How Dare They?

How dare he live as though he were forgiven? As though he never had done any errant thing. How dare she walk as though she were free? Liberated from a verdict of guilt and a penalty of condemnation; freed from the prison clothes of the blameworthy. How dare they lift hands in worship that were lifted in anger, hatred, lifted in sin?

Repent! you shout. Let him bring us evidence of suffering, proof of his pain. Let us judge her heart, evaluate his intentions, determine their rightness, let us cast with pride our ballots of heavenly retribution.

Their standards must be OUR standards! We would not; therefore they must not. We decide, we determine, we establish what is acceptable and what is intolerable.

We know. That is the crux of the matter: We KNOW.

We know what is in their hearts. We know what God knows of them. We know what ought to be done with them:

Banish them! Bind them with the steel of our judgments. Surround them with the tsk of the tongue and the wag of the head. Crush them with the hushed whisper and the subtle snub.

Disapprove them. Disparage them. Disallow them. Disinvite them. Disengage them. Disfellowship them. Deny them, deride them; hold them in disdain.

Sinners! They have stumbled, fallen; they have muddied themselves in the mire of sin. Offenders! They have tripped, proven their humanness; they have demonstrated their weaknesses. They are “less-than.” “Less than” who? Less than us, surely! We would not. Stumble, stagger, we would never fall.

But they, they have been brought to the court of human righteousness and they have been found wanting in our all-seeing eyes!

Or perhaps they have not. Stumbled, as we have believed, fallen as we have observed; perchance we were misinformed, given one side, but certainly not the other side of the story, but let us not let truth obstruct our righteous and holy highway. We are certain, we know, we see what God may not see: We know motive, intention; we know the flaws.

How dare they? When they demonstrate by their attitudes, by their words, by their acts, they do not know God; they do not know His heart; they do not understand His ways, His purpose, His love.

How dare they? Reinterpret, misinterpret His words? God forgives, “so far as the East is from the West so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” He forgives and “will remember their sin no more.” Teachers of the law and the Pharisees were invited to cast stones of death at a woman found guilty of mortal sin, should they be without iniquity. The woman was instructed merely, “Go and sin no more.”

How dare they? Misrepresent those holy words? How dare they? Pervert perfection by dragging lofty righteousness to man’s grimy and unholy estate.

How dare they? How dare they assume a position reserved only for One, for One Holy, for One righteous Judge Who gave His life that we might be tried in the court of heaven’s grace, judged with the beauty of mercy, found innocent because of the pouring out of His own, pure blood?

How dare they? Oh, they dare . . . they dare because they do not believe.

 

Retrieving Lost Things

Christianity is currently experiencing the most convulsive, unsettled period of change since the birth of the Church more than two millennia ago.

No generation of Christians, from the first disciples of Jesus until now has witnessed the vast and accelerated alteration of the structure of the church that the current generation is now undergoing.

Surely, we comprise that generation “upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Cor. 10:11).

The voice of the Spirit of God has been heard clearly by innumerable saints whose ears are open and whose eyes are searching for the unmistakable activity of the Lord of the Church. It is He who declares,

The Current Structure of the Church will not accommodate what I am about to do.

If we are willing to face truth without the insulation of emotion or the panacea of nostalgia or the comfort of tradition and with a determination to hear no other voice than the expression of the Spirit of God, we must recognize and accept clear realities, among which is this: Much of what Christians (followers of Jesus Christ and recipients of His forgiveness and mercy and grace) have for all our lives called “church” has little to do with the concept intended when Jesus announced, “I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18).

Allow my redundancy here: “The current structure of the church will not accommodate what God is now doing.” The structure of the building, the skeleton of the Body is being challenged with change and as is true in the physical body, it also is true of the spiritual body. When change, required for growth is demanded of us, pain is involved. When a muscle is exercised, that muscle will initially protest and will make itself heard through the vehicle of muscular ache and pain. These “growing pains” occur also in the church, which God describes as a “Body” (Eph. 4:16).

If you are a church member or church attendee, ask yourself these questions:

  • What really is the spiritual condition of my church?
  • How effective are we at winning the lost to Jesus?
  • How are we penetrating our society with the claims of Jesus, with the fruit of converts and disciples?”
  • Are we more caught up in the worship of worship than we are the worship of the Lord?
  • Does the preaching of my church impact my community as Paul’s preaching did, that “came not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power?” (1 Cor. 2:4).

If your church is like the majority of churches around the world, your answers are not encouraging.

Indeed we can point to a convert here and a new disciple there, but these are infrequent and most of what we call “church growth” is actually transfer growth – Christians dissatisfied with the church they have attended moving to greener pastures, a new worship style or a novel preaching form. We call this activity “growth” when in fact it is merely a shuffling of the deck, a relocation of spiritual refugees from one address and building to another.

