OUT OF THE BLUE (A STRATEGIC DAY)

Mark 13.33-37  “Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time is. It is like a man, away on a journey, who upon leaving his house and putting his slaves in charge, assigning to each one his task, also commanded the doorkeeper to stay on the alert. Therefore, be on the alert, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, at cock crowing, or in the morning – lest he come and find you asleep.”    

A sobering passage, if there ever was one.

There are certain events in life that most Americans have in common (many others experience these too in other countries). These “special days” occur in an age-related pattern. They are “strategic days.” Mark uses the word translated in the New American Standard in 6.21 as “strategic.” It has also been translated as “opportune,” or “convenient.”

These are days that we can anticipate. Days we can plan for. Days we either look forward too or are anxious about.

Let’s start with your 13th birthday. On that day we step across the line toward adulthood. We are TEENAGERS! We are not children anymore! It is an often greatly anticipated day.

Your 16th birthday. For me, a highly anticipated day. It meant I could get my driver’s license. A greater measure of freedom and independence.

Your 18th birthday. You are legal. For me, there were a number of things I could legally do which I will not mention! I could vote.

Close to your 18th birthday is your high school graduation day. Another giant leap into adulthood.

For many people, we fall in love and plan a wedding. A big day indeed.

All of these days hold promise, and hope. They are cause for euphoria.

There could be other “strategic” days that are not looked forward to as much. In my era, there was the specter of the Vietnam War. Being drafted. Scared of reporting to duty. Maybe you have had the experience of knowing beforehand the date of a scheduled operation or other times that bring back bad memories.

So not every “strategic” day is one to anticipate with excitement.

So either excitement builds, or worry. The point is this: there are days in our lives that we mark on the calendar in ink and await their arrival, if we live to see them.

Our Bible is full of the experiences of men and women who seemed to be minding their own business when out of the blue, it seems, God invaded their time and space.

Exodus 3.1-12 tells us that Moses was busy pasturing the flock of Jethro when, out of the blue, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a burning bush. Do you think Moses anticipated this? Moses became the vessel through whom God delivered all of Israel from 400 years of slavery.

In Judges 6 we see Gideon, busy threshing wheat in a wine-press to save it from the Midianites when suddenly the angel of the Lord appears to him and calls him a “valiant warrior.” Gideon is used by God to defeat Midian.

1 Samuel 3 relates the call of Samuel. It is similar to Moses and Gideon. Samuel is busy at his work. God speaks to him.

David was tending his father’s sheep when God sent Samuel to anoint him (1 Samuel 16).

Elisha was plowing with 12 pairs of oxen when Elijah located him and threw his mantle over him, signifying the call of God on his life (1 Kings 19.19).

Out of the blue, the angel Gabriel was dispatched from the Father to Nazareth, finding Mary, walking out her engagement period with Joseph. (Luke 1).

Out of the blue, shepherds were keeping their flocks, when an angel of the Lord appeared to them with the announcement that a Savior had been born. (Luke 2)

Out of the blue, as Simon and Andrew were casting their fishing nets into the sea, Jesus appeared to them and called them to “follow Me”. (Mark 1.16)

Out of the blue, as Saul (Paul) was on his way to Damascus with his posse to round-up “any belonging to the Way” – as he was breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord  – “a light from heaven flashed around him” and he fell to the ground. It was that moment – out of the blue – that Jesus spoke to him and changed Saul’s life. (Acts 9)

I could go on and on, but the pattern seems clear. In each of these situations, the individuals were doing nothing special, nothing extraordinary. They were simply living. They were simply going about their normal everyday activities. These were not days they could have anticipated. They had not made any special plans. These were not days marked on calendars.

But these “out of the blue” days were certainly strategic. From this point forward, nothing would ever be the same, for the living God had invaded their time and space.

It should be obvious what this says to us.

Like most of you, I want to walk with my Lord in close, personal, intimate fellowship at all times. Like most of you, I desire God to touch my life – to intervene – in dramatic ways. I want my Lord to touch me and use me in miraculous fashion. And He has at times. Maybe not in the unique ways described above. I have never heard the audible voice of the Lord. I have never seen an angel like Moses and Gideon and Mary did.

But God has “spoken” to me. I sense His presence through Holy Spirit. I know that He has directed my paths in so many ways. He has indeed blessed me in ways beyond measure.

It is given to humans to only have one 13th birthday. Only one 16th birthday. Only one day when we turn 21. Those special days, and others like them are few and far between.

There was but one day when I gave my life to Christ. There was but one day when I was baptized in water. There was but one moment when I was baptized in the Holy Spirit. I have had only one wedding day. I have had 4 days when I experienced the birth of our children.

The bulk of my days are more alike than different. The days – the years we spend at work. Don’t they kind of seem the same in most ways? Routine. Common. Ordinary.

I must report that I am as guilty as anyone and perhaps more so for allowing my attitude about this life I have been given to be one of taking it all for granted. How often I have just made it through until the weekend, and dreaded the thought of Monday coming and starting over again.

We talk about Wednesday – hump day. We talk about TGIF. Then we drag ourselves into work on Monday.

I have been recently challenged by a brother in Christ who has publicly stated that he hates meetings. He has to go to a 2-hour meeting every Wednesday, and he has to drive over an hour to get there. He is a brother who has walked faithfully with God for over 40 years, and pastored for several of those.

He told me that a few weeks ago he was driving to one of these meetings, brooding over the “time wasted”, when the scripture song “This is the day, this is the day that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made. I will rejoice, I will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118.24)

He became convicted over his attitude. He pulled the car over, weeping, and asked forgiveness for his attitude. He realized that the only person wasting precious time was him.

God has made today. It is the only today I have. I may not have a tomorrow. I must rejoice in today.

John Denver wrote a superb song that I have often thought about. In fact, it is called “Today”.

Today while the blossoms still cling to the vine

I’ll taste your strawberries, I drink your sweet wine

A million tomorrows will have pass away

Ere I forget all the joy that is mine – today.

Like Moses, Gideon, Elisha, David, Mary, Simon, Andrew, and a host of others, I need to redeem my time. Their faithfulness put them in a position to receive.

I need to be faithful to wherever I am today. Faithful to whatever I am doing today. Faithful to work AS UNTO THE LORD. “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3.17)

Living before an audience of one.

We do not know when our next “out of the blue” moment might come. Any day now.

Well, enough said. For now.

 

 

AFTER THE STONE IS ROLLED AWAY

The last time I checked, the Rolling Stones were still rolling, though looking a bit jagged. (HAHA) But this article is not about those stones. This is about THE STONE – the one that covered the tomb of Jesus. And it is also about THE STONE that once covered (or in some cases, still covers) our hearts.

Inside the tomb lay the body of Jesus Christ, from late Friday until early Sunday. But, as we know, the tomb could not contain Him. He knew His way out. By the power of God within Him, He arose from death, escaped the tomb, and fulfilled the will of Father. Then He appeared to many, and especially to His disciples and the others gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem. There, in a blaze of fire, He rolled their stones away.

And so, in Christ Jesus we have the great exchange. Beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. His righteousness for my sin and shame. His agony for my acceptance. His blood shed for me. In Him I have life, and it is abundant life. In Him, I live eternally in the presence of the Father.

What once separated me from God is now separated from me. He has redeemed me, once and for all.

This is the message of the cross AND of the stone.

You see, the stone represents the barrier between a holy God and sinful mankind.

Behind the stone – trapped – entombed – imprisoned, lies my dead spirit. Now I may not even know that it is dead. I have physical life. I move, I breathe. But apart from Christ, I am not just spiritually barren, I am spiritually dead. Behind the stone lies a spirit of decay, a rotting and rotten mass. No matter how extravagant the spices, no matter how tightly wound the linen cloths, it is still embalmed death.

