Sunday, March 19, 2017

Face to Face

Monday, March 20, 2017
I have much more to say to you, but I don’t want to do it with paper and ink.  For I hope to visit you soon and talk with you face to face.  Then our joy will be complete.  2 John 12(NLT)

John, the beloved apostle, writes to people he knows, but hasn’t seen lately.  He wants them to know how much he cares, but caring can only go so far in-absentia.  He wants to see them face-to-face.  John wants to look in their eyes, take-in their body language, and hear the inflection in their speech. 

He writes of joy being “complete”.  He certainly doesn’t mean that joy will come to an end.  Rather John uses a word that suggests fullness, as in a hollow space filled with something[ii].  It’s the picture of a fishing net, stuffed full like you’ve never seen it before.  John is talking about joy overflowing.  He knows pen and ink are not up to that task; for that kind of joy you need embraces, eyeball-to-eyeball sincerity and the kiss of friendship up close and personal!

Now, I don’t miss the irony of what I have just written; this page can only be read, and my voice you hear over the internet is disembodied.  We are not face-to-face – at least physically!

You feel that void in many instances.  If you have a child away at school you can’t wait for spring break until he’s home.  A loved family member or close neighbor who has moved across the country keeps “Ma Bell” in business with long distance charges. 

There is one place, however, where the lack of John’s face-to-face is alleviated, and that is the connection in Christ.  I was talking with a friend yesterday about the connectional nature of the United Methodist Church compared to some other models of denominational life.  I see the value of extra steps Bishops and District Superintendents take in this system to ensure the face-to-face support clergy receive, and can offer.  It is also offered to laity.  I won’t go so far as to say we do it better than anyone, but it is better than what I have experienced in other settings.

All of that to say John knew what he was talking about when he expressed the desire to put down his pen and go see his people face-to-face; there’s no substitute for the presence of Christ drawing followers of Christ into the joy of Christ!  And, some day, we will be in his presence entirely…face-to-face!

For You Today

Can’t talk more now…got to go see some folks…face-to-face!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

Title image: By Mikhail Gorbunov, via Wikimedia Commons
[ii] Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries, Third ed., © 2003

Walking Wet with the Woman At the Well

The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did!  Could he possibly be the Messiah?”  So the people came streaming from the village to see him.
Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I ever did!”  When they came out to see him, they begged him to stay in their village.  So he stayed for two days, long enough for many more to hear his message and believe.  Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves.  Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.”  John 4:28-30, 39-42(NLT)  
Christianity is not a religion; its a relationship.  
Before the townspeople came out to see, hear, and believe in Jesus, they only had the possibility of religion. 
Brother Loose stands as the singular example.  It was the first day of revival services at the Big Red Brick Baptist.  Everyone was surprised when Brother Loose, the church’s most backslidden member showed up.  They were even more astonished when he stood up, just before the second hymn.  He raised his hand, Brother Pastor, kin I give a word o’ testimony?  The Pastor took a deep breath and said OK…nervously. 
Now, folks, began Brother Loose, y’all know me here.  You know I ain’t been inside this here church for thirty years.  You know I done some pretty mean things to most o’ ye, an’ I done my share o’ drinkin’ an’ fightin’ and all sorts-a sand raising.  But I want ye t’ know, one thing I ain’t never lost my religion.
It would be a wonderful thing for people to lose their religion, and, in the process, find relationship with Jesus. 
I would like this morning for us to note what that was like for the Samaritan woman Jesus met at the well that day.  She walked away from the encounter with Jesus covered with the “wet” of baptism’s faith and transformation. 
She was a changed woman for three reasons:

