The Gate, the Court, and the Holy of Holies

” a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. A time is coming and now has come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship Him in spirit and truth.” John 4.21-24, paraphrased.

Exodus 25 takes us back to the year 1450 BC, approximately. It has been about a year since God delivered his enslaved people form Egyptian bondage. Moses is in the presence of God on Mt. Sinai for 40 days, and during this time, God gives him instructions for the building of a tabernacle, which will be come to be called the tabernacle of Moses. Verses 8 and 9 “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.”

Prior to this, it had been Moses alone who had personally been in the presence of the Lord. And you may recall that when he descended from Mt. Sinai, his face was so radiant that he had to place a veil on it!

But now all of Israel was to have a visible structure, a representation of the Lord. A place for the presence of God. How interesting that from that time forward, many have tried to put God in a box. To confine Him to a specific area. But there were reasons for this. One reason, I believe, was for the people to see that Moses was not just coming up with ideas or “leadings” or “thus says the Lord” based on “super-heated” imagination. Now, with the pillar of fire and the cloud always present, the Israelites would have no excuses.

What I want to present in this blog is that the Tabernacle of Moses is a pattern for New Testament corporate worship. Each area, and each fixture have symbolic meaning, and if we can see the truth behind it, we too can be the kind of worshippers the Father seeks, and experience a deeper level of worship.

There are 3 distinct areas of this tabernacle. First there is the Outer court, which measures 150′ x 75′. Entry to the court is through a curtain which measures 30′ wide. I might point out that this area has natural light, the sun by day and the moon by night. Then there is the Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies.

Inside the Outer Court we find the Bronze or Brazen Altar. Here is where I present my spotless, perfect lamb to the Priest for inspection, and if accepted, it is roasted there. As it burns, I lay my hand on its head to signify that I identify with this sacrifice, that it is a substitution for me and my sins, and I do this once a year.

Beyond the Altar is the Laver, or Basin of Washing. Obviously, after killing the lamb, the Priest will have blood on his hands. So before he can go into the Holy Place, he must wash. he must be clean. He must be pure. He must be holy.

The Holy Place measures 30′ x 15′. Many can gather in the Outer Court, but only the Priest can enter here. Inside we find 3 fixtures. First we have the Lampstand. While the Outer Court had natural light, here the only light is generated by burning oil. Twice a day, the Priest places fresh oil in the lamps (a Menorah) and trims the wicks.

We also have the Altar of Incense. The Priest also has to keep the incense fresh daily.

And thirdly we have the Table of Showbread, also known as the Table of the Presence, made of acacia wood and overlaid with gold. While the Outer Court fixtures were all made of bronze, inside all are of gold. The Priest would place 12 freshly baked cakes or round loaves of bread, stacked like pancakes in 2 piles of 6 each. he did this every Sabbath, and on that day the priests would eat the week-old bread. These cakes were also sprinkled with frankincense.

Once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the High Priest would take blood from the Brazen Altar and wash the Table of Showbread.

Certainly the most important part of the Tabernacle of Moses was the Holy of Holies. Smaller yet, it measured 15′ x 15′. Inside lies the Ark of the Covenant, also known as the Ark of the Testimony. The top of the Ark had 2 golden cherubim, and between them lay the lid, called the Mercy Seat. Some people consider this to be a separate item, but it was part of the Ark.

Inside the Ark was the stone tablets Moses had brought from Mt. Sinai on which were written the Ten Commandments. Later the priests added the Rod of Aaron and a jar of manna.

Unlike the Outer Court, exposed to the sun and moon, and the Holy Place which had burning oil for light, there is no source of light here. Except – except — for the very Presence of God Himself.

It was here that the High Priest dared to go once a year on the Day of Atonement and present himself before God Almighty on behalf of every Israelite, and make atonement for their sins. Later, when Solomon’s temple was built, the other priests would tie a rope around the High Priest, just in case the anger of God flashed and killed or disabled the Priest, and they could pull him out through the veil.

So there, briefly, is a description of the Tabernacle. Let us review by reading Hebrews chapter 9.

“Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand, the table, and the consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna. Aaron’s staff that had budded. and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things now. When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshipper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings – external regulations applying until the time of the new order.

When Christ came as High Priest of the good things that are already here, He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.

Glory to God.

But there is more.

Verses 23-28.

It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; He entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did He enter heaven to offer Himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

Jesus said, “I am the Gate” “I am the Way” “I am the Bread of Life” “I am the Light of the World” and He IS forever our High Priest. And now we can confidently approach Him, believing that He IS and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him and that He Himself seeks those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth.

Corporate worship, in my view, is a journey through this pattern we see in the Tabernacle of Moses. It begins with a personal journey, starting with the Outer Court.

I enter His gates with thanksgiving and with praise. I enter with joy. I enter with gratitude. I enter, celebrating His goodness, grace and mercy to me. I come to the Brazen Altar, with my brothers and sisters in the Outer Court, knowing that my High Priest and already sacrificed His own life for me. I lay my hand – I acknowledge this marvelous fact, knowing that if I confess my sins, He is faithful and just to forgive me, and to cleanse me from all unrighteousness (1 John 1.9)

This blood is still fresh, and it will never lose its power. It reaches to the highest mountain. There is no “mountain” in my life that it cannot move. It reaches to the lowest valley. There is no despair, nor heartache, that it cannot soothe. The blood that gives me strength from day to day – it will never lose its power.

And this is something to brag about! And I shout and sing and dance before my King here in the Outer Court.

I come to the Altar of Washing and here the Word Himself washes me clean. I can go no further until I am clean before my Lord. I cannot enter His Holy Place without holiness. But here I am reminded that if I indeed have confessed my sins, then I can believe that I am loved. I am accepted. That I am a child of God.

And so I can enter the Holy Place confidently. I realize that apart from His amazing grace I would have darkness and eternity separated from Him. But knowing this grace and the power of His blood enables me to look up, even though I am humbled before Him.

And my pronouns change.

I would not look at my wife, Gayle , and say “I love her.” I would say “I love you.”

It is always right and appropriate and meaningful to declare the praise of God. To sing about Him. But it is another thing to sing TO HIM. And here in the Holy Place, I do just that. We are intimate. In the presence of the Living Bread of Life I tell Him I love Him. You are magnificent. You are holy. You are my Savior. You re my King. I love You more than any other.

Because my Jesus is my High Priest, and because we too are priests because He says we are, we enter the Holy of Holies and without fear, we worship Him in spirit and in truth.

I am convinced that there is a unique and divinely ordained purpose for corporate worship. God never meant for us to remain in the Outer Court. Every time we gather, He means for us to come into the Holy of Holies.

When I enter our physical place of worship, our building, I bring my personal “stream” of the life of Jesus, living in me. And so do each of us. And as we join our hearts and voices together, our streams become a mighty river. Together we live “OUR VOICE.” And this “river” should run with power and purpose because Jesus INHABITS the praises of His people. Praise is HIS ADDRESS!

When we enter the Holy of Holies, we enter the very Shekinah – the manifestation of His glory. And as we minister to Him, and pour our love on Him, He in return ministers to us. In the Holy of Holies there is no place for the devil. He must flee. Chains are broken. Captives are released. The gifts of His Spirit flow. Miracles occur. The prophetic Word is alive. My life is changed as I am in His Presence.

Never am I more fully alive than I am when I stand in the Holy of Holies with my Savior and my God.

We too can experience the radiance of God like Moses did.

So brethren, each time we come together for corporate worship, let’s make our way past the outer court and into His Divine Presence. Let us rediscover the “heart of worship,” looking full in His wonderful face, and WAIT on Him. Wait in Him. And linger there.

Linger there.

What Shall Become of — Us?

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Luke 1.57-66

When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy. — They made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God. The neighbors were all filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.

Gayle turned 70 on December 30, 2021. All of our 4 children were here, as well as 3 sons-in-law, and 12 grandchildren. Fortunately, they all stayed in our house. We had a grand time. What a joy to be together. Gayle was honored in many ways, including a book of most of Gayle’s blogs from the last 8 years put together by Abigail. You can find them at MyFathersDaughters, in WordPress.