“The heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” Jeremiah 17.9 Romans 7.18 informs us of this truth: “For I know that there dwells in me nothing good, that is, in my sinful nature.” 

It is indeed a sinful nature. We have Adam and Eve to thank for that. We have inherited it from them, due to their disastrous choice. And there is no cure for this nature, apart from the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus. He has set us free from this nature. In Him we are new creations. This priceless fact is so beautifully expressed by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5.17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has passed away, the new has come!”

When the stone of our hearts is rolled away at conversion, we become new people. We are NOT a renewed version of the old! ALL of the old is gone – bad and good! I now have, as it were,  a new genetic code. I am set free from the bondage of sin and death. The chains are gone. The death mask removed.

Just as Jesus arose a victor from the “dark domain”, so have I! And just as Jesus lives forever with His saints to reign, so shall I!

So now what? After my stone is rolled away, how then should I live? I step out of my tomb, I step into the world – a world that should hold no attraction for me. I world in which I am just a pilgrim – a wayfaring stranger. It is not my home.

Yet God has determined that I “camp” here for an undetermined length of time. God has determined that I live in relationship to this world and to its people. God has determined that I work with my hands, that I live within a family, and that I do all this for the glory of His name.

Having my stone rolled away is just the beginning. It is an awesome beginning, an amazing beginning, but it is just a beginning.

Our Bible is chock full of “how-to.” And every word – every line – every precept is important. Colossians 2.6-7 sums it up this way, “Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”    

How did I receive Him? Can I recall the moving of my stone? I received Him by grace through faith. He at once became my Savior. He baptized me in the Holy Spirit. And even though I still often stumble and sin, He is indeed my Lord. And I am so thankful.

I was once dead in my trespasses, entombed in my own wickedness. But now I serve a risen Savior. And it is in the absolute way of Christ that I commit myself to follow. I’ve come too far. I am more convinced than ever. No turning back.

However, I, like many of my brethren, have entombed many things. I have swept many of God’s blessings under the rug. I have thrown many of God’s gifts to me into closet and shut the door. I have let His calling on my life lay out in the rain to rust at times.

Like Lazurus, the gifts of my Lord lay inside, decaying. Jesus is saying in this hour, PHILLIP – COME FORTH! Brother – come forth! Sister – come forth! DO NOT NEGLECT SO GREAT A SALVATION! CEASE FROM YOUR SLUMBER! ARISE!

The new wine of Jesus was never meant to be bottled and kept to ourselves.

On September 29, 2017, I will celebrate my 44th birthday in Christ. What a journey it has been. As that day approaches, what I want more than anything is to rediscover the “joy of my salvation.” The exhilaration of that newly found freedom. The purity of thankfulness. The uncomplicated knowledge of having a “clean heart.”

I want to rediscover my stone being rolled away.

Well, enough said. For now.

THIS MANTLE IS NO MICKEY

First, 3 definitions.

Mickey – a drink, usually alcoholic, to which a drug has been secretly added, that renders the unsuspecting drinker helpless.

Mantle – A. a loose cloak or shawl   B. an important role or responsibility passed from one person to another

Mickey Mantle – New York Yankees outfielder; 3-time American League Most Valuable Player; Baseball Hall of Famer; greatest switch-hitter of all time.

Elijah. The name means “The Lord is my God.” Elijah enters Biblical history in about the year 875 BC, when he begins to confront King Ahab. Not since the days of Moses had Israel seen a man of God who did what Elijah did. Anointed by the power of God, by the word of Elijah a drought began which lasted 3 1/2 years. At Elijah’s word, that drought came to an end. At Elijah’s word, the widow of Zarephath found her jar of flour and jug of oil miraculously filled every day for those 3 1/2 years. It was the power of God, through the word of Elijah that raised her son from the dead.

It was Elijah, at the height of his ministry, who stood alone against the 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah and declared before Israel, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If Baal is God follow him! If the Lord Yahweh is God, follow Him!

In this hour the Lord is saying to us – how long will we waver between two opinions? How long will we dance between two partners?

You know what happened. 1 Kings 18 tells us that the Baal prophets and Elijah each prepared  a bull for sacrifice. Each bull was cut into pieces and placed on a stack of dry wood. For 8 hours or so the Baal prophets called upon their god to send fire from above to consume the bull. Nothing happened.

Then it was Elijah’s turn. He ordered that his sacrifice be drenched with water – three times, and a trench dug to catch the overflow. Then he prayed. God – the living God – the only wise God – answered. Fire fell from above and consumed the bull.

The on-lookers fell to the ground and began to worship. They cried, “The Lord is God!”

So great was the ministry of Elijah that the Father chose him and Moses to return to earth some 900 years later for a few minutes. The place was the Mount of Transfiguration. Of all the mighty saints who have go one before us, it was Moses and Elijah that the Father chose.

But even the greatest prophet who ever lived had his moments of self-doubt and fear. After the triumph at Mt. Carmel, Elijah is running for his life. Jezebel has put a bounty on his life. Elijah hides in a cave. It is there that God speaks to him, reassuring him, and informing him that he should prepare a successor.

In 1 Kings 19, God leads Elijah to Elisha (God is my salvation). He chooses Elisha by throwing his mantle over Elisha. For 10 years, they minister together.

2 Kings 2 gives us the story of the death of Elijah. It is necessary to present the entire story here as a point of reference.

“When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, the Lord has sent me to Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. The company of prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?” “Yes, I know, ” Elisha replied, “but do not speak of it.” Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha, the Lord has sent me to Jericho.”   

The company of prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?” “Yes, I know,” he replied, “but do not speak of it.” Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as I live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on.

Fifty men of the company of prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up, and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground. When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”

“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.

“You have asked a difficult thing, ” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours – otherwise not.”

As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly  a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he tore his clothes.

He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. Then he took the cloak and struck the water with it. “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.    

Three times Elijah gives Elisha the opportunity to stop, to quit the ministry. But Elisha refuses. He knew that God had given him a call, a purpose – that God Himself had set him apart. Elisha knows what might befall him. He is aware of the persecution, the ridicule, the very real possibility that his life could be at stake. But Elisha has seen something beyond. He has determined that he will not settle for less than the fullness of God’s calling for his life. He will go all the way to Jordan – the symbol for the end of life – obedient to his Lord.

God gives us the chance to stop along the way. “I’m born again! I believe Jesus died for my sins! That’s enough! I am going to heaven! I don’t need to pray! I don’t need fellowship! I don’t have to witness! Jesus loves me anyway! I’m saved, I don’t have to do any more!”

Jesus could have stopped in Gethsemane. He said, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.” It seems to me that the human side of Jesus was asking – not seeking – if there was some way besides Calvary. Perhaps Jesus could have refused to go on. But there was no other way. Jesus had to go all the way – as it were, from Gilgal to Jordan.

Have we stopped short in some way in this hour? Have we gotten off the highway, and made a rest area our home?

If Elisha is going to receive the blessing – the “double portion” – he must keep his eye on Elijah and see him as he is taken away.

Are our eyes fixed on Jesus? It is not enough to see Him 99.9 % of the time. The moment we look away – it is that moment when we miss the blessing. If Elisha had allowed distraction for just a moment to enter in, he would have missed the blessing. We never know when Holy Spirit might nudge us, when Jesus might take us in some direction, when He might speak to us. I DO NOT WANT TO MISS HIM! I WANT TO BE IN TOUCH WITH MY LORD EVEN IF IT IS BUT THE HEM OF HIS GARMENT!

Elisha picks up the mantle. It is frayed. It has been well-used. But it’s colors are still vibrant. He realizes that if he is going to carry on the ministry of Elijah, then he must cross back over the river. So he raises the mantle and strikes the water. “WHERE IS THE LORD, THE GOD OF ELIJAH?”