We can look at finances and building programs and musical performances and evangelistic crusades and interest building programs and by these criteria claim some level of success as churches. But if we are honest, we must admit that our experience is far from the original pattern of the church we’ve read about in the Book of Acts and the church that existed during times of worldwide revival.

Most churches have majored on programs and committee-spawned ideas for growth which have little to do with the blind seeing, the deaf hearing and the lame leaping.

Our musicals, our programs, our carefully crafted sermons have done little if anything to stem the growing tide of evil all around us.

Because of our ineffectiveness, we have built a theology to accommodate our failure.

We point out that “evil must increase in the end times” in order to explain decreasing interest in the things of God.

We dogmatically state that “darkness will increase until there’s almost no light left in the earth.” to rationalize losing the battle against a rising tide of iniquity.

How do these statements square with biblical mandates that declare, “the whole earth is filled with God’s glory?”

What about the promise that “the glory of the latter house will be greater than the glory of the former?”

And finally, what about Jesus’ own promises that “greater works than these shall you do because I go to the Father” and “I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

Somehow, somewhere, we have lost something essential in the church. Somehow, we must retrieve those lost things if we are to fulfill the promises of God for our generation. And while we retrieve the essentials, we must leave behind the non-essentials: The things contained in the word “religion.”

Purity, Power, Purpose

Contrary to the pitiful preaching of some, God is not going to send Jesus to rescue a discouraged, desolate and defeated Bride. The church Jesus will return for is a church of purity, power, and of purpose, a church that is transforming the earth, confronting evil, and conquering societies with His grace, mercy and love.

But the big question is “How?” How can we change anything of significance? How can we become truly effective for God? How can we reach billions of lives with the love of Jesus, even as a rising tide of resentment and persecution and hatred for Christians and for Christianity threatens to overwhelm us and to drown our voices and extinguish the flickering flame of faith? I’ll address these issues and others in my next discourse.

Christianity is indeed currently experiencing the most convulsive, unsettled moment of change since the birth of the Church more than two thousand years ago. And in this moment of unsettled discomfort, God is wooing us, calling softly and thundering when necessary, bidding and urging us to return to Him and to His ways. The responsibility we share is to hear Him, to answer Him and to follow Him.

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a NEW VOICE, a NEW FACE, a NEW HEART

With all my heart and soul I believe this: The citizens of planet Earth are currently living through the most critical and significant hour in human history. Further, the Holy Spirit of God is leading those “who have an ear” into a new dimension of revelation and glory that will catapult the Church of Jesus Christ into her true, God-ordained destiny in the earth.

With the infinite array of information, speculation, myriad “prophetic” voices; voices of doom, voices of encouragement, voices of sheer, emotional fantasy there remains one true, sure and unalterable word. That word proceeds from a heavenly and not an earthly Source. That word is the living, eternal and supreme word of God. It is from this word that all my belief and anticipation emerges.

As Christ’s church moves forward, we must recognize that our enemy is as much the “status quo” as it is Satan. The desire or need or penchant to return to past experiences, or the vestiges of that which God has passed by; any business-as-usual church experience will sound the death-knell to the full desire of the Spirit of God.

As surely as I know Him I am convinced that God is raising up a NEW VOICE, a NEW FACE and a NEW HEART in the earth. In 2008, Great Britain reported less than 2% church attendance. Having spent a good deal of time in England, I can attest to the veracity of that figure. Something is gravely wrong when the land that felt the footsteps of Spurgeon, Whitefield, Wesley, Wigglesworth and other powerfully gifted and anointed men and women of God has deteriorated into the state it currently languishes.

In America, the echoes of Azusa Street have faded into oblivion. The times of Jonathon Edwards and the Great Awakening have become merely historic footnotes in the anthology of the church. Dwight L. Moody, Aimee Semple McPherson, John G. Lake, Billy Sunday, Oral Roberts, Billy Graham all shook the land, but as someone has aptly commented, “America is overwhelmed today with dime-a-dozen imitator preachers.” Those who seek to plumb the depths of God’s Spirit and to tap heaven’s well of wisdom must look beyond former personalities and movements for direction and understanding. What God is doing is BEYOND. What God is doing is BEYOND denominations and conventional fellowships. Where heaven is leading is BEYOND corporations, programs, preaching services, man-made agendas, strategies and designs. God told Daniel to “seal up the prophecy” because it would require a future generation to understand. That future generation has been birthed, but where are the fathers, where are the leaders, where are those with “understanding?”

