Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Passion of Praise: The Seeds of Truth, Part 1

My first quest in life … now that I have accumulated some wisdom from knowing Jesus over 60 years … is not to find more answers and reasons to satisfy my mind! Though I have had many questions answered, I still seek the one thing greater … that one thing I would dare call the greatest! I seek foremost the power of a heart that rapidly and continuously is filled with praise for the Godhead! I have found that all I truly desire, in order to more quickly and fully fulfill all my being yearns for, is praise for all that Jesus is! What He has done, is doing and shall do thrills me with a confidence and contentment beyond words! I ask nothing more for this brief and conflicted life than the request of the Palmist, “Let the high praise of God be in my mouth …” (Ps. 149:6). This is the highest confirmation I seek to prove to others our Lord’s words, “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of …” (Matt. 12:34). It is impossible for a heart to be filled with gratitude and unhappiness at the same time! “The Lord sheds joy on the upright in heart …” (Ps. 97:11).

Samuel was told that the God of Israel doesn’t evaluate a person by outside looks or socio-political accomplishments but by the heart alone! The Lord looks for people after His Own Heart! (I Sam. 3:14). The ultimate exalted purpose and climactic satisfaction of being human is to learn the fullness of what it means to be alone with God … one on One … only you and Him … heart to Heart!! All deep and lasting meaning begins there and nowhere else! No human being can last long or last for much if their starting point to find significance doesn’t start with their Creator-Redeemer-Perfecter.

Most Disciples are drifters! They float through life without the power of a spiritual engine to choose the most noble directions (Heb. 2:1-4). They are not disciplined enough or tough enough to meet the Savior daily in a radical, pure, desperate, broken, honest, yielding and praising way. Their time commitment in the Scripture is snatched away! Their true hunger for Him alone as their source of everything is too shallow. Their daily agendas are choked full of “this world” concerns driven by the secondary and the trivial. Few there are who break this pattern. Our Lord knows all this and has lovingly nailed us all. Only those with noble hearts plant His seeds of truth in their minds, master it and produce by endurance a crop that blesses! Check out His words in Matthew 13:1-22 and Luke 8:1-15!

We must put ourselves in as many positions as possible to “receive the seed of God’s truth into the soil of our hearts.” No receiving, no producing. Some receiving, some producing. Much receiving, much producing. Our Lord Himself said what you receive (seek, take, grasp, hold, retain, study, understand, plant, obey, hunger for, yield to, etc.) of My “seed truth” will be multiplied in you by 30, 60 or 100 times! The more one grasps of the “seed truth” of Christ, the more potential he or she has to produce in quantity what has been planted in quality! The richest seed to plant is “praise seed” because it produces the courage to face and outthink everything else. “The joy of the Lord is our strength” (Neh. 8:10).

The Disciple whose faith thinking results in supernatural joy and praise will have the power to stand against, endure and overcome anything and everything! “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus … Who, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross … and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). If being “there” isn’t praise, what is? True heartfelt praise will seat the Disciple at the Lord’s right hand. It is there we gain a “new consciousness” about everything! As we “see” reality with His eyes we cease to be victims of the fall and become “watchers” of His present and coming Kingdom. This praise position is compelling, energizing and electrifying!

Receiving this “seed truth” as rapidly as we can gives us “The knowledge of the secrets of the Kingdom of God which has been given to us …” (Luke 8:9). Knowledge about many things is good! But knowledge about the Kingdom is everything! Why? Because the former is knowledge about “what and why”! Kingdom knowledge is about “Who”! We actually “know” this King and begin to build “a vital relationship” with Who He really is and to experience the power, the awe, the brilliance and the nobleness of how He governs His earth and our hearts! The first most powerful sign that a person is experientially connected with Who the Savior really is to them is praise! When the Disciples first encountered the risen Lord they “… couldn’t believe it because of their joy and amazement!” (Luke 24:41). To me, that is the greatest definition of praise in the Scriptures! That Christ Jesus lived, suffered, died and rose again for me so that I could become a part of His eternal family is too much for me to believe and take in. Yet I know it is true. All that is within me of His Spirit tells me so! (Rom. 8:16). I can only respond to Him with praise … in joy and amazement! Everything in me “as a sinner” tells me it can’t be true! All that is within me of His Holy Spirit tells me that it is! “I will praise the Lord Who counsels me!” (Ps. 16:7).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Spiritual Combat Alert # 3: Preaching and the Face of Jesus

I have already spoken of the three levels of content preaching … what, why and Who. The what and the why preaching are necessary to the growth of a Disciple, but the payoff and goal of transforming vision is Who preaching. “Sir, we would see Jesus!” (John 12:21).

