Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Blessing of Living a New Year: Walking with the Savior!

2010 is upon us! In the midst of celebrating the end of one year and the beginning of another, we often pause to reflect on the old and make resolutions for the new. In short we consider how we have walked the past twelve months and where we would like to walk in the ones ahead. The Scriptures have quite a bit of advice on walking. Consider the following:

  • Enoch walked with God, Genesis 5:22-24. If we walk right God will take us higher!
  • The Godhead expects us to do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God, Micah 6:8. We demonstrate justice and mercy if we follow Him.
  • “I will walk among you and be your God … and enable you to walk with your heads held high,” Leviticus 26:12-13.
  • Deuteronomy 10;12, “What does God ask but to respect Him, walk in all His ways, love Him and serve Him with all your heart.”
  • “Blessed is the one who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked but delights in the law of the Lord,” Psalm 1:1-2.
  • “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for You are with me,” Psalm 23:4.
  • “I will walk around in freedom for I have sought Your precepts,” Psalm 119:45.
  • “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord,” Isaiah 2:5.
  • “No matter where you are … you ears will hear a Voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it!’” Isaiah 30:21. (The benefits of this walk are seen in verses 18-28!)
  • “… ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls …” Jeremiah 6:16.
  • “Get up! Take up your mat and walk,” Mark 2:9.
  • “… whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness,” John 8:12.
  • “But, if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another … and His blood purifies us from all sin,” I John 6:7.
  • “… His command is that we walk in love,” II John 6.
  • “Jesus walked on the water and came toward them,” Matthew 14:29.
  • “My greatest joy is to see His children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded,” II John 4.

All this walking is directed to a purpose … simply put, being a person of Messiah Love. When we plot our course for this New Year, let us keep the end of this blessing in view, the blessing of being like our Savior. Our highest passion should be to demonstrate Messiah Love (Romans 5:8).

Blessed are those who wait on (expect from) Him, Isaiah 30:18, or “Oh the happiness and joy that comes to those who learn to ‘put’ all of their issues in Christ” (Mt. 5:6,8). They know that if they immerse their pressures and problems in the “living water” the Father will activate and merge them in His redemptive mix and enable them to drink the cup of His purpose and pleasure!

It is when you drink your cup for you that your waiting and expectations will be realized. Only then do you follow the Master in your walk as He followed the Father's ordained walk to His cross. This is the walk of Isaiah 53. Every true Disciple whose ambition it is to live a life of Messiah Love should “walk through” every verse of Isaiah 53. It is here we most vividly and perfectly see the path our Father has for us all. It is the path He chose for His Son to walk! Let us ponder Isaiah 53:10 and seek its implications for our own lives!

“After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life and be satisfied …” Isaiah 53:11

My testimony, in spite of my sin grief, is that I am satisfied!! I heartily and earnestly say with John Newton: “I am a great sinner, but I have a great Savior!”

From all of us at Ventures for Christ, may 2010 be a year of His greatness in your life!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Making the Old Story Come Alive

To meet with God in the story is to be changed.”*

One of the greatest ways to fully appreciate Christmas is to “put” yourself into the story of the Nativity of our blessed Lord. To “put” ourselves in Christ is to see His Cup, His Cross and His Commission in every experience of life … be it the best or worst! Both joy and sorrow can be windows to enter the Presence of God! And when He is in the midst … when you are “touching” Him with your heart … filled with the current of a new way to go, a new truth that compels and the new life that is really life taking hold of you … then the victories and defeats of earth don’t matter, or perhaps they matter a little, but distantly! What matters in an all consuming and fulfilling way is that you have seen afresh “the glory (significance) of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Cor. 4:6). No wonder we call this “the Good News.” Finding more of the Messiah in His authentic, stunning wonder leaves you wanting only more of Him! Everything else becomes secondary or irrelevant. The “more” of anything else is quite useless unless the Savior wants you to have it and use it to exalt His magnificence! Our Lord is honored when we find the reality of His Promises to conquer our pain in a way that delivers us into His Presence. To “put” ourselves into the meaning of the manger “puts” clarity into everything else.

The Cup of Christ, the Cross of Christ and the Commission of Christ is the reality that every Cross Disciple should seek. Frankincense speaks of the cup.

Frankincense was the sweet fragrance of the Cup that the Son would be honored to drink in sadness for the sin of the world. This He would do in order for the Father to display His mercy, justice, love and forgiveness. Blessed are those who drink the Cup of Isaiah 53.

Myrrh is the bitter perfume that speaks of the agony of the Cross. It tells of the sacrifice that must be made … the blood that must be spilt … the lonely anguish to be endured. Blessed are those who hang on the Cross of Isaiah 53.

Gold is the sign of kingship, authority and honor. The richest possession one can have. This gift of Commission belongs to all those who have been chosen by the Father to be triune worshippers of His Son’s birth. They, of all the people of the earth, have more to say of significance than anyone else. They have seen the Lord of Glory! Blessed are those who have the Commission of Isaiah 53.

The Babe in the manger is God’s thunder to all those who “put” themselves there with Him … a “little one” in the hands of the Father. Their lives will be glorious to the degree they see the Christmas message of drinking His Cup, carrying His Cross and accepting His Commission. Christmas is when we begin to learn the meaning of Isaiah 53.

* Opening quote from Reading the Bible Wisely by Richard Briggs

Thursday, December 10, 2009

We Must Recognize the Power and Purpose of Relationship Failures

All people, Christians included, experience continuous relationship failure. It especially happens in the family … marriage, children, in-laws, parents, etc. … and then trickles or gushes out to friends, employers, fellow employees, professional relationships, casual acquaintances, service personnel, members of “your church,” leaders of all sorts, etc. Why? For at least four inescapable reasons: 1) the sin energy in you and them, 2) the sin energy of the world’s fallen culture, 3) the sin energy abetted by the demonic. The fourth “reason” could be because 4) God has allowed “sin energy,” but we must quickly state that He Himself is never the source of anything evil or sinful (James 1:13).

A stunning revelation to me as I examined Scripture on relationships was the family tensions and conflicts that weighed down, discouraged and absorbed so many of the Father’s chosen leaders. These people are the “greats” of the Bible, yet their Relationship Failures are ever with them. Let’s look at a few and be amazed.

Adam just sat there passively and observed Eve being fast talked and deceived by the Serpent. Adam backpedaled from responsibility for his wife even though he knew the truth from God as well as she did. Even after he chose to eat the fruit with her, he blamed Eve when God called him on it. Adam and Eve stayed married and had kids and continued in their creation purpose yet there is a huge “but”! When a wife is not protected by her husband’s leadership and then is blamed when his action or inaction causes deep problems, there is only one way to define it: Failed Relationships.

Abraham and Sarah had been holding on to the promise of God to give them a child for over twenty years … (Twenty Years!) … and still nothing had happened. No promised son had been born to them. Didn’t God realize [sic] their age and that time was running out? Did this tension and test bring them closer together to “refocus” on God’s Word? No! Sarah hatched her own plan. She decided on her own to use Hagar, her maid, and do God’s will Sarah’s way. Abraham went along with it! Was he too passive? Despairing? Wanting to please Sarah? A brief time of emotional weakness? (Rom. 4:20). Was it a sudden demonic attack of self-pity or “it’s not worth it” despair? Or was it a “this is my last chance” philosophy? Whatever! The deed was done. The creation of the flesh was born! Conflict from the boy child began immediately. It has continued for 4,000 years reaching a crescendo even today, in our generation, in the Middle East. Think of Abraham and Sarah’s regrets today over their experience of Failed Relationship. Their Ishmael father of the Arabs and their Isaac father of Israel continue in bitter conflict to this day. Together they chose their actions over God’s promise and their “togetherness” was never the same.

