Baptism in the Holy Spirit

There are 3 baptisms mentioned, practiced, and taught in the New Testament. They are: water baptism, baptism into the Body of Christ, and the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

So what is baptism? The basic meaning is to cause something – or someone – to be dipped or immersed into something else.

This baptism is TOTAL. It involves the entire object or person. A complete and absolute covering. With regards to a person, therefore, it includes ALL. All of the personality, all of the mind, all of the spirit, soul and body. It is BEYOND the outer shell, or skin. Baptism is meant, by definition, to cover and surround the entire object or being.

Baptism is also TRANSITIONAL. The person or object baptized PASSES from its original state or realm of experience into a new state, a new “life.” There is NO RETURN to the prior condition or existence.

Lastly, baptism is TRANSFORMATIONAL. This new state of being or existence results in a NEW CREATION.  Nothing of the old way of thinking, acting or being remains.

Now a look at the 3 baptisms.

Water baptism — Almost all Christians worldwide have little problem with this. The mode of baptism may differ in practice among  various groups, but largely Christians proclaim this as one of the sacraments of the Church and its validity is not an issue.

Baptism into the Body of Christ. —-This baptism is done by the Holy Spirit. This is clearly expressed in 1 Corinthians 12.13. At the moment of salvation, every believer is joined to the worldwide, historical Body of believers.

Then there is the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. And it is here that many Christians seem to have a controversy. It is my position that either the Scripture is inspired by Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is true and reliable. Either Scripture is God’s word, or it isn’t. If I am going to base my life on it, then I must choose to base my life on all of it. It is said that Thomas Jefferson once took a Bible and cut out all the verses he did not like or agree with. When finished, there were only 3 or 4 pages left.

I cannot allow man’s interpretation, church traditions, or my experiences (or lack thereof) to judge Scripture. Scripture judges me!

The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is clearly taught and practiced in the New Testament. It is simple to understand. And, just as I am born again by faith in Jesus Christ, I can receive the Baptism in the Holy Spirit by faith.

And now for a stroll through the Scriptures.

Matthew 3.11    John the Baptist says, “As for me, I baptize you in water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, … HE Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” This verse, in slightly different forms, is found in all four gospels. Remember, baptism is the immersion of something or someone into something, and Jesus is clearly identified as the One who immerses a person into the Holy Spirit.

John 7.37-39    “…If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.’ This He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were yet to receive, for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” Jesus quotes here from Isaiah 44.3. At this point Jesus has not been crucified, and thus not yet glorified.

After His resurrection and glorification, in Luke 24.49, Jesus refers to His statement in John when He says “Behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

The disciples obey, and we find them gathered in Jerusalem, and in Acts 1.4-5 we read that Jesus commands them to “wait for what the Father had promised, “Which you have heard of from Me, for John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

And again in Acts 1.8, Jesus reinforces this when He says “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses ..”

Before the Day of Pentecost, the apostles had walked with Jesus for about 3 years. They had seen, experienced, learned, and done many great things. They had left their previous lives behind for the Master. They were a devoted group, a loyal group, a special group. Yet as Jesus hung on the cross, they seem to have vanished. Where was Peter? He denied that he even knew Jesus.

But after the outpouring of the Spirit – the Baptism of the Spirit that Jesus had promised and predicted on numerous occasions – suddenly Peter has a command of Scripture and an authority like no other man. He tells the crowd in Acts 2 that what they are seeing and hearing is an exact fulfillment of the prophecy in Joel chapter 2, made hundreds of years earlier. To see Peter in the book of Acts is to see what being filled with the Spirit is really like- the pattern for us all.

Acts 8.12     “when they (the Samaritans) believed Phillip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.”

Notice that these folks were believers. They had been baptized in water. Then days later Peter and John arrive and in verses 15-18 we see that Peter and John “prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money ..”

What did Simon see that convinced him that Holy Spirit was indeed filling these people? An immediate change of lifestyle? Not likely. Simon saw something. I believe that when Peter and John laid their hands on the Samaritans, the same thing happened to them that had happened to Peter and John. They (the Samaritans) were filled with the Spirit and began to speak in tongues just like Peter and John. They were filled with an irresistible urge to praise the living God. That is what Simon saw.

In Acts 9.17-18, Ananias locates Saul – Saul whom Jesus knocked off his horse on the road to Damascus. I ask you, at what point was Saul converted? At the moment Jesus appeared to him? I have to believe it was. But here Ananias arrives to lay his hands on Saul, and as soon as he does, Saul’s sight is restored and he too is filled with the Holy Spirit. Soon afterward, Saul is water baptized. SAME RESULT – DIFFERENT ORDER.

Acts 10 reveals Peter’s visit to Cornelius, the Roman soldier. While Peter is speaking, “the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to his message, and all the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speak with tongues and exalting God.”

Then there is the most amazing verse – really a knockout “punch”. Peter says this (Acts 10.47) SURELY NO ONE CAN REFUSE THE WATER FOR THESE TO BE BAPTIZED WHO HAVE RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT JUST AS WE DID …”

Just as we did. And Peter reinforces this in Acts 11.15 in his report to the other apostles. He says “the Holy Spirit fell upon them, just as He did upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If God therefore gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”

And finally, Acts 19.1-6.  “..while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper country came to Ephesus and found some disciples and said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what baptism then were you baptized?” And they replied, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance. telling  the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” And when they heard this they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying.”

No one is born again outside of the presence, influence, and activity of the Holy Spirit. No man comes to the Father except through the blood of Jesus Christ and the working of the Spirit. Holy Spirit is there at the instant of salvation. I might not be aware of that fact, but it is nevertheless true. Here (in Acts 19) Paul clarifies this, baptizes them in water, and then Jesus baptizes them in the Holy Spirit.

I believe the Scripture is clear. In every case presented in the book of Acts, we see salvation (believing on Jesus) connected with the receiving of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is joined with the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. The order differs at times, but the result is the same. It is the common, anticipated, and accepted experience of all the apostles, and all the converts.

Do all speak with tongues? Of course not. Paul plainly explains this to us in his letter to the Corinthians. But he also says that he “wished” that all did. The apostles spoke in tongues, and it is the only outward sign that they seem to look for and accept.

Just as one is baptized into the Body of believers at the moment of salvation, and just as one is water baptized, it is the normal expectation, and, I believe, teaching of the New Testament that every believer be baptized in the Holy Spirit.

The baptism in the Holy Spirit immerses us into the power of God. Like Peter, we are transformed into bold, victorious Christians who are no longer slaves to sin. We now are filled with power for living the holy, righteous, godly life in the kingdom of God that our Father has destined for us to experience. In fact, apart from the presence of Holy Spirit in our lives, the Lordship of Christ will remain distant. I cannot walk in victory without Holy Spirit’s power in my life. Sin will master me. But thanks be to God, who has provided His Spirit to us.

HOW MUCH MORE WILL YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER GIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT TO THOSE WHO ASK HIM?

(Luke 11.13)

Well, enough for now.

