“For now we see in a mirror dimly. . .”
—1 Corinthians 13:12
Sometimes looking back makes things clearer, but not always. Having gone through times of difficulty and struggle. It is helpful to (in review) see that big and obvious moment of breakthrough when Jesus stepped into your storm to say, “Peace, be still.” It makes the next difficulty not look so much like the tightrope stretched over Niagara Falls we thought the previous issue was and gives us the confidence to move forward in faith.
But there are times when in hindsight we reflect to see that defining moment when the curtain rolls back, and God comes on stage to part the seas of our perilous moment, but it isn’t quite so dramatic. There comes a calm, but we don’t see how he makes it happen, we don’t see him. Be assured of this, however, see or not see, God is there else you wouldn’t be here.
In business, a rate of growth that is too fast is dangerous often leading to loss and failure. A slower intentionally paced growth rate will allow a new company to adapt to changes in the economy and other unseen events and is much more likely to experience success and prosperity. The same can be true of believers in the spiritual sense.
God understands our eagerness to know but sometimes sees it best to pull in the reins revealing a little at a time rather than everything at once. Better it is to go wobbling across the floor of life in baby steps glancing back to know only that Jesus is there. It is enough.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
— Ephesians 5:25
My younger brother was at the Revere Beach Sandcastle Building Festival and Competition in Boston a few months back, admiring the incredible craftsmanship of the artisans whose work was on public display. The pictures he took were stunning. Mind-boggling, actually.
One work was of a fairy-tale like castle, reminiscent of Disney’s Magic Kingdom, complete with well-known storybook characters like Sleeping Beauty, Humpty Dumpty and the Cat in the Hat. Nothing at all ambiguous about the sculptor’s work either. The details were given such meticulous attention, every component of the sculpture was vividly clear and easily identifiable. You didn’t have to look twice to recognize that an oval figure seated atop the castle wall was Humpty Dumpty.
A successful marriage requires attention to details as much as prize-winning sandcastles do. I pray the love I have for my wife to be so clear that no one would have to take a second look to recognize it. However, that will happen only as I model the same honest, self-sacrificing love Christ has for his bride, the Church. Not just a “till death do we part” kind of love. But a love that is willing to part with one’s own life for the sake of his wife, as did Christ for the Church.
That is the standard Jesus set that marriage might always be rock solid, rather than on the rocks.
To be a husband is a responsibility.
Thursday, July 26, 2018
Early this morning reading excerpts from the book of Romans through just then opening eyes. My mind got stuck on the depth of meaning there is to be found in 3:10-12. Not reading any further, I just stopped and started typing. Although by no means exhaustive or an attempted exposition of the text my thoughts were these:
As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” — Rom. 3:10–12 ESV
Wow! Such a potent statement, I thought. A real eye-opener.
Not only can none be found righteous, or good. Not only is there no one who understands, there is not a single soul who truly looks to find God. Why? We don’t want to. Why don’t we want to? Because we can’t.
Until we are awakened by the Holy Spirit to our need for God (an act of regeneration) we can see no need for him – our desire is to satisfy self only. We are spiritually dead creatures without an understanding of things spiritual or the capacity to understand them.
Slaves to what appeals to the senses, the cravings of our fleshly nature; we cannot break free from our earthly shackles and reach up to God “because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so” (Romans 8:7 NASB). He must first reach down to us. Thus, we find John to say, “We love him because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19 KJV).
Backing up to verse 10 John explains,
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” —1 John 4:10 ESV
Man’s ability to love and have fellowship with God is God’s gracious gift to man made possible by the atoning sacrifice of his son on the cross. In Jesus’ offering of himself as the substitute for our sin, he absorbed fully the prescribed penalty for sin thereby satisfying God’s justice and “canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. . .” (Colossians 2:14 ESV). In so doing God imputed (ascribed in a real and literal sense) our sin to Jesus and his righteousness to us. In other words, He took my death and gave me his life.
I cannot help but sing. I must sing:
“How marvelous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be: How marvelous! How wonderful! Is my Savior’s love for me!”
Have A Blessed Day Everyone,
The other day I gave my answer to a question asked in our church Community Group Discussion Guide which read: “How does knowing you are adopted by God change your view of yourself and of God? How does this give a new answer to your identity?”
My honest response was:
“Knowing God has chosen and adopted me as his son brings me to my knees in highest praise. Unfortunately, the overwhelming sense of guilt and shame past sin often reminds me of competes for my ability to see myself as the forgiven, regenerate, and redeemed child of God he tells me I am, and walk confidently of my ability to each day be everything he says I am.”