But the greatest blessing was just being together for 3 days.

As a sentimental old man (yes, I am sentimental), I found myself at various moments pondering each of my children and grandchildren, as well as the last 46 years of marriage to this beautiful woman.

And I began to recall this passage from Luke, centered on the birth of John, the Baptist. “What then is this child going to be?”

I looked at Benjamin, at Hannah, at Salem, and at Abigail, who, as the youngest, will turn 40 on January 8th, 2022. What, then have they turned out to be?

Can I brag a little about them? Can I brag about what they have “turned out to be?”

Each one excelled in school. Each one played multiple sports in high school. Each one received honors, both academically and athletically. One was homecoming queen. One was student body president (and also in college!). Each one was recognized by the high school faculty as “Miss or Mr. Mustang”, the award given to a senior student. One was elected into the Jackson County Sports Hall of Fame.

Each one attended college. Again, academics were important to them. Each one played on a college sport team. One was voted homecoming queen. One served in the United States Army for over 5 years, for many weeks facing danger in Iraq.

They have lived in Germany, Hawaii, Kentucky, Virginia, Washington, Washington, DC, Maryland, and North Carolina.

3 have met and married godly men of faith. And out of these marriages, there are now 12 grandchildren, ranging from 6 to 16.

My children are not perfect. None of us are. But I am reminded of a song by the band Alabama. The words go something like this “close enough to perfect for me.”

I am so very proud of what my children have “turned out to be.”

And then I looked at each of my grandchildren. Adahlyn, Miriam, Phillip, Lincoln, Lydia, Samuel, Amos, Tyler, Daniel, Caleb, Adellah, and Rachel. And I wonder, what will become of them? What will they turn out to be?

I certainly will not live to see the end of their lives. I hope to see a significant portion, if God wills. I’d enjoy seeing them through college. I’d like to see whom they will marry, what jobs they may hold, what contributions they will make to their communities, where they lives will take them.

When I was little, I wanted to be Superman. I wanted to be a fireman. I wanted to be a Major League baseball player.

None can us can really know what the future holds. None of us can foresee how our decisions impact where our lives take us.

I never dreamed of college, of getting married, of being a father. Never thought I would one day pastor and teach. Never thought I would be a coach in multiple sports (particularly soccer!) Never dreamed that I would escort 3 homecoming queens into the middle of a football field. (only 2 in my family!)

What have I turned out to be?

David writes in Psalm 16.6, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.”

The final chapter(s) of “this child” have yet to be written. But there is no doubt that I am the recipient of the amazing grace of our merciful Lord. I agree with Andrae Crouch, “All that I am and ever hope to be, I owe it all to Thee.”

The grandkids all pitched in and sang on a video this past week that honored Gayle. The song was “All My Life You Have Been Faithful”. Well, I am not sure of the title, but these are the treasured words.

God has been, and continues to be faithful. Over and above anything I could ever have hoped for or imagined. Beyond my “wildest dreams.”

And I can and will trust Him for the lives of my grandchildren. And their children. And on and on until the Lord Jesus reappears.

Luke 1.80 “And the child grew and became strong in spirit.”

I do not know what the future holds, but I KNOW WHO holds the future!

Well, that is enough, for now.

He’s STILL Got the Whole World in His Hands

I recently saw an article entitled “The Everything Shortage.” It reminded me of the song written by Gary S. Paxton, “No Shortage.” In it he writes:

There’s a shortage on corn, There’s a shortage on wheat, There’s a shortage on beans and there’s a shortage on meat. Things that we’re needing we just can’t hardly buy, Soon we’ll be asking if we’re all gonna die.

The second verse includes these lines:

There’s a shortage on fuel oil, there’s a shortage on gas, There’s a shortage on wood and there’s a shortage on glass. Things that we’ve wasted are now precious to buy, You know there’s even a shortage on the air in the sky.

Sounds like it could have been written yesterday. But in was 1975. If he had penned this recently, he might have added toilet paper, matches, ammunition, computer chips, chocolate chips, common sense, and honest politicians.

Yes, we see inflation all around us. It affects us all. Crying won’t help. Maybe a little humor will.

Inflation is when you sock something away and the sock shrinks.

Inflation is when you have money to burn and you can’t afford matches.

Maybe the only way to slow down inflation is to send through the US Postal Service.

But, thankfully, inflation can’t touch everything. You can still use a dime as a screwdriver.

Yes, there may be a shortage on a million things, but I agree with Gary Paxton, THERE’S NO SHORTAGE ON GOD’S MERCY, THERE’S NO SHORTAGE ON GOD’S LOVE!

Nana took 6 year-old Rachel on a drive across Cowee Mountain a couple of weeks ago, when the fall color was at its peak. It has been a magnificent fall.

Nana said, “Just think, God painted all this!” “Yes,” replied Rachel, “and He did it with His left hand.”

Puzzled, Nana asked Rachel what in the world she meant.

“Well, I learned in Sunday School that Jesus was sitting on the right hand of God.”

Sitting on. Sitting at. Close enough, huh?

We talk about the “hand of God.” Of “the shadow of His wing.” I’m not certain that God has hands, after all, He is a Spirit. Jesus sure did. In fact, I am fairly sure God does not have hands, but I think we understand the personification and what it means.

Isaiah 49.14-16

“But Zion said, “the Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands; your walls are ever before Me.”

Many in the church are losing hope. Living in despair. Many have concluded that the Deists were right – God is like a clockmaker who made the universe and then, upon completion, folded His arms, sat on His hands, and “sits” there today allowing it all to run on its merry way like a clock. No involvement.

The Lord has forsaken us! The Lord has forgotten us!

High prices, empty shelves, riots, climate change, Covid, wars, rumors of wars, attacks on morality, attacks on Christianity, persecution. And all the while God “sits” there doing nothing.

Is that us today? Is this the way I feel? The way I believe? Are you wondering, “Where is the God of Elijah?”

But I say this, even if you have the tiniest of faith, even as small as the proverbial mustard seed, it is enough.

Because He Still Has the Whole World in His Hands!

No, a woman is not going to forget the child suckling at her breast. And neither is our Father.

Behold! Open your eyes! Know this! He has inscribed us on the palms of His hands! He has engraved, He has written, He has tattooed us!

Psalm 139, which is too long to reproduce here, beautifully describes the relationship between Our Father and His human creation. Yes, we are wonderfully made. He knows our every thought, in fact verse 4 tells us that God knows me so intimately that “before a word is on my tongue, You know it completely.”

He knit me together in my mother’s womb. And since that time, every breath, every motion I have made has been in His presence.

“His hand will guide me, His hand will hold me fast.”

I don’t know what you believe. But I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. I believe that He was conceived by Holy Spirit, born of a virgin. I believe that Jesus was crucified, dead and buried. I believe that He rose again, appeared to His disciples, and ascended into heaven. I believe that Jesus “sits” at the right hand of the Father, and that one day, He will return to judge the living and the dead.

If God is not alive today, then He never was.

If God is not involved in the daily life of our world, then He never was.

If God is not in control of my destiny, then He never was.

So I will not be shaken, and I will not be moved! He STILL has the whole world in His hands!

In Matthew 14.22-33, we have the episode of the stormy night and Peter walking with Jesus on water.

Jesus orders His men into the boat. When we are born again, in a sense, we are placed in a boat. And it is this boat that Jesus has ordained that will take us “to the other side.” There is safety in the boat. There are numbers there.

But Jesus does enter this boat with His disciples. They row on ahead.

I have been on the Sea of Galilee, where this event took place. In favorable conditions, skilled oarsmen would take perhaps an hour to get “to the other side.” But this is night, and the weather turns sour. The wind is whipping every which way but the right way. The waves are trying to capsize the boat.

And there is no Jesus insight.

Maybe God has abandoned us. Maybe the Deists were right. Does He not know that we are about to die?

I’ve been reading EUROPE, by Norman Davies. It is 1365 pages long. As of today, I’m on page 509. I might finish next decade.

