Repost: The cross bids me come and die…and find I may truly live

photo by Michael Wray

photo by Michael Wray

I would normally add commentary but with a photo this wonderful, this beautiful – only Scripture will do.  So I add these inspired words for your contemplation:

“It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:13-18, NIV)

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Faithfulness, forgiveness, and freedom

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’” (Matthew 18:15-16, NIV)

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22, NIV)

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me. … I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother.

-Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., a letter from a Birmingham Jail

I have still been contemplating the deep words Rev. King wrote and found an interesting intersect with the message Pastor Jeff preached to Cornerstone last weekend on forgiveness.  Rev. King as I have asserted elsewhere was first and foremost a minister and servant of God.  His letter was one prompted by the printed criticism by his peers of his recent actions.

I cannot fathom the daily humiliations he had been subjected to during those dark days of segregation and overt racism in our country.  It is enough to find yourself alone in a jail cell for standing up and doing what your convictions tell you must be done.  But to add insult to injury, other ministers criticism of his actions were being publicized.  I suspect that these blows, delivered not by political opponents, but by brothers in the faith cut much deeper.

Rather than launch an attack, Rev. King modeled the exhortation found in Matthew 18:15.  He wrote a very long letter detailing not only the rationale and biblical justification for his actions, but his painful disappointment in the criticism they had made publicly against him.  Having made his points he concludes with tremendous insight.  If he was wrong and had overstated his case against them – he asked for their forgiveness.  If he had come up short – he asked for God’s forgiveness.  He was simply trying to be an obedient servant, faithful to God’s Word.

Their words of criticism not only hurt him personally, but also undercut the momentum gained by the sacrifices made by him and so many others.  He did not allow that to eclipse his view of them as fellow brothers and followers of Christ. He pointed out their sin against him at the same time demonstrating forgiveness.

Far too often as Pastor Jeff pointed out – we don’t even take the first step of love towards those who offend us.  We go directly to step two but not seeking others to aid in correcting and forgiving a brother or sister, but rather to build a coalition against the offender.  I know I have done this far too often to the detriment of the body.  This must change.  Another’s sins against us never justify our own disobedience to God’s commandments.

photo by Meltwater

photo by Meltwater

If we are to demonstrate true loving correction to the lost of this world, we must first be able to demonstrate the same to those within the family of Christ. As you contemplate these words, Rev. King’s example, and that of Jesus, I urge you to take some time and consider those who have sinned against you.  If you find some hatchet handles sticking out of the ground – it’s time to make amends.  It’s never too late for repentance and healing.  Remember, it has less to do with them as it does with you.  You must be faithful and obedient – and who knows, they may surprise you.  Either way – it’s a burden Jesus never meant for you to carry and forgiveness frees us from our own self-made jail cells.

Of course, we must all start with asking forgiveness of Jesus.  He paid the highest price that can be paid, His life, for our sins.  And He now offers His forgiveness freely, to any and all who will humble themselves enough to ask.

“Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”” (Acts 10:43, NASB95)

Where is the hope?

photo by KM&G-Morris

photo by KM&G-Morris

“Where is the hope? I meet millions of people who feel demoralized by the decay around us. The hope that each of us has is not in who governs us, or what laws we pass, or what great things we do as a nation. Our hope is in the power of God working through the hearts of people. And that’s where our hope is in this country. And that’s where our hope is in life.” – Charles Colson

In the Lord I take refuge. How then can you say to me: “Flee like a bird to your mountain. For look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart. When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne. He observes the sons of men; his eyes examine them. The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates. On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be their lot. For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face.” (Psalm 11, NIV)

When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? This is a question that has not left my mind in sometime. With an all out assault being waged on the sanctity of life, the determination on the part of our government officials to become the indebted servants of China, and the recent judgement handed down by the Iowa Supreme Court redefining marriage, it is clear that the foundations are indeed being destroyed.  A big temptation is to respond in the flesh and seek political solutions to these political problems.  Satan would love for us to devote all of our energy and focus there in a futile attempt to bring about righteousness through political action.  But as a follower of Christ, I know that these are spiritual problems being expressed as political problems.  We mustn’t focus on symptoms, we must go deeper to the disease.  So what can the righteous do?   The best answer I know:

1. pray – pray that God’s people would radically align their lives to Jesus Christ and that God would turn the hearts of our leaders towards righteousness;

2. purify – no more ‘tolerance’ of sin in our own lives; we must search our own camps and cast out all idols – idolatry is as subtle as it is seductive and it has permeated even the church.  A genuine relationship with Jesus Christ, the creator and lover of our souls, and a radical alignment to His will is attractive to those His spirit has prepared.  We must focus less on being attractive to the world and more on a authentic following of the Christ.