There are also, in my view, three levels of method preaching. Some proclaimers of the Gospel mostly “preach at” the congregation. They tell you what’s going on, what the Bible means, to get things right and to do it now! And there are times we need to hear it!

The second method is what I call “share with” preaching. These exegetes of Scripture simply truth talk with you about the processes of the Gospel and how truth works in our lives and in the world! We also need to hear that!

The third level is the one I hunger for. I have labeled it “point to” preaching. These are the messages that seem to pull back the curtain or open the veil so that we can see our Blessed Christ Jesus in a fresh or new light. We are drawn to a more wondrous realization, a sweeter awe and a deeper praise for the magnificence of all our Messiah Savior truly is. I call these times of eager listening and heart hearing “transfiguration touches.” I seem to be carried to the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James and John and with them “see Jesus only!” (Matt. 17:8). I believe we need to hear this the most!

I can’t help but to continually ask the same question those astounded first Disciples asked. Remember when they were with Him in the boat on the Sea of Galilee and the Master “calmed the great storm”? This miracle moved them from fear to Awe! “Who is this “man” … that even the seas and the wind obey Him?” (Mark 4:41). Their response to His power was not based on exploring the “what of it” or discussing the “why of it.” They wanted to know the “Who of it.” They recognized that the answers to the whats and whys is Who! “Who” was this “Man” to be able to do such things and Who wanted them with Him while He did it?

Oh, I need some “preaching at.” The Lord knows my “flesh” needs to be rebuked and disciplined. I need to be called up short on my self-pity, my prayerlessness, my lethargy, my ignorance of Scripture, my lack of cross seeking, etc. We all need to pray, “Help me Master!” (I Tim. 3:16).

I also need the “share with” messages of comfort, encouragement and understanding. We all need a few of our leaders telling us we are doing better or have done well! (Isaiah 40:1-2). How grateful we are when one of His messengers teaches us about “the fellowship of His suffering” (Phil. 3”10-11). “Thank You Master!”

But, above all, I need large doses of “point to” preaching! It is then when the messenger is so filled with adoration, Scripture, brokenness, transparency and hunger for more of the Lord Jesus that new horizons of Godhead wonder penetrate my mind and flood my heart! I find my lips repeating the words of the beloved Apostle John, “Amen! Come Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20). Those are the moments when we can all say, “Praise You, Master!”

Let me close with a true story about my beloved mentor, J. Sidlow Baxter. When he graduated from Spurgeon’s Seminary in London in 1928, he went to pastor in Northampton, 60 miles west of the city. During those early years, many people who passed through his ministry had heard England’s most popular preachers in the late 1800’s and following. The most outstanding, of course, was Charles Haden Spurgeon of London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle. He is recognized as one of the most outstanding preachers of all time. His sermons were published world wide. He went to be with Christ in 1892!

Sidlow would query everyone he could about these great preachers they had heard. He told me he loved their comments and it gave him an insightful and wondrous perspective.

He would ask a couple, “What did you think of J.H. Jowett (1863-1923)?”

Their response would be, “Oh, what a master of the English language. He was brilliant and had the gift of making things crystal clear!”

Or he would ask someone else: “What was your impression of F.B. Mayer (1847-1929)?”

They would almost always comment, “He had a wondrous ability to make the Scriptures come alive and stir our hearts with Truth we had never seen before!”

Or he would say: “Tell me about Mr. Moody!” (Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899), the famous American evangelist.) Those who had heard him would respond, “Oh, what fire, what a broken heart, what zeal, what wit and warmth! He lacked some polish, but he certainly had the power of the Lord when he preached!”