So far, approximately 50000 Christians have been killed – by other “Christians.” Evil Popes. The “Holy Inquisition.” Kings and Queens. Some of the revered “Fathers of the Faith” had their heads removed. Burned at a stake.

John Calvin, yes he of Calvinism, once recommended that a certain man named Severtus be beheaded.

Martin Luther once approved of a bigamous marriage of a king and told him to “Tell a strong lie” about it.

These men were just that – mere men. With all the great things they may have proposed and achieved, they had their flaws.

We think times are bad today? Any of us could have been on the wrong side of a doctrine if we had lived in the 1300-1500s. And, you know, we may yet face such persecution here in America.

Already many across the world are facing persecution. It has never ceased. And here I am, complaining about the price of ground beef.

For at least 6 hours the men in the boat tried valiantly to hold onto their faith in the face of terrifying conditions. Some mountains are meant to be moved. Others must be climbed. (Remember James 1?)

And then Jesus comes towards them, walking on the Sea of Galilee. Maybe it was foggy. It was certainly the middle of the night. They did not recognize Him. “It is a ghost!”

Jesus may not always arrive when I THINK he should. But He is never late.

What about us? Have the weeks and months and maybe even years piled up on us? Weeks and months without SEEING GOD DO SOMETHING about my situation? I am forgotten! I am forsaken!

Remember, these disciples had just hours earlier had an active role in the miracle of the feeding of about 7-8000 people with only 5 loves and 2 fishes on hand.

What have you done for me lately, Jesus?

“Take courage! It is I!”

“If it is you, Lord, bid me come to you.”

You can say what you want about Peter, but I have never heard of any other human walking on water. Now I admit, I have not googled it.

Peter walks on water. I don’t know how many steps he took. 5,10, 24? But then his “senses” got the better of him and he loses focus on Jesus and turns to his circumstances.

I am certain that I would have as well.

Faith. Faith in the power of Jesus.

Then, he begins to sink, and it only the saving power of Jesus Christ that saves him.

Apart from Christ, we all sink. “Lord, save us!”

Do I care about the circumstances I live in? Of course. Do I care about what the price of gas will be next year? You bet I do. Am I concerned about whether or not the United States government supports Israel? Indeed. Am I concerned about the coming day when the federal government will try and control what is said from the pulpit? I am. Do I wish Covid would end? Certainly.

These waves and these winds will rock the boat and I cannot control them. But I know the Master of the Wind. I know the Maker of the Waves. And He is saying to me, “Why do you doubt?” “You are written on the palm of My hand.”

So I stretch out my hand to Jesus. And He takes it, and if he chooses to dive down into the depths of the sea, I go with Him. If we stay underwater for an hour, I am safe in Him.

He’s got you and me, brother, in His hand.

He’s got you and me, sister, in His hand.

He’s got everybody here, in His hand.

He’s STILL got the whole world in His hand!

NOW IS THE TIME I MUST SING

Let’s lay the corners of the “puzzle” first.

Luke 19.37-40  — And as He was now approaching, the near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all of the miracles which they had seen, saying “Blessed is the King Who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” And He answered and said, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out.”

1 Peter 2.9 — But you are a Chosen Race, a Royal Priesthood, a Holy Nation, a People for God’s Own Possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him Who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

Hebrews 13.15 — Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.

John 4.23-24 — An hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.

There’s a story about a small boy sitting by his parents in a morning worship service (NOT YOUR congregation!!) Like most small boys, his attention was neither easily captured not readily held. So he began looking around – all over – for something to look at. After counting all the bald heads, the cell phones, and tattoos, his eyes fell on a bronze plaque on the wall. It had stars, letters, and the outline of an American flag. He nudged his mom and pointed to it, “What’s that?”

She replied, “That is in memory of all those who died in the service.”

There was a long pause. Then, with a sense of concern, nearing panic, he said, “Which service, morning or evening?”

All of us (again, never at OUR meetings) have attended worship services that began at 11:00 sharp and ended at 12:00 dull. (but not OUR congregation, we start at 10!)

My brethren, may it never be! However, we are in a battle. Galatians 5.17 tells us that the flesh sets itself against the spirit. We have an enemy. This enemy does not want us to proclaim the excellencies of our Lord. This enemy does not want us to offer the fruit of our lips – the praise due His name. This enemy does not want us to be true worshipers, who worship in spirit and truth.

There is a reason it is called the “sacrifice” of praise. We have to take action. We have to open our mouths. We have to speak.

Worship is a verb! Worship is more than a church meeting. It is more than singing songs. It is more than praying. I can attend a meeting, but did I worship?

Worship is an encounter with God – a living celebration in which we are in the presence of and drawing life from the Lifegiver. It is a dynamic encounter with the living Lord in which we offer Him the adoration, honor and glory He rightly deserves, and at the same time we enjoy His presence and are transformed by Him.

Like those around the throne in heaven that we see in Revelation 4, when we see Him face to face, we say HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is the Lord God Almighty, Who was, and Who is, and Who is to come, worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory, and honor and power.

The Old Testament tabernacle had 3 sections, the Outer Court, the Inner Court, and the Holy of Holies. I certainly do not have space here to describe the entire scope of the tabernacle and its meanings, both literal and symbolic, but I do need to say this.

The Outer Court is where you enter. It is in the Outer Court that you wash your hands – you “come clean”. You ask Holy Spirit to reveal your sin. It is here that you are washed in the blood of the Lamb. You are forgiven, and you receive assurance of that cleansing. Indeed, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Hallelujah.

So we proceed into the Inner Court. After being washed, what can we do? What should we do? We can and should REJOICE! Shout it from the mountaintops. Proclaim the excellencies of Him Who called us out of darkness. Yell, scream, brag on HIM. Give Him honor. Give Him glory.

We enter His gates with thanksgiving in our hearts. We enter His courts with praise. He has made me glad.

Yet why are so many of so quiet, so reluctant? We yell, scream, stomp, pull, and cheer for our favorite sports teams. we go to games and get so excited. Sometimes we even jump out of our seats. We sit on the edge, anxious for the next play, full of anticipation.

We go to concerts and holler and clap. We want to get as close as we can to the stage. We pull out our cell phones (well, I don’t!) and wave them in the air. It is so nice. We take selfies so folks will know who we’ve been in the presence of (well, I don’t!)

we go to movies and get so caught up in the drama. We cry. It is so touching.

Yet if anyone – anyone – who ever lived deserved the greatest applause, the loudest cheer – if anyone deserves to be hollered at, chased after, and yelled for – I say it is Jesus Christ!

He is the most exciting, the most dynamic, the greatest. There is none like Him! He deserves more than some little polite golf clap! Our excitement and enthusiasm for Him should surpass the sum total of everything else we enjoy in our lives.

In 1 Samuel 16 we see King Saul haunted by an evil spirit. Verse 14 tells us that it terrorized him. Verse 16 brings the solution. “Now command your servants to seek a man who is skillful on the harp and it shall come about that when the evil spirit is on you the harp shall be played and you will be well.”  So they located David and sure enough as David played Saul was refreshed. What caused the evil spirit to depart” Praise and worship. You see, IF YOU BUILD A THRONE, HE WILL COME! And there, we enjoy the divine exchange. We give up our ashes, mourning and heaviness, and He gives us beauty, joy, and the garment of praise.

Later in 2 Samuel we find David, now king, leading the procession bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem after many years of absence. David is so thrilled by this that he begins leaping and dancing. He is completely uninhibited, before the Lord, and all the people. Most of them, including his wife, are embarrassed. Miriam leads the way in publicly rebuking him for “making a fool of himself”.

But let me say this. When you see what David saw, and you feel what David did — when you are so focused on and thrilled by the Father, you’ll do what David did!

Like David did in Jehovah’s sight, we will dance with all our might!

You see, praise is His address.

Now, the Holy of Holies.

In Luke 7.36-50 we have Jesus invited as a guest to the house of Simon, a Pharisee, for a dinner engagement. We see Jesus “reclining” at Simon’s table. Then uninvited, a woman – an immoral woman – enters.

