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A Stroll At Leisure With God

Happy Resurrection Sunday!

“It’s Friday, but Sunday’s comin’!” Yesterday, as we were driving along, Marilyn played a famous sermon on her phone. I told her I was going to look it up. I did. And for once, on this kind of thing, I was right. This is a Good Friday sermon delivered originally by the famous African American pastor S. M. Lockridge.

I want to say this right here and now: I cannot as a preacher hold a candle to this brother. He is one of the greatest preachers in the history of the United States. Many of his sermons like this one, are legendary.

His poetic ability as well as his use of graphic and specific language is unparalleled, but it is just a great sermon apart from all of that.

It was interesting that afterwards, Marilyn played another famous sermon from E. V. Hill, a message preached at his wife’s funeral. Brother Hill preached for years in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. Oh, man. That sermon. I had heard excerpts of it before, but we ended up listening to the whole thing. I’m going to try to find ways to post links to these two sermons on my Pastor John Talbert Resources Facebook page. Stay tuned.

As I tell you all of this, please don’t think this is normal behavior for my family and me. We don’t usually spend our Saturdays listening to sermons as we drive down the street! But it just so happened that we did yesterday.

I think it was a good “primer” for today. I’m ready to go and I’m excited. I love this Sunday for a lot of reasons.

Every Sunday is a resurrection day because Jesus is alive. But this one—this special time—is a day in which we focus on the fact that He came back to life from death and the grave.

In addition, I love this Sunday because it reminds us that Spring is here. Yesterday, we even moved the furniture back on my mom’s back porch. Soon, we will be able to sit there and enjoy the early evenings of light and warmth in the Summer. I can hardly wait!

I also love Easter Sunday because of the anticipation of it. You never know who is going to show up!

I’ve progressed a little with this particular Sunday, however. I don’t expect us to break any attendance records. It wasn’t that long ago (Betty and I were talking about this the other day) that you did expect crowds on this particular day. People would just go to church on Easter Sunday because it was the thing to do, even if they didn’t go any other time of the year. They went on Easter.

One year, in anticipation of this, we had three services on Resurrection Sunday! Three! Then, at all the preacher’s meetings, guys would lean back in their chairs at lunch and say, “Yeah, we had a good day last Sunday—had an all-time high of _______.”

I was one of those guys but I learned my lesson. And I learned it on the golf course. As pastors, we were all like the guy who shot the best score of his life on the golf course. That score became the new standard for his golf game forever, and he never came close to shooting it again. AND, he never got over it.

I decided, after a few of those high-attendance Easter Sundays, that really, it was a lot of smoke and mirrors. Don’t get me wrong! I was glad (and still am) for anyone who attends services at our church (no matter what day it is) but many of those folks were spectators fulfilling some sort of duty, and they never came back. Whatever.

Thus, today, I honestly don’t care about how many people will be there. We will never have the crowds we used to have (well, if the Lord brings them—I would certainly take them—but not for the same reasons), but I just pray that we can minister effectively to everyone who comes today.

This is the first day of our revamped greeting ministry. Bob and J. B.—two dear brothers in our fellowship—are up to bat today. Both “confessed” to me Wednesday that they were a little nervous about serving. The truth is: so am I! I just want to make sure that we do a good job that honors the Lord in greeting, in worship, in the message, and so forth—whether we have hundreds or three—J. B., Bob, and I.

A brief word about the passage for today, and then, I have to get going. Again, one of the evidences of the filling of the Holy Spirit is what goes on in the home. Honoring Mom and Dad is at the top of the list: "Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. ‘Honor your father and mother.’ This is the first commandment with a promise: If you honor your father and mother, ‘things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth’” (Ephesians 6:1-3, NLT).

I am thankful for the opportunity to live out this commandment. One of the main things that the Lord taught me through cancer is something that I tell others all the time. I’m just learning to listen to my own sermons. My second obligation, next to my relationship with the Lord, is my family.

Lord, I thank you that Jesus is alive! Hooray! I thank you for everything you did on that dark Friday. But that was not the end of the story. It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming. And it came. And it is here. Thank you for conquering death and the grave and coming back alive!

Thank you for my family. I pray, Living Lord Jesus, that you would strengthen both of them, Marilyn in particular, as she gets over a virus she has had the last few days.

Thank for this day. I give it to you, Lord. The main person I will be glad to see on this day is YOU. You and me—Lord. That’s the relationship and NUMBER I am worried about.

“The cross before me, the world behind me” (“I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” BH 2008, 434). A good Easter hymn, if there ever were one! Thank you for that too, Jesus! Amen.
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Good Friday Service

As Diane and Andrea (her daughter) were leaving last night, she said, “Pastor John, that was a really good service. It was right to the point.”

I thanked her and said, “Well, we have nothing to compare it to, but I thought it went well also.”

I was very encouraged last night. Carol invited a friend last night. He came. She has been discussing spiritual truth with him. I got to meet him after the service. He said, “I really appreciated the scripture passages you chose.” Again, I was glad to hear that affirmation.

I appreciated the roles that Scott, our interim worship leader and John, Calla’s husband, played in the service last night.

Scott and I were on the same page from the beginning. (Here it almost seems as if I am writing now as an expert on how to do Good Friday services—ha. Nope. Just telling what happened!) We wanted it to be quiet and reverent. We turned most of the lights down in the auditorium.

John was on that same page as well because he played a series of appropriate video about Jesus and the cross as people were coming in. At the bottom of the videos, he posted a message that said something like, “Please take a seat and be silent.”

It was hard for some folks (including me) to do this. We have created a kind of loud and raucous pre-service culture at the church. People greet one another. They laugh. They shake hands. So, last night was a bit of a stretch for us all. I just decided that the best thing for me to do was just sit in the pew and spend some time right then and there with Jesus.

Soon, as the videos progressed, I noticed that it got more and more quiet as people settled down and focused.

As Scott began, he gave a summary of the events leading up to Good Friday and talked about that day a bit. Then, we sang “I Believe in a Hill Called Mt. Calvary” and “Were You There.” We stopped “We You There” before we got to the final verse. It was very effective.

At that point, Scott sang a solo. The name of the song escapes me at the moment. I need to ask Scott tomorrow, but again, it was excellent and appropriate.

When he finished, I stood up to do “my thing.” From the start, I had decided that I was not going to preach a sermon, per se. Instead, I used an internet version of A. T. Robertson’s Harmony of the Gospels. I printed some pages and actually pieced together (I’m sure there is probably a more computer savvy way of doing it than I did) some passages from the four gospels from the story of finding the upper room to the passage that described how Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus so that he could bury Him in a new tomb.

All I did was read. That’s it. Somehow, I think I’m going to do this more in the future in other special services.

I think preachers like me think we always have to say something about the scriptures when I think it would benefit us more if we find ways of letting the Bible speak for itself. Humm. I just wrote that, but I need to think about it more.

After the reading, we moved immediately into the Lord’s Supper, and I encouraged the people just to think about Jesus. Just think about Him and what He did for us.

Afterwards, Scott led us in worship again. “Grace Flows Down” and a song I had never heard before, but the message is excellent--“Be the Centre.”

At the conclusion of the service, I stood up to pray and then encouraged the folks to watch a video John found. It was a very graphic portrayal of the life of Jesus and the crucifixion, but the little clip ended with a picture of the empty tomb. It was a set of grave clothes with no “occupant.” Loved it!

We also asked people to leave in silence and reverence—no talking in the auditorium.

Hey, again, I have no frame of reference for any of this. I know that many congregations do a “Good Friday” service every year. They are veterans at it. We are Rookies, for sure. But I was just glad that we did it.

Now, a brief word about the passage for today: at the end of chapter five of Ephesians, after a rather lengthy discussion of the primary human relationship that God gave us from the beginning—marriage, Paul ends the chapter with these words:

"This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband" (Ephesians 5:32, 33 NASB).

The perennial question that emerges out of this discussion is: what is Paul really talking about—marriage or the church? Verse 32 seems to indicate that he is REALLY talking about the church. I guess my answer to my own question is BOTH.

But this is why marriage is so crucial. This is why we as Christians ought to fight tooth and nail for it in a day when it is being attacked and denigrated in all quarters.

We do not get to redefine it! God already has! One man, one woman—united as one forever. Period.

This is crucial because it is reflective of Jesus’ relationship with us, His church. They are interwoven, tied together. Jesus and His bride, the church. A man and a woman.

Lord, thank you for everything you did for us through the cross and the burial. Of course, there is more to that story, but thank you for those two signal events of the gospel. Thank you for dying for me. You really did die.

Thank you also for your definitions of marriage and church. God, have mercy on us as a nation as we tinker with that definition (or have the audacity to think that we can). Turn us around, before it is too late.

Thank you for last night and everyone who was involved and/or came to that service.

“I believe in a hill called Mount Calvary… I believe in the old rugged cross.” This is going to be my “heart song” for several days. Amen.
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More Evidence

Something dawned on me this morning.

Before I share it, I want to say something else. To me, this is one of the greatest benefits of a daily Bible reading program that uses multiple translations. There are several very good translations out there and shifting or rotating readings between them, I believe, is VERY beneficial.

Technology makes this easier than ever.

We are doing some cleaning out of “stuff” around my mom’s house in recent days and she has amassed quite a collection of various Bibles and Bible translations. Wow, it is impressive.

However, my iPad makes a lot of those paper Bibles obsolete. I’ve got a ton of translations at my fingertips all the time with the gadget I use to read the Bible every morning.

I was talking about this with my mom. She said, “Yeah, I have a lot of Bibles sitting around. I can never throw a Bible away.”

I agree. I can’t either. So, I am going to gather them up and bring them to church for our new library. They will come in very handy there, I believe.

But I digress …

Back to Ephesians 5 … the New Living Translation showed me something I had never considered.

Let me give you a little context. 5:18 is the commandment to continue to receive the filling of the Holy Spirit. The first evidence of this that Paul talks about is singing and making music in your heart to the Lord.

In the past, I have stopped right there, but the text does NOT. And the New Living Translation brings this out beautifully:

"And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:17-18, NLT).

I noticed that word “and” repeated twice—at the beginning of verse seventeen and eighteen. Humm. What does that mean?

Well, it tells me that giving thanks and mutual submission are also evidences of the filling of the Holy Spirit! In fact, I will go further to state that I believe this whole issue of the filling of the Spirit sets the tone for the rest of the book, and it culminates in 6:18: “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion” (NLT). How about that?

I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself here but I have always believed that 6:18 has absolutely NOTHING to do with speaking in tongues but everything to do with praying in the power and strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit. This passage has similarities, I believe, with what Paul says about the role of the Spirit in prayer in Romans 8. (Of course, there are many that claim that the Romans 8 passage is also talking about speaking in tongues—a private prayer language. This is ludicrous).

Anyway—giving thanks—is an evidence of the filling of the Spirit. Of course. I believe this lifestyle has horizontal as well as vertical dimensions. People who live a lifestyle of thanksgiving are not always sitting around evaluating how they are being treated.

The more I think about what this day is—GOOD FRIDAY—I am overwhelmed at how poorly Jesus was treated. No one can hold a candle to the suffering of the cross for the sins of the world. And yet He did all of that FOR ME!

I don’t deserve any of that. I don’t deserve anything! I’m just a recipient today of everything Jesus did for me! And, just to have breath, just to live forgiven, and to enjoy my new life in Jesus—TODAY—is enough. All the rest is icing on the cake. And I am thankful, so grateful that I get to do anything or do nothing in His kingdom. Whatever.

But in addition to that, another clear evidence of the filling of the Holy Spirit is mutual submission—in all relationships—marriage, at the top of the list, and it goes on from there, even to the realm of spiritual warfare.

I can’t even get first base in my walk with Jesus and battle against Satan if I am not completely submitted to Him and living in mutual submission. That is a natural corollary. Of course. Yes. Amen.

More on that later …

Lord, from the bottom of my heart today, I thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you for everything you did for me on this day two thousand years ago. Oh, Jesus, I’m saved! And you did it! And it cost you your life’s blood and it involved a broken body. Broken like the bread we share and spilled out all over for a “slime ball” like me.

Let me live a life of gratefulness not only between you and me, but also in all my relationships—family, work, church, and spiritual warfare.

Take control of the Good Friday service we are having tonight. Whether there are two people there or twenty. Whatever. It is all about you and all for you.

“All to Thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all” (BH 2008, 433). Amen.
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Music in the Heart

First, I just have to pause to thank the Lord for His healing power. A lady in our fellowship, Dawn, had brain surgery a few weeks ago. It has taken her a while to recover. In fact, the doctors moved her to rehab in a hospital in Boulder.

Yesterday, Jim and I went up there to see her. Wow! She is doing great. She has a lot more mobility. Her mom, Lorraine, called the day before to let me know that she is going home today.

Lord, you are awesome, the best doctor ever! I lift up Dawn as she goes home. Give her rest there, and help her as she continues her rehabilitation.

Well, about the passage … Yesterday, I talked about Ephesians 5:18—be ye being filled with the Holy Spirit. To me, it is a tragedy and a lie of Satan that, whenever we speak of the Spirit, invariably our minds (well, let me just say MY MIND) drift to “speaking in tongues.”

There is so much controversy and so much misunderstanding about the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer AND the gift of tongues.

I’m not going to get into “speaking in tongues” in this post today (it is still too early in the morning!). But I will say this: if we believe it is one of the gifts that the Spirit gives to believers, the end of 1 Corinthians 12 makes it clear that not everyone has it. It cannot be some kind of litmus test for spirituality.

I believe that one of my professors at Southwestern Seminary had this misconception in my mind. Jack MacGorman was quite a guy. He spoke with a Scottish brogue and wore Scottish plaid ties (I hope you know what I mean; this is the only way I can describe them). I took a class on the book of Acts with him.

One day, he paused and looked at all of us. “What is the chief evidence of the filling of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament?” Of course, we all thought of tongues, first and foremost. Before anyone could answer wrong, he asserted, “It is the bold proclamation of the gospel.”

And, of course, the record of the book of Acts bears this out. I’m not going to quote it exactly, but if my memory serves correctly, the disciples’ prayer and its aftermath in Acts 4 is a primo case in point. They all prayed and the place where they were praying was shaken. I believe this is the Bible’s way of saying that God showed up in power.

After this prayer, the Bible says that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and (I guess I will quote here) “they preached the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31, NLT). How about that? Dr. MacGorman was right on target.

But I would add one more thing, and the passage for today bears this out. How do you know that you are filled with the Holy Spirit? "Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 5:18-20 NLT).

Paul teaches us that, when the Spirit takes control of our lives, we sing! And the music comes from the seat of our mind, will, and emotions or OUR HEARTS.

What does this mean? Well, I think it varies from person to person, but for me, it just means that there is a song there. And, like bold proclamation, it COMES OUT.

I still remember one early morning last summer when I was headed into the restroom at a golf course one Friday morning and there was such a song on my heart that I could not contain. I was half-whistling and half-singing (I try not to sing too much in public). I’ll never forget the look on a guy’s face as he was coming out and I was going in. I think he thought I was insane, but at least, I was too loud for him at that time of the day.

Sometimes, you just can’t contain the song. It bursts out and bubbles over. What is it? Well, I believe it is joy, but the source is the Holy Spirit of God.