Sid told me he asked about other notable pulpiteers and received many various answers. Yet when he came to Spurgeon, the answers seemed all the same. When they spoke of the “Governor” … his English nickname … there almost always would be a pause and brief reflection, “Oh, the Gov’ner … when Mr. Spurgeon preached it was like hearing the Lord Jesus Himself speaking to your heart!”

Isn’t that it? We know the Lord uses all kinds of preachers, with all kinds of messages and methods, with all kinds of strengths and weaknesses, with all levels of faith and flaws! What grace! Yet rejoicing that the Lord can and will use it all to His glory, we all still hunger for the ultimate … to find for ourselves … the “Who” of His Presence! How fulfilled are those who find “Jesus only” flooding their being, capturing their minds and pouring His love into their hearts! (Rom. 5:5).

“This is My Son, Whom I love; with Him I AM well pleased. Listen to Him!” (Matt. 17:5). Yes! Listen to Jesus! The “Who” of the Godhead!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Spiritual Combat Alert # 1: Preaching the Who of Jesus

Having listened to hundreds of sermons for over 65 years, having been a preacher myself for 50 years, having read scores of sermons and having taught classes on communication and preaching, etc., I have come to the conclusion there are three types of preaching as to content. Measuring the results of sermons will always depend more on the anointing of the Father and the spiritual hunger of the hearer rather than the qualifications of the preacher. Nevertheless, every preacher must constantly seek to know Christ better and then embody that truth in his preaching. Identifying the “level” of the preaching will always enable the mature Disciple to gain fresh and deeper understanding from the Father regardless of the content and power of the preacher. This is true whether the preaching is shallow or deep, simple or complex, average or outstanding.

Anointed listening is far more important than anointed preaching. To my thinking every “good preacher” should always aim to include all three levels of content in his preaching. To be one or two dimensional in one’s preaching will never take your hearers to the ultimate goal every sermon should aim for … lifting them into the Presence of Christ. But, let’s get back to our “three levels.”

The first level is what preaching. This is when the preacher’s main emphasis is on what to believer, what you should do, what you shouldn’t do, what’s wrong and what’s right, what’s going to happen in the future and what to think about God, the church, morality, government, missions, family, the Bible, etc., etc. All of these things are necessary. They are very satisfying to the many Christians who live in a “what world.” In such a limited reality they only need “what” answers. “What information” is enough to start growing on, but never enough to be fulfilled on. What preaching is for the children of the faith. It can increase vision and move you to action, but rarely move you into the mysteries of the daily life of cup-cross-resurrection!

The second level of preaching is why preaching. Those more thoughtful seekers in the faith love the whys. They provide numerous discoveries about our realities and confirm our beliefs about our Gospel message. Answering the whys will quickly show advancement in the faith. We need the whys if we are to build an adult faith that is responsible and effective. We love why answers and why preaching because it is far more stimulating and challenging than learning the whats.

Parents of young children are never challenged when their little ones ask, “Mommy, what’s that?” Easy. As these children grow, however, the questions deepen and so does the difficulty of the answers. “Daddy, why does this happen?” Hard! Why preaching answers many questions, solves many doubts and stirs many minds. There is no doubt we were created to learn the whys and to use them. Yet they are still not enough, something deeper is missing! There is much more to knowing the Living God than having our questions answered about what to do and why we do it.

Hence, the third level of preaching should be the goal of every preacher. It is what every Disciple most deeply needs. Its experiential payoff significantly exceeds the other two. It is Who preaching! What and why preaching are necessary if we are to learn the ABC’s of Jesus’ ways and the MNOP’s of His cross. But this deepest kind of preaching reveals most richly Who the Lord really is by conveying to us the XYZ’s of Jesus’ heart! I’m convinced we actually taste the wonder, the wounds and the whisperings of His Presence within us! I know that this is the kind of preaching I hunger for and love the most.