Please read the passage for yourself.

Here I want to point out 5 things about this woman.

There is desire and recognition. She recognized her own need and then was birthed a desire to locate and go to Jesus. She investigated. She searched until she located Him. She knew of Him, maybe she had previously been ministered to by Him. But certainly we can say that she knew enough that all that mattered was to find Him and be with Him. To be in His presence. His presence, where healing is, where forgiveness is, where restoration is, where lives are changed.

Next, she came prepared. She brought with her a vial of costly perfume. She did             not come empty-handed. She is making a sacrifice – a sacrifice of praise. She is                 entering with thanksgiving. She is pouring herself out – like David – for Him.

She is focused and uninhibited. She enters this house uninvited. But no one is               ever uninvited to the presence of Jesus! She throws herself at His feet. She                       disregards everything and everyone else. “And the things of earth grow strangely         dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” When we enter the Holy of Holies, it is                 just Jesus and me.

And what does Jesus do?

He recognizes her.  Jesus does not pull away. He does not rebuke her for who she is or what she is wasting. He does not tell her that this is the wrong time and she is inn the wrong place. No. He gives her His personal attention. As she focuses on Him, He focuses on her.

Next, Jesus is provoked to respond. He desires to minister to her, and as He knows the innermost parts of her being, He is able to pinpoint her need.

And we can be convinced that Jesus also came prepared. Are we not worth more than the lilies of the field and birds of the air? How He longs to love His children. When we come into His presence, when we worship Him in spirit and in truth, all the power of God meets us.

Lastly, Jesus is also uninhibited. Jesus was invited to this house – the house of Simon the Pharisee. There were other “important” people there. Jesus COULD HAVE thought, “This is the wrong time, the wrong place; what will they think of Me; would it be rude to ignore the one who invited Me?”

But He did not. This woman meant business. She had dared enter the Holy of Holies. And so did He! It is never the wrong time. It is never the wrong place. Whenever and wherever I am, there He is.

And then there is Simon. The religious man. The worship meeting attender. He wanted no part of this sinner. She disgusted him. Further, Simon’s reaction to her shows that he really wanted no part of Jesus either. “You gave Me no water for my feet; you gave me no kiss; you did not anoint My head with oil.” In other words, Simon extended none of the common courtesies that a guest should have expected and was common in that era.

In other words, Simon desired a form of religion, but with no power, no love. Simon wanted Jesus in the room, but had no interest in getting close. Simon wanted an “outer court” experience, but wanted no part of the Holy of Holies.

Simon’s worship was shallow; hers was extravagant. Simon stiff-armed the Lord; she eagerly embraced Him. Simon’s “applause” was a finger clap; hers was a “thunder-clap!”

When I look into Your holiness, when I gaze into Your loveliness; when all things that surround become shadows in the light of You. When I’ve found the joy of reaching Your heart, when my will becomes enthroned in Your love; when all things that surround become shadows in the light of You.

And I close with this, the inspiration for the title. And thanks once again to Bill and Gloria Gaither.

“If the rocks would cry out, should His praises die out then the stones must keep silent as long

As long as I’ve breath for the singing, His  praise will keep ringing and I will keep singing my song

Keep silent ye mountains, ye fields and ye fountains

For this is the time I must sing

It’s the time to sing praises to the Rock of the Ages

For this is the time I must sing”

Ode To Ravi Zacharias

Luke 12.1-3

“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.”

I never met you, Mr. Zacharias, but I did at least twice listen to one of your messages and a debate. Not often, as I must admit I was not too familiar with you. I did not subscribe to any of your publications. Nor did I ever read any of your books. But people I know well sure admired the way you communicated your faith. The way you “sat in the dock” and defended the faith – our faith – so eloquently and forcefully. I might say, Ravi, that I heard in you perhaps a combination of Francis Schaeffer and C.S. Lewis.

There was a strength there. An understanding. Some might even consider it an anointing. You were convicted of what you believed, and you were able to clearly, and it seemed in love, communicate the heart of the Gospel. You were familiar with the Word of God. It was apparent that you were well acquainted with Holy Spirit, for no man can understand the depths of the Scriptures without Holy Spirit.

Ravi, Your love for Jesus Christ seemed real. Unshakeable. Strong. Deep. I appreciated the way you handled yourself. I respected you. I “wished” that I could be so vocal and convincing.

The platform God gave you to “go into all the world” was truly impressive. The way you, like Paul, stood before the most learned folk in the world, the most virulent, the most antagonistic, and verse by verse, line by line, challenged them all to consider the claims of Christ, is something the entire Christian community should celebrate.

And then, Ravi, God called you home. I have no doubt (I think) that you, in this moment that I write, dwell in the very presence of Him who you proclaimed as Savior and Lord. And that the blood of Christ has proven to be just what you preached it was. A “Saving Blood.” A blood that redeems both you and I from our sins, and our sin. A blood that is at the heart of our plea, “But that Thy blood was shed for me, and that Thou bidst me come to Thee, I come!”

So here we are, Ravi, left here on our sojourn a few more days. You’ve gone on, we remain. And now we – the world – the Christian community – Ravi Zacharias Ministries – a significant number of particular women – and your family – have to deal with what you left behind.

I am not pointing fingers at you, Ravi. I know all too well my own failures. I have “things hidden” like many of us. I may not be “chief of sinners” but I have my share. I have hurt people. I may yet hurt more. It seems inevitable that while we live in this “earthsuit” that we will fail. We will try to cover up. We will lie. We will deceive.

Maybe I should concentrate and worry about my own stuff, Ravi, instead of wondering about yours. And I do, actually. I am concerned about what I am going to leave behind. I am concerned about my reputation. I am concerned about my “honor.” I am concerned about whether or not my Father will one day say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter in the joy of My presence.” I am concerned whether my own family – children – grandchildren – realm of friends – circle of fellow believers – will remember that my life counted for something. Whether it was successful, you might say. Whether or not I was faithful.

Ravi, I sure do not pretend to know what level of consciousness one has in heaven. Are you able to reflect on your time on earth? Are you even aware of “the book of your life?” Can you even know in any way what your life on earth left as you went beyond the veil?

So maybe you do not know that the past few days have revealed some horrible things about your time here. Maybe horrible is the wrong word. Appalling. Sick. Disgusting. And I use these words alongside the praise I wrote earlier.

You knew the Scriptures better than I do. So I know that you could quote Jeremiah 17.9

“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick (wicked); Who can understand it?

I have no proof at hand, but I would guess that you quoted this on many occasions. And it is so true. Without the indwelling Spirit, we are continually evil. And even then, with the indwelling of the Spirit, it seems that we struggle to continually “do right” wouldn’t you say, Ravi?

If I am aware of so many other prominent brothers and sisters who have “fallen” I am sure that you were as well. Swaggart, Bakker, Tilton, Haggard, McDonald. The list is long. And now, Ravi, your name has been added. The difference is, you are not here to face your accusers or the consequences. Someone else must do that for you.

So I am thinking, Ravi, that if you had a message to convey to your accusers, what would it be? What would you say to your family? Your children? Your wife? Your trusted associates? “I’m sorry?” “Forgive me?”

And what would you say to the rest of us? To me? “Do as I have said, and not as I have done?” “Control your heart better?”

It was painful for me to read about your “secret closet.” It was painful for me to read about your “deeds done in darkness” being “shouted from the housetops.”

It is indeed a fearful thought – this Scripture. To know that those things I thought were so well buried, so carefully concealed will one day be exposed. In your case, the exposure came after your “graduation.” In my case, who knows? Sometimes the revelation comes while we yet live.

So maybe for you personally, Ravi, you do not have to physically deal with it. Maybe that is in some grotesque way, a blessing. But it seems to me that it is, in my way of thinking, a curse. You don’t have to stand in the dock, or debate, or testify, or preach about your failures. You don’t have to deal with the earth-side of this tragedy. Many others will have to do that for you. And that is in itself a tragedy. It seems to me that we should at least have to face our own music.

But that was not God’s plan for you, nor your family and ministry. So I yield to the Father.