Dear Christian friend, I wonder, might our lives sometimes run along a parallel path? Knowing what God says to be true but haunted by yesteryear’s sin, perhaps yesterdays? Instead of seeing the person God declares you are in Christ today, the image you see in the mirror is definitely not the Imago Dei (image of God) and the story being told by that person staring back at you is very different. One of a shameful, sinfully dark past that any fair and reasonable self-examination will find a despairing case of hopelessness. A story that from your vantage point trumps the new story God wants to write into your life; the story he has in fact already written.
The bible I read in Numbers 23:19 tells me “God is not man, that he should lie,” and in Hebrews 6:18 I found it to say that “it is impossible for God to lie.” That being true, and it is, the questions I then should ask become who I will believe him or me? Whose word is most reliable, his or mine? That’s a no-brainer, right? It should be, yes. But in spite of my best effort to go all-in with God’s divine assessment of who I am in Christ, there are still times I find myself wrestling with that vile man sneering at me in the mirror each morning. His rap sheet is just too long to be considered for a heavenly pardon, I sometimes think. How then can it be? I lack understanding. It’s too deep.
Then this morning while reading Calvin’s Institutes I ran across these waking words of encouragement*:
“We have come into the way of faith,” says Augustine: “let us constantly adhere to it. It leads to the chambers of the king, in which are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. For our Lord Jesus Christ did not speak invidiously to his great and most select disciples when he said, ‘I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now,’ (John 16:12). We must walk, advance, increase, that our hearts may be able to comprehend those things which they cannot now comprehend. But if the last day shall find us making progress, we shall there learn what here we could not,” (August. Hom. in Joann).”
I like that. I’m good with that.
*Calvin, John. The Institutes of the Christian Religion – Enhanced Version (p. 130). Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Kindle Edition.
I spend a lot of time just thinkin’ about stuff, all kinds of stuff: political stuff, religious stuff, financial stuff, techno stuff, health stuff and world affairs for example. Today I dwelt for a while on Christians involved in peaceful protests, and I asked myself this question: How many of those participating in such demonstrations understand they may change a person’s mind about the action for which they stand that day. But until there is a change of heart, the issue is only moved ahead to another day.
Bear with me, please. There is nothing wrong with standing up for what one believes in a peaceful demonstration. But snipping a weed at the surface will not prevent its return or its spreading through your lawn. Only when it is removed at the root will the problem be remedied long-term. So it is with sin, the unseen root residing in the heart of many who are the objects of those issues we often stand against. If the church would spend as much time equipping her people, training, raising up, and rallying the saints to advance the cause of Christ with the good news of the gospel as they do in other pursuits, there would be fewer issues to demonstrate against.
~ Just Thinkin’
From the Genesis account of mankind’s fall (Genesis 3) to the moment your eyes scan across these words. The reliability of God’s word has been and continues to be the focal point of the enemy’s attacks against the Christian faith. If God’s word can be disproved or discredited at any point, the whole of scripture implodes, the cross symbolizes nothing more than a historical period of barbaric savagery, and we must bow in submission to the dark side of the philosophical argument; Nietzsche is right, “God is dead” and we are but cosmic accidents, grown-up germs having no purpose or objective meaning.
“Dear friends, I’ve dropped everything to write you about this life of salvation that we have in common. I have to write insisting-begging! – that you fight with everything you have in you for this faith entrusted to us as a gift to guard and cherish. What has happened is that some people have infiltrated our ranks (our Scriptures warned us this would happen), who beneath their pious skin are shameless scoundrels. Their design is to replace the sheer grace of our God with sheer license-which means doing away with Jesus Christ, our one and only Master” (Jude 3-4 – The Message).
No picture can be drawn to more vividly depict the age in which we live, nor could there be voiced a greater sense of urgency to contend for the faith than these: “I’ve dropped everything to write you about this.” Jude’s “compelling sense of obligation to the people of God prompted him to change his focus for their spiritual good,” one commentator writes. The text suggests His original intent was to write a letter of encouragement to the church concerning their common salvation but was overcome by an imminent danger infiltrating their ranks.
Believer’s, the Christian community is under siege. Much in the same way as when Jude penned the above words, a serious effort to undermine and destroy the undergirding truth claims of scripture is in full swing and picking up speed. Humanism, secularism, relativism, pluralism, and a countless host of other such isms are being served the gullible society we have become from every conceivable platform and media outlet including the pulpits of many mainstream churches and their respective denominational hierarchies. We must come down from the bleachers, get off the sidelines and get out on the field with more than a pea shooter.
