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A Stroll At Leisure With God

Suffering for You

The book of Ephesians is usually labeled among the “prison epistles” in the Pauline corpus. There is some dispute as to what prison Paul was in when he wrote it. But I think it was Rome.

Be that as it may, Paul found himself in jail quite frequently, and by all accounts, prison in those days was anything but a pleasant experience.

I all likelihood, he was chained between two Roman soldiers who went on eight-hour shifts twenty-four hours a day.

Can’t you just imagine the conversations in the barracks? “Oh, man, I’m up today to be chained to that missionary. That guy talks non-stop about this Jesus character. I wish he would just shut up. I’m tired of hearing Him all the time. Hey, would you mind taking my detail today, and I’ll do it next week. Maybe, somehow, he will be out by then.”

Day after day after day—a captive audience—and I’m not talking about Paul!

All kidding aside, however, it was not easy, but Paul makes an interesting statement in the middle of the third chapter:

"So please don’t lose heart because of my trials here. I am suffering for you, so you should feel honored" (Ephesians 3:13 NLT).

This is an incredible statement. The more I think about it. This is a pastor’s heart coming out—maybe in the most profound way.

Paul did not look upon his imprisonment and everything else he endured from a personal viewpoint. Of course, these hardships were happening TO HIM. Of course. And yet, Paul had the broader perspective that what he was going through had broader implications.

He was, in fact, suffering for the people he served.

He urged them to look at his sufferings as a badge of honor.

Wow. I just can’t really grasp this. It dovetails into other New Testament perspectives of suffering that are contradictory to our American sensibilities. Usually, someone who is in prison is there because he or she deserves to be there, because some crime has been committed.

It is the exact opposite for Paul. He was there because some right has been committed. He was there because of his service for Jesus Christ, and specifically, his ministry for these folks in Ephesus.

This reminds me of a statement in Acts 5: “The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus” (Acts 5:41, NLT). How about THAT?

I really wonder how this works in practical experience? I am thinking today of Youcef—the Iranian pastor who was in prison so long and released recently (I think??). I wonder how his congregation felt as he was incarcerated. Scared. Discouraged. I wouldn’t blame them.

In the verse for today in Ephesians, Paul urges his congregation to be honored. I don’t think this means that a church should not pray for their pastor to be released. But this is a totally different perspective. Suffering is a privilege, and someone who suffers for you needs to be esteemed—not because prison life is so hard, but because God has counted someone worthy to suffer.

Lord, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything Jesus, your Son, suffered to make salvation possible for me. Thank you for all my pastors through the years—Herb, Andy, Harry, Larry, and Joel. I now have a better perspective of what they went through, what they suffered, in order to preach and to minister to the churches they served.

Thank you for their suffering on my behalf.

Father, give me the proper perspective of suffering.

I pray for Saeed Abedini who is still in prison in Iranian. Give him the strength never to recant. NEVER.

“There is nothing in this world to keep you apart” (“The Savior is Waiting,” BH 2008, 412). Amen.
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Did I Hear That Right?

Yes—that’s the short answer.

What am I talking about?

Well, yesterday morning, the traffic was horrible on I-25. I was late as I raced into the parking lot at Mount Olivet—a Catholic cemetery off of Ward Road on the west side of town. I attended the funeral service of a brother of Jay in our church.

This guy’s brother and most of his family is Catholic.

I found the chapel and slid in as the man up front (Jay told me he was a deacon and not a priest—this was sort of a compromise in the service so that it wouldn’t be as Catholic as it normally would be—Jay saw to that) was speaking.

He was citing Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ epic book On Death and Dying and he referred to her studies of what happened to folks who had near death experiences. They saw a great light and the first people to greet them were family members. She discerned this as she interviewed these folks after the fact.

He went on to say that this was the experience of every person who actually did die.

Then he went on. He said that everyone is a sinner but God overlooks that and takes people to heaven because of his compassion and mercy.

In short, the good outweighs the bad and we are all okay.

And of course, I am sitting there, a few rows behind Jay and his family, and I wanted to jump up and scream. I could barely contain myself. Then, my heart broke for all those folks who were sitting in that service, hearing that drivel and heresy. I could see Jay’s head drop on several occasions.

The “deacon” went to mention that Jay’s brother was in heaven because of his baptism into the church as a child. It just got worse and worse.

There is so much wrong with what I heard that I don’t have time to dissect everything.

First, I honestly don’t believe that Kubler-Ross’ contentions are correct when it comes to REAL death. I believe that the first person Evelyn saw when she died the other was the Lord Jesus.

This may be heresy as well (I’m certainly not immune to saying stuff that isn’t correct—I need to watch myself as I critique this Catholic deacon) but I think the first person that a lost man or woman or child sees at the moment of death is also the Lord Jesus.

Can you imagine standing before Him without being saved? That is a foretaste of hell right there.

Second, in this deacon’s attempt to comfort the group yesterday with his Universalist message, I think he did exactly the opposite. How hopeless! How dark!

We are all sinners but in the end, everything turns out okay.

NO!

God doesn’t put his hand over His eyes when we enter the gates of glory!

Salvation, true salvation, is all about God dealing with our sin. It is real. He deals with it in the person of His Son and in the blood He shed for us at Calvary. I am either covered in the blood OR I am totally responsible and guilty for my sin and I suffer the consequences for it.

The “deacon’s” message with no scriptural support for what he was saying (of course) offends every notion of fairness and justice that we have as humans.

I guarantee you that all those folks would be deeply offended if someone in their family was murdered, and the judge said, “Well, this is one act. The good you do outweighs this murder. We are going to let it go. Have a nice day!” Are you kidding me?

Third, and here is the clincher as far as I am concerned, does anyone honestly believe that the good will outweigh the bad? What kind of scale is that? What kind of dream world does this guy live in?

On my scale, left on my own, the bad so totally dominates that it overshadows everything. Sin is pervasive. It permeates and seeps into everything I think and everything I am—apart from Jesus Christ.

Of course, my theology was not full-blown at the age of nine, but even then, I realized that the road I was on was not going in a good direction.

The more I write about this—the madder I get.

I tell you: I left that service grieved.

How about this verse today as an anti-what I heard from that Catholic deacon message?

"Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence" (Ephesians 3:12 NLT).

The only way I can come into the presence of Jesus NOW and/or in eternity is through Jesus Christ and faith in HIM. I can stride into His presence with all the confidence in the world—not because of me and not because God is hiding His eyes and letting me slip in the back door, letting it slip not just for one murder but a stack of sins that pile higher than the Empire State Building.

Oh, Lord, I pray that the message those folks heard at Jay’s brother’s funeral would be quickly forgotten. Don’t allow that drivel to sink in.

I pray for that “deacon” to get saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Turn him into a preacher of the true gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I pray for Jay and his family as they grieve this loss. Give them true comfort, not false comfort—a comfort that is no comfort at all. It is anti-comfort.

“Come and see, come receive;
Come and live forever”

(“Come Just as You Are,” BH 2008, 411). Amen.
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Evelyn's Casket

After the funeral service for Evelyn, a few of us got into a limousine to go to the graveside.

Let me back up a minute.

When I was talking with John, Evelyn’s son, about the funeral a couple of days ago, he said, “With this big storm coming over the weekend (he was right; it came), I don’t want a lot of people trying to get to the graveside in the snow. We will just have a few people and John if you could say a prayer, that would be great.”

It ended up being Steve (Evelyn’s neighbor), Steve (John’s wife’s brother), Jack (a friend of the family), John, and me.

I can’t remember ever being a pallbearer before in my life. That is kind of strange when you consider that I have been involved in well over a hundred funerals over the course of the years.

But we put the casket in a hearse and then we got into a limousine.

We didn’t have to go far. The burial plot was basically right across the main street in the cemetery near the front entrance. There was a spot cleared out around the grave.

We unloaded the casket from the hearse and hefted it over to the grave. This was a site I have witnessed quite often. A huge hole in the ground and a frame with green straps across it that hold up the casket.

When it was securely in place, the five of us gathered around it. Zoe, the funeral director, said, “Pastor John, would you lead us in the prayer of committal?” I guess that is the formal name for it, but I’ve never liked that moniker.

My prayer does nothing! Evelyn was committed to heaven the moment she got saved! Her destiny and future was settled at THAT point.

The graveside is all about the tent—the body—being put into the ground.

I didn’t get a chance to say this, but what I usually do at the graveside is read some verses from I Corinthians 15 or 2 Corinthians 5. Both passages affirm that these bodies of ours own only temporary dwellings. The moment we die, we get a new resurrected body that we live and last forever.

Then, I say something like, “The grave for many is a place of endings, but if we really believe the Bible, we can rejoice because it is the beginning of a new life with a new body in heaven forever with Jesus. This is not _______. _______ at the moment of death went to be with the Lord. This is ________’s body but not him/her.” I say something like that USUALLY.

But not yesterday. I just thanked the Lord for Evelyn. I praised Him for eternal life, and I prayed for the guys standing around that grave.

It is at that point that I usually shake some hands and exit. I fully expected that yesterday. I was getting ready to leave, but Zoe said, “Guys, please take a rose and put it on the casket.” This was obviously important to John. They were purple—Evelyn’s favorite color.

We then stood there for a moment. We weren’t done yet. A couple of men drove up in a truck. They had been waiting down the road. They came to the graveside and secured the casket on top of the straps, and then, all of a sudden, one of them turned a crank.

The casket started going down. The two men were guiding it as they lowered it into the ground. As it went down, all of us shuffled closer to the edge of the grave.

I’ll tell you: that hole is deep and there is another frame at the bottom. Slowly and surely, they guided the casket into the frame, and it settled there.

It is an awesome finality. The body is in the ground. This human life for Evelyn is over.

Here are the verses for today: "God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord" (Ephesians 3:10, 11 NLT).

Paul had been talking about salvation that is available to Jew and Gentile—the church. And I believe that funeral service, and in fact every funeral for every believer fits into this. God saves us—whether we are a Jew or a Gentile. And we get to be a part of the family of God. This is a witness to the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places—both here and now AND forever. This boggles my limited and finite mind.

But Evelyn is experiencing it first hand right now.

Lord, I thank you that death and the grave—the hole in the ground in which caskets are lowered—is not the ultimate finality for the believer. I praise you for your glorious resurrection and for the fact that in you, we get to live a resurrected life now that just continues on, with a new body, into eternity.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we don’t miss Evelyn. We do.

I pray for Jay today and his brother’s funeral. Comfort him and his family.

“Life everlasting, and strength for today” (“Come Just As You Are,” BH 2008, 411). Amen.

P. S. I am going to start a “book of the month” club! Please read more about this on my Pastor John Talbert Facebook page. I’m excited!
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God's Revealed Plan

The statements Paul makes in chapter three of Ephesians remind me of a significant conversation that Jesus had with His disciples at Caesarea Philippi.

At a significant moment, Jesus asked, “Who do YOU say I am?” And Peter, acting (as he most often did, right or wrong, good or bad) as the spokesman for the group, asserted, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” For once, check: good answer. Maybe the best answer anyone has EVER given.

Jesus commended him and went on to affirm, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being” (Matthew 16:17, NLT).

The only way any of us know who Jesus is—the only way—is by revelation. God reveals His identity to us by the indwelling Holy Spirit. We see and we know through the eyes of faith.

But in the passage I read today, Paul makes a similar statement, this time expanded on that original revelation.

"As you read what I have written, you will understand my insight into this plan regarding Christ. God did not reveal it to previous generations, but now by his Spirit he has revealed it to his holy apostles and prophets. And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 3:4-6 NLT).

God revealed His plan to Paul—the plan of opening things up to both Jews and Gentiles. This means all of us now have a shot through repentance and faith of being part of God’s family.

I praise Him for this, and it is a good reminder the day AFTER we dealt with the effects of a pretty severe snowstorm.

It took me about an hour to get from my mom’s house in southeast Denver up to the church in Northglenn yesterday. All along, I was fighting just canceling services as a lot of churches did yesterday.

However, when I got to the church building, I noticed a relatively large number of folks who already arrived. I think they realized, as I did, that if we did not go ahead with “COFU Sunday,” we probably would never get around to doing it again, schedules being as they are.

Thus, even though we only had about thirty folks, we forged ahead with Sunday School. This gave the cooks time to work on the meal.

When time for the service arrived, I had already clued folks in that we were going to abbreviate things. The storm seemed to be getting worse and worse.

We sang a little bit, and Jim got up to preach. He thanked us for the role we played in helping COFU for the past five years and then he talked about the vision and direction for the organization in the future. He gave Betty a bouquet of flowers to thank her for helping out with all the folks who came to the wrong door in our church building ALL THOSE YEARS.

After this, I introduced some of the other folks from COFU who came: Linda, Roy and Carol, and Jim’s wife Sue.

We prayed for them and “commissioned” COFU to their new center of operation across the highway on Huron Street.

Then, we all made our way to the fellowship hall for a meal. It was a great time.

I say this today, but yesterday, I was a little disappointed that the weather had such a huge effect on the day. It just seems as if it was one of those Sunday where we just treaded water a little bit. But at least we got to meet and we were able to recognize COFU and express our appreciation and affirmation to them as well.

All of this brings me back to the affirmation of this passage: God has a plan, and He is working this plan. I don’t claim the same level of revelation knowledge that the apostles had (I do believe there are some profound differences between them and us). But, I do know that nothing can thwart God’s plan. Sin can’t. Human weakness can’t. And certainly—not the weather.

Lord, thank you for keeping everyone safe yesterday as we traveled to church. Thank you for everyone that was there. Thank you for Jim and COFU.

I lift them up right now, especially now, as they are facing some challenges in their new location. I pray that you would continue to use them to expand your kingdom in north Denver and beyond.