Job is certainly one of Scripture’s greatest heroes. No one else had it made, then lost it all, endured untold mental and physical sufferings, agonized for spiritual answers and finally “put” it all back together again better than ever as well as Job. One of the greatest lessons from his story is that he was “the battlefield” of a contest between the Godhead and Satan and Job didn’t even know it! You’d think that a man like this … so loved, used, vindicated and blessed by the Father … would have had a great marriage to sustain him. Mrs. Job should be proud, honored and recognized. She was married to one of God’s great stars, chosen to be the ultimate human example of what a man who suffers yet who truly trusted God looks like. You can just see Mrs. Job standing there with Job by the ash heap, guitar in hand, singing “I’ll Stand By My Man”!

But no! It wasn’t that way! She had born all of Job’s kids, watched him grow and manage his fortune and had put up with all his spiritual talk for years. She knew what hypocrites most religious people were. She desired Job should “be practical,” quit whining over his problems and give up all this spiritual dialogue with his redneck friends. She knew they didn’t need to pray together about his health either. It was a lost cause! To put all this in one encompassing phrase, the Scripture has Mrs. Job … in “supposed” love, concern, spiritual insight and encouragement … utter the following words to her husband: “Why do you insist on holding on to your faith? It’s not working! Just bless and curse God for His betrayal and then die!” Job told her that the wise accept both good and evil in their created life and the Lord has a purposed control for it!

It’s obvious to anyone who can read between the lines that Mr. and Mrs. Job had some work to do on their mutual faith and vision. We are forced to call theirs a Failed Relationship.

There is so much more: Isaac and Rebekah over Esau and Jacob; Jacob over Leah and Rachel; Judah and Tamar; Samuel and his sons; David and Absalom; Hosea and Gomer; etc. Rich insight is gained from how those who love God were all victims of Failed Relationships. King David nailed it with one all-encompassing statement in Psalm 60:11-12: “Give us aid against the enemy, for the help of man is worthless. With God we will gain the victory, and He will trample down our enemies.”

Whatever is not of God in our lives is “our enemy.” The evil of the world, the deceptions of the demonic, other people and, above all, we can be our own worst enemy. To look to any other person for what the Godhead has reserved to Himself to give is a worthless and vain pursuit. We must grow in maturity to see that all failed relationships on earth are simply pointers to that one relationship that will not … cannot … fail. We should continue in joy and praise through all failed relationships … rejection, hurt, sadness, misunderstanding, betrayal, loneliness, emptiness, seeming hopelessness, etc. … and keep coming back to find new depth in the non-failing relationship we can have with our Lord.

Relationship with Him … our Creator-Redeemer-Perfecter … trumps all others. This alone is the relationship that will lead us to overcome all things (John 16:33). Asaph, one of the great Psalm writers of Israel, must have learned the lesson of Failed Relationships. Let us all ponder well his Spirit inspired words in Psalm 73:25-26. Let us seek first in everything “Jesus Only.”

Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Relationship Failures: The Reality That Fuels Authentic Faith

It is a rare thing to build God’s kind of relationship with another person. Most relationships in life are no more than functionary, casual, pretense or self-serving. Rare are those connections with other human beings that are bonded in authentic love, spiritually significant and God compelled. Yet we should always be seeking to make “spirit connections” to people so that we create the possibility of an impacting “Christ touch” that is ennobling, giving and truth energizing. It is part of the Master’s pattern for our relationships that we do not have to wait until we encounter perceived “worthy” or “significant” people to initiate a “Jesus connection.” Even if the other person is blind to your heart or too self-occupied or spiritually dense to accept your “grace attempts,” you still enhance yourself in the understanding of what “Messiah love action” is all about. Learning how Jesus felt when He was rejected by those He created and loved is one of our greatest lessons in living the Christ Life. Only by experiencing the humiliation of being ignored and/or disdained by others can we begin to appreciate the grief of our Lord for us! The Cross Disciple can always win in every situation … be it the worst or best of circumstances … because he or she uses experience to adjust their grasp of reality to the Mind of Christ! Life doesn’t get any better than living it with His Mind! This “puts” all of our contacts with other people into the flow of His will. The highest relationships we can realize are the ones where we initiate in others a new or refreshed passion for more of Christ. All else fades into necessity, routine or trivia.

When a relationship is at the “flesh connections” only level, it always leaves a void. It is after only a minor reminder of the shallowness of human nature or the nature of much human activity that we perceive how empty others leave us. Yet, frequently, there is the painful prick of conscience that our deepest interest in another person is only surface. Between “us” there is nothing more than the touch of have to, non-concern, low-mindedness, greediness and lie enforcement at worst. At best, it is only the necessary and brief routines of function. Have you ever been waited on or served by a self-centered clerk or disinterested waitress? There may be politeness and even gratitude, but nothing much “of Jesus” is exchanged.

These relationships never even approach “eros,” the most limited yet passionate of human loves. As C.S. Lewis, the great British popular apologist, reminds us: when speaking of being “in love” (eros), poor as such passion is in comparison to agape, the love that comes from the Godhead, a person in “eros” is as close to understanding what true, sacrificial agape is all about as their human experience allows. How sad that such flawed and insufficient relationships define the best that many people experience of the true nature of love (agape). They never grasp or express the truth about the great Lover of their souls, Messiah Jesus.

How do we give “new health” to such relational impotence? The best stimulants and vitamins we can ingest to make “spiritual connections” and the finest antidote and pain killer we can take to diminish our “flesh connections” is to radically dedicate our daily encounters to “being Jesus” to every person we touch! This all-consuming passion will correct, teach, refine, reduce or resolve every other issue or circumstance of our relationship experiences. Such a vision will instantly begin to heal our inner confusion as well as our outer tensions. To truly be alive to this “magnificent obsession” of being “a Jesus” to everyone you can is the supreme vision of our creation (Gen. 1:26-28) and recreation (II Cor. 5:17). This is the only normative philosophical mindset where “one-size-fits-all!” To authentically “know” you no longer belong to yourself (I Cor. 6:19-20), that your highest Christ worship is being a self-dead, Christ-alive cross taker (Luke 9:23-24), that your life has been and presently is being crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20) and that the Lord Himself constantly delivers you to death situations (II Cor. 4:­­11) so that you can die daily (I Cor. 15:30-31) is the most significant Christ theology a professed Disciple can “put” into his or her mind. And it is in our heart controlled mind where the God changed life begins (Eph. 1:17-19). The truth must be precisely “put” into your mind before you can precisely “put” your life “as a Jesus” into your relationships with others!

The practical block and hindrance to a Disciple “taking up the cross” is that most Christians don’t know what a real cross in their life looks like or should look like. Further, “taking up” is falsely understood as “something to do” rather than primarily “someone to become.” Our cross is to encounter the world as it really is in all of its sad falleness and to determine we will respond to it with the Mind of Christ. Armed with His Mind and Heart we increasingly seek to drink His cup for us, hang on His cross for us and to accept His commission for us. As we progress in this vision, our relationship to the Savior is deepened, enriched and all consuming. At the same time, our relationships with all others take on the love, light and fragrance of Jesus. This is the abundant life the Lord desires to give us if we will accept and yield to His cup, cross and commission.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (abundantly). John 10:10

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

War, Peace and the Pinnacle: Part 3

This post is from a response I made to a former member of my congregation after he e-mailed me a question. One of our fine Baptists, Dr. Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, made a statement concerning a position on war and foreign policy determined by President Bush on Iraq. The issue of chief concern was Dr. Land’s saying all Baptist agreed with the President’s response to 9/11. My answer, concerning some of my thoughts on the complex issues of war, peace, foreign policy and a Cross Disciple’s response, follows.