By the way, this is another reason why I am glad to pick a new hymn each day to sing. It tends to stay on my heart for the day or longer.

How about this one for today?

“I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live”

Do you know that one? Of course, it is “I Surrender All,” BH 2008, 433).

Lord, I submit again to your Lordship. Fill me with the Holy Spirit. Let me sing this song from the heart. And beyond that, Iet me live this song. Amen.
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Be Ye Being Filled

The way the Greek is worded in Ephesians 5:18 is difficult to reproduce in English that makes any sense. The Amplified Bible comes the closest to getting it right. Here it is:

"And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but ever be filled and stimulated with the [Holy] Spirit."

After positing the negative—an admonition that encourages us NOT to be vague and thoughtless and foolish—he turns things around. How is a “circumspect” life possible? The only way is the Holy Spirit.

Here is the thing: every Christian has the Holy Spirit. The proper theological term for it is baptism. Now, here is where I differ from some of my Neo-Pentecostal friends. Some of them claim that salvation (conversion) and the baptism of the Spirit are two separate events.

I don’t believe that scripture teaches this. I think that being born again and receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit are one and the same. Romans 8:9 states that if we don’t have the Holy Spirit, then we were not saved in the first place. Galatians 3:26-7 affirms that all Christians have been baptized into Christ. Those are just two verses that stand out in my mind, and I don’t think either one is referring to water baptism.

Anyway, as Christians, we have the Holy Spirit from the beginning (the baptism of the Holy Spirit), but the question is: does the Spirit have us, all of us? This is where the FILLING of the Spirit is involved.

The Bible commands us to be filled with the Holy Spirit, but this is not just a one-time deal. The language of 5:18 affirms two important things.

First, it is a continual process of “being filled” as we continuously allow the Holy Spirit control of more and more of us.

Second, and this is where it gets difficult to translate into English—this is something we allow to happen in our lives. We can’t fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit. We must allow the Lord to do this.

I believe this involves submission to His Lordship.

There is a guy in our fellowship who reminds me of the Lordship of Jesus just about every time I see him. He and his family were instrumental in the Lord bringing me to First Southern. Gary also told me, whenever we were talking about some issue in the church, invariably, he would say, “It is a Lordship issue.” He is right. Everything goes back to worship. I so appreciated this reminder, over and over.

Gary and his family are such a blessing.

How about this quip: Jesus is Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all. I like it as well.

Gary’s reminders and this quip about the Lordship of Jesus are really Holy Spirit comments. When something (or better, someone) is filled, there is not room for anything or any other gods.

So, if someone were to ask me, how does a believer receive the filling of the Holy Spirit, I would say, “Submit to Jesus as Lord.” I don’t think it involves speaking in tongues as a way to get there or an evidence of the filling. I think it entails simply bending my heart to the Boss.

Tomorrow, I want to talk about the evidence of the filling of the Spirit.

But right now, I just need to take some time with Jesus and make sure that my life is submitted wholly and completely to Him as Savior AND Lord.

I do acknowledge your Lordship, today, Jesus. Thank you for the filling of the Holy Spirit. Today, Spirit of God, fill more and more of me. Take more and more enemy territory in my heart. I turn it over. I yield. I submit. I say, “Uncle.”

Jesus teaches us this posture in the Lord’s Prayer. I love the hymn that is that prayer, “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallow-ed be thy name …” (BH 2008, 431). Amen.
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"Good Enough for Government Work"

Have you heard that expression? I seem to be hearing and USING it more than ever. While I am very ready to be critical of the government these days (whether state or national), I’m not sure this is a very accurate expression.

In my contact with the government, I’ve found them to be anything but vague.

I started a business around the sale of my book. It is not setting the woods on fire—just to let you know. I’m not quite ready to go “public” just yet. Ha. But a huge part of that is charging a sales tax for my book when I sell it.

Well, I’ve been collecting that tax. The only thing is that I failed to PAY the tax to the state of Colorado, and I got a terse letter reminding me that I need to submit a tax form even if I have not sold anything! Yikes!

Believe me—I took care of that and paid a penalty as well. My second installment of taxes is due on March 31
st, and I will be careful to take care of that as well.

But this is just one example of “government work” that demands accuracy and precision. I don’t want to get into trouble because I am delinquent on my taxes! And we are not talking about a lot of money here, but that is not the point. Is it?

Anyway, we like to joke about not being detailed at times, but really, there aren’t too many things we do (if you stop and think about it) in which we can really get away with that.

When I fill my tank with gas, there is a very precise measurement of how much I put in my car and how much that costs, even down to a hundredth of a cent. When I buy groceries, the cash register measures with accuracy how much I owe.

You get the point. We understand this and want it. I certainly don’t want to pay LESS than I owe legitimately, but I certainly don’t want to pay one half a cent MORE, either.

This is all very clear when it comes to most things, but sometimes, the enemy gets his foot in the door in our walk with Jesus so that we live in ways that are anything but detailed and accurate. Notice the Amplified translation of the following verses in Ephesians:

"Therefore do not be vague and thoughtless and foolish, but understanding and firmly grasping what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but ever be filled and stimulated with the [Holy] Spirit" (Ephesians 5:17-18, AMP).

There is a lot to say about these verses, especially verse 18. I will get to that tomorrow. But the wording of verse 17 struck me this morning. “Don’t be vague and thoughtless and foolish.” All those words are linked together.

Avoid being vague. How do we do this in the Christian life? Whoa, I can think of a lot of ways.

I think we become vague when we don’t allow the Holy Spirit to live a life of obedience for Him. I can’t believe how many couples have sat in my office preparing for marriage, and they are living together, and I ask them about it, and I hear “vagueness.”

“Well, pastor, we love each other.”

“Well, we are having some financial issues so we found that it was easier (another synonym for “vague” by the way) just to live together.”

On and on. Et cetera.

I am not living with anyone right now (besides my mom and sister—I know you are glad to hear this) and I don’t plan to, but I use these same kind of rationalizations in other areas and arenas of life. “Fuzzy math” is another expression that comes to mind, and I’m using it in the metaphorical sense. “Good enough for government work.”

But this doesn’t “work” with God. He doesn’t let me get away with living this way.

Whenever we don’t do what the Lord tells us EXACTLY and ACCURATELY, we are being vague. And this is a polar opposite of the kind of life that is advocated in Ephesians 5:18. We will get to that tomorrow.

Lord, I’m so grateful that you are an accurate and straightforward God. I’m thankful that what you tell me to do is very precise. There is no guesswork, except when it comes to my rationalizations for sin.

Deliver me today from vagueness and thoughtlessness and foolishness—in any area or arena—no matter what it is.

“If my people, which are called by my name, will humble themselves, shall humble themselves and pray” (BH 2008, 430). Amen.
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Circumspectly

This is another one of those times where the King James Version word seems to fit best in a familiar passage. The following verses are a case in point.

"See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:15-16, KJV).

I was curious this morning. What does “circumspect” mean? It is not exactly a word that we use every day.

Webster defines it as “careful to consider all 
circumstances and possible consequences” (www.merriam-webster.com, accessed March 25, 2013). It comes from a Middle English term that means to look around and be cautious.

This is a great word and a very graphic way to describe the “prudence” (a synonym) with which we ought to live the Christian life.

I guess I am still consumed a little bit with the message I preached yesterday from Ezekiel 33—this chapter describes Ezekiel’s “re-call” as a watchman. I say “re-call) because it mirrors what the Lord did in his life in chapter three, but at that moment, the prophet’s tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth and he couldn’t speak in that role, but in thirty-three, the Lord released him to be a watchman for Israel and to preach messages from that perspective to the beleaguered folks in exile.

What was the perspective? The future! Ezekiel thirty-three marks a transition in the book of sorts. From that point on, most of the messages are about the future and what the Lord will do with His people and with the city of Jerusalem.

Back to Ephesians five—I think walking “circumspectly” involves an awareness of the future and what scripture says is out there, ahead of us. This is eternity and our destiny in one of two places—heaven or hell.

But it also involves understanding what the Bible says about end times and the Second Coming of Jesus.

Okay, so at this point, I will have to reveal a little bit about what I believe in this regard. I’m always a little apprehensive to do so in any forum because discussions about end-time issues always seem to get a little heated for some reasons, but this is my blog, so if these comments make someone mad, you can just close down the computer and read no further.

I don’t believe that rapture is taught in the Bible. There, I said it. Someday, I will explain why I believe that, but I don’t want to get bogged down here.

I believe that things are going to get worse and worse. Christians are going to go through persecution, and right before Jesus comes back, Satan will be at the height of his powers. But then, in the final conflagration (Armageddon), the Lord will just let the air out of his balloon, and he will be defeated. At that moment, Jesus will come back.

This is what I believe. Bigger and much better scholars than I disagree. No problem. Whatever.

There is a lot to elaborate on with that brief summary but that is what I believe the Bible teaches. So, there are two basic things going on as we look around in our circumspect lives as believers—the growing intensification of evil and the urgency of the imminent return.

What does this mean on a practical level? Well, I don’t think we should be surprised or shocked by evil. I know we are, but we shouldn’t let it knock us off course.

Last night, I was watching a talk show on television where the host was interviewing two women who worked in abortion clinics but do so no longer. Their description of what goes on in those places is nothing short of barbaric. I just have to stop for a moment and gather myself.

Millions and millions of babies are being murdered in gruesome ways every day in our culture.

How can any Christian in good conscience vote for anyone who supports this slaughter? It angers me deeply. And this is not a political comment. It is a moral one.

I think that is another aspect of the evil of our times that is even more grieving—evil in the church. It reminds me of Paul’s comments about preaching the Word in 2 Timothy. He contends that in the last days, people won’t tolerate sound doctrine, but they will gravitate to people who tickle their ears.

I am more determined than ever to preach from all parts of the Bible at all times—even from Ezekiel on Palm Sunday!

But it is no wonder that we as Christians are so anemic and weak when it comes to urgent action.

This is the other element in play here: urgency. If we really believe that Jesus is coming back soon, this ought to be a huge motivator. As watchmen and watchwomen, our eyes ought to be on the horizon. Could it be today?

No matter what your eschatology is—the next BIG THING is the imminent return of Jesus. Right?

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

“This robe of flesh I’ll drop and rise,
To seize the everlasting prize;
And shout, while passing through the air,
‘Farewell, farewell, sweet hour of prayer”

(BH 2008, 429). Amen.
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The Realm of Secrecy

One thing is a dead giveaway: if you are doing something in secret (unless it is almsgiving, as Jesus talks about in the Sermon on the Mount—don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing), then it is probably wrong.

Satan loves secrecy. He thrives on it. If he can get us doing things in that arena, he has got us hooked for sure.

Paul alludes to it in a significant part of Ephesians 5: "It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said, ‘Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light’” (Ephesians 5:12-14, NLT).

In verse 12, he is talking about lost folks, I believe, and yet again, I think believers can lapse into these old life behaviors at times if we are not diligent. Again, it is a matter of constant vigilance. And there are so many ways that the enemy works when it comes to secrecy.

This is why organizations like AA are so effective, because they expose the secrecies and get things out in the open with a group of people, that is, if people are truthful.

I was talking with a brother the other day about this. We both affirmed that “accountability partners” may have merits for some, but again, they fall short if you are not truthful and open about everything. Unfortunately, I am learning that secrecy is the case in some of these relationships.

So, what do we do? Well, back to the passage. Paul talks about these secrecies being exposed when the light shines on them and then he offers a quotation.

I was trying to find where this quote came from in all my Bible translations and then even went to Google. Nothing. What is going on? I finally discovered that there is no exact source for this quote! Some commentators point to Isaiah 60:1-3 where there is some semblance of similarity.

"Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see. For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you. Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth, but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you. All nations will come to your light; mighty kings will come to see your radiance" (Isaiah 60:1-3, NLT).

I can see it, sort of. There is some similarity here. The Isaiah passage is talking about the future, I believe, a future when the Lord sets up shop on this planet in the heavenly Jerusalem. At THAT moment, all darkness and secrecy (secret things and darkness have a lot of affinity) will be done away with and the glory of the Lord will prevail.

That is possibly what Paul is talking about in Ephesians 5, but I don’t think that is all of it. I believe he is talking about the fact that light always prevails when it is allowed into any situation.

In Ephesians 5:14 (wherever the quote comes from), I believe he is talking about salvation. When Jesus makes us a new person in His resurrection life, light prevails over all darkness in our lives.

What does this mean for us? Well, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not negating “accountability partners” or the kind of fellowship in which we confess secrets to one another, but I think that, in the mix of all of it, we should make more of Jesus’ work in our lives. He is the source of light. He is the One who probes all the secret places and turns on the light, exposing the darkness. And at that moment, we have an opportunity to respond.

In other words, I’m not putting down the role of other believers in the Christian life, but I am arguing here that we need an expanded view of God’s role—of His ability to expose darkness and once that happens, it is as if someone turns on the light in a dark room. Poof! Darkness, once exposed to light, is gone!

And at that moment, when the light comes on and someone opens the curtains, and sunlight pours in, it is time to wake up and live a “daytime” life.

Paul uses this same analogy in I Thessalonians five, and there it does have eschatological dimensions. “Day” is used in the double sense of a metaphor for Christian living now. We are “day” people and not “night” people who value secrecy.

But it is also used in the prophetic sense of the “day of the Lord.” This is a moniker for the Second Coming.

When we wake up and smell the coffee, so to speak, we are more aware and alert to what the Lord is up to on a broader historical level. We gain a sense of urgency. Jesus is coming back! And it will be soon, I hope, and therefore, it is time to shed secret behaviors and walk in the light.

Lord, these words are flowing out of me, but I pray that you would give me the grace to head this “wake up call” from the Holy Spirit today.

The storm dumped a lot of snow on us yesterday. Keep all of us safe as we head to church today.

Thank you for a great time of fellowship and for the race, even though my car didn’t win. Thank you for the boys and girls and moms and dads who showed up yesterday in spite of the weather.

Thank you for Palm Sunday as the beginning of this very significant week on the Christian calendar, again a challenge to allow the Resurrected Christ to live His life through me today.

“In seasons of distress and grief
My soul has often found relief”

(“Sweet Hour of Prayer,” BH 2008, 429). Amen.
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Excusing Sin

We had a pretty significant snowstorm last night. If you are a soccer fan (and I am not necessarily), just go to Google and type in “USA soccer” and you will see how it looked around here last night.

I can’t find any local weather reports on the tube this morning, but I am concerned about how bad the streets are going to be. Thus, this post will be a little short this morning.

I’ve got to get myself together and head up the road to the church for our annual soapbox derby Grand Prix race. The breakfast starts at 8:00, and I want to allow plenty of time to get there.

I fear this weather will affect our attendance. Any snow seems to do that, no matter what kind of event or service we have. That’s just the way it is.

Oh, well. I continue to be convicted and concerned for the state of Colorado in particular and all of us in the Christian community.

It just seems as if our state is rapidly moving away from any moral standard. Yesterday, Governor Hickenlooper signed into law some type of measure that recognizes “civil unions.” I’ll have to read up on it, but I think I am basically correct.