“In self forgetting love
Be our communion shown,
Until we join the Church above,
And know as we are known”

(“A Parting Hymn We Sing,” BH 2008, 410). Amen.

P. S. I know all of you are sitting on the edge of your seats—anticipating, yearning to know who won the “guess John’s goal weight contest.” The excitement is palpable! Ha. I’m going to announce the winner this morning on my Pastor John Talbert Facebook page.

Plus, Jim mentioned a book I have alluded to in this blog a few weeks ago. As he did that, the idea hit me that I need to do a review of the book. I will try to post book reviews fairly frequently as well. I believe that this is another way I can resource the body of Christ.
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Peace

Last night, I was watching an online weather forecast from one of the local stations, and it was pretty scary. Marty Coniglio was saying that we would get about four inches overnight and eight more during the course of the day today.

We had to cancel Wednesday night services a few days ago. I was afraid that we might have to do the same thing today.

However, maybe I just can’t see well enough because it is still dark, but it doesn’t look as if we have gotten any snow AT ALL.

I’m praying that, if it does decide to cut loose, everyone will be safe as he/she comes to church and goes home.

Our parking lot is perhaps the most treacherous place of all. The church property slopes rather dramatically from north to south, and water (therefore, ice) accumulates on the north side of the building and freezes at various inopportune places in the lot, especially by the back door.

A few years ago, I was exiting the building to get into my truck. Someone yelled, “Hey John!” When I turned around quickly to see who it was, all of a sudden, I was up in the air. It was weird. My feet went out from under me, and before I was fully aware of things, I was lying on my back on the pavement.

I’m not the first person this has happened to in the huge ice area that tends to form on the north side of the church. I very non-affectionately call it—“Lake Michigan.”

All of us complain about it, but even after over twenty years, no one has come up with a solution to solve the fact that water accumulates and freezes there.

The closest anyone has come is Bobby. He and his wife Barbara live in Florida now (I don’t think they have to worry about ice there—at least not very often). But Bobby had this ice pick tool, and he would go out there and chip away at the ice lake, diminishing or eliminating it completely. I so appreciated that. I miss Bobby and Barbara.

I apologize for going on and on about the ice. Isn’t it funny what you remember about certain places? I will always remember Lake Michigan. I will see it today!

Well, I need to get moving this morning in case the weather has shifted. I’ve got to stop at King Soupers and pick up my dessert for the COFU meal today. The boys didn’t even call last night.

Please pray for them. I do worry that they will just drop away and not come to church any longer. They have not come for the last three Sundays. It does not take long to get out of the habit of coming to church, and they do not have any help from home and Diane is not here any longer to get on their case.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace. We sing about that and talk about that in the Christmas season, but Paul brings that reality to the fore in the latter verses of Ephesians.

I tend to think of peace in the sense of the deep contentment that Paul talks about in Philippians 4—the peace that passes all understanding that guards our thoughts and minds in Christ Jesus as we pray while refusing to worry.

But as I think about it this morning, the main use of this term in the Pauline corpus has to do with interpersonal relationships in the body of Christ. In Colossians 3, Paul urges us to “let the peace of Christ act as an umpire.” It should be the guiding principle in everything we do in church life.

One of my cardinal principles is that nothing besides doctrine and morals is worth a church fight. NOTHING. We just back off when that potential arises.

Again, I say, it is NOT worth it.

Jesus came to bring peace: "For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near" (Ephesians 2:14, 15, 17 NLT).

If he can bring Jews and Gentiles together—He can do anything!

Oh, Lord, I do praise you this morning as the Prince of Peace. Thank you for the peace in my heart this morning.

I pray for peace in our congregation today and in all the churches.

I pray for Jim as he preaches today in our special COFU service. Thank you for COFU. Bless them in their new location. I pray for wisdom in the use of Your building in the future.

“This is our freedom, this was the cost, the blood He shed on the cross” (“This is Our Freedom,” BH 2008, 408). Amen.
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In On Everything

The other day, Marilyn had a biopsy.

Yeah, you read that right.

I want to tell you the story. A couple of weeks ago, one of her doctors called to say that she had scheduled a test for Marilyn.

I don’t know if I have ever heard of this happening, but it came right out of the blue. So, she went in and had it.

The results were rather unsettling. They weren’t exactly sure what they found. And of course, the modern philosophy when it comes to something like that is “worst case scenario.” It had us all very concerned.

Marilyn did not want any of this shared until it was all completed, and she seemed to be doing well, but I know from personal experience how much something like this weighs on you. It is an emotional drain.

Back to the story … because of the result of the above test, they called her back in for a biopsy on Thursday. And it was rather involved, but the good thing was that they were going to tell her the results the next day.

In the meantime, Marilyn looked up her “issue” on the web and it only served to make her more concerned about what it could be.

I, of course, told her that I don’t look things up on the Internet. I don’t want to hear the horror stories and find out what percentage of folks die from what I have and so forth. But Marilyn seeks out information and she did that in her case—to each his/her own.

Well, yesterday morning, it became increasingly clear that my mom was not feeling well. Marilyn checked her blood pressure (she monitors it every day), and it was high. Consequently, we called the doctor and he asked us to bring her in. Marilyn and I both were there with her.

We were taking care of Mother as we were awaiting the results of this biopsy.

Well, praise the Lord, again! My mom got better and better as the day wore on and Marilyn’s biopsy did not show any issues! We are all glad and very relieved!

I think there is such a huge letdown on an emotional level when you go through something like that. Marilyn was exhausted by the end of the day. I don’t blame her.

As you can tell, this has been quite a week--for “health stuff” for this family and for Evelyn’s passing, but again, we are all praising the Lord, even for Evelyn. I’m thankful she is no longer confined to that bed and is not suffering any longer.

However, memories of her seem to flood my mind often. This is part of the grief. Instead of letting them take me down (something that Evelyn herself would not allow when it came to her own mind and heart), I choose to just take the opportunity to thank the Lord for her again.

The passage I read this morning reinforces this.

The second half of the second chapter of Ephesians takes a different turn of sorts. Paul had been talking about our vertical relationship with the Lord through the grace of God. Then, he shifts to discuss our horizontal relationship with others in the family—Jew and Gentile—because of what Jesus did for us on the cross.

That tearing of the curtain in the temple—the moment Jesus died—was just as much about breaking barriers down between people as it was about the individual having unimpeded access to God. Just as much.

"But don't take any of this for granted. It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God's ways had no idea of any of this, didn't know the first thing about the way God works, hadn't the faintest idea of Christ. You knew nothing of that rich history of God's covenants and promises in Israel, hadn't a clue about what God was doing in the world at large. Now because of Christ—dying that death, shedding that blood—you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything" (Ephesians 2:11-13, MSG).

Isn’t the name of a TV show “All Access Hollywood”? I have never seen it, but I can tell you what is about—all the lurid details about the private lives of actors and actresses in Hollywood. TMI—Too Much Information—in my perspective.

But because of what Jesus did for us at Calvary, the new name of the game is “all access.” I have access to God twenty-four hours a day. I can talk to Him and take to Him any concern in my life, but in addition to that, we have “access” to one another in the family of God. No matter what our racial or ethnic background, if we are saved by God’s grace, we are ONE in Christ.

We are literally “in on everything.”

Lord, again, I praise you for taking us through all our health stuff and finding out the results. We are deeply grateful to you today, Jesus. Thank you for dying on the cross for us so that we could have “all access” and have a genuine relationship with others in the family.

“Teach me to love Thy truth,
For thou art love”

(“Break Thou the Bread of Life,” BH 2008, 407). Amen.
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Masterpiece

The late Rick Ferguson said something that I will never forget.

One of the biggest guilt trips that people put on pastors and churches (I’ve heard it a million, no ten million, times) is, “Well, I am never coming back to that church because I was out five Sundays and no one called me.”

There is so much wrong with that statement. I shouldn’t, but I am going to try to enunciate the reasons before I get to what Rick said.

First, I am so sick and tired of God’s will changing because people don’t act the way I THINK they ought to act. Are you kidding me? Where would the prophets of the Old Testament be if, after the first rejection, they came back to God whining, “I’m done. These folks don’t want to hear what I have to say and some of them were actually rude.” Wah, wah, wah.

Second, why were you out five Sundays? I want to come right back at folks like that and take the offensive. Sure, there are reasons—illness and emergencies and job stuff. HOWEVER, one of my pet peeves about all of THAT is it seems that God always gets the shaft. Many of the folks who are “sick” would never dream of missing five days or work or their favorite recreation on Saturday, but when Sunday comes along, they are so ready to say, “I am sick and stay out.”

Plus, this is what I tell people right now: “Your number one priority is your relationship with the Lord, right? Then, you need to find a job that allows you to get to church on Sundays. I know. I know. Jobs are tough to find. But where does putting the Lord first come into things and trusting Him to provide after that?”

I don’t know … I’m just tired of taking it from folks.

Third, and here is one of the main problems I have with the above statement. Many people come to church, not for God, but for them. They come to observe with keen interest: how am I going to be treated today? What is so and so doing today? Do I approve? Do I NOT approve?

And these immediate decisions are determinative of their continuing involvement with the church, no matter how long they have been members. History doesn’t matter. It is just the moment. How I feel right now.

Another pastor friend coined a phrase: “It takes people three years to decide to join a church and three seconds to decide to leave it.” Right on.

This is a twisted and perverted view of Christian service. It is spectator religion and one of the main reasons why so many people leave churches and “hop” to the next one down the street.

Okay, so I am back to Rick’s statement. I believe he made it in a sermon. This was his reply to the above comment, “If you can be so non-memorable that you can be gone for several Sundays and no one notices, that is YOUR fault.” Ha. I love this.

What elicited all of this from me?

Evelyn passed away on Wednesday.

In spite of all my cancer stuff I’ve been dealing with (and rejoicing over), I’ve been thinking about her and missing her.

Evelyn was one of the most “un-non-memorable” people I have ever met (is that a way to say it?). When she wasn’t there, her absence was palpable, huge, gaping.

We have felt that gap at church for months since Evelyn’s first stroke. She has been in the nursing home.

When I went to visit her there, we talked about it on occasion. She would say, “Pastor, you get ready. I’m coming back to church soon.”

“When, Ev?”

“Well, I’m not up to it just right now, but it will be soon.”

She never made it.

So, that gap was there at church, but at least we could visit. She was always sitting in her wheelchair in her room—never in bed—and always, I mean always, glad to see me. She would ask about the church and about individuals. She was still “a part” of the church even though she could not attend any longer.

I miss her, and the space is large. I’m grieving.

The funeral is on Monday, and it is noteworthy that immediately, as I was talking with her son John yesterday about the funeral, the passage of scripture the Lord wants me to share came to mind. So, we will see.

But Evelyn is no exception to what happens when God saves absolutely every person. I love the New Living Translation: "For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago" (Ephesians 2:10 NLT).

God’s Masterpiece—that sums up Evelyn, but it also fits all of us. We are an individual (one of a kind) creation and recreation of the Lord Jesus Christ on display for His glory and designed to make a difference so that when we aren’t “there,” wherever “there” is, “there” isn’t quite all that “there” was designed to be.

This is the plan for every believer and we make a difference in our individual ways. We all have different gifts and passions. But God has laid out before a series of good works from the foundation of the world and He calls us to walk in those works. This is what I like about the NASB of this same verse:

"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB).

Lord, I want to walk in the good works you have laid out for me TODAY. Thank you for Evelyn—her life and legacy.

I pray for her sons John and Tim, and all the rest of us, her friends, who miss her.

I’m glad she is with you right now in glory, but the gap, the space, she left behind is large.

“Don’t look above, but in your heart, look in your heart, for God” (“In Remembrance,” BH 2008, 405). Amen.
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"Your Scan Was Great"

I am praising God this morning, and I track with the first verse of the passage I read this morning. I will quote it here and then come back to it in a moment:

"But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:4-7 NLT). Thank you, Jesus!

The doctor told me my scan was great but that was not the first report I heard.

I’ll see if I can explain this. The first person to come in to see me yesterday was Kelly, Dr. Jotte’s assistant. She said something like, “John, your scan was good, but they did find a couple of areas where your lymph nodes were a little enlarged. They are in your lower abdomen, your stomach, and your neck.”

Huh? Gulp. What?

She continued, “But, I am not worried about it because, if normal is a one, then you are at 1.4, so it is not a big deal. That inflammation could be caused by a number of factors that have nothing to do with cancer. So you are good.”

To be honest, at that point, I was a little unsettled. Are things okay or not? What is really going on here?

Kelly and I visited a little bit longer. I asked her, “So, what is next?”

“Well,” she replied. “I’m not exactly sure, but I will get Dr. Jotte. He will come in here.” She left the waiting room.

In the two and a half years I have been going to the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center, it is never happened that both Kelly and Dr. Jotte have been in the room with me.

So, there I was in that waiting room—wondering. It was kind of weird there for a moment. I wasn’t nervous. I was just perplexed.

Shortly, both of them came in. Dr. Jotte had a big smile on his face. He pointed at the empty chairs where my mom and sis usually sit when they come with me, “So, what is going on here? Where are they? You know what—I think you rented some people to pretend to be your family. Did their contracts expire?”

I said, “Well, if you must know … I actually live on the street …” We both laughed. It was good to laugh.

He stated, “John, your scan is great. I think sometimes they try to find something to justify their existence, but your scan is great. This is always sort of a difficult time in this process because you have been coming in here for two and a half years for treatment, and some might say, ‘Well, now, there aren’t doing anything.’ But we are just going to monitor you.”