Post Script

Most importantly and basically, I hold again that this is a “triune issue.” To discuss war and peace alone creates nothing more than the usual dualistic dilemma that delivers us to diminishment! We must recognize the third reality of every concept or circumstance … truth! Although there is pervasive truth of “peace being desired,” there is the insurmountable truth of “war being determined.” Where is the man, the country, the government that will end war and usher in a pure and real peace? Give me one shred of evidence that mankind has the will, wisdom and resolve to do it! It is a futile exercise in illusion!

The truth of “triune thinking” places peace and war as the two second level priorities that they are. Kipling had it right in his famous poem, “If,” when he called both victory and defeat imposters! It is also true when naive, selfish and senseless human beings long for a “godless peace” by ending “human wars.”

It is only the pressure and pleasure of a ruling, loving, righteous Lord Who will end mankind’s endless conflicts and deliver again an Edenic peace! Only Jesus Christ qualifies to establish such a divine ideal! The “peaces” and “wars” of earth are only temporary dualistic dilemmas that will never be controlled by man. They are God’s sovereign tools, however, to reveal the third and higher reality to the eyes, mind and heart of those who “faith Jesus.” “For He Himself is our peace, Who has made the two one, and has destroyed the barrier …” (Eph. 2:14).

Our Lord has so allowed it that during our earthly journey all of us must struggle with our views of and participation in peace and war! But the highest conflict is not to end war or to enforce peace. These are limited dualistic areas. The true struggle of our earth life is to embrace the purity that sees God (Mt. 5:5). In “the churn” of war and peace our most significant and ultimate endeavor is to receive God’s gifts, find His higher truth and have the realities of eternity opened before our eyes (Mt. 7:7). Life for the Christ Disciple is much more than the dualism of defeat or victory. It is the trinitarian goal of overcoming both. Both peace and war on earth are irrelevant to the higher purpose of the Father, but I must save that compelling thought for another letter! Let it suffice for now that the only effective foreign policy by any country will have to be God’s policy!

This is “the foreign policy” that should have first billing on the lips of every “cross savvy” ambassador of our Lord Christ Jesus (II Cor. 5:20-21).

Great peace have they who love Your law; nothing shall make them stumble. Psalm 119:165

Thursday, November 19, 2009

War, Peace and the Pinnacle: Part 2

The following post is from a response I made to a former member of my congregation after he e-mailed me a question. One of our fine Baptists, Dr. Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, made a statement concerning a position on war and foreign policy determined by President Bush on Iraq. The issue of chief concern was Dr. Land’s saying all Baptist agreed with the President’s response to 9/11. My answer, concerning some of my thoughts on the complex issues of war, peace, foreign policy and a Cross Disciple’s response, follows.

Each of us is “condemned” to act out a less than perfect role on earth no matter what political path one might choose … be it conservatives, liberal, passive or radical. All four positions can be “extreme.” When it comes to war … is one basically a 1) conscientious objector (I will never fight), 2) a pacifist (all violence is wrong, but I may be forced to fight), 3) a just war believer (war is necessary, like capital punishment, but I’ll be sure of the justice of it before I fight) or 4) a holy war advocate (it is the instrument of God and we should fight anytime it will advance our highest purpose).

Everything Dr. Land said fits somewhere into the four categories above. The differing phases of each have been chosen by sincere Christians for 2,000 years. His error, if I understand the issue correctly, would have me say I agree with you. He should not write as though he speaks for all Southern Baptists on this multi-option subject. We must remember, however, reading his letter in 2009 can in no way recapture the intensity, shocks, wounds and fears of the American people when he wrote it in 2002. We must see it in the light of the fresh experience of 9/11. They are different worlds!

U.S. foreign policy today plays musical chairs continually, as we have for over 220 years. We can be either isolationist (Europe – 1940) on an issue or imperialistic (Spain – 1898). If neither of those fit, we are either benevolent interventionists (Indian Ocean tsunami relief – 2004) or self-interested interventionists (Kuwait – 1990). I could offer numerous historical illustrations, if I took the time and space, for these four options. (I contend there are always four options that surround us personally and nationally.) This would make for an excellent research paper (it probably already exists in many formats). Whoever is in the White House at the time of a decision will tip the scales of foreign policy according to the political climate of the times. The president’s political party, the American electorate and personal ideology cannot be ignored. In the midst of critical events, principle is often lost, if ever known.

My primary responsibility as a servant of Jesus is to hear the voice of the Master for my life calling and then yield to His specific, eternal and global desires for my personal cross mission. Mine is to be a Citizen of Heaven above all other loyalties. I do have a secondary responsibility to be the best citizen I can be of the United States. Right or wrong, it is my only country to make “politically better.” But no matter how “better” I might make it, all human governments will always be malignant with sinful human nature; even the best acclaimed “good” will only be temporary, even though beneficial for a season. Nevertheless, those of us who see the world with the eyes of Christ and invest our energies in the Savior’s global mission can affect every nation on earth with spiritual and even political and economic “salvation!” Rich evidence to this fact is everywhere!

Yet again, my primary responsibility as a Cross Disciple on this earth is to increase my praise, perception and performance as an individual in order to reflect the faith and fragrance of my true Commander Warrior General, Jesus Christ. May God help us all to see this priority and pay the price to aim for its fulfillment!

I am not primarily a conservative, a liberal, a radical or a passivist. I am, by God’s grace, a pinnacleist. I seek to see all four positions noted above with the mind of Christ. Each ideology reflects both truth and lie, and they can only come to highest unity with the mind of Christ in His “fullness of time.” I seek to sit on the pinnacle of the pyramid of my life experience and theologically and philosophically reign over each of the four positions. It is there that I will see most clearly the Lord’s 360 degree vision of His creation. Only “on the pinnacle” of my personal life pyramid will my vision be such that I can most powerfully reflect to others the approval and authority of Christ in my words and in my deeds. Although I am a small, limited little man in this world’s vast order of things, I will strive to contribute my creative best to help people, honor Christ’s Lordship and “cross advance” my own issues. In essence, I am joyfully waiting on the Savior’s coming kingdom … the only government that will be true, just, perfect and full of the Lord from heaven. While I wait, I am contentedly occupied with only one goal … “finding more of the Master in the midst of the mess.” In this way, I will most perfectly be His warrior and “fight the good fight of faith” (I Tim. 6:12; II Tim. 4:7). (To put “fight the good fight” in more brilliant and enthralling tones … let us hear it in the Greek and praise the Source of all we are even more … Paul’s words to dear Timothy and to us should fire our hearts, “The good agony I have agonized.” Therefore you too should “… agonize the good agony of the faith.” Thank God we have been granted this kind of suffering for the Savior’s sake (Phil. 1:29).) I take the great Apostle’s counsel to his faithful Timothy as the Savior’s personal word to me!
  • “He trains my hands for battle.” Psalm 18:34
  • Or as David put it in Psalm 120:6-7,”Too long have I lived among those who hate peace. I am a man of peace, but when I speak, they are for war.”
  • “There is a season for every activity under heaven … a time for peace and a time for war.” Ecclesiastes 3:1,8

These, my friend, are a few of my thoughts on President Bush, Dr. Land and, above all, you and me! May our Lord enable us all to go to the pinnacle as we remain four brothers in Christ.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

War, Peace and the Pinnacle: Part 1

This post is from a response I made to a former member of my congregation after he e-mailed me a question. One of our fine Baptists, Dr. Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, made a statement concerning a position on war and foreign policy determined by President Bush on Iraq. The issue of chief concern was Dr. Land’s saying all Baptist agreed with the President’s response to 9/11. My answer, concerning some of my thoughts on the complex issues of war, peace, foreign policy and a Cross Disciple’s response, follows.

