The Best Part

“Seems that I was busy doing something close to nothing
But different than the day before…”

(“Raspberry Beret”- Prince)

If you’ve been around “church” long enough you’ve probably been told all about the simplicity of just enjoying the presence of the Lord. And I know you’ve heard your share of sermons from Luke 10: “Martha, you’re so anxious and worried about many things. Mary has chosen the better part.” But please, indulge me a bit because the idea of “the best part” and the sweetness of his presence has taken on new life for me as of late. And I wanted to pass it along.

The Lord has my wife & I in a different kind of place right now. Without giving you all the particulars, let me just say that I (and her too probably) have been totally out of my comfort zone. And to be quite honest, I haven’t known exactly what to do. But I figured I BETTER DO SOMETHING!! So, all my “figuring”  wound up producing a lot of “what ifs,” “maybe I shoulds,” and “this could be disastrous” kind of stuff. Thank you Lord for your precious Holy Spirit!!

I guess I’d better say right out front that I’m not encouraging you to be lazy, quit your job, and let God feed you by having birds bring you crumbs of bread. But I do want to tell you that God would not have us herded like cattle into a pen or driven by fear into a course of action. Instead, we are to be led by his Spirit. And so often, we get so busy with being busy or thinking that we have to be busy that we forget the best part- the sweetness of his presence. Yes, there is purpose and intention. There is a race and a mission and a task and ministry, but the best part lies in the simplicity of abiding in/with him. And the irony of it all is that it is that “abiding” out of which everything else- the purpose, intention, ministry, and LIFE ITSELF- flows.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

Do you think he may have meant exactly what he said? Apart from me, you can do nothing. Sure, with determination and hard work, anyone can have some measure of success, the world does it everyday. But that which possesses eternal substance and significance flows out of our abiding union in Jesus. It is the Spirit that gives life. And before you’re tempted to think that your relationship with Jesus is somehow disconnected from your intention or your purpose or your effort or your JOB; for you my precious bother and sister, there is no such division. Apart from him, we can do nothing. NO-THING.

Keep up the hard work my friend, but remember that it is in your abiding intimacy in and with him that everything else will come. The sweetness of his presence is the best part.

Racial Deception and The Church

 “But now you have been united with Christ Jesus…For Christ himself has brought peace to us… that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility…”

For most of us today, the centuries old issue regarding Jew & Gentile holds no relevance. But as I was reading in Ephesians this morning, I realized that our culture has a very similar problem. And  it occurred to me that we who call ourselves Christians apparently believe very little of what the Apostle Paul had to say about such matters. How do I know this? I can tell you with one word: Racism.

How sad it is today that the body of Christ is divided along racial lines. The Spirit is surely grieved as he witnesses, especially among those who call themselves “leaders,” the carnal pride and strife that is on display as we mistakenly derive and assert our identity according to the flesh. We publish articles and post “tweets” biting and devouring one another in the name of justice and equality not understanding that such behavior reveals that we are not being led by God’s Spirit, nor in possession of his wisdom. Arrogantly, we are instead operating in the realm of fleshly, even demonically inspired influences. Woe to you self-proclaimed leaders and ministers who cause even one of these little ones to stumble, following after and imitating you as you serve the god of your appetite.

The reason for the racism we see on display in the Body of Christ is due to the fact that we neither believe, understand, nor appreciate the fact that in the man Jesus God has broken down the barriers of race. He has dissolved the carnal hostility between the races in the body of Jesus. In Christ, God has created one new man. We all are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. We simply don’t believe that together we are being built up as a dwelling place for God by the Spirit, the Church on display so that the manifold wisdom of God might be revealed to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. Instead of being a fragrance of life, our fleshly indulgence is a stench of death that gives birth to nothing but more separation and division.

The answer to our problem is really very simple. It’s called repentance. It is when we are willing to turn from our sin. We must allow the Spirit of God to change our perspective from a carnal one into a spiritual one. And it is then, as we are strengthened by his Spirit, that we will comprehend the full dimensions of the love of Jesus and be filled with the fullness of God. Then, we will walk in a manner worthy of our calling, with a humble heart and gentleness and patience, bearing with one another in love, passionately maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Under Pressure

“But comprehend this, in the last days, at precise moments, various seasons (kairos time) of intense pressure will come. ..” (2 Timothy 3:1a Fuller Translation)

I believe that we are, right now, in the midst of one of the “kairos moments” of pressure that the Spirit warned us would occurr as this age draws to a close. And I also believe that the Enemy is using social media and an inundation of news as catalysts in this “opportune” moment.