I wish that believers in the Lord Jesus Christ were as dedicated and persistent as gay right’s advocates. This group is small, percentage-wise, and does not represent the majority view of most passive Americans. And yet, passive Americans (and oftentimes the church is the most passive part of this segment of our society) sit by and watch these measures pass one by one, state by state.

Here is something else I heard yesterday: our state struck off the books a law that made adultery illegal. As I heard this news, the reporter interviewed an attorney who said, “This was an archaic law that is basically unenforceable. It really made little difference.”

My immediate thought was: “yeah, but it was there—on the books as a standard. Now it is regarded as archaic, and it is gone.”

I know that seems like a small thing, but I don’t think so. It is just another domino that has fallen.

And as Christians (if my tendencies are any indication), we just sit by and watch. At least, that is what I feel I am doing. Let me put it that way.

I’m praying about how the congregation I serve and I can be more proactive in all of this. There has got to be a way.

But in the meantime, we need to be more diligent than ever to share Jesus. Only God can change the human heart. He is the answer to this domino effect.

And, one other thing: I think we need to be more diligent than ever to make sure we aren’t excusing sin in any form, in any way.

"Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him" (Ephesians 5:6, NLT).

Food for prayer. Gotta go. Amen.
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Greed

If you are not careful, you might miss the main word in three prominent verses in Ephesians 5. The reason for this is that it gives a list of well-known sins. That’s the only way I can put it.

"Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world" (Ephesians 5:3-5, NLT).

Paul talks about sexual immorality and impurity and even, as the KJV puts, “coarse jesting.” Please understand that I am not minimizing these sins. They are just as much sin as any sin and are therefore part of the dirty laundry that is not appropriate for any believer.

Before I move on from these “famous” sins, as I read them this morning, it hit me again how often you hear about or in my case, meet people IN MINISTRY that fall prey to these sins. Several friends come to mind.

One friend in particular. He and I were good buddies in college. He got married shortly after graduation. He went to pastor a church in east Texas. In fact, I filled the pulpit there for him when he went on vacation and preached a revival at his church.

Then, we sort of lost track of each other for years, and I found out he is in another town and serving a church of another denomination. Over the past few years, I have called the church on several occasions but I never get him. I get only his voicemail. This is bad to say and I have no concrete evidence of this, only intuition. And certainly, intuition is far from being one hundred percent accurate, but I just have a sense that he had to leave his church and his denomination because of a moral failure.

I hope I am wrong.

But I think about him often. What would cause my buddy to leave the SBC—knowing him as I did? I don’t know … I wish he would talk to me to prove me wrong. I wish.

Any of these sins, no matter who commits them, are devastating, especially for people who serve in full-time vocational Christian service.

These are sins that damage marriages and reputation and force drastic changes, but they are not the main sin on the list.

Did you notice it? It is repeated twice but beyond that, it is the essence of all the other sins: GREED.

Whenever I want something or someone more than God, I am guilty of greed. And Paul gives a very concise definition of it in the verses above. Very simply, it is idolatry.

When I worship something or someone other than God, then I open myself up to the chain of events and sins that Paul chronicles in Romans one. Certainly, in that chapter, this is a description of depravity in all its full-blown ugliness. This is the story of people lost without God.

However, I do believe that it is possible for believers to get caught in the same trap. Once we get our focus and priority off, everything is off.

And it all goes back to one of those sins that we don’t talk much about. In fact, you can be greedy, and if you are greedy for food or possessions or with your time or your money that you should give to God—no one will fire you from a position in full-time ministry (well, at least, not at first!). God will know, of course, but you can hide or fake it. How do I know this? I will let you answer that question.

But isn’t it the same thing as sexual immorality—in essence? Isn’t it lusting after and taking something (or someone) inappropriately because I worship it or him or her and not God?

This reminds me of that little verse at the end of I John. He kind of just sneaks it in there but it is an incredibly powerful and short appeal to the church at the end of that book. I like how the NLT translates it: “Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts” (I John 5:21). In other words, keep yourselves from idols. Pure and simple.

They tend to accumulate for me if I am not vigilant.

I’m preaching about the role of the watchman from Ezekiel 33 this coming Sunday. Ought to be a rather interesting Palm Sunday sermon, don’t you think? (I hope it is).

But, here is my question: shouldn’t we be as vigilant as watchmen (and women) over impending dangers in our own walk with God? I don’t want to spiritualize that chapter in Ezekiel too much, but the truth is: the Lord has called each of us to that role in our relationship with the Lord and with others.

Lord, as I sit here this morning, the words seem to come easily: I worship you as the One and Only God. There is no one like you; you have no peer, no rival. You are King of kings and Lord of lords—awesome and wonderful and mighty.

Check out the mantle of my heart and clear off any false gods in any form today. Help me, Lord, with this, through the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in me as a new creation in Christ Jesus.

Take care of the college group (the young folks who have been sleeping in the church building this week and have served admirably) as they travel back to Oklahoma this morning.

“Speak to my heart, Lord Jesus,
Calm ev’ry doubt and fear”

(“Speak to My Heart,” BH 2008, 428). Amen.
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Magnifico!

Are you kidding me? I’m spoiled forever! I can’t go back.

Before the Senior Bible study yesterday afternoon, Ray and Juanita came by early. We put the coals in the grill along with the wet mesquite chips. I asked Ray, “Well, do you soak these chips in water?”

“Well, you don’t want them to burn. If you put dry chips over the coals, you will have a fire on your hands. You want smoke instead.”

Okey dokey.

After letting the coals burn for a while until they turned white/grey, we put the basted bird on the fire and closed the lid.

The “magic” began.

Ray was in a study, but he left it on a couple of occasions to check how things were going and turn the bird over. I was busy as well, but I emerged out of my office to look at it also and pretend to know what I was doing.

After the study, Ray took Juanita home, and came back shortly thereafter with a meat thermometer.

Here is another thing I learned: when the meat reaches a certain temperature, it is done. I never knew this.

I always thought that seasoned cooks like Ray just looked at it and somehow “knew” it was done on an intuitive level. Ray chuckled when I told him this, and pointed at the thermometer. It had calibrations on it for all types of meat.

Cool. Very cool.

So there it was—the turkey sitting in a pan before me. Done.

On the way home, I stopped at Bed, Bath, and Beyond and bought an electric knife. Betty counseled me that this would help me as I cut the meat off the bird. And, boy, was she ever right!

I have a feeling that there is a lot more to slicing a cooked turkey than I know because I butchered things a bit, but I still can’t believe how much meat I pulled off that ten-pound turkey.

And it turns out that the frozen turkey I bought had no neck or wings or legs. Ray commented about this right at the start. I, of course, again, just found some frozen turkeys at the grocery store and picked up one, “Looks good to me. Weighs about ten pounds. Good to go.”

As it turns out in this instance, I think I made a good decision, purely by accident. Because I prefer breast meat anyway when it come to chicken or turkey (don’t I sound like a connoisseur?).

You have to know that prior to yesterday, most of the turkey I ate came in a package already prior cut as lunchmeat.

Does it sound too snobbish to say that as I sit here this morning, I don’t think I can ever go back to that kind of turkey again?

The way Ray taught me to cook it, the meat is tender. Oh, man. And it has that smoked kind of taste. I love it.

Now, of course, the sky is the limit as I think about cooking chicken and fish in the same way. Prior to my diet, I would have cooked steaks and hamburgers and bacon also, but in the blood type book I mentioned a few weeks ago (please see that info on my Pastor John Talbert Resources facebook page), the recommendation of the type of meat I ought to eat is turkey, chicken, and fish (mainly).

I will tell you that I have felt better since I have stopped eating beef and have switched to those three other types of meats.

But I just have a sneaking feeling that chicken and fish will cook up very well on a grill using Ray’s methodology as well.

Now, I just need to get a grill of my own! You knew this was coming, right? And, of course, I have one in mind, but I need to do some more research.

In the meantime, I have a ton of turkey to consume. I hope it lasts a few days! This is the other danger of course. I could totally undo a diet because I consume tons of meat now. Ha.

I was telling someone about all this, and this person said, “So, why all of a sudden have you gotten “into” cooking like this?” Well, I recognize that I need some variety. And I fear that, if I don’t, I might revert to some old habits and unhealthy food. I just can’t go back there.

Well, enough cooking wisdom from Chef Jean (please refer to me by my new name, si vous plait? Merci beaucoup. Wow, my French is coming back too! A transformation is occurring before our eyes!).

Last night, in our worldview study, we were discussing existentialism—just a little lightweight topic for a Wednesday night, huh? But this study has opened my eyes in several different ways. As you can guess, this is a very prevalent worldview in our day and time.

I don’t want to take time this morning to give an elaborate explanation—not sure I can do that anyway, but here is how I characterized it last night: existentialism is a solitary man who is alone making decisions.

So many folks live this way. It is actually scary. What is God’s answer? Well, there are a lot of things, but one thing that came up last night is the biblical concept of love.

As we were discussing it, Al piped up. It hasn’t been that long since he was saved and baptized. God saved him out of Buddhism. That was his philosophy but he lived as an existentialist for all practical purposes.

Al stated, “In all my years as a Buddhist, I never remember hearing about love.”

Of course not. Since God is love, you can find it (true love) in no other place but the Christian life.

"Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God" (Ephesians 5:1-2, NLT).

O Love, thank you for being Love and showing Love in the person of your Son Jesus who offered himself as a sacrifice for us—a perfect sacrifice—so that we might have the capacity to love and be loved.

Thank you for Ray and his help yesterday. It was an act of love on his part, for sure.

What is the expression, adapted by Chef Jean, “teach a man to grill and he is set for life”?

Thank you for all the provisions in my life that make this possible. You are awesome, Love!

“Jesus, be the Centre,
Be my source, be my light, Jesus”

(BH 2008, 427). Amen.
Comments

Forgive Quickly

I had two significant conversations yesterday. The first one was with Troy. It was good to see him again.

Troy and his wife Jenny and their three kids served as a church planter that our church sponsored. He started a congregation in Brighton. The name of the church was Living Stones. It began in an elementary school in one of the new neighborhoods in Brighton.

I remember preaching for Troy one Sunday, and the thing that struck me immediately when I pulled in the parking lot of this school was all of the children. This congregation had a ton of them! And of course, this meant that they had a lot of young couples as well.

First Southern had a great relationship with this fledgling church. We worked with them seven years.

In the seventh year, Troy felt led to leave the church to assume a pastorate in Illinois. Before he left, however, he took the rather unusual action of finding his successor and bringing him on the field to work with him for several months.

I say that this is unusual because most congregations, when a pastor leaves, take the time to choose this individual themselves.

But the church seemed poised to continue growing when Troy left.

The reality, however, is that several key families moved and some other folks left. It wasn’t long before the church decided to close its doors. Done.

When I first heard that the church had voted to disband, I was not a little bit angry.

Troy and I talked about this yesterday. He said that when he and Jenny heard the news, they felt the same way—as if all their labor and sacrifice had been for nothing. I can sympathize with this. I know I would feel the same way.

But we both agreed that the work there had not been wasted. People had been saved. Christians had grown in their relationship with Jesus. And good work for the kingdom happened. These types of things are never lost or wasted.

It is sad for me to think, though, that we now do not have an SBC work in this thriving and growing suburb of Denver. I just pray that the Lord will raise up laborers for this harvest field.

It was good to see Troy and to catch up.

Later yesterday afternoon, Jennifer could not make our weekly Spanish class because of some car trouble. But the members of the class got the opportunity to have a good long visit. Lucinda (our other class member) and her husband Larry are two of my closest friends at North Metro.

We were able to spend some time catching up about a lot of things, but especially the ministry in Federal Heights. This dear couple is coordinating an after-school ministry called “Good News Club” sponsored by the Child Evangelism Fellowship. This is an amazing ministry that shares the gospel with boys and girls each week.

I was amazed when Lucinda said that it had been going on for four years. FOUR YEARS! In that time, hundreds of boys and girls have been saved. I’m not using a pastoral exaggeration when I say “hundreds,” either! (Pastoral exaggeration is another word for lie—but it is okay for pastors to lie when it comes to citing numbers for their congregation—right?!? Better be careful here).

We are concerned that these boys and girls who get saved will find a church in the area or that our two congregations can start a church to reach people in this community.

Larry and Lucinda have been involved with this ministry from the start. One of the members of our congregation—Alan—helps out as well. I just pray that more of our folks can jump in as well. It is a very labor-intensive work. It demands a lot of dedicated people. And I so appreciate this couple and their service for Jesus.

These two areas—the upscale suburb neighborhoods of Brighton and the manufactured housing communities of Federal Heights—could not be more opposite, but here is what they have in common—people in both these places need Jesus.

It was so encouraging to spend time with Troy and Lucinda—two people who have a heart for reaching lost folks. Overall, it was a good day.

Here is the final word in this chapter on dirty laundry, perhaps the filthiest “shirt” of all—backbiting and gossip: "Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:31-32, MSG).

Why is it that Christians seem to hold grudges “better” than just about any other group? We like to harbor and coddle our hurts, especially when it comes to things that happen in a church. Some people who get hurt in a church never go back to any church! This is a tragedy of epic proportions.

Do we live in any kind of dream world that doesn’t recognize that the church, made up of regenerated folks (for the most part, hopefully), is still comprised of people who walk around in a human body suit? As long as we are in the flesh, we have the potential to make bad decisions and do things we are going to regret, right?

I am not excusing these types of things, but why are surprised and shocked?

Instead, we would be better served to learn the art of “forgiving quickly.” The Hebrew and Greek word for forgive have similar meanings. They both mean to “send away.”

It just isn’t worth it to harbor bitterness. It is best to send offenses away.

I keep thinking of that goat that the priest laid hands on, confessed the sins of the people on its head, and sent it away to Azazel—“nowheresville.”

Unlike the Lord, we don’t forget, but we should send what others have done to us—away, quickly, and soon.

Lord, I’m thankful for the magnitude of the forgiveness I enjoy in Christ. I’m thankful for the blood of Jesus that flows continually, making me acceptable to You as Holy God. Thank you, Jesus.

Thank you for Troy and Jenny and Sarah (and her new husband—are you kidding me? Sarah is married!) and Jacob and Evan. Bless this family and their ministry in central Illinois.

Thank you for Larry and Lucinda and the Good News Club and all the boys and girls who are coming and those who have professed Jesus as Savior.

Thank you for the fellowship of the broader body of Christ. I pray that strong churches can be added to those that already exist in Brighton and Federal Heights.

There are enough lost folks in both those places to go around!

“Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus” (BH 2008, 426). Amen.
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Back to Normal … For a Week

After some great fellowship with Lou and Pam and Brit (I’ll share more about this in a later post), I met Ray at the church for our BBQ session.

It didn’t take long for him to observe as we pulled the wrapper off the bird, “It still hasn’t thawed yet.” So, we found a pan, put the turkey in the water, and set it to the side.

We went to Wal-Mart to pick up a couple of things, and returned to the church to make the baste. Ray whipped that together in no time flat. As a result of all of this, cooking day has been moved to Wednesday.

One more day delay … I think I can handle that. Not sure. But I think. Ha.

As I arrived at the church yesterday, I noticed a couple of vans sitting in the parking lot. I guessed that the college students were there. And I was right!