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What’s In Your Pocket?

alternate title – The Wonderful Key

Isaiah 22.15-23 Thus says the Lord God of hosts, “Come, go to this steward, To Shebna, who is in charge of the royal household, ‘What right do you have here, and whom do you have here, that you have hewn a tomb for yourself here, you who hew a tomb on the height, you who carve a resting place for yourself in the rock? Behold, the Lord is about to hurl you headlong, o man. And He is about to grasp you firmly, and roll you tightly like a ball, to be cast into a vast country; there you will die, and your splendid chariots will be, you shame of your master’s house. And I will depose you from your office, and I will pull you down from your station. Then it will come about in that day, that I will summon My servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah and I will clothe him with your tunic and tie your sash securely about him, I will entrust him with your authority, and he will become a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. Then I will SET THE KEY OF THE HOUSE OF DAVID on his shoulder, when he opens no one will shut, when he shuts, no one will open. And I will drive him like a peg in a firm place, and he will become a throne of glory to his father’s house.

Which came first, the key, or the lock? It is an intriguing takeoff on the old riddle. Keys are an interesting invention. With keys come locks. Keys serve many purposes. They lock, and they unlock. They open and they close. Keys loose, and bind. Keys keep people out, or let people in.

Getting a key shows responsibility, confidence, and trust. A key is a symbol of authority, of stewardship. The bigger your key-ring, the more responsibility you have. Maybe that is why I am the holder of so few keys. Some of you carry key-rings on your belt. The janitor at elementary school where I taught for 19 years had 47 keys on her ring. I knew exactly where to go if I needed something. I coached basketball there for 12 years and never had a key to the gym. (But as a matter of record, I was never offered one! What does that tell you?)

Shebna had a set of keys. Verse 15 tells us that he was in charge of the royal household. Someone trusted him. And what did he do? He was unfaithful. V. 16 shows us that he carved a resting place – a home – for himself. He misused the keys and God allowed him to get away with it – for a time. Until – and it is always until – God decided to expose Shebna. And when God’s judgement came – as it has and will – it was serious. “You are the shame of your master’s house!” God’s anger at Shebna’s mishandling of the keys was decisive. Shebna was to be cast into a “vast” country where he would die.

Not only that, but Shebna’s potential blessings, his responsibilities, and his position were to be entrusted to someone else. Even the Key of the House of David – a key like few others. (Maybe not the “one key to rule them all!”, but close)

All because of a misuse – a mishandling of the keys. AM I A SHEBNA?

There are numerous keys mentioned in Scripture.

Revelation 9.1 – the key of the bottomless pit is given to the “star from heaven”

Revelation 20.1 – the key of the abyss is in the hand of an angel

Revelation 1.18 – Jesus Himself says that “I am the first and the last and the living One and I was dead and behold I am alive forevermore and I have the keys of death and of Hades” 

Revelation 3.7 – “He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David – who opens and no one will shut and who shuts and no one will open” Sound anything like Isaiah?

God has a BIG key-ring and many keys.

In Genesis 1, He gave Adam a great key – be fruitful, multiply, fill and subdue the earth, and rule over every living thing

In Genesis 9, God gave a 500 year-old man the key to a big boat, and to a promise. Noah was faithful with that key FOR A HUNDRED YEARS. Then God gave Noah another key – be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth.

In Genesis 12, God gave Abraham a whole set of keys. I will give you a land, I will make you a great nation, I will bless you, I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who curse you; because of you all the earth’s families will be blessed.

What if Noah, or Abraham – like Shebna, had failed?

Keys were given to Isaac, to Jacob, to Joseph, and to Moses, when all of Israel was behind a great door of bondage.

Keep reading throughout history. Keys were given to Joshua, Gideon, Samson, Deborah – to the Judges and the Prophets. To David.

When the king used his “key” properly, the whole nation was blessed. But when he mishandled his key, the nation suffered. HAS ANYTHING CHANGED TODAY?

CHURCH? What’s in your pocket? How are we handling the key to the light of the world? How are we handling the keys to the kingdom?

Luke 11.45-52 “And one of the lawyers said to Him in reply, “Teacher, when You say this, You insult us too.” But He said, “Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers. Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets and it was you fathers who killed them. Consequently, you are witnesses and approve their deeds; because it was they who killed them, and you build their tombs. For this reason also the wisdom of God said, “I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute, in order that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world. may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation. Woe to you lawyers! FOR YOU HAVE TAKEN AWAY THE KEY OF KNOWLEDGE; YOU DID NOT ENTER IN YOURSELVES, and THOSE WHO WERE ENTERING YOU HINDERED.” 

Here Jesus plainly says that the purpose of a key is to enter yourself, and to assist others.

Jesus gave Peter a set of well-known keys in Matthew 16.19. He called them the “keys to the kingdom of heaven”. And though Peter would have his share of dark moments in the days to come, we find him, in Acts 2, roaring out of an upper room in Jerusalem, full of the fire and power of Holy Spirit, and although he had no pocket in his tunic, the keys to the kingdom pulsated in his hand as he unlocked the door of salvation to all – man and woman, slave and free, Jew and Gentile, green, yellow, purple, black, white, pink, striped and polka-dotted!

It is now on us – the church. If we do not embrace, yield to, live in, believe in and then proclaim true, authentic, historic Christianity without compromise, then we have misused our key. It has become worthless to us, and we are then no better than the lawyers of Luke 11.

Jesus can do no more! On Calvary, he paid it ALL. He opened the door to the Father. He closed the door to death! He opened the door to eternal life here on earth. He has seated us WITH HIM in heavenly places. He has overcome evil. He has opened a way for us to live victoriously. I am free indeed.

Jesus Christ unlocked the door to the Holy of Holies. He rent the veil, and He beckons us to come!

People are looking for the way through the door of knowledge, searching for the room of reality. People are longing for truth, asking questions that only those who have already entered can answer.

BEHOLD, I STAND AT THE DOOR AND KNOCK. IF ANYONE OPENS THE DOOR, I WILL COME IN!

What’s in your pocket, church? And once we have realized what a great treasure Jesus has given us in the form of keys, the next question is what shall we do with them? Lose them? Give them up ? Neglect them? Steal them? Or use them according to the Owner’s Manual?

I was raised in a little Methodist church, one where my family’s roots go back over 150 years. I was raised singing the Methodist hymnal. And I still recall these words written by Clara Scott:

Open my eyes that I may see

Visions of truth Thou hast for me

Place in my hand the wonderful key

That shall unclasp and set me free.

May I be faithful to my Father Who has put such a key in my pocket.

Well, that’s enough for now.

 

Christmas in July

In July of this year I had the privilege and opportunity to travel to London, England to participate in a street evangelism outreach aimed at Muslims. The last time I intentionally went on a “missions” trip was in 1991, when I traveled to Poland, Ukraine and the Czech Republic. I had also been to Poland in 1990.

I had the joy of joining my daughter, Abigail on this trip, along with nearly 40 others. The effort was sponsored by Cru, formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ. It was administered locally by a Baptist fellowship in Statesville, NC.