Ezra chronicled the temperament of the sons of Issachar “who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.” These understood the times, and knew what to do! It’s the knowing of “what to do” that is critical and essential. The same “Issachar spirit” that placed the Tribe in holy writ is being placed within a generation that has awakened to a new day of God’s anointing for the earth, and that “spirit” must be recognized and given freedom to speak, to be heard, to be heeded.

A nucleus of forerunners is rising in this hour. These contemporary “sons of Issachar” have understanding, and are hearing “what the Spirit says to the churches.” It is these who will make a difference for heaven in our time and we all, who would follow Christ and who will be His body must listen intently.

I sat as an observer in a staff meeting in a world-renowned church. The church had grown rapidly, even miraculously when leadership surrendered their positions of power in favor of the power of the Holy Spirit among them. Yet once the church had experienced sudden and God-engendered growth, the leadership had turned to formulae and program and methodology to continue what had begun in the Spirit. The Apostle Paul identified the tendency when he wrote to the Galatian church, “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3).

I watched the expectant faces of the young leaders who had gathered in that staff meeting as the “orders of the day” were issued. The meeting soon descended into the drone of the minutiae of running a huge enterprise called “mega-church.”

My heart ached until I wanted to just get up and shout to them,

“This is NOT “that!” This activity does not bear the imprint of the Holy Spirit of Acts 2. These neat and impressive programmed services do not have the inscription and the unction of a church that turned the world upside down! Get Up! Get Moving! You can change your nation! Get up! Get full of God! Get His Power and His Resource and His Word and His Wisdom and His Enablement and abandon these man-engendered, man-enabled systems and storm the nations with His love and grace and mercy!

A Vital Question –

I love the men and women God has raised up in past generations. God uniquely placed and used them for their hour. I love and respect the men and women God has raised up in the most recent generation. But I wonder, could it be that God intends to use the former generation (my generation) to provide strength and stability to the church while at the same time an entirely new generation rises up, in union with the former, in a coalition of those who understand the times and who know what to do? Unless one is spiritually blind and deaf it is obvious that a rising generation will possess a completely new and different notion of changing the earth? The church of Jesus will never vanish away so long as the Holy Spirit remains in the earth, but the expression of His church is surely and essentially in the midst of tremendous transition.

Old systems are indisputably vanishing, cleaving away like a disused shell to reveal an inner vitality of the Body of life in God. An old wineskin, unable to contain New Wine is rotting before us, and a New Wineskin, capable of containing New Wine is about to appear.

I believe something significant is contained in the Darlene Zscech song, “Touching Heaven, Changing Earth.” We must place greater concern on “touching heaven” if we are to “change earth.” Where we have spent inordinate sums of money and time and energy with our buildings and carpets and music and lighting and preaching programs, we must place our resources on “touching heaven” because if we can touch heaven, if we can see heaven, if we can hear heaven, if we can understand what the Spirit is saying to us, to our generation, to our hearts, we will witness a changed earth.

The focus has been on doing “things.” Our energies have been consumed with developing programs, producing strategies, and doing things the way they always have been done because, our logic tells us, “if they worked for the church of the 1960’s and 1990’s and 2000’s, these things should work for us.” But to follow a former generation’s example without hearing the current whisper of the Spirit will cause us to miss what God is doing in our midst.

What God is now doing is unlike what He has done in other days. What Heaven is now doing is visibly and essentially different from what He has done. God is leading us, as He led ancient Israel into a place from which we one will testify, “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests, the Levites, bearing it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it. Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure. Do not come near it, that you may know the way by which you must go, for you have not passed this way before” (Joshua 3:3,4).

If somehow we can shift our concerns from the next popular ministry emphasis or what is happening in this geographical location or that arena to an emphasis on heaven, to an emphasis on worshipping the God of glory without concern for worshipping the way somebody is worshipping in America or England or Canada or Australia; if we can focus on hearing God and not hearing what a voice here or a voice there is saying; if we can focus on building deep, real and spiritual relationships with others in the Body of Christ, the resulting transformations in our own lives will have a powerful impact on the earth without the machinery of the systems and programs we have known in the conventional, institutional church.

We’ve got to touch heaven! We’ve got to become more connected with heaven than we are connected to the earth and its dying systems. We’ve got to become more connected with heaven than we are connected with a denomination or a treasured way of “doing ministry”! Until our supreme connection is with heaven, all our best attempts to change our world will fall ridiculously flat.

The emerging church – the true church of Jesus Christ cannot be as churches have been, or we will no longer possess a reason to exist. Let God lead into the deep, into uncharted waters, into latitudes no one has explored. Let God’s Spirit and God’s Wind carry us into a destiny heaven determined before the foundations of the world were laid.