So, at the very least, Ravi, for me, I have been reminded once again of the desperate condition of my heart. And I have been reminded once again of my desperate need to walk in the light, to live as if before an audience of One, and to yield second by second to the presence and power of Holy Spirit in hopes that I can truly be a man that “is holy as He is holy” (1Peter 1.16)

And, finally, my prayer, Ravi, that you have spurred me to renew, is this:

“Lord, who may dwell in Your sanctuary? Who may live on Your holy hill?

He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart

and has no slander on his tongue and casts no slur on his fellowman…” (Psalm 15.1-3)

Heading toward home, Ravi.

Joy to the World: It’s Not Just For Christmas Anymore!

In the 1970’s the Florida Orange Juice Growers began a TV ad campaign promoting — yes — orange juice! The slogan was, “orange juice, it’s not just for breakfast anymore.” So that is the inspiration for this title. JOY to the WORLD! It’s Not Just For Christmas Anymore!

I fully realize that this is ‘just a song.” It is not inspired in the same way that our Bible is. But Isaac Watts, writing the words in 1719, did have inspiration. And there is a lot of Bible in this amazing song.

Joy! Great pleasure, happiness, delight. And my favorite — excited, amazed admiration. Why/ Because the Lord has come! The Lord – Kyrios. This word, this title means someone having authority, power, influence. A master, a ruler. It has been said and rightfully so, that Jesus is Lord of ALL, or not Lord at all. There can be no middle ground. He is either Lord – my Lord – or He is something else. Just as there is but one Savior, there is only one Lord. And He has come! He has been revealed to us and now each of us must choose. We must decide what we believe about Him. It is the greatest decision of our lives. It is the decision that determines my eternity. Either Jesus is Who He says He is – Lord and Savior – or He is a liar or lunatic.

So earth! The substance and diversity of life on this planet. So earth! Every rock, tree, grain of sand, snowflake, raindrop. Indeed, every inch and every person on every inch. Receive your King! Receive your Sovereign. Your Master. Your Ruler. Your Prince of Peace. Your Redeemer.

Prepare Him room! Empty yourself of yourself. Every thought, every action, every desire and hope. Every sin. Move over. Move out!

Paul writes in Romans 10.9: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead you will be saved” and you will have prepared Him room. And when the Lord – the King – enters the room – enters your being, you will be a new creation. A new person. Your old way of living, thinking, speaking, acting, and believing will pass away because He makes all things new (2 Cor. 5.17).

Jesus says to each person, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and sup with him.” (Rev.3.20)

So heaven, and nature SING! The opportunity for me, for you, for “the world” to be restored to a right relationship with God our Creator is before us. The relationship He meant for us to have at the beginning.

Isaac Watts must have been familiar with Psalm 96. “Sing to the Lord a new song; Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless His name; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day. Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.” (I strongly encourage you to read the entire Psalm)

Men and women – brothers and sisters – people of God! You who were once lost, once hopeless fearful, afraid of death. You who were once enemies, scorners, scoffers. You who have now been brought near to the Holy of Holies, by the precious blood of our living, reigning King. You – lead the way! Break out into song! Employ your songs! Proclaim good tidings in English. In Chinese. In Spanish. In tongues. Proclaim it in any and every way possible. But Sing. Sing. Sing!

We have something to sing about! And if we do not, then the rocks and fields, and hills and plains will! And I for one would love to hear that happen, but ONLY AFTER REPEATING AFTER ME!

Again, Isaac Watts read Psalm 95. “O come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.” (And, yes, read the entire Psalm)

Praise breaks the barriers. Praise is spiritual dynamite. Praise is God’s address. For He inhabits the praises of His people. Praise breaks chains. Praise is victorious. Praise brings the presence of Holy Spirit. So, from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, let everything that has breath praise the Lord!

No more let sins and sorrows grow. Nor thorns infest the ground.

He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.

The curse. The Hebrew word is arar, and it first appears in Genesis 3.14 where God, after the yielding to temptation by Adam and Eve, speaks a curse on the serpent and then on Adam and Eve.

A curse is judgement. It is a pronouncement of a penalty. It severed the perfect, original relationship between God and mankind.

And this curse extended to the earth itself. Thorns and thistles would grow. It would be difficult for Adam to live. He – and all mankind to follow – would now have to toil and sweat and suffer and ache and worry. Mankind would now be subject to fear. Mankind would now have to deal with a broken relationship between the Creator and creation. No more would Adam and Eve stroll peacefully in the garden, plucking ripe fruit from trees that they did not plant, nor cultivate. Sins and sorrows would grow and multiply. And today, thousands of years later, our world seems overtaken by thorns of all kinds, economic, political, social.

Fast forward hundreds of years to Deuteronomy 27 and the law under Moses. There are a multitude of specific curses listed. And in Deut. 28.1-8 we find these words: “Now it shall be, if you will diligently obey the Lord your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you will obey the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country. Blessed shall be the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground and the offspring of your beasts, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and when you go out.”

So this idea, this reality of the curse is always linked to its opposite – the blessing.

We must – like Joshua in 24.15 – we must determine – today – in this hour – whom we will serve. “Choose you this day.” Shall we continue to walk under and live under the curse of the law, or receive the majestic gift that we are being offered in and through Christ Jesus.

“Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith that are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations shall be blessed in you.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse, for it is written, “Cursed is every one who does not abide by the things written in the book of the law, to perform them.”

“Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident, for “The righteous man shall live by faith.” However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.”

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us – for it is written, “Cursed is every one who hangs on a tree”

“in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” Galatians 3.6-14

Just as the curse extended to every inch of the earth so does the promises of God!

Ding-dong! The witch is dead! Which old witch? The wicked witch!

The curse is broken. Satan has lost. The serpent’s head has been bruised.

HE COMES TO MAKE HIS BLESSINGS FLOW. FAR AS THE CURSE IS FOUND!

How far? Every inch of the earth. How far? Every inch of my life! The blessing has come. Adam’s rebellion has been checked. The Creator and His creation can now be one. What Adam lost is now restored.

And now I must believe this. I must believe that this is true. And I must keep His word. I must love His laws. I must walk in His ways. And if I do, then my life will be NOTHING BUT AN EXPERIENCE OF MY FATHER’S blessing.

“How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord,. And in His law he meditates day and night.

And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither, and in whatever he does, he prospers.” Psalm 1.1-3

He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness and the wonders of His love.

This is a present reality. This is not some far-off distant hope. Psalm 24.1 tells us that “the earth is the Lord’s and all it contains – the world and those who dwell in it.”

So do not despair. Neither Covid-19 nor any created thing, in heaven or on earth, can separate us from the love of Jesus. Nothing happens, nor can happen on this earth without the “expressed consent” of our Lord. HE RULES THE WORLD.

And one day, one fine day, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

So, in this Christmas season, perhaps a season that is without precedent, Jesus Christ is still on the throne! And with that, may we strive to walk in the entire blessing of God!

“Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name!

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits;

Who pardons ALL my iniquities;

Who heals ALL my diseases;

Who redeems my life from the pit;

Who crowns me with lovingkindness and compassion

Who satisfies my years with good things

So that my youth is renewed like the eagle.”

Whew! And that is enough, for now.

I STILL Do Not Go to Church!

1 Corinthians 3.16 “Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” 

2 Corinthians 6.16 “…we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”

I realize that many who see this will say, “Oh come on, relax. Don’t be so obnoxious.”

I get it. Yet I wonder, do you think that words meant something to Jesus? Do you think that the choice and use of words was important to Him?

There are times in life when words SHOULD mean something specific.

When I stood with Gayle on November 29, 1975, our wedding day, I had already told her I loved her.  It had passed from “I like you” to something more. And when Dean Simpson asked me to repeat after him my wedding vows, I did NOT say, “I might”, I said “I DO.” 

Do you believe in Jesus as your Savior and Lord? I think this question DEMANDS a precise answer. “I think I do” will not be enough. “I might” will not be enough.

I do not know how I grew into this “mess,” but words have become increasingly important to me over the last decade or so.

