NO REGRETS

And 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. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men., knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. Colossians 3.17, 23-24

Today is important because it is the only day like this you will ever have. Today’s game, today’s meeting, today’s conversation. It is a unique creation, and a gift.

John Denver may not have had many things right in his life – I am not in a position to say – but he did get this one right.

“Today while the blossoms still cling to the vine, I’ll taste your strawberries, I’ll drink your sweet wine. A million tomorrows shall all pass away, ere I forget all the joy that is mine, today.”

Today. Yes, today.

This may be a somewhat bold statement, but I assert that the church in general. and each fellowship in particular, is handicapped to some degree. We see signs outside stores that say “Handicapped Parking”. Why? These spaces are reserved for individuals  who in some way do not have “all their parts” working properly.

There is a verse in 1 Peter 2.9 that says, “you are a chosen generation. a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

That would be us. Chosen. Royal. A Race. Holy. Peculiar.

Peculiar here does not mean weird, although I will admit that some of us, and even I at times might have deserved that adjective. Rather, it means “to be one’s own.” We are God’s own. We belong to God. We are His possession.

Peculiar also means particular, meaning pertaining to a single person or thing – something private or special or unique to that person. An example would be my fingerprints, or handwriting style.

With this in mind, look at 1 Corinthians 12.27. “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.”   

Anyone born of God is individually and particularly a member of the Body of Christ. And, each of us is unique, so much so that no one else in the Body can do something exactly as we would, or say it exactly the way we would. Each of us has a calling uniquely our own.

Paul teaches here in 1 Corinthians that everyone has a place and a function. Just as the members and various muscles, joints, ligaments, organs and systems and cells of the human body has a specific and particular – peculiar function, so do we.

Not all are apostles. Not all are prophets. Not all are pastors. But notice, in verse 28 of 1 Corinthians, another “ministry.” Here listed among the more “dramatic” or noticeable ministries are HELPS and ADMINISTRATIONS.

Now, who is in the ministry of helps? How about anyone who helps? The babysitter in the nursery, the sound technician, the chair arranger, the bathroom cleaner, the doughnut “getter.” You may never have the windows of heaven open and hear a voice “thou art a sound technician!” But you may hear the words in your heart, GET INVOLVED!

You want to find your gifting? Well how about start that journey by pitching in. By assisting. By getting your hands dirty and working up a sweat. BE AN AARON OR HUR ASSISTING MOSES. They held his hands up in the air and as long as they did, Israel prevailed.

We need anointed building cleaners. Anointed greeters. I want someone anointed to care for my child. Every job in the Kingdom is important. IF YOU ARE IN THE BODY OF CHRIST YOU ARE SPECIAL, AND EVERY JOB IS SPECIAL. Whether you are called to preach or clean, lead or help, it is all important to God and we are called to DO IT AS UNTO HIM.

We are born with a pre-ordained gifting from Father to minister in the Body. The elders will only give account for their gifting, not anyone else’s. Someday I will give an account for what I did with my gifting(s).

Read Acts 20. 25-27. Paul says, “And now, behold, I know that you all, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will see my face no more. Therefore I testify to you this day, that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.” 

NO REGRETS! Paul, before the Father, and before men, can say that he is confident that he had fulfilled his gifting. He did not give 95%.

Here are some results from a recent Gallup poll concerning the work ethic in America.

1 out of 4 job holders confessed to working at less than full potential

50% said that they don’t put any effort into their work that is above what is required

75% said that they know they could be more effective

60% said they don’t work as hard as they used to

We are handicapped. I am handicapped. And I am handicapping you because I am not completely fulfilling my part. Lord, forgive me!

This is the spirit of the world creeping into the church. Or maybe it crept out of the church into the world.

In Luke 13 we have the “parable of the barren fig tree.”  Here, the vineyard owner (God) goes to the fig tree 3 years in a row and although the tree is alive, healthy and full of beautiful green leaves, it is barren. Alive, but no fruit. Born again! Sins forgiven! Fruitless!

Notice that the owner (God) regularly inspects His tree for fruit. 3 years in a row. Yet, after all this time, when He should expect some fruit, there is none. At last, He is upset, and rightfully so. Everything that should have been done for this tree had been done. The other trees around it are bearing fruit. All had been treated the same. He is ready to cut it down.

God is saying to me -PHIL WOODY, HOW LONG ARE YOU GOING TO DRAG YOUR FEET? HOW LONG ARE YOU GOING TO OCCUPY PRECIOUS SPACE? WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO USE THE GIFTS I GAVE YOU?