Although I was there for just one week, this was a four week effort. Cru has sponsored this endeavor for over 10 years, and London is not the only city in which street evangelism takes place.

London is a culturally diverse city with a significant Muslim population. Additionally, thousands of visitors from Muslim countries travel to London each summer. Many of them are there to visit family, seek medical services, and to shop. Our outreach pinpointed 4 heavily used sidewalks and park areas throughout the city.

In total, there were 195 participants in this effort from over 20 different states. Most of the folks were college age, although there were a few old-timers like me.

After meeting together each afternoon for teaching, preparation and prayer, we went out in teams of about 9 people each. Each group had at least one Arabic speaker with it. We carried a backpack full of materials, along with a few Arabic phrases that might translate to “free gift,” hello,” and “New Testament.” For about 4 hours each evening, from 4:30 until 9:30 we took our places on the edge of busy sidewalks, and, armed with a NT or other materials in hand, attempted to give them away, and, when possible, to engage anyone who so desired in a spiritual conversation.

I am told that this summer’s outreach broke all previous records for “engagement”, or “touches.” For those who might be number conscious, here are the numbers as compiled by the staff.

Arabic New Testaments given out = 7,914

English New Testaments given out = 1,014

Children’s books, DVDs (The Jesus Film, and The Story of Magdalena) and SD cards = 6,845

There were 1,845 spiritual conversations with people.

I think that totals 17,618.

But, most importantly, there were 10 on the street conversions.

I am told that the likelihood of a Muslim praying to receive Jesus on a public street is almost none. Muslim converts often face intense and violent opposition. What normally occurs is for someone to receive literature, have a conversation, and then months or even years may pass before Holy Spirit caps it off with a conversion. How thrilling to know that this summer seemed to have an unusual anointing on it!

Here is western North Carolina, there are few Muslims. I can say with a great deal of confidence that I have never seen anyone in Sylva wearing a hijab (headscarf) and most definitely not a burqa. But many of you may have a different culture near you.

One story I heard from someone from Statesville involved a Muslim woman who had lived in Iredell County for 3 years or so. One of the participants in the summer outreach (I will call her Helen) had often seen this woman in a store or two over the years, but had never spoken to her. After going to London, she became convicted that there in her own town was a woman who appeared to be Arabic, but Helen had never even bothered to speak to the lady, not even to say hello. “The next time I her,” thought Helen, “I am going to at least say hello.”

Well, Helen did just that, and learned that this Arabic woman had never had anyone begin a conversation with her. About the only “local” people who ever spoke with her were people who “had” to, like cashiers, and bank tellers. Helen has begun a relationship with this lady and spend time with each other on a regular basis. Who knows where this will lead?

I could go on and on about Arabic people receiving materials from outreach participants, taking them home with them, hiding them unopened for up to 3 years, and then secretly getting them and the power of the written Word engages them, resulting in a new believer.

Although I personally did not pray with anyone, I am confident that the items I passed out are powerful seed, and the people that I shared the gospel with are fertile ground.

As I said earlier, in 1991 I went to Lvov, Ukraine for 3 days of ministry. After the government assigned chaperone failed to show up, our team headed for the public park. In the center of Lvov (Lviv) there is a large park with benches, picnic tables and grassy areas – just like any similar park in America. We were loaded with Russian and Ukrainian Bibles, and tracts.

Our small group of 4 “commandeered” a table and a couple of benches and spread out our things. On the second day, another of our group, who had gone into the local university, showed up with several English speaking Ukrainians who were delighted to show us around town, but more importantly, to translate for us as we preached and shared. What a time we had in that park with folks who eagerly listened to us, and took every piece of literature we had. In particular, we had special moments with the 4 young college students who cut class to spend their days with us.

2011. 20 years have passed from the May in Ukraine and Poland. Our phone rings (yes, we were one of the last to abandon a landline). “Is this Phillip?” a voice asks in a thick accent. I am thinking – like you are now – that it is a telemarketer. “Yes,” I say cautiously. “This is Igor. Igor from Lvov. Do you remember me?” And before I could say that – uh – well – HE said, “I was one of the students who was with you in the park and escorted you around the city. I am Christian now.”

And sure enough,  he was one of “our” students”. He went on to say that translating for me, and the words that I was saying, and the Bible that we had given him, and the genuineness and appreciation we had shown them — all had worked to bring him to an understanding of the Gospel, and a NEW life. Igor was a pastor now, was married, and was living near Ternopil. He was the host of a weekly radio broadcast, and was affiliated with a group of pastors with headquarters in Baltimore. And he went on to say that Angelina, another of the students, was also a believer.

It is hard to describe the joy I knew upon hearing this. It goes without saying that we never know what impact our words and deeds can have.

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to the one an aroma of from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life…” (1 Cor. 2. 14-16)     

Well, that’s enough for now. Merry Christmas, ya’ll.

Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (Part 2)

“I’m just a soul whose intentions are good. Hold on, please don’t let me be misunderstood.”

And now I must tread lightly, but tread I must.

In part 1, I attempted to relate my position and opinion about corporate worship. I hope that I did not offend anyone by sharing what I believe is the true Biblical pattern of corporate worship. If any of us are offended by Bible truth, then we have problems beyond what I am sharing. Again, these are MY beliefs.

Now I move into sharing these words that I have often contemplated, particularly in recent months, but felt inadequate to express. Today I think the time has come. Again, please don’t let me be misunderstood.

I have been thinking about intimacy with my Savior. Now I now as well (I think) as anyone that Jesus Christ abides within me. I know Him as Savior, and Lord. I try (and my Father knows how often and to what great extent) to live in His abiding presence each moment of each day. As I have previously shared, I try and live before an AUDIENCE OF ONE. If we believe at all in a personal Christ, then we believe that we are continuously in His presence.

Like most of you, I interact with my Father daily. I am alone with Him. I share time in His presence with others. Father God has “spoken” to me on numerous occasions.

I am thinking of the most intimate moments I have had with my Lord. These are the times when I “felt” His presence. When an awareness of His presence enraptured me. Times when I knew that He was restoring my soul, when He was ministering to me, and I was ministering to Him.

I’ve never kept an account of these “special” moments. But it seems to me that the majority of these experiences occurred in times of corporate worship. Some of these times were in large groups of 2 or 3 thousand. But more often they have been in small groups of 10 or 12.

We know that the Bible tells us to “enter into His gates with thanksgiving” and also to “enter into His courts with praise.”

Why do we sing at all? Is it not to express our love for our Lord? Is it not to praise Him?He is indeed worthy of our praises.

Many of us are familiar with the Old Testament tabernacle. There is the outer court, the inner court and the Holy of Holies. On the day of His crucifixion, at the moment of death, the veil of the Holy of Holies was torn from top to bottom. We believe that this signifies that access to the Holy Place is now available to everyone who believes.

Only the high priest had access to that place at one time. Once a year he went in and stood in the very presence of God. Now, we know we can enter boldly because of the grace and mercy of Jesus. He has made a way.

I am convinced that praise plays a vital role in experiencing the presence of Jesus. But sadly, in many of our congregations, we seldom get past the outer court.