God is building something far more substantive than an organization or a building. He’s building His church. Observing the machinery of a great church is instructive, but let me be clear: It’s not about machinery, systems, models or imitations. It’s about touching heaven and by virtue of God’s indwelling Spirit, touching one another.

Let us refuse to imitate yesterday’s anointing and discover fresh unction for today. When His Spirit indwells His church, His systems and models, His eternally creative beauty and brilliance will cause the earth (to) “be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, As the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).

He Has, We Shall

No futurist could conceive the things God has prepared for them that love Him. No romanticist could adequately describe the love story of the ages, played out by the divine cast of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. No historian could discover a more expansive and majestic story than the one told by the Word Himself, Who Himself and within Himself and without need of any other entity “fills all in all.”

To consider that the pure, holy and singular God of creation would invite mere man into the royal courts of His presence, let alone invite His creation to approach His glorious throne begs the wildest, most colorful imagination among us. And such imagination falls hopelessly short of comprehending or of conveying the depth of love, the degree of grace involved in the invitation to stand, to rest, to walk by His side.
He has called us to His throne but more; He has called us to rule with His own Son. He makes us to be His children, “and if children, then heirs – heirs with God and joint-heirs with Christ,” for Scripture articulates the promise, “If we endure, We shall also reign with Him.”
Excerpted from “Royal Priesthood, The Pathway to Kingdom Authority,” Greg Austin, Don Atkin, Steve Crosby.

 

The Universal Quest for Relevance, Part II

It May Be the Devil, or it May Be the Lord

There are words that society uses to indicate weakness, defeat, setback and a host of negative terms and conditions. From our earliest conscious moments we are taught the concepts of winning and losing. Submission, surrender, yielding, obedience to another, these are taught as negative responses to life and so we tend to develop a certain stubborn resistance to anyone or anything claiming superiority or dominance over us. In the late 1960’s, rebellion, resistance, rejecting the social order of a previous generation characterized a rising tide of “anti” attitudes and developing life-styles among young people in Western culture. The enemy of a growing, defiant segment of society became a vague image known as “the establishment.” Paul Anka echoed the attitude of self-centeredness and self-fulfillment when he wrote the song that Frank Sinatra would make famous called “My Way.” Anka and Sinatra and Presley and all those who sang the song with great conviction and with deep emotion were wrong. Consider these words of the final verse of the song,

For what is a man, what has he got? If not himself, then he has naught. To say the things he truly feels; And not the words of one who kneels. The record shows I took the blows – And did it my way!

Yes, it was my way.

Holy Scripture indicates a day and an hour in the which “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Anka’s “My Way” asks, “…what is a man, what has he got? If not himself, then he has naught.” No, what a man has, what anyone has that will stand the test of eternity is full and complete submission, total surrender to the Lordship of Jesus. Submission, surrender, yielding, obedience to Christ; those words and the attitudes we were taught to abhor as children are the very words and attitudes that will enable us to gain eternal life. The Bible record is replete with stories of people who rejected the rule of God over their lives and suffered eternal grief as the result. One man, Saul of Tarsus sought to live a perfect and God honoring life without surrendering his heart and soul to Jesus. His quest for self-righteousness brought him into the dirt of a pathway where he found himself blinded and terrified at the voice of the One who would he later would confess with great gladness was his Master. Saul, turned Paul at his conversion would wear the label “bond-servant” with great affection and joy. Paul learned the glory of surrender and the honor of subordination and wrote throughout the New Testament to underscore the absolute necessity of a life-submission that would bring to mankind a freedom broader and deeper than any human association could provide. Continuing with the disclosure that song lyrics can provide, think about those written by Bob Dylan in his song, “Gotta Serve Somebody.”

You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side You may be working in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir.

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.