But thanks for the vineyard keeper (Jesus). He is the Keeper of the Body. He is Head of His Church. One day He will present the Father with the Bride, and she will be spotless.

Listen to His voice, “Leave it alone, Sir, for one more year. I will dig around it some more. I will fertilize it. One more year, Sir.”

We should all rejoice for mercy. Mercy. The longsuffering of God.

There are times when I know that I’m not working to my potential. Times when I’m doing the bare minimum. Too many minutes and hours of each day when I forget that in reality, I live in the presence of AN AUDIENCE OF ONE.

How easily God could “show up” for inspection and see little if any fruit in my life. And, considering the importance of the hour, plant another tree in my place.

But I hear Jesus say, “Father, give Me some time, give him another chance. Holy Spirit can make something out of this one.”

And it is time for me to rise up and say, NO MORE WOULDA, SHOULDA, COULDA. It is time for me to rise up embrace today. To embrace my place. To embrace who He made me to be. To embrace the gifts and talents He gave me. Not to wish I had something else. To be all God has chosen me to be.

There is a Jewish parable about Moshe, a humble shoemaker, who after dying, finds himself about to meet his maker. He is worried, and begins to utter laments and excuses for his failure to have made more of himself in life.

An angel appears to Moshe with this advice. “When you are in His presence He will not ask why you were not Moses or King David or Elijah; He will ask you why you were not Moshe the shoemaker.”

The point of life is not greatness. The point is to be all you can be, to be faithful to your God-given portion. Your own peculiarity. To be able to say, when it’s all been said and done, I have no regrets. To live – today – knowing that I gave my all to Him Who gave me all.

Well, enough said. For now.

 

Advertisements

TRUTH DECAY

After seeing the front of the latest issue of Smithsonian magazine, I’ve decided to throw my 2 cents in. The feature article displayed on the cover is entitled “You Are Such a Neanderthal”. For those of us who have always heard the term, but are not really familiar with its meaning, a Neanderthal is defined as “an extinct species, or subspecies of archaic humans in the genus Homo, who lived in Eurasia from 400,000 to 40,000 years ago.” Supposedly, they lived side by side with “real” humans for many “millennia”.

Most of you already know that the field of “science” is dominated by Darwinist evolutionists. Magazines like Scientific American, Smithsonian and National Geographic are the flagship publications for the vast majority of “scientists” who are convinced that our solar system is billions, if not more, years old, and that mankind is hundreds of thousands years old.

Of course, for the majority of these “experts”, there is no God. The belief in an intelligent designer, or God, is simply not part of their equation. To admit that there is any form of intelligent design undermines the whole system of thinking. When one of their colleagues dares to disagree, he or she is condemned as a pseudoscientist, or worse.

Take the case of Michael Behe. Mr. Behe is a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, and a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. In 1996, he wrote a book entitled Darwin’s Black Box.

Before the publication, Mr. Behe was a well respected and renowned professor and scientist. As you can imagine, afterwards, he received a hail of criticism.

I recently read this book. Plus, in the last year, I have read I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, The Genesis Flood, by John Whitcomb and Henry Morris, and The Evolution of a Creationist, by Jobe Martin.

Additionally, last year Gayle and I read Miracles, by Eric Metaxas. EVERY CHRISTIAN  should read chapters 4 and 5. In them, we read the astonishing FACTS about the earth, and life on earth. Now these are facts that every scientist would agree on – such as the distance of the earth from the sun and the tilt of the earth’s orbit. Change just one small aspect of the position of the earth and everything changes. There is no life.

Admittedly, all these books are written by defenders of Biblical Christianity. Each of them advocates the existence of God and the reliability of the Bible. And this is the camp where I stand as well.

Michael Behe, who, according to the information on Wikipedia (yes, I know, can it be trusted? but so very many of us use it don’t we?) is a Catholic. And, he stops short of saying that the God of the Bible is the creator of the universe. BUT, he does advocate intelligent design. His view on irreducible complexity, which basically means that there are some biochemical structures there are too complex to have resulted from evolutionary mechanisms, is strong, and well-put forth.

If you are interested, you can research Michael Behe (and others) who have had the audacity to advocate intelligent design. For many of these “brave” people, they have put their jobs and careers on the line.

Yes, we here in this 21st century face a TRUTH DECAY.  

I taught public school for 19 years. And although I did not teach science or history (Well, I did teach North Carolina History for 3 years), I am aware of what is and is not included in these textbooks. What is feed into the brains of students as truth should be a concern for every Bible-believing Christian.