In 1976, I took a job teaching shop skills to special education students at Almond School in Swain County, NC. In the spring, our students attended a field day event at the local high school, kind of like a Special Olympics. During the activities, one of my students, Myrtha, had an epileptic seizure. It was not her first.

I was near her when she fell. I knew a little about first aid so I knelt down and turned her head so she would not swallow her tongue. At that moment, I sensed a strong impulse to pray for her. After all, I serve a mighty God. God loved Myrtha. God wanted to heal her.

As I gave this impulse some thought, I looked up. By this time several other students and a couple of teachers were around us. Doubt crept in. Fear. What if I pray and nothing happens? What is everyone going to think – of me and of God?

So – like so many, many other times in my life, I choked back the impulse. I did pray for her silently (is that worth any credit to me? NO)

I have failed so many times.

Years pass, about 900 of them. Jesus is born. On the day John baptizes Jesus in water, a voice comes out of the sky, “You are My beloved Son. In You I am well-pleased.” And Holy Spirit descends on Jesus (Luke 3.22) Jesus is launched into the ministry of healing the sick, delivering the oppressed, setting the captives free, raising the dead, performing miracle after miracle, and reconciling the world to Himself.

Jesus assembles a band of 12 men. For 3 years He invests Himself in them, and though one would betray Him, He prepares them to continue the work of the Kingdom after He is gone. EVEN BEFORE the outpouring of Holy Spirit in Acts 2, Jesus sends them out (including Judas) to cast out demons and heal the sick. (Luke 10)

Jesus said, “And these signs will accompany them that believe. In My Name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues, they will lay their hands on the sick and they will recover.” (Mark 16.17-18)

Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall you do also and greater works than these shall you do because I go to My Father.” (John 14.12)

Jesus said, “When the Helper comes, Whom I shall send to you, He will bear witness of Me, and you will bear witness of Me also.” (John 15.26-27)

Jesus said, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1.8)

On the day of Pentecost, in Acts 2, the 11 disciples and 109 others are gathered. Holy Spirit falls – on them all. NOT JUST ON THE DISCIPLES! The mantle falls on them all. Immediately they leave the upper room. THEY COULD HAVE STAYED THERE. This could have been there Gilgal.

But the Spirit impelled them outward, into the street. Peter, using the mantle of anointing, preaches boldly and 3000 are added to the believers.

Peter and John encounter a lame man at the gate called Beautiful. They swing the mantle. “Silver and gold have I none. But such as I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise and walk.” And we could follow the trail of miracles through the book.

Brethren, this mantle is no mickey! It is not a drug to render us helpless. It is not a mantle to be placed in a glass case and put on the shelf to be admired like some souvenir. It is not a neck warmer!

It is a real anointing. Just as Elijah passed the anointing on to Elisha – just as Jesus sent Holy Spirit to anoint the disciples – now this anointing – this mantle is in our hands.

God has set an anointing in each of us to be His disciples. He has called each of us to go into the world. He has called each of us to SWING THE MANTLE!

There is a risk involved in swinging the mantle. But we must understand that it is not by might, nor by our power, but by the mighty Spirit of our God – Who delights in setting the captives free – Who desires the deliver the oppressed!

When we are willing to boldly pray – to boldly speak the Word of Truth – boldly respond to Holy Spirit within us – to every situation – every tribe – every nation – THE GOD OF ELIJAH, WHO IS OUR LORD JESUS – will show up.

How many times I have disappointed Holy Spirit. How many times I have quenched the Spirit. How many times I have been ashamed of myself for my failures.

But God forgives. And He wants to set us free from condemnation. Allow the soul cleansing blood of the Lamb to wash us thoroughly. Just as He forgave Peter for his monumental denial, and restored him to ministry, He will forgive and restore us.

And yes, let us determine that we will hear and obey the voice of the Spirit, and use the anointing in this hour when our world is in desperate need of our wonder-working Savior.

Certainly that is enough – for now!

 

MARCH MADNESS

I remember it like it was yesterday. April 4, 1983. N. C. State is playing Houston for the NCAA division I basketball championship. I was at home in Cullowhee watching the game with Patrick Rogers – not only my brother-in-Christ, but my friend.

I have been a Wolfpack fan since I was 10 years old. I can name players like Larry Lakins and Eddie Biedenbach. You might say I am a big Wolfpack fan. Patrick, on the other hand, is a HUGE Carolina fan. You can put him right up there with just about any HUGE Carolina fan.

But on this night, it was the Wolfpack’s turn to howl as they completed the most improbable string of victories by stunning Houston, 54-52. As Lorenzo Charles dunked the errant shot of Dereck Whittenburg at the buzzer, Patrick, the HUGE Carolina fan, shot out of his seat as if he had been struck by lightning. And I, the big Wolfpack fan, just sat there. I may have cried out something like, “wow.” I think my heart jumped a bit.

Here we are in another March Madness. Millions of people are face-painting their school colors on their faces as they fill out their brackets. Passions run deep in March every year. So it seems the time is right to share my version of “March Madness.”

I have had a fascination with sports ever since I can remember. When my teacher asked me if I could name the 4 seasons, I said sure, “baseball, basketball, football, hockey.” I could count to 11 by NASCAR drivers (plus 22 – Fireball, 24 – Fred, 43, – Richard).

I played Little League and 3 sports in High School. I’ve played over 1000 slow-pitch softball games (even at the age of 61). I’ve watched tens of thousands of games. I’ve traveled to 18 cities to see professional sports. I’ve coached 4 sports at the middle school and high school level. I’ve worked at Western Carolina University basketball and football games for 27 years.

All 4 of my children played high school and college sports. Gayle and I have traveled 1000’s of miles across the country to see them play.

So you might say I have a passion for sports!

Jesus was a man of great passion. Everything He did was with the utmost passion. He prayed with passion. He taught with passion. He sought to accomplish His Father’s will with an all consuming passion. At the cross, He bled, suffered and died with passion.

So great was the passion of the Christ, and so perfectly did He fulfill every purpose of His Father, that God “raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 1.20)

Mark reaffirms this in chapter 16, verse 19: “After the Lord had spoken to them. He was taken up into heaven and He sat at the right hand of God.”

This fulfills the prophesy of David in Psalm 110.1-2: “The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” 

Jesus Christ is seated at God’s right hand – the seat of honor and respect – because His work of redemption is finished, and we are seated in Him, and with Him there as well!

Some of you may remember the show “Happy Days.” Although I am certainly not in the same ballpark of “cool” as Arthur Fonzarelli, I am from the Fonzarelli “School of Emotional Control.” I am a modern day stoic when it comes to concealing ones emotions.

My principal at Scotts Creek Elementary where I taught for 19 years would always tell the students to use their inside voices in an assembly, and their outside voices when in PE.

You attend sporting events and lots of folks are yelling. (Obviously, many of you!) It’s something most people do. It is sort of expected. Being loud and proud and cheering on one’s team – being passionate – there is nothing particularly wrong with that. There is a time for exuberance and excitement.

I typically watch a ball game very quietly. In fact, if I could get away from loud fans around me, I would. But there have been moments when even I have “lost control.” Even a stoic can be stunned!

I could tell you in detail about several of these occasions. I will tell you briefly about 4 that occurred as I was watching my children play.

Benjamin, our only son, and oldest child, played numerous varsity sports, and for 3 years, was a placekicker at Wake Forest. But it was a high school soccer game that “took my breath away.”  Ben normally played defense, but against Erwin on this day, he was moved forward due to some injuries. With about 10 minutes to play, and the score tied, he rocketed a shot into the net from about 40 yards out. Ben had a strong leg, and had scored many goals before this game, but this was so unexpected. But just that shot, in that moment, from that far away. I shot out of my seat like Patrick Rogers!

