Monday, March 31, 2008

Follow-Up

In my last post I said I would follow-up on how the Chinese study went. It was an entirely different atmosphere from my other on-going study. To this point I have not gotten any feedback, so I don't have much to pass along. Hopefully, it proved to be a starting point, and a broadening opportunity to share God's Word.

Also,

On Sunday afternoon I drove Benji to Fort Benning to catch his flight to Iraq. Benji and I met two weeks ago at Christ Community Church. Benji stopped me between services to let me know that he was being deployed. Also, he had just purchased a house, and he wanted to make his house available to anyone who might need it. Uncle Sam needed him for the next 4-6 months.

At the time, Benji didn't know that I was bringing on an intern to CCC this summer. Neither did he know that I have have working on finding lodging and a vehicle for her (but God did), and guess what his next offer was?

"I have a car, too. No sense in letting it sit in the garage while I am gone."

Pretty amazing stuff!

In just a few minutes I have a study with a group of twenty-something year olds. God is at work all around me and keeping me on His agenda. I don't have much time to write.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Finding God

In just a few minutes I will leave to meet with a group of Chinese Believers -- I will speak at their house church fellowship. This is a different community than the one I meet with on a weekly basis. For the last 2 years God has expanded my opportunities to use the spiritual gifts He has given me within the Asian community.

Tonight I am going to talk to them about Finding God. The book of Acts is my favorite book in the Bible -- though scholars may disagree -- I also believe it is the most important book. To make my point -- remove it, read through the gospels, move on to the epistles and see if they make any sense at all.

Finding God will focus around three individual stories of conversions -- you can read them in Acts, chapters 8; 10; 16 -- there you will find the details. If you think about the characters being guided into the kingdom in a contemporary setting, think about our Secretary of the Treasury, an Army officer, and an entrepreneurial business woman whose clientele is the extremely wealthy.

Luke describes how each of them are drawn to Christ like metal shavings to a magnet. Finding God also reveals the journey of the ones -- evangelists -- whom God navigates into position to share the good news. Woven into their epics are some significant barriers to sharing Christ and coming to Christ: Prejudice, stubbornness, confusion, money, power, and place in society. Each player is a leaders among their peers, and under the watchful eye of God.

I will write more later . . .

Thursday, March 27, 2008

I Will Choose That One

A door opens to me. I go in and am faced with a hundred closed doors. ~ Antonio Porchia

I am the door. ~ Jesus Christ

Jesus is the door -- the Door faces the darkness engulfing our physical world and our spiritual world. At his feet is a welcome mat, and he always leaves the light on -- he is the light. To be in Christ means that you have turned toward the Light, walked to the Door, and stepped across the threshold. The good news is -- Jesus extends the same gracious hospitality to everyone, Come on in -- the door is open!

Everyone who steps through that Door, soon realizes it is not the last stoop to cross -- it is not the last door knob to be turned -- there will be others. With that first step you began a journey of faith that takes you down a lot of corridors. Choosing doors becomes a way of life, and you find yourself asking, God, have You opened this door . . . God, will You open this door . . . God, if I am about to step through the wrong door will You close it?

The apostle Paul made an interesting statement about his life, God, and doors. Exhilarated, he sends off a letter to some friends telling them -- I will stay in Ephesus . . . for a wide door for effective work has been opened for me, and there are many adversaries (1 Cor. 16:9). To paraphrase, he says, God has thrown open a door -- not just a crack -- it is wide open, and I am at the threshold of an immense opportunity!

When Paul's shoulders passed through the door posts, he immediately realized there was more -- he must step through other doors, and therein was the apostle's problem -- adversaries had slammed them shut! Like Porchia, Paul had stepped through one door, and then he had to face a hundred closed doors.

What do we do with that? Here are some thoughts . . .

Sometimes God opens a door so obvious it is nearly impossible to miss. Then there are times when you are at a standstill -- before you are a hundred doors. Each one is closed, so you begin to wonder, Do I choose door number one, door number two, door number three . . . You can't see Jesus and there is no friendly welcome mat and no one has left a light on for you!

When you find yourself in those circumstances, give all those doors a closer look. Let's say there are, as Porchia said, a hundred closed doors. Unlike the others, you notice that one door is heavily guarded by adversaries -- that is the one I would choose.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Message

My message is not my own; it comes from the Father who sent me ~ John 7:16

Know this my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger . . . James 1:19

Jesus declared, My message is not my own . . . He never spoke or exercised authority independent of his Father. That meant -- Jesus was never tentative about his message, or unsure when he addressed a situation. It meant -- he never misspoke when he verbally sliced hypocrites to ribbons. It meant -- when dealing with the broken his gentleness and patience was never veiled patronizing to gain popularity or garner sympathy. It meant -- I have something for you -- its not my own -- it comes directly from my Father.

James admonishes us . . . Be quick to listen. Be slow to speak. Be slow to anger. It is clear -- we have to respond to a vast array of circumstances and challenges -- send a message. Make no mistake, James tells us there is a time to listen and there is a time to speak and there is a time for anger. The tricky part -- which message -- and when do I send it?

Such a quandary must not paralyze us -- respond we must. Before we do -- ask this question -- Is my message my own, or did it come from the Father?