It is assumed that our earth is billions of years old. It is assumed that mankind is hundreds of thousands years old. And I could go on and on. Evolution is taught as fact.

Go into your public library and scan children’s books. Try to find just one book that dares to present something from a Biblical perspective. It is not easy.

I once heard a quote that said this: “What is neglected in one generation becomes extinct in the next.” There is much truth in this.

The next book on my reading list is a re-read of a book that I consider to be a must read for every Christian (and how about every person!). The book is Whatever Happened to the Human Race, written in 1979 by Francis Schaeffer. In my view, he, along with C. S. Lewis, are two of the greatest 20th century theologians. I strongly recommend all of Mr. Schaeffer’s books.

What can we do to stem the rising tide of “truth decay”? Parents — stay in touch with your children, especially as they enter middle school. You have to counter what they will receive at school with TRUTH. You must discuss with your children ways to challenge (respectfully, of course) those who present error. Like Jesus said “they know not what they do”.

Parents must themselves see that it all matters. It matters what you believe about creation! It matters what you believe about “the flood.” It matters what you believe about the Bible. Either the Bible is true, or it isn’t. Either Jesus is the Son of God or He isn’t. Either the account of creation is true or it isn’t. I cannot pick and choose what I believe.

What a joy to know that “the heavens declare the glory of God.” What a joy it is to know that “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” What a joy to know that “God put all the stars in place and called them by name.”

Yes, I know that primarily I am “preaching to the choir.” My father-in-law, Clayton Barker, taught biology in a public high school for 33 years. He had many chances to teach in a Christian school or some other setting. When asked about this, he replied, “If all the Christian teachers left public education, then we leave it to pagans.” (well, something like this!) And he is correct.

We who know the truth must continue to “put our finger in the dike.” If we grow weary of well doing, then TRUTH DECAY will win out.

Yes, we have read the end of the book, and we know that “Jesus wins.” But that does not mean that we can just sit idly by while error consumes our families and our society.

Well, that is enough, for now.

CHURCH – COME FORTH!

2 Corinthians 3.17 – Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

John 8.36 – If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.

Galatians 5.1 – It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of bondage.

With regards to Gloria and Bill Gaither, I begin with this. Deep within, the heart has always known that there is freedom. It is built into the very fiber of creation. Even life itself begins because a baby fights for freedom.

Many of us spent many long years searching for freedom. Some of us have to experience painful trials and difficult circumstances. Many look for freedom in drugs, sex, money, adventure – trying to discover freedom. But freedom eludes us.

Then one day, somewhere along life’s journey, we discover – as Gary S. Paxton once wrote – that He (Jesus) was there all the time, waiting patiently “in line”. And as we repent and believe we begin to realize one thing. Freedom is free, but it is not cheap. When my Lord bought freedom for mankind on a Roman cross, he stamped my soul with “FREEDOM”.

Jesus says, “I have come to give you life, and that life in abundance.”

Jesus says, “I have set you free, and now you are indeed free.”

Jesus says, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Satan had me bound, but Jesus set me Glory hallelujah, Jesus set me free!

Paul tells us in Galatians that “Christ set us free.” Set – past tense. It is a done deal. You can go to the bank with this. The account is full. Free from sin. Free from fear. Free from guilt and shame. Free from despair. Free from worthlessness. Free from death. Free from poverty. Thank God I am free, free, free!

Therefore, keep standing firm. Do not return to slavery. Why does Paul say this? Because he knows that too many blood-bought, born again believers so often do just that. We lose our footing. We lose our perspective. We allow old habits and old ways of thinking to seep back. We return across bridges we did not fully burn. The flesh throws its tiny threads across our spirit and back into bondage we go. We are Christians, yes, but we have become carnal.

We know with our heads that Jesus delivers us from all fears, yet we live in fear.

We know with our heads that Jesus says “cast all your cares upon Me” yet we are filled with worry.

We know with our heads that we should not slander and gossip and yet it seems so easy to slip into that kind of conversation.

We know we ought to walk in forgiveness, yet we are bitter and resentful.

We know with our heads that Jesus set us free from sin, and that He gave us power to overcome, yet how easily sin seems to entangle us.

We know with our heads that Jesus is sovereign, and He is greater than powers, and principalities, including the governments and economy of this world, yet we walk in fear about it all.

BRETHREN — do not allow yourselves to return to bondage! Stand firm in your freedom! But if you are in some degree of bondage today, freedom is but a step away.