And since it is true, we will serve somebody, whether that “somebody” is a person, a thing, an addiction or an attitude, we all, regardless of every effort to the contrary will find ourselves serving “somebody.” And we cannot serve more than one master. Jesus said in attempting to serve both God and earthly treasure and affluence we will love the one and hate the other. Here is how He said it: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Notice that Jesus did not say that money is evil or that we ought to live as paupers but that serving money and its apparent power is the antithesis to serving God (because the apparent power of money becomes a substitute for total reliance on God for our lives and our livelihoods). In spite of all the philosophical dancing and rationalizing and justifying that so many of us have become adept at performing, we all, willingly or unwillingly, consciously or unwittingly will serve “somebody.” And there is room only for one master in our lives. And the choices of master distill to these: It’s God or mammon, God or money; we will bow either to the supremacy of God or the muscle of money. Oh yes, we can serve the masters of alcohol or drugs or relationships or sports or a plethora of false and man-made gods, but these all are condensed to that term Jesus used: “Mammon,” “money” and the perceived power that money can purchase. Billy Graham once opined that he had never seen a U-Haul trailer attached to a funeral coach. When we leave this world and this life, our money and all its supposed power ceases to be a factor in either our destination or our eternal condition. Money leaves the playing board upon death. God continues to be God. And serving God is not an onerous thing, because “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, (physical, temporal satisfactions) but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. When God is our Master, we have peace and joy. When He is in control of our lives, we are not tossed about by the storms and the tempests of life. When we have submitted to Him, He is our Protector, our Provider, our Peace and the place of rest and comfort for our souls. When God is in charge, I can be assured that though I may not know the way forward, and though the future may be a cloudy and imprecise thing I know that I can face any future, and overcome any obstacle because,

I know Whom I have believed, And am persuaded that He is able To keep that which I’ve committed Unto Him against that day.

To believe on Him is to submit to Him, to entrust our eternal souls to His care and to His wisdom and to His way. To submit to Him is to confess that He, Jesus is Lord of our lives. To make Him Lord and Master is to find ourselves and in finding ourselves, to know peace and joy and comfort and the fulfillment of the desires of our hearts. As Mr. Dylan sang, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody,” and I hope that it’s the Lord.

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The Universal Quest for Relevance

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I do not know if ever I have met a man or a woman who did not at some place and for some purpose desire to be relevant; to be of some value to someone. Even the several disheveled, aimless and mentally detached men and women I have met in more than six decades of life have at some time and in some place and manner wanted to know that their lives meant something to someone.”

Simply stated, all of us enter this world with the embryo of desire for relevancy

What is it that makes a man truly a man or a woman, essentially a woman? Biology indicates gender, but gender does not inevitably denote “maleness” or “femaleness.” These qualities are much more than physical attributes or timbre of voice.

When we speak of “manhood” and “womanhood” we nearly always have more in mind than physical appearance. Masculinity and femininity do not derive from the blue or pink colors or from our attraction to toy trucks or Barbie dolls or a wardrobe of blue jeans or dresses. The qualities of maturity appear as a person develops, as he or she grows, matures, changes, and learns.

The Strong Submit; The Weak Resist

A key to becoming a mature, fully developed man or woman lies in the seeming contradiction of submission. A mistaken philosophy of life teaches that a man or a woman should never submit to any external force; that maturity and strength are manifested in resistance to submission. Those who would forge their own unique destinies, those who would move through life giving no quarter to anyone and requesting none by any are held up by society as the strong men or women of a culture.

Up is Down and Down is Up

Jesus Christ brought to earth a Kingdom not of this world. He said, “ . . . he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The greatest of men ever to appear on earth’s ageless stage appeared as a servant of all. The inescapable reality of human maturity and purpose is found in this:

“Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.” Jesus not only said it, but He did it; He modeled His teaching by laying down His life in the most painful and horrific manner our minds might imagine. He who was and remains the greatest among us served us, making Himself “of no reputation,” humbling Himself.

He, the King of all kings, the Lord of all lords and the very maker of the universe humbled Himself, laid down His rights, His position, His crown, His life and suffered humiliation, mockery, horrendous physical abuse and watched His very life flow from overburdened veins and from pierced flesh until all that remained were the words, “It is finished.” Jesus, the Master of all that exists, submitted to death, became its Prisoner, was held in death’s spiteful grip – God Himself submitted so that we could reign; Heaven’s great Architect drew the very blueprint of our redemption through the strongest act of history – through submission, obedience and full surrender He became Master of all.

There is something intrinsic within the heart of man that struggles with the idea that someone or something may hold mastery over us.

Jesus appeared among us as a servant of all, while at the same time teaching us that in order to find true freedom, true liberty of the soul He must be Master over us. In His mastery and in our submission to His rule He promised that His yoke, His burden would be easy to receive and would be light to carry. His Mastery is not burdensome, yet the stubborn heart and the unsubmitted soul resist surrender at virtually all cost.

If only we might have eyes to see and ears to hear: Jesus is the Master Who enables man to master the base things, the fruitless, the profitless things; those things that would ensnare and quite literally master us. The subtle yet undeniable truth is this: Only in submitting to The Master do we find true freedom from the bondage of the profitless and the peace of true mastery of life’s deceptions and snares.

Relevancy is Found in Relinquishing our Rights

We must learn the hidden truths that stand in stark relief against a desolate and gloomy landscape of mediocrity: It is in surrender that we find victory; in losing, we win. It is when we concede defeat that we discover conquest. In giving up our rights we find new privilege; in yielding we learn to bend but not to break. In dying we find new life.

