Thursday, February 25, 2010

Wake Up! Be Comforted and Encouraged

But we have this treasure (our possession of Christ Life potential) in jars of clay (our sinful earth bodies) to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; knocked down, but never knocked out. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. II Corinthians 4:7-12

This fallen world is dominated by illusions, delusions and confusions and its victims are destined for diminishment, destruction and death. Cross Disciples must be trained and skilled to see and believe that reality. They are then positioned to overcome the lies. They welcome authentic testing and practice. Hence, the Father sees to it that we all taste deeply the desperate reality of emptiness that comes when we pursue a life of ignoring the Godhead. All mankind must carry the sense and weight of sin’s futility throughout life. We all struggle with sorrow and the consequences of “the fall.” Nevertheless, liberating insights gained from our own cross carrying makes our “living death-grief” a secondary issue. It was exactly the same for the Savior! He knew crushing sadness, but it was inferior and subservient to His revealing the life of the Father to others! We must follow Him in this and develop the same attitude! (Phil. 2:5-11). We will then continue to discover the remarkable and dazzling principle of “death deliverance.” We will be increasingly freed to turn every death situation into life from Jesus. We will become revealers of His Presence. We will sense He is progressively alive within us. Our experiential death to “what isn’t” (idols) will make plain to others “Who is” (the True God).

The more we recognize the creeping and insidious disaster of sin around us and within us, the more earnestly and abandonly we seek the truth in Scripture. These deepening revelations of Christ’s Voice as the Spirit speaks and the redemptive meaning of the “cross lessons” that are all around us will open our eyes to “death deliverance”! It is then that the Father uses again and again our death to what isn’t to show through us to others what is and even more … Who is! We are re-created in Christ to be agents of Messiah Love to reveal His invitation to life! It is the kind of life that will reign over death for all who receive and embrace His yoke (our labor), His cross (our death) and His promise (our resurrection).

The most significant, superior, consequential and distinguished experience you can possess in life is to have Christ’s life revealed through your own! It is being thrilled with the breathtaking realization that by sacrificing yourself in pursuit of our magnificent Savior you experience a growing detachment from the empty “lesser things” that engulf you! You focus supremely on the reality that you can bring life … God’s kind of life … into the existence of other people! You realize that you are living out the Lord’s greatest commandment … that you … weak and insignificant you … are repeating His life during your time on earth! “As the Father sent Me … so I send you … in exactly the same way! Repeat My life by drinking My cup of reality … by carrying My cross of redemption … and by sharing My commission for reconciliation” (John 17:18, 20:21, HDM). Doing this is what it means to live a life of Messiah Love! Most amazing of all, He has chosen each of us … by name … to do it! (John 15:16-17).

For almost all my Christian life, II Corinthians 4 has been my favorite chapter on encouragement in all the Scriptures. I first read it as a freshman college student. I had known the Lord Jesus for a little over eighteen months. My heart was in anguish and discouragement. I sensed my first attempt at disciple leadership had failed. I had written and mailed over twenty letters of earnest appeal to other student friends to attend a prayer/organization meeting to reach our campus. Not one person showed up! I sat alone in the classroom. I was stunned, sad, empty and confused! After twenty or so minutes, an older graduate student finally arrived late. My heart leapt with gratitude, but my face and words betrayed my keen disappointment. He perceptively asked me if I had ever read II Corinthians 4. I had not. We then read it together, and it was as though the Savior Himself had entered room 116 Hyer Hall on the SMU campus! My heart was stirred, revived and soared. As long as I live, I will never forget that moment over 57 years ago. I will never forget my fellow student, Roy Irving. Nor my little black New Testament I constantly carried. Nor the chair where I was sitting. Nor which way I was facing into the room. Nor the fresh and assuring call I sensed on my life to “… carry around in my body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus can be revealed in me!” That moment was my first experience of what the cross would … should … mean to my life. I have had hundreds of such touches since. The pain each has brought me has always been my gain! (II Cor. 12:9).

Above all, I will always fervently cherish the words of this chapter! They came off the page with the force of a mighty wind that blew fresh, cool, calming power into my young, weak and na├»ve disciple’s heart. In the following six decades I, too, have pointed hundreds of discouraged Jesus followers to this wondrous passage. I rejoiced to see that Paul’s magnificent words of “LIFT” could never have been written in II Corinthians 4 unless he had endured and overcome his own despair in II Corinthians 1:8-11. Paul’s experience in Asia (like mine in Hyer Hall) was also the basis for his marvelous introduction to this II Corinthian letter in chapter 1, verses 3-8! Drink deeply here, my dear friend, if you desire the Lord’s encouragement and power, “Praise be to … the God of all comfort …”!