I was speaking with a brother the other day who told me of assembling recently with a fellowship in town. He noticed a “count-down” clock at the rear, in the “control booth”. When he asked about it, he was told that everything must follow a tight schedule. There was no “bulletin” to follow, but sure enough, everything that occurred that morning was efficiently timed. He was told that it was a “seeker friendly” church.

I guess the “microwave” approach is sufficient in some groups.

Well, and again, please don’t let me be misunderstood, it may be “seeker friendly” but it seems to me that it is not very “Holy Spirit” friendly.

We seem to be content in this day to sing 2, 3 or 4 songs and think we have encountered the Lord. Our meetings must fit neatly into a time frame. We have to shoehorn all the things we have planned in. WE BOX HOLY SPIRIT IN. WE MAKE HIM CONFORM TO OUR SUNDAY MORNING PLAN. WE LIMIT HIM!

Please, if you are ministered to and sincerely know that you have worshiped the Lord in format you are accustomed to, then do not let me discourage you.

I want to go past the outer court. I want to enter the Holy of Holies. And for that to happen, I submit that our “worship services” need to change. Maybe it needs to change just for me! Maybe I am the problem. But in talking with others, I am quite sure that I am not entirely the problem.

To “come into the Holy of Holies” we must worship. Our songs go from focus on ourselves to focus on Him. We change from singing about Him to singing to Him. We focus on Jesus. We lose ourselves on and in Him as we invest the time worshiping Him. We linger there.

These are the moments I have experienced the shekinah – the glory of His Divine Presence. We wait on Him. We wait on Him to speak, always to us personally, perhaps to us corporately. We behold the beauty of the Lord. We are refreshed. Is it too much to think that this intimate encounter of His glory can be experienced on a regular basis, as God Himself would allow?

Maybe our failure to linger in the presence of our Lord is one reason there seems to be a decrease in signs and wonders. Where the Spirit is, there is liberty. And where the Spirit is free to direct the meeting, and we flow in the Spirit, we WILL see amazing things.

I fully realize that I cannot point to chapter and verse to justify my point of view here. But I would also point out that there is no specific teaching in the New Testament about the Trinity. When you put many verses together, we get the picture and understanding of the Trinity. That seems like proof enough. I share from my experience.

I realize that there are groups who practice this regularly. I’d love to hear from you about these fellowships, and about your experiences.

“Come into the Holy of Holies

Enter by the blood of the Lamb

Come into His presence with singing

Worship at the throne of God

Lifting holy hands to the King of Kings

Worship Jesus”

And that is enough for now.

Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (Part 1 – Maybe)

I’ve been putting this one off for a very long time. But since I’m out of other ideas, this is my last resort (for now).

This is about worship. It is about the presence of God among us. It is an attempt to discover – and experience – the intimate and present presence of God among us.  It is a look at what the New Testament pattern for corporate meetings SEEMS to be – and how far we have strayed from it — at least how so many of us have strayed from it in these days.

This is about my experience. It can only be about my experience. I do not speak for anyone else. And I do not want to be misunderstood.

Nina Simone, and later The Animals, had huge hits with this song, written by Bennie Benjamin, Gloria Caldwell and Sol Marcus. The lines I want to focus on are these: I’M JUST A SOUL WHOSE INTENTIONS ARE GOOD. OH LORD, PLEASE DON’T LET ME BE MISUNDERSTOOD.

I am not questioning the worship of any brother or sister. If you are convinced that what you do – week by week and day by day is meaningful to you, then by all means continue. Many among us find intimate worship with God in a variety of ways. There is high liturgical. There is pomp and circumstance. There are King James only brethren. There are majestic cathedrals that many say draw them into the Lord. There are people who sway and bob. There are people who are convinced that the “gifts” of the Spirit ended with the era of the apostles.

Name a way to experience the presence of Jesus and there is someone, somewhere who finds it meaningful. So to all I say, please do not misunderstand me. My intentions are good.

I was born again on September 29, 1973. I was baptized in the Holy Spirit in February, 1974. I have been in thousands of different kinds of meetings. Dozens of different congregations. Numerous conventions and conferences with thousands in attendance. I have not “seen it all”. But I have seen quite a bit.

For those of us who have roots in the “charismatic renewal” of the 1970’s, a great many of us look back at those days as great times. Not to say that times since have not been great, but every one I speak with who walked through those days remember a certain “power” and “anointing” that seemed so regular to us. In the circles I flow in today, these “special” moments seem so few and far between.

You may say that there is something wrong with me. Maybe so. You may say that I need to move and fellowship with you because you regularly experience the intimate presence of God in corporate worship. Maybe so. If you are, then please let me know, I’d love to come and at least visit with you.

But it seems to me that by and large the “church” has strayed from the Biblical pattern laid out by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:26. Paul has been discussing tongues and prophecy and meeting together. In verse 26, we find this:

“What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.” 

This is as close to a NT pattern for corporate assembly (worship) as there is. So the question is begged, does Paul intend for this to be THE pattern for corporate meetings? Is this just the way the Corinthians were operating? Is this a pattern for us?

I need not go into the “church service” that I grew up in in the Methodist Church. Most of you know how that worked. Most denominational churches did pretty much the same thing.

When I was apprehended by Jesus in 1973 and began to attend student meetings at WCU, how refreshing it was to be among a group of believers who just gathered together to sing and share – with no set agenda. There was no “paid” staff – no “hired” leadership. Yes, there was leadership. There were some older folks who had preceded me in the faith. But they were there to “seek the Lord” just like all of us were.

Those meetings were characterized by just the things Paul expressed. It was exciting to me. And maybe that is my problem. As many of us can testify, most of us could stand a little “create in me a clean heart o Lord, and renew a right spirit within me, restore unto me the joy of salvation”.

I realize that I am now no longer 23 years old. I have been walking in Christ for nearly 45 years. Times are different. I am (yes, I am) way more mature now than I was then (thank God for His work in me).

But is it too much to expect that the same Spirit, the same Lord, the same living presence of God should not be the experience of corporate worship?

Today we have thousand dollar sound systems. We have hired hand “worship leaders”. We STILL follow a format even though we have no bulletin! Sunday after Sunday – with few exceptions – there seems to be little room for  “when you assemble, EACH ONE has …!

Again, please don’t let me be misunderstood!    I am sharing as an “observer” of the Body of Christ at large. I am NOT singling out any specific location or group.

We think that when we have sung 2 songs or maybe 3 we have found the presence of God. And maybe some have. But when is the last time we have LINGERED there, listening to His voice, awaiting His direction, enjoying His presence?

No – we have announcements, a video, a time of “shaking hands with your neighbors”.

Are we afraid of the unknown?  Are we afraid to let go and “let God”? Are we afraid that something will happen to disrupt our “non-bulletin plans”, to interfere with the stated “end-time” because we have to get out of the way for the next service – which is usually labeled the “traditional service”?

Paul says “EACH ONE”. IT seems to me that he meant that. Each one us has something to bring, something to add. Maybe today I will just be quiet the entire time. Maybe today I will sit there and enjoy His presence and see if He gives me something. We follow the instructions given in the verses that follow verse 26.