Hannah, our oldest of 3 daughters, also played multiple sports in high school, and was on the varsity softball team at Gardner-Webb for 2 years. I coached her many years, including when she was 11. She came to bat and launched a shot to deepest center field that I thought was going out. It hit the top of the fence, but not before I found myself launched from my seat. Hannah could hit, but I had never seen her hit one like that!

Salem, our middle daughter, also played several sports in high school and earned a scholarship to play soccer at Milligan College. One of my “out-of-my seat” moments for her was during her junior year of high school against arch rival, Franklin. In order to make it to the state playoffs, we had to win this game. As the minutes wound down, it looked like we would play to a tie. But with about 2 minutes to play, their goalie gathered up the ball, then inexplicably placed it on the ground. Alertly, Salem swooped around her and in one motion kicked the ball away, and into the net for the winning goal. That brought me out of my seat.

Abigail, our youngest, also played multiple sports in high school, and went on to play soccer for 4 years at Wheaton (IL) College. Her team traveled to Pennsylvania to play nationally ranked Messiah College. Of course, Gayle and I were there. Abi entered the game midway of the 2nd half, with our side trailing 1-0. During a scrum in front of the net, she got her foot on the ball and sent it into the net for the tie. Along with the other Wheaton fans there, I erupted from my seat.

But back to April 3, 1983. Before the stunning conclusion of the game had cooled, God “spoke” to me. The words were something like this: “Your excitement for sports is fine. But what about the eternal? Everything is temporal – basketball, baseball, sports, hobbies, fashion, shopping, cars – EVERYTHING will pass away. Only the things of God will last for eternity. WHERE IS YOUR HEART? WHERE IS YOUR TREASURE? Does your passion for Me exceed your passion for sports? Am I not more important?

In 2 Samuel 6 we have the story of David returning the Ark of the Covenant to its rightful place, Jerusalem. It was a long time coming for David, who had dreamed and yearned for this day to come for years. Over 40 years, during Saul’s reign, the Ark had been housed at Kiriath Jearim.

As the Ark finally made its way into the “City of Peace,” David’s passion could contain itself no longer. The King of Israel, wearing a hip length linen garment, began to dance with all his might before His Father. He danced, and he leaped, without regard to his own dignity, not caring who saw him. So intent on the Lord was David that he was oblivious to all else.

“I will celebrate before the Lord, and I will become even more undignified than this!”

He wife rebuked him. He did not care. It was as if he had “turned his eyes upon Jesus, looking full in His wonderful face, as the things of earth grew strangely dim.”

When we see what David saw, when we feel what David felt, when we love the Lord as David did that day, then we will do what David did. Fully focused on the Lord. Zero focus on those around him. No concern for peer pressure.

This brings us to Acts chapter 7, and to Stephen. On this day he gives his defense before the Sanhedrin, and he holds nothing back. He gives a history of God’s dealings with Israel, with a focus of Israel’s persistence in disobeying God. He finishes with this, found in verse 51:

“You stiff necked people, you always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet you did not persecute? You even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have betrayed and murdered Him!”   

His Father, watching from heaven. His Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, watching from His seat at the Father’s right hand.

And then, verses 54-56.

“When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus STANDING at the right hand of God. “Look,’ he said, “I see heaven open, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  

And so Stephen was stoned to death.

The witness, the devotion, the integrity, the passion, and yes, even the death of Stephen, was enough to bring  Jesus out of His seat. So moved by Stephen’s magnificent (yes, I say magnificent) death was Jesus that He stood up for him.

When we consider our relationship to our precious Savior, where does He rank in terms of our passions? When we worship Jesus, do we give Him a polite little “tennis clap”, or a roaring, prolonged, resounding ovation?

Do we yell and scream at evil with as much passion as we do at the referees?

Isn’t Christ worth cheering for, far more, FAR MORE, than any athletic team?

Let us search our own hearts.

“When the music fades, and all is stripped away, and I simply come. Longing just to bring something that’s of worth that will bless your heart. I’ll bring you more than a song, for a song in itself, is not what you have required. You search much deeper within, through the way things appear, you’re looking into my heart.I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about you, it’s all about you, Jesus. I’m sorry Lord, for the thing I’ve made it, when it’s all about you, it’s all about you, Jesus.” – Matt Redman “Heart of Worship”

Nothing should compare with the passion I have for my Savior. Nothing.

And that is certainly enough said, for now.

The LORD SURROUNDS HIS PEOPLE

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken, but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people both now and forevermore. The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous. Psalm 125 1-3a

What a beautiful promise is given here in Psalm 125. It has been so eloquently set to music by Tom Devoursney, and I am sure many of you have sung it along the way. What promises this psalm contains!

The Hebrew tense used here for “trust” is ongoing, denoting action that continually occurs. So we are continually trusting, relying on, placing our confidence in the Lord. Believing in the Lord.

Those who have come into such a relationship with the Lord are like Mt. Zion. Mt Zion is a hill just outside the walls of Jerusalem. Mt. Zion cannot be shaken; it cannot be moved; it endures forever. Our faith, our trust, our hope in the Lord is like Mt. Zion. The implication is that if we do not continually trust in Him – that is – if we doubt Him, if we find reason to think that He has let us down, or lost our trust, then we can be shaken.

Peter launched out for a stroll on the water when Jesus called to him, according to Matthew 14:22-23. We are told that Peter actually walked on the water for a few steps. He walked on the water while his eyes were locked on Jesus.I think that it was more than that. It wasn’t his eyes. The key was his faith. When his faith prevailed – that is – his faith in Jesus’s ability to keep him afloat, he walked. The instant Peter fell back into his earthly, natural way of thinking – a human cannot walk on water! it is absurd! – then faith was weakened and down he went. How quickly his faith was transformed.

Jesus did not fail Peter. Peter did not fully have the “mind of Christ.” Do we? It seems to me that if we ever fully, eternally had the mind of Christ then all doubting would cease. If we fully had the mind of Christ, what great things might happen in and through us?

Jesus cannot fail us. We must be convinced of this. HE IS FAITHFUL. “Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him! How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er.”

There is no sliver of doubt in the person who trusts in the Lord. Only those cannot be shaken.

There is a ring of seven hills around Jerusalem. Seven. If you are into numerology, then you know that the number 7 represents perfection. You decide. At any rate, there are 7 hills around Jerusalem. “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people.” Both now and forevermore.

Do we know, are we convinced, that the Lord Himself is surrounding us? He is my shield. He is my fortress. He is sheltering me under His wing. He is my defender. He is my deliverer. Psalm 139.5 says “You hem me in – behind and before.” My Lord surrounds me, now and forever.

The fact that my Lord Jesus surrounds me is part of my inheritance in Him. It is part of “the land allotted to the righteous.” 

The Promised Land that Moses led Israel to the edge of was described by God as “flowing with milk and honey.” Jesus promised to give us “Life, and that more abundantly.” (John 10.10) A life rich and satisfying. A life worth something. The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. Beauty for ashes. The oil of joy for morning.  A robe of righteousness for my sins. And, eternal life to boot.

It is a life of righteousness, peace and joy in (or by) the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14.17)

It is a spiritual land of milk and honey. This land is allotted to us, given to us by our Heavenly Father. No man can take it away from us. The devil cannot take it away from us. The world did not give it to us; the world cannot take it away.

So then, when the scepter of the wicked passes across our land, it will not remain. Yes, difficult times will come our way. We must sometimes face harsh and terrifying circumstances. The scepter of the wicked one may seem to have the upper hand. We may even come to the brink of thinking that our Lord has abandoned us. (See the last 3 blogs, “The Test of the Teabag parts 1&2”, and “Straining at the Oars” for a detailed discussion of this idea)

Rain falls on the just and unjust. Occasionally we get caught up in some else’s mess. Usually we create our own. Though the land is ours, and Jesus is surrounding us, “wickedness” will pass over.