We must understand that the Enemy is seeking to distract and discourage followers of Jesus by soliciting strong, carnal, emotional responses regarding content that is being strategically presented through both social and news media. The constant stream of negative stimuli, whether it be political or social in nature, is part of a scheme designed to “wear down the saints” in this hour. There is an effort to bring about hopelessness and an overall emotionally pressurized sense of heaviness.

Distraction is also an objective in this season of pressure. As we feel the pressure of this season, the Enemy desires that we concentrate more on the things we see and hear instead of living life in/by the Spirit of God. We must not forget who(se) we are in this hour. We must not forget that which the Lord has called us to, both as individuals and as the corporate Body of Christ. We must remember that the “anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” And make no mistake, the pressure of this hour is being used to provoke carnal anger which distracts us from the things of God.

As Christians, we must never bury our heads in the sand or adopt an escapist mentality. But as we seek to minister the love of God to the world around us, we must also have wise, discerning hearts. It has been said that knowing that there is a trap is the sure way to avoid it. In this kairos season of pressure let us not be ignorant of the schemes of the devil, but by constant practice train our senses to discern between good and evil.

Eleven

I have this recording that I made waaaaay back when I was 11. I had one of those old 70’s cassette recorders, and it was important for me to leave a “witnessing tape” so that if I died my family and friends would listen to it and all come to Jesus. Anyway, there’s this point during the first few minutes when I say, “I lived in sin until I was 11.” That is both hilarious and, in a way, so sad to me now. Because man, was I wrong!! There were 30 years of addiction and pain that lay ahead. My intentions were good, but I had the perspective of an 11 old year old child. Not necessarily good or bad, just limited by my own personal context at the time. I couldn’t see past 11.

When we as men and women chose the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil over Life and intimacy with our creator, sin invaded like cancer. It warped the very fabric of creation, bringing death and separation from God, and forever altered our perspective about God and ourselves. We fell for the lie that we could be like God without God. And from that time until the present mankind has set up governments, programs, institutions, religions, and whatever else you can think of to fashion himself into the being he has only a distorted notion of that he should be. The way seems good, but the end brings only more death. Enter Jesus. (I have to be honest, when I wrote that I thought of “Enter Sandman” by Metallica.)

Through the redemptive work of Jesus: his life, death, and resurrection; we have been reconciled to God. In the person of Jesus, God has provided healing for our brokenness. Salvation is so much more than our proverbial bible-belt prayer, “Lord, I confess I’m a sinner. Please save me now.” It is holistic in its “efficaciousness,” affecting every facet of our being. Through intimacy with Jesus we have been invited to come and take part in the Life and Love of God. In Jesus, we become a “new creation,” all things become new. The Spirit of God actually indwells us and begins to change us, molding us into the image of Jesus. And as we grow in the Lord, our perspective which sin had left warped and distorted begins to give way to a new one. Or at least it should.

Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda…One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, ‘Would you like to get well? (John 5: 5,6 NLT)

I used to read this passage and think to myself that it was strange that the Lord would ask the paralyzed man if he wanted to be well. After all, who wouldn’t want to be healed of an infirmity that had rendered them an invalid? What person in their right mind would want to remain in a paralyzed condition? The truth is that sometimes, as crazy as it may seem, even after we come to Jesus we can actually remain at ease with our “disease.” Sadly, many of us are guilty of not allowing Jesus complete access to the pain and hurts we have encountered in life. When this happens, our thoughts and behavior can be dictated by the flesh, and we often feel justified in using our infirmity to manipulate others. I wonder if perhaps that is why Jesus asked the man lying beside the pool of Bethesda that day if he wanted to be healed. Maybe the man had actually begun to see his illness as a way to manipulate others into giving him money. Have you ever met someone who has actually begun to “romance” their pain and hurt? It’s crazy, but sometimes, we can prefer the familiarity of our suffering over the prospect of being made whole.

Maybe part of the reason we as believers are experiencing such angst and frustration in this “kairos moment” in history is due to the fact that we need to allow God to change our perspective from the natural to the spiritual. Perhaps the truth is that while by this time we should be mature sons and daughters of God, we have been held back by desires and thoughts that originate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil- our old, carnal thought patterns and perspectives. Could it be that we, all of us, have been largely deceived by that which seems good, but is in reality a fruit from that old tree? We can’t and shouldn’t be freaked out by the world’s reactions to current events, but our perspectives as lovers of Jesus are to be shaped by his Spirit within us. And I guess ultimately, it is by the Spirit that each of us can discern our own motivation.