I have told everyone I could through all my years that II Corinthians 4 is the greatest passage of encouragement in the Bible. At least it is for me! Truly, it was on that day that the Master wrote those words on my heart with the pen of His Spirit. They have only deepened since branded by the fire of the Holy Spirit. They will be there until I die and then even more! My only regret is being too limited and too sinfully stubborn to live out each and every word to the full! Yet, in my heart I know that day will come! Oh, what a dear and wondrous Savior we truly have! I praise Him for His mercy, patience and forgiveness. I recognize in praise every “death deliverance” (4:11). I remain more deeply amazed than ever that He deals with me so gently! (Mt. 11:29). Truly, I am one of His poorest and most unworthy followers!

we have been given the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ … therefore we do not lose heart … so we fix our eyes … on the eternal. II Corinthians 4:6, 16, 18

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Bullet of Breath and Sound: Let the Wind Get You

If I were to name the dozen greatest sermons I’ve ever heard, there is no doubt I would include what I call “The Wind Sermon.” This isn’t the title given by the preacher, but it will always be my title. The speaker was a short, little black pastor from out-of-state; about 400 white preachers sat before him at one of our Little Rock conventions. This was in the late ‘60’s when the race issue was front and center! Unfortunately, it still is, in a different way!

Manuel Scott must have been about 5 feet 4 inches, wore large suspenders and spoke distinctly with anointed authority. His text was John 3. This is where Jesus taught a religious leader about the necessity of being “born again” by the Spirit in order to experience a second birth! I can still recall the beauty with which he read the text that gave us the stunning words of Jesus: “The wind blows where it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Then he added, “When the Spirit gets you, my brothers, He changes you!”

During the sermon there were many high points eliciting laughter, amens and even tears. At each of these points Manuel would stretch out his suspenders, release them, and we could all see and hear them popping back against his chest. This natural rhythm of his sermon, the strength of his unique vocabulary, the power of his emotions, as well as the impact of the truth, mesmerized the congregation. He had us in the palm of his hand as he painted a picture of our magnificent Jesus telling us about “the Wind.”

I didn’t see how he could conclude the message on a higher note than we had already heard. How a preacher ends his sermon, wraps it up, lifts his hearers one final time, etc., is critical if the truth shared is to have its most impactive and lasting effect. The Reverend Manuel Scott was more than up for the challenge. He concluded:

“As I end this message, I know many of my white brothers here must be asking themselves, ‘How did this little black man become the preacher of the hour and all of us white folk are sitting here listening to him? Especially with all these civil rights issues, the social conflicts and the prejudice and violence, how can this little black preacher become my teacher?’ It seems like a miracle was happening in the middle of Arkansas. I find myself using the words of that Virgin Mother-to-be when told by the angel she would give birth to Jesus. Remember her response, ‘How can these things be?’”

“Let me explain that to you, my brothers!”

“I recall as though it were yesterday growing up as a little black boy in Waco, Texas. Now we black people knew one thing for sure … we needed to learn to “keep our place” in society. I remember my Momma telling me, ‘Now, Manuel, I don’t want you walking on that Baylor Campus … that’s where smart and rich white people live and study! A poor, little black boy like you needs to stay away from there and leave those white folks alone! You don’t have any business walking on that campus!’”

“So I never walked on that campus while I was growing up. Us black folks knew how to keep our place when it comes to white folks! That was one of my greatest lessons as a little boy. Leave those white folks alone and stay out of their way!”

“So what on earth am I doing here today?” (The suspenders snapped.) “How can we explain a little black preacher telling you white preachers about Jesus?” (Suspenders snap.)

“There is one simple answer to that my brothers … and only one answer! ” (Pause.)

“The Wind Got Me!”

At that moment the suspenders snapped again! At exactly the same time the Wind of the Spirit swept the congregation! I remember instantaneous applauding! With tears running down my cheeks, I was immersed in the Presence of our Overcoming Lord. It’s now been over forty years since I “heard” “the sound” of that message! Yet the truth of it is as vibrant and vital to my mind, emotions and heart today as when “the Wind” blew on me then … if not more so!

How often I have prayed in these intervening years, “Oh, Lord Jesus, let Your Wind get me! Please carry me to Your places for me that I have never dreamed of.” This is my prayer for you also, my dear readers. May “the Wind” get you … and me … again … again … and again!

Our highest hopes, most significant overcomings, deepest contentment and fragrant spiritual fruit will come only … “When The Wind Gets Us.”

Under the pressure of “the Wind” I have rediscovered one of the old, great hymns of the church. I never sang it much, but now the words have “breathed” fresh wonder and desire into my life. Frankly, it was never one of my favorites, but “the Wind” has changed it for me. In fact “the Wind of the Spirit” and the “Breath of our Lord” will change everything … in us, around us and above us. I repeat the hymn here … for your edification … and again for mine. May you ponder each word and phrase prayerfully and thoughtfully. Think of the reality behind each stanza! May the breath of the Wind of the Godhead catch us all with increasing force.