Attending church on Sundays, returning thanks over meals, and saying bedtime prayers is good and encouraged but insufficient in and of themselves to defend the faith from those who would misrepresent and malign it. As the serpent reasoned with Eve in the garden challenging the truth of what God had said, and Satan with Jesus in the Judean wilderness; the war being waged is one of words, of ideas, of opposing worldviews and systems of belief.
Paul instructed Timothy to be a good soldier of Jesus Christ; should we be anything less? In 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 he wrote:
“The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way-never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity” (The Message).
This is a Code Red call for followers of Christ to take a stand, “. . . all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” – Romans 13:11 NLT.
“for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” ~ Acts 4:20
I have carried this story around in an invisible backpack a very long time. So long, in fact, I am not certain of the exact days and dates in which everything took place. Stored away under lock and key in the attic of my mind for nearly two decades, only a handful of people have been allowed into that reserved space of mental real estate to hear the story. Why? Primarily out of fear of being branded an enlistee in a hyper-faith church movement, denomination or other such religious label ordinarily associated with people telling such a tale as the one you are about to read – I detest labeling of that sort.
Why then do I choose to tell it now, to go public and risk the seering heat of the branding iron these many years later? God knows. Perhaps I have just grown too old to care what others may think, or maybe it has taken this long for God to burn out my senseless concern for being accepted or rejected by my peers and associates who I labor alongside side of in ministry and sit together with in ministerial circles. I really don’t know and with all due respect, I honestly don’t give a hoot.
What I do know is what I was a personal witness of; a supernatural God doing something supernatural in one of the most remote parts of the world. Thus to my friends, family, associates, acquaintances and colleagues please understand; This backpack has become too heavy – it is time to lighten the load, and might I add: If you should now or ever think to tell me “God Can’t” – you’re too late, and this story is why that is so.
Please note, this is a book I am currently writing and will add chapters here at my blog site as they are completed. I hope you will read along expressing your thoughts in the comment section.
Blessings to all,
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:7
I suppose it was spiritual embarrassment responsible for the guilt-ridden sense of shame I felt. “I am so-so sorry, Lord. How could I have ever doubted you? I will soon be 50 years old and not once have you ever abandoned me, not in the pulpit or in life. I have faced villainous people and threatening situations more times than I can possibly count. Mountains I couldn’t climb, rivers I couldn’t swim, valleys I couldn’t cross yet, I’m here, I made it, still going – Please, forgive me.”
Sitting down for lunch the mood was festive. “The devil got a black eye this morning”, I heard someone say. “Sent off packing”, another voice chimed in. The battle on the Amazon an hour or two earlier had gone unimaginably good. Fourteen people had made decisions for Christ with a dozen or so more seeking prayer. Every team member was with someone, no one sat idle, God showed up, and showed out. The pats on the back (though undeserved) were as free flowing as the river, “Great job, Pat”. That was an amazing sermon, brother, did you see the look on their faces? Those people were truly convicted, weren’t they?”
Truth is, whatever the content of the message was, I haven’t the slightest. I wanted to remember, I wanted to capture whatever words I had said and hold them hostage for use another time. Much like Winston Churchill’s 1939 radio statement concerning Russia, however, the entire sermon remained “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. My only explanation for the lapse in memory is simple, though; it wasn’t me, the words weren’t mine.
Sitting there the center of attention, the man of the hour, the guy with a word from God receiving a boatload of accolades, I wanted to scream out aloud; “Stop it! Just stop it! Don’t you guys get it? That wasn’t me out there this morning. The man you saw nonchalantly moving about with a bible in his hand doing whatever it was he was doing, that was a zombie – dead man walking. The voice you heard, that wasn’t mine. Like John the Baptist, I was but a voice crying out in the wilderness (the jungle, or the rain forest, whichever you prefer to call it), but more like doubting Thomas than John the Baptist. God stepped up to the plate this morning, ladies and gentlemen; he took the bat out of my hands, he hit the ball, he drove in the runs – it wasn’t me.”
I joined the celebration letting the world see a smiling face, but the heart of shame that pounded in my chest they did not see. I had not trusted God at the breakfast table, I had tried to manufacture a sermon on my own. The fact of my not knowing anything at all about the people I would preach too, their manners and customs, their language, the idioms and other parts of speech peculiar to their language never entered my mind. I was just mindlessly going through the motions of regularity doing things as I always have. I had a lot to learn on this trip, and there was so much to learn about. A foreign people, a foreign land, myself, and the God I thought I knew. It’s funny in a way, finding out how little how much we think we know about God is.