When I was a boy, I couldn’t see past 11. I had all kind of thoughts, but my perspective was that of a child. May I ask some questions without coming across as insensitive? Are we as Christians honestly coming before the Lord, laying down our hurt, our pain, and everything we think we know? Are we willing to allow the Spirit to expand our perspective beyond the natural? Are we willing to see beyond our own ethnicity and personal context? It may be impossible with man, but not with God. Let’s grow up in him together!!

 

 

 

 

A Glimpse Behind The Curtain

 

…we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near…

…we hold to the hope that lies before us.  This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.

You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

He has made us a Kingdom of priests for God his Father. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

One of the coolest things we get to be a part of as lovers of Jesus is unfortunately  one of the things I think we fail at the most. And that is, providing those around us with a “glimpse behind the curtain,” a “peak and taste” of the One who is our life and love. He who is in fact the One in whom we and all of creation lives and moves and has its being (Acts 17:25-28). No, I’m not advocating universalism or pantheism. But I am saying that the curtain which separated man from intimacy with God has been removed, granting to all men access to the most holy place through Jesus. And we are to be the instruments through whom the world comprehends this reality.

The Church excels in  bringing the world into the “outer courts.” We allow them to see the “place of sacrifice.” We also have no problem with providing them with the “rules and regulations” of worship. We are experts at spouting off our “code of ethics and morality.” But the disconnect lies in the fact that unless one sees behind the curtain, worship becomes ritual, and sin  devolves into some kind of “checklist.” We have become quite proficient in expounding on the “what” they must know, but provide few answers as to the “who” and the “why.” We come across (and portray God) as the proverbial parents who say, “You don’t have to understand. Just do as I say.” But it is only as we ourselves live life behind the curtain, encountering the essence, the energy the “ousia,” the love and holiness of our Abba God that we begin to understand and can subsequently (effectively) be the glory and the fullness of Him who fills all and all.thcnh86v2s

We must remember that as priests our function is not only to minister to the Lord, but to be a liaison between God and man. In Jesus, as we live by his Spirit, we are to be living pictures of the life God has offered to mankind. And as we with unveiled faces behold and reflect the glory of God, we “pull back the curtain” allowing those around us to see expressions of the grace, the mercy, the hope, and the love of God. It is behind the curtain that we realize that holiness is not merely “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not,” but rather the beauty and life of the One who is altogether “other than” and unlike anything else- the One who invites us to come and be like Him. And consequently, the world witnesses the True Light shining off of the faces of those who live life behind the curtain. As we grow in the Love of God and our understanding matures, we communicate the reality of Jesus in words not taught by the world, but by the Spirit. Abiding in the Vine, behind the curtain, we come to rely less on the carnal tree of the knowledge of good and evil and become more complete instruments of the power of God, revealing the good news about Jesus that pierces hearts and minds, that pulls back the veil allowing the people in our lives to see the truth behind the curtain.

Step right up ladies and gentlemen! It won’t cost you a dime!! Step right up, and be amazed as you see the awesome wonders that await you behind the curtain!!

Is anyone thirsty?
    Come and drink—
    even if you have no money!
Come, take your choice of wine or milk—
    it’s all free!
        Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
    Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
    You will enjoy the finest food.

Come to me with your ears wide open.
    Listen, and you will find life.

“Puttin’ On The Ritz”

Gene Wilder, a childhood favorite of mine, died recently. Social media was inundated with condolences and various memories shared by fans of Mr. Wilder. I also couldn’t help but notice that there were a great many articles and posts which  said things like, “Now, you can go be with Gilda.” Gilda Radner, a brilliant comedienne in her own right, had been married to Gene “back in the day.” For fans, theirs was the romance so many only dream of. The trouble with all those wonderful posthumous sentiments was that Gene had been married a few times after Gilda and had been with his current wife for 25 years.  I had some thoughts and wanted to share them with you.

Our culture is one in which celebrities are “worshipped.” We want to know what kind of clothes they wear, the cars they drive, the food they eat, who they love, etc… We want to feel as if we really know them, that we share some sort of connection with them. We think to ourselves, “If I could only meet _, I know we’d be friends.” But these fantastical meetings rarely if ever take place, and as familiar as we may think we are with them ,we don’t really know them. And yet, we seem drawn to our Idols by some mystical compulsion that resides somewhere deep in our “psyche.”

I believe that celebrity worship is a direct result of the “sin mutation” that affects us all, taking something that God placed inside of us, then twisting it. You see, we have an innate longing to be known and to know someOne larger than life. That’s because we are created to enjoy intimacy with God, the ultimate celebrity if you will. We are meant for something fantastic and “mythical.” We are more than doctors, lawyers, housewives, plumbers, students, etc… We are the direct result of the loving, kind intentions of an all powerful, holy God. A God, perfect and in need of nothing, decided that he would not be God without us. And despite the warping , perversion, and death that sin has wrought  in all of us, we” instinctively” know that we are created for something “more.”

