. As I pondered on the spiritual matters that I’m discussing here, I changed my prayer. My request changed from their being ”delivered from” into their “deliverance being found in the midst of”, if that makes sense. Too often we want to spare one another, and ourselves, the inevitable pain and heartache. While this makes absolute sense in the natural, spiritually speaking we too often attempt to run off or avoid entirely what was meant to purify us and solidify our faith. When we do this, we miss what was meant for our good. May we become a people who embrace the trials rightly - trusting that the Father is fully capable to carry us, teach us and purify us as we journey along in the dark valleys of life. This gives so much more weight to the promise that He will never leave us or forsake us. Praise Him for placing us in opportunities to prove Himself as our All In All. So when persecutions, trials and afflictions come, what else must we say but The LORD also will be a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble”. (Psalm 9:9)

To wrap this all up, I’d like to pose an interesting parallel, I think. I believe there is a deeper significance to why the ground mentioned in this area of the parable is “rocky” (some Hebrew texts say “stony”). As I read over this several times, I kept being reminded of the “heart of stone” and “heart of flesh” event that we hear of back in Ezekiel. God states, Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” If we could metaphorically say, as we see in Matthew 13:19, that the ground is the heart (kardia: mind, innermost being of man), then we could implement the importance of the “Ezekiel heart exchange”. I’ve explained time and time again the significance of properly understanding that Jesus doesn’t want to “come into your heart”. Rather, He desires to give you an entirely new one. I could spend pages explaining why I think this is so key to understand. The heart of stone (rocky ground) is simply incapable of being the proper “ground” for spiritual seed to develop and grow. It’s the way that we’ve been divinely designed. It is imperative for the ones who truly desire to follow Christ and to become rooted (with endurance) even when the afflictions come, to grasp this reality. This alone will keep us from only having a shallow, “good season” based Christianity that is blown to and fro by the ever changing winds of this life.

We need to be pursuers of Truth. May we, as the followers of His day, sit at the feet of Jesus. May we be fully engaged in what He is speaking as well as what the Spirit is saying in this hour. It’s time to be alert and pressing in-moving forward with our gaze rightly set.  We, the Body of Christ, can do it, but not by accident! And no one can do it for us. May we deliberately set our minds on things above and walk the path, narrow that leads to the gate, small. It is our destiny and anything less will never be enough.