“If anyone speaks in a tongue, 2 or 3 at most. Take turns.  Let the prophets speak. Let others pass judgement. If revelation is given to another who is seated, let the first become quiet. It is for all to learn and be exhorted. And our God is a God of PEACE. (27-33)

Now I do not mind someone preaching. I sometimes do it myself! There is a place for a “designated” preacher or teacher. I will say however, that when I have been asked to prepare a message and I diligently do so and walk into the meeting house fully prepared, I am often asked “are you preaching today?” I never say “Yes, I am.” I always say, “I am prepared, and if God allows me to, I will.” I do not take anything for granted.

Now that may seem like a little thing to you. But to me, I am trying to follow Paul’s words. “When you assemble…” Maybe, just maybe the direction of the meeting will take a turn away from the “plans”.

There is a place for a prayer meeting. There is a place for a Bible study. There is a place for men’s and women’s meetings. There is a place for children’s meetings. God bless them every one.

But it seems to me that corporate worship – the corporate assembly is the time to encounter the living Lord and allow Him, by the power and guidance of His Spirit, to orchestrate and bring us – each one – into His divine, life-changing presence.

Who knows, maybe – just maybe – we might see and experience the mighty power of the Lord in a renewed and life-changing way.

That is what I am longing for – just His presence. I want to break though into the Holy of Holies and linger there – with you.

If it seems that I have fallen into criticism, I apologize. How is one critical of something without being critical of something? Again, I’m just a soul whose intentions are good.

And I continue to “look for a city.”

Well, that is enough for now. And now that I have said all this, I am certain that there will be a part 2. And that part 2 will focus on singing (what we have come to call Praise and worship) and the role it plays, or should play, in corporate worship.

UNSUNG HEROES

It is my increasing belief that we live in an increasingly self-centered world. The rise of Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms has fueled a society that makes a “star” out of the common person. Personally, I have never taken a “selfie.” And, assuredly, I never will. I do not post my every movement on Facebook. No one is going to ask me to sit for an oil-painting.

There are statues and monuments all around us. Many of these, I suppose, are well-deserved. I, along with millions of others, have visited places like the Lincoln Memorial, Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia and the busts inside the U. S. Capitol. I admire the workmanship of the sculptor, and reflect on the life of the honoree. I have enjoyed, and will continue to enjoy seeing these great monuments.

Many of these statues represent, perhaps, our heroes. American heroes, world heroes, personal heroes. Heroes do heroic exploits. You might say that they were ordinary people who did extra-ordinary things.

In 2009, the greatest bluegrass band in all the land, Balsam Range, recorded a song entitled “Somewhere in Between”. The gist of the song is that most of us “fall” or live our lives, “in between”. We’re neither rich nor poor, we’re not famous or infamous. We don’t set the pace, or blindly follow. We’re just common, steady, ordinary, folks who mind their own business, work hard, and go home at night and get a good night’s sleep.

You might say that the world is chock full of UNSUNG HEROES.

In Exodus 17. Amalek, the nation of Esau’s grandson, has troubled Israel enough. It is time to act. Moses tells Joshua, “Choose men for us, and go out and fight Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.”  

As Joshua did as he was instructed, Moses, along with Aaron and Hur go up to the top of the hill. Aaron is the brother of Moses. Details about Hur, however, cannot be found.

Verses 11-13 “So it came about that when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set. So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.”

Anyone vaguely familiar with the Old Testament knows of Moses. Moses is the kind of man they build statues of. Charlton Heston portrayed Moses rather well in the movie The Ten Commandments. 

But no one makes a movie featuring Aaron. And Hur? No chance. But without Aaron and Hur that day, I would argue, Israel is defeated and perhaps the whole tide of history is changed.

Moses is lifting the staff with hands outstretched towards the heavens. This staff is the same one God had told Moses to strike a rock with, which then produced water.  It is the staff that Moses used in the presence of Pharoah, a visible object that accompanied miracle after miracle. There was no magic in the staff. The staff did not procure or deliver miracles. It represents the power and authority of Almighty God Himself.   

Try holding an object in the air for an extended length of time. Moses simply could not hold the staff raised to the sky for hour after hour in his own strength. 

In both the movie and book Unbroken, Louis Zamperini was forced to hold a heavy wooden beam over his hand for 37 minutes. He describes his ability to do this without dropping it as “something inside of me, I don’t know what it was.”

When Moses dropped his hands, Israel was forced back, and Amalek began to prevail. He needed help, so Aaron and Hur, who had climbed the mountain perhaps just for this moment, stood on either side and held Moses’  hands and the staff, in the air, UNTIL THE SUN SET.

Exodus continues with the experiences of Moses and Aaron. Moses, perhaps most importantly, engages the presence of God and returns with the Ten Commandments. Aaron goes on the become the first High Priest of Israel.

But Hur? Hur fades into oblivion. There is only speculation about his life thenceforward. This was, it seems, his “one shining moment,” his “fifteen minutes” of fame.  Hur is truly an unsung hero.

But God our Father knows him. He knew him then. He knows him now.

There are at least three lessons for us here.

The first one is the posture of Moses (and of Aaron and Hur) before the Father. Moses has his hands lifted up. It is the posture of surrender. An acknowledgement of the presence of a superior who has authority, or power over you. As Moses (and Israel) “surrendered” to God, God supplied victory. As we “lift our hands” in surrender to our Father, I believe that we are also acknowledging our helplessness and His strength to overcome our enemies as well, and to give us victory in our daily lives.

Secondly, as Moses, Aaron and Hur stand together, they stand in unity. They are linked together in one purpose. Ecclesiastes 4:12 tells us “a cord of three strands is not easily broken.”  The Book of Acts is explicit in recording how powerful the disciples and the early church were as they were unified.

Psalm 133 describes the results of unity as being good and pleasant. It flows downward. I need not tell you what a blessing it is to experience unity in any relationship: marriage, friendships, co-workers. Unity brings victory.

Lastly, Aaron, Hur and Moses remained in their positions “until the sun set.” In other words, as long as it took. They saw it through until it was accomplished. Can we be this committed? Can we endure as long as it is necessary? They did not take a “break.” Can we finish the race and finish it strong?

I believe there are many unsung heroes among us. There are many fellow servants of our mighty King that never beat their own drum. They do not take selfies of their achievements. They do not post their accomplishments on Facebook. They do not write a daily autobiography. They seek neither fame nor attention.

They do not need to.

Quietly, faithfully, they walk daily with their Lord.  “And your Father who sees you in secret will repay you.” (Matthew 6.4) (In fact Matthew 6.1-18 should be required reading for this blog!)

Well, that is enough, for now.

 

Well, I’ll be Trumped!

Philippians 3.20-21  “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”  

Philippians 2.9-11 “Therefore God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.”

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.” 

It has been nearly a year since Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. It has been a tumultuous year indeed. It seems that the media has declared “war” on this President and there seems to be no end in sight. Maybe he deserves it, maybe not. But it seems unrelenting. In the age we live in, every one who desires to do so can create a blog, or a webcast, or a video. Fake news is created and believed just as easily as real news. Who can know the real truth?