I asked him to give me some specific symptoms to be on the lookout for. He gave me five. I was careful to write them down so I wouldn’t forget as I did before: significant and unintentional weight loss, fevers, night sweats (where you are drenched with sweat), swollen lymph nodes anywhere, and extreme fatigue. I got all those down.

Then, he went on, “If you have any questions or something comes up, please call us, but the next step is another scan in three months. Until then, congratulations. Have a good three months.” Both of them were smiling and so was I.

It was at that moment that something lifted. It wasn’t anxiety. It was just uncertainty. I can’t tell you how relieved I was. And am. Ha.

I want to thank all of you, from the bottom of my heart, for your prayers and concern. I would not be at this point without the prayers of God’s people and God’s mercy and grace.

That is what comes out of this passage about salvation TO ME this morning from Ephesians 2. The impetus, the compelling motivation on God’s part, to take someone in whom the unholy spirit dwells, someone who is a slave to lust and sin, and turn him/her around and give this lost person new life, resurrection life that seats us in Christ in the heavenly realms—is mercy and grace.

It is God taking action we are not capable of taking. He does it. He does it FOR US.

And here is what I am learning about this mercy and grace—it is not a one-time deal, either. I fear that we have perverted these biblical concepts when we restrict them to the moment of salvation only. They are operative every single day we live. I can vouch for that from personal and very recent experience.

Oh, Lord, thank you, thank you, thank you—from the bottom of my heart—for your mercy and grace that you have demonstrated to me. Thank you for creation. Thank you for salvation. Thank you for the mercy and grace that sustains those whom you have made and saved.

I pray for a family in our church this morning. More about them tomorrow.

“You are awesome in this place, Might God. You are awesome in this place, Abba, Father.” Amen.
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PET Scan Results and the Power of the Air

As I was sitting here this morning, I realized that today marks the beginning of a new chapter, a new bend in the road when it comes to my cancer stuff.

This is the part of long-term illness that no one talks about all that much: the scans and the results.

Juanita (a lady in our church who had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma also) just had her eight-year check-up. She was telling me about at the Agage dinner at church last Wednesday night. Everything checked out a-okay, but she and the doctors are working on some other issues now—nothing serious, thankfully.

But here is the point: you have to keep going back to be scanned and tested, and I am reminded of what happened to Fatty Taylor (the former Nugget’s player who visited the church several months ago). After ten years, the doctors discovered that his cancer had returned. What a nightmare!

This is what Dr. Jotte keeps telling me, “John, your cancer is going to come back. That is just what happens with these low-grade cancers.”

Whatever. I can honestly say that this morning. I haven’t spent too much time thinking about it. And this is no commendation of any spirituality on my part. I think you just arrive at a point with this disease where you just don’t and can’t dwell on it as much. The analogy that comes to mind is a sponge full of water. It just gets saturated and there is no way it will absorb more.

I would imagine if there is some way to track these sorts of things that these blogs, originally written to convey news about my cancer, have less and less references to it. What has morphed out of all of this is a blog about my life in the church and out of it as a pastor. Kind of weird, huh?

But that is just the thing about this disease. You are plugging along not really thinking about it and all of a sudden, wham—it hits you. I have a PET scan and they are going to check me out again. My cancer could have come back. Argh.

This is only a momentary flash-thought for me. Nothing I dwell on, and I thank God for it.

In my progress through the book of Ephesians, chapter two transitions from the list of spiritual blessings and Paul’s prayer of enlightenment, to a description of salvation. Paul sets the stage for this discussion by talking about life for lost folks.

"And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:1-2, NASB).

Did you notice that description of Satan—“Prince of the Power of the Air”? Chilling. Sobering. I’m not sure we grasp it. How pervasive is satanic influence in our world? Just take a breath. He is ruling in the air.

Yesterday, I was visiting with a good pastor friend. He was sharing about some challenges he is facing in his family in the moment, and then he turned around and said, “But things in the church are going really well.”

Of course. Isn’t THAT the way it works? Satan is out literally to destroy lives and break up families, and the healthier a church is, the less he likes it.

But here is the interesting thing about these verses. The devil is the Prince of the Power of the Air but he is at work IN the sons of disobedience. He is the evil counterpart—the spirit (small s)—to the Holy Spirit in believers.

This is why evangelism and missions is so difficult. We are battling Satan right where he lives—in unbelievers. And this is the arena of spiritual warfare, I believe, as Paul talks about it in a subsequent chapter of this book.

If we recognize this, we are better able to do battle—more praying and less time spent coming up with clever ways to entice lost folks to church activities. I’m growing so disillusioned with this. It is anemic and feeble and doesn’t work.

We have some lost folks show up at events, and this is all well and good, but only God can change them. Only the Holy Spirit can overcome the unholy spirit.

This doesn’t mean that I have no responsibility. I need to be obedient to tell and to live a godly life.

That is why today, I want to make sure my reactions are godly in front of this doctor—either way, good or bad.

Lord, I thank you for bringing me to this point in the cancer process. Thank you for PET scans and for Dr. Jotte and the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center. You have used all three in my life greatly. Thank you for Juanita’s good result the other day.

I lift up my friend Rick. I pray that you would help him through his treatments and the pain he is experiencing. I pray for my pastor friend and his family situation.

I give you this visit with the doctor today. Prince of princes, Prince of Peace, rule even there.

“O let us feel you near,
In loving power”

(“Here, at Your Table, Lord,” BH 2008, 403). Amen.
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Only Made it Through 13

Thank you for praying for me. I made it through that scan yesterday. In my round of golf, I actually savored my round and memories of times I have played at Legacy Ridge over the years. I did that for every hole I played and thought about how thankful I am for another day and for the health the Lord has given me.

I didn’t even finish 18—only made it to the thirteenth hole. I was having a pretty good round …

I was exhausted when everything was done. I know it causes me more stress and anxiety than I realize.

I will get the results on Wednesday when my mom, sis, and I go see Dr. Jotte.

In the meantime, there is much work to be done. Please pray for us as we continue to search for a Youth Pastor. I interviewed another young man last week. Over the weekend, he emailed me to tell me that he didn’t feel led to come. And I appreciate that. I really do. I certainly don’t want anyone who looks at this opportunity from a “career” rather than “vocation” perspective.

Therefore, onward and upward.

Hey, by the way, there is a winner in my guest my weight contest on my pastoral Facebook page—www.facebook.com/pastorjohntalbert. I believe this is the proper web address. I will announce all of that in a day or two.

Well, on to the passage for today—the last verse of Ephesians 1. This is a verse that is rather controversial because there is a dispute as to exactly what the Apostle is saying.

"And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself" (Ephesians 1:23 NLT).

"Which is His body, the fullness of Him Who fills all in all [for in that body lives the full measure of Him Who makes everything complete, and Who fills everything everywhere with Himself]" (Ephesians 1:23 AMP).

You know, as I read this verse over and over, at first glance, it seems a little backwards. Jesus is the head of His church. The church is the body of Christ, and it would SEEM that Paul would say, “The church is the fullness of Christ who is everywhere at all times.” But that is not correct.

Jesus is the head. We are the body. And JESUS is the fullness. He fills everything in everyway. Awesome!

Of course! We don’t fulfill Christ. He fulfills us and everything else as well. This is an incredible statement, if you pause and think about it.

Jesus fills Christians. Jesus fills the church. But Jesus fills a PET SCAN trailer or an emergency room or a deathbed—He is present there as well.

This final verse fleshes out Paul’s prayer. He is talking about the power of God who raised Jesus. This power placed Jesus on the throne at the right hand of God. But that is not all.

Jesus is not remote. He is not stuck in heaven. He is still here, but through His resurrection, he is everywhere at all times—just as God is, just as the Holy Spirit is.

Isn’t this what the disciples discovered? They were in an upper room, huddled together and fearful. And the Fullness appeared, right? Jesus was there and then Jesus was “gone.” Even when He left, He was still there. Ha! I love it.

He was just as present with me as I left that trailer, as He was when I was in it. I left Jesus to meet Him again in the car to get home, on the couch to rest, and in the office today. “The fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.”

If there is a way to be somewhere, then Jesus is that way. There is not a place I can go where Jesus isn’t. And His fullness fills places and people in every possible way. This blows my limited mind.

Lord, you are awesome. Thanks for getting me through yesterday. Thank you for filling that PET scan trailer. Thank you for the prayers of God’s people.

I pray for Margaret and her test this week. Fill the examining room. Fill her.

Fullness everywhere at all times. Love it!

“Fill my cup, Lord
I lift it up, Lord …
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole”

(BH 2008, 631). Amen.
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PET Scan Today

Hey, before I talk about this test, I have some good news! As I stood on the scale this morning, it hit me: I’ve reached my goal weight.

The other day, on Facebook, Rob asked me to share what my weight was. And I resisted answering him at that point because I was still working on losing weight and wanted to wait until I reached my goal.

Again, you might ask, “What is it?”

I’m asking you to GUESS. Go to my PastorJohnTalbert Facebook page and enter a number and the one who gets closest to it will win a Starbuck’s gift card of ten dollars.

Is this crass commercialism at its height or what?

Why am I doing this? Well, my friend Malia who is helping me with this Facebook page encouraged me to find ways to get people to visit this site and get some interaction going, and this idea popped into my tiny brain this morning.

Hey, blame it on the fact that I could not have breakfast this morning!

Actually, on that Facebook page, which is dedicated to resourcing the body of Christ (my book being the first of those resources), I wanted to share what I have learned SO FAR through this pilgrimage and process of losing weight.

I say, “So far” because I am not done. This has not been a diet for me. Nope. This is a change of lifestyle. But I’m not going to get into that HERE.

Something else happened that I just have to share. Another good friend of my family’s—Valerie—sent me an email with a link to YouTube yesterday. I read her message prior to the worship service.

Now, first, I never check email at that time on Sunday. Just too much to do. And I was very busy yesterday. I don’t know why I did it. Well, now I do.

But she sent me a story about what one Texas high school football team and its fans did to encourage another team. Here is that link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52AOPQvCTv4&NR=1. I want to encourage you to click on it and watch it.

As I watched it, I immediately felt led to show it in the service yesterday as I felt it complimented the message from Ezekiel 4 perfectly.

After we looked at it, some folks in the congregation applauded. I did too.

But about today—please pray for me. I would be less than honest if I didn’t say that I am a little nervous. The reason for this is that Dr. Jotte, in my last appointment with him prior to the last maintenance treatment, said, “Well, John, we are going to do another PET scan in a few weeks. And this one is crucial because we get to see the results of this two-year maintenance process.”

Okay. All well and good.

There is no reason to expect these results to differ from any that I have been receiving for two years, but it just causes me pause. I’ll be glad when it is over. I plan to have a bacon and eggs breakfast. I can hardly wait.

I am still decided what course I am going to play in my head this morning as I have this scan—I’m thinking about Legacy Ridge in Westminster. I think I’m going to play well today!

As I come to the end of this marvelous first chapter of Ephesians, here is a statement that stood out: "God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church" (Ephesians 1:22 NLT).

Paul has been praying for and explaining the power of God in Christ, and the only thing He can compare it to is God’s power in Christ! Literally, he says, “That power is like His strength.” But there is a tangible, visible demonstration of it: God showed how powerful He is when He raised His Son from the dead and seated Him at God’s right hand.

And He did all of that—everything He ever did and does at the present moment—“for the benefit of the church.” That means you and it means me.

Thank you, Lord, for the power you displayed in raising Jesus from the dead and seating Him at your right side where He rules to this very moment and in my life and body AND in that PET scan trailer today.

It is all good, all the time. All the time, it is good.

“When I fall on my knees,
With my face to the rising sun,
O Lord, have mercy on me”

(“Let Us Break Bread Together,” BH 2008, 399). Amen.
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To Us-ward

Sometimes, phrases or expressions in the King James Version are awkward and difficult to understand.

Of course, Brother James instituted this massive translation and it finished in 1611. A lot has changed since then. You think?

But we simply don’t talk like people talked in 17th Century England. This is why I encourage the use of a modern translation of some type.

For one thing, it is easier to understand, and for the second thing, it mirrors the way we actually talk these days.

That having been said, however, there are words and phrases in the KJV that are beautiful. (By the way, I love the KJV. That isn’t the issue).

The passage for today is a noteworthy example, and my former pastor, Joel Gregory brought this out in his sermon over twenty-five years ago. First, let me quote the passage: "And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 1:19, 20 KJV).

Let’s back up a second: Paul prays three things for the recipients of his letter. He prays that they might have wisdom; he prays that the eyes of their heart would be flooded with light; and finally, he asks the Lord to show them God’s power.

The power of God—what an awesome concept. What comes to mind when you think of God’s power? My mind is spinning at this moment. Many, many things, but can I be honest? I guess my initial response is that we just don’t see displays of it that often.

Or does that previous statement reflect my bias or the box I have put God in?

We tend to think of God’s power as being demonstrated in some “infamous” sinner getting saved or someone with an incurable disease getting healed or a church exploding with thousands and thousands of people showing up for services. And all of these events are happening SOMEWHERE ELSE.

But that little KJV phrase is the key to everything. God’s power is not some gargantuan concept OUT THERE in the stratosphere happening on a large scale to someone else.

Paul prays that these folks would understand the incredible greatness (he stacks superlatives on top of themselves) of God’s power TO USWARD. ME. MYSELF. I. He is praying that these folks would experience God’s power for themselves in their own personal experiences and church life.

This phrase is a slap in the face to my unbelief. It demands that I open my eyes and see with wisdom and discernment. And isn’t this what the first two petitions of the prayer in Ephesians one are all about. If I don’t have wisdom and if God doesn’t flip the light switch, then I can’t see God’s power and would not know it if it hit me over the head.