A Reply to a Letter on the Iraq War

Your facts about the war in Iraq seem right to me. But even if they are perfect and rightly interpreted, facts are never enough for “triune solutions”! We’ll never know if the WMD evidence at the time supported our response or not. I do see an Islamic country with a democratic government as the “camel’s nose” to our security. Yet life is always “a mixed bag,” just like Moses’ “mixed multitude.” For the last several centuries Islam declined to poverty and weakness, though they had leaders who remained radical. In our day they have become again rich, powerful and even more radical.

U.S. diplomacy always rises or falls to the level of a current administration’s “sin level” … I’d include every president from Wilson to Obama in our WWI to Iraq/Afghanistan drama. Our foreign policy has not been perfectly consistent or ethically rational even though that was our goal. How consistent and rational can a foreign policy be when our options and leaders are in constant flux? Even if one course of action is worse or better, inconsistency and irrationality are the causes of policy. This is true from Andrew Jackson’s Trail of Tears to L.B.J.’s “no win” in Vietnam.

Mankind will never be able to govern themselves in a lasting, peaceful, righteous and fully beneficial way. They may insist on keeping their dream of building “a good Tower of Babel” but they will never finish it! General Patton, addressing his troops before Operation Overlord in WWII, knew all the peace conferences, diplomatic negotiations, treaties, charters and international organizations, etc. may look good and sound good, but they were all useless when it comes to stopping war. It won’t work. “The quickest way to get [this war] over with is to go get the [madmen] who started it.” Christians, even the ones most committed to the Cross, are both as brilliant and confused as all other parties involved when it comes to motives, diplomacy, policy, integrity, comprehension and war making. We are all generational victims of our cultures and our times. It makes no difference if one is a devoted Christ Disciple in England, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Israel, Korea, Brazil, India or America, etc. We are all prisoners to the different levels of our fellow citizen’s falleness. Human efforts will never eliminate war or establish a truly just government. I would confidently say our U.S. founders did the best job of it throughout all of history. America has been the greatest nation in 4,000 years of civilization when it comes to creating the most freedom, the most prosperity, the most opportunity, the most equality, the most progressive justice, the most benevolence, the most influence, the most idealism and the most economic and military power! It has provided these benefits to the greatest number of its citizens, more than any other nation that has ever existed.

This is all according to God’s design. His truest, deepest people come to see that the kings and kingdoms of this earth are just continuous and temporary passing dramas for proving again and again that our fallen and broken humanity will never fully face the Lord’s reality and learn His heart and His ways. Only those who follow Jesus after the manner of His cross really learn, find and overcome (Mt. 11:28-30; Luke 9:21-27). Only the most earnest Cross Disciples of Christ the Savior truly “catch on to what’s really going on” and walk the earth with His light, for His significance and contribute to His glory!

The best Christians with the most brilliant and gifted minds about “human government” can only “tinker with it” and “tweak it.” They can make it better and more just, but they will never fix it! The next generation of non-learners will always force their own ignorance, short sightedness and mistakes on any government. In Romans 11:32, Paul summarizes all of mankind’s unjust and inept governments and their dilemmas of failed deliverance with these words, “For God has put all mankind in the prison house of disobedience (they can’t deliver themselves) so that He may have mercy on them all (as they come to their senses)” (H.D.M. translation).

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Bullet of Dependence: The Combat Pilot’s Greatest Calling

The heroic warrior is an ancient and enduring figure in our cultural imagination –

  • David pitted against the physically imposing Goliath

  • Alexander the Great astride Bucephalus,

  • Joan of Arc at the head of the French army

  • Nelson aboard his flag ship at Trafalgar

  • Washington shivering at Valley Forge

  • Jim Bowie defending the Alamo

  • Grant taking Lee’s surrender at Appomattox

  • Sergeant York in the Argonne

  • Patton leading the 3rd Army into Germany

  • John McCain in the “Hanoi Hilton”

One of my favorite icons of a great hero is the combat fighter pilot. The successful ones are the most skilled pilots to ever fly. Comic artist Charles Schultz drew upon this image to create a romantic hero, the WWI Flying Ace, for his ever- popular cartoon character, Snoopy. Lying atop his doghouse, Snoopy dreams of flying his Sopwith Camel into the sun to confuse his arch enemy, the Red Baron, in their solo duel for supremacy. As Snoopy and the Red Baron battle, they are each determined to prove their prowess and skill. It is a battle of the best against the best. Even when Snoopy is shot down he shakes his paw at the sky and throws out his immortal words, “Curse you, Red Baron, until we meet again!”

Snoopy’s WWI Flying Ace is a lone hero but real combat pilots know that they are totally dependent on many others if they are to fight successfully. First, they depend on the machine they fly. A combat airplane is an astonishing creation. A modern fighter is costly and extremely complex with mechanical, electronic and computer systems that ensure its dependability and efficiency. (How about one billion per plane?!?!) The pilot trusts his life to the engineering of his craft each time he flies. It is an amazing feat to lift tons of metal into the air, maintain its supersonic flight and equip it to engage in overpowering warfare. A combat pilot is nothing without his aircraft.

A combat pilot flies because he has received orders. He has a specific mission, has been given “war plan” guidance and is briefed on how that mission is to be accomplished. These orders come from his commander who expects him to carry them out to the best of his ability and regardless of risk!

Although a pilot is in total charge of his plane, he is not alone. Unless he is in a single seater, he has his flight crew. Even solo pilots communicate with others who can help them “fly” their mission. Every pilot also has his ground crew. He and his support personnel must draw on all the resources of the military to have the knowledge, the equipment and the tools they need to keep the aircraft “in commission.” The plane must be “combat ready” for every mission it is tasked to perform and be ready at a moment’s notice!

When pilots enter combat they either go solo, in a flight of two or in a formation. Tactics have changed radically over the last 100 years and are still changing. From the solo warriors of WWI, to the massed bombers of WWII, to the unmanned combat aircraft of today, air warfare is still developing. When engaged as a flight of two, the lead pilot must trust his wingman to aide him in carrying out the mission, protecting his rear (6 o’clock position) and returning safely. Flying in formation is more than exciting public relations as done by such crack teams as the Thunderbirds (Air Force) and Blue Angels (Navy). It is the craft of the combat pilot to fit his airplane into a seamless, deadly aerial ballet with his friends and against his foes.

Combat pilots must spend many hours perfecting their tactics. The science of warfare has been continuously taught for centuries from military academies, to special schools within the military … from veterans to recruits … and, most significantly, from combat experience itself. The true warrior never stops learning. From ancient China and Assyria to Greece and Rome, from the Crusades to Renaissance Europe, from our American Revolution to the modern military, the study and teaching of the rules and ruses of armed human conflict have been a discipline of scholar and warrior alike. No combat pilot flies and conquers successfully without the radical discipline of combat tactics becoming as natural as breathing. The skill demanded is ever changing and never ending. The “combat zone” demands risk, skill, tenacity and courage whether one is in air combat, bombing a target, conducting a chopper rescue or flying a critical cargo!

True Cross Disciples are the combat pilots in the “spiritual combat zone” in which all of us live. They are not alone in living the Christ Life, even though they are the first line of offense/defense against the enemies of the Gospel of Jesus. The Church, other Believers, and the Holy Spirit guide and encourage them as they lead the battle to study holy, to think holy, to be holy and to act holy. Cross Disciples have a Commander Who has given them orders. Christ Jesus has set the bar and the standard by His Own mission assignment from the Father. As our Head, He took up His own Combat Cross and told us to “follow Me … and I will make you …” what I want you to be (Jesus in Matthew 4:19).