Let me back up a minute. Rich is a church planter I have gotten to know recently. He and his family are planting a church in the Stapleton area.

If you are not from Denver, maybe you recognize that name. Stapleton was the name of our “former” airport. But when we built the new one—Denver International Airport—Stapleton closed down, of course.

Over the past few years, developers have been building a rather upscale community in the area. I like it. Shopping areas. New homes. And everything that goes with it.

Rich is planting a church there. We have had several visits. I don’t know why he has gravitated to our church and to me. One of the reasons may be that his wife is a teacher at Northglenn High School, so he has connections in this community through her.

Not long ago, Rich called me. He asked if it would be possible for us to house a group of college students who are coming in to help out with some special projects during their spring break. In short, they needed a place to sleep at night.

At first, I was a little hesitant about this because of all the work we are doing on the building after Community of Faith United (COFU) moved out, but as Rich and I were talking one day, he stated, “John, this is a group of college students. Please let them do some of the work. They would be glad to.”

Humm. Not a bad idea.

We have some painting we need to get done, and so Rich said, “Yes, absolutely. We can do that.”

As I entered the building yesterday afternoon, I got to meet the two adult leaders of the group—two very nice guys—Ronnie and Brantley. I believe these guys are directors of missions, but I need to confirm that with them.

The name of the college where these students are from is Carl Albert State College in Poteau (southeastern Oklahoma). It is interesting that both Betty and Kelley have connections with this part of Oklahoma.

Anyway, here is the point of all of this: there were college students and bags and pillows and a guitar and all kinds of stuff all over the place in the basement of the church. One young man was laying on the floor engrossed in his Smartphone. Another young woman walked by as I talked with Ronnie and Brantley. She was yawning and rubbing her eyes. A couple of other students were standing in one of the rooms we want them to paint. They were pointing at something and discussing their upcoming project.

Ray and I finished our work in the kitchen as fast as we could because there were several students in their working. Ronnie looked at us and smiled, “As you guys can imagine, it is quite a chore to cook for thirty hungry college students.”

Here was Ray and I working on one turkey for my family and me—the contrast was stark!

But what is my reaction to all of this—I love it! LOVE IT! I love having people in that building using it, going in and out, activity, laughter, “messiness,” the whole nine yards.

This is certainly nothing to pat ourselves on the back about. Ronnie and Brantley thanked me several times for letting the group sleep in the building and they are going to paint as a way to thank us. I thanked them for letting us serve them and affirmed that it was God’s building, not ours.

Here is something that Paul inserts in his list of dirty laundry that Christians should avoid: "Don't grieve God. Don't break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don't take such a gift for granted" (Ephesians 4:30 MSG).

The whole concept of grieving the Holy Spirit—what is that all about? Well, I think it is something that is difficult to nail down on a theoretical level, but it is blatant on an intuitive level. You know it when you see it and experience it.

I’m trying to think of an example. Oh, okay. I remember years ago, we invited a special group to come to our church for a concert. It was a Sunday night. They were singing and trying to encourage us to participate, and it wasn’t going that well. At one point, the leader of the group stopped and looked at us, “You guys are a pretty deadheaded group tonight.” Something like that.

Well, at that point, (even though it continued), the concert was over. It wasn’t just what he said. It was his attitude and demeanor. And I’ll tell you what it was—he grieved the Holy Spirit. I think individuals can do this. I think groups can do this. I think congregations can do this.

And, I don’t think any of us WANTS to go any where near it.

Lord, you are the One we should be concerned about in any and every situation. You. And you alone.

I pray that I would never come close to grieving your Spirit.

Thanks for Ronnie and Brantley and these students who are here to minister. I lift up Pastor Rich and Elevate Church (cool name, huh?) in Stapleton. Bless this church and this ministry this week.

Thank you for the blessing this group has already been to us. Thank you for the blessing Ray is to me.

“You’ve no other such a friend or brother,
Tell it to Jesus alone”

(“Tell It to Jesus,” BH 2008, 425). Amen.
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Ray's Recipe

This is a momentous day—a day for which I have been waiting at least ten years—probably fifteen. It is finally here.

Let me back up for a second.

When I started as pastor of First Southern in 1989, I quickly became aware of a long-standing, monthly ritual at the church. Every month, the seniors would get together for a huge (and I mean HUGE) potluck lunch.

I still remember the first meal I attended. There were probably about forty seniors there. The men all sat at one long table on the north side of our orange shag carpeted, dark-brown paneled fellowship hall (right out of the 1970’s), and the women sat at another long table on the south side of the room.

When I arrived, inevitably, Jeannie or Adele or Sarah would say, “Pastor, would you give the blessing?” No problem.

Then, they urged me to be the first person in line for food.

Ray and Juanita joined our fellowship in the early 1990’s if memory serves me correctly, and they very easily fit into this whole scenario.

Ray often laughed at my ability to maneuver myself into position, even after having the served the church for years, to be the first in line. It was blatant greed and selfishness on my part, but nobody seemed to mind. In fact, they enjoyed it.

And, of course, so did I.

I always ate well and large with a plate or two of leftovers to carry me through the week.

In those early years, I became an expert in living off of leftovers. I still do to a large extent. I have made it into an art form. Well, maybe that is just a little bit over-stated. Ha.

But just the other day, I found a covered plate with a piece of paper taped to the top. The words were, “Pastor John.” I opened the Styrofoam top to find a full meal inside. Where did this come from? The Brazilians left it for me!

Bless their hearts! I wouldn’t want to offend them or hurt their feelings, so of course, I took it home. I can get at least two meals out of it.

Well, I digress. Back to the senior meals. We had our “regular meals” each month, but then we had special meals (even more, fancier food) on special occasions like Thanksgiving and the Christmas season.

On those special occasions, Ray always brought turkey. And I tell you—it was off the charts.

On one of those meals—years ago—I just tossed out a question, “Hey, Ray, I love the way you prepare this turkey. Could you give me your recipe and teach me how to do it?” He usually just laughed. No response.

I brought it up the next year. Same thing.

This little interchange occurred for years. Years. I just kept at it.

Well, finally, we were having a church-wide meal (the senior meals stopped a few years ago sad to say). Ray brought some of his turkey. I made my perfunctory comment and request, but THAT TIME, Ray said, “Okay, alright. I’ll show you.”

Huh, what? Really? You are kidding. Nope.

That was last Fall. He gave me the recipe. I bought a ten-pound turkey yesterday morning to put it in the refrigerator at church so that it could thaw out. After church and after all the meetings afterwards ended, I went to the grocery store to shop for ingredients. I had to call Ray to ask him a question even as I was standing in the grocery store.

Today, the plan is to baste the turkey. Tomorrow, we are going to cook Mr. Bird.

Awesome—is all I can say.

I have never been a real huge fan of turkey. If I have a choice on Thanksgiving, I’d prefer a steak, to be honest, but I would eat turkey A LOT more if I could prepare it the way Ray does.

So that is the plan!

Now, I know where this might lead some of my beloved readers at this point. Some might be thinking, “He is going to share the recipe.”

Ah. No. I just can’t do it. Not unless Ray gives me permission. As you can tell, he guards it pretty fastidiously.

Since he has opened the vault to me, I have heard that others, less brave and persistent than I (ha), have tried to get this recipe from him to no avail. Thus, I cannot betray this brother’s kindness without permission.

So, that’s the scoop. I will let you know how this adventure turns out. This is my second major escapade into the food jungle that is a grocery store, and I have emerged unscathed. This may signal a further decline in my main plain to scrounge leftovers. I may actually start doing more of my own cooking!

I must inform Sharon and others who would probably have a heart attack. She tried to teach me to cook years ago. Now, her labor is being rewarded, well, sort of.

Here is the next bit of dirty laundry in Paul’s list: "Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them" (Ephesians 4:29, NLT).

This verse speaks for itself, but I think it is a great and worthy goal to make the effort by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to try to encourage at least one person a day! Phone call, note, personal encounter, text, email—all kinds of ways to do it.

I think a full stomach of turkey would help too!

Lord, I thank you for all the ways you bring us together as believers, as brothers and sisters in Jesus, in the body of Christ. Thank you for Ray and the fellowship we have shared around food all these years.

Thank you for the main blessing in today. Actually, there are two. I get to spend time with some old friends, Lou and Pam, and then I get to hang out with Ray. Huge. Thank you, Lord.

“I cannot bear these trials alone” (“I Must Tell Jesus,” BH 2008, 424). Amen.
Comments

Dawn

Well, once again, here on a Sunday morning, I’m running a little late. I’m so thankful that I slept well last night, a little too well. I dozed on past the time I normally get up. This is very unusual for me. Most Saturday nights, I don’t sleep well because all the “stuff” of the next day is on my mind.

Anyway, thank you, Lord.

Well, yesterday, I got a call (the first call) from Lorraine that her daughter, Dawn, had been moved to a hospital up in Boulder. She wanted me to know this in case I had planned to visit her. And Lorraine was dead on right—I did have it on the schedule.

Let me back up for a minute—Dawn had some pretty serious brain surgery to remove an aneurism, and it has taken her several days to recover from it. She had a couple of complications that will make the recovery a little more difficult. That is why the doctors decided to move her to this other hospital so that she can work on rehabilitation.

I drove up to Boulder yesterday afternoon from my mom’s house in southeast Denver. It took me well over an hour to get there. The traffic was horrible. Plus, I went to the wrong hospital at first. Boulder Community hospital has two locations, I found out (the hard way).

But when I finally got to Dawn, she seemed to be doing extremely well. We had a good conversation.

As we were talking, a nurse stopped at the door, “Ah, sir, you need to wear a gown and cover your mouth and wear gloves when you come in here.” Oops.

When I got home and told my mom and sis that I had to do this, I added, “I don’t know what Dawn has that they want to keep me from getting.” They both laughed. “It is not for YOU. It is for Dawn. They don’t want her to catch anything from YOU.”

Oh, right.

One of the things that Dawn and I talked about is the children’s book she has written. By the way, it is excellent. The title of it is
Shush!!! Hilarious! I told her that “shush” was a word that I heard often when I was a child. Ha. And I think every kid in the world can relate to it.

Anyway, we had a good visit. We prayed together. I pulled off all of my “extra clothes” and headed out.

Later on yesterday evening, Lorraine called me again. She had received a message from her youngest daughter, Jasmine, that she was having her appendix removed. Then she said, “Pastor, this is overwhelming. I don’t know if I can be there at church tomorrow, but I really need to be.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this same scenario. When folks are going through hard times, the crises seem to multiply.

You have to affirm that the Lord knows what He is doing. Making this statement leads to another: if I believe that, then I must add that the Lord knows how much I can handle, even if I don’t think I can!

That having been said, I’m going to urge the church today to pray for and continue to minister to this family. Betty has done a great job of encouraging folks to send food to this family. Lorraine mentioned how much help this has been.

I feel that I must say something at this point, and I am going to tell the church this today.

I try to be brutally honest in this blog about how things are going in the congregation I serve. We are far from perfect (surprise, surprise). There is a lot we have to work on, but this body deserves an A+ when it comes to prayer and ministering to each other in a crisis.

And of course, having said that, we can’t take any credit for it. All the glory goes to the Lord. But still, I have personal experience with this, and so does my family. It means a lot. It is significant. And I need to tell the folks today, “Good job.”

So much of the time pastors like me are always “ragging on” folks in church, telling them all the things they are doing wrong. Someone needs to do the same with preachers. I think the list would be much longer.

That’s why we all need encouragement at times.

Anyway, the next item of dirty laundry Paul alludes to in Ephesians four is pretty straightforward: "If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need" (Ephesians 4:28, NLT).

As I ponder this today, I believe this verse involves a lot more than taking a pencil from work (shouldn’t do that, either). I think there are a lot of ways to steal. One is not giving the proper amount of time to your spouse and family. How about that?

Another way is not doing your job with all your heart and giving it the time it deserves.

In short, stealing involves the use of time as well.

There is a little quip that my granddad often told my mom as she was growing up. She, in turn, shared it with me.

A man went to his boss and said, “Sir, I’d work harder if I got paid more.”

He replied, “You mean you aren’t working as hard as you can right now?” Good point.

Lord, thank you for taking care of Dawn the way you have. Thank you for Lorraine and Dawn and Jasmine and this whole family. What a blessing they are to us all!

Thank you for the ministry you have given me. Help me to continue to give it all I’ve got.

I pray for Scott as he leads worship today. Fill him with the Holy Spirit and power.

Thank you also for the body of Christ and the way you use other believers to minister to us when we need it the most.

“No tender voice like Thine
Can peace afford”

(“I Need Thee Every Hour,” BH 2008, 423). Amen.
Comments

Black Shoe Polish

Here is a very evident fact: Jesus got good and angry—at least three separate times in the gospels. I say “at least three” because the gospels record one of those very prominent times on two separate occasions.

The first incident that I am talking about is Jesus getting angry and driving the moneychangers out of the court of the Gentiles in the Temple. John records this as occurring EARLY in Jesus’ ministry. This incident appears in the second chapter of his gospel.

Mark, on the other hand, records it as happening in the last week of Jesus’ ministry (see Mark 11:15-17).

So, here is the question: did Jesus do this twice or did John just choose to put this incident at the beginning of his gospel. Many scholars I have read opt for plan B. But who knows?

You know, one thing that is hitting me this morning (I have read all four accounts of this story in each of the gospels) is that in none of the passages in the Gospels that tell this story (whether it happened once or twice) does it allude to Jesus getting angry specifically. The John narrative talks about Jesus’ zeal (2:17) but it does not mention that Jesus got angry when He did this. Humm.

I just learned something this morning. It isn’t the first time and won’t be the last.

Well, let me refer to another couple of times. Mark chronicles another time in Mark 3:5. Jesus had asked, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath?” They did not answer him, and Jesus got angry (the text explicitly says this). Why? He was “grieved at their hardness of heart” (Mark 3:5, NASB).

Here is a third (or fourth or second, depending on your perspective) incident. When the disciples tried to prevent people from bringing children to Jesus, he got angry: "When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children” (Mark 10:14, NASB).

Interesting. Here is my point in all of this. It is okay to get angry… for the right reasons and with the right motivation.

As I think about these three incidents, I am reminded today that Jesus got angry when people didn’t worship God properly and/or minister to others in the right way. In short, he got angry of heart issues, not the color of the carpet in the auditorium.

There are some things that are worth getting angry over; other things just aren’t.

But there are some other parameters as well. Notice what Paul says in Ephesians 4: "Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don't use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don't stay angry. Don't go to bed angry. Don't give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life" (Ephesians 4:26-27, MSG).

This is an encouragement to be angry! But there are two caveats. First, as I have already said, I need to be angry for the right reason—not out of any motive for revenge.

Second, I need to guard against staying angry. Paul urges us not to go to bed angry and let it fester overnight. Then, it has the potential to become a root of bitterness (as Hebrews calls it) and then, we are talking about some long-term damage.

This is a great principle, I believe, for married couples. Don’t go to bed angry. Deal with it and then put it aside as you sleep.

One of the things that helps me with all of this is to talk to someone. Since I am not married, I’ve discovered that, if I don’t want something to fester, I need to find someone or call someone and VENT.