A Child of the King

No position is so powerful and no place is so secure as recognizing that one is the child of the most benevolent and authoritative King of all that exists, both in this world and in worlds to come. There exists no higher position or greater station than to know that one is a child of the King; and not a king such as has been represented among fickle and capricious men. The King of which I speak is the Faithful God and the Lord of glory. He is the “Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” He is “the bright and morning star” and “He is fairer than ten thousand.” “He is fairer than the children of men: grace is poured into His lips: therefore God has blessed Him forever.”

To surrender to one so majestic, to submit to one so pure, so holy and so just, so loving, so kind, so humble and so great is more than wisdom; surrender to Him is life itself.

A man more brilliant than the catalog of scholars and thinkers of earth’s ages identified himself as “bondservant.” The Apostle Paul defined his very relationship with Jesus as one of servant and Master.

In the ultimate search of the human heart for relevance in this life, the starting point, the genesis must be submission, surrender, yieldedness to the Master, the One who laid down His rights, His position, His power and His life so that you and I might live and move and have our being as bondservants, and as true examples of men and women made free by our willing captivity to the King who truly makes us free.

When I Am Weak . . .

The inevitable, universal process we call “aging” is both hated and unavoidable. But as many have wryly observed, aging beats the alternative. As we age – when a man grows old, his body manifests the effects of maturation. Years and miles and stresses and the calamities that occur in an imperfect world ultimately take their necessary toll on the strongest among us.

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And so the hearing is eventually impaired. We reach for reading glasses, glasses for driving, assistance to give us a semblance of the sight we once took for granted.

As we age, we tire more easily. Stamina is reduced. Breathing becomes labored at the slightest incline. Legs that once carried us cheerfully begin to protest the strain of activity. The strength made available by the muscle of youth retracts and retreats ever so slowly but inevitably.

A man views these as weaknesses and as impairments. Woman sees the deficiencies; she notices the wrinkle, the sag, the line, the fold and the furrow, and she weeps.

And try as we might through the investment of money and of time and of effort, the hearing and the sight and the strength of youth will not return and is finally gone forever.

We are tempted towards sorrow and distress. We wonder when, we wonder where the process of decay will conclude. It all is such a sad and unhappy condition.

But perhaps God in His infinite and perfect wisdom has arranged, and through the introduction of man’s sin into the world, has caused the human DNA to be effected by that sin in such as way that scripture is confirmed when it asserts, “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for all have sinned.”

Perhaps “effected” should more accurately be rendered “infected.” and that by the disease of sin death becomes the eventual conclusion of the aging process.

But God is more gracious, and so with time the hearing fades that man might better hear the still, small voice of God’s Holy Spirit. The sight dims that we might more clearly see God and God’s purposes.

Physical strength is abated so that we might lean more heavily upon the God Who never fails and whose joy is our strength.

Do not view the passing of years and the perishing of physical abilities as curse or as undesirable: God is preparing you to see, to perceive and to appreciate the King in all His might and majesty, in His greatness and all His glory.

God is detuning your ear from the sounds of a temporal life to the frequency of eternity. God is preparing to fill you with the power of the ages through the fuller dwelling of His Spirit in you.

The corruption of the physical body eventuates in death, but death, to the follower of Christ leads only to life. Deafness concludes in hearing, and blindness in seeing.

The process of deterioration, as is true in all of the mysteries of God is in reality a process of restoration, of renovation, of re-creation. We must decrease that He might in us, increase.