One of my “pet peeves” is to point out phrases we humans use that I find “interesting.”

One of them is the common response you hear from a receptionist at an office. He or she will often say, “May I ask who’s calling?”

And my reply is, “Yes.”

There is almost always a pause as I wait for them to ask me, “who’s calling?”

Here is another one.

Certainly you have heard, and many of you may even use this one, “I’ll be honest with you.”

Okay. Think about this. A person has been talking with you for a few minutes. They have shared some information with you. You have been listening. Then, the phrase “I’ll be honest with you” is inserted and they share something else.

Now, what does this mean? Does this mean that everything, or most everything that they had just told you was “not honest?”

Come on now! This is one of the most worthless phrases humans use! Or, maybe they really mean it.

I will confess, “I HAVE NEVER USED IT!” And I won’t!

Imagine Jesus using this!

I do not have time or space here to fully explain the Hebrew use of language. If you are interested, you can study this philosophy on your own. Suffice it to say, the Hebrew language is a concrete language. It is not abstract. In other words, if I said to you, “You turkey!” then you would probably sense you I was joking with you about something kinda dumb that you did or said. In Hebrew, however, that is not the case. In Hebrew, I would LITERALLY see you as a turkey.

There is a big difference.

Some of you have already heard me talk about the word “lucky.”

When I was coaching, often someone would say “good luck, coach.” For many years I would just say, “thank you.” Then I began to get convicted. YES, CONVICTED!

To say that I am lucky, to me, is a slap in the face of my LORD! Nothing happens in my life that does not come by way of Jesus. There is no luck involved! Nothing happens by chance!

So I began to reply in this manner. “Thank you for your encouragement, but I am a Christian and I do not believe in luck.”

As you can imagine, the “good luck coach” greeting soon diminished!

I just want to speak truth.

And this brings us to this blog’s theme. I still do not go to church.

Like many or perhaps all of you, I have had hundreds – if not more – of people ask me “where do you go to church?” over the years. I must confess that I myself have asked folks the same question. (FULL DISCLOSURE HERE)

But many years ago, like with using the word “lucky,” I became convicted again.

IF I AM THE CHURCH (well, part of it) THEN HOW DO I GO TO CHURCH!? The church goes to church?

To me, this is not Biblical. In fact, to say I “go to church” reinforces the error that it is the building that lives and is important, not people.

Some have remarked with the hope, in this current “crisis” we find ourselves in, that many believers will get a new sense of what “the Church” really means. Since we are not physically gathering together, the importance of the building is greatly diminished.

I met with the other elders of our local congregation the other day at our building. One of the brothers remarked, “it sure seems lonely doesn’t it.” And I thought, “Well, yes it is. And there are massive cathedrals all over the world, and million dollar buildings across the United States that sit empty.”

But “church” has continued. And maybe, just maybe, the church is flourishing in a way that other believers in other countries have experienced for years under persecution. The “underground church” in China for instance. And other times and places where “the church” has been driven into isolation.

So when sometime says to me, “Where do you go to church,” it becomes a little awkward, but I have to explain that “I do not go to church.” I fellowship with other believers at Franklin Covenant and in a home meeting in Sylva, but I do not go to church.

Jesus says the truth. “Wherever two or three are gathered together in My Name, there I am.” (Matthew 18.20)

The church exists in a locked jail cell. The church exists around my dining room table. The church exists in a submarine or space shuttle.

The church has no walls, no boundaries. It has no heating and air conditioning. It has no sound system (other than my voice!) The church is not confined or defined by brick, metal or mortar.

The church is a living organism! WE ARE THE CHURCH, the TEMPLE OF THE LIVING GOD!

The same is true when someone says “Your church.” What is “your church” doing for Sunday morning these days? Or, doesn’t your church meet just off the Highlands Road?

But it has never been “my church.” I do not have a church. It does not belong to me.

So when I reply that “I do not have a church,” it sometimes makes for awkward conversation, but to me, it is an opportunity to SPEAK BIBLICALLY, which is to speak TRUTH.

The church belongs to Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, I am not going to judge you or try to “correct” you in your own use of language. So please do not change anything you say (or do) because of me. This is where I am in my walk with Christ. You are where you are.

But, I STILL DO NOT GO TO CHURCH!

And that is enough, for now.

 

A Cure For Cabin Fever; or Cavelife 2020

1 Samuel 22.1

David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam.

Here we are, holed up at home. The corona-virus continues its silent, stealthy, steady spread, seeking somebody to succumb. (HOW’S THAT FOR ALLITERATION?)

Considering our present circumstances, I’ve decided to share the essence of a message I first shared in 1992. The implications of today, the spring of 2020, should be obvious.

I think there are lessons here that we can learn from the life of David that can help us focus on the things that matter. Eternal things. Things that are true. In fact, we don’t need a virus scare to benefit from the Word of God.

In other words, I am going to choose to focus on truth, and that, my friends, is a cure for cabin fever.

David had just killed Goliath, and people were singing his praises. Most experts place David’s age at about 16. Jealousy rises up in King Saul. He becomes determined to kill David.

David flees for his life. He finds safety in the cave of Adullam. It was apparently a large cave, for soon David’s brothers and his father’s household join him, making a total of about 400 hundred men. (1 Samuel 22.1-2)

But, responding to a word from the prophet Gad, David soon flees to the forest of Hereth. Saul, “spear in hand’ (1 Samuel 22.6) continues his relentless pursuit.

The chase continues. David moves on to desert strongholds and the hills of Ziph. From there to the desert of En Gedi.

You get the picture. God had chosen David. Anointed David. Gifted David. Used David.

While Saul was a “head and shoulders man” (he was tall) David began as a small, simple shepherd boy.

Every Christian is called by God. Whether we realize it or not, each of us has been chosen, anointed, gifted. Maybe not like David. We do not all have the same gifts.

But here we find ourselves “chased” by a certain “king.” Slowly we have retreated to our places of safety. To our caves, to our forests, to our deserts. We have fortified ourselves with toilet paper, face-masks, and hand sanitizer.

David, for all his victories, all his anointing, all his giftings, still came to a place where he felt overwhelmed. Where he feared for his life. Where he wondered if God would really deliver him. Where he wondered if he would ever escape “cavelife.”

I guess you could say he had moments of “cabin fever” or “cave fever.”

Read his words from Psalm 143

O Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief. Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you. The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in darkness like those long dead. So my spirit grows faint within me: my heart within me is dismayed.

The whirlwind named Saul had driven David into hiding. David’s circumstances were dangerous. Feeding 400 men was a daily challenge, and this went on for months.

But the question for David, as it is for us, is this. “Am I going to be dictated to by circumstances, or by God?” Yes, you might argue, these circumstances were “part of God’s plan” for David. You might argue that COVID-19 and all the resulting circumstances are “part of God’s plan.”

I “get it.” I have read the part of the Bible where it says that “all things work together for my good.” I believe that.

But I also realize that I am sometimes all too human. David was. Here, in Psalm 143 he exhibits his humanity. He hopes for a good result, an early deliverance. And so do I.

I don’t know any professional spelunkers. But some of you have explored caves. Dark. Wet. Cold. Bats. Creepy things. Here was the king to be, the anointed, the called of God, often miserable in a cave. His spirit overwhelmed. His heart desolate. His life “crushed.” His soul persecuted.

Maybe some of us feel like that. Breathless. Depressed. Discouraged. Confused. In a dark cave with no easy way out it seems. David said “my heart is desolate, dismayed.”

The Bible reads like The New York Times.

But, there is an answer. A way out even while trapped!

Psalm 143.5-6

I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done. I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.

I remember.

In the midst of the storm, it is easy to forget all God has done for me. So I concentrate on “the days of long ago” and the days of not so long ago.

Twice that I know of He saved my life. I fell into a well 120 feet straight down just before my 5th birthday. There was about 3 feet of water in it.

Not a scratch. It must have been angels that cushioned my fall.

My salvation day. September 29, 1973.

The day I first saw Gayle!!

The birth of our 4 children.

So many amazing moments. Special times that my Father gave me. Things I never thought I would do. Places I never thought I would see.