But it will not remain. IT WILL NOT REMAIN.

Pray over this psalm. Pray that its truth will sink into all of us. The Lord surrounds His people in the land that He has given us.

And that’s enough said. For now.

Straining at the Oars

Mark 6.45 “Immediately (that is immediately after the miracle feeding of the 5000 with bread and fish – which the disciples participated in and experienced) – Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to Bethsaida, while He dismissed the crowd.  (I am assuming that He intended to join them)

v. 45 “After leaving them, He went up on a mountainside to pray.”

v.47 “When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and He was alone on land. He saw the disciples STRAINING AT THE OARS, because the wind was against them. About the 4th watch of the night (between 3-6 AM) He went out to them, walking on the lake.

HE WAS ABOUT TO PASS THEM BY, but when they saw Him walking on the lake, they cried out, because they all saw Him and were terrified.

v.50B –“Immediately He spoke to them, “Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid.” And He climbed into the boat with them and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.”

The first thing to notice is that this episode on the lake follows a time of mighty power. I can just imagine the awe that each disciple felt as he witnessed the feeding of over 5000 people with just a few fish. How could you keep from smiling? How do you keep from being astonished, and proud to be a part of such a thing?

The disciples, as they got into the boat to do the will of Jesus (go to the other side) did not foresee what the middle of the lake held for them. But Jesus did. And the further they rowed, the further removed from the last miracle they were. In their case, a mere few hours.

Several years ago, I knew a brother who attended a weekend retreat with a college fellowship. The Spirit was moving, the closeness to Christ was evident. He came away from that retreat “fired up” – full of Holy Spirit determination. The next morning was a Monday, and he headed down the hill from his dorm to breakfast. On the sidewalk he spotted a dead bird. His first impulse was this: “God can do anything. He can raise the dead! He loves birds. He can restore this bird.” So he bent down toward the bird. Just then a couple of people came walking toward him from the cafeteria. He briefly looked up. He looked down at the bird again, and said to himself, “Nah.”

You know, it does not take much to let the air out of our Spirit-filled balloon.

As darkness settled around the disciples, it also settled within them. As the wind began to resist them, it also began to blow ill IN THEM. They began to strain against the oars.  You would think that their lives would just flow from miracle to miracle. You would think that a favorable wind would ALWAYS accompany those who would seek and choose to do God’s will.

But sometimes a contrary wind arises. And all too soon the most recent miracle becomes just a faint memory.

Alone. Abandoned. Where is Jesus now? Left to their own strength to strain against the oars. Left to do the will of God in their own strength.

Now notice that even when Jesus saw that the wind was howling against them (He knew it would) He intended to pass them by!

In Ezekiel 44.15-18 we find instructions on the garments the priests were to wear when ministering before the Lord. “But the priests … are to come near to minister before Me; … they alone are to enter My sanctuary; they alone are to come near My table to minister before Me and perform My service.When they enter the gates of the inner court, they are to wear linen clothes; they must not wear any woolen garment while ministering at the gates of the inner court or inside the temple. They are to wear linen turbans on their heads and linen undergarments around their waists. They must not wear anything that makes them perspire.” 

There is a word that rhymes with THREAT and that is SWEAT. Human sweat is a threat to our relationship to God.

Only by grace can we enter,                                                                                                                        only by grace can we stand.                                                                                                                        Not by our human endeavor,                                                                                                                      but by the blood of the Lamb.

We cannot work our way into His presence, nor can we stand before Him. It is no place for human sweat. God will not tolerate it.

Now there is a difference between godly perspiration and human sweat. Obviously we work with our hands, we create, we toil. Our bodies are created with the marvelous cooling ability of perspiration. But our temptation is to begin to work in the strength of our own flesh. The harder the wind, the greater we strain.

But in the Lord, no work that causes sweat is acceptable. Sweat is what appeared on Adam when he was driven from the garden. Genesis 3.17-19. “Cursed is the ground for your sake, in toil shall you eat of it all the days of your life, in the sweat of your face shall you eat bread.”

Sweat is a result of the curse. The ground yielded nothing without man’s effort and that effort produced sweat. But Jesus became the 2nd Adam. He was made the curse for us. And now “it is by grace that we are saved through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no man can boast.” Eph. 2.8

The problem is that we tend to rely on the arm of the flesh, in many ways, when our personal daily walk in God begins to lose focus – to lose priority – when we look at the circumstances – when we look at people, we begin to struggle and strain against the oars. It is then we try to keep moving forward in our own power. We begin in the Spirit, we ease into the flesh.

From all outward appearances, it seems right and good to do this. Dripping sweat means hard work. After all, God did say “Go to the other side” didn’t He?

When we believe that we have heard God say a thing to us – move here – take this job – marry this man – buy this car – attend this fellowship – we begin to move in that direction. Soon our little boat begins to meet some resistance – to get tossed around – and GOD IS NOWHERE TO BE SEEN – our sense of His presence is faint and remote. We tend to grip the oars tighter and grit our teeth and work up a sweat just to make it happen. To make it work.

Paul put it this way in Galatians 3.3 “Are you so foolish – after beginning in the Spirit are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”

We begin to question God’s will, God’s love, God’s presence.

When we begin to think, I missed God and now I have to pay the price, when we begin to think God has let us down, when we begin to question the promises of the Word – it is then that we have slipped out of our linen clothes and back into wool – and in that moment we have ceased to walk with Him.

Col 2.6  “As you have received Christ, so walk in Him.”

Until we truly know Who Jesus is – fully and finally – He will always appear as someone who intends to pass us by. As a ghost. Everything about Jesus is supernatural, and that is precisely what disturbs and frightens us. But when we know that we know Him, then nothing about Him, nothing He does will ever surprise us. In fact, we should expect that He will manifest Himself to us in unexpected ways.

There is one thing I will credit the disciples for – they did not turn back!

Some have. For many of us, we have seen many sunsets go over the mountains. We have experienced God for a long time. There is too much invested now – too much to gain – to give up now.

Remember, God never calls us to something that He will not equip us to accomplish. Resist the temptation to use your own strength and understanding. Yield the oar. His yoke is easy and His burden is light, but it is still a yoke.

Whatever storm you are facing – God is never far – He is there – in your boat. And when we yield completely to Him, every wind will – eventually – die down. He is the Master of the wind.

Well, enough said. For nowI

TEST of the TEABAG: Part 2

In part 1 of “Test of the Teabag,” I used the metaphor of the teabag to describe each of us, as individual Christians. The strength and character of the teabag can only be tested and realized as it is plunged into hot water, and allowed to steep there.

Dare I say that every person used of God, throughout history, has undergone a significant experience in swirling hot water? In this blog, I will briefly present several major Biblical people who had just such an experience.

At the top of the list is Job. We are told that he was “blameless and upright, he feared God, and shunned evil”, and that he was the “greatest man among all the people of the East.” (Job 1.1-3) God allowed Satan to thrust Job into the boiling water of suffering.

First, he loses his flocks, nearly all of his servants, and his sons and daughters to death. All of this happened in one day. It would certainly be too much for most of us to endure. But Job replies in 1.21, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” Later, Job is afflicted with sores and boils.

Like Job, each of us came into this world “naked.” None of us asked to be born. So all that we have – from the very breath we have to the things we possess – are gifts from Him. And like Job, when we leave this earth, we will take none of these things with us.

Job’s character was sorely tested. And although he had, obviously, many questions about the things that had befallen him, he never blamed God. His integrity remained intact.

David, in 1 Samuel 16, was anointed by the prophet Samuel to be king over Israel. God gave him much early success, including the killing of the giant, Goliath. But then, fueled by jealousy,  King Saul pursued David for months, trying to kill him, and along with him, the desire and will of God. David had ample chances to kill his adversary, but refused to touch “God’s anointed.” David lived in caves as Saul’s men pursued him. In time, Saul died and David assumed the throne.