1.  She found out you can have a Personal Relationship with god

(You must not settle for someone else’s experience)
The Bible is very clear that we are personally responsible for our own souls.  Because we have been so blessed in this country with affluence and ingenuity, there is a general feeling always that things will work out.  We don’t have to get too concerned about things like the’ll all work out.  That may be appropriate optimism about your high school football team’s record, or a math test; but when it comes to your soul, there’s too much at stake to leave to chance. 
Notice what the Bible says about our personal responsibility to take care of our souls:
All people will die for their own sins—those who eat the sour grapes will be the ones whose mouths will pucker.  Jeremiah 31:30(NLT)        
The Bible is also quick to tell us how to take care of our personal responsibility for our sins:
If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.  Romans 10:9-10(NLT)
Being saved is like being revived from the dead.  A man once asked the 19th century evangelist Gipsy Smith how to have a revival.  The evangelist asked him:  Do you have a place where you can pray?
The man answered that he did.   
Tell you what you do, Smith said.  You go to that place, and take a piece of chalk along.  Kneel down there, and with the chalk, draw a complete circle all around you.  Then pray for God to send a revival to everything inside of the circle.  Stay there until He answers... and you will have revival. 
Revival begins in an individual soul.  Churches don’t get revived; Cities don’t get revived; Nations don’t get revived – PEOPLE GET REVIVED! 
So it is with salvation. 
If you are counting on an experience someone else had, or your family, or your church, or being born in a so-called Christian nation – remember, it is only a personal relationship with Jesus that saves. 
Like the Samaritan woman who met Jesus personally and discovered God, you also must not settle for someone else’s experience.  Also,

2.        She discovered god wants a Perpetual or growing Relationship

(You must grow beyond the initial experience)
When the woman got back to town she didn’t waste any time telling her neighbors.  And when they heard about Jesus they pleaded with Him to stay around awhile; they wanted to know more.  They had a hunger for what He was sharing. 
It is a dangerous thing to get saved and think that everything’s set.  Billy Graham once compared this to immunization shots.  An immunization is a small dose of the virus, just enough to protect against the real thing.  We call this cheap grace – salvation without anything further.   You don’t have to pray, read your Bible, witness, give, or even go to church; you’ve got your ticket to heaven and that is all you’re after.
What does the Bible say about getting saved, then treating your Christianity as if it is a cherished treasure, locked away in some Swiss bank account?
Rather you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  2 Peter 3:18a(NLT)
We are to grow up in the Lord.  When you’re first saved, it is like being an infant, a spiritual baby.  Without nourishment, discipline and encouragement a person can be a Christian for many years yet remain spiritually immature.  
Did you know it's entirely possible for a new believer to be far more grown up in the Lord than someone who has been saved for 40 years?  A good example of this is found in an incident described by Ethel Barrett in her book It Only Hurts When I Laugh.  She said that when D.L. Moody became a Christian, he developed such a hunger for God's Word, spent so much time reading it, and was so quick to obey it that he became a menace to some believers.  His rapid spiritual growth was an embarrassment to certain people who, though they had been saved for years, never grew up in Christ.  Week after week in the church Moody attended, he would share a new experience he had with the Lord.  Finally, some of the older saints who just couldn't stand feeling humiliated by his exemplary life went to Moody's uncle and urged him to quiet down his nephew. 
Ethel Barrett drew this conclusion about D.L. Moody: 
His robust spiritual health and bounding energy disturbed their napping; he was just too much.  So, while they were sucking their thumbs, he was growing until he left them far behind; he grew more in a few years than they did in thirty.
It’s a personal relationship, not settling for someone else’s experience, and a perpetual relationship, growing beyond the initial experience, and...