Therefore, I see the power of God in a lot of places—maybe unrecognized by the world or the “success-mongers.” These instances won’t make any Baptist state paper with a picture of the pastor on it. But so what?

Yesterday, I spent some time with Evelyn. I saw a woman who is dying. They are now giving her morphine. Her son John and I don’t expect her to live much longer, and in fact, we are praying that she gets to go home soon. But to watch her—she is dying as a believer. She is ready to go.

How about THAT as an example of God’s power?

This morning, in the service, I will be baptizing a young man who is sensing God’s direction and call in His life. He has already been saved and baptized, but he wants to get baptized again—just as a testimony of God’s work in his life. Ryan is a big guy—a former football player but he has such a heart for God. And I see great things in his future. This is a significant step for him in his walk. Just pray that we don’t both go under today! Ha.

But again, isn’t this a blatant example of God’s power?

Lord, I refuse to put you in a box that pushes you away from me and makes you remote and distant to my daily personal experience as if you are the God of Deists. I refuse to consign you to standing on the balcony of the universe and watching “the clock” called the world you designed spin away. You are not some disinterested third party to my life.

You live in me, and I live in you. And I thank for the power to ME-WARD. That same power that raised your Son from the dead and seated Him at your right hand is mine TODAY—right now. Wow.

I pray that today—I would, in some way—be a conduit of your power, in whatever way you want to use me.

Lord, focus me today. Get my mind and heart riveted to you.

“Baptized in water,
Sealed by the Spirit,
Cleansed by the blood of Christ, our King”

(“Baptized in Water,” BH 2008, 398). Amen.
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Flooded with Light

First of all, please continue to pray for Evelyn. Her son John has come into town to be with her. We talked yesterday afternoon. I’m going to visit with him at the nursing home today sometime. It is hard even to say this, but Evelyn isn’t going to be with us much longer.

All of us know that.

I am really going to miss her. I wish all of you who are reading this blog could know her. She is one-of-a-kind, one of those characters that you never forget.

She sang in the choir for a while and always did a little “dance” as she sung. I’m not sure that many if any of us could have gotten away with that—for multiple reasons. But she could and did. And I am not sure that anyone would have the courage to tell her they didn’t approve if they didn’t!

That was just Evie. She was totally and completely and unapologetically herself.

She often spoke out in services.

She loved greeting time.

For several years, she helped with the new member’s class just because she wanted to get to know everyone.

I could go on and on.

It is funny how, when you have known someone for years, how all those memories come trickling back as they are departing this earth. I say, “trickle” because over the past few days, after visiting her in the nursing home on Wednesday, it hit me that she won’t be around that much longer.

And I can be doing anything, nothing, and all of a sudden, something Evie said or did comes to mind.

This is why I wonder if a memorial service is best had when the person is still living. Why do we do this and say these things and express love and appreciation when the person has gone! Somehow, it doesn’t make sense.

But on the other hand, I know it would be awkward to tell someone, “Hey, we want to have your memorial service. We know you aren’t dead yet.” Awkward and probably depressing in one sense, but I wonder how it would feel to be a part of a meeting in which a congregation took the time to share memories and tell YOU how much they loved you.

Humm. Food for thought.

And I know that funerals and memorial services are primarily for those who are left behind. But still …

I can’t tell you how many times Evelyn told me, “No matter where you are, if you aren’t pastor here, I want you to do my service.”

This is going to be a hard one.

Well, somehow, Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1 gives me comfort today. After his glorious litany of spiritual blessings he annunciates in verses one through fourteen, Paul prays for the folks he is writing to. First, he thanks God for their strong faith and love. Then, he prays three things.

His first petition is for spiritual wisdom and insight. The reason for this request is that they would grow spiritually.

This first “ask” in Paul’s prayer reminds me of Solomon’s prayer for wisdom. Because the king asked for wisdom and not riches, God gave him both. There is something here. Actually, Solomon prayed for “a hearing ear.”

How crucial is it to be able to hear God?

Paul’s second prayer for the church is in verse 18: "I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance" (Ephesians 1:18 NLT).

I still remember Joel Gregory’s sermon on this passage. He was my pastor when I was in seminary. He had a way of saying, “flooded with light” that I will never forget. Paul prayed that God would turn the floodlights on illuminating every nook and cranny. The purpose of this illumination is that the church would understand the hope that the Lord has given us and our inheritance in Him.

The image that comes to mind is a floodlight in a bank vault. Flipping the switch let’s me actually see what is already there. It doesn’t add anything. It just illuminates reality.

“Lord, you mean all of this is mine? I had no idea.”

I don’t think any of us has any concept of how rich we really are in our relationship with Jesus. Hope (seeing what is unseen, as Paul defines it in Romans 8) is the key to all of that.

Oh, Lord, I praise you today for the glorious riches we enjoy in our relationship with you. Thank you for Jesus and everything, all the spiritual blessings that come with knowing Him.

I pray today for wisdom and for the light switch to get turned on.

Thank you for Evie. I pray that her suffering would not be prolonged. This is what her son John asked us to pray for and so I do. Take her home. There’s an empty seat in Your choir—dancing allowed.

“I Thank the Lord for you, my friend,
And all that we have shared”

(BH 2008, 396). Amen.
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The Largely Unmentioned Ministries of the Holy Spirit

When I say that, I am primarily referring to myself. However, I do believe that Southern Baptists in general probably fall in this category as well.

Why? Well, I believe there are several reasons. First, I think we have seen abuses when it comes to those who speak about Him. The whole “baptism in the Holy Spirit” and “speaking in tongues” issue is a case in point.

I go back to my college days when I first encountered this in earnest. I had no idea what the “baptism in the Holy Spirit” was all about. Thus, in a Theology class, I wrote a paper on the subject, and it cleared up a lot for me. As I am sitting here, I can’t pull up the name of the book I found that served as my primary source of information, but I still have it tucked away somewhere in my library.

Through it, I learned that every believer, at the moment of salvation, is baptized by the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:9 makes this clear. It is no second experience of grace, in my opinion. I get all the Holy Spirit I am every going to get right then and there.

Now, the Spirit has more and more of me to get … That is another story.

But how that process—sanctification—works itself out is NOT based on one experience or event, for example, speaking in tongues.

Over the years, I’ve done a lot of study on THAT particular topic simply because I have encountered it so often. I believe that it is a viable gift. Having said that (and the end of 1 Corinthians 12 makes this abundantly clear), I believe that not everyone has this gift.

Let me stop right there: I really struggle with believers and/or churches that teach people this gift. That is a contradiction of terms! If it is a gift of the Spirit, then He gives it to me. I can learn. I can grow in my use of a spiritual gift such as encouragement or proclamation, but I don’t need anyone to teach me how to GET IT.

Also, the Greek word “glossa” (translated tongues in many versions and I have no idea why) literally means “language.” Hence, I believe that the gift of tongues is the ability to speak a language I have never learned. Conversely, the gift of interpretation is the skill of being able to translate a language I have never learned, and of course, Paul talks about this in I Corinthians 14.

This puts aside, again, in my opinion, all concepts of this gift as a non-intelligible prayer language. (And I know that ONE verse in 1 Corinthians where Paul talks about his own practice. I have no idea what he is talking about there. AND, one verse should never a doctrine make).

Having said all of this, however, I do believe that the gift of languages is still viable. God still gives it in certain times and places, namely to believers serving in other cultures, I believe.

Anyway, I kind of chased a rabbit there. But my point is that everything I have just written has come out of years of dealing with these issues when it comes to the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and in the church. There is a lot of heresy out there.

Second, I think the reason Baptists don’t talk much about the Holy Spirit is genuine fear. We tend to be afraid when the Spirit is in control and we are not.

As I sit here this morning, thinking and praying about Sunday’s service, I wonder how much room we have left for the Holy Spirit to work. I like things planned. I like to know when the next song or announcement or prayer or sermon is to occur. And, I get very frustrated when we don’t follow “the plan.”

But why? Well, I think I am a little apprehensive. Something wild and crazy might happen if it is not in the plan! Right. Horror of horrors! Again, it goes back to fear. And “God has not given us a spirit of fear” (2 Timothy 1:7).

Plus, I am so conscious of the clock. I always have been. And I know modern-day attention spans.

Our services tend to last an hour and fifteen minutes, usually. I think people are used to it. But I can always sense when we go beyond that timeframe how antsy people tend to become.

Well, anyway, enough said on those two points.

Today’s passage gives two largely unmentioned yet crucial ministries of the Holy Spirit. "In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation-having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory" (Ephesians 1:13, 14 NASB).

It is a tragedy that we refer to the Holy Spirit only when “tongues” comes up and thus avoid Him.

Paul makes clear that the Holy Spirit is the seal of our salvation! When I want to make sure that the contents of a letter arrive safely at my desired destination, I lick the envelope and make sure it is sealed. In Paul’s day, people rolled up a scroll and put some wax on the bottom of the page so that it would remain sealed. They also stamped that seal with a special mark that identified it as coming from one person.

This is what the Holy Spirit does in my salvation experience—He seals me in Christ! Signed, sealed, and delivered.

Plus, I have a guarantee, a down payment, so to speak, that I am going to make it intact to my final destination. And I know this even before I need to. I know it today, as a matter of fact.

I was visited with Margaret the other day. She is going in for a test in a couple of weeks. She fears that she has cancer. I told her when Jon, my friend, shared with me in my initial stages of my cancer diagnosis: “It is not worth worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet.”

But I carried Jon’s statement a little further with Margaret. “But Margaret, I am here to tell you that even if you do have cancer, the Lord will STILL take care of you. Cancer is one of the best things that has ever happened to me! It will still be okay.”

And this passage carries things EVEN FURTHER—if I do have cancer and if I die from it, I’m still okay. Why? Because I get to go to heaven to be with Jesus!

And I know that because the Holy Spirit in me in is the guarantee, the down payment for the final and ultimate redemption of God’s inheritance—to the praise of His glory! Yes, yes, yes!

I praise you, Holy Spirit, for living in me the moment I repented and believed in the Son. Thank you for the baptism. Thank you for my spiritual gifts. Thank you for the way you help me use them for others.

Oh, Spirit, I thank you for the good seal of approval on my salvation and the guarantee that I am going to make it.

“Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me” (BH 2008, 330). Amen.
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God's Long Range Plan, My Mom's Birthday, and Evelyn

I have several things to share today. Surprise, huh?

I’ll take the title in reverse order. First, Evelyn.

Yesterday, after visiting with a family, I stopped at Clear Creek Care Center to visit with her and she was unresponsive. At times, I could tell that she was trying to talk with me but she just could not get it out.

Apparently, she had another stroke or some kind of major health “incident” the other day, and things have gotten progressively worse.

It was hard to see her that way yesterday. It really was, but I sat by her bed. Usually, when I visit her, she is sitting up in her wheelchair. She makes a point of getting out of bed every day. But not yesterday. She was in her bed.

We “talked” for a few minutes. I just bowed my head right there and prayed for her. Her son John is flying in today. Evelyn’s friend Janet has notified her other son Tim.

Please pray for Evelyn and her family. It is hard to say this, but I just don’t think she is going to be with us that much longer, and I think she is ready, ready to go home, because she has instructed the folks at the care center not to take extraordinary measures to keep her alive.

The other thing about today is that it is MY MOM’S BIRTHDAY. What a day to be born! I know that Valentine’s Day is largely a fabrication of our marketing mindset here in the United States—another “excuse” to buy something for someone else. That sounds crass, but I have talked to married couples who say that there is a lot of pressure on this day, to buy something or do something “romantic.” (Don’t get me started on THAT concept! Someday, I will talk about it if I haven’t already in this blog. I think I have but it bears repeating.)

I know I am an “expert” in all these matters even though I have never been married?!?

“Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” Isn’t that the expression?

Well, anyway, this day would be annoyance to me if it weren’t for the fact that it is my mom’s birthday. Because of her, this day has always been special to us. Usually, growing up, I liked it because every year, on HER birthday, Mother gave Marilyn and me something! Usually, it involved a box of Russell Stover chocolates—the only food that will be in heaven.

I believe that beside the throne of God is a little pantry that is filled with Russell Stover chocolates. We will be able to eat forever as we praise Jesus. Our praises will have a hint of chocolate forever!

That has to be in the Bible somewhere, right?

Anyway, that is a pretty good rule of thumb, right—give others presents on YOUR birthday? If my mom had her druthers, she would change our custom forever to do that. That is just the kind of person she is. And I will always remember this.

We are all going to spend some time together today and Marilyn and I are going to try to do something “special” for her on her birthday today.

Finally—the passage for today. Again, (I know I sound like a broken record), this chapter is absolutely incredible. In his description of spiritual blessings, he moves fluidly back and forth in salvation history—to the beginning of time, the foundation of the world, to my personal salvation because of the shed blood and the mercy of God, and finally to the end of time.

This passage moves from the “foundation of the world” to the “summing up of all things in Christ: "He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth" (Ephesians 1:9, 10 NASB).

Peterson in the Message version puts it this way: “He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth" (Message)

The Long Range Plan of God—summing up all things in Christ. All the “disparate” numbers and details of life—seeing Evelyn and celebrating my mom—the difficult times and the happy times—life and death and everything in between. Think about all these details in everyone’s life that has ever lived from the beginning of history.

I wonder how long it would take an accountant to add all of THAT up?

Someday, it is all going to be tabulated and summed up as God draws the line for human history—God’s calculator blazing. Let’s see. What does this add up to? Very simple—yet it is more profound that any human mind can fathom. JESUS.

The One who has been there with the Father from the beginning as the eternal Logos of God will be the only One standing when all the dust settles.

Jesus.

Jesus at the very beginning.

Jesus at the very end.