Breathe on Me Breath of God

Text: Edwin Hatch, 1835-1889 and Music: Robert Jackson, 1842-1914

Breathe on me, Breath of God,

fill me with life anew,

that I may love what thou dost love,

and do what thou wouldst do.

Breathe on me, Breath of God,

until my heart is pure,

until with thee I will one will,

to do and to endure.

Breathe on me, Breath of God,

till I am wholly thine,

till all this earthly part of me

glows with thy fire divine.

Breathe on me, Breath of God,

so shall I never die,

but live with thee the perfect life

of thine eternity.

This final thought on breath and breathing, wind and spirit, air and sound as it concerns the power of His Voice. I urge all of you … as I discipline myself … to face the winds of God. Put yourself where the wind blows and trust Him to carry you. You can feel His breath from time in praise, time in yielding, time in Scripture, time in prayer, time in thought exchange (yours for His) and all the other “times” that bring us closer to Him. “The Wind will always get you” when you drink His cup, carry His cross and share His commission. Make it your high ambition to “feel His Wind.”

As a young Air Force pilot I was taught to always land “into the wind.” This enabled you to have greater control over the plane and maintain a higher power setting for emergencies. The tailwinds of the world are unpredictable, but you can always trust the headwinds of God. This tactic not only increases control over your plane but over your life as well. Just as a good pilot heads into a wind, Disciples are similarly warned not to “shrink back” in Hebrews 10:37-39. The phrase “shrink back” is a naval term which means not to strike or pull down your sails when the strong winds come upon you. Don’t fear the wind … face it! As the poem* puts it, “'Tis the set of the sails/ And not the gales,/ That tells the way we go.” How you “set the sails” as the Captain directs will determine your course in life! Don’t “shrink back”!

Thank you, my beloved brother Manuel. You marked me for life! May my final testimony about my earth journey be summed up in your impassioned words, “The Wind got me!”

*“'Tis the Set of the Sail -- or -- One Ship Sails East” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, 1916

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Bullet of Breath and Sound: Another Look at the Power of Breath (Part 3)

The breath created by our Godhead infuses His creation with the reality and possibilities of His purpose. He confers spiritual living with His Spirit energy on who or what He chooses. Breath is one of His ways to control the sound of Who He is! Remember how Adam and Eve heard “the sound” of the Lord as He sought them out in His paradise. It was the same paradise intended for them (Gen. 3:8). Breath is His volume. Breath is His physical force. His breath empowers our life functions. His Spirit breath is constant, either in small or large ways, sustaining life by revealing Himself. The basic word for breath in Hebrew, ruah, is used 378 times in the Old Testament and in Greek the word pneuma is used 379 times in the New Testament. Breath (wind, spirit) is an essential concept in grasping our Lord’s significance and His ways. Ponder deeply the implications for your life from the Master’s words in John 20:21, “Peace be to you! As the Father has sent Me, I Am sending you.” And with that He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Let us pray that the mystery of those words will become clearer to us all!

We are created by His breath (Gen. 2:7); redeemed by His breath (John 3:8) and perfected by His breath (John 20:22). Our own breathing … which must be continuous or we die … is a constant reminder that breath is critical if we are to survive physically. Spiritual breathing is also an absolute if we are to survive spiritually. The breath from, by and for our Lord takes us into the Presence of our Creator-Redeemer-Perfecter. We learn, with entrancing and compelling wonder, what it means to feel “the wind, the voice and the sound” of our compassionate, gentle and redeeming Godhead. He is flowing through us. He is permeating the world around us. He is revealing His kingdom above us!

Let us reflect on that fascinating text, Genesis 3:8-9, once more: “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day … the LORD God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’” All of us are stunned and agree that Adam and Eve were insane to give up “their garden” just to satisfy their curiosity about a Satanic promise! Yet we do the same thing … again … and again … and again!

The Hebrew wording used here could well indicate the Lord’s question as, “Adam, why are you where you are?” Thus does the Lord ask us all to examine ourselves, be honest about our direction in life, quit making excuses and return to the Breath of His Presence. By re-creation we can again enter the fresh environs of our Godhead’s mysterious, peaceful and gorgeous garden. Even while we walk through earth’s battle damage of ruin, destruction, tragedy and chaos, we can experience an IMAX vision of the sound, breath and voice of our garden walking Lord! His guaranteeing presence will control our minds and hearts. In this alone we will “discover the joy of our destiny.” The outward storms of life are fierce, but within our heart is “the garden!” “Weeping may remain for a night but joy comes in the morning!” (Ps. 30:5). Truly, when we discern the meaning of the Breath of God, He will “Turn our wailing into dancing” (Ps. 30:11). A silent mouth is serious evidence that we do not have a singing heart about Jesus (Ps. 30:12).

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. I Corinthians 2:6-10a (Emphasis added)

The question should be ever with us, “How well are we hearing the sounds of our Lord’s breathing?”