In Gene Wilder’s movie Young Frankenstein, young Dr. Fronk-en-steen continues his legendary grandfather’s work, reanimating a dead body. And the comedy that ensues as Wilder’s character (along with an awesome supporting cast) tries to keep his experiment from going public is classic. But what you and I have been invited to share in by our creator is mind-blowing! Not only has a loving God brought his creation back to life through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we have been adopted into his family and made participants in the holy Triune love that has eternally belonged to Father, Son, and Spirit. And furthermore, he has made us partakes of his own divine nature and promises that when we see him we shall be LIKE HIM!!

We’re all intrigued by the bigger than life “stars” who shine so brightly in our culture, and I believe we are drawn to celebrity and fame because we are created by God to experience intimacy with the ultimate Superstar- the “bright morning star.” It is Christ alone who can satisfy the desire of the human heart that yearns to know someone greater than ourselves, to be a part of something extraordinary.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. (Talk about “Puttin’ on the Ritz”!!)

 

 

Homeland

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

No, this is not a review of the upcoming season of the Showtime series “Homeland.” I’m sure that Carrie, Quinn, and Saul will continue to strategize, lie, cheat, seduce, and “disappear” the necessary bad guys in order to preserve homeland security. Instead this article is a result of my pondering on the verses displayed above and how they may apply to us 21st century American Christians, many of whom have forgotten just what/where their homeland is. And nowhere is this “lapse of memory” more evident than when it comes to American politics.thCK82J2W1

It doesn’t take too long a visit to the popular social media sights to figure out that many of us have forgotten who/se we are and where we’re going. I think it’s safe to say that a vast number of American Christians no longer see themselves as “strangers and exiles on the earth” and have fallen in love with the “American Dream.” Instead of being Christians who happen to be Americans, they tend to see themselves more as Americans who happen to be Christians. Consequently, they eagerly support the political candidate they think will best keep the dream intact, i.e., please no one come and take all my stuff. I honestly do think it’s our “stuff” that we are so earnestly trying to guard, and we have forgotten that “strangers and exiles” are transient, rarely holding on to anything too tightly.

One also has to be saddened by the divisiveness politics reveals among Christians. So called leaders will vehemently endorse or oppose different candidates, their acolytes will rally behind the leader, and carnal arguments play out on Face Book for all the world to see. And it seems that nowadays, racism of all colors, shapes, and sizes figure into the arguments, creating further division and bitterness. I even read an article the other day in which a pastor blamed the “Left Behind” series for paving the way for a Donald Trump presidential candidacy. Now while I don’t subscribe to Tim Lahaye’s eschatological paradigm….REALLY!!!!?????  I could go on, but I think you get my point. Brothers and sisters, all of whom love the Lord, arguing the politics of a homeland that is not even their own.

We know that God works through, in and among the nations of this world. He sets up kingdoms and removes them. And the writer of the book of Hebrews tells us that men and women of faith have been used of God to “conquer  kingdoms, enforce justice, obtain promises, stop the mouths of lions, quench the power of fire, escape the edge of the sword, made strong out of weakness, become mighty in war, and put foreign armies to flight.”But I would submit to you that most of what we see happening when American Christians become political today is a result of a people who have ceased walking by faith, looking for “that city whose builder is God” and have instead embraced the United States as their ultimate homeland. And out of a disposition of fear, they desperately desire a political leader who will shore up their treasured kingdom.

So, what is the answer to dilemma? First, we must remember that as Christians, our true Homeland is a “better country, that is, a heavenly one.” While we are of this world, this nation, we are now first and foremost citizens of the kingdom of heaven. But we are not merely holding on, waiting for Jesus to come snatch us away from all this trouble. No, in Christ we are men and women of faith who know that TRUE FAITH sometimes mean that the people of God have also “suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”

Finally, it is our abiding intimacy with Jesus that ensures our proper understanding of homeland. He who is the author and finisher of our faith, the One who will rule over all the nations of this world, is the overcoming Lord who sits at the right hand of the Father until all his enemies are made into a footstool for his feet. We do not put our trust in political leaders. Nor do we allow nationalism of any kind to separate us from others in the Body of Christ. In fact,  I would say that perhaps it is nationalism itself that we American Christians must lay aside as “a weight and the sin which clings so closely,” hindering our walk with Jesus and his people.

Homeland. Home, the city prepared for us by God himself.

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.  And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.  By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it,  and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.  They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb  through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.