The ultimate aim of every Christian should be evident. We must walk the path of discipleship until we are “spiritually combat ready” to take our place in Christ’s Church as Cross Disciples. We do not sustain ourselves alone. We do not train alone. We do not disciple ourselves alone nor do we go into combat alone. But all true Cross Disciples must decide they will, if necessary, die alone for the cause for which they live. Our Lord Himself has demonstrated the war plan and, if we love Him and value His lead, we must follow. There is no other way to truly be His Warrior!

For we who are alive are always being given over to death (ordered into combat) for Jesus’ sake, so that His life (of cross-resurrection promise) may be revealed in our mortal body!” II Corinthians 4:11. HDM

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Bullet of Meaning: What Do You Expect from Life?

Let us recap the things we should seek to get, see and feel from an “expectant life” while living our “life expectancy” in His gentle Hands:

We should be stretching to see His wonder – the Living Word – Jesus
We should be skilled in understanding His Mind – the Written Word – Scripture
We should be striving to express His Presence – the Witness Word – Us

When we abandon ourselves to pursue these three Word realities, we can expect the most from life!

Remember that the concept of “Word” in the Greek is a manifestation of an idea. It is the embodying of a concept, the expression of a thought. Jesus was/is the ultimate symbol of the Mind of the Godhead’s Character. It is also seen in Jesus’ title as the Word of God, the incarnation of “I Am.” It is our supreme honor, calling and challenge to become maximum living witnesses to that Word. Again, “As the Father has sent Me, so send I you” (John 17:18, 20:21).

The years of “life expectancy” we might have are nothing when compared to the “daily expectations” of Jesus Christ flooding our lives with His Presence! It is always, always our privilege to come to the Father daily through the Son so that we may live above and beyond the limits of time and earthbound existence through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The Godhead “functions” in perfect harmony to make our lives full, rewarding, productive, profitable and a peon of tribute and praise to the Father. This happens increasingly as we “put” all of our experiences “in Christ”! Our “word of witness” is that we have truly tasted the Godhead as our Creator-Redeemer-Perfecter! It is that “word of witness” that transforms every Cross Disciple into one who will humbly bear the title of a “Witness Word” for the magnificence of the Lord Jesus.

Our Lord’s high priestly prayer, in John 17, focuses a floodlight of revelation on our most exalted life expectations as desired for us by the Master. Thoughts of life expectancy will fade when compared to “putting” our expectations in the expectations the Savior has for us. In verse 6, Jesus confirms that “He has revealed the Father’s name.” In verse 8, that “He has given the words the Father gave Him to the world of humanity.” From verse 8 to 17, the Lord Jesus lists at least eight things He did for the Father and for others. In verse 18, He makes it clear that we, His Disciples, are to aim at doing the same. Let these amazing words sink deep in our weak and inadequate hearts! “As You, Father, sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” Incredible! He has chosen to make us into His “Witness Words” of the Father’s glory! What can my heart cry out but “Lord, Help me!”

Here, then, is the essence of it all: If you are serious about being a Cross Disciple your job description is short. Your task is the same as Christ’s. Your life’s purpose as His son or daughter is to reveal the true Father to others! As a new creation in Christ you are now a “sent one!” Stunningly, we are to live as individual incarnations of Jesus to everyone “the Father gives us!” This is too much for the mind of the flesh to comprehend. Yet it is true! Those who earnestly get on with the Jesus business of Cross Discipleship will discover it to be so. The most thrilling and filling experience of life is to reveal Jesus to others! Is it any wonder that our days can be filled with “expectations” as we truly become a Witness Word for the Master?

But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the LORD …” Micah 7:7

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Bullet of Meaning: The Expectant Life and the Godhead’s Three Words

It is far more important to be focused on our life expectations than our life expectancy. Wise Disciples first discern what our “Jesus’ Truth” is for the day rather than be a slave of culture’s mantra to extend our days! This distinction is critical if we are to turn our lives into something more than a repetitious count of our years on earth. It will benefit each of us to ask, “What do I expect to comprehend about life, get from life, see in life, feel about life and, above all, contribute to life? How much of the Father’s divine idea can I get into me while I walk the earth?” When we strive to uncover the deeper answers to these inquiries, we will start to assimilate and discern the secondary relevance of “life expectancy” and the primary urgency of “life expectations.” One of our best perceptual tools for doing so is to understand the Greek meaning for the term “WORD.” The primary Greek word is “logos” … the message, idea, the voice of deity, the divine intention, will and expression. The “Word” term is comprehensive of Who the Lord of heaven and earth truly is and the declaration of what He intends for mankind. My contention is that it has three contexts, each equally important. When we think of “the Word” we must not limit the term to the Bible only. There are three “Words” hidden in the Master’s heart that the Cross Disciple must grasp. There is the Living Word (Christ), the Written Word (Scripture) and the Witness Word (the Disciple).

The Living Word (the Christ message), the Written Word (the Scripture message) and the Witness Word (the Disciple message) are to merge into “one” to bring God’s light into the darkness of a fallen world. These three “WORDS”, or concepts, or realities, give us fantastic insight into our servant partnership with our Living Lord. “Knowing” their implications and nuances with your heart is to know God as He desires to be known! “This is eternal life, that they may know Thee, Father, the only True God, and Jesus Christ, Whom You have sent” (John 17:3). We love the Living Word, Christ; we know the Word Mind of Scripture, and we share the Word Witness with all whom we can!

First, let us consider the Living Word … Jesus. When we become deeply acquainted with the first of these three “Words,” we will be able to sense, to see, to touch, to behold and to experience His Presence. He is really with us when we authentically believe and trust Him. Faith is not something we get but something we already have by creation. Obedience only clarifies what we believe. The results of our obediences will reveal to us the authentic source of our belief. Has our true faith been centered in Jesus or centered in a confused self or in the idols of a deceived world? Do we truly love Him or do we “just think” we love Him because of the things He does for us?

“We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands. The person who says, I know him, but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him (I John 2:4). But if anyone obeys His word, God's love is truly brought to completion in him. This is how we know we are in Him: Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:3-6). We can expect a vital relationship with the Living Word. He expects from us that we repeat His life on the earth! (Jn. 17:18, 20:21). For our comfort we must remember constantly that we cannot perfectly obey His commands even though it is our deep desire to do so. We will never “live sinlessly.” But we even have a “command” for our frequent failings, “… if we confess our sins … He will faithfully forgive our unfaithfulness …” (I John 1:9). Hallelujah! In my own life I probably “obey” that commandment better than any other! Hence, I can “live blamelessly.”

We come to know the Godhead in ever increasing depth as we explore what it means to live in His Presence and learn His Truth. This means to become vitally aware of His promised realities. For this we must be students of His Scriptures (His second Word). His precepts, laws, ways, statutes, decrees, words, command, etc. must flow through our minds and hearts continuously! Our first commandment to keep and our first obedience to observe is to believe what He says! Our increased believing in and yielding to the Living Word is the path to perfect God’s love in us (I Peter 1:22-23). Knowing Jesus doesn’t mean we have “a list to obey” but “a Voice to listen to!” The Living Word didn’t come to earth to get us into heaven, but to get the Godhead into us! This experience confirms that our life expectancy and our life expectations can merge into one as we discover we are complete “in Christ.” Our past, present and future are in His competent Hands! “In the beginning was the Word … and the Word was made flesh … and dwelt among us … and we have been filled with His Fullness!” (John 1:1, 14, 16). Parents don’t want a child so they can have someone to teach their rules and commandments to. They want to create a little life so that they can live with their child “in the fullness of love”! Is it not the same with our Heavenly Father Who has “put” parent love in our hearts?