Noah waited over 100 years for the promised flood. A hundred years! He steadfastly build the ark and proclaimed the word he had – “repent or die!” I cannot imagine that he did not have times of doubt. Certainly he endured the taunts of hecklers. Can you fathom waiting a hundred years for the fulfillment of a promise? And even then, after the rains came, Noah had to be cooped up in a stinky boat housing 100’s of animals with no indoor plumbing or Glade! That is enough to test any teabag.

You see, the teabag holds our dreams, our hopes, our call, our desire, the promises of God. What has God promised you? What vision do you have?

Abraham. Genesis 12 relates the great covenental  promise God gave Abraham which included the promise of a mighty nation. Obviously, to sire a nation requires an offspring. At the age of 100, Isaac is born to  Abraham and Sarah. Yet 10 chapters later God required of Abraham that he take his son, Isaac, and sacrifice him. For 3 days Abraham and Isaac traveled to the place of sacrifice, with Isaac carrying the very wood which would be used to cremate him.

Abraham’s character, faith, and willingness to obey was on the line. As a father myself, it is diffcult to imagine anything harder than this. And, the apparent trust that Isaac seems to have shown overwhelms me. But as we know, Abraham pased this test. God provided a sacrifice, but it was not Isaac.

Jacob had to endure working for Laban for 7 years to marry the girl of his dreams, Laban’s daughter, Rachel. However, after 7 years, Laban tricked Jacob into marrying Leah instead. Only when Jacob promised to work another 7 years was he given Rachel.

Joseph sensed the call of God to be a channel of blessing to his family. What did his fatithfulness get him? Thrown into a pit by his own brothers and left to die. Then he was sold into slavery, falsely accused and cast into prison. One bad thing after another. Finally, after years of barely avoiding death, God brought him forth and Joseph fulfilled his calling. He was indeed able to save his family from starvation.

The number of skeletal muscles the human body has is a bit of a dispute, but most agree on about 650. Muscles are built and made strong through tension. God’s method of building character and strength is through endurance. MORE FAIL, NOT FOR LACK OF ABILITY, BUT FOR LACK OF ENDURANCE.

Probably all of us would choose “easy street” if given the choice. How sweet it would be if we won a million dollar sweepstakes! More money. Less responsibility. All fun. No work. Have you ever heard of anyone requesting less pay and more hours?

The natural man has a taste for the easy way. But in God’s economy, for every dream there is a desert. For every call, there is a cave. For every promise, there is some pain.

The Apostle Paul discovered this firsthand. In Acts 9 we read of his dramatic conversion. Most folks are “saved” in a more conventional fashion, so when you hear of someone converted like this you get the feeling that this is something special. God told Ananias that “this man is my chosen instrument to carry My name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for My name.” Acts 9.15-16

Paul (still called Saul at this time) got off to a blazing start as a Christian. Acts 9.20-22 tells us “at once he began to preach in the synagogue that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished … yet Saul grew more powerful and baffled the Jews by proving that Jesus is the Christ.”

Soon, a plot was hatched to kill Paul. The other disciples, including Peter and John, did not trust him at first. But after Barnabas vouched for him, he was accepted and continued to preach. The entire area was in an uproar over Paul. The plot to kill him intensified. So it was decided that Paul should leave, and go to Tarsus, which was his home. (Acts 9.30)

Here we have a very curious verse, Acts 9.31. “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace.” 

Yes, sending Paul away resulted in a “time of peace.”

How Paul must have felt? If anyone had a clear calling of God, it was Paul. Besides Peter, no one seems to have had the size of the key given to Paul. No one had the anointing more than Paul. Yet here he was, banished from the group, and a flourishing time of peace ensues.

Scholars indicate that Paul stayed in Tarsus for 7-10 years. We hear nothing from Paul during this time. Paul’s direct and personal call from God Himself now had to steep in boiling water – for years. Perhaps it would dissolve. Perhaps Paul would fail to endure.

We can only speculate what Paul did during these years. Perhaps he set about making tents as he had earlier in his life. Maybe he questioned his conversion. He was mothballed from ministry it seems. But God had placed a pearl of great price in Paul, and Holy Spirit used every minute in Tarsus to polish it. Tarsus was one big boiling water pot for Paul. But his spiritual muscles were getting stronger, steel was growing in his back, spiritual armor began to fit him like a glove.

How many celebrities can you name who have been converted to Christ and instantly are on some TV show teaching the Word? How many seem to start their own congregations within months of conversion? Do they last? I sure hope so. I once heard of an ex-boxer who, after believing in Christ decided to baptize himself. Well, maybe there is nothing wrong with that, but it seems a bit arrogant to me.

God took Job, David, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph and Paul into the school of suffering before releasing them into their ministries. Can we expect anything different?

Peter suffered through his denial of Jesus before he was restored to ministry. And shall we forget JESUS HIMSELF, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, “Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of God.” Hebrews 12.2

To endure the teabag test – to finish the steeping – brings JOY. May God work this truth into us.

Then the day came when God spoke to Barnabas (Acts 11.25) to go look for Paul. How would he find him? Backslidden? Bitter? Having started his own religion, his own group?

The polishing of the pearl was not complete (perhaps it never is) but it was complete enough for now. I can almost hear Paul say to Barnabas, “I knew you’d come. I knew you had not forgotten me. All I need to get is my toothbrush. I never did unpack my clothes.”

Someone said that an optimist is a person who gets treed by a lion but enjoys the scenery at the top of the tree.

Most of us don’t want to venture too far into the desert. The Israelites did not get very far away from Egyptian bondage before they cried out to return, sick and tired of manna, having lost the vision of the Promised Land that awaited them. The miracles that God performed before their very eyes only held them for a few hours.

But if we could only see beyond the cup. If we could catch a vision of what God Himself is doing outside the boiling water of our own immediate circumstances, we would see that God is preparing our way. There is joy awaiting us.

Well, enough said. For now.

 

 

 

The Test of the Teabag: Part 1

Tags

In the spring of 1967, I was a freshman at Wilkes Central High School. I went out for baseball. There was no junior varsity team, only varsity. That did not stop 16 freshmen boys from trying out. And that does not include the number of sophomores and returning players from the previous year’s team.

I thought I might die that very first practice. We did not even pick up a bat or a ball. All we did was run – and run – and run. I have never seen so much vomit in my life. Most of the boys fell by the wayside. I vomited while I was running. I did not stop running.

The next day, so sore I could hardly move, we actually threw a ball around and hit a few pitches. There were only 8 freshmen and sophomores there that day.

Somehow I made team. I was one of 4 freshmen to make it. Now I say I made the team. Yes, technically. I never played in a game the entire year. I drug bats. I went after foul balls. I bagged equipment. I did get to practice some. I got some turns fielding and hitting. I was ALWAYS included in the running. I never got a uniform (well, not really never, but more about that later).

We had an awesome team that year. Our final record was 22-1. We won our conference title and lost in the state final, 1-0. But something happened along the way that revealed my character, and it was not good.

We are like teabags. You can pick up a teabag, hold it, smell it, squeeze it. You can do all kinds of things to it, but you cannot judge the strength, the quality, the true character of the teabag until you plunge it under boiling water, and let it steep.

I have dreams. I believe I have the call, the desire, the will, and the power to walk with Jesus. There are things I believe in, things I hold dear. Things I believe God has given me. I think I am strong.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds., because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1.2-4

PURE JOY? Who is James kidding? I can tell you right now that I have not arrived there. I am not sure I have ever met anyone who has even considered trials to be joy, much less PURE joy. And what we consider to be a trial can often be quite trivial.

But there it is, right in the Word of God. So pure joy in the midst of trials is my goal. I hope someone reading this will remind me of this someday – when you see me in my next trial.