In John 11, we find the account of Lazarus. Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha, is sick. This is no “little” sore throat. It is more than a sinus headache. He is sick enough that his sisters send someone to locate Jesus, who is several miles away, to inform Him.

It is apparent from John’s gospel that Lazarus, as well as his sisters, held a special place in the heart of Jesus. Verse 5 tells us that “Jesus loved them.” Yet after hearing the news, Jesus stays two more days. He makes no effort to go see Lazarus.

Do you ever feel that God is not responding to your situation? Ever feel that you’ve done all you could – cried out, prayed, called for the elders, fasted, sacrificed, and still heaven seems silent?

Is this love? Jesus hears, and waits.

I’ve been on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus slept through the midst of a raging storm that the disciples were convinced was going to capsize the boat and kill them all. One of them even shouted at Jesus, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4)

I haven’t learned much in my life, but this seems apparent to me. JESUS IS NEVER IN A HURRY, BUT HE IS NEVER LATE. He is never late!

And secondly, if Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, He loves you and me. If God does not love me, then He does not love anyone! He is no respecter of persons. I have 4 children, and 12 grandchildren. I love each one of them uniquely, individually, fully and equally. So does God. He loves us.

It gets worse.  In John 11.14 Jesus tells the disciples plainly, “Lazarus is dead.” And then He makes an astounding statement, “And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there.”

5 or 6 days have passed since Jesus first heard about the sickness. Certainly Mary and Martha had done all they could. They sent for Jesus. Jesus did not come in time. Lazarus dies. They embalm him and wrap him according to their customs. The place him in a tomb and cover the opening with a stone.

But (and you google this!) by the 3rd day even the finest of spices cannot stop the beginning of rot. The body is rotting, and beginning to smell.

So Jesus finally arrives, after Lazarus has been in the tomb for 4 days (verse 17).

Martha, in her despair, cries out, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Now I don’t know what tome of voice she used. I have an Aunt Martha, and I can tell you what tone she would have used. It would have been accusatory, dripping with sarcasm. A tone intended to make one feel guilty.

But I do know this. Love is often misunderstood.

I have a brother in Christ named John Brown. John once told a group of people this story. “If I was in Phil and Gayle’s house with you, and they came around asking if we would like coffee, but skipped me, you would probably think – HOW RUDE – they didn’t even ask John. But I would not think it rude at all, because Phil and Gayle know that I do not drink coffee.”

Love is often misunderstood. God’s ways are not ours. If Jesus waited 5 or days before coming, then IT IS LOVE! If Jesus sleeps through the storm, there’s a reason. and IT IS LOVE! I don’t understand it. It makes no sense from a human perspective. But I know my Savior loves me! He cares about me.

“Your brother shall rise again. Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, ” I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies., and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. DO YOU BELIEVE THIS?”     

Do you believe this? Martha did. And my hope also is built on this. Today, in spite of all outward circumstances – in the face of every mountain – every valley – in the face of my Goliaths – I cling to the old rugged cross. I believe He is the Son of the living God. He is the Christ. My Christ!

Don’t tell me that my Lord is some stone faced idol.

Don’t tell me that my Lord created a world and then left it to its own ways.

Don’t tell me that I serve a God who does not care.

Don’t tell me that my Jesus is not concerned about me.

Don’t tell me that He is not going to show up.

O the love of God! How rich and pure. How marvelous and strong. It shall forever endure. I cannot be separated from His love. No height, no depth, no created thing, no power, no principality, no demon, nothing here, nothing in the world to come, not even death can separate me from the love of Jesus Christ my Lord.

Are you convinced?

Remove the stone. “Jesus, you’re too late!”

Remove the stone. “But Lord, it’s been 4 days!”

Remove the stone. “Lord, it’s hopeless!”

Remove the stone. “The bondage. The shame.”

Remove the stone.  “He stinks. I STINK!”

REMOVE THE STONE, and see the glory of God.

And then the stone was removed, and after Jesus had wept, He says, “Lazarus, come forth!” And Lazarus steps out of the tomb, and and Jesus says, UNBIND HIM!

Come forth, church! BE FREE! Be unbound! There is no obstacle too strong. No mountain too tall. No sorrow too deep. No Goliath too big. No wound so scarred. No relationship so broken. Nothing too stinky!

MY God is so Big, so Strong and so Mighty! There’s nothing MY God cannot do!

I close with the words to one of the better worship sons that speaks truth.

“In His time, in His time, He makes all things beautiful, in His time.”

“Lord, please show me every day, as You’re teaching me Your way., that You’ll do just what You say”

“In Your time.”

Well, enough said, for now.

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.

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.