3.        She also came to understand god wants a Productive Relationship....

(God wants YOU to lead others into the experience of knowing Him)
The woman told her town.  There is a personal responsibility that we each bear to not settle for someone else’s experience – to confess our own sins, and be saved.  There is also a personal responsibility to grow in grace, go beyond the initial experience of salvation. 
But there is something that applies far more to the crowd gathered here today.  Most of you are believers, having given your life to Christ.  You didn’t settle, you repented of sin, asked for salvation, and were born again into the kingdom of God.  And that is a good thing!
Many of you have grown in grace, and are mature in the Word of God.  And that is a very good thing!
But one other thing that many of you probably share:  most of you have never led a single other human soul to Jesus Christ.  And you are in the majority among Christians. 
Estimates are that 95% of all Christians have never even tried to witness.  The question begs to be asked:  
Is this the majority to which you WANT to belong?  Or do you really desire deep down to be used of God to bring others into the kingdom?
It is my belief that the primary reason most believers don’t witness can be found in a misplaced sense of priority. 
Notice the excuses: 
·       I just don’t know how.  With proper priority you would ask to be trained.
·       I let the way I live my life be my witnessWith all due respect to your holy lifestyle, nobody was ever won into the kingdom without somebody telling them how to be born again. 
A backslidden lifestyle on the part of a professing Christian may keep someone OUT of heaven, but if you don’t tell them how to be saved, how will they know to confess their sins, repent and receive Jesus?
·       I’m just not made that way.  Beloved, when you say, I just can’t do that, it reveals a basic problem with your relationship to Jesus.  He may be Savior, but you’ve never made Him Lord over your life.  When the Lord speaks, a servant must move.  And the servant’s comfort level has little to do with it.
Scripture is unbending about our need to tell others:
Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he did for me.  Psalms 66:16(NLT)
Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.            1 Peter 3.15(NLT)
Can a person truly be saved, yet never witness?  Never even try?  Probably so, but I think that’s the wrong question. 
When Jesus Christ was beaten, scourged, mocked and hung on a cross for me, so I could spend eternity with God, why would I be asking how little I can do for Him and still retain my membership?  I ought to be asking, Master, what more can I do?
What is missing in so many Christian lives that we never even attempt to lead someone to the Lord?  Is it motivation?  I don’t know why some people have to be highly motivated before we will stretch beyond our comfort zone and witness. 
Doug Green had all the motivation he needed to make a difference when he got saved.  Doug was fifteen, his younger brother only twelve, when Doug got saved.  Doug came home and led his little brother to know Jesus.  Only a few weeks later Doug’s little brother drowned.  Had it not been for the instinctive sharing of his new faith, Doug Green’s brother would have spent eternity in Hell. 
A number of years later at the First Baptist Church of Bellview, Florida, Doug Green was being ordained as a minister of the Gospel.  Doug’s father took part in the service and he talked about how Doug witnessed to his younger son only hours after becoming a Christian. 
He ended by saying:
We’re ordaining Doug here today – but God ordained him the day he got saved to witness of the love of Jesus to a boy who only had a few days left on this earth. 
People, look around you with a keen eye – people are drowning everywhere!  Tell them how to be saved.
Some people settle for someone else’s experience, they have no personal relationship – and are lost. 
They don’t know Him.
Some people are saved and fail to go beyond the initial experience; theirs is not a perpetual relationship. 
They do not grow in Him.
Some people are saved and growing, but never attempt to lead others into faith in Christ, they do not have a productive relationship. 
They do not go for Him. 
We are to know Him, grow in Him, and go for Him.   
Do you know Him? 
Are you growing in Him? 
Will you go for Him? 
Good questions!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…Amen!


[i] Title image: Angelica Kauffman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, March 17, 2017

A Different Time

Friday, March 17, 2017
Come, let us sing to the Lord!  Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.  Let us come to him with thanksgiving.  Let us sing psalms of praise to him.  For the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods.  He holds in his hands the depths of the earth and the mightiest mountains.  The sea belongs to him, for he made it.  His hands formed the dry land, too.  Come, let us worship and bow down.  Let us kneel before the Lord our maker, for he is our God.  We are the people he watches over, the flock under his care.  If only you would listen to his voice today!  Psalm 95:1-7(NLT)

I got caught in a bit of nostalgia the other day driving through a fast-food place for a cup of coffee on the run.  Waiting in the long line of cars (so much for fast-food), an older couple exited the building with a young girl in pigtails.  She was about 11 and she was holding Grandma’s hand and skipping!  On closer examination her mouth was wide with a smile, her face exuberant, and she held no electronic devices in her hands.  I thought:  How did Grandma and Grandpa get that IPhone away from her…did they just promise to buy her a Mercedes when she turns 15?

Then I took stock of Russell’s mood.  My wife was home sick, I was on my way to run sixty-two errands on a Saturday; none of the errands involved a golf club, but most required me to enter stores certain to be crowded (my favorite!), and the guy behind me just honked to get me to move because the car in front of me had moved three inches.  No matter what, I could not have written Psalm 95 in that moment.

C.S. Lewis seemed to work out a lot of his theology in his writing; I guess those of us who choose (or are compelled) to the written page do so.  In his writings somewhere, as he explained the rationale behind heaven’s actual existence, and why it was so logical that such a place existed, he mused that the mere fact we get thirsty presupposes that somewhere there is water; same for food and a place to lay down our head in sleep.  The deep longing in our souls for our Creator, that God-shaped empty place in our hearts of which Augustine wrote, is evidence-enough that heaven exists. 