Even if I had known about and cared about this passage in 1967, I am pretty sure it would not have mattered.

To fully understand the situation I was in in 1967, you need to know my relationship with the game of baseball. In short, I love it. I have always loved it.  Even though I have played other sports in season, baseball was my first love. It would be impossible to tell you of the 1000’s of hours I spent practicing and playing baseball as a youngster. I absolutely broke several wooden bats by throwing rocks up and hitting them. I cracked the brick wall of my parents’ carport through constant throwing. I have written several short stories about baseball games I made up and played. I can stand with you and throw a ball back and forth for hours. I never get tired of it.

Beyond that, I actually played on teams starting at age 8 through 61 (if you count softball). I have coached dozens of teams at different levels. I have attended major league games in 19 different cities.

So when Easter vacation rolled around in the spring of 1967, we had Friday off and Coach Groce had called for a practice for Easter Monday. That is when my little pity party got the best of me. You see, it did not really occur to me that Coach Groce really had seen something in me and the other 3 freshmen on the team. He was looking to the future. I could only see the present.

I decided that I would not go to practice, so I did not tell my mother. What difference did it make? I wasn’t needed. No big deal that a lowly freshman wasn’t there.

At about 9:00 that evening the phone rang. My dad, who never answered the phone, answered the phone. I notice he looked over at me while he was talking.

It was Coach Groce. When my father asked me why I had not gone to practice, I told him, “I don’t even get a uniform, so what difference does it make.”

It was then that my father said to me, “I don’t care whether you play baseball or not. But if you are going to be on the team, you do what the team does. If you want to quit, then quit. But that will be the end of it. You have 15 minutes to make up your mind.”

So I stewed. I loved baseball. I couldn’t quit. I wanted to play – someday.

After 5 minutes I came out of my room and told my dad that I was sorry, and that I did want to play baseball. He pointed to the phone, “Call Coach Groce and apologize.” It was perhaps the most difficult phone call I ever made.

The next day at practice he informed me of my punishment – 200 laps around the football field. “And no cutting corners.” That is, for you math-challenged folk, 340 yards x 200 laps. 68,000 yards. 38.63364 miles. And that, my friends, was after regular practice for the next xx days until my punishment was complete. My foolish little decision turned out to be rather costly.

Just like grace-free, but not cheap.

My teabag had been plunged into boiling water. It revealed almost no character, no integrity. And MY trial is nowhere near the trial of Job, or Jacob, or Joseph, or Jesus. It is one of the most bitter, embarrassing, shameful experiences of my life.

About a week later, while I was still running off my punishment, Coach Groce called me aside and told me that I was going to be the 1st base coach. No more dragging bats. No more chasing foul balls. You need to know that our team did not have an assistant coach. One of the players coached first base. The fellow that had been doing it was a junior. For some reason unknown to me, it appears that Coach Groce thought I could do a better job. I really do not know. But this I do know, coaching first base is an important thing to do, and Coach Groce was giving that responsibility to me, a freshman, who did not even have a uniform, until then.

You see, the coach had to be in uniform. And I got one. Coach Groce saw something in the “teabag” that I could not.“Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it bears no fruit.”  

The natural man has a taste for the easy way. It ministers to that natural part of us to get something for nothing. I wanted something in exchange for very little, or preferably, no investment on my part. I did not want to pay the price.

God has to put us under boiling water in order for us to bear fruit for Him. As the Apostle James said, it is the way to maturity and completion. “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.” (James 1.12)

Next week, “test of the teabag, part 2,” I will examine other saints of God who had their teabags tested.

Enough said, for now.

COME INTO MY FEET

We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands. The man who says, “I know Him,” but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys His word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in Him. Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.”   (1 John 2.3-6)

I can clearly recall a night when I was 10 years old when I was at home in Moravian Falls, NC with my family. My dad, who battled alcoholism his entire adult life, was drunk. He happened to be home that night. It was better when he was gone and drunk.

He was smoking a Marlboro that he held in his right hand. In his left he held a 5th of George Dickel, out of which he was drinking – straight. He called me over to him in the kitchen, and said these words, “I want you to promise me one thing. That you’ll do as I say, not as I do. Promise me.”

Well of course I said, “I promise.” I did not want him to hit me.

But I remember thinking, “that is not right.”

Many of us are familiar with the 1924 hymn written by Harry Clarke, “Come into My Heart.” The chorus goes like this: “Come into my heart, come into my heart, come into my heart, Lord Jesus. Come in today, come in to stay. Come into my heart Lord Jesus.”

Yes, indeed. That is where it all starts. Recognizing my own desperate sinful nature, realizing my need for a Savior, knowing that without a Savior I have a future separated from God, believing on Jesus as that Savior, turning from my wicked ways, and trusting Jesus to deliver me and stamp pardon on my soul with His cross. “He lives – within my heart!”

But that is just the beginning.

In 3 short verses in Genesis chapter 5, we learn all the Bible has to say about the man Enoch. He lived 365 years. He was a father. Then the 3 most important words that, perhaps, could ever be said about any person, “Enoch WALKED WITH GOD.” Of all the other men mentioned in the genealogy listed in Genesis 5, it says “and then he died.” But not Enoch. “Then he was no more, because God took him away.” 

It is not the purpose of this blog to discuss whether or not Enoch went directly to heaven or not. I do not know. But I do know this. Something was sure different about the end of his life.

We can understand that Enoch knew about God. Beyond that, Enoch knew God. Beyond that, Enoch knew God’s ways, God’s heart, and God’s truth. But even greater than that, Enoch walked with God. Adam was in the presence of God, “walking” with God before sin entered. Then he was banished from the garden. I cannot tell you exactly how Enoch walked with God. But I do think that his walk with God was something like Adam had before sin.

Adam’s sinful nature was in Enoch, as it is in all of humanity. I am quite certain that Enoch was not a perfect man. He was not sinless.

Yet there was a quality about Enoch’s life that God delighted in. There is no other human described in Scripture like Enoch. Enoch, in my view, was able to fulfill the words of 1 John which were yet to be written “if anyone obeys His word, God’s love is truly made complete in him.”

How Enoch must have pleased the Father. Can you hear the words of Jesus as well? “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25.23)

Knowing a lot does not amount to much if I am not walking in it. The issue for many of us is not what we know, it is what we show. It is not what we’re talking, it is what we are walking.

Having a million dollars in my checking account really does me no good if I never write a check on it.

The issue for so many of us is not our heart. It is our feet.

If I could draw on this blog (well, I can’t draw anyway, but if I could) I’d draw a very large heart – think the size of the sun perhaps. This represents many Christians. Our hearts are big. We often say of certain people, “they have a big heart.” We know the truth, we know the path of holiness, we know God’s commandments, we want to trust and obey. Our hearts seem right.

Then why do so many of us keep falling? Why do we seem to always be battling the “sin that so easily entangles us?”

Gallup polls tell us that about 84% of Americans say that there is a God.

79% say they believe in a Creator.

64% say they are born-again.

But, only 23% say they attend a Christian meeting.

12% attend Christian meetings as many as twice a week

And, only 9% say they read the Bible regularly.

Satan has the majority of these people right where he wants them. Lukewarm, tepid. Maybe even ice-cold. What is the old saying, “many are cold and a few are frozen?”

So our image of the sun-size heart is not the only part of the picture. Every heart has feet. What we believe must be fleshed out. We do not live in a bubble, nor under a bushel. We live our lives before people, in living relationships. People cannot see into our hearts. They can hear our words. And, more importantly, they can see what we do “with our feet.” Actions speak louder than words. In the case of so many of us, our feet are like the feet of a blue jay – trying to carry the big heart.

And that is why I say, “INTO MY FEET, INTO MT FEET, COME INTO MY FEET LORD JESUS. COME IN TODAY, COME IN TO STAY. COME INTO MY FEET LORD JESUS.”