All of us can.

As a Christian, it is incumbent on me to live Biblically. Psalm 19.14 expresses so beautifully the heart of the matter as it pertains to my heart. “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing (acceptable) to you, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Can it be expressed any clearer than this?

Now I know that I often fail. Many times my words are inappropriate and hurtful. Many times my thoughts are careless and evil. But my goal, my desire, is to be perfect in my speech and thought-life. Why? Because the Holy God has come to dwell within me and now I am a member of His Holy Nation (see 1 Peter above).

I am called to live in holiness, and that includes thinking and speaking.

Being a “Bible-believing” Christian, it is also incumbent on me to “agree with God”. To my way of thinking, I do not have the right to pick and choose which parts of the Word I like and those I do not. Either it is inspired or it isn’t. And if it is, then I must embrace all of it.  When God says that my citizenship is in heaven, that means NOW. When God says that I have been transformed from the kingdom of darkness into His kingdom of Light, then I must believe it.

And when God says that He ordains governments and rulers, then I must believe it. Remember what Jesus said to Pilate? “You would have no authority over Me unless it had been given to you from above.” (John 19.11)  And Paul writes in Romans 13.1 “For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”    

So Donald Trump is the President of the country where God has placed me and graciously allowed me to live as long as I wear this earth-suit. Ultimately, it does not matter whether I voted for him or not. I have not always voted for the person who won, whether it be county commissioner or dogcatcher.

What does matter is this: Donald Trump (and the ruler of Korea, and Russia, and the governor of North Carolina) is in this position because God has established that it be so.

But my Lord Jesus is seated “far above ALL rule and ALL authority, and ALL power and ALL dominion, and EVERY NAME THAT IS NAMED, not only in this age, but also in the one to come! (Ephesians 1.21)

I care about our country. I care above the tax laws. I care about illegal immigrants. I care about terrorism. I care about war. I care enough to pray for good government. I care enough to pray for wisdom to be bestowed on our leaders.

But Jesus is my King. I belong to Him. I am but a “wayfaring stranger.” My allegiance is to my Father. Therefore I will not criticize, grumble, or complain (remember — the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart–).

Finally, I am challenged by Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 10, 1-12. Here he is showing the Corinthians that the experiences of the Jews are to be an example for their own behavior.  Again, let me state, this is inspired Scripture, and if this is written for the Corinthians, then it is written for me.

First he says that the Jews had several experiences in common. They ALL “were under the cloud,” ALL passed through the sea,” All were baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea,” All ate the same spiritual food,” ALL drank the same spiritual drink (Christ).

Then we have verse 5 – “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.”

And verse 6 – “Now these happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things as they also craved.”

And then Paul lists 4 specific sins committed by the Jews as they came out of bondage into the Promised Land.

  1.   do not be idolaters  – v. 7
  2.    nor let us act immorally  – v. 8  (note – 23,000 fell in 1 day!)
  3.    nor let us try the Lord – v. 9        (destroyed by serpents)
  4.    nor grumble  –   v. 10   (destroyed by the destroyer)

These things were written for our instruction (v. 11).

Let it be said that (by the absolute mercy and grace of God) I think I do a pretty good job of not committing the first 3. But number 4?

I resolve that I will pray for and bless the President of the United States, and all those set in authority over me. I resolve that I will not grumble.

And I further resolve that I will not forget that not only does Jesus trump Trump, Jesus trumps them all! No matter what happens, I will not be shaken, I will not be moved!

And that is enough said, for now.

PLAYING HURT

Another summer has come and gone (well, it is nearly September 21).  Several holidays loom before us. July 4 is now history. Some of us actually took time away to “do” a vacation. Some of us could not.

I want to share about vacations. Vacations are a time to get away from the routine. Put “our feet up”. For many of us, these are “paid” vacations. Vacations we have earned.  And while we are away, as they say in England, on holiday, someone else can cover for us.

Well, I can take days off from work. But there are certain spheres of my life that I cannot take a vacation from. There has never been a day in the nearly 42 days of marriage to Gayle that I have not been her husband. I cannot take a day off from that. I’m not saying that there have not been days that I might have wished I could! In fact, I thought I heard Gayle, in her sleep the other night, mumbling something about “Lord, I wish I was a single girl again.” But I haven’t, she hasn’t, and we won’t.

We have 4 children – can’t take a day off from being a parent.

How about taking a day off from being a Christian? Ah yes. This attitude of “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” seems to have pervaded our culture. Really? So you left God at home for a few days? You said goodbye to Jesus and instructed Him to feed the dogs on your way out. And He is oblivious to what you did and where you went?

And I thought He was omnipotent, omniscient,  and omnipresent? Shame on me!

These words are from Colossians 1.16-17: For in Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

I am here to tell you that I am glad that Jesus has never taken a day off! ALL THINGS HOLD TOGETHER IN HIM. What an incredible statement!

If Jesus blinked – if Jesus grew weary – if He decided to take a WELL-DESERVED day off – what would happen to the world? (And I will not yield to the temptation to discuss the implications of the fact that in Him are created rulers and authorities)

He holds all things together. Without Him daily – second by second – year after year – century after century – BINDING and MAINTAINING and CARING – we would cease to exist.

One of the greatest baseball players in history was Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees. In his 17 year career, from 1923-1939, he was a 9-time All-Star, hit 493 home runs, won the Triple Crown in 1934, was twice the AL MVP and won 6 World Series championships.

But the greatest feat that Lou Gehrig is remembered for is playing in a 2130 consecutive games, a record that stood for 56 years until Cal Ripken Jr. broke it in 1995.

Thus the nickname, The Iron Horse.

At the end of his career, after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), doctors x-rayed his body. They discovered that he had broken every one of his fingers (some twice). Twice he had been knocked unconscious by pitches and played the next day. He played through sickness, pain, and bad weather.

When asked by a writer why  he kept playing, game after game, Lou Gehrig replied. “My team needed me.” “My team needed me!”

To be able to play hurt takes faithfulness, vision, determination, commitment, and sacrifice. It requires putting the needs of others above oneself.

My father, placing the needs of the family high, climbed telephone poles for nearly 35 years as a cable splicer. During that time, he missed work for sickness only 2 days. Reuben Woody worked hurt. He crippled his knees, abused his back, wrecked his fingers, but he kept meeting his family’s needs.

Jesus Christ knew how to play hurt. Isaiah 53 tells us that He was despised and forsaken of men. He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, like one from whom men hide their faces. He was smitten, afflicted, and pierced through for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. He was scourged for our healing. The sin of us all – the multiplied billions of people who have ever lived – was placed on Him. He was led to slaughter and crucified like a common robber.

Our tendency is to think that Jesus had such clarity and resolve for His mission that He was immune to all the criticism, rejection and brutality. The Bible describes the birth of Christ as if it were all sterile and clean. But think about it. A barn. A feeding trough. In among the cows and horses. The dirt, the flies, the dung. There was the King of Kings born.