Many preachers seem to preach mostly what and why sermons. Good for the mind and good for covering the basics, but limited in presenting “Jesus only.” We all need to know more about what the Savior died for and why He did it … His cross-resurrection event … but most of all we need to know Who this Person really is to show us such lavish love, tender forgiveness and gentle patience.

What preaching can motivate us to seek the truth. Why preaching can thrill us with the wonders of the truth. But it is Who preaching that grips us with a passion to fall in love with THE TRUTH!

Mature hearers of the Word appreciate the what and why preaching and learn as much as they can from it. But, once exposed to Who preaching, they learn there is a qualitative difference. When the hearer actually sees, as well as hears, the incarnational fragrance of the knowledge of Christ Jesus in a preacher, it is an experience he or she longs to repeat for the rest of his or her life (II Cor. 2:14).

Give me as much Who preaching as I can get! What and why preaching may fill me with the truth … about Jesus … but it is Who preaching that thrills me with loving The Truth … Jesus Himself.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Spiritual Combat Alert # 2: Preaching the Face of Jesus

There is nothing wrong with “what preaching” and “why preaching” except that “it” usually doesn’t go far enough. Many preachers are too immature to go beyond “it” and hearers are too self-satisfied to know they need more than “it” gives them. The “it” they are missing, of course, is “Who preaching”! The “whats” and “whys” of faith are without question essential, but they are only “preliminary” to the higher “Who preaching,” which is ultimate. Again and again the Old Testament shouts the message from the lips of its prophets. After Israel experiences the “whats” and the whys” the summary purpose statement is always shared or implied, “ … then they shall know that I Am the Lord!” (Gen. 28:13; Exod. 6:6; Ezek. 6:13). The point of it all is to climax in “Who” He really is! “The whats and whys” of the burning bush, the plagues in Egypt, the Exodus itself, the manna in the wilderness, the water from the rock, the Ten commandments, the bronze serpent, etc., etc. all were foundational so that these “whats and whys” might lead Israel to know and love the Who of reality the Lord of all the earth!

“Who preaching” leaves you enthralled with “Jesus only.” It seats you at the feet of the Master, transfixed by the glory of His Face and hanging on to every word that comes out of His Mouth. It puts one’s hearers where Mary of Bethany was actually being in the Presence of Jesus! It gives a person the calm but colossal assurance that he or she is achieving, receiving and believing in the indwelling, surrounding and superintending of the Presence of the Messiah. It is to spiritually, yet actually, “see His Face” in that moment of reality!

Absalom (who had murdered his brother, Amnon, as revenge) had been forgiven by his father David and permitted to return to Jerusalem. However, Absalom was denied access to the king. He knew what David was doing and why things were happening as they were, but it was still not enough for his heart! He had been back in Jerusalem for two whole years without the honor of being in the King’s presence. Absalom had cried out to the chief of the army, General Joab, “I want to see the King’s face …! (II Sam. 14:32). Absalom yearned to be in the presence of this one who was his father, his king and the anointed leader.

The story of Absalom is a sad tale of squandered potential. He was David’s favorite son, yet the one who betrayed him. II Samual has five full chapters (13 to 18) devoted to this event from Amnon’s sin to Absalom’s death to David’s cry of grief! The roots of a magnificent father-son relationship were there, but they were lost. David failed by not being aggressive enough for the truth! Absalom failed by not being submissive enough to the truth!

The great tragedy of this story is that David, the father, and Absalom, the son, both wanted the same thing to see the face of one another and to know the wondrous presence of fellowship restored and enjoyed!

Absalom’s heart, even in his weaknesses and flaws, speaks for all of us at the depth of our desires and hopes. We, too, say with him, “To what glory is it to dwell in Jerusalem and never see the face of the King?”

May all of us who preach, teach, share and witness be dominated, controlled and focused by this highest and most exalted aspiration. People will be delighted to learn the “whats” of the Gospel. They will be intrigued by the “whys” of the Gospel. But what they yearn for most knowingly or unknowingly is to have their very beings carried into the Presence of the “Who” of the Gospel.

“For to what glory is it to call yourself a Disciple yet never see the Face of the Savior?”