One Thing, In A World Filled With Options

Our modern and sophisticated world is filled with an almost unlimited number of choices: Choices of where we will live, what we will do, what we will eat and wear and what kind and color of car will deliver us to a variety of shops that offer every color, texture, convenience and feature imaginable. We live, simply put, in a world of options. OneThing The ability to multi-task has never been so valuable in our world of instant communication through assorted means – the telephone has become almost extinct as a communication aid as Twitter and Facebook and social networking and microblogging and video sharing and podcasting and electronic tablets and cell phones make it possible for us to stay in touch, conduct our business, check on family, visit with friends and fill our grocery cart, all at the same time. There was a time when these were limited, often nonexistent, and some of us pine for that simpler, more unobtrusive time. Dr. Alan Weiss has entitled his most recent book, “Complexity Can Paralyze Us.” Weiss writes, “We are lost in a world of choice.” Indeed, we are often overwhelmed to the point of the loss of our natural mental judgment (“common sense”) by the choices presented to us. We agonize over which grocery store to visit and once there, we wrestle with which brand to purchase with what ingredients and regular size, family size or super size for what price. Take me into Baskin-Robbins for ice cream and I freeze like the 31 flavors offered there. We finally get a break and determine to dine at a quiet restaurant and relax a bit until we are confronted with a dizzying array of menu options – and in our stressed out condition, can’t decide which entrée to order. Some enjoy the smorgasbord; they love variety of choice and endless options. When it comes to eternal matters they embrace an “all roads lead to heaven” approach. What does it matter, they insinuate, if we follow Buddha or Lord Krishna, or Jehovah or Allah. After all, the only thing that truly counts is sincerity, isn’t it? I mean, if I am sincere in my belief, if I truly believe in whatever god or deity or way or system of religious creed does it matter what that belief is, so long as I am honest and sincere? Simple logic would demand that it does matter, even as it matters if one intends to travel in a northerly direction but drives due south: Whatever destination one has in mind will never be found no matter how sincere one believes that driving south will lead him north. Some cry, “foul!” We want a God who gives us more options, more choices. It’s not fair, we contend that He makes the way so narrow and the options so restricted. Can’t we have a choice of who we will worship? Of which tree will provide our sustenance? Those choices didn’t work out well for our first parents: They surely won’t work better for us. In this chaotic and frenetic world of options, choices and preferences, when it comes to the state and the future of our eternal souls, options are severely limited, and for that I am abundantly glad. The Holy Scriptures declare that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” than the name of Jesus. Those same Scriptures instruct us, “Jesus said . . . I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” “There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” The Apostle Paul made it forever clear and settled when he wrote to the church at Ephesus,

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

There we have it: No options, no choices, no multiplicity of preference: If we want to see God the Father, if we want to spend eternity in heaven, if we want to be sure and convinced of our election and our position with Him forever, He has made it simple and plain: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.” I may not understand all the depths and the mysterious nuances of theology; I may not speak or read or write in the original languages of the Bible, but I can understand simple things, and the simplest of things was made known and available to us in Jesus Christ, “believe” and we are “saved.” One of the greatest theologians to have grace our planet, Dr. Karl Barth was asked during a 1962 tour of the United States, what had been the most momentous theological discovery of his long life. His answer was ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.'” Plumbing the depths of available options and offerings, Dr. Barth (rightly) concluded it’s as simple as this: “Jesus Christ, who loves me and who is God’s only begotten Son is the only way to obtain eternal life.” Believe, and be saved. It’s just that simple. I may not have made the perfect choice in the clothing I wear or the car I drive or the computer I use or the phone that connects me to the friends I’ve chosen, but this I can be assured of: When we talk about faith and the future and where we will go when we leave this earth and this life, there is One Thing that is certain: Only one thing will admit us into heaven: Belief on the name and in the veracity of the claim of one man: The Man, Jesus Christ. I’m glad when it comes to eternal life, the options are limited, the choices are minimized and standing before us, with nail-scarred and open hands is One Man: And that Man, the Lord Jesus Christ bids us open the door of our heart and let Him enter in.

The Hiding Place

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What do you do when the dark shadow of impending doom obscures your world, when darkness steals the light and threatens to undo all that you have built, acquired, cultivated?

I grew up in tornado country, where radio and TV stations broadcast frequent watches and warnings. We developed a good sense of atmospheric awareness when tornadic conditions were developing and with that awareness we also developed a “ho hum” attitude towards these twisting destroyers. We believed that we were impervious to the black funnel clouds that ripped through other communities, other cities in other states. We were sure of it: no tornado would ever threaten or visit our home.

Something horrible had happened in the night, and I had no way of knowing what scenes would greet me on my arrival home.

But once, after concluding a business meeting in Houston I was driving north on Interstate 35 when I picked up a radio station signal from my hometown. The news was bad: A tornado had thrashed through my city in the night hours. Specific information was unavailable. I only knew that destruction had come in spite of my certainty of our invulnerability. There was nothing I could do except drive and pray.

I prayed for my family and my neighbors. This calamity happened years before the advent of the cell phone and so I stopped at every gas station I saw looking for the then ubiquitous phone booth. I dialed the numbers only to learn that telephone lines were down, preventing me from knowing about casualties or damage. Something horrible had happened in the night, and I had no way of knowing what scenes would greet me on my arrival home.

As it turned out we were blessed as a city and as a family. Although there was much property damage the fierce winds caused few injuries.

Planet earth is reeling as 2014 draws towards its conclusion. Catastrophic and terrible events jostle for attention as the media attempts to quantify and qualify accelerating and intensifying tragic incidences. We are bombarded 24 hours a day with tragedy and calamity, with dread and with portents of doom.