How about that for a word? I like it. The oven is hot, and if there is no outlet for the heat, something is going to explode! I’ve learned the hard way that I don’t want that to happen. Too much of a mess to try to clean up, and I have enough to worry about it without that!

This reminds me of something that happened my sophomore year in college. One of my roommates, Carter, was in the ROTC. This organization (apparently, like all branches of the military) was a stickler for shoes that were polished and shined meticulously. They taught Carter that heated shoe polish was the best way to go.

I’ll never forget this …

So, Carter, put a can of shoe polish on the stove to heat it up! It wasn’t long before he was screaming, “Guys! Help!” That can of black shoe polish exploded with the heat and I’m not kidding, black shoe polish was everywhere! On the ceiling. The walls. The refrigerator. It took us forever to clean everything.

What a graphic picture of the damage that anger can do. Again, I say, it is just not worth it.

That’s why venting is so important.

This happened just the other night at church. Calla could see that I was a little bent out of shape (and right now, I can’t remember what it was about—good. Thank you Lord) and she noticed and gave me a chance to VENT.

And honestly, I was good as I got in my truck and drove off the church property.

Lord, I pray that I would get genuinely angry for the right reasons and the right length of time. Thank you for making us emotional humans. Emotions are not bad. They are good! Help me to use them always and only for your glory.

Thank you for the people like Calla you have brought into my life to help me VENT. What a ministry! Those folks, my mom and sis at the top of that list, are very valuable.

Father, help me avoid black shoe polish moments.

“We love Him and seek Him, we long to be near Him,
And rest in the light of His beautiful land”

(“The Master Hath Come,” BH 2008, 421). Amen.
Comments

A Note of Congratulations

I have to tell you about something I received the other day from the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center.

We do this type of thing all the time at the church. In fact, I have a file full of cards/notes signed by groups of folks at church TO ME in various times and seasons. They are all keepers as far as I am concerned.

Anyway, this is just a card that is signed by all the nurses and Dr. Jotte. It is a note of congratulations for having finished treatment.

I thought it was a very nice touch, and I really appreciate it.

I need to write a note to them, and I want to do it. I just need to figure out how.

Back to this note: there was also a flyer in the envelope. It was entitled, “I’m Done with Treatment, What’s Next?” The Center offers a one-hour seminar at all of its locations in metro Denver. Some of the topics this class covers is: how to manage the late effects of Chemotherapy and Radiation; what steps you can take to improve post-treatment recovery; what you can expect for follow-up care; and how to cope with uncertainty and manage the fear of recurrence. Amen to the last one.

I need to make a couple of comments about this topic. Even though, for the most part, I feel great, I do think that I am still dealing with the effects of treatment. One of them continues to be fatigue. There are still days where I can barely stay awake in the morning and/or afternoon. I hope this diminishes soon because it is very frustrating to me.

But I realize that it is part of the deal, and now, I don’t fight it as much as first. I just go to the couch and try to take a 10 to 15 minute nap—something I NEVER allowed myself to do in the past because I thought it was a sign of laziness. Sounds ridiculous, right?

Now, I just say that I am taking a “power nap.” That makes it acceptable, right? Ha.

I realize that this is a complex issue that I can’t blame TOTALLY on cancer. Getting older is part of it. (Did I just admit that?) Sleep or lack thereof is another aspect. I know this, but I do believe that getting over treatment is a part of it.

The other topic on this list is “managing the fear of recurrence.” I think this is one of the main things that cancer patients deal with as a general rule. I certainly fit in that category.

I need to be clear here. When I mention “fear,” it is not a dominating issue in my life, but I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that it is a nagging thought. Plus, as I continue to get check-ups and have scans, it brings up the concern (that’s a good word for it) every time.

Please pray for my family and me on this issue.

I want to go to one of these seminars for a couple of reasons. First, I need to go for me. Second, I hope that I might get some insight into how to minister to other folks that the Lord might bring across my path who are dealing with cancer in one way or another.

Well, again, I am so thankful for the way that the Lord continues to use the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center in this whole process. They have done a fabulous job with me. I praise God for them!

On to the passage today—one succinct verse: "So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body" (Ephesians 4:25, NLT).

I think that telling “white lies” is a huge issue for believers.

This verse is a reminder that sin has no color scheme or shades of grey. We like to rank sins, but God doesn’t. Sin is sin is sin …

We just don’t tend to look at it that way. I think that Paul’s list of specific instances of dirty laundry in the final verses of chapter four falls in the white or grey category with a lot of people. We like to justify our actions and pat ourselves on the back because we haven’t killed anyone, but we tend to excuse our own little sins.

This is another way we like to categorize things. But there are no size charts with sin either. It is a one-size-fits-all deal.

Back to lying—this is a point of evaluation for us all. I believe that “shading the truth” falls in this category as well. For example, when someone asks, “How many folks do you have in your church?” preachers tend to take the highest count.

In all these generalizations when I say “we” or “preachers,” I am including myself. I need to be careful about this.

The Lord is bringing things to mind even as I write.

Lord, thank you that care enough about us to point out issues in our lives that are not pleasing to you. Shine your Holy Spirit spotlight on me. Give me the courage to continue to identify areas of my life that aren’t pleasing to you and to confess my sin and turn from it.

Guide me in this process, Lord.

“I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms”

(“Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy,” BH 2008, 420). Amen.

I’m grateful for those arms I can run to daily!
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Hey, That's MY Word!

I have intended to mention this for the past several days, but I just haven’t gotten around to it till today.

I had two people mention the entry for March 5 in
Our Daily Bread. This is a devotional guide that a lot of folks in our church use.

Anyway, the title for that day is “Forced Leisure.” As I heard about it and finally secured a copy of
Our Daily Bread for March 2013, I read the entry.

The author tells about a friend named Kim who was diagnosed with leukemia. Kim found out that she had cancer during the Christmas holiday. The doctors told her that she should start chemo immediately.

As she entered the hospital, she prayed that the Lord would reveal Himself to her and that she could feel that He was near. Indeed, the next seven months—some of them in isolation—help her learn more about contentment in the Christian life.

I was glad to read that she is in remission now. Kim has returned to her busy life, but she often returns to the lessons the Lord taught her during her period of “forced leisure.”

Amen. I wholeheartedly second this testimony and appreciate it, even though Kim stole my word! I own it, you know! Ha.

I’m going to keep this article and put it in the file along with all the tidbits the Lord has given me in the journey.

But I want to go back to something that Kim is doing. Here is a quote from the devotional: “She often pauses to recapture the lessons of ‘forced leisure.’”

Please pray for me that I will learn how to do this.

Honestly, “pausing to recapture the lessons” is one of the reasons that I continue to write this blog every day. It helps me more than anyone else, I’m sure.

But I am concerned that my work on book number two has fallen off the map. I find that I am working on it less and less. This is not acceptable. I must return to a point where I can make writing more of a priority.

I am convinced that a lot of this has to do with what Paul continues to talk about Ephesians four. Yesterday, I alluded to the biblical metaphor of repentance that involves “putting off sin.”

What we “put off” as new creatures in Christ Jesus, however, is only half the story. We must also put on something, or more to the point, SOMEONE.

"That, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth" (Ephesians 4:22-24, NASB).

This is, of course, what baptism pictures. The old John Talbert died with Jesus on the cross the moment he got saved. His old life is dead and buried, and he received a brand new life—the very life of Jesus Himself.

My daily walk needs to be a reflection of this fact. When the Holy Spirit makes me aware of dirty laundry, I must immediately shed it and re-appropriate (put on) the Christ life once again.

As I sit here today, I’m convinced that one of the reasons my writing is dropping off is some misplaced priorities that are taking my time and energies. I’m not talking about my ministry as pastor, but other things.

I will just leave it at that, and I pray that indeed, I will “leave it” or “shed it” and get back on track.

What I am discovering about writing is that you must strike while the iron is hot, or somehow, the urgency, the passion, diminishes.
Lord, thank you again today for cancer. Thank for leading me to write as a result of this disease. Thank you, again, for leisure. “Forced Leisure,” as Kim calls it.

I confess the sin of getting away from the lessons this wonderful gift has taught me. Bring me back to where I need to be. I put off my misplaced priorities and put on the Lord Jesus Christ.

I pray for Kim and Rick and Dawn and everyone who is dealing with physical infirmity. Help them learn the lessons of “forced leisure” as well.

I also pray for Scott in his first choir practice tonight. Thank you for him.

“Day by day His sweet voice soundeth,
Saying, ‘Christian, follow me”

(“Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult,” BH 2008, 419). Amen.
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The Biblical Concept of Repentance

I want to go back to the passage I read yesterday. I’m not ready to move on quite yet.

I love the way that the Bible interprets itself, as the Holy Spirit reveals truth to widely disparate human authors, but the message is the same.

This past Sunday, I preached from Ezekiel 18, and the final verses of that very important chapter describe repentance in graphic terms. Here is the key verse: "Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel?" (Ezekiel 18:31, NASB)

I won’t reproach my sermon. Don’t worry. But this describes repentance in terms of disassociation. When I turn from my sin (and this is the basic concept in the Old Testament and the New), it means that I cast my sins off. I put them away from me. It is as if they are parasites clinging to me and I pick them off.

Not too many years ago, after a trip to Kansas in which I had taken a hike through a forest, I had a physical scheduled with my primary care physician at that time. As he was examining me, he stopped, “Uh, oh.” You never want to hear a doctor say THAT.

“What’s up, doc?”

“Well, John, a couple of tics have embedded themselves in your back. We have to dig them out.”

Huh?

It was not a pleasant process. Believe me. But those little buggers had borrowed their way in and they had to be dug out.

This is exactly what sin does as we tolerate it and continue in it. And I think the process of examination that Psalm 139 details is exactly the same as a physical in which we allow the Great Physician to examine us from head to foot, and when the Holy Spirit stops at a certain point and says, “Uh, oh,” we need to be ready for radical surgery.

He does it but we consent to it. That is what the second part of the verse in Ezekiel is all about when it says, “Make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.” We have to understand the context of the book and the Bible as a whole when we read that. I believe this is speaking about our volitional response to what only God can do. We can’t remake ourselves. Only God can but this passage is a challenge, I believe, TO LET GOD DO HIS THING.

The New Testament concept of repentance is similar. After talking about the pervasive aspects of sin (Ephesians 4:17-19 sounds a lot like Romans 1), Paul turns things around, challenging the church to repent and live accordingly: "But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit" (Ephesians 4:20-22, NASB).

I’ve said this often to the folks at First Southern but repentance is like shedding some dirty clothes at the end of the day. In so doing, I dissociate myself from them. They are no longer hanging on me. I let them go and in so doing put on new clothes, the new life.

I will speak more about this aspect of repentance tomorrow.

But here is the point of all of this. Our culture makes people think that if they are struggling with sin (of course our world does not call it SIN, and that is a problem), then you have to go to counseling for ten years to probe into yourself and your background.

Now, let me stop right here: I am not criticizing this per se. I think there is a need for this type of psychotherapy on occasion.

However, the fundamental biblical response to sin from Genesis to Revelation is REPENTANCE. Turn from it. Cast it aside. And in so doing turn to the Lord in faith and watch what he does from there.

I must say this also at this point: no one can repent on his or her own unless the Spirit enables him or her to do it.

So, it is all a work of God from beginning to end.

But repentance is a huge word, a prominent concept, and I believe it is largely absent from many contemporary pulpits, including mine. It shouldn’t be. It is the first response always to a work of God.

We repent and believe the gospel in order to get saved in the first place, but the Christian life consists of a lot of crossroads in which the Lord brings us face to face with inappropriate attitudes or actions or failures to act, and we face the challenge of what we will do.

Repent or not. That is the choice.

Lord, thank you for bringing me to this point in a certain area of life. Right now, I thank you for this, and ask you to grant me the gift of repentance.

Anew and afresh, I turn to you today. Give me grace to strike out in a new direction.

“Come in today, come in to stay,
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus”

(“Into My Heart,” BH 2008, 418). Amen.
Comments

Punked!

I’ve learned that one has to be very careful what one says because the Lord doesn’t forget one word.

I have to tell you about the amazing way the Lord works and how He turned a long-held comment back on me yesterday.

I’ve always felt that the current location of First Southern is a bit of a liability. It is down in a “valley” of sorts. That’s not exactly correct but it is the only way I can describe it. Whether you are coming from the south or from the north on Washington, you go downhill to get to the church.

If you are coming from the North, and you want to turn into the church property, you have to be very careful because there is no left turn lane. There is an island that ends abruptly and then there is a space between two double yellow lines. If you don’t slow down and give the car behind you some notice, you could be hit from behind, quite easily.

I’ve heard from folks that have been around a long time that when the church was built originally, there was no front entrance. If you passed the building on Washington Street, you actually had to go around the block and come in from the back. Some folks still actually do that anyway, when the come from the North, just because of the situation I described.

Here is another thing (and this was confirmed the last time I went to Northglenn Middle School along with Mary Ann for Parent’s Night): we were visiting with folks and inviting them to come to church, and invariably, I got this comment, “Where is it?” I would tell them. Their response would be, “Is there a church there? Where is it?” Even long-time Northglenn residents don’t know where we are.

And, as a result of all of this, I’ve had a bad attitude about the location of the church. I’ve felt that it was a barrier, a liability, one more thing against us on a long list of challenges we face as a church to stay viable.

Have I set the table well enough?

Switch to now: it feels as if we are in the middle of downtown Manhattan! There is road construction in front of the church on Washington Street. The reason for this is that the city is building a walkway under the street. They have cleared out all the junk and the foliage in Grange Hall Creek to the south of our property. The end result of this is that we are more visible than ever.

Plus, I found out about something else yesterday. I was corresponding with George—the retired pastor and writer for the Broomfield Enterprise. He is a great brother and friend. And, he has written a couple of very positive articles about First Southern and did a review of my book as well.

Yesterday, in an email, he mentioned a new Walmart at 108
th and Washington. Huh?

I replied to his initial message, “George, no way. There are houses there. You must be referring to somewhere else.”

He wrote back, “No, John, I am talking about the renovation of the Garland Shopping Center just North and West of the church.”

No way! Are you kidding me? There is indeed an old, run-down shopping center there. It is on its last legs. There are only a couple of businesses left in it.

George also sent me a link to an article in the Denver Post that talks about this. Here is that link. Check it out:
http://yourhub.denverpost.com/adamscounty/northglenn-aims-lure-walmart-neighborhood-market-city/V3wDZ0mxX8r6keitU1umSL-story.

By George, he is right! (Pun intended).

Okay, so when I read that article, I laughed out loud. Are you kidding me?

I felt that the Lord had just pulled a “Sarah” on me. I saw this portrayed in the Bible mini-series a week ago.

Do you remember the time that the three angels showed up and told Abraham that he and his aged wife were going to have a son. Sarah overheard and laughed. And the angel caught her, “You laughed.”

Sarah denied it, but the angel said, “No, I saw you. You laughed so that is going to be the name of the son you and your husband are going to have—Laughter.”

I felt as if the Lord just “punked” me! “John, you think your location is a liability—that I can’t work there and you have put me in a box. I’ll show you. I’ll move a Walmart in across the street! All those disparaging words and comments you have made under your breath over the years. YOU SAID IT. I heard them all. What do you think now?”