Jesus all, everywhere, in between.

LORD. “Jesus is Lord of all… Lord of my thoughts and my service each day, Jesus is Lord of all” (BH 2008, 294). Amen.
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Be Careful What You Pray For

The last part of that title above is “you just might get it.” This was running through my mind as I sat in one of our classrooms last night.

As you know, if you have been reading this blog (and if you have, again, thanks), I am challenged the church I serve with a very simple evangelism strategy: pray for those who are closest to you (whether they are close in family relations or close in the office at work or close in your neighborhood) and seek opportunities to share Jesus in those relationships.

Most of us have a “far away” concept of evangelism. We think about telling complete strangers about the Lord or traveling over oceans to witness. We call those folks “missionaries.” This is a fallacy, I believe, and it explains why we don’t share as we should.

This is again why I value Oscar Thompson’s book—the best book on evangelism ever written—Concentric Circles of Concern—so much. It emphasizes the fact that every believer is a missionary and his/her mission field is lost family members, friends, associates, and neighbors WE ALREADY KNOW.

This is our first and most urgent responsibility.

Saying this does not neglect “Person X” (this is Thompson’s term for a stranger, whether person is near or far away), but it puts that type of sharing in its proper context.

It reminds me of the parable of the Good Samaritan. WE are like the priest and the Levite who pass up lost people right around us to get on a plane to fly to Africa to share with folks in the bush.

I believe that Thompson would carry it further to say that I honestly can’t adequately minister to Person X until I have fulfilled my responsibility to share with those who are closest to me.

Well, anyway, I am living right in the middle of this challenge myself. I have been praying for my neighbors for years. It is just difficult in the townhouse community in which I live to see people very much, and of course, I am not around my house very much—just to eat and sleep on occasion.

A couple of weeks ago, Barbara called me. She and her son manage the property and come to all the Homeowner Association (HOA) meetings. I had served on that board for years prior to my cancer diagnosis, but when I got sick, it was just one of many things I had to quit going.

In fact, I have not been to an HOA meeting for over two years.

Back to Barbara—she called and after some small talk, she asked, “John, we are expecting a lot of folks to come to the annual meeting this year. We feel that we need a larger meeting place. Is your church available?”

It took me about .17 seconds to answer: “Yes, Barbara, of course it is.”

“How much do you charge for the use of the space?”

“Nothing.”

“Wow, great. Can you put us down for that meeting on February 12?”

“Sure, no problem.”

Thus, last night, after praying for my neighbors for years, several of them actually came to the church building! I think God has a sense of humor! Hilarious!

Over the years, a couple of them who had served on the Board with me have asked about the church and indicated that they might come. They never did … until last night.

Now, granted, this may not seem to be a big deal, but it is kind of funny, don’t you think? All this hit me as I was sitting in that meeting looking at Barbara and Doug (the property managers) and five of my neighbors.

I’m praying that last night will be some kind of bridge for them to come to Jesus or at least come to the church sometime soon. Who knows, right?

To the passage for today—I’m continuing to inch my way through Ephesians 1. I feel as if I am eating a Palisade peach. I’m savoring every morsel of this glorious chapter. I’m pausing to meditate on this list of “spiritual blessings.”

Here is the next one: "He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will" (Ephesians 1:5 NASB).

Paul mentioned God’s choice of us to be like Jesus before the foundation of the world. The second thing he alludes to is “predestination.”

These concepts are similar but they are not the same. This is no official theological distinction, but here is my stab at differentiating these terms. And I take my position based on some comments that Scherer makes in his commentary on Romans.

I allude to Romans because there is a significant statement about predestination in Romans 8: "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified" (Romans 8:29, 30 NASB).

Election has to do with the goal of salvation—we are elected (as believers) to be conformed to the image of Christ. Predestination has to do with God’s plan—it will certainly come to pass.

Therefore, these two terms are closely related, but I believe they refer to two distinct aspects of our salvation in Jesus—the end game (election) and the way we get there (predestination). God had it in His plan all along to include us and to adopt us into His family, and I love the last part of Ephesians five, “according to the king intention of His will.” Amen. Without God’s kindness, none of us make it.

Oh, Lord, when I pray and pray and pray with seemingly no answer, I’m grateful for times like last night and for verses like Ephesians 1:5 that remind that you have not gotten sidetracked. You have a plan and you are working that plan. Thank you for including me in it.

It is my prayer for my neighbors that some of them are chosen and predestinated. They just haven’t repented and believed … yet.

Use me Lord to share with each of them. Give me boldness when the opportunity comes along.

Thank you for last night.

“I thank the Lord for you, my friend” (BH 2008, 396). Amen.
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The Foundation of the World

That phrase has always intrigued me, and it appears in the first chapter of Ephesians: "Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him" (Ephesians 1:4, NASB).

As I did a search for this phrase in scripture, I found out that it is used several times in the New Testament. One notable example is: "The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come” (Revelation 17:8, NASB).

This phrase raises the whole specter and debate concerning election and predestination (two different concepts, by the way). I certainly make no claim to have resolved this age-old conundrum, but I do have some thoughts (as you would well imagine).

First, I think it is very significant that Paul states that the Lord has chosen us IN HIM before the foundation of the world. This is a crucial phrase, not only in this verse, but also in the Pauline corpus. There are many passages to which I could refer, but one of my favorites—verses I always share with folks who are following Jesus in baptism—are the first few verses of Romans six.

Baptism is a very clear picture of what being IN CHRIST is all about. It is about identification. At the moment of salvation, not only does Jesus come into me, but also I go INTO Him. The Holy Spirit baptizes me INTO Jesus and water baptism pictures it. Dead to sin, buried with Jesus, and raised with Him.

I sometimes picture it by putting my business card in a Bible and tossing my Bible on a desk. Where the Bible goes, the business card goes with it. Why? Because the business card is IN the Bible!

It is the same thing in my relationship with Jesus—what happened to Him, happened to me the moment I got saved. And I now share the life of Christ. And if this life is a line, it goes all the way into the future—it never ends. BUT it also goes the other way—all the way back to the beginning—“in the beginning God.”

I believe that the New Testament phrase “foundation of the world” is equivalent to “in the beginning.”

Second, from the foundation of the world, the Lord chose me IN HIM to be holy and without fault.

In other words, I believe the doctrine of election (and this morning, I’m only going to talk about election, not predestination)—God’s choice of me—refers to the ultimate goal of my salvation.

It does NOT refer to heaven and hell.

This is where a lot of folks get confused, I believe. If I have heard this once, I’ve heard it a thousand times: “I just can’t believe in a God that would send people to hell.”

The Bible never uses election or God’s choice in that framework! NEVER!

The fact is that we send ourselves to hell! This is our choice, and it flies in the face of everything that the Lord has done in creation and redemption to call us to the choice that sends us in the opposite direction.

Again, I say, “God does not send or choose people to go to hell.”

Nope. Election has to do with the goal of our salvation. God chooses us before the foundation of the world IN JESUS [with the goal of, my words added] holiness and blamelessness. It is a doctrine for believers.

And as Romans eight reminds us, it is a great comfort through trials and difficulties and even sin on our part. There are many days that I just don’t feel very Christ-like, and my life does not show it.

But here is the third thing about all of this. God has already decreed from the beginning that I am going to look like Jesus, and there is nothing I can do about it. It is (are you ready?) a historical fact before it has actually happened.

Abraham Lincoln was a president of the United States (I heard Ron Dunn explain it this way), and whether I like it or not, or feel it or not, there is absolutely nothing I can do about it! Ha. Love it!

Does this promote laziness or passivity on my part? Do I say, “Well, if it is going to happen, then party hearty!”? Nope. He calls me to pursue Him and holiness every day of my life. If I have been chosen, my current life will demonstrate it.

A lot to chew on today.

One more thing: Betty emailed me yesterday that Evelyn is having some physical challenges. The last time Jim and I saw her, she told us she was not feeling well. Please pray for her.

Oh, Lord, thank you for your choice for me to be holy and blameless before the foundation of the world.

I honestly don’t feel holy these days. I’m struggling.

But I am grateful that you have already accomplished your purposes in Christ in my life. Therefore, I can rejoice that you WILL finish your work in me.

I lift up Evelyn to you today. Encourage her and strengthen her, Lord.

This song comes to mind this morning. “He who began a good work in me, He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it, will be faithful to complete it.” Amen.
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Distracted

As I sit here this morning, I’m still trying to figure out what happened. The shortest way of saying it is that yesterday, I was not “with it.”

And I could tell right from the start.

Early in the service, as is our custom, I got up to make some announcements and just got them all jumbled up—my words and my thoughts just didn’t come together.

In the prayer time, the Holy Spirit brought a biblical story to mind as I led the congregation in prayer, but I could not remember the two main characters of the story! Finally, as I started to pray, one character—Eli—emerged in my brain. I was trying to challenge the folks and myself to be available to God when He calls. But I couldn’t, for the life of me, think of the young man he counseled to be available to God in the early chapters of some “first” book. Then it hit me—“Samuel.” That’s the young man’s name—Samuel.

When I finally got up to preach, I was worried that my sermon would be mixed up as well. For the most part, it didn’t seem to be, but the delivery was hard. It felt as if I were slogging through a mud hole. Difficult, very difficult.

As I was leaving, I was almost convinced that no one had noticed. AND, it is no big deal if they did or did not—except to me. I KNEW. AND I KNOW. And I know the Lord does as well.

But Sharon did notice. We laughed about it. “A little case of cancer brain today, huh?”

“Yeah, Sharon, something. I don’t know what was going on.”

“Well, I understand,” she answered. “I still deal with it all the time. I asked my doctor about it. He said, ‘You will pretty much have to deal with it the rest of your life.’ I was worried about you. ‘I hope John doesn’t have cancer brain.’”

“I hadn’t thought of that today,” I said. “But thanks for the reminder. The only thing is: I was kind of spacey even before I got cancer!”

We both laughed about it.

This morning, however, as I sit here at the feet of Jesus, I know I need to confess my sin and learn from the experience.

There was too much on my mind. That’s the first thing.

Second, I did not take adequate time with Jesus to allow Him to sort through and sort out all these distractions. And I need to make that a very high priority from now on.

I was unprepared for the service, and there is no excuse for that.

This is why, for the past twenty-three plus years, that Saturday night is a “lay low” time of the week for me. I usually spend a lot of time in the evening just getting settled and focused. It is not really sermon prep per se. It is just sitting and praying and get quiet. It is perhaps the most crucial aspect of preparation for me.

Most of the folks at church realize this, and I appreciate it. I don’t get many if any calls on Saturday night as a general rule, emergencies excepted, of course. Plus, we do not typically have any activities EVER on Saturday night just so that all of us can be prepared for worship.

But back to the issue: why was I distracted? A couple of things. First, we had a major conflict at church last Wednesday night that involved a lot of people and had some huge fall-out. I have not gotten over it yet.

Second, I am considering buying something that is rather a large purchase (I’m not going to say what it is), and I am finding that my mind is pre-occupied with it. I think about “it” a lot and find myself wanting to go to the Internet a lot to do more research on “it.”

There is a fine line between “research” and “obsession.” I crossed over that line.

This is maybe too specific—TMI (Too Much Information)—but these are two issues I should have taken longer to pray through and turn over to the Lord BEFORE I stood in front of the congregation yesterday.

Well, I think I have beaten that horse enough, as the expression goes. Again, I say, “Lesson learned.” I hope!

Back to the passage today. The more I read Ephesians 1:3, the more crucial I think it is to the entire book and to the corpus of Pauline theology. Here it is again: "All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ" (Ephesians 1:3 NLT).

The fact is that after His perfect life, death on the cross, burial, and glorious resurrection, Jesus ascended back to the Father and now He seats at the right hand of the throne of God! Praise God! He rules, having taken back to heaven His experience of humanity, so that he can fully serve as King and Priest. The book of Hebrews talks about His priesthood and what it means for us.

But the book of Ephesians is all about how we now live with Christ on the throne!

Since Jesus is THERE, what does that mean for us. Well, in short, it means that we are THERE in Him. Where is there?

The literal Greek term is “heavenlies.” It is the way Paul refers to where Jesus is seated at God’s right hand.

In our identification with Him, if we truly believe that we are in Christ and Christ is seated at God’s right hand right now in the heavenlies, where are we? Right. In the heavenlies with Him and in Him.

THERE, we have received every spiritual blessing as a co-heir with Jesus!

This is why Paul says in Colossians 3:1ff that since I have been raised with Jesus and am seated with Him in the heavenly realms, then I need to put my focus and my mind THERE.

Had I done this, I would not have been so distracted and worried and preoccupied with “stuff” here.

I’m telling you: this is a real battle with real consequences. And they are serious.

Lord, I’m so grateful for the life and death and resurrection and ascension of your Son, Jesus. I affirm today that He is seated at your right hand in the heavenlies. Thank you for His triumph over sin and death and the grave. Thank you for His life. Thank you for His priesthood, in the order of Melchizedek.

I confess that I allowed my worries and distractions to hold sway yesterday. I am wrong.

I turn back to you right now and choose to focus on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth.

Once I do that, then “I [can] love you with the love of the Lord. Yes, I can see in you the glory of my King, and I love you with the love of the Lord” (BH 2008, 395). Amen.
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Career vs Vocation

Time is getting away from me a little bit this morning. I don’t have to pick up the boys. Eduardo left me a message last night. It was about seven seconds in length, “We ain’t coming tomor …” He hung up even before he finished the sentence.

But I feel that I need to get up to the church a little early. We had some snow yesterday afternoon. I don’t think we had any accumulation last night, but I always want to check the condition of the sidewalks to make sure everything is okay.