Throughout His life the Suffering Servant knew personally what he meant when He said “If the world hates you keep in mind that it hated Me first.” (John 15.18)

The stigma of an apparent illegitimate birth. The venom of religious leaders. The rejection from the very people He came to save. The abandonment and betrayal by his closest disciples. JESUS PLAYED HURT! For the glory set before Him, He endured the cross, despising its shame.

Perhaps the most remarkable words of Jesus flowed from His lips while in His greatest agony, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

From the manger to the cross, Jesus played hurt.

And so should we.

1 Peter 4.19 tells us “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to the faithful Creator and continue to do good.” 

And again in Galatians 6.9, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.”

And again in Hebrews 12.2-3, “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, Who, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him Who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary, and lose heart.”  And, I might add, “so that you may not quit playing!”

Jesus has never taken a day, nay, even a second off, and neither should we.

They say it rains on the just and the unjust. Songwriter Joe South put it this way: “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden.”

In his song “Give Them All to Jesus,” Phil Johnson wrote this verse: “He never said you’d only see sunshine. He never said there’d be no rain. He only promised a heart full of singing about the very thinks that once brought pain.”

Gerald Crabb penned it this way: “He never promised that the cross would not get heavy and the hill would not be hard to climb. He never offered a victory without fighting, but He said help would always come in time. So remember when you’re standing in the valley of decision and the adversary says “Give in,” just hold on, our Lord will show up, and He will take you through the fire again.”

And finally we have this marvelous song by Scott Wesley Brown.

“There is no problem too big God cannot solve it. There is no mountain too tall He cannot move it. There is no storm too dark God cannot calm it. There is no sorrow too deep He cannot soothe it. If He carried the weight of the world upon His shoulders, I know my brother that He will carry you. If He carried the weight of the world upon His shoulders, I know my sister that He will carry you.”

Are you in a storm? Does it seem like this mountain is one you have to climb? Is the adversary tempting you to give in? Does the pain seem too great to keep going?

Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t heal. Keep playing. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Play for your team. Your family needs you. The Body of Christ needs you.

Jesus never quit. He never gave up. He played hurt. And by the mighty grace of God, neither will we.

And that is enough said – for now.

 

 

I

 

Build a Throne and He Will Come

In 1989 the movie “Field of Dreams” was released, based on a novel by W.P. Kinsella entitled Shoeless Joe. Joe Jackson was one of the greatest baseball players of his era who was banned for allegedly taking a bribe to throw the 1919 World Series.

Kevin Costner plays Ray Kinsella, who lives with his wife and daughter on a large corn farm in Iowa.

One day Ray is admiring his corn crop when he hears a voice that says “build it and he will come.” He shakes it off, thinking he is hearing things. Of course he does not tell his wife which would only verify what she has thought all along – he is crazy!

But again and again, he hears the voice “build it and he will come.” But who?

By now he must convince his wife and after some heated “discussions” he convinces her that he must bulldoze several acres of prime land and build a baseball diamond – complete with bleachers and lights.

When the neighbors catch wind of this scheme, they talk behind his back and roll their eyes when they see him. The man has gone mad!

But Ray perseveres, convinced that if he can complete the field, Shoeless Joe, his hero, will indeed come. His neighbors, his friends, his family are all convinced that a season in the loony bin would do him some good.

This reminds me of Noah. We know from Genesis 5&6 that it was 100 years between the day Noah heard God command him to build the ark and the day it began to rain for 40 days. 100 years between the promise and the fulfillment! Countless numbers of scoffers, finger-pointers and doubters. But Noah remained faithful to what he knew.

So Ray completes his stadium and sits and waits. And sits and waits. By now the bank creditors are pooling around him. His marriage is unsteady. He grows discouraged. Maybe I am crazy, he thinks!

Then – one day – out of the cornfield appear a group of ballplayers, headed by Joe Jackson. But only Ray can see and hear them, and he counts only 8. The catcher is missing. Ray asks, “Where is the catcher?” Joe points to the cornfield. Ray is confused.

The players leave. And then Ray remembers his father. Ray’s dad had died when Ray was 14. They had not been close. In fact, there had often been angry words. But a deep, almost forgotten memory emerges that his dad had been, for a short time, a minor league baseball player. Ray realizes that it was NOT Shoeless Joe who must come, it was his father!

A frantic cross-country journey ensues to verify this memory. Finally Ray returns home, and one day, sure enough, the players return. This there is a catcher with them – Ray’s dad.

Sounds corny – right!

I was raised in a little Methodist Church in Moravian Falls, NC and I don’t know how I got this stupid idea, but there was this little altar area where the pastor preached from. Around this area was a wooden railing and a little raised area where you would kneel for communion. There was a big painting of Jesus in Gethsemane hanging on the wall behind this area.

Somehow in my little brain I got the notion that God lived behind this railing. I was NOT ABOUT TO go behind that railing. I did not know what might happen to me, but it was best if I never found out!

Well, when I was 7 or 8 they had a Christmas play and I was to be a shepherd. All this was to take place – you guessed it – behind the railing. I still remember being scared stiff the first time I stepped up there. Obviously, I lived through it!

When the police pull in behind you and follow you for a while, or you see the blue light behind you, do you get a bit queasy? Do you think God is like a big fly swatter just waiting to smash you the instant you make a mistake? Is he a strong-armed drill sergeant?

The kindergarten teacher told her class that it was time for art. “Today you can draw anything you want,” she told them. She walked around and came to one little girl who was working feverishly. “Rachel, what are you  drawing?”

“I am drawing a picture of God!” Rachel replied.

“But no one knows what God looks like,” said the teacher.

“They will in a minute,” said Rachel.

What image of God would you draw if you held the crayon?

All of us – all of us – are on a lifetime search for our Father. Some describe it as a piece of your heart that is missing. I believe that there is a built-in hunger – a longing in every human heart for the companionship – the security – the love – the presence of Father.

And I further believe that a right relationship with God the Father is worth ALL THE CORN IN IOWA. It is worth all the insults, all the snide remarks. It is worth being called “FOOL” because – if you build it, He will come. Build Jesus a throne, and He will come.

In 1 Samuel 16 we see King Saul haunted by an evil spirit. Verse 14 tells us that it terrorized him. The solution comes in verse 16: “Now command your servants to seek a man who is a skillful player on the harp and it shall come about that when the evil spirit is on you, then he shall play the harp and you will be well.”

So they located David and as David played, Saul was refreshed and the evil spirit departed.

What caused the evil spirit to depart? Praise and worship. What made the devil put his fingers in his ears and disappear? Praise and worship.

Build a throne and He will come. And when He comes, evil must disappear, because Light dispels darkness.

Psalm 45.6 and Hebrews 1.8 tells us that God inhabits a throne that will last forever.

Psalm 89.14 tells us that it is a throne whose foundations are righteousness and justice – from which issue truth and lovingkindness.

Hebrews 4.16 says “we should therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and grace in time of need.” 