Gulp. Okay, Lord. You got me.

Now, certainly this is no automatic cure-all, but it will mean an extra car or two more in the neighborhood. Don’t you think? I’m sure there is going to be a battle over it, as there is with all new Walmarts, but I think people might be more predisposed to support it for two reasons. First, it would be only the second actual grocery store in the entire city of Northglenn. That is hard to believe, but read the article.

Second, it might mean a few more jobs for folks in our neighborhood, and I can’t believe folks would argue against that! (I’m sure they will, somehow, but I can’t believe it).

Here is one of the lessons I hope I have learned (well, two). You have to be careful what you say to the Lord and don’t ever, EVER put God in a box.

"But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit” (Ephesians 5:20-22, NASB).

There is more to say about these verses and I’ll do it tomorrow, but they are a rebuke to unbelief, and sometimes, more often than I care to admit, as Christians, we need a rebuke as well—a slap in the face.

Lord, you are awesome. Again, I thank you that there is no place, no geographical location on the face of the earth, even if it is high in the mountains of Nepal or in a valley in Northglenn—no place too difficult for you to work!

I confess the sin of making my perspective reality. I am wrong, so wrong.

I pray that indeed, you would allow this Walmart Grocery store to be built in the neighborhood, not for the church first of all, but to help the community in which our church is a part. Turn things around, Lord, and when you do, save some people in the process. And if you want to use us, fine. If not, everything is still up to you.

No matter what happens, I pray that I have learned a valuable lesson and folks in the church will learn it as well. Help us to learn Jesus and live Jesus and love Jesus.

“Jesus is pleading;
O list to his voice,
Hear Him today, hear Him today”

(“Jesus Is Tenderly Calling,” BH 2008, 417). Amen.
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No Grown-up Babies Tolerated

I’m glad we went ahead yesterday, because as the more wore on, the weather and the streets and the parking lot cleared nicely.

We did have some confusion over the “cancel Sunday school” part of the schedule.

When I arrived, I was amazed to see how many people had showed up at the regular time. They had not called the church to get the message of the change of schedule. These folks, for the most part, were not “put out,” just a little uncertain about what was going on and why they weren’t contacted.

A couple of other folks showed up, found out that we weren’t having Sunday school, left, and came back for service. No problem.

Overall, the thing I learned about this is that, in the future, I will take the proactive stance of actually using technology to call everyone in the church to let him/her know about the change of schedule instead of relying on him or her to call the church.

Again, this is no big deal, but it is the way I learn things—the hard way.

But we had a great morning and service. In the business meeting afterwards, I presented Scott to the church. Belle asked if we could hear from him. Scott came forward and shared a little about his pilgrimage.

Among the good things he talked about, one statement really encouraged me. He said something like, “Darla (his wife) and I feel like First Southern is our home, so regardless of how this four-week trial turns out, we will be here, whether I am leading or just in the choir.”

Wow. That’s all I can say.

As I told someone later on in the day, I think that Scott and his family got the order right in this thing. They gravitated to the church FIRST and the job SECOND. I like that order.

Please pray for Scott and his family and for us. I’m a little gun-shy when it comes to these processes. If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know why.

But again, ultimately, it is in the Lord’s hands. I firmly believe it.

And so is the church as a whole.

This is the bottom line of what Paul is asserting as he teaches about gifts and leaders and growth. I love the way Peterson translates the verse for today. He puts in the form of a challenge:

"No prolonged infancies among us, please. We'll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything” (Ephesians 4:14, MSG).

I love this!

Of course, we as pastors—well, let me personalize this—I as a pastor tend to coddle and tolerate baby behavior more than I should. I’ve never been a parent, but I can imagine that, just to avoid tantrums AT TIMES, parents make accommodations to their kids.

I don’t think my parents ever did this, but I see it all the time at the mall. A little child is crying and whining, and the parent falls all over himself or herself to appease the behavior—just to stop the noise.

And, invariably, this type of approach does not work.

When my mom observes this, she invariably makes one of two comments: “That kid needs a spanking” or “That kid needs to be taken home and put to bed.”

As I remember with some “painful” memories, this was her approach with me and it was not pleasant. My dad and mom handled my numerous tantrums quickly and effectively.

I think I have written this before, but it bears repeating at this juncture, one of my dad’s favorite comments was, “If you don’t settle down, I will give you something to cry about.”

Oh, boy. Again, painful memories come to mind, but the bottom line goal in all of this is that they wanted me to grow up!

Why is it that, in church, we do exactly the opposite? Someone has a tantrum and out of fear that they will leave the church, we don’t take decisive action. I’m ashamed to say that this is what I have done too many times.

I guess what has happened to me over the years is that the Lord has dealt with that fear. Now, (and I can’t say it doesn’t bother me at all) I am LESS concerned about someone leaving the church.

Sometimes, people just do it in spite of your best efforts at correction and discipline, and in fact, that is why they leave. They are running from a spanking. They just take their little baby behavior down the road to the next church.

You know what needs to happen? All the pastors on the north side need to get together and make an agreement: when a baby leaves one church and goes to another, church number two and pastor number two needs to say, “Nope. We don’t allow you to join this church until you resolve your issues in church number one. Get that straight and leave for the right reasons and you are welcome here.”

Instead, what happens is that baby leaves his/her home and goes across the street to the neighbor’s house to find “parents” who will let him have the motorcycle he is having the tantrum about as a twelve year old.

Oops, a little too much personal history is coming out here. Oops.

Now, of course, that analogy breaks down very quickly. That would NEVER happen, but somehow, in church life, it seems to.

We just have babies shifting homes all over the place and if a rather large amount of them happen to gravitate to one church in the area, that church claims that they are growing!

What is wrong with this picture?

But I know it is being repeated in numerous places across the United States, and sometimes (again, I am making generalized comments here) in bigger churches, it takes longer for the baby behavior to be revealed because the baby just slides in and out, sitting with the other babies in the high chairs in the back of the church.

Ephesians four says nothing about numbers. It refers to growth in terms of maturity for believers. A small church in numbers can be growing because the believers in it are leaving behind baby behaviors.

This is what I desire for my own life and for those in the fellowship of the church I serve. Plus, right or wrong, good or bad, the back row is very visible and it is hard to hide high chairs in our church!

Lord, this verse is a kick in the pants. Thank you that you enable us to grow through the Holy Spirit you give us and through the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit. There are no excuses for baby behaviors.

Grow me up today. Grow the folks I serve up in the Lord.

Eliminate the high chairs.

“If there is a void this world can never fill,
Let Jesus come into your heart”

(“Let Jesus Come into Your Heart,” BH 2008, 416). Amen.
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A Beautiful Picture of the Church

Well, first, I need to say that the snowstorm was not as bad as the “experts” promised. We got several inches of snow in the metro area but not a foot.

It was coming down at a steady clip as I called a couple of folks to talk with them about what we ought to do today. We all agreed that it was still up in the air. The main concern overnight was the cold temps and the fact that everything would freeze up this morning.

As I was contemplating what to do, I noticed cars going by on the street. Traffic was still moving rather easily. It was no big deal.

So, I decided to cancel Sunday school this morning and just have worship. That way, it would allow more time for snow removal around the building and a little more leeway for folks. We probably will not have many today, but that’s okay. I feel good about going ahead.

We have a business meeting after service the main dual purpose of which is to vote on all the leaders for the New Year (as you can tell we are rather late) and vote for Scott as our interim worship leader. I’m excited! I’ll have to tell you about how the Lord worked in this situation at some point.

I say “interim” because again, we are going to give things a try for a month and see how things go. This will be good for Scott and for us. If the vote goes well, he will start next Sunday.

Anyway, enough about that. I’m glad to have a little extra time this morning.

Back to this crucial passage in Ephesians four. I was reading it from several versions this morning. The way Peterson phrased it stood out to me:

“He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ's followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ's body, the church, until we're all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God's Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13, MSG).

I love it! What a beautiful picture of the church, brothers and sisters in Christ “moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful.” Awesome.

This reminds me of a well-oiled machine with all parts and pistons moving together and in harmony, purring along like a cat.

This is the way the church ought to work, not like a cat fight.

But back to the point of the passage: as I said yesterday, it is my job to equip the saints—to oil the machinery, so to speak—so that all of us move rhythmically and easily with one another.

Here is the question: am I actually doing that? And the broader question is: how does one do that?

The longer I go, the more I realize that it is not about programs and classes and processes. It is about relationships.

This verse came to mind yesterday: “Then he appointed twelve of them and called them his apostles. They were to accompany him, and he would send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14, NLT). Where was Jesus’ MasterLife notebook? Did He do a Disciple Now weekend? How many weeks’ course did He offer?

The other day, as I was sitting in my office, I looked at a bookshelf in front of me. I have all the notebooks in the world (a slight exaggeration) on that shelf. I have so much discipleship material.

And please don’t hear me knocking those courses and that material. It is all good.

But do we measure discipleship by how many courses or classes one has taken or how many notebooks sit on a shelf? I may have gone through the material but has it gone through me? And is that the point anyway—“mastering material”?

I don’t know. These are questions I ponder and pray about a lot lately in this new way of life the Lord has laid out for me, this brave new world of not doing EVERYTHING myself.

Here was Jesus’ method: hang out with Him for three years! Sure there was teaching that occurred. Of course. But the main thing, or shall I say the main ONE, was Him!

I really don’t live under the illusion that anyone in the church remembers all the sermons I have preached over twenty plus years. (Although, Jim has marked his Bible. He puts notes from messages right there near the text. Once I was talking about preaching from the Psalms, and Jim said, “The last time you did that was March of 09”—something like that. He had it right there in his Bible! Very impressive and he knows more about my sermons than I do! Ha). I am confident that the main thing they will remember is what they saw in my life.

What is the old expression—“caught rather than taught”?

Lord, I thank you for the privilege of “hanging out with Jesus” even on this cold daylight savings morning. So many things against us. But knowing you is so powerful.

I’m glad I get to hang out with you a little while this morning. Makes my day!

I pray that you would help me live the sermon I plan to preach this morning, no matter who is there or not.

Keep people safe as they drive to church this morning. I pray that all the snow could be cleared (thanks for the men and women who do it) and the ice would at least start to melt on the church property.

This day is all about you. Be honored and glorified as we are WITH YOU.

“The Savior still waits to open the gates
And welcome a sinner before it’s too late”

(“Room at the Cross,” BH 2008, 415). Amen.
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Equipping the Saints--A Personal Paradigm Shift

I overslept this morning. I’m running a little late. So, this post won’t be its usual verbose self. Ha.

I think it is going to take a couple of days for me to unpack these verses anyway. Who knows?

I may have more time in the morning anyway. The weather forecasters are predicting a big storm here for Colorado--twelve inches of snow with high winds. It was supposed to have started last night.

However--as I got up and looked out the window—so far so good. It may be snowing a little bit, but there isn’t any appreciable accumulation as I can see. But they are still predicting that this storm will hit and carry on for most of the day.

If so, we will have a decision to make about services tomorrow if it gets really bad.

Well, anyway, on to the verses for this morning. Yesterday, I talked about Jesus’ victory gifts that He gave the church. This was a general comment Paul made, but in the ensuing verses he gets more explicit, and he mentions what I call the “leadership gifts:”

"Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12, NLT).

The purpose of these gifts is to equip the saints to build up the church.

Yes, I did read that right: EQUIP THE SAINTS.

Before I got cancer, I could have quoted that verse and explained its meaning from the original Greek et cetera ON AN INTELLECTUAL LEVEL.

But … the practical level was a different story. My practice would have penned this verse as: … pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to do all the work to build up the body of Christ.”

We can get at reasons for this. I think the main one for me is that I didn’t want anyone to think I wasn’t doing my job, and as it turns out, I wasn’t! I was doing every one else’s job!

Something off here.

But I will tell you: I am not alone as a pastor. We do a lot of things we shouldn’t be doing out of that same fear OR, just because no one else will. That is another prominent reason.

Sitting here on this couch dealing with the effects of chemo for months gave me plenty of time to reflect on all of this.

Here is one thing I realized: if I am doing everything (and my feverish activity was consuming a lot of my time and energy, of course), who is serving the biblical role of PASTOR of this church? Humm … Good question.

Not long ago, I read about a pastor of a growing church somewhere. He made this comment (I am paraphrasing): I have decided that absolutely everything else someone else can do, I encourage and equip him/her to do it. There are some things only I can and should do—those are the things I focus on.”

Excellent point.

For me, right now, as I have prayed, here are four things: vision, prayer, the ministry of the Word, and SOME shepherding.

I believe that vision is the prerogative of leaders, but I don’t think it is centralized in one person. I believe it is communicated and shared.

The next two elements come from Acts 6 as the first servants of the church were set aside to wait tables so that the apostles could focus on prayer and the ministry of the Word.

The final element is “shepherding.” This is a loaded term that includes ministry to the body of Christ. And I believe that it must be shared also.

Well, that is enough for today. More tomorrow.

O, Lord, thank you AGAIN for the privilege of serving as Pastor/Teacher. You have called me to this and gifted me for it. It certainly was not something I chose, and it still amazes me that you have placed me in this position of honor. Thank you so much. I love it!

Help me today to continue to learn the lessons I need to learn from cancer. Help me today to be the best pastor your grace can enable me to be.

Give us wisdom through this storm as to how we should minister to the body. Sometimes, that means telling them to stay home and be safe. Isn’t that the role of the under shepherd—protecting the sheep? But I hope we don’t have to do this. It is up to you, Lord. Amen.
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Captivity Captive

What an amazing phrase in Ephesians 4!

Paul has just given a list of “ones” in the previous couple of verses. Let me see if I can list them:

One body
One Spirit
One Hope
One Lord
One Faith
One Baptism
One God and Father

Seven “ones”! These ones are the glue that brings us all together in the body of Christ—the basis of our unity in Him. These are the areas we have in common when we don’t have anything else in common.

I know that the church I serve is typical in that way. On some Sundays, I look out at who is sitting there, and I think, “There is no way that this cast of characters would come together in any other arena or setting than the church.” Please don’t see my term “cast of characters” as derogatory. I say it in love. I am amazed at the diversity—folks from all types of backgrounds and ethnicities. I love it.

I think I have mentioned this before, but a few years ago, at one of our International Christmas dinners, I just took a moment to check and with all of us gathered—all four congregations—we had someone from every continent on the planet, including two folks who were born in Africa. Amazing. Wonderful!

There is THAT kind of diversity, and then there is the kind that Paul speaks about in Ephesians four, but he lays the theological groundwork. I love the Amplified Bible translation:

"Yet grace (God’s unmerited favor) was given to each of us individually [not indiscriminately, but in different ways] in proportion to the measure of Christ’s [rich and bounteous] gift. Therefore it is said, When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive [He led a train of vanquished foes] and He bestowed gifts on men” (Ephesians 4:7-8, AMP).

Jesus won a huge victory through His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, and as a result, through His grace, He hands out the spoils of battle. He gives THE gift of salvation and GIFTS of the Spirit.

It is all because he led captivity captive. What an interesting phrase! This verse is set off in most translations. It is a quote from Psalm 68:18. This talks about Mount Zion—the place where God dwells forever and the top mountain of all the mountains. It describes the army of God and his victory.