The day I led someone to Christ. The day I became a grandfather.

I could go on.

Yes, dark clouds pass over my life from time to time, but not a sparrow falls to the ground without my Father knowing it. And am I not more precious to Him!

I muse. I meditate.

I have a friend who, when things get a little out of whack, takes a long walk trough the woods, or paddles out to the middle of the lake. He drives along a stretch of road that is familiar, and forces himself to concentrate on the beauty around as if it is the first time he has ever seen it.

Look up at a starry sky. The budding of spring trees. The delicate intricacies of the flowers.

“Lord, if You put all those stars in place and called them by their names, and the majestic beauty around me, then You are bigger than my problems!” HOW GREAT THOU ART. HOW GREAT THOU ART!

I consider.

“And when I think, that God, His Son, not sparing, sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in. That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin.”

Then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee!

I spread out my hands.

The actual Hebrew meaning of this is, “I stretch forth my hands like a little child waiting for his father to pick him up.” There is not a father alive who can resist that.

My soul thirsts for You.

A dried up, cracked lake is begging for water. A soul isolated in a cave is begging for release.

This is the process. When I have eliminated the power of circumstances that are challenging me, I rediscover that truth that I am a child of THE KING. I open myself to my Father once again, anew, fresh.

So, even though our present circumstances are trying, and they may get worse, I choose today, the joy of the Lord, for that is my strength!

Well, enough for now.

2020 Vision Pt. 3 Be on the Alert

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe is me!” I cried, “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin is atoned for.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for Us?” And I said, “Here am I, send me.” Isaiah 6.1-8

How many “parts” can 2020 vision have? I was thinking 52. As I write today we are in mid-March, nearly 1/4 of the way through this year.

In part one, we discussed “Where Are You,” an attempt to encourage us to evaluate our walk with Jesus. Every “trip” has a starting point.. Then came”Looking for a City,” which is our destination. So we’ve entered into our spiritual GPS our beginning and our end. Now a few words about the middle.

God gives us life. I did not ask to be born. My birth, my life, my days are all a gift. Every breath, every heartbeat is a gift. It is often said about an injured athlete that he or she is “day to day.” Well, aren’t we all?

Today is my 24,647th day of life. Some of those 24,647 days have been awesome, amazing, wonderful, treasured. Some of been forgettable, wasted, lost. But most days are in the middle. Most days seem to be much the same – not particularly exciting or bad – just ordinary, plain. Another day of work. Another meal. Another night’s sleep.

I recall seeing a Calvin and Hobbes strip where Calvin joyfully exits school on a Friday afternoon. Then by sunset, he is absolutely depressed. His mom asked why. Calvin said that he could not possibly enjoy the weekend because Monday was only 2 days away.

I don’t think that was ever God’s plan, but if you are like me, it just seems to be –human nature to look on the dim side. To see possible darkness up ahead and let that rob you of the joy of today. And, for a while now I have been trying to focus every day on appreciating and enjoying each day as a precious gift – a gift to me from my Father. After all, this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in IT.

IN Mark 6.21 there is a Greek word that only occurs once in the entire New Testament. It is the word “eukaron,” translated as timely, opportune, convenient or strategic. There in Mark it is used to describe the day of the banquet when Herod had John the Baptist beheaded. It was a strategic day, a convenient day.

We have significant days like that. Memorable days – days we can re-live in our memories. Ask people of my generation where they were on November 22, 1963 and nearly all can tell you something like this: I was in the 6th grade and Mrs. Greer came into the classroom to tell us that President Kennedy had been shot.

Or 9/11.

There are other days that may stand out. Your day of conception! Your birth! Your first days of school (well, I don’t remember it, but mothers tend to)

1st day of high school. I do remember that day because I went into the wrong room thinking I was in 1st period but saw quickly that these people looked very much older than me.

13th birthday (a teenager!!) 16th birthday (I can drive! I can be free!) 18th birthday (I am legal! I can vote!) 21st birthday (really legal!) The day I accepted Jesus as my personal Savior. The day I was Spirit-baptized. The day of my wedding. The births of my children.

Some of these days I knew would happen in advance. I could plan for them. We started planning our wedding months in advance. For days like these, excitement builds (or maybe anxiety!) People gather. We celebrate. We take pictures and videos. Those are one-of-a-kind days.

But most days are not like these. Most days are rather ordinary, and a few (well, hopefully a few) we’d rather forget.

In 1948, a show aired on network TV that lasted in different forms for 66 years, until 2014. The show began with the words “Don’t be surprised if sometime, somewhere, someplace, when you least expect it, someone steps up to you and says “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera.”

Candid Camera utilized a myriad of practical jokes. We’ve heard the term, practical joke. But what is it? A practical joke is one that causes the “victim” embarrassment, perplexity, confusion and/or discomfort.

Many of us have perhaps played a practical joke on someone, or had one played on us. And, usually, after our initial embarrassment or confusion we find a way to laugh or smile.

But sometimes – sometimes – a day unfolds on us from above. Isaiah had a day like that. When he woke up that morning I don’t think he had any clue as to what he would experience that day. It started out like any other day. The routines of the morning.

But it was to be a strategic day. An opportune day. A life-changing day. A day Isaiah would never forget. I day that, perhaps, he would come to wish that he could experience again and again.

Isaiah’s response is the response that we all should have when we look into the face our the Lord Almighty. “Woe is me!I am unclean! My sin is great. I cannot stand before You.”

You might call this embarrassment. You might call it confusion. You might call it discomfort.

But I can assure you of this one thing. It was NOT a practical joke. God meant business.

Thanks be to God! His mercy! His grace! His lovingkindness! The cross touches our lips and stamps pardon on our souls!

And we can stand! Only by grace and mercy can we enter and stand before Him. Only by the blood of the Lamb. Stand face-to-face before the God of creation – My creator. And there. in the Light, all things become shadows, all the things of earth grow strangely dim.

And then, and only then, can we be equipped and empowered to do that which He has called us to do.

Isaiah did not initiate this encounter. God did. God came to Isaiah. He came to Isaiah with a mission, with a job that needed to be done. God needed a human.

It was a strategic day in Isaiah’s life. It was a strategic day in the life of the world.

And what about Abraham? We find him in Genesis chapter 12 living peacefully among his family and friends in Haran and then one day – one day – God speaks to him. God needed a man.

Moses is going about his daily routine in Exodus 3, pasturing the flocks in Midian. And one day – one day – as he is heading up a mountainside, he sees a bush on fire. But this bush does not burn up. Moses could have walked on by, but his curiosity got the best of him. So he approaches the bush and then the Lord God called his name. God had a job, and He needed a man.

Moses, like Isaiah, hid his face, but God said, “I am sending you and I will empower you with everything you need to face Pharoah and liberate My people.”

And you don’t need Paul Harvey to know the rest of the story.

Gideon? In Judges 6 we see Gideon, hiding in a winepress to thresh wheat. And one day – one day – out of the blue, the angel of the Lord, sitting under an oak tree, calls out “the Lord is with you, mighty man of valor.”

“Who, me?”

Again, God came seeking a man for a mission. And with that mission would come God’s anointing.

How about David? Just a teenager tending sheep. David was not looking for fortune or fame. He is putting in a day’s work when one day- one day – he finds himself in the presence of the king and then slaying Goliath.

Samuel, Nehemiah, Rahab, Noah, Samson. One day going about their daily lives – just one of a 1000 – and the next moment face to face with the Lord in a life changing encounter.

Mary. Just another day, planning her wedding, washing clothes, combing her hair. And in walks Gabriel. And the young girl, selected out of all the girls in Israel by the Lord Himself, responds to His call, and is empowered to deliver the child who would one day deliver her.

The disciples? Casting their nets. Fishing. Collecting taxes. Laboring. And one day – one day – Jesus speaks to them.

Saul? Breathing fire and seeking the persecution of the Lord’s people. Until one day – one day – off the horse he went!

What do I do between Where I Am and Looking for a City? Between my starting point and my destination?