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39). Things present (expectations) and things to come (expectancy) are one when “put” in Christ!

Our second “Word,” where we are taught what it means to live an expectant life, is the Written Word, the Scripture. Studying this Word of God will reveal to us the mind and intentions of the Godhead. “For the Word of God (the living Christ and the written Scripture) is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (the heart is the essence of a person created and then recreated to be a Witness Word of God). Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to Whom we must give account (for our treatment of and response to truth)” (Heb. 4:12-13). The Scripture is where we study His Mind and Will and catch the mercy of His Heart! It is in the Bible alone we find the most objective and immediate display of the Father’s intentions and affections. The Scriptures are His “love letter” to His own. We can be ready to “give an account” of our truth discipleship when our spirit, soul and body have prepared our heart to reflect the character and fragrance of the Lord Jesus. We can expect many “maxi and mini” revelations from the Written Word. Our hunger for the Scriptures will refine our thinking and excite our praise! “… Your commandments (Words) have enlarged my heart!” (Ps. 119:32).

The third Word active in the world is the Witness Word. And “who” is that to be “but us,” Cross Disciples who are consumed and filled with love for the Living Word and the wisdom of the Written Word. When Jesus was ready to return to the Father after His resurrection, He gathered His followers together for a last meeting. In His final instructions He counseled them, “… but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). He intended that the world would see a witness to His magnificence through the lives of His followers. His great redemptive plan is for His Disciples to be Word Witnesses and convey the meaning of the Living Word and Written Word to the ends of the earth!

Unless our passion for living is to be like Jesus, act like Jesus, talk like Jesus, endure like Jesus, rejoice like Jesus, think like Jesus, plan like Jesus and respond like Jesus, we have no authentic or lasting purpose for our years of brevity and struggle. To live for yourself is to live for nothing. To live for others but to never be an agent of the three Words is to still live for nothing. Without Christ Jesus our life expectations and our life expectancy are nothing. Let us hear the dear Apostle Paul, “For me to be alive is Christ!” (Phil. 1:21).

Unless we comprehend that the Father has now sent us into the world just as He sent His Son, we have no compelling and empowering authority or strength. Unless our witness is grounded in the energy of the Holy Spirit, we will have no authentic spiritual fruit from our living! We can confidently expect many daily resurrections from the Living Word and the Written Word in our cross seeking to become a Witness Word for our Messiah. Our Witness Word is not only to the wonder of Who Jesus is but to the joyous news that we have found His love and forgiveness for our failures! Hallelujah!!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Bullet of Meaning: Life Expectancy

Man's days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” Job 14:5

The CIA Factbook for 2008 offers the following estimate of life expectancy for citizens of the United States, 78.06 years. It ranks US longevity 30th in the world behind such countries as number 1, Macau, at 84.379, Japan, 82.07, Switzerland, 80.22, Canada at 80.34 and South Korea, 79.10. Swaziland comes in at the bottom of the list of 191 countries with an average age of 32.23. The world average is 65.82 years. There are 110 countries on this list that have a life expectancy of 70 years or greater. On average women live 4 years longer than men world wide.

Many factors go into life expectancy. Here are a few that came to mind: infant mortality, war, auto accident rates, health care, endemic disease, droughts or famine, stress, crime, DNA, heredity and even the kinds of technologies readily available. Although the number of years a person may be expected to live can be calculated from statistics, it is wise to remember they only apply to a mythical “average” person. Each of us has only our “day” and our own number of “days” (Job 14:5; Ps. 90:12). What matters, however, is not how long we might live but what do we expect from our living? It’s not how many years we pack into our lives but how much life we pack into our years that will determine the quality of one’s life!

“Our life is but a mist, a vapor, a brief fog that vanishes before the morning sun” (James 4:14). Nature, culture, Scripture, God’s Spirit and our own experience of aging enforces that daunting prospect. Only by joining our life to the life the Father gives us “in Christ” are we secure from the ends and emptiness of death. Once the decline and death issue is “put” in its place through the Mind of Christ, we can get on with the main business of making the most of our time! (Eph. 5:15-17).

The wise “Cross Disciple” knows how to discern and navigate four important kinds of time. The Greek “time words” reveal a new way to look at time and discern how to conquer it. Without going into language technicalities and theological implications here is my simple summary. Hora (hour) is existence time that we all live in. Chronos (chronological) is calendar time that we measure our actions by, be it in minutes, hours, days, weeks, etc. Kairos (crisis, decision) is the critical time we face when serious judgments and responses must be made about people, thoughts and issues pressing in on us. Finally, aiones (ages) is the eternal time prepared for us in the coming kingdom. My definition for eternal time is somewhat of a contradiction (eternity does not have time) but in our limited world you know what I mean by it!

We could summarize by saying “I am alive and aware in this thing we call time (hora). I live by measuring its progress (chronos) and exercising my power to meet its challenges (kairos). There is no need to worry or let time control me as the Savior is with me in it and will use it for my ultimate (aiones) good! Time is not the answer to my pressures, but Christ in the midst of my time will tell me all I need to know and enable me to overcome!”

Is it any wonder that King David prayed, “Oh, Lord, my times are in Thy hands”? (Psalm 30:15). I’m confident he meant all four of our definitions even though he didn’t fully understand their deeper time meanings! We still don’t! What can we do but also in wisdom pray the prayer of King David!

“LORD, make me to know my end; And what is the extent of my days; Let me know how transient (temporary) I am (on this earth)” (Psalm 39:4).

We can also be at peace and full of praise as we have the Saviors final promise, “I Am with you all the days (hora, chronos, kairos) until the completion of the age (aiones)” (Mt. 28:20).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Bullet of Hanging There: I Want to be More Ready for More Cross!

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left.” Luke 23:32-33

Yes! Let us, too, learn “how to hang” with His praise on our lips and His promises in our heart … regardless of our circumstances. Let us be ready for the crosses of following in His steps. Let us then speak quickly to our Lord with that one critical request … that greatest confession that can ever come from human lips: “My Master … as I suffer from my own stupidities and the cruelties of an arrogant, hateful and blind world … don’t forget me … please include me … at that right time … when all will know … that you alone … are the King … and everything … on earth and in heaven … is your Kingdom! Please qualify me … your undeserving and unworthy servant … to be a part of it!” (Luke 23:42, HDM).

Could this criminal escape from his cross? Never! He was nailed for life. Could he triumph over it? Maybe later! When the Godhead had the final word in the age to come! Could he think above it? Yes! Now! He saw and heard in Jesus the purposes of heaven overcoming the forces of earth in the Master’s hanging and in the Master’s Voice. His heart was ignited for truth! That Voice was to him alone as his request was answered! And it was enough to seal his destiny! He could now share in the same overcoming decision our Lord had made when He accepted His cup! To “think above” is to “put” the world, yourself and the Lord in perfect perspective. Any suffering for Christ is never unto death but unto life! We know that radical reality empowers us to endure anything.

Our first and greatest single act and habit on earth is never to be connected to other people. It is first to learn how to be alone with God. Now! It is to “act on ourselves” by realizing that our primary purpose for all decisions on earth should focus on creating a “praise heart of joy” for Messiah Jesus! To be alone on our cross next to Jesus on His cross is to be alone with God and taste what was the most climatic redemptive moment of human history! This touch of wonder causes us to fall on our face in our inner heart with tears of gratitude in our eyes, with praise on our lips, with His mysteries in our mind, with His grace and truth in our vision and with a passion to yield all of our spirit to His adoration and pleasure!