Paul writes these words to Titus (2.11-14) “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “NO” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people who are His very own, eager to do what is good.” 

The Holy Spirit, manifest and living within us, acts as an internal policeman – enabling us to obey, and to abstain from ungodliness and “worldly passions.” This sense of Holy Spirit’s presence should be so strong that we would make even the most difficult personal sacrifices in order to remain obedient to God.

Many years ago, needing some additional money, I took a job umpiring church league softball. NEVER AGAIN. Now I have played 100’s of softball games and been associated with some very intense situations. Many of those involved some degree of yelling at an umpire (not me, mind you! Seriously, not me) But I have never encountered such cussing and momentary hatred that often emerged from “Christians” during that season. (Let the record show that I do not think I ever missed a call!) After one game, the lady whose team had lost was giving me my paycheck, and added these words, “I have to pay you,  but you &^*%$@&*, you %$&(*&%^$ don’t deserve it!”

My response to her, and to several of her male teammates standing there was, “If playing softball makes you feel, act and speak like this, then maybe you should consider not playing.”

I meant it then and I mean it today.

Jesus teaches us in Matthew 5.6 that if our right hand causes us to stumble, we should cut it off and throw it away from us.

NO EXTENT OF PERSONAL SELF-DISCIPLINE IS TOO GREAT IF IT MEANS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OBEYING OR DISOBEYING GOD.

And for those who think such an act (cutting off your hand) is too radical – too much to ask – Jesus further comments on the consequences of “not-walking”. “For it is better that one of your body parts perish, than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Mark 9.43)

So it is that whatever causes us to stumble, to lose our “feet” needs to be addressed. Maybe for you it is fishing. Music. TV. Money. Clothes. Your hair (ha). FANTASY SPORTS (ouch) CAROLINA BASKETBALL (stepping on toes now! and some of them are my own). Each of us needs to examine our own lives and see what it is that causes us to act in such a way that brings any reproach upon my Lord Jesus. My life – my witness.

Of course He gave us passions. Of course He gave us interests and abilities. Of course Christ wants us to enjoy life. But all of these things are temporal. They will not exist in heaven (well, music will, I think.) If ANYTHING causes you to lose your footing, I urge you by the mercies of Christ, to seek the Lord and let it go.

Do not be as the one who is able to see the splinter in the eye of another while a log exists in our own.

Deep revelations will be relatively worthless unless the small things are in order. As we are faithful in the little things God has given us, our “feet” grow stronger, and better able to support all that is in our hearts. If I claim to live in Him, then I must walk as Jesus walked.

May the day come when it can be said of each of us, that we, like Enoch, walked with God.

Of course, I never believed what my daddy said to me that night. I never followed his “advice.” What we say, and what we do should match each other. No hypocrisy.

Jesus accomplished this. I want to accomplish this. It should be the goal of every believer.

This song by John Gowans and John Larsson sums it up.

“To be like Jesus, this hope possesses me. In every thought and deed, this is my aim my creed. To be like Jesus, this hope possesses me. The Spirit helping me, like Him I’ll be!”

Jesus, come into my feet!

And that is enough said. For now.

DIS-ARMED & DE-FEETED

Next to Puff the Magic Dragon, perhaps the next best known dragon is Smaug of The Hobbit. He is not as nice and playful as Puff. In fact, he flies around seeking those he might devour. But Smaug has a weakness – a chink in his armor. There is a section missing and it is only there where a well-placed arrow can bring him down.

Christians have been given spiritual armor. Paul uses the armor analogy in Ephesians to describe how well protected we are (or should I say – can be). Paul calls it “the armor of God.” The purpose of this armor is to defend us against “the devil’s schemes.” We are to put all of this armor on so that “when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Eph. 6.13) 

Paul assumes that a “day of evil” will come. Remember, Satan is a roaring lion, prowling around, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5.8). And although we KNOW that Satan is indeed defeated by the mighty power of the cross of Jesus Christ, he still prowls around. His intent is to steal, kill, and destroy, and he will use every shred of his ability to locate that weakness, that chink in our armor.

It is Satan’s desire to DIS-ARM me and DE-FEET us.

2 Corinthians 10.3-5: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish every argument and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”   

Two of the pieces of armor that are mine in Christ are the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6). Both are arm-related. We hold the shield of faith with our hand. We move it around as a defense mechanism. We hold the sword of the Spirit, which the Bible itself describes as “alive” in our other hand. As long as the sword is in its sheath, it does us little good. It must be wielded to have the maximum benefit.

We know from Scripture that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God .” (Romans 10.17) Our faith is increased, strengthened, and matured by hearing. Hearing may come from preaching, teaching, or simply speaking the Word to ourselves. The Word of God is a “lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path.” The brighter the lamp, the better we walk, the safer we walk. The brighter the lamp, the more I see of truth, and the stronger my faith becomes.

Faith is my shield. The more I access the sword of the Spirit, the more powerful my shield becomes. What is the purpose of the shield? Paul tells us plainly in Eph. 6.16: “… the shield of faith, with which you can EXTINGUISH ALL the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Again, Paul assumes that there will be flaming arrows thrown against us. Notice he does not just say arrows, but flaming arrows. They will hurt you. They may even leave you scarred.

These arrows, or darts, are temptations. Paul refers to Satan  as the tempter. Jesus Himself was tempted by the tempter. Remember, Satan is continually seeking someone to attack and, if possible, devour.

Satan does not have the power to make me sin. We know this from Paul’s discussion in Romans chapters 7 and 8. There he lays out the nature of the “law of sin and death.” Since I am human, this sinful nature is inherent in me. But since the Spirit of God lives in me, I am not controlled by the nature of sin (not just in theory, thanks to His grace and power) In chapter 8.5, Paul says this, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires, but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.”

In other words, sin is NOT my master. Do I sin? Yes. Do I sometimes allow the sinful nature in me to have its way? Yes. Do I sometimes (often) yield to temptation? Yes.

I sin because I yield to temptation. The flaming arrows that are continually hurled at me occasionally find their mark. How quickly I respond will determine to what extent Satan achieves his desired goal, which is to dis-arm. And if he can dis-arm me, perhaps he can steal, kill or destroy what is mine in Christ, or even my life itself.

Paul, particularly in Philippians, and Peter in his letters, always link the issue of temptation to suffering. If I yield to temptation, I suffer. Now I may not suffer like many saints have suffered – to the point of physical death. I have not suffered like Paul and Peter did. Even today many are suffering in extremely difficult circumstances across the world.

I would venture to say that that if a cancer cell has become active in one’s body, then suffering has begun. I might not be aware of it, but the time will come when I will. The same holds true for becoming dis-armed. My walk with Jesus suffers. If I do not take action, if I do not confess my sin and disobedience, then I am allowing the seed of “dis-armament” to marinate and grow. Suffering will certainly become apparent.

These words from 1 Peter 5.10 are amazing. “And the God of all grace, Who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you, and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”   

I intend to resist temptation. My desire is to walk in holiness before my Father. My goal is to never disobey. But when I slip, I hope that my suffering is indeed just a “little while”. And I am so thankful that my Father, Who watches over me with love, awaits my about-face, and rushes to me with the ring, the fattened calf, and His embrace. He “RE-ARMS” me.

Anything Satan can do to DE-FEET me – to cause me to stumble, to trip me, to knock me down, he will try. If he can convince me that I am a failure, if he can make me focus on my guilt, if he can stop the wonder-working power of the blood, if he can entice me to walk by sight instead of faith – he will do it. He is wily. He knows my weaknesses. He knows what has worked in the past.

But I have been rescued by Jesus Christ. And I am MORE THAN A CONQUEROR through Him who loves me. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8.37-39!)

Never Dis-armed. Never De-feeted.

Well, enough said. For now.