3. proclaim truth and repentance – now more than ever we must have the courage to stand boldly and speak truthfully to all those around us, with everyone who will listen.  We must speak as those who know full well the fury of God’s wrath and also as those who know full well the fullness of His mercy.  What we are seeing now is both the hardening of hearts AND a failure of God’s people to make true disciples even within our own families.  There is no such thing as cheap grace as we will soon see.

As citizens of a free country, we do have civic responsibility to engage and seek just laws, that uphold human dignity and protect human life.  We should not neglect these duties, but our first priority must be to proclaim God’s truth with encouragement towards repentance and reconciliation with Jesus Christ.

When asking what can the righteous do – the quote from Charles Colson is excellent grounding.  If we want to restore the foundations, if we want real change, we must be God’s instruments to change hearts.  Church, it’s time to get praying, purifying, and proclaiming like never before!  It is true that “our hope is in God working through the hearts of people.”  Let’s give Him permission to move through our hearts to those of others.  And remember, no matter how ugly it gets, in the end…Jesus wins.

if a man is without faith, he must serve someone and if he is free, he must believe.

“When a nation’s religion is destroyed, doubt takes a grip upon the highest areas of intelligence, partially paralyzing all the others.  Each man gets used to having only confused and vacillating ideas on matters which have the greatest interest for himself and his fellows.  He puts up a poor defense of his opinions or abandons them and, as he despairs of ever resolving by himself the greatest problems, presented by human destiny, he beats a cowardly retreat into not thinking at all.
Such a state cannot fail to weaken the soul, strains the forces of the will, and shapes citizens for slavery.  Not only do the latter allow their freedom to be taken from them, they often give it up….. Being unable to recover their ancient beliefs, they find a ruler…..if a man is without faith, he must serve someone and if he is free, he must believe.” – Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835).

As I read these insightful words penned by Alexis de Tocqueville over 170 years ago, I was reminded of a few other inspired words written almost 2000 years ago.

land-of-the-free

photo by brooklyntyger

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools,” (Romans 1:20-22, NASB95)

Sadly, as Americans, we have the ‘opportunity’ to see this truth found in God’s word made ever more clear in our nation.  Fortunately, God is still on His throne and His promise of freedom is still resounding throughout the earth, even while so many within our nation are willingly opting for chains.

“For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:20-23, NASB95)

“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36, NASB95)

May our hearts turn back to Jesus, the only Name under Heaven able to save that we may be free!!!  May our desire be that America Bless God!  That she may remain the land of the free.

Defending the Status Quo against all odds… or God(s)

Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon. When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained.When the men of Ashdod saw what was happening, they said, “The ark of the god of Israel must not stay here with us, because his hand is heavy upon us and upon Dagon our god.”” (1 Samuel 5:2-4,7, The Holy Bible : New International Version. electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984.)

You know as I read this passage, I couldn’t help but think to myself, ‘what were they thinking?!’   I mean come on – their statue god Dagon falls face down in front of the Ark and they prop him back up – then it falls down and breaks.  Don’t worry Dagon, we’ll get you fixed back up so you can, you know continue being our god.  You would think the reaction would be to throw Dagon out with yesterdays trash and come to terms with the God of Israel!  But no – what do they conclude – this God is picking on us and our god – we must send Him away!  The status quo with its predictable, propped up god was preferred to acknowledging the living God.  Can you believe that?  Of course you can.  Fast forward 3,000 years – Yeah, human behavior towards God hasn’t changed much.  We still prefer that God not ‘mess’ with the status quo!

expelled

Evolution is one of the most ‘propped’ up ‘gods’ of our day.  Evolutionists will cling to simply bizarre explanations to avoid the possibility that the world we experience may have actually been designed.  In fact the holes in the theory are so weak that it must be protected from any and all opposing ideas.  Even when shattered by the laws of probability, evidence, and just plain common sense, the status quo is preferred to acknowledging there is a divine being that not only might but WILL demand an account from us.  Soochinan our motto will be ‘In Dagon We Trust’, we sent the Ark of the Living God away.  I hear China has interest taking it off of our hands – over 150 million baptized followers of Christ  (about half the U.S. population) and still baptizing!  I once heard history goes where the gospel hasn’t (or is soon to go).  Hmmm, makes you think doesn’t it.

Well, human behavior hasn’t ‘evolved’ much in the last 3,000 years.  But neither has the Living God!