We long for where we belong.

The little girl I saw skipping alongside grandparents struck that kind of chord in my soul, a longing for a different day, absent of the struggle between people, where the joy of thanksgiving, singing to the Lord, shouting joyful praise to our Rock of Salvation stems the tide of in-your-face anger and contention of this new millennial jungle.

It’s a longing for a different day…the kind of day for which we were created.
Just sayin’!

For You Today

Do you ever long for a kinder, gentler way?
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

Title image: By D. Sharon Pruitt from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, USA, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Creation Perspective

Thursday, March 16, 2017
Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.  He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything
in the heavenly realms and on earth.  He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.  Everything was created through him and for him.  He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.  Colossians 1:15-17(NLT)

Every time I read this passage I feel like the mouse that crossed the old wooden bridge riding on the back of his best friend, the elephant.  When they got to the other side the mouse turned and looked at the old wooden structure swaying under the tremendous weight that had just stretched its aging timbers and said to the elephant:  Wow…we really shook that old bridge.  The elephant looked at the mouse on his shoulder, smiled and replied:  Oh, I’d forgotten you were up there.

I’m not a skilled enough mathematician to calculate the percentage weight, mass and total impact a half-ounce moving mouse might create on a wooden bridge, but I suspect it is somewhat insignificant compared to a 6½ ton African elephant!

When it comes to the creation of the universe and all it holds, humans have been investigating the cosmos and its magnitude, as well as the atom and all its power for generations.  We are only beginning to scratch the surface.  And yet Holy Scripture tells us God created all of it simply by speaking it into existence.  Much has been said about the power of the pen and sword; consider His word!

Jesus is the Father’s image to us, existing before we could see him in a cattle feeder; He existed before anything else, and was/is the creator of all we can see and that which is still hidden.

By Christ God created with His will and word a universe.  We can only see with our toy telescopes (like the Hubble[ii]) about 15 billion light years’ travel into space.  Considering light travels about 6-trillion miles in one year (that’s a 6 with 9 zeroes), so to find out just how many miles from earth we can now see, multiply 15,000,000,000,000 by 6,000,000,000 (= 90 with 21 more zeroes). 
Now add one more thing:  the universe is expanding at a rate of about 46 miles +/- every second[iii]!  In the five minutes or so it took you to read this our universe got bigger by about half the circumference of the earth!
That’s God’s backyard…He created it in less than a week…without a backhoe and dump trucks!
By comparison I have a half-acre I’ve been working on landscaping for 17 years, and it’s far from done.  And I’m not increasing; I’m slowing down!
So, now you know why I feel like a half-ounce mouse on a 13,000lb elephant.  God is so vast it hurts my head to even consider His immensity.  It is no wonder God told Moses to get in the cleft of the rock when God passed by; there’s no way you can take in God’s presence and survive!
And it all comes down to this:

He came to love us, and we hung Him on a cross because we felt threatened.

For You Today

Paul wrote that Jesus is holding all of the creation together. 
You do know that includes you…don’t you?
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

Title image: [Elephant] By Loadmaster (David R. Tribble), via Wikimedia Commons, [Mouse} By Vojtech.dostal, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Catch and Release

Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple.  A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them.  As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery.  They put her in front of the crowd.  “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  The law of Moses says to stone her.  What do you say?”  They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger.  They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”  Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.  When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman.  Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers?  Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”  “No, Lord,” she said.  And Jesus said, “Neither do I.  Go and sin no more.”   John 8:1-11(NLT)

The woman was caught in the jaws of the Law; the last thing she expected was to be released without at least being beaten and humiliated.  There was a beating, but it was her accusers who took the blows.  Many people have speculated over what Jesus wrote in the sand.  A popular guess is that he wrote the sins of the woman’s accusers in the dust.  It was just too much for them to bear the weight of being revealed as unworthy to accuse the woman, so they slinked away in shame.

This snapshot of Jesus exercising intense wisdom and authority may have only taken about 5 minutes to play-out in real time.  But it has had its lasting effects on every part of our history and culture.  Even where Christ is hardly an afterthought, people understand the weight of he who is without sin casting the first stone.