Words that never existed in our vocabulary are now spoken by the least informed among us: “Ebola,” “ISIS,” “Al Qaeda,” “Al Shabab” have become household names. Fears of economic catastrophe, wild, unpredictable and devastating weather events jockey for our attention and threaten to upset our lives and our livelihoods. For believers in Jesus, persecution grows each day from a hazy, distant recognition of possibility to real, potential intimidation.

Satan’s goal . . . destabilize, disrupt, demoralize

Jesus’ prediction of a time when men’s hearts would fail them “from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth” seems to have arrived amidst our generation. Then, He said, “the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

Satan’s goal, if he cannot overwhelm the people of God is to destabilize, to disrupt and to demoralize Christ’s followers until they either fold in fear or scatter in confusion.

Two thousand years ago, when the cross had been shorn of its burden of death and when Jesus’ body had been removed and relocated to its apparent resting place, the disciples of Jesus seemed to be followers no more. History records that these disappeared from public view. Hiding away during those hours between the lordship of death and the Lord of resurrection, “men’s hearts” failed them from fear and the expectation of those things which were coming on the earth.”

During the three days between crucifixion and resurrection, “the powers of the heavens” were indeed “shaken.”

The strongest of the disciples hid “for fear of the Jews.” The disciples were “afar off,” putting distance between themselves and the One who hung on the cross. They had been with Him, had been seen with Him, what if they were next to die as He had died?

Hiding-Place

Scripture records “He appeared to them.” “He stood in their midst.” “Although the doors were locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them: Peace be with you.”

Have you locked your doors to the infiltrations of the world? Have you hidden away “for fear” of the enemies of God? Do portents of evil debilitate and drain away your strength? If so, be prepared for Jesus to “appear” to you, to stand in your midst in spite of locked doors and amplified fears and to speak to you the words of life, “Peace be with you.”

It was He, the Prince of Peace who said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

His word to us on this day in 2014 is the same as it was to His followers two thousand years ago: “… in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Heaven’s message to God’s children resonates in the midst of an atmosphere of growing dread: “Have patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations, and endure.” “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble” and He will give we who are troubled rest when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels.”

And if you can receive it, Jesus is revealed today, in this moment, as your eyes read these words and as your spirit awakens to His presence. And as He appears, peace flows out, surrounding and comforting and encouraging you to rest in the arms of the Prince of Peace.

This world will be shaken to its very foundation. Everything that can be shaken will be shaken, but those who have established their lives and their futures on the Rock of Jesus Himself shall never be shaken and shall never fall. The One who upholds all things by the word of His power, Himself guarantees it.

 

The Perfect Storm and Perfect Peace

perfect-stormThere are days, times, sometimes long seasons we might describe as producing “The press of life.”

Unanswered prayers, long nights of anxiety or sorrow, fear or negative anticipation, circumstances that seem to intentionally assemble to create a “perfect storm” of trials and troubles threaten to overwhelm and defeat us. When these are coupled with silence from heaven, our resolve and our faith, our very confidence in God is tested and tried: We are shaken.

And then, heaping guilt onto the growing mountain of contrariness, we sometimes are aware that we have failed those tests. Miserably.

Mark records (ch 4) Jesus speaking about the good seed of the word of God being scattered among thorns “and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.”

“The cares of this world,” that’s what leaps out to many of us. Imagine what those cares would have been in the first Century world. Without television, internet, cell phones, without all the modern means of the transport of communications, those cares might seem miniscule in comparison with our world.

We get caught up by the threats of Ebola and ISIS and the looming specter of a worldwide economic collapse. We’re told that the poles are melting while we brace for colder and more hostile winters than we’ve known. Republicans warn us of Democrats while Democrats warn us of evil Republican agendas. Our borders are open to the entry of who knows who carrying who knows what. Food prices escalate, fuel prices do the same. The cares of this world compete against and threaten to silence the still, small voice of the promises of God in His word and by His Spirit.

The Cares of This World initiate The Press of Life as round and round and round we run, getting nowhere while looking for peace while listening to tumult.

Yet there is a quiet place, there is a place of certain peace; indeed, a peace that passes all understanding. That place is “in Christ” and the avenue that leads there is called “Grace.”

If the cares of this world shout, demanding your full attention, take just a moment, thank God for His grace and allow His peace to fill you, to overflow you, to inundate your heart and your soul. I cannot promise that your circumstances will change; you may well find yourself still surrounded by stormy and shark filled seas, but the ship of grace will hold you and the Captain of that ship will keep you in perfect peace as your mind is settled and focused upon Him. Isaiah knew it;“You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You.”

The old song says it well and simply, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey.”