Because of Jesus Christ, not only do we have access to this mighty throne, we know that He has placed us in Christ at His very own right hand, where we sit with Him! (Colossians, Revelation 21.1-5 and Revelation 22.1-5)

When we build a throne of worship, whether alone or in the company of other believers, Jesus delights to inhabit it. Remember Matthew 18.20: “For wherever 2 or 3 of you are gathered in My Name, I am in the midst of you.”  

And where Jesus is, evil must depart. HE INHABITS THE PRAISES OF HIS PEOPLE!

When I worship, I am building my King a throne. And as I worship Him, the “great exchange” occurs. He gives me beauty for ashes. The oil of joy for mourning. The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. I am a tree of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified. (Isaiah 61.3)

Where He is – is holy.

If we could only lay hold of this truth and never let it go. Build a throne of worship, and Jesus will come. And when He comes, restoration and reconciliation occur. When Ray finally saw his father on the “field of dreams”, the all but forgotten desire of his heart was healed – to be one with his father.

And so with us. No matter what image you may have had of God, when you praise Him and He is enthroned on your praises, you will know Him as He is – a loving, open-handed Father who more than anything wants to fellowship with you – eternally.

Lord Jesus, we enthrone You

We proclaim You our King

Standing here in the midst of us

We lift you up with our praise

And as we worship build Your throne

And as we worship build Your throne

And as we worship build Your throne

Come Lord Jesus, and take Your place!

And that is enough  – for now.

 

 

REFLECTIONS FROM ISRAEL

It seems natural that a person should reflect at length about a visit to Israel. After all, it is called THE HOLY LAND for a reason. Out of the million or more steps I took in Israel, surely at least some of them were in the actual footsteps of Jesus! Maybe the very spot on the Sea of Galilee was where He walked on water! But I have walked or stood where other historic figures have walked or stood (as I am certain many or most of you also have).

A visit to Israel, at least for a Christian, ought to be in a category that stands alone. Understanding the New Testament will never be the same – it has gone to a new level.

There are areas of Israel that are absolutely beautiful. Cultivated, generous farmland covers large areas in the north, especially the valley of Megiddo. But the majority of Israel is desert. If I say “Israel Rocks” you might understand what I mean.

While there, I saw and/or encountered people from at least 23 different countries that I could identify. Something brings them there. Or should I say, Someone. It isn’t really the beauty of the land, because I would not consider Israel a beautiful county.

People come to worship, honor and venerate Jesus Christ, Mary, and the early Biblical figures (such as the apostle Peter).

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 worshippers. God is spirit; and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

When I was a young boy, I admired my parents. I thought they could do no wrong. If someone said something negative about them, I stood up for them. Maybe some you engaged in the “My dad can do …… – well so what, MY dad can do ……” kind of bragging that kids sometimes do.

By golly, I was a democrat, and I was a Methodist! That’s what Woodys were! And if my dad had been loyal to – say Chevys – it would have not have stopped there!

But then I began to age a little and the wires in my brain began to connect in different ways and I began to see that my parents were not perfect. In fact, they had major flaws, particularly my dad. I learned what a democrat was. I learned what a Methodist was.

When my dad realized that I was pulling for Texas Western against Kentucky in the 1966 NCAA basketball championship game, he ordered me out of the house. (5 African-American starters for TW against the mighty blue bloods of UK) In 1972, I told him I was voting for Shirley Chisholm in the presidential primary. Once again, he forced me to leave his house (He was a George “by God” Wallace supporter). Forcing a 20 year old out!

I never became a democrat, nor a Methodist, although I did give both a try for a while.

I have been a Christian for nearly 44 years. I have fellowshipped with many different kinds of people, in many different kinds of groups, and in many different kinds of ways. And along the way I have come to some conclusions about worship.

I hope to share these in depth in a future blog, but for now I want to share about some things I saw in Israel.

Jesus said some very interesting things in these 2 short verses. First, it is obvious that if the “hour is coming and now is” then that “hour” has continued and will continue until the day of His return. It has been over 2000 years of being in the “now is”.

Secondly, Jesus says “true” worshippers will worship in a certain way. That way is in “spirit and truth.” It seems obvious to me that to worship in any other way is a false worship. He might have said, “false worshippers will not worship in spirit and truth.”

Thirdly, Jesus SEEKS those who would be true worshippers. How exciting!

4th, Jesus says that since God is Spirit, he MUST be worshipped in spirit and truth.

In Israel, one finds many locations that make certain claims about the events of the Bible. Huge glorious structures have been built and maintained for hundreds of years over some of these sites. I do not have the time to go into each one in detail, but I do want to focus on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem.

This “holy” site purports to be the actual site of Golgotha and the tomb of Jesus. This claim dates back to the 4th century. There is also a slab of stone called the “Stone of Anointing” where Jesus was supposedly laid while being wrapped before being laid in the tomb.

Nearby is an alternate site that “suggests’ that the crucifixion and burial of Jesus happened there. It is called the Garden of the Tomb, and since 1894 has been a place of pilgrimage as well.

While in these 2 places, I observed many different forms of worship and veneration from folks from the aforementioned countries and backgrounds.

Some were rubbing sheets and or cloths on the “Stone of Anointing,” kissing it and weeping on it. (Did I mention that this stone is made of Italian marble and has only been in this location since 1810?)  Many more kissed the spot of the rock where the cross is said to have been.

There were priests of some European group who were receiving kisses on their hands from followers, after which he would give them money.

Others were touching every painting in the area and making either the sign of the cross or a kind of “C” motion with their handkerchief.

In the Garden of the Tomb area, groups were gathered for worship. Many, like our group, celebrated communion together. There was much singing in various languages.

The point is this. There are millions of believers across this world. “Red and Yellow, Black, and White, They are precious in His sight.” Only the Father knows the heart of every man, woman, and child.

I believe that there is truth to be apprehended. Jesus Himself said that He was “the Truth.” There is truth expressed in the Bible. There must be something about truth that is meaningful and essential, or Jesus would not have said anything about worship in truth.

And the same can be said about worship in the spirit. One obvious meaning of this is that worshiping in the spirit is completely removed from a specific place or building.

So what does it mean, exactly, to worship in spirit and truth?

I do not doubt the hearts or well-meant intentions of anyone I saw in Israel worshiping Jesus. I was uncomfortable with some of it. I did not understand much of it. I would not do some of the things I saw (which would include. by the way, being “re-baptized” in the Jordan River just for — might I say — sentimental value?).

Paul writes in Romans 14.5 “One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind.” 

And later he says, in verse 10, “Why do you judge your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgement seat of God,” and in verse 12, “Each one of us shall give an account of himself to God.”

Some of the things I have encountered along the way are modes of baptism, modes of communion, modes of worship, and the “correct” translation of the Bible. I could go on and on with the controversies that sometimes rage through the denominations.

It seems that what we have come to is this: “There is a way that seems right to a man.” (Proverbs 14.12)

Each of us must be fully convinced. I must be ready to stand in accountability before my Father. And until I am absolutely convinced that I have all the truth, and I perfectly worship in the spirit, I will not judge anyone’s heart. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty! Thank God!

And that is one thing that was reinforced to me in Israel.

And that is enough said. For now.