Re-reading the passage again this morning brought thoughts of the current debate over immigration.  I know; I know…this is a particularly controversial subject right now, and I also know the woman caught in adultery wasn’t an immigrant.  But she was clearly breaking custom and the law of the land.  Those who brought her to be judged by Jesus had the full weight of the culture and its rules behind their accusation.  Their problem however went much deeper than whether they were within the rules; their hearts were black with self-righteousness and manipulative hatred.  They had no compassion, and, worse, were only using the woman as a pawn to set a trap for Jesus.  Their actions were, at the least, self-absorbed selfishness, and, at worst, bordering on sociopathic cruelty.  They “caught” an adulteress; Jesus “released” her with new hope.

My early morning brain-wandering led me to stand near Jesus and see what he might be writing in the sand about our current stew concerning those who have transgressed American laws by sneaking across the border.  Looking into the dust, with my mind’s eye I saw Jesus write “Plymouth Rock” and I thought of people who were escaping their homeland’s persecution for freedom, and whose descendants would eventually persecute those Native American people who first greeted them at a place with no border.  Can we see the word “hypocrite” written at Jesus’ feet?

I know; I know…its different today, border security, jobs, culture, law and order, and every other rationalization we can imagine.  There is a case to be made for all of that!  It’s just that somewhere along the line we have to do some critical thinking about what we do, and upon which side of the circle we will stand when it comes to being our brother’s keeper, or, like Cain, our brother’s destroyer. 

For You Today

Well, actually, for me, today…and you, if you will.  The question I most want to answer in my own mind today is:  What is more important, our American way of life…or being Christ-like?  I’m pretty certain the two are not one and the same.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

Title image: By Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Laughter of the Redeemed

Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation.  What did he discover about being made right with God?  If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about.  But that was not God’s way.  For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.”  When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned.  But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners.  David also spoke of this when he described the happiness of those who are declared righteous without working for it:
“Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight.  Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of sin.”  Romans 4:1-8(NLT)

I was reminded this past weekend of the pure, and deep joy redemption brings.  There are a lot of moving parts to re-living the drama of salvation.  There is, first of all, the gathering of the faithful saints to worship and thank God as one submits to the baptismal waters.  The liturgy is there to remind us of that place from which we’ve come, and to where we’re headed, and by Whose power we are led and march. 

But when all is said and done, and the moment of pouring, sprinkling, or immersing is upon us, the water speaks so loudly you can almost hear the congregation collectively holding their breath!  There is no other word but holy!

Looking back on when I was baptized as a young adult, more than forty years ago, I recall that hushed moment which seemed to last a month.  Elizabeth and I were baptized in Jerry and Enid’s backyard swimming pool.  Jerry was an elder at our church, a brother and friend who lived his life walking wet in the joy of his baptism.  That joy, peace and enthusiasm for the things of God were a witness that turned my attention to wanting more of Jesus.  As a pastor I’ve often seen in new Christians that deep-down peace and laughter-ready-to-bubble-up-to-the-surfaceIt’s the laughter of the redeemed, and it’s like nothing else!
For the uninitiated in Christ, the laughter of the redeemed can be misunderstood as circumstantial – where joy is produced by a momentary turn of good fortune.  Or sometimes it is seen as a disconnection from reality; that poor, deluded Christian just doesn’t get it how bad it is in our world. 
But the real story is, for those who genuinely turn their lives over to Christ, our joy has nothing to do with earthly circumstances, or the bottom line of a checking account or 401K, or the state of world and national politics, personal health, or any other chance occurrence, good or bad.  The source of this laughter of the redeemed is forgiveness!  It is release from the penalty and power of sin.
As the old hymn has it:
Pardon for sin, and a peace that endureth,
thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside![ii]    

If you’ve ever been forgiven, truly forgiven by someone on this earth, a friend, relative or neighbor, well…you know how good that feels.  Now magnify that good feeling inside by a factor large enough to carry the cost of dying a criminal’s death for the sins of untold millions of people, yours included!  And then go ahead and laugh with the redeemed over how foolish an idea would be that you can have real joy anywhere in the universe apart from God.

For You Today

So, are you going to walk wet today?    
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

Title image: By Rod Waddington, via Wikimedia Commons
[ii] Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Chisholm & Runyan, 1923