Well, anyway, I came across an intriguing statement in an Ezekiel commentary I was reading the other day. I highly recommend it. It is quickly emerging in my mind (and heart) as one of the best EVER. It is in the category of a devotional commentary. The author is Peter C. Craigie in the Devotional Study Bible Series. Anyone could pick up this volume, read it, and have his/her socks blessed off.

I love it so much that I have to reserve it to the end of my study because his comments and thoughts are so profound that they influence me greatly.

There, have I lavished enough praise on it?

Back to a statement he made. Here it is as he is commenting on the passage I am preaching this morning: “The anatomy of Ezekiel’s vocation is fascinating, for it provides a clue to the nature of all vocations. A vocation, whether in the ancient world or the modern, is not analogous to planning a career; quite different criteria are employed” (Craigie, Ezekiel, Devotional Study Bible Series, 15).

Vocation vs Career—interesting.

This morning, I searched Google for definitions of those two words. Here they are in the Webster dictionary: vocation is “a summons or strong inclination to a particular state or course of action; especially: a divine call to the religious life” whereas career is “a field for or pursuit of consecutive progressive achievement especially in public, professional, or business lifecareer as a soldier” (www.merriam-webster.com, accessed February 10, 2013).

The contrast is striking. A vocation is a call to a particular state. On face value, as I read that, I think it could be perceived as very static. Someone with a vocation might appear to be stationary or stuck. But this is a false perception, in my opinion, and very worldly.

Why? Because I think so many of us, particularly in the pastoral profession, are influenced by the fleshly concept of “career” which is a “pursuit of consecutive progressive achievement.”

Translation: you must keep moving up the “ladder of success”—progression from one lower (implying pay, mainly) to a higher level on the ladder—a bigger church that pays more than the previous one.

How many of the guys that I went to seminary with have this mindset? More than I care to think about.

I think I have told this story before, but one of those guys told me that before he went to a church, he called around in the city to find out the salary figures of all the current large church pastors. Then, he went back to the search team at this one church and told them that unless they offered him a salary that was a certain percentage higher than all the other guys, he would not come.

Now, he currently serves one of the largest and most prestigious congregations in the Southern Baptist Convention. Go figure.

This type of thing turns my stomach, but it is very common, too common, I am afraid.

Oh, well, how this guy handles his business or career is up to him. I am responsible for me.

And today, I choose to serve Him on a cold and snowy February morning here in Northglenn, Colorado.

We had a very tough week at the church for several reasons. And, I am battling a very distracted mind this morning. I need to sit here a bit at the feet of Jesus and get my focus straight before heading to the church.

I want to cite a couple of verses. I will make more comment on them tomorrow. The phrase that is prominent in the writings of Paul—actually on Ephesians (3 times) and Colossians (once) is “heavenly realms”:

"All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ" (Ephesians 1:3 NLT).

"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" (Colossians 1:16 NLT).
Oh, Lord, I praise you from the bottom of my heart for the VOCATION to which you have called me. I pray that my focus would be, as it was for Ezekiel, to serve you and follow you and share your Word in a very tough place.

I lift up all my brothers who are serving churches on the north side of Denver this morning. I name as many of them as I can.

Plus, I lift up the faithful few at First Southern and in the other congregations as well.

“Seated with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus”—no snow there!

“In Him shall true hearts everywhere
Their high communion find”

(“In Christ There is No East or West,” BH 2008, 394). Amen.
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One of the Hardest Things EVER, Part 1

My title is a little tongue in cheek today. I just want to say that upfront.

A few weeks ago, I told all of you that I am working on losing weight. Let me give some background to all of this.

Months ago, Kelly, who is Dr. Jotte’s assistant, talked with me about this. She recommended that I start to work on it—not because it has anything to do with my cancer recovery, per se. But she just said that it would be best for general health reasons.

At that time, I weighed 194 pounds—an all-time high.

I struggled with what she told me at first for many reasons, but I finally realized that I needed to take action.

Therefore a few weeks prior to the Christmas holidays, I began a class that focused on a combination of exercise and proper diet—a very balanced and healthy approach. And, in the most difficult time of the year to do something like this—the holidays are the SUGARY-IST time of the year! Are you kidding me? I started.

I’m telling you. It has been rough. I kind of resent all the quick-fix diet plans that typically come out this time of year. And they make incredible claims like, “I just started taking this pill and I lost fifty pounds in one week.” Craziness! It is bogus as well. Of course I can’t comment on every single one of those types of plans, but I have enough anecdotal experience to know that just flat don’t work.

And I wasn’t after a diet to lose weight only to put it back on a few months later. I knew that it has to be a lifestyle change.

And I have lost more weight but I want to continue.

Well, without going into too much detail at this point (and I don’t want to do it because I’m just learning), I have arrived at another phase of this process, and I am finally getting to what I am talking about in the title.

What is the hardest thing EVER, part 1? Well, I actually have to go to the grocery store to SHOP for ingredients to meals that I actually have to prepare! There, I said it.

Now, I can just see one of you who is reading this saying, “Are you kidding me? A 54 year-old man who is single and has never done that?” Well, I have on very limited occasions in the past. So, it is not totally unprecedented.

AND, I want to be clear here: I do go to the grocery store, but most of the time, I buy food that has already been pretty much prepared OR, it is very easy to prepare, very simple stuff like hamburger and frozen vegetables and fruit and eggs et cetera.

But yesterday, this was buying a bunch of stuff actually to bring home and follow a recipe and make it myself.

This is having to go to the produce section and find things like FENNEL. And I am so glad that there was a young man standing there—an employee of the grocery store—that I could ask to help me find all kinds of things that I have never bought before.

I have to tell you that when I finished with my “list,” I was just as tired as I would be if I had run a marathon!

I have figured out why grocery shopping is difficult for most men—it involves asking someone for help! Men—this man at the top of the list—HATE to do this.

While I was grinding away at my list—I won’t tell you how long it took—and I was asking this young man for help—several women came up to him and asked. They were not shy. They were very straightforward. It appeared to be easy for them.

Duh, this is part of shopping, I know, but it hasn’t been for me. I just race into a store and buy a few things and race on out. I am not a shopper, but I guess I am going to start.

Over the years, people in the church have tried to teach me how to cook. One family in particular comes to mind—Lewis and Sharon—great folks. They have moved to Florida but we still keep in contact. Whenever I speak with them, Sharon always asks, “How is your cooking going?” My typical answer is, “Well, Sharon, I’m still not very far along.”

Well, now, I guess my motivation to improve my overall health by eating more nutritious meals has finally pushed me over that edge. We will see.

I don’t know how many more marathon races I can run! Ha. I’m beat today. I’m praying that grocery shopping—the real kind—gets a little easier the more I do it. Part 1 wasn’t easy. Maybe Part 58 will be a tad easier. I hope???

Well, today, after finishing Daniel, I’m back in the New Testament to read one of my favorite books—Ephesians. The first few verses of this book are off the charts. I’m going to quote one verse from one version and the next from another.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3 NASB). "Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes" (Ephesians 1:4 NLT).

Two things stand out in these verses. First, I am blessed today with EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING! Wow. That is worth praising God for. But what exactly is a spiritual blessing? Whenever we have opportunity for testimony in the church and we ask people to share blessings, invariably, they are PHYSICAL BLESSINGS—family, home, job, et cetera.

But this chapter lists spiritual blessings. I wonder if we get as excited about those blessings as we do the other. EVERY spiritual blessing!

Second, I am chosen by God to be “without fault in his eyes.” When I stand before Him on judgment day, a very flawed and sinful man, saved by God’s grace and sanctified through the work of the Holy Spirit, will someday be just like Jesus. That is a part of this. The future.

But it is also RIGHT NOW. In Christ, right now, I am without fault in God’s eyes.

No matter what kind of grocery shopper I am!

Lord, you are awesome. I praise you that you have showered on me every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies IN CHRIST. And, right now, no matter how much I weigh, I am without fault in your eyes. Father, thank you for the blood of your Son that made this possible and the grace that identifies me with Him, seated with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. Amen.
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Prison

A couple of days ago, Jim and I traveled to Golden to visit a guy (let’s call him Mark) in the Jefferson County Detention Center.

As we pulled up in the parking lot of this facility, I remembered that I had been here before—years ago. I can’t remember who I visited back then, but the memories came back.

I have made ten or more visits the Adams County facility in Brighton. The Jefferson County jail is fairly similar.

I had arranged a meeting with the chaplain that day because, unless you make an arrangement, your visit counts against the total number of visits that an inmate is allowed each month. We didn’t want to have that happen to Mark.

At 1:00, Chaplain Dennis met us to check out our credentials. One needs some type of verification when it comes the ministry in order to visit someone in prison. Betty had typed up a little business card type document for me. It simply said, “John Talbert is pastor of FSBC Northglenn” and Betty as our church clerk signed it.

Dennis looked at it and said, “What is FSBC? That could be First Southern Bank.” Oh, okay. This card has been accepted plenty of times in the Brighton jail.

He then looked at Jim’s credentials. For him, Betty typed up a short note on letterhead verifying that he was a deacon. Dennis looked it over. “This is much better. Well, I guess we will let it go today (referring to my credential).” We filled out some paperwork and passed it off to the officer behind the glass screen in the waiting room.

He handed us a key for a little locker in the corner. Jim and I deposited everything we had in that locker—wallets, keys, et cetera. No one is allowed to take anything into the prison with him or her. Your pockets must be emptied of everything.

We put our “stuff” in the locker and waited. After a while, the officer called Mark’s full name and pointed us to a door at the side of the waiting room. The nametag he had given me (just one for the two of us) said, “5B.”

We opened the door, and headed down a long hallway.

As we were walking along, I said to Jim, “I’ll tell you what. We should bring some kids and teens over here. This is very sobering. Just taking this walk would be a huge deterrent to getting into trouble.”

It is almost chilling. I tend to get kind of claustrophobic when I make visits to folks in prison. As I walk down the long hauls and through doors that close behind me, something inside of me says, “I have to get out of here.”

And as I think that, my mind invariably goes to, “I can’t imagine what it would be like to be locked away in a place like this.”

The long halls are so deafly quiet and antiseptic and here is the main word—lonely. Desperately lonely.

We walked for what seemed like a half an hour—it probably wasn’t that long. We turned down a few long hallways, arriving at an elevator marked with an arrow “4 and 5.” We took it up. As we exited on level five, we noticed the number five with letters after it, marked on the wall down another long hallway. Finally, we arrived at 5B.

When you go to visit someone in prison, you usually sit on one side of a glass booth and the inmate sits on the other side. You pick up a phone at the side and so does he/she.

It wasn’t long before Mark came in. He was dressed in yellow prison garb. Somehow, he looked a lot better than I thought he would. He was actually smiling. I picked up the phone. So did he. “Hey Mark!” I stated. “How are you? Jim and I just wanted to visit with you today.”

“Great to see you,” he answered. “Hey, I got a copy of the Purpose Driven Life and I am reading it along with several chapters in the Bible each day. It has been good.”

“Fantastic, Mark. Good for you.”

We visited a little longer and then I handed the phone to Jim. He spoke with Mark a bit and I returned to the line. We prayed together, and I said to Mark, “It is great to see you. We love you and will continue to pray for you. Take care.” We said our goodbyes and left, Jim and I retracing our steps down the long hallways.

Honestly, I could not get out of there fast enough.

I know Mark feels the same way, but he can’t.

I don’t know—it was quite an experience, and I have not been able to keep this thought out of my mind since seeing Mark, “What does it take to get folks straightened out?” For some, not even prison does it.

These verses from Proverbs that I read this morning seem apropos. Notice the repetition of one key word: "Only a fool despises a parent’s discipline; whoever learns from correction is wise. Whoever abandons the right path will be severely disciplined; whoever hates correction will die" (Proverbs 15:5, 10 NLT).

Did you see it? The word is “correction.” The choice is “learn from correction” or “hate correction.” There are consequences either way—some of them are drastic.

Lord, I acknowledge you today as my Heavenly Father. I thank you for the discipline and correction that you administer in my life. I need it and crave it.

I pray for Mark. Help him to learn from the drastic correction he is receiving these days.

Help me to stay on the straight and narrow myself. I know that I am on a short leash with you, and I am glad. It hurts when you give it a yank, but I need it.

“I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by his blood”

(“The Family of God,” BH 2008, 393). Amen.
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1290, 1335, Or …

The final verses of Daniel are an enigma.

Daniel asks the man in linen about how everything is going to end, and the angel refused to answer in specifics, except to cite two numbers.

"From the time the daily sacrifice is stopped and the sacrilegious object that causes desecration is set up to be worshiped, there will be 1,290 days. And blessed are those who wait and remain until the end of the 1,335 days! As for you, go your way until the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days, you will rise again to receive the inheritance set aside for you” (Daniel 12:11-13 NLT).

Having read these verses this morning, I did something I don’t usually do. I found a couple of Daniel commentaries and looked up these three verses.

This study illuminates one of my pet peeves when it comes to “prophecy.” One writer had Daniel’s references all figured out and fit into his “scheme” of how things are going to end. Frankly, I’m always a little uncomfortable when I read such dogmatic presentations. They may try to “nail down every board” but I’m not sure that is the point.

Tremper Longman III, an Old Testament scholar I really respect, has a more cautious and balanced comment on these verses in his commentary in the New International Version Application Commentary (NIVAC) series. He says that these references may have to do with Antiochus Epiphanes and the fact that it took about three and a half years (both these numbers 1290 and 1335 are close to that time frame) to cleanse the Temple of his idolatrous defamation.

Or, they could be references to the Ant-Christ and what will happen near the end of human history as Jesus returns.

Either one, but the bottom line, according to Longman, is that we are just not sure. The use of numbers here indicates some level of exactness as it pertains to the events the angel talks about. But only God knows. We just don’t.