The Lord shares that victory with us through the gifts of the Spirit.

Each believer—and I say this every time we have our new member’s class—has at least one spiritual gift. And God’s intent, because He won the victory and reigns as Lord, is that each believer put His spiritual gift to use. When he or she does that, the body gets blessed and it functions, as the Lord desires it to function.

This came to bear yesterday as I talked with my friend John. We finally made contact and caught up. It has been about fifteen to twenty years since we have spoken. He was a good friend in college and in my early years of seminary.

The Lord called John and his wife Linda (who was an emergency room nurse) to plant a church in Houston. I went down there to preach for him while I was in seminary. Then, the Lord called them to go overseas as missionaries in Kenya.

John told me yesterday that the Lord expanded their ministry to be in charge of a larger area.

After several years of serving, He has since called them to return to the States. He is now serving at a church in San Antonio—Bandara City Church.

John was telling me that this congregation has six thousand folks who attend a variety of weekend services on this six-acre campus with three metal buildings. Off the charts! John preaches frequently, but he is in charge of discipleship and spiritual growth.

As we were talking a vivid memory came to mind, and I shared it with John.

While I was with him in Houston, we went to visit a lady who had come to the church. John sat down with her at her kitchen table and shared the gospel with her. It was a very comprehensive presentation. At the moment he started talking to this woman about the cross, she broke. I could see conviction all over her face, and right then and there she got saved.

I mentioned this to John. He replied, “John, I don’t remember that.” I do.

What is that? The Lord gave a victory gift to John that He used in the salvation of that woman and in the edification of another believer who was there—me.

John continues to share at Bandara. And multiplied hundreds are getting saved. John isn’t saving them. Jesus is. But He is using the victory gift He gave him. To God be the glory!

Lord, thank you for the victory you won. Thank that the “God Mountain” reigns supreme.

Thank you that you did not keep this victory to yourself. You shared it just like you do everything with your kids in the body of Christ.

Every time someone exercises his/her spiritual gift, it is Sports Center. We get to hear—we get to experience—your victory. We are reminded of the score—God won, BIG.

I lift up John and Linda and their work at Bandera.

“Though we have sinned He has mercy and pardon,
Pardon for you and for me”

(“Softly and Tenderly,” BH 2008, 414). Amen.
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Noon Worship on a Tuesday

A couple of days ago, I headed downstairs to the fellowship hall in the church building to eat my lunch.

I tell you: I’m still having a hard time adjusting to emptiness in the building these days. The “silence,” as the expression goes, “is deafening.”

I continue to pray that the Lord would open some avenue for us to use this tool (the building) to reach other folks. I think the longer we go with things as they are, the more difficult it will be. Routines quickly become ruts. And ruts get deeper and deeper, more entrenched.

When COFU came, it was a tooth and nail battle and some folks left our church over it. I don’t want to have to fight that battle all over again. I know that some won’t like it if we give homeless folks a place to sleep, for example. Change of any type is always difficult. I know that. But as long as folks have the very positive experience with COFU in their recent memory, I think this transition will be less difficult.

I can always hope, right?

Well, anyway, I walked downstairs to the kitchen, fixed my lunch, to sit there and eat it in the stillness. I thought I was alone.

All of a sudden, I heard music. It was the sound of an electric piano and a flute playing “Amazing Grace.” There was nothing ornate about it—just the simple playing of that hymn, a couple of verses.

Then, the music stopped for a moment.

I paused.

All of a sudden, it started up again. The new song was “Jesus Loves Me.” This time, the music was not as fluid and harmonious as the previous song. It stopped and started a couple of times. The flute and the piano were not quite in harmony AT FIRST. But after a few minutes, soon, the two instrumentalists were on the same page, and they played a couple of verses.

All of this stopped me in my tracks. I sat there with my sandwich in front of me—worshiping.

What was going on? Well, let me explain. Korean Comfort Baptist Church—the congregation that uses space in the building—has their worship area in a couple of rooms on the northwest corner of our fellowship hall.

Apparently, during the middle of the day on Tuesday, they were having a prayer meeting/worship service.

Last week, I ate my lunch a little later. I was standing in the kitchen and Pastor Dong and his wife Crystal came in to greet me. They had just finished up. I don’t think anyone else was there.

If you are out to break attendance records, you probably don’t schedule mid-day prayer meetings, especially on a Tuesday.

Can I stop right here? I want to say that I am so sick of the numbers game and the American, success-oriented perspective that replies, “Well, if we have a service THEN, no one will show up.”

I am sick and tired of it.

As I sat there, having just micro-waved my food and slapping it on the table as I was in a hurry to get to my next activity (I am reminded of what Peyton Manning said at the line of scrimmage this year right before the Broncos ran a play. You could hear it loud and clear in the stadium because the crowd became silent when the Broncos had the ball: “Hurry, Hurry.” He was running the “hurry-up” offense.) That is the way I live. Hurry, Hurry. That is the play I run, most of the time.

The Lord got a hold of me a couple of days ago, Tuesday noon, with my lunch before me. He stopped me dead in my tracks.

Sure, I know that Dong and Crystal would love to have more folks at their noon prayer meeting, but the fact that it was only the two of them didn’t stop them one bit. I know them well enough that I know they don’t make decisions based on who is going to show up or not. They were there for God. That’s it. They probably spent time in prayer and then they took the time, with no audience except God (they didn’t know I was there) to worship in the middle of the day. And they weren’t in the Peyton Manning, line of scrimmage, hurry, hurry mode.

As I was sitting there just worshiping Jesus, I thought of Daniel. The scripture text says that he opened his windows that faced toward Jerusalem, and it was his habit to worship the Lord three times a day. I don’t know exactly. But I would imagine that it was morning, noon, and night.

Is it far-fetched to think that Daniel worshiped at noon on Tuesday? I don’t think so.

In our American mindset, I think most of us (me included at the top of the list) would say, “I don’t have time for that. I’m busy, especially in the middle of the day.”

But I finished up and walked back upstairs to the office, something in my heart, longing and yearning for mid-day, mid-week worship. We will see how the Lord leads in that regard. I have some thoughts. We will see.

In the meantime, the verses for today give interesting insight into the nature of God. I was interested that last night, in our Worldview study, Bob referred to these verses. I had asked the students in the class to find Bible verses that support aspects of God’s character as the Christian theistic worldview presents Him.

One of the characteristics we talked about is that God is immanent. This means that He is near, very near, all the time. Even in a fellowship hall on a Tuesday at noon.

"For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all" (Ephesians 4:4-6 NLT).

Lord, I acknowledge today that you are One. As God and Father, you are over all. You reign supreme. You are in all. You dwell in believers through the Holy Spirit making their bodies, my body, your temple. This means that wherever I am, whatever time of the day and on a day other than Sunday, I can worship you.

Thank you for that worship service the other day. Thank you for living through all, through Dong and Crystal. Bless them today in their worship. Use me in my worship to honor you, first and foremost, and then to bless others.

“See on the portals He’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me”

(“Softly and Tenderly,” BH 2008, 414). Amen.
Comments

Pastor Larry

I love the fact that each day is an adventure with Jesus. As Forrest Gump says, “Life is a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get.” I am a fan of chocolate, as everyone knows. So, I gravitate to that statement!

Anyway, yesterday, I was thumbing through the recent issue of
On Mission magazine. This is a publication of the North American Mission Board. It has several profiles of missionaries who have the spotlight in the Week of Prayer for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.

My eyes rested on the story of a young couple. They are planting a church in the Wicker neighborhood of Chicago. Their names are Scott and Ashley Venable. Humm. Venable. As I looked at the pictures of this couple, it finally dawned on me. I knew Scott Venable when he was a baby! Of course. He is the son of my former pastor, Larry.

So, you can guess what I did. I looked in my address book, found his number, called him, got him, and we had a good, long conversation.

I’ve spoken often of a couple of my former pastors in this blog: Herb, Andy Sr, and Joel Gregory, but I’m not sure I’ve said a whole lot about Larry.

When I first started seminary in Fort Worth, I began looking for a church home. I started at one big church in town—the “flavor of the month,” as I like to call it in retrospect. This church’s pastor was very well known and I went there just because I respected him.

However, after going there one semester, I just decided that this church was not for me, so I visited around second semester. I found another church. I attended it for several months, but things changed in the church (I’ll explain what I mean by that another time). So, I moved on again.

Well, by then, my first year had ended, and I still hadn’t found a church.

At the beginning of my second year (Marilyn was with me then—she had started seminary as well), we finally found a home. The name of the church was Arlington Heights. It was located in a rather old neighborhood in downtown Fort Worth. Larry was the pastor.

Larry and I made an immediate connection, and it was probably because of sports. He loved golf. We played together fairly often. And he was a basketball player as well. He invited me to play on the church team, and one year, we won the city church basketball tournament, knocking off might Broadway Baptist Church. In that final game, Larry went wild. He scored twenty-seven.

In my second year at the church (which happened to be my last year in Master’s work at the seminary), we decided to start a Bible study in the community—basically right across the street from the church. It was an older, transitional neighborhood, but we spent several Saturdays knocking on doors and meeting people. Another characteristic emerged: it was a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood.

After several weeks, we started the study. Another guy (whose name is also John—he was a friend from college) started it with me. We co-taught. It was very interesting to see the cast of characters who showed up. But for some reason, it dwindled, and we stopped it. As I sit here this morning, I really can’t remember why.

Well, I guess I can think of one major reason … I will get to it in a moment.

In the summer between my first and second year at the church, Larry and some other folks in the church took a mission trip to guess where? Colorado. They came to do some work in Denver, but I can’t remember what church they were working with or many of the details of their trip. (This may be another one of those cancer brain days. I’ll just blame my memory lapse on THAT).

Anyway, the accommodations they had planned on for their week up here fell through, so we invited this group of people to stay at our house FOR THE WEEK. It was about ten folks. We had just about every room in our house filled with people sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags. It was quite an experience, but we had a blast. Larry and John both came. We spent a lot of time together that week.

Well, anyway, toward the end of that second year, the Lord led Larry and his family to move to Garland to serve Freeman Heights Baptist Church.

He has been there ever since. In fact, yesterday, he told me that this summer will be his thirtieth year there. Isn’t that fantastic? He asked me how long I had been at First Southern. I’m seven years behind him.

He told me about the ministry at Freeman Heights. It is in a transitional community (is there a theme here?) and about 35 percent of the folks in his congregation are Hispanic, but Larry has led the church to stay in the community and reach the folks that are there. In fact, he says that in one service in his church on Sunday mornings, he message is translated into Spanish. They give out headsets to folks and they hear the sermon in their own language.

Cool. Very cool.

I told him about the three congregations that use our building. His comment? “Great, that is certainly another way to do it.” Yep.

As our conversation was drawing to a close, I thanked Larry for everything I had learned from him, and we vowed to get together sometime soon and engage in a mutual activity (guess what?). I need to make another trip to Texas to see the people I failed to get to see on my last trip. I hope I can do that sometime this year. We will see.

But it was great to reconnect with Larry. He is another guy, another pastor, whom the Lord has used to impact my life.

This is another benefit of relationships in the body of Christ, and a huge part of what Paul is exhorting believers to do in the verse for today: "Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace" (Ephesians 4:3, NLT). More to say about this verse, but I will do it later.

Lord, I thank you for Larry and Edda (his wife) and Scott and Ashley. Thank you for the way you have used them in my life. Thank you for my years at Arlington Heights Baptist Church. Thank you for that week in the summer of 1983 or so.

I pray for Larry and his ministry in Garland. I’m thankful that instead of living his community for the “burbs” like a lot of other churches, you have led him to lead the church to “bloom where they are planted.”

I’ve learned this from Larry. Enable us to do the same at First Southern. There is no one whom You can’t reach!

“Come home, come home,
Ye who are weary, come home”

(“Softly and Tenderly,” BH 2008, 414). Amen.
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Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

There is another interesting phrase in the passage for today that strikes a cord with me.

"Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love" (Ephesians 4:1-2, NLT).

Think about the first three chapters of this incredible letter. As I have already indicated—it is a prayer in which Paul soars high in the heavens and deep in the heart. He has praised God for our salvation and forgiveness. He has mentioned that fact that, in the grace of God, we are seated with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. And, he concluded his prayer with the statement that He is able to do “exceeding abundantly above” all we could ask or think.

This is about as big as it can get, this salvation we enjoy in Christ Jesus. Huge. Large. Universe-size. Bigger than that.

I think the demonstration of how big our salvation is gets revealed in the small things in our relationships with others in the body of Christ.

Why is it that some of us are the pickiest people in the world?

Why is it that we fight over such minutiae?

I think this is what Paul is getting at in these transitional verses that set the stage for the rest of the book. The first three chapters traced the untraceable—the high calling of our salvation. The next three deal with living in accordance with that.

And one of the first aspects of that is unity, a unity that is based on these large things while making allowances for one another in the small things.

He is going to elaborate on the large things, the “non-negotiables,” as I call them. They will emerge in the next few verses.

All I am going to say about them at this point is that there are some things in our faith that our worth fighting to the death for. I believe that they have to do with doctrine and morals.

As I said, I will get into this in subsequent posts.

EVERYTHING ELSE—including the color of carpet and paint on walls—is NOT WORTH IT, for crying out loud!

But I will tell you—and this comes from over twenty years of hard experience—the stuff that doesn’t matter is what we fight over.

Why is this? Well, I honestly don’t think we spend enough time on the large doctrines of our faith. We talk about forgiveness, but do we really understand the magnitude of it?

I am reminded of the parable of the servant who gets his fellow slave around the throat because he owes twenty buck after having been forgiven of billions of dollars-worth of debt. It is ludicrous.

His actions show that he never fully experienced the forgiveness of God.

We are so nit-picky except when it comes to the way we want people to treat us.

People in church demand that I understand why they haven’t been in worship the past few Sundays. They expect that I cut them slack, and yet some of these very people don’t cut anyone else ANY slack—especially me—on certain things.

“What have you done for ME lately” is the by-word of folks who have gotten their perspective off or they were never saved in the first place. Let’s just say it.

I’m going to do it again: some of these folks were never saved. How could they be? There is no fruit.

This is why I believe that church membership is so important. My relationship with the Lord needs a laboratory to be tested. I can spout spiritual stuff all day long and talk about love, but my lofty professions get tested the moment someone does something I don’t like in a church.

Again, I am not talking about crucial doctrine (and this is NOT a differing view of the rapture) and morals. I’m talking carpet and paint.

The more mature believers NEVER let the minor stuff knock them off the path. NEVER.

Lord, thank you for the large, huge, and big salvation I enjoy in your Son Jesus. If I could walk this earth a million years, I could never repay for the magnitude of the grace and forgiveness you have demonstrated JUST to me. Thank you for saving me.

I confess my tendency to focus on stuff that does not matter. I confess that I do that every Sunday.

Enlarge me so that the small stuff is in its proper place. Help me as pastor to model THAT KIND of large love and forgiveness.

Live large and don’t sweat the small stuff.