We can truly seek and practice being overwhelmed by His Presence. These are those high and unspeakable moments when we know we possess peace with God, experience the peace of God and are ready to share with others our peace from God. This must have been our Lord’s heart that night before His crucifixion when He said to His few remaining followers, “…You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me” (John 16:32).

As the Savior perceived this “repentant man’s heart of faith” on the cross, He made the response that will echo through eternity to all who will call His name and yield to Him as Lord: “Truly … I tell you my new friend … today … with Me … you will be … in the paradise … of My Father” (Luke 23:43, HDM). Our dear Savior recently spoke to me at this point in my morning Quiet Time (I call it Praise Time) and gave me the same promise: “Today H, you will see again the wonders of My will, My ways, My perfection, My mysteries, if you will keep hanging with Me! You will learn the dignity, deliverance, contentment, grandeur and majesty of the privilege of suffering with Me and for Me! Test yourself to be sure it is for Me! Be sure it isn’t for you! It is when you suffer this world with Me and for Me that you hear My Voice most clearly. It is then you will be more convinced than ever about the redemption and perfection to be revealed! Let us endure this fallen earth together and do it for the significance and glory of “our Father.” Someday you will understand how it could please Him to allow both of us to hang here. I promise you that after it is all over, we will see the light of life and be satisfied (Is. 53:10-11).”

“Think about it, H! Your highest and most empowering path for living is not to ‘escape from’ your crosses and afflictions or even to ‘triumph over’ your problems or opponents. No! My exalted answer for you concerning your cross is to do what you saw Me do on My cross … ‘think above it!’”

Yes! Today! In the NOW! I am ready my Master! At least I want to be ready! Or at the very least, I want to be more ready! My eyes are open while I’m hanging and they are looking at You! We should all remember that we can endure in praise through any darkness if we keep looking in His direction and speaking His Name! It is then we become candidates for the gift of life’s greatest force for following Jesus … “thinking above!” To do so will “put” your finite existence in touch with the Savior’s infinite purposes!

Let the light of Your Face shine upon us, Oh Lord.” Psalm 4:6-8

My heart says to you … ‘seek His face!’ Your Face, Lord, will I seek.” Psalm 27:8

“… set your hearts on things above … set your minds on things above.” Colossians 3:1-2

Don’t ignore this wonderful reality! We can “hang” anywhere we are in praise so long as we keep “thinking above” and looking at His Face!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Bullet of Hanging There: Let Us Hang With Him!

Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’" Luke 23:42-43

To those of us who truly want to “hang with Jesus” … on our own cross next to His … this promise to a crucified criminal is still in warranty … even after 2000 years. But many crushing experiences are necessary before we can grasp and receive it. For this reason, we should always rejoice when things are hard! Especially when they are hard! (James 2:2). Why? Our hits and wounds can always drive us to more truth about the Messiah! So much can be gained when we have the opportunity to learn to suffer God’s way in a suffering world. It is our only way to authentically and experientially comprehend how Jesus suffered and to follow His path to resurrection. Hence, we should rejoice when we recognize our own sinful condition of spiritual weakness and poverty. We should rejoice that we have felt the criticism and rejection of others … non-believers and Christians alike. We should rejoice in our deeper discovery that apart from the cross of Christ there is no cure for our trivia, our failures, our evil, our self-absorption, our emptiness, our regrets! We should rejoice that we have been forced to realize our own helplessness and hopelessness without Jesus!

The repentant, guilty, crucified criminal who hung next to our Lord knew he had a very brief future. He knew it would be filled with excruciating pain. He was desperate for release from his agony. No doubt he eagerly longed for the escape of death. This same experience should be true, to some degree, for all Disciples as we discover the world’s evil, ambivalence, injustice, suffering and endless struggle. This crucifixion experience is specially and inevitably true for all those who dare to embrace their own cross for Jesus’ sake! The closer we follow the Savior with a full heart, the more we see and feel the tragic horror of a sinful, crippled world. The more we despair of our own place in it! There are many moments of joy, beauty and wonder, but the default position of this earth is tragedy. However, we, too, can look over and see … hanging there with us … the Lord of Glory! He is truly the most “Incredible One” of all history! It is He Who loves us and has in His arm and His mouth the power to rule over the entire universe of creation. If we truly “hear Him” and “talk to Him” while we hang, we, too, can experience transcendence over all the lies and actions of our enemies … both within and without! (II Cor. 7:2-7).

Overcoming deliverance for Cross Disciples is a threefold option. The Master will empower us 1) to escape from the circumstances, 2) to triumph over the situation or 3) to think above the earth reality! This latter deliverance of “thinking above” is our only option while “hanging” which, in reality, can happen rather often. Our Lord didn’t seek to “escape His cross” nor did He “come down from it in triumph” and thrash His crucifiers! No! He hung there for six agonizing, humiliating hours and “thought above it.” What was in His mind and heart He revealed with His seven magnificent statements from the cross. There are three in Luke, three in John but Matthew and Mark have the same one. While He suffered temporarily on earth, His thoughts were dominated by the Father’s eternal purpose in heaven. To read His seven cross statements and make them your own is to see the Savior’s heart in IMAX.

“Escape” when you can! (I Cor. 10:13). “Triumph” when you can! (II Cor. 2:14). But, if neither are an option while you walk the earth, then “Think Above” the issue with the Mind of Christ (Isa. 53). Only your own crosses put you in the highest position to think the highest thoughts of our Master!

I spoke recently with a dear friend who leads a great ministry in India. I asked him about the severe and increasing persecution against our fellow Believers. This suffering is especially true in the Province of Orissa! Homes and churches burned; loss of all possessions; beatings, abuse, rapes, threats and even murder. There is wide spread hiding and fleeing for their lives! I ended with, “How are they responding to the suffering?” He quickly commented, “Oh, they are excited about it! They feel it’s an honor to suffer for the cross of Jesus!” He concluded by saying “Christianity is spreading like wildfire. The percentage of Indian people who claim to be Christian in the Province of Orissa has increased rapidly. It has been rising from an estimated 3% to almost 40% in that particular area. It’s incredible!” Yet it has always worked that way throughout church history! The great saying is as true as ever, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

Think of it! It is when things are at their worse that our opportunities to demonstrate the overcoming wonder of the cross are at their best. It is the perfect time to “think above” rather than hoping only in “escape from” or “triumph over”! Men will be impressed with your escapes and triumphs but the Father is most pleased with your “thinking above!”

“May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). To be dead to what the world is doing to you is to come alive to what the Savior is doing for you! It takes Cross Discipleship to understand that miraculous lesson!

In all my afflictions my joy knows no bounds.” II Corinthians 7:4

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Bullet of Scripture: Speaking to Future Man

There are many people today, as always, who are in panic mode, decrying the fall of Civilization with the introduction of our remarkable, fast paced revolutionary technology and the information overload it has birthed! To some extent they are appallingly, frighteningly right! Have you ever heard someone called a Luddite? The term is used to refer to someone who opposes new inventions or innovations. It comes from a public uprising in England in the early 1800s when skilled weavers opposed the advances of the Industrial Revolution. “The principal objection of the Luddites was against the introduction of new wide-framed automated looms that could be operated by cheap, relatively unskilled labour, resulting in the loss of jobs for many skilled textile workers.” In short, they had cause to demonstrate because their “Civilization” or “way of life” or “means of income” or “former security” was failing and passing away!

When one “way of life” gives way to another, there is always turmoil, loss, conflict, dissatisfaction, fear, uncertainty, change. Such things frighten many good people who do not wish to see the “old ways” end. Just as in the days of the Industrial Revolution, our own times of dramatic change mean much is lost but that much is also gained … often for the better!