And you know what: I am okay with that.

I think the last verse is the key in this discussion. In effect, what the angel is saying is: “Daniel, don’t worry about trying to figure this out. Just live your life. At the end, you will rest and rise again to receive the inheritance that the Lord has for you.”

I like this. This is the way I would prefer to live in these last days.

God has a plan. We all know it, but as far as exact numbers and times and seasons are concerned, we don’t know.

I happen to think that these numbers as well as those in Revelation (for the most part) have some sort of symbolic significance. For example, the number three stands for God. The number six is a moniker for evil—666. The number ten is a number of completion and so forth.

How does 1290 and 1335 fit into all that? I have no idea!

Thus, since I don’t, I think the command to Daniel applies. “Go your way until the end.”

This is the last vision in the book. Perhaps, at this point in Daniel’s life, he was a senior adult. Maybe he didn’t have much time left. How was he to spend his days? Speculating, calculating, tabulating? Or, just living.

Humm. I choose B.

Lord, again, this morning—I affirm that you have a plan and you are actively working your plan. Of course, your plan involves numbers—times, days, seasons, centuries, years—whatever.

If those numbers are too difficult for Daniel, what about me? They are way over my head!

Therefore, today, Lord, I just choose to love you and live for you, with all my heart.

“Join in a song with sweet accord,
And thus surround the throne,
And thus surround the throne”

(“We’re Marching to Zion,” BH 2008, 392). Amen.
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Resurrection in the Old Testament

I really am bothered—I can say it gets my “dander” up—when I hear stereotypes about the Old Testament.

Let me back up for a moment. I am concerned that, in the American pulpit, the Old Testament is becoming less and less prominent, if sermons are heard from it all. Somehow, the study of the “whole counsel of God” has been sacrificed on the altar of perceived (and I shall add misperceived) notions of relevance and “encouragement” as one popular speaker uses that term.

When we do this, something has been lost, I believe. The truth is that the foundation of everything we believe is rooted in the Old Testament, and it is just as much scripture as any book in the New Testament. And as such, it merits study, serious study, if we really want to try to understand the Bible.

Therefore, I am committed to preaching out of the Old Testament and the challenges of doing are flat hard work. There is no other way around it.

For example, as we focus on relational evangelism as our bedrock evangelistic strategy, one thing we are going to do this year is “Friend Days.” There is nothing new about this concept. It has been around for over twenty years, but I believe it is important to provide special opportunities for folks in our congregation to invite friends and family and business acquaintances or whomever—to church.

Of course, we want that all the time, but these would be services that would be specifically geared toward “outsiders,” for lack of a better term. I don’t know how this will “work,” but we will see.

Anyway, as I was talking about this with Calla, my first thought was, “Humm. On Friend Day, I better preach a special sermon.” In other words, an exposition of some verses in Ezekiel might be a little heavy-duty or a big turn-off for Uncle Fred who hasn’t been to church in twenty-five years if ever.

As I was headed down that road in my mind, almost immediately, I felt as if the Holy Spirit stopped me in my tracks, “It is all my Word, even Ezekiel.”

Thus, is it possible to preach a message from Ezekiel on Friend Day? Ha! Well, I guess I am going to find out because that is what the Lord is leading me to do.

In fact, I’m not sure I am going to do anything different—maybe a little different focus on application, but nothing more—for the message that day.

Don’t get me started on the whole concept of an “evangelistic sermon.” Somehow that elevates the purpose of the preacher above the Bible.

Last I checked, 2 Timothy 3:16 did not say, “Some scripture is God-breathed and is profitable for …” As a point of fact, as the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to pen that very the New Testament was not even in existence as canon at that point. So, Paul was referring to the OLD TESTAMENT!

I remember a guy we invited to preach a few years ago—I first met him as his youth group came to help us out with some ministry—that talked about the portion of scripture he was preaching as revival broke out in his church. Can you guess? He was actually preaching through Leviticus!

LEVITICUS!

Now, I know I am not talking about evangelism at this point, but what I am trying to say here applies to it. Any sermon can be an evangelistic sermon if the Lord chooses to use it in that way!

In short, the Lord is in charge of what happens when the Word goes out—people can get saved and revived or whatever.

Well, anyway, all of this leads into the passage for today. Where does the doctrine of resurrection come from? Admittedly, there is not a lot about it in this section of scripture and certainly Jesus lived this doctrine and embodies it. He claimed and rightfully so—I am the Resurrection and the Life.

However, I believe the roots of this doctrine are in the Old Testament. These verses in Daniel are a case in point and they illuminate an important characteristic of prophecy. I’ll get to that in a moment.

"At that time Michael, the archangel who stands guard over your nation, will arise. Then there will be a time of anguish greater than any since nations first came into existence. But at that time every one of your people whose name is written in the book will be rescued. Many of those whose bodies lie dead and buried will rise up, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting disgrace. Those who are wise will shine as bright as the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever" (Daniel 12:1-3 NLT).

God’s people will shine like stars forever! What a beautiful image of eternal life! As believers, we ultimately take on in our resurrection bodies the glory of the One whose presence we are in forever. Amen!

But back to prophecy—chapter eleven refers, I believe, to events in Daniel’s immediate future or the intertestamental period. But these verses in chapter twelve jump all the way to the future and the end of time as Jesus returns and establishes His eternal kingdom on earth.

This is typical of prophecy—it moves very fluidly between forthtelling and foretelling.

But what an encouragement today!

Oh, Lord, as I feel rather buried in all the “stuff” of ministry today, I thank you for the resurrection of Jesus. I thank you for the resurrection life I share IN HIM now. Life. His life=eternal life. Jesus in me; I in Jesus.

I’m thankful for my destiny as a star that shines forever. Please allow my light to shine today so that men may see good works and glorify you. (Matthew 5:16).

“We are called to be God’s people,
Showing by our lives His grace”

(BH 2008, 391). Amen.
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Keep Your Head on Straight

This is an expression that comes up in the Message version of the passage I read today in Daniel. I like it.

It comes up in the context of all the tumultuous happenings and world-wide turmoil that would occur in the immediate future in Daniel’s day and I don’t think it is too much of a stretch (since Jesus uses the “abomination of desolation” reference in his discussion about end times in Matthew 24) to say that it would characterize our day and time as well.

As I tell the congregation rather frequently (and probably not enough), in biblical parlance, we are living in the “last days.” The Bible defines eschatology as the time between Jesus’ first coming and second coming.

More to say on all of that, but I won’t get into it here and now.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to perceive that we are living in extremely challenging times—both in the worldwide context with terrorism and the conflicts in the Middle East and here in our nation.

For example, the current controversy with the Boy Scouts is a case in point! THE BOY SCOUTS! Last week, a friend of mine handed me a phone number and told me to call it. Up to that point, I had not heard anything about what was going on. I asked him about it. He replied, “The Boy Scouts are actually considering allowing gays into their ranks. Can you believe that? Really? So, if they do, am I going to allow my thirteen or fourteen-year old son to go on a campout with gay scouts or gay scout leaders?”

His point is extremely well taken.

I called this phone number: 972-580-2000. I urge you to call it as well. The lady who answers the phone asks you if you are calling to register your opinion on “policy.” She then switches you to another lady who simply asks, “For or against.” I said, “Against.” And I was ready to say more, but she hung up.

The USA Today article shows a picture of people picketing the Boy Scouts of America headquarters. Gay rights advocates have collected 1.4 million signatures to pressure the Boy Scouts to allow gays in.

Apparently, the Boy Scouts have taken quite a hit lately from sponsors who are pulling the plug because they don’t allow gays in.

I tell you what: all of this is lunacy!

Why can’t gays start their own organization? Why is it that they have to infiltrate every other group? And it is happening because Christians or moral people LET IT HAPPEN.

I go back to the whole gay marriage issue and the comment by a state senator when the whole thing came up for debate AGAIN prior to the election. He said, “We will win. Mark it down” (my paraphrase).

And again, while I am in this neighborhood—again, I say. I cannot fathom any Christian who actually votes for any political candidate on any level that is an out-spoken advocate of gay rights or gay marriage. This is inconceivable to me! It makes me angry. And this is no political comment. It is a moral issue.

All of this, every bit of it, fits into the category of upheaval that Daniel eleven speaks about.

Therefore, here are the verses for today: "Those who keep their heads on straight will teach the crowds right from wrong by their example. They'll be put to severe testing for a season: some killed, some burned, some exiled, some robbed. When the testing is intense, they'll get some help, but not much. Many of the helpers will be halfhearted at best. The testing will refine, cleanse, and purify those who keep their heads on straight and stay true, for there is still more to come" (Daniel 11:33-35 MSG).

“Those who keep their heads on straight.” What does this expression mean? I searched Google to find out. Here is the answer I found that makes the most sense: “focus your attention on the task before you and don’t get distracted” (answers.yahoo.com, accessed February 5, 2013).

In other words, there is a big part of me that wants to buy a plane ticket, fly down to Dallas, grab a picket, and walk around in front of the Boy Scouts of American main office MYSELF, but (while this may be the way some feel led to respond), I don’t feel led to do that.

For me today “keeping my head on straight” means that I am going to continue to seek the Lord and encourage the fellowship I serve to grow spiritually and to share Jesus with folks the Lord brings across their path each day.

This passage in Daniel also reminds us that when we have “our heads on straight,” we will be in a position for trials to “refine, cleanse, and purify” us because we will be headed in the right direction.

And, that will strengthen us because this is only the beginning. I believe that the Lord is going to turn up the heat on the stove. It is only going to get more difficult as we get nearer the Lord’s return.

Buckle up.

Lord, I thank you that hold high center as everything in our world and everything in our nation swirls around us.

Tighten up the screws on my neck (actually that is not a very good image and reminds me of Frankenstein!). Nevertheless, straighten my head up today and fasten it in your direction.

My eyes are riveted on you!

“There is only one God,
There is only one King,
There is only one body;
That is why we can sing”

(“Bind Us Together,” BH 2008, 390). Amen.
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Overdid It

Well, it became very clear as the late afternoon and evening wore on yesterday—I blew it. My morning schedule proved to be too much for me.

As it turned out, I ended up running late to the early morning service at Crossroads. The guys had already started. I slid in just as Steve was leading a chorus entitled, “Slow Me Down.” The second stanza of this song hit me in the face like a baseball bat: “Take my worldly thoughts and break my pride. Clear my mind oh Lord clear my mind.”

Oh man, those words were at a polar opposite end of the scale than where I was yesterday morning.

Being in a hurry and racing around from one activity to another and getting stressed because of it—is a blatant form of pride, for several reasons. First, it is a denial of everything I thought I had learned through cancer. I need to go back to those lessons of a few years ago and rehearse them again.

Second, I wonder if Jesus as He walked this planet and now as He sits at the right hand of the throne of God gets stressed because He is in a hurry with a lot of things to take care of? Just asking.

Third, it is laziness. I say that because I did not take the time adequately to sit down and pray through exactly what I needed to do to be able to pull off all that activity even before I arrived at church yesterday.

Why was I going to that early morning prayer meeting? Well, one of the main reasons was that I wanted to visit with some of the guys there! Duh. Did that happen? No. I arrived late, and when the service ended, everyone except James bolted out of there. And I don’t blame them—they had things to do, just as I did.

I did get a chance to set up an appointment with James. In addition to the worship, that was another good thing. But I totally blew it on the main reason for going. Just too much to do.

Plus, one other thing that is becoming a staple need in the early morning on Sunday is leisure—just time to hang out with Jesus in unhurried simplicity. And of course THAT didn’t happen either. I was disheveled and harried all day.

And when I finally got home—the bottom dropped out, and I was wiped out the rest of the evening and my mom and sister knew it. I just wasn’t in the best of moods, and I apologized to them.

That is the ultimate indication of doing too much—when it affects my relationship with my family. That’s it.

So, as much as I want to be a part of those Sunday morning services, something has to give in the future, or that is just not something I can do. I will think about that.

So much happened yesterday that I am still processing. I need to pray more about much of it before I comment on it here.

But one more thing that happened—as I got up to preach, I realized that I had left my notes in the office. (This is another consequence of the pride of being “in a hurry.”) Now, normally, I have them in my Bible, and I generally never even look at them, but they are a security blanket for me. I am just used to having them there.

Well, when I stood up to preach and realized they were not there, I panicked a bit and as I was introducing things to the church, I actually stepped down from the platform to take a look on the front pew (where I normally sit) just to make sure they were not there. Nope.

Almost instantaneously to that discovery, I felt that the Lord spoke to me in the still small voice, “John, trust Me.” And at that moment, this peace came over me. And I just went ahead.

Lesson learned, I hope. It is contradictory to be preaching sermons weekly, challenging people to trust God when I am standing there like Linus with my “blanky.”

Therefore, I think that I am going to leave it in the office from now on. How about that?

Well, on to the passage for today. I tell you—I don’t understand all the specifics of chapter eleven. Kings of the north and the south and so forth. However, when I came to the following verses, it put some things in place:

"His army will take over the Temple fortress, pollute the sanctuary, put a stop to the daily sacrifices, and set up the sacrilegious object that causes desecration. He will flatter and win over those who have violated the covenant. But the people who know their God will be strong and will resist him" (Daniel 11:31, 32 NLT).

Jesus quotes verse thirty-one in the New Testament: "The day is coming when you will see what Daniel the prophet spoke about—the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing in the Holy Place.” (Reader, pay attention!)" (Matthew 24:15 NLT).