It’s the end of the world as I know it…but I feel fine.

in-the-doldrumsMoving to Iowa, clearly the worst financial move I have made yet.  And yet, I feel fine.  Why – some existential or stoic abandonment? – No.  It seems that a number of ingredients have all worked themselves together to to give me the most wonderful taste of fatherhood.  No, not my being a father, but God’s.  Although, my being a father certainly has been an essential ingredient.

It is no wonder at all, that at the same time I have been contemplating the pure love and worship that has been filling my heart these days that Pastor Troy would, after stripping the box away from the parable of the soils (Matthew 13), describe the ‘crop’ of the good soil in a new way.  Not in ‘souls’ harvested nor spiritual fruit exhibited.  Actually, I’m not sure I heard exactly how he explained it – but I knew the spiritual ‘return’ I have been experiencing of late – growth unprecedented since Jesus pulled me up from the grave (Psalm 116), now exactly 20 years ago.  The same day I decided to start the book ‘The Ten most common mistakes made by new church starts’ (before finishing the other 3 books I have also started!).  The first chapter: ‘Neglecting the Great Commandment in Pursuit of the Great Commission’ (Matthew 22 & 28).  OK, while pastoring, I made that first mistake made very well!  Seems simple enough and makes perfect sense.  I know I surely have been guilty – busy doing for God and neglecting the ‘act’ of simply loving God.

First ingredient: Dabbling between cultures (American and Mexican) since 1996 and truly living in them (married in 2000), has been a rewarding, challenging, and often isolating experience.  To live above poverty, below prosperity and yet with both clearly in sight and in family.  Always letting go of the past and forging anew (Philippians 3) with one foot in each world (yet in a world that seems to want to pull those cultures further apart rather than growing them closer together – as we are).  Pressing on knowing that the only true culture that matters is Christ’s culture – all else is transitory and fading.

Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 4).

Second ingredient, in 2004, I very reluctantly resigned my bi-vocational pastoral position.  It was clear to me that God has called me to be a pastor and He has given me a pastor’s heart, but it was also clear to me that He would be setting the priorities and to continue would be putting a church mission before the welfare of my marriage and growing family.  Of even greater concern, it would be putting the mission before God Himself.

He was in the whisper that would wake me in the night and tell me quietly and clearly – to let go.  Letting go, surrendering, giving up, are all things quite foreign to me.  Ask anyone who knows me well – tenacity, even stubbornness is a very strong characteristic handed down to me from both sides of my family.  Each morning I would awaken to the conviction – if I simply have more faith – that’s what I’ll DO, I’ll have more faith.  Letting go would surely be a lack of faith!  Just a test – just a test indeed (I had no idea its extent).  And again, that voice in the middle of the night when the body and mind are finally in a state of almost catatonic defenselessness – Let go, I am the one who lifts you up, or brings you down.  You will take up what I tell you take up, AND you must put down what I tell you to put down (1 Peter 5).  You must let go of what you cannot hang on to.  But I just need more faith – yes, just more faith – to let go now could be costly – I have been counseled that it is better to get somewhere from somewhere, meaning it may be difficult to find a pastorate, without one.

Well, teaching me to follow Him even when it seems foolish or will certainly leave me looking foolish (1 Cor 3), has been His favorite lesson so this wasn’t necessarily new.  But I’m a slow and stubborn learner, and this is an essential lesson.

Letting Go.

In clearly one of the most difficult decisions, of obedience, in my life of following Christ, and there have been some biggies, I resigned.  Yet naively, with full confidence that God would open the door for a fulltime pastorate, very soon.  Yes, very soon.  But the months turned to years.  Graduation came and went (after seven years of study!).  I watched as peers found their ‘niches’, albeit not without their struggles, but in their niches nonetheless.

Third ingredient, while I floundered, withered, wrestled with anger, and all the while with nowhere to call home much less a ‘ministerial’ home; my ‘career’ drifted just as aimlessly – with my focus set solely upon ministry.  Alas, in desperation really, the green pastures of Iowa beckoned.  No, not to a pastorate, but for an opportunity to gain some ‘new experience’ (always good to diversify!), pay off debts and achieve a level of financial stability that would better allow us to enter ministry.  Or maybe just try to forget the burden on my heart.

The housing crash dashed those hopes on the rocks, decidedly.  It has turned out to be an accelerated year of letting go.  Letting go of what retirement I had grown (my plan c for being able to fund a future mission ministry) and soon letting go of our home in Phoenix and what had been excellent credit (only matters if you are wanting loans I guess – and I’m not).  Had I simply listened to counsel and let go of the latter earlier – we might not have had to let go of the former.  But that again goes against my nature though (see above) and as I am coming to see, against what God has been doing in my life.  No, He is not against me (although a few times I have wondered).  He is not against me, just against anything and everything that would keep me from Him.