Philip Martin paints a grim picture of “The New Electronic Man” evolving out of our Electronic Revolution:
But a new creature has crawled out of the blinking neon forest and struggled to his feet, a New Man for the Next Age. He carries a mobile phone and he knows about PlayStations and those vulgar rituals of public humiliation they show in prime time. He’s lost his taste for subtlety, understands that the world is too rough for empathy and that reflection is a sign of weakness. Besides, he can drop down into his personal echo chamber and hear the smartest people in the world tell him he’s absolutely right any time he wants. He can stop his ears and eyes against all dissent.

Wised-up but unrestrained by wisdom, deeply cynical yet inoculated against self-doubt, low-carbed and Red Bulled, his reflexes honed by simulated mortal combat in the dorms of a football or basketball school, this rough beast stalks the earth. And like the kid in the ESPN commercial, he’s not that strong a reader.

Whether or not “this being” is the New Barbarian at the gates of Western Civilization or an “anti-Luddite” seeking the New Order or the Child of the Future who will save us, and who we need to adopt and foster, is still a question much in doubt. One thing is clear; we need to insure that the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man is still available for him to access in the arcane, new forms he embraces as his “saviors.” Our Future Man and Woman need to hear it just as much as the crowd about Jesus’ feet the day He first told the story. It remains, along with all the words of Scripture, the life-changing Truth all need to encounter. Let it come from a “storyteller,” a handwritten text, a book, a computer screen, a cell phone or some as yet unimaginable medium. But come it must if insanity is to be replaced with sanity!

The Creator’s “word gifts of truth” are eternal and applicable to every person in every generation, in every circumstance, at every level of society regardless of the medium used in telling it. If a person earnestly “reads God,” the great truths of the Savior will keep him or her up to date! “Without a heritage everyone starts over!” We don’t have that kind of time. The wise will “read God” and remember … and they will do it with a steady haste!

I am laid low in the dust; but I know You will preserve my life according to Your Word.” Psalm 119:25

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

This is the last in a series of posts inspired by Mr.Philip Martin's article: “Reader’s Remorse: Have books lost their shelf life?” Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Sunday, April 5, 2009.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Bullet of Scripture: More Than Just the Facts …

Reading a book can be merely a practical exercise undertaken for utilitarian motives … “I have to!” or “I need to!” Ask any student cramming for an exam pouring over his or her textbook. Some people take pride in reading only for information. Philip Martin, in his article entitled “Reader’s Remorse,”* paints a picture of the “Captain of Industry” being interviewed for a feature piece in some business journal who comments with disdain that “…he hasn’t time to read fiction, that all his reading is designed to provide him competitive advantages…”

Yet reading should provide more than a “competitive advantage” over others. Its higher purpose is to serve as a cultural repository to feed one’s thinking, nourish the heart and enflame the vision! The great heritage of the ages is to be found in the “Great Books” and not in great financial payoffs. A people who do not have even a passing acquaintance with “the books of truth” not only “starve” their own intellects but abet the slow suicide of their own Culture as they have known and experienced it. Not every member of a culture needs to be a connoisseur of books on religion, philosophy, literature and history but there needs to be many among their number who are widely read. Society needs an appreciation for the content of such tomes that inspires respect for learning … otherwise, the past loses its role as prologue and becomes the funeral pyre for civilization. Just as the riches of antiquity burned under the torches of the barbarians at the gates of Rome, and the Romans themselves once destroyed the ancient world’s greatest library in Alexandria, so we destroy ourselves when we destroy knowledge … by the fire of ignorance and the idolatry of the immediate!

There is also a personal pleasure to be found in the reading of books that should not be discounted as trivial or “old fashioned.” To sit down with the object … a book … in one’s hands and concentrate on the words and symbols displayed on its pages is like opening the curtain in a theatre where one’s imagination can be fully engaged and filled with anticipation, pleasure and significance. When reason, hands and eyes work together to deliver the experience of reading, the results within one’s heart can be engrossing. It is a form of recreation unique to itself as much as fishing, golf, travel, gardening, shopping or ballroom dancing.

The most exciting and beneficial experience a person can have on earth is learning how to exchange his or her ideas for God’s ideas … your minimums for His maximums; your limitations for His new horizons; your blindness for His light; your ignorance for His brilliance; your bondage for His freedom. Only reading the “right” things for you … and especially reading the Scriptures … can give you the most profound tool imaginable to expand your mind and your life to the utmost. The quality of your life experience can improve overnight with the intake of the “thoughts” of God! In Isaiah 40:31 we read, “But those whose expectations are in the LORD will renew their strength …” In Hebrew the word renew can mean to exchange! Exchange your thinking for His thinking! To replace, convert or swap your conclusions for Christ’s conclusions brings incredible empowerment. To renew your heart and gain a fresh take on life start reading for truth … for God’s ideas! To start thinking like the Messiah is to start reigning in life as a continuous “overcomer.” Just one of His words can change everything.

A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Proverbs 25:11

The words I speak unto you are spirit and they are life!” John 6:63

Let the same mind that dwelt in Jesus Christ dwell in you.” Philippians 2:5

*“Reader’s Remorse: Have books lost their shelf life?” by Philip Martin, Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Sunday, April 5, 2009.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Bullet of Scripture: The Story, The Medium and The Message

There are many ways to convey information: spoken words, written words, electronic words. There are even words as knots on a web of cords. The Incas of Peru used a complicated pattern of knots to write their records of empire. This is one of the most interesting and unusual “written languages” in the world. By their very nature, the forms, symbols and words of every language offer distinct ways of perceiving the world, interacting with their expressions and implying reactions by the people who use them.

A great storyteller will be a great storyteller regardless of his or her medium. Yet the way the story is conveyed to us matters greatly. In one of the Star Trek movies, Captain Kirk caresses a book because he loves the way it feels in his hands. He loves the experience of reading it rather than having the computer impart the same text. The medium becomes part of the experience that creates the message of the book. Consider how we attach another level of meaning to the book in our hands when we think this was my mother’s Bible or my dear friend is the author of this book, this was the first book in my library, so and so gave me this book, this book changed my life, etc.

Philip Martin, writing in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette*, makes this point very well as he compares reading a book to reading from a computer screen:

“Paper takes up space, and the ability to arrange it in space is one of its advantages. Also, reading off a piece of paper held in your hand is different than reading off a screen, in part because the physical nature of paper allows us to use our tactile senses – our fingers and hands – to navigate our way through documents. Reading off a screen transfers some of the place-keeping and navigational responsibilities to the brain, causing it to be more taxing.”

This leads to another consideration: how does reading a book in any form change not only the experience of reading but also the reader? There is no doubt that books make an impact on us. I can testify to many books that they changed my life. I could even rank the top ten that profoundly altered my thinking about truth, hence my life also. Why read for any other propose than inviting change? We should read the way we eat … to stay alive and enjoy the process! Some reads taste better than others but they can all be digested for our benefit! Even the poorly written, dull or error prone book can point us to a new and better direction. Reading is like the rest of life … trial and error and then fulfillment!

The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly. The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd. But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.” Ecclesiastes 12:12

Nevertheless, the right and balanced reading of books and the Book are “well driven nails” that enable us to hold onto the truth that will invigorate, direct and electrify our living. The key is not to go beyond or draw back from the leadership of the One Shepherd Who has given us His message to read!

But My righteous ones will live by faith (in what I have said and written), and if they draw back I will have no pleasure in them.” Hebrews 10:38

*"Reader’s Remorse: Have books lost their shelf life?," Philip Martin, Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Sunday, April 5,2009