This is another benefit to the study of the history between the Testaments. I believe this is talking about Antiochus Epiphanes, the Seleucid king, who actually set up idolatrous worship in the Temple in Jerusalem. With this frame of reference, I believe that the Lord is speaking to Daniel about the tumultuous period and world upheaval that occurred as the Greeks vied for world power after the fall of the Persian empire and before the Romans ascended to power.

It now makes a lot more sense than it ever has before. In the past, I just read these final chapters of Daniel (or should I say “sped read” them) without a lot of interest.

It is interesting that the quote from Matthew 24 adds further perspective to all of this. As with most prophecy, it has a dual application, and this is extremely important. It has an application to the immediate time of the prophet (or the near future), but secondarily, it has application to the ultimate future.

Jesus uses the events of the Intertestamental Period as a precursor to His Second Coming.

This gives even more urgency to our task now. Urgency. Not hurry. Two separate and distinct things.

God, I thank you that you are in charge of kings and nations and even idolatry. You are steadily and progressively moving human history to its climax, and it can’t happen too soon.

You can pull the plug on kings and nations and pop events that we have made into an idol (i. e. like the Super Bowl last night—that power outage stopped everything dead in its tracks—this is a metaphor of what the Lord can do).

I confess the sin of pride and unbelief. And today, I turn back to you. I’m only going to do in this day what you lead me to do and empower me to do. That’s it.

“Slow me down oh Lord slow me down.” Amen.
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Spirit Princes

I may have bitten off more than I can chew this morning. I am planning on going to the early morning service at Crossroads. I’ve missed it the past few months, but I want to go share some fellowship. I sure do appreciate Steve and Kim for their leadership in this ministry to the “ministers.” I know I need it.

But, I also promised the boys—Omero, Eduardo, and Eric--that I would pick them up as well.

Thus, the service starts at 6:30 and concludes at 7:00 and then I am going to drive downtown and get them. Kind of crazy, I know. But, I just can’t get them off my mind and heart. They need Jesus, and as long as I have the strength to pick them up each Sunday, I am determined to do it. We usually stop at McDonalds on the way to the church because I know they haven’t eaten anything prior to my arrival. I don’t know if I will have time to do that, today, however.

After the service, I have a meeting with our Youth Pastor Search Team. Anne, a wife of one of the guys on the team, James, always prepares a meal for us. THIS IS HUGE. I cannot begin to express how much I appreciate her ministry in that regard. It helps all of us, especially me. By the time we sit down to eat, eight hours will have passed since my previous meal. I know I will survive. This doesn’t rank high on the list of world needs, for sure. But usually, when the service concludes on Sunday, I am so hungry I could eat a bear!

But by the time all of this is done, it will be about 2:30 to 3:00 this afternoon—a rather full and long day, but I love it! I really do.

However, this is why I didn’t plan anything for the Super Bowl for me this year. I knew I had a lot on the plate for today. By the time the game starts, I will be “conked out.”

And we are not going to have a Super Bowl party this year as we did last year. I just don’t think there is any momentum for it since the Broncos are way out of the picture.

However, I’m praying that other folks in our congregation will use this as an opportunity to network some relationships with people who need Jesus. I know of one family who has invited their neighbors over. Fantastic!

Well, I’ve got to get going, but I wanted to make a comment or two about the passage I read this morning. The New Living Translation brings out what I think the Lord is saying to Daniel at the end of chapter ten. Here are the last two verses:

"He replied, ‘Do you know why I have come? Soon I must return to fight against the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia, and after that the spirit prince of the kingdom of Greece will come. Meanwhile, I will tell you what is written in the Book of Truth. (No one helps me against these spirit princes except Michael, your spirit prince" (Daniel 10:20, 21 NLT).

Paul uses several terms to describe the demonic world—“evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, … mighty powers in this dark world, … evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12, NLT).

It is rather chilling for me to think that Satan has his own hierarchy of spirits and demons in various places—“princes” of nations that exist now and emerging world powers in the future. In Daniel’s time, it was Persia followed by Greece as the dominant world powers.

In our time … well, the United States is somewhere in the loop, but who or what is emerging in the future.

Is it too much of a stretch to conjecture that each nation and each state and maybe each community has its own “prince”? I believe that this is what church growth author Peter C. Wagner would argue. He might get a little carried away in this regard, but I think most of us don’t get carried away enough when it comes to spiritual warfare.

The good news is that those on our side out-number and “out-strength” those on the other side.

I praise you, Lord, for this today. Win again in your churches all over this world and in North Denver, in particular, today. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” Amen.
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Double Whammy

Somehow that phrase seems very inadequate, almost comical, in the way that it is often used. I’m not using it in THAT sense this morning.

I’ve been reeling from some news I found on Facebook a couple of days ago.

All of you remember my comments and discussions about Mike Toby, pastor of First Baptist Church of Woodway. Hopefully, you remember also that I shared that he passed away. It really hasn’t been that long ago.

Well, a couple of days ago, I received the following message from Kay. She and her family are friends of mine since my days in Waco in college. They are members now at First Baptist Church of Woodway: “Asking for prayers for our church. Our senior pastor, Jim gray, lost his life yesterday in a head on collision on his way to church. The devil is not going to win, we will serve the lord.”

Now, I certainly don’t know any of the details of what happened, but let’s put this together. This church’s long-time pastor died of cancer not long ago, and the pastor who succeeded him died in a car accident.

Double whammy.

What a terrible tragedy in both instances. I feel for Mike’s family and Jim’s as well, but also, I can’t begin to imagine who folks in that church are feeling right now. Unbelievable!

Betty and I have often commented through the years of serving at First Southern that tragedy often comes in threes. There is no hard and fast rule here—just an observation. Just about the time you feel you are starting to recover—wham! And often, it is WHAM again.

Please pray for First Baptist Church of Woodway.

All of this reminds me of Job’s story. In the first place, he loses everything he has got. He finds this out from a messenger, and no sooner than messenger #1 is out the door, messenger #2 comes in to inform him that every single person in his family has died. He has lost them all—wham!

And I hope I am not stretching here for the third tragedy, but the third and final whammy comes from the only family member who is still alive (and if I had been Job, I think I would have wished that she had perished with all the rest—is that a terrible thing to say?). Job’s wife survived, telling him, “Oh, Job, why don’t you just curse God and die!” Thanks a lot, sweetie pie! I appreciate the encouragement. Thankfully, Job refused to comply with her jaded and cynical request.

Wham, wham, and wham.

What is a spiritual resource when one is in the midst of the “whammies”? Daniel discovered it. The angel or the Lord (not sure which one it is in the early verses of chapter ten—no doubt later) speaks to Daniel, and the message affects him—greatly. It is, in one sense of the term, a crisis in and of itself.

I think we all would desire a direct communication from God IN THEORY, but in reality, it might knock us for a loop. That is what happened to Daniel. But the Lord stepped in and up. Here is Daniel’s testimony:


"While he was saying all this, I looked at the ground and said nothing. Then I was surprised by something like a human hand that touched my lips. I opened my mouth and started talking to the messenger: 'When I saw you, master, I was terror-stricken. My knees turned to water. I couldn't move. How can I, a lowly servant, speak to you, my master? I'm paralyzed. I can hardly breathe!' Then this humanlike figure touched me again and gave me strength. He said, 'Don't be afraid, friend. Peace. Everything is going to be all right. Take courage. Be strong.' Even as he spoke, courage surged up within me. I said, 'Go ahead, let my master speak. You've given me courage’” (Daniel 10:15-19 MSG).

God basically affirmed Daniel and told him that everything was going to be all right. He received courage from the words of the Master.

I hearken back to a time when the Lord performed this ministry in my life. It was my sophomore year in college. One of the most difficult years of my life. In retrospect, I now know that the Lord was breaking me—preparing me for a call to full-time vocational Christian service.

But months prior to that, my mom had come to Waco for a visit. All three of us were in a hotel room, visiting. And I was just pouring out my heart to the Lord in prayer, and it was as if the Lord Himself entered into that room and hugged me, “Son, it is all right.” Wow, I will never forget that. I think my mom and sister experienced it as well.

When the Lord says, “Everything is going to be all right,” it is not some cliché or moralism—not some pie-in-the-sky naïve optimism.

You can take it to the bank.

Lord, you are on the throne and you rule over the entire universe and over every detail of our lives. You are sovereign.

I lift up Mike and Jim’s families. I pray for FBC of Woodway. I lift them all, including Kay and her family, to you.

Tell them, Lord, in the way you communicate these types of things in the midst of multiple “whammies” that it is going to be all right.

“Before our Father’s throne
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one,
Our comforts and our cares”

(“Blest Be the Tie,” BH 2008, 389). Amen.
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Blocked

The book of Daniel has several very interesting “angles,” for lack of a better term. There are three.

First, the narrative sections talk about Dan and his three buddies, Sam, Mike, and Alan (my Americanized versions of their names—plus, I don’t want to type out their Babylonian names—my fingers aren’t warmed up yet). I love these stories of devotion and God’s rescuing power.

Second, this book certainly has some rather vivid apocalyptic sections—dreams and visions the Lord gave Daniel about the future. These have always been difficult for me. There are many “experts” out there. These folks claim to have everything figured out in neat little packages. I’m not so sure.

Third, this book presents the prayer life of Daniel in detail. I’m particularly interested in these sections, more so in these days.

One thing that I have noticed about my walk with the Lord over the past few months is my shrinking prayer life. I don’t know how else to refer to it. I am getting busier with the work at church, and my time with the Lord in communion with Him seems to be suffering.

I think I have made this distinction before, but I want to come back to it again. It is important to have prayer requests and to make them to the Lord. Of necessity, this is at times a rather mechanical process because it involves lists or prayer resources. Jim does a great job in our church of disseminating prayer requests and they just aren’t about Aunt Sally’s toe, either.

Please don’t take that last comment as denigrating a request like that or making fun of it. I’m glad Dr. Jesus cares about every detail of our lives—even toes! A few years ago, I dropped a rather weighty tape player on one of my toes. And, believe you me, I requested prayer for my toe—Pastor John’s toe.

However, I do think a lot of praying in churches, without some intentionality, becomes very truncated and narrow—focusing ONLY on those types of requests.

But Jim does a great job of using the vast resources available in the Southern Baptist Convention to inform the prayer warriors in our church (and anyone else who wants to know, for that matter) about what is going on in the larger, worldwide kingdom of God.

For example, he sent out a message the other day about the American pastor—Saeed Abedini—who was apprehended as he was visiting his native Iran to start an orphanage—to eight years in prison! This is huge news, but you never hear about it. What an outrage!

Anyway, Jim lets us know about and keeps us up to speed about prayer concerns like this.

I appreciate this so much.

But back to my train of thought—I believe that, of necessity, prayer involves information and keeping up with things and lists. These can get rather mechanical at times. So be it.

But there is another aspect of prayer that is often neglected, I believe. I am neglecting it. I know that. And that is prayer as COMMUNION WITH GOD. In very close human relationships, time is spent just being with a spouse or friend—not just for the purpose of sharing data and information. Certainly, that is a part of it, but not a very big part.

The largest part is just BEING, “hanging out,” as the expression goes. This is not about asking, asking, and more asking. This is about loving and sharing love. It is about leisure. It is about being quiet and letting the other Person speak. It is about hugging and being hugged.

A question to everyone who is reading this blog today—when was the last time you allowed the Lord time to love you? When was the last time you crawled into the lap of the Savior and just stayed there? When was the last time you allowed Jesus to give you a hug?

These are all anthropomorphic terms and references, I know. The Bible tells us that God is unseen and He is on the throne in heaven, but there is also another word that the theologian uses for God. He is also immanent. I’m not sure of all the technical distinctions of that term, but to me, it means that He is near, very near, extremely near, closer than any human could ever get.

He lives in us; we live in Him. That is NEAR.

But Daniel’s life is a testimony to prayer as communion, and in chapter ten, we have another story of one such time. Daniel is fasting. And this practice includes refraining from putting lotions on his body (Daniel 10:3). Interesting. We don’t usually think of fasting from stuff we put on ourselves. Humm.

But Daniel was wrestling with what the Lord was telling him, and this wrestling match went on for three weeks. Then, Daniel had a vision in which he saw an amazing vision of a Man (I think it was of the Glorified Christ) and heard this Man speak. When the man spoke, Daniel “fainted and lay there with my face to the ground” (verse 9).

Then, an angel (I believe) came and spoke to Daniel, Here is part of that message: "Then he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer. But for twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way. Then Michael, one of the archangels, came to help me, and I left him there with the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia. Now I am here to explain what will happen to your people in the future, for this vision concerns a time yet to come’” (Daniel 10:12-14 NLT).

The message was on the way from the Lord, but “the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked” the way. In chapter nine, the angel Gabriel told Daniel that the moment he started praying, God answered, but somehow, the arrival of that answer took a while. God has his reasons and his timeframes. That’s just it sometimes.

In chapter ten, we see another reason for the delay of God’s answer—Satanic opposition. In my mind, that is the only explanation of who this “spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia” is. Kind of scary, really. But the Prince of the Power of the Air (as Paul calls him in Ephesians) has a network of demons and evil spirits ruling in this world. Should we be surprised at this?

Father, I love you, and I love spending time with you in the stillness of another early morning before I can hear any traffic or movement. I love the stillness and the quiet. I love the fact that you hear and answer every prayer I have ever prayed.

Thank you for immediate answers. Thank you also for those answers that are still delayed—whether it is a matter of your timing or demonic opposition. Whatever. I’m going to stay at it.

I lift up my brother Saeed. Free him from the clutches of the spirit prince of the kingdom of Iran.

Free me from the tyranny of the spirit prince of the kingdom of “busyness.”

“Let your love flow so the world may know we are one in You”

(“Make Us One,” BH 2008, 388). Amen.
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