No one kept count. We had handed out at least a case of bibles and two packages of “Good News” gospel tracts, both in Spanish. The morning’s effort had been something I would imagine similar to the events of Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost. Other than people talking and the boats engine begging for more Pennzoil, I didn’t hear a sound nor did I feel a breeze. Little doubt, though, a mighty rushing wind had made its way down from heaven sweeping over the bow of the boat. I don’t think I spoke in a language not my own, I’m not certain, but my preaching tongue was definitely under the control of the Holy Spirit.
Walking through the boat a little later, I fully expected to see the bibles and tracts laying around without a crease in the page and definitely not dog-eared. Many times I have passed out literature at public gatherings and events later finding them littering the ground or tossed in a garbage can. Many years ago I was asked by a concerned parishioner to visit with her brother who had been convicted of killing a convenience store clerk in an armed robbery and now sat on death row in Huntsville, Texas. Knowing he would soon step into eternity, she needed peace.
Having leaped the hurdles and jumped through all the hoops required by the Texas Department of Corrections for “Spiritual Advisor” visits, I made the two and half hour drive down I-45 in a little under 4 (Texas highways are most always under construction). Arriving at the prison, the guard towers overlooking the 11,247-acre compound known as the Ellis Unit grabbed my attention. Was a guard with a .30-06 putting me in the crosshairs? Probably not, but you will think about it. Having been searched at the guard shack (me and the thing I called a car) I drove through the gate, located an empty slot and parked. I had been in prayer mode all 171 miles of the journey but the thought of entering a maximum security prison being a bit chilling, one more prayer seemed appropriate before going in.
Twelve-foot ceilings connected to the floor by means of cinderblock walls painted a dismal looking battleship gray gave the building an appearance much older than its 25 years. Rusty pipes delivering hot water from the boiler room for heating cell blocks and areas where inmates were housed ran the length of the ceiling, water stained from apparent leaks at the joints. The ambiance was that of a medieval dungeon, although well lit, the feeling was dark and cold – had me thinking I should have chosen to wear a long-sleeved shirt in spite of the warm temperature floating somewhere around the 80-degree mark. I met first with the prison chaplain who gave me a quick what to expect education for the first time visiting minister and a rather less than optimistic appraisal of spiritual life in the penitentiary.
“Everyone gets Jesus in prison”, the man who looked like Robert De Niro with a Jimmy Durante’s nose said laughing. “When you leave today, you will see two trash cans just outside the gate”, he continued. “One for trash, the other a recycle bin for bibles. They all find Jesus inside these walls, most choose to leave him here on their way out”.
The noisy engine continued playing its worrisome song as I stepped down into the boat’s belly, far less unsettling than the one sang by the three prison doors locking behind me as I passed through them that day in Huntsville, though. Not a single tract on the floor, no bible laying around and none in the garbage. Not at all what I expected, they were held tightly in people’s hands, being read. One older man I would guess nearing 70 based on his white hair and wrinkled face, sat alone engrossed in the book. I stood there watching for five or ten minutes, he never looked up. It was the same story all over the boat, even the watchful woman who earlier sat like a guard on the post in a hostile environment protecting her plantains, her baby and her chicken was reading the bible unconcerned with me or anyone else.
Beneath the I-45 bridge in Dallas, the street people happily receive and make use of the food and clothing our church and other ministries distributed each week. Items made of paper (cups, plates, bibles and tracts), however, would be taken with a smile and a gracious thank you, then become kindling for the burn barrels located outside their tents and cardboard box houses minutes after the good Samaritans would pack up and drive away. The majority would stand patiently listening to a sermon, not so much in a sincere interest, but because it was their food ticket, the price for a slice of pepperoni pizza. A bible they could get just about any time at the downtown Gospel Mission or the Salvation Army shelter. Quite the opposite, a bible on a boat in the Amazon was treated a treasure to be read and absorbed, and from my vantage point, these people were sponges. For a minister of the gospel, it was like hitting the jackpot in Vegas witnessing this unearthly or better said, this unlike back home phenomenon – a people sincerely hungry for the Word of God, genuinely grateful to be owners of a bible, eyes glued to every line.
The day had been a long yet glorious chain of events – unforgettable. Following a dinner of boiled chicken, beans, and rice, a lot of inspiring conversation recapping the day gave way to heavy eyes – it was time to again tame the cloth tiger. I fell into the hammock that night an Oscar-Meyer wiener in a hot dog bun but that was okay, not the heat, not even that obnoxious engine would rob me of the joyous adrenaline my heart sent surging throughout my body bringing peace and needed rest. I prayed silently, “Thank you, Lord, for this amazing blessing, for all I have seen and witnessed today. Forgive me for having doubted you this morning, I will never do that again” – or so I thought. “Good night, Jesus.”