I just can’t move on from this hymn:

“Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace”

(“Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” BH 2008, 413). Amen.
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Exceeding Abundantly Above

The final two verses of Ephesians three rank up there very high with me as my personal favorites. It is hard to improve on the KJV simply because it is just so memorable:

"Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us" (Ephesians 3:20, KJV).

One of the things I love about the Bible is the economy of language. The Lord doesn’t waste one word, EVER.

But it is interesting to me that in the book of Ephesians, in particular, the Holy Spirit working through the prison quill of Paul stacks superlatives on top of one another on a couple of occasions.

The first such instance occurs in the chapter one as He is describing the Lord’s power. To what do you compare the power of God? Well, Paul compares it to the only thing he can—the power of God. “That power is the same as the mighty strength” (Ephesians 1:19, NIV). I love this. Of course!

But the most glaring example of this hyperbole is these last two verses of chapter three. The apostle is trying to describe how the Lord works when we approach Him and when we call out to Him in prayer and what He does in those instances.

Actually, these final two verses are another testament to His power. “He is able to do exceeding abundantly above” all we could ever ask or think.

Here is how the Amplified Bible translates these two verses: "Now to Him Who, by (in consequence of) the [action of His] power that is at work within us, is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly, far over and above all that we [dare] ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams]-- To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen (so be it)" (Ephesians 3:20-21, AMP). This is a little word-excessive, but it is still very good.

“Infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes or dreams”—well said. Wow. I wonder if I really believe that. Really?

I want to put God in a box, and He refuses to be there.

This was reinforced in two ways yesterday.

First, I told the church to be ready for a surprise this coming Sunday, and I think they were indeed surprised. I preached from Ezekiel 8 through 11—the tragic vision of the glory departing from the temple and from the city of Jerusalem. Tragic.

For us as believers, once we are saved, the presence of God never leaves the new temple—our bodies—once the Holy Spirit indwells us. However, through misplaced priority, we can shove Him aside in our rituals and religious practices. This occurs because of idolatry.

When our worship is right—everything is right. When our worship is not right, nothing will be right.

Thus, the corrective for us is a passionate love relationship with Jesus—the Glory of God. As a transition into the Lord’s Supper, I cited Revelation 2:4, “Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee because thou hast left thy first love” (KJV).

I love the fact that we have the Supper once a month. I wish we could do it more. Every time, I love the way the Spirit speaks as we connect the passage I am preaching to this meal of remembrance.

Yesterday, the Spirit impressed me that the main aspect of this meal is just intimacy with Jesus. We need to remember Him. We need never forget that worship is not about the rituals and the songs and what someone else is doing. It is always, first and foremost, about Jesus—about passionately loving Him.

When we finished, I was ready for the “surprise” and so was this family.

The Lord is at work in one family in our church (to say this is not saying that He isn’t at work in other families as well). Al and Vera. They recently started a family devotion time with their son, Tom, who was having some issues at school. And this simple action has turned things around for this family—dramatically. Why am I surprised about this?

Well, in the course of what the Lord is doing, Al came to me one Sunday, “Pastor John, the Lord has impressed me with something. I would like it for Vera and I to renew our wedding vows. We’ve been married for sixteen years, but we got married with a Justice of the Peace. I would like a church wedding in God’s house.” Vera agreed.

We choose yesterday as the day for this to occur.

When they stood up—Al, Vera, and Tom as the best man—and I told them what was going to happen, there was a widespread, “Ahhhhh” from the congregation and some applauded.

We had a wedding ceremony at the end of the service yesterday! How about that? It was a beautiful and tangible picture of the love of God. Exceeding abundantly above.

One more surprise from yesterday. My mom and sis and I watched the first episode of “The Bible” on the History Channel last night. I thought it was excellent. In episode one, it focused on the stories of Noah, Abraham, and Moses.

The ark, the birth of Isaac, and the Exodus—how about a subtitle for each of those HUGE Bible stories and the faith God gave those three men—“Exceeding Abundantly Above” all we could ever ask or think or dream or pray or …

Lord, from the beginning, you have proven yourself to be a “box buster.”

I thank you for Al and Vera and Tom and what you are doing in this family.

Thank you also for this mini-series. I pray that you would use it to spread the Good News.

I confess the sin of putting you in my very limited, non-exceeding, very small, below box.

Deliver me from this small and meager perspective. I affirm your ability to do today far above what I can imagine.

I pray for Dawn today—a lady in our church who is having brain surgery this morning, and for a friend from college—Scott—whose mom is having very serious surgery in Austin, Texas on Wednesday.

“For more than Conq’rors we are” (“Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” BH 2008, 413). Amen.
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Breadth and Length and Height and Depth

I love this reference in the prayer in Ephesians three: "May be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth" (Ephesians 3:18, NLT).

Let me back up for a moment. In the previous verse, Paul prays that we might be “rooted and grounded in love.” This simply means, I believe, that our lives are saturated (to use another metaphor) with love for God (the first commandment) and love for our neighbor (the second that is like it, as Jesus says). This is the bedrock. This is the foundation, and when this is true, then I can start to grow and to demonstrate the character of Christ.

And, one more thing, I am in a position to be able to comprehend the incomprehensible. But before I get to that …

There is one thing about the verse I just cited that always stands out to me. And that is the little phrase “with all the saints.”

I can only know and comprehend so much about the love of Jesus on my own. But that is not how the Lord intended the Christian life to be lived—on my own.

I don’t have any statistics—just a lot of experience, but it seems as if more and more folks are just getting disillusioned with the church and dropping out.

As I think about and pray for families on our church roll, three such examples come immediately to mind. One family continues to send their tithe check in. We get it every month like clockwork. I appreciate that, I guess, but honestly, I would rather have them than their money.

Another family gave a sizable and generous gift not long ago, and I got to talk to the wife as she sat in my office. “We miss you guys,” I pleaded. “I know. We hope to get back in the saddle one of these days.”

The other couple has just started to work on Sundays. I miss them as well.

I feel for all these families. I still love them. That is never going to change, of course. And I do believe that they know that people in the church and I love them.

However, there is something missing when you are not actually attending and involved with folks on a consistent basis. Something gets lost, I think.

How do I really know and experience THE LOVE OF CHRIST? I believe that the best way to experience it is from and with other believers.

Of course this is true, right? If we believe that Jesus is the head of the church, then we have to believe that all of us who know Him are His body.

How many times have I experienced the love of Christ at key moments in my life? Oh, man, too many to describe. But one comes to mind this morning.

I got fired from my very first revival! And a secretary at the church informed me—not even the pastor—made it even worse. Two things occurred after that.

First, Ethel Braswell called. She was the mother of the man who at one time was our State Executive Director years ago—Glenn Braswell. The Braswells were good friends of our family, especially Mrs. Braswell. She and my grandmother were very close. But Ethel always took opportunity to talk to me and encourage me.

Well, right after I got “fired,” and I was devastated, Ethel called on the phone. I don’t remember the reason she called, but I know that the Lord orchestrated it. I know this.

My mom was on the phone with her, told her what happened, and then handed the receiver to me. Ethel said, “Oh, John, sorry that happened, but don’t worry about it. (And I will never forget this). Just preach your sermon somewhere else.” Okay. Good advice.

Then, later that evening, (it was Sunday) we went to the Sunday evening services at our home church--Calvary of Englewood. I told Andy what had happened, and folks just loved on me. That’s the only way I can describe it.

Now, how valuable is that? Well, I can’t measure it.

And yet, I can… Breadth and length and height and depth.

Lord, thank you for your love today and thank you for the privilege of allowing me to experience your love, over and over and over and again today “with all the saints.”

I pray for those three families in our church. I love them deeply and lift them up to you. Bring them back to the company of your people.

And I pray that, today, we might experience the breadth and length and height and depth once again.

“His word shall not fail you
He promised,
Believe Him, and all will be well”

(“Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus,” BH 2008, 413). Amen.
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At Home in My Heart

What a concept! And it is not readily apparent as you read many of the modern translations of Ephesians 3:17.

For instance, here is the NASB translation: "So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love" (Ephesians 3:17 NASB).

As I read that, my initial thought is, “So that Christ may dwell in your heart through faith? Aren’t these folks already believers? Aren’t they already saved? Doesn’t Jesus dwell in their hearts by faith already? Why would Paul pray this FOR BELIEVERS?”

Well, the key in this passage is the exact meaning of the Greek word that the NASB translates “dwell.” It means to settle down and make oneself at home.

The New Living Translation brings this out beautifully: "Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong" (Ephesians 3:17 NLT).

Simply being in a building is one thing; being at home is another.

Jesus AT HOME in MY HEART! Wow, I just can’t get over that.

Home is such a powerful concept. When I am at home—just walking in the door—gives me relief and familiarity. In my home, I have things arranged (well, some of the time) just the way I like them. I can find what I need when I need it. No one else may be able to do this, but in my home, I have access to my stuff because I know where it is.

Does Jesus have that kind of “comfortability” (I know this isn’t a word, but I am coining it here) and accessibility to me?

If Jesus needs a hand, can He use mine?

If Jesus needs a mouth, is mine available—readily available?

If Jesus needs feet to go somewhere—“how beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring Good News”—does He have my feet?

Well, you get the idea. This is NOT about Jesus being MY servant, at my beck and call—it is the other way around. It is about me being Jesus’ servant—available to Him at any moment, just like my stuff is for me in my house.

I know what is there and I can find it and use it—because it is mine.

But I think beyond all of that—I believe this is a prayer for intimacy with Jesus.

I have a very vivid memory of an example of this. In the summer of 1978, I went on a Royal Ambassador Adventure Training trip. I backpacked with some church leaders for a week in western Colorado.

Doesn’t that sound impressive? Please don’t be. I told the Lord at one point that if he ever got me home safely, I would never do it again! It was quite an adventure! I’ll have to tell the whole story sometime in this blog if I care to dredge up the nightmare! Ha. Well, it wasn’t quite that bad.

One of the guys on the trip was a Pastor named Howard. I really liked him. One night, after a particularly long and difficult day (and I will leave the details out for now), we were sitting by a river one night. It was freezing cold. As our conversation started to dwindle down, Howard said, “Well, men. Good talking to you. I’m going to go spend some time with Jesus and then get some sleep.”

In that setting, “spending time with Jesus” was the last thing on my mind. It was, however, very evidently and vividly, the first thing on Howard’s mind on that frigid night.

It was almost as if Howard left us at that moment (not physically). He just “went home” and so did Jesus.

That is a very insignificant incident that impacted me greatly. I’ve never forgotten that.

I want to have that level of intimacy with the Son of God. I want my family to have it. I want the church I serve to have it as well.

Jesus, make my life a dwelling place. Make my heart a big easy chair for you to be all the time, in every situation, even on a cold night in the mountains.

A sister in the Lord, Diane, sent me some songs the other day. One is particular appropriate for today. I’m going to quote the whole thing.


“I remember You said that You would never leave me.
But in times of trouble, You’ll be my friend.
Sometimes when doubt and fear try to steal my faith,
Well, I just run to You. I run to You.

And I just set aside the cares of this world,
And fall in love with You again.
I just throw away the trouble of this world
And fall in love with You.

I know You said I’m the apple of Your eye,
And for loving me You gave your life.
Sometimes my heart just wants to break for loving You.
Then I just let it break. Then I run to You.

And I just set aside the cares of this world,
And fall in love with You again.
I just throw away the trouble of this world
And fall in love with You”

(“Fallin’ in Love with You [Jesus]), Recorded by Phil Driscoll.
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The Inner Man

Something hit me like a two-by-four this morning. It has to do with a phrase in the passage I read.

"For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” (Ephesians 3:14-16, NASB).

The New Living Translation puts it this way: "When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit” (Ephesians 3:14-16, NLT).

The key word is “inner.” Did you notice it? INNER.

Okay, so let me back up a moment. I remember, from my past studies of the book of Ephesians, that there is some disagreement about the first three chapters of this epistle.

Some commentators break it down so that it is similar to Paul’s other writings, like Romans for example. The division looks something like this: chapters one through eleven (for Romans) or one through three (for Ephesians) are the doctrinal parts; the final five chapters (Romans) and three chapters (Ephesians) are practical.

I think you make a solid argument for this division in Romans. But the more I read Ephesians, the less I see that distinction.

I agree with other commentators who argue that chapters one through three are one long prayer; chapters four through six are the living out of that prayer (this is my way for summarizing it; scholars use other terms). One long prayer? How does one get that?

Well, I urge you to read Ephesians one through three in one sitting. Take out chapter 2:1 to chapter 3:13. I think this is just one long parenthesis. It is as if Paul is praying and then he stops for an explanation of what salvation is all about and what his ministry entails, and then he returns to prayer.

Chapter one, verse 23 dovetails very nicely into chapter three, verse fourteen. The subject matter is the same, basically. Paul had been praying that the church become intimately acquainted with the power of God, and in chapter three, he continues to talk about it, this time in relation to another dimension of the Christian life. It is fascinating.

I will get into that dimension in subsequent posts.

But for the time being, here is the thing that impresses me about this prayer interrupted by a parenthesis. Paul is praying for the church on a level that we don’t focus on very much.

For example, when I pray for the church, I think of people’s needs. I pray for folks who are sick, who need jobs, and/or who are struggling in some area of their lives. This is all well and good.

If my praying is broader, I pray for revival, for finances, for healthy growth, for the services, et cetera. Again, I don’t think there is anything wrong with this, but did you notice?

All of these prayers are for externals or “outer man” stuff.

Paul’s prayer for the folks in the church relates to the “inner man.” He is lifting up this congregation on a spiritual level. The book of Ephesians begins with Paul praising the Lord for spiritual blessings and this prayer of intercession centers on Paul’s request that this congregation actually see who they are in Christ and experience the power of God in their lives!

You know what? If this would indeed and in truth happen—most, if not all of the other externals I pray for, would take care of themselves!

I guess I just have to say that I am deeply convicted that my focus lately has been off, WAY OFF.

I feel so disjointed and distracted these days. Please pray for me in that regard. It is a problem, and it is manifesting itself in a couple of ways.

First, I seem to be forgetting things these days. Yesterday, I just forgot about an appointment—just spaced it. This seems to be happening with alarming frequency, and as I told this dear brother, “I can’t blame this on cancer brain; I’ve been spacey my whole life, but it just seems to be getting worse lately.”

Second, I am missing out on opportunities for ministry. I won’t go into detail here, but I just feel as if I am running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

I fear I am returning to some pre-cancer lifestyle patterns, and I vowed I would never do this.

Lord, I thank you for your POWER. I thank you that your power is stronger than any human power or obstacle that humans can put in our paths. That power is like the strength you exhibited when you raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at your right hand in the heavenly realms. Jesus, you are there, right now, ruling as my King Priest.

But Lord, I pray for all who are reading this and the church I serve, that you would strengthen all of us with your power, that same power, in the INNER MAN. May we know this power today; may we experience it, as you divert our minds from externals and help us prioritize “internals.”

“What is seen is temporary; what is unseen is eternal” as your Word reminds us.

“The things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace”

(“Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” BH 2008, 413). Amen. Oh, by the way, I urge you to listen to Michael W. Smith’s version of this fantastic hymn. It ranks up there as one of my all-time favorites and the way he sings it, leads it at one of his concerts—awesome.
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