I am faithful to what I know. I am faithful day by day to His Word. I walk in Truth and holiness. In righteousness. I am faithful in my marriage, in my relationships, at work. I am true to my place, my calling. I grow and seek to be fruitful in the place I am planted. Ecclesiastes 3.10-11 says “I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves. He has made everything appropriate in its time.”  

And Paul, writing in Colossians 3.17 “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God our Father through Him.”

I am not looking for some special, heroic deed or call of God. I do not look around at the situation I am in and say “God must be trying to tell me something.” No! God is always trying to tell me something! He and I live together. I in Him and He in me. I live before an audience of one.

I don’t need one more meeting to get ready. I don’t need one more sermon. I don’t need one more day of fasting. Jesus says TODAY! There may not be a tomorrow!

By being faithful each and every day to His calling – to what I know – I encounter the living Lord.

Would I like to have an Isaiah moment? An Abraham moment? A burning bush? A voice from above?

No one knows the day or the hour. I don’t know when, or if, I might experience that moment. There might be a day when somewhere, someplace when I least expect it is a burning bush, an angel under an oak tree, a Gabriel in the room, the voice of my Father.

I want to be on guard. I want to be awake. I want to be on the alert. I want to be found faithful.

It might be a vision, it might be a dream.

So Lord, if you see fit to surprise me one day, here I am, use me.

Even so, come Lord Jesus.

Well, that’s enough. For now.

2020 VISION: Part 2 – LOOKING FOR A CITY

In Part 1 of this 2020 Vision, we determined (or tried to encourage) our starting point. Although I do not own a GPS system, I have used Mapquest. In order for this to function, you need a starting point and a destination. In our “spiritual GPS” we also need a starting point. “Where Are You?” Where are you in relation to your current place in your walk with Jesus? In regards to your fulfillment of His wonderful plan for your life? Are you functioning in your gifts and callings? Are you – in this hour – where He wants you to be?

Having established the answers to these questions (and others) we now discuss our destination. We are a people “looking for a city.”

Genesis 10 gives us the background on a man called Nimrod. Nimrod was the great grandson of Noah. Nimrod was a builder of cities, like Resen, called the “great city” and Babel. Nimrod was also renowned for his ability to hunt, for a proverb sprang up, “like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.”

Wherever Nimrod went, people followed. His cities became filled with citizens. He had a “formula” you might say.

All of us, to some extent, try to “build” around our ideas, our impressions, our truths. Business people try to build a clientele. Stores want to expand.

We spend our lives looking for some place to settle in, spiritually, geographically. Some truth around which we build our lives. Some group with whom we are like-minded. It is human nature to want to settle down. It is a God-given desire to look for a city.

Babel is perhaps Nimrod’s most famous city if only for the verses dedicated to it in Genesis 11. 1-9. You know the story. The citizens there decided to build a tower that “reaches the heavens.” A tower so high and mighty that would “make a name for themselves.” It was to be a tower made of tar and brick, instead of mortar and stone. And God confused their language and scattered them. The tower was never completed.

Read these verses from Matthew 9.16-17 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”         

All the wine in Europe is useless unless it has some container to hold it. A container, be it a vat or a bottle, gives the wine definition, shape, form. We identify new wine, symbolically, with Holy Spirit. And so what Jesus is saying is that when new wine flows, it MUST have new new containers, new forms. The old ones must change. All our “towers,” all our institutions, all our congregations must be ever poised to change as Holy Spirit moves in us.

Sadly, it is also man’s tendency to resist change. Here in Genesis, the Word says that at Babel, they tried to use brick and tar. Bricks are man-made. Bricks are not natural. Tar is like glue. 1 Peter 2.48 tells us that we, God’s people, are “living stones, choice and precious to God.” And we, are being built up into a spiritual house. A city.

Paul echoes this in 1 Corinthians 3.9 where he calls us “God’s building.” And again in Ephesians 2.20-22 that we are “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.”   

Bricks were never God’s way. Anything man-made, however great it may seem for a moment, will crumble to dust under God’s mighty hand. He will not share His glory.

Morticing is messy work. It takes hammer and chisel. Some want a little dab to do them. But God is notching His people. It is His building method. And He desires – requires – living stones.

Nimrod would have made a name for himself. And any person, or group, or denomination that tries to build its own tower, will find its tower, eventually, crumble. So too will those who seek to perpetuate themselves and refuse to recognize the move of the Spirit.

Anytime we seek to preserve self we are operating in the flesh.

There is a great difference between making a name for ourselves, and receiving one.

Jesus says in Revelation 2.17 “to him who overcomes, I will give a new name, written on a white stone which no one knows except the one who receives it.”

Building a tower is risky business. Trying to build a round a truth or a revelation can put us in a precarious position. You can fall off towers. Others may try to push you off. And the higher you are, the greater the fall.

You’ve heard of Trump Tower. Sears Tower. Eiffel Tower. The Tower of Pisa.

How about Calvinism Tower? Baptist Tower? Charismatic Tower? King James Bible Tower? Covenant Tower?

Are we perched on some tower today? Think you are safe and comfortable in the city of your own little revelation?

Abraham caught God’s vision. Abraham seemed quite content where he was. He had wealth, family, security. But God showed him a land, a nation, a city. Abraham had built up an accumulation, but God saw in him a man willing to “move into a new wineskin.”

Like Abraham, we should never build anything that we cannot fold up, round up and move. Abraham dwelt in tents. He became a pilgrim, a sojourner.

Hebrews 11.8-10. “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking for a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”     

The city of Babel is a rubble heap, a nearly forgotten memory. But the family of Abraham, the pilgrim, the man looking for a city, gave us Moses, Joshua, Elijah, David and the Messiah. And he is still giving to the world.

When the towers are gone, when the bricks of man have crumbled, when the tar has melted, the family lives on. The living stones through whom God lives and manifests Himself is growing into that city.

A pilgrim may do a lot of wandering, but he has direction. He has a goal, a destination. His GPS is set. A wanderer on the other hand, has no direction. He is aimless. Both are on the move, but only one is going somewhere.

Every one of us qualifies as either a wanderer or a pilgrim. Israel left Egypt as a pilgrim people, but due to their disobedience became wanderers. Have we, too, started off this great journey full of promise and hope? Full of a Savior who set us free from our bondage, and blessed us with every necessary for life and godliness? And now, like the Israelites who refused to believe the report of the spies who saw the land of milk and honey, yet also saw the giants, but said we can defeat them – are we going to enter a new bondage – the bondage of disbelief – the bondage of weariness?

Have we lost sight of that great promise that Abraham saw and gave his life to? Will we veer away from our destination? Will we, having started off with our foundation firm, stumble toward the finish line, or even find ourselves or a path or our own making?

May it never be!

Let us, like the host of brethren before us, continue to faithfully and joyfully pursue “Mt. Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” (Heb.12.22)

In Genesis 28 we find Jacob having a dream about a ladder let down from heaven. He saw angels walking up and down. He awoke from that dream, set up a stone pillar, poured oil on it and called it “the house of God.”

For 400 years, Jacob’s descendants believed that that area around the pillar was God’s house.

Generations later, God took Moses and showed him a plan for a tabernacle which could be pitched in the wilderness, folded up and moved from place to place. No longer did Israel look to Jacob’s rock as God’s house. Now they turned to the tabernacle of Moses.

Years passed. Along comes David, who desires to build a more permanent dwelling, greater than the tabernacle. So he makes plans and when he dies his son Solomon builds that temple. And God fills it with His Shekinah glory. No longer did Israel worship before a portable tabernacle.

But even though it was a building of majestic splendor, it was not to be the fullest revelation of the house of God.

Jesus. Jesus is the fullest and greatest manifestation of God’s house, the chief cornerstone of a many membered corporate house that God would build (and is building) out of His living stones. FOR HE DWELLS IN US!

And as God purges out, through His morticing action, all darkness within us, the day will come when our brilliance will be like the stone of crystal clear jaspar, and as we are changed into a holy people, without spot or blemish we see ourselves becoming not just the house of God but the city of God – that city which we seek.

Well, that is enough, for now.