Fourth ingredient, I have lived in Midian for a number of years now.  No, not geography for me.  It was for Moses though (Exodus 2).  I am sure hoping it will be less than 40 years for me though.  No, Midian was a desert (God forsaken I’m sure as far as Moses was concerned).  Moses was a man burdened with a pastor’s heart also – but nothing he could DO worked out so well.  Nonetheless God provided for him a beautiful wife, children, wise counsel, and not his dream job, but a job nonetheless.  I am certain the burden of Moses heart never left him and he often wondered if his choices had led God to discard him for use (not eternally, just for use).

It’s ironic that I left the arid southwest to find myself deeper in the desert desert-springwilderness than ever before!  But it is here that I have set myself down exhausted, next to a small spring to drink (Psalm 63).  And drinking deeply I have been.  I mentioned that my being a father has been an important ingredient and it has.  There is nothing like experiencing the well of love that seems to overflow for our own children – that love that would lead one to readily give up everything, even life itself for your children to be able to experience life, and love.

Lifted Up.

Final ingredient, the spice of life, there is nothing like being a father to show a person, the love God the father has for us.
It has been tremendous to have a time of inner reconciliation with several past chapters of life and to have them unchained in a sense.  But nothing has compared to truly drawing close to my heavenly father who has looked down and called me son.  A son in whom He is well pleased.  A son who can DO nothing to get closer to Him but stretch his arms upward and say ‘Daddy, carry me!’  (Romans 8).  There is no greater high, no greater freedom, no sweeter exhilaration, than that (and I have searched diligently in my day!).  Be still and know that I am God.  It took so much ‘letting go’ to find out that He would never let me go, never.  He doesn’t let go (John 14), and he routinely lifts me to speechless heights I never thought possible.  There are no words for the joy found there in Him.  None.  So simple, and yet so overlooked.

No, circumstances are tough and not what I would have chosen.  I would not have chosen to enter the doldrums (to change metaphors yet again!) that place on the ocean where there are no waves and no wind – the place that drove many sailors mad.  But in the middle of these circumstances and the stillness of the air I have rediscovered my treasure – God Himself.  And wait – is that a breeze I feel?  Yes it surely is…

created-for-worshipLet those who have ears to hear.

Hear – that the Kingdom of Heaven is here now (Matthew 13) if you will simply let go of your sins and yourself and let Jesus Christ take hold of you and free you to be the person He created you to be.   So much more than simply a repentant and saved sinner!  So much more!

Yes it is the end of the world as I know it, but I feel fine….yes, indeed, never finer!

One Life lifted up and 660 Superbowl Crowds Lost

one-child-lifted-upI came across this image within this excellent post on the Black Informant and have not been able to get it out of my mind.  I ‘happened’ to be reading the 1 Samuel account of Hannah and the birth of Samuel one of Israel’s most influential leaders the same day.  Hannah had been tormented cruelly for her inability to have the one thing she wanted: a child.  Hannah begged God to the point of tears and God, at the perfect time (as always) granted her request.  Samuel was truly a gift from God (as are all children from conception) and I cannot begin to imagine the joy overflowing that Hannah must have felt.  What is amazing is Hannah’s one desire was for a child and yet Hannah was able to give him back, or lift him up, to the Lord.  We as parents surely should do the same for our ‘gifts’ daily.  Samuel was dedicated to the Lord’s service and left at the temple for training under the priest Eli.  No doubt Hannah continued to pray for this ‘gift from God’ and continued to help in providing for his needs.

What a contrast from today when in the U.S. alone almost 50 million ‘gifts from God’ have been slain, dismembered, and discarded.  Large numbers are difficult to comprehend so to put it in perspective take 660 full Raymond James Stadiums (site of today’s SuperBowl) and eliminate them.

660 Superbowl Crowds Aborted

660 Superbowl Crowds Aborted Since Roe vs. Wade

That is how many unborn children have been sacrificed on the altar of convenience since the legalization of abortion in the U.S.  You can imagine Nancy Pelosi’s relief of the burden lifted on our economy!  Almost 50 million, that is 1/6th of the current U.S. population.  Take six of your best friends and eliminate one at random – because they weren’t convenient!  Sorry, the number of abortions performed because of risk to the mother, rape, or incest is minute.  No, the overwhelming majority of these lives were destroyed for convenience.

We are already moving to destroying lives on the basis of desirability.  One small step in a hospital and one giant leap downward for humanity.  Al Mohler has just finishing a 6 part series on why abortion should be unthinkable – you can read them here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6.  Another great resource for considering how to speak to others about abortion can be found on the Stand to Reason Blog here.