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Writer's Soul

As a writer I try to operate within a framework of Christian principles, and the words that are important to me are religious words: witness, pilgrimage, intention. I think of intention as the writer's soul. Writers can write to affirm and to celebrate, or they can write to debunk and to destroy; the choice is ours . . . I always write to affirm -- or, if I start negatively, deploring some situation or trend that strikes me as injurious, my goal is to arrive at a constructive point.
~ William Zinsser

The first time I read any of Zinsser's work I was sitting in a tree stand in Alabama. Being seated silently aloft in the woods is a "low cost -- high return" investment." I derive immense pleasure from this activity that makes up but a tiny sliver of my life. I absolutely love greeting a new day with a book in my hands -- or, read it a bedtime story as it fades into slumber .

Since that weekend in Bama' I had not returned to Zinsser's -- Writing about Life.

Yesterday, Sandy was reading my unfinished book, and said, "I can see where you dog-eared this book -- you didn't get to this chapter -- Writing as a Ministry. When she spoke the title, I knew I wanted to get back to it. I did.

Thoughts and stories and the adventures of others, captured on printed page, may not compel others, but they arrest me. They minister to my soul. Books give me the opportunity to spend time with interesting, even controversial people. People who in all probability, I will never get to meet. Vicariously, I join fellow sojourners on the paths they have walked, the epics they have imagined, and the passions the pursue.

Not all the books I read are written by "Christian" authors. However, when I read Zinsser's thoughts about writing, I realized that the same parameters that set the boundaries for his writing are the same compass points I long to direct my writing -- religious themes: witness, pilgrimage, intention.

Integrity is a demanding "Senior Editor." Writing must sometimes "start negatively, deploring some situation or trend," but the goal is to "arrive at a constructive point." Negatives are a part of life -- without such experiences there would be no positives -- negatives and positives give definition -- one to the other.

Each life is a book -- written upon every day. I write, hoping to add a page worth reading.

Sometimes . . . I just need to explain myself!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

He Is Risen -- He Is Risen Indeed!

The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light!

On Friday Jesus was crucified. When he gave up his spirit, the day gave up its light. The body of the Messiah was placed in a pitch black tomb -- he was dead. The night gave way to dawn.

Saturday, the sepulchre remained silent. No movement-- no life -- nothing. The Light of the world remained shrouded in darkness.

On Sunday, a small band of brokenhearted women shuffled along to the place where their battered friend lay. Clutched in their hands were spices -- they would anoint the stiffened corpse of the One they loved. When they arrived the tomb was empty, and the body was gone!

In the blackness -- God had been at work. Men, brilliant as flashes of lightning, had rolled the stone away . . .

The tomb exploded with light!

Death fled -- chased by life!

Jesus was alive—resurrected by the power of God!

The One who came to give his life for us proved that the grave could not hold him!

He had risen!

His is risen!

Victor oer' the dark domain!

He is life!

We are his testimonials -- The people in darkness have seen a great light.

He is risen!

He is risen indeed!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Olive Press

God chose to reveal no details about Wednesday -- the Scriptures are silent. We will go directly to Thursday.

In the garden of Gethsemene -- translated, The olive press -- the great pressure of doing God's will bore down with full force. Jesus agonized in prayer as he relinquished his divine prerogatives to the Father's purposes. As his prayer went upward, his blood seeped outward -- his sweat turned to blood.

Gethsemene -- The Olive Press -- how revealing.

In the garden Jesus increasingly filled with sorrow -- heartache escalated -- his circle of friends and followers diminished.

How things had changed -- for three years, thousands had pursued the Healer seeking a singular miracle -- not one person went away disappointed. Multiplied thousands had gathered to hear him speak -- either spellbound or infuriated by his every word. John tells us in his gospel that the masses were turned off, and then turned away from Jesus after he taught -- unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood . . . In a matter of days his support system shrunk to twelve. Judas went over to the dark side -- then there were eleven. As the shadows in Gethsemene lengthened, his only company was three sleepy intercessors, but soon they, too, would yield to the squeeze of the Olive Press.

On Friday Jesus would be all alone -- My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Holy Week: Mary's Worship -- Jesus' Warning

Jesus left Jerusalem and spent the night in Bethany. That evening he joined Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead, and Simon, whom he had cured of leprosy. We can only imagine how riveting the conversation must have been -- I am doubtful there were any bobble heads fighting off sleep. Wouldn't Lazarus, who had been graveyard dead, have related his experience of three days in the netherworld? Wouldn't everyone who looked upon Simon's extreme makeover be completely dumbfounded?

Don't forget Mary -- the sister of Martha. Her extravagant worship was a show stopper. With trembling, delicate hands she opened an expensive vial of spikenard, and anointed the body of Jesus. With her long, dark, raven hair she wiped away the excess oil and massaged her offering into Jesus' skin -- a never before seen act of purified sensuality and devotion.

The resident treasurer, Judas Iscariot, protested such a waste. Why was this ointment not sold and the money given to the poor? he croaked. His motive had nothing to do with a benevolent heart for the poor -- he was a thief -- he skimmed the offerings at will. Jesus pronounced that Mary's bodacious act of worship would forever be associated with the gospel. Her sweet smelling sacrifice would follow Jesus all the way to the cross -- aromatic scents mixing with the foul odors of blood and sweat -- subtle hints that something beautiful dwelt in his beaten body, and gouged flesh. Mary's brief moment of unbridled, unabashed love would be eternally recounted.

So will ours.

The next day -- famished -- Jesus cursed a fig tree. Immediately, the tree shriveled and went beige. The disciples asked, How did the tree wither so quickly? Jesus responded that it was metaphor -- Leafy and green -- the fig tree produced nothing -- sustained no one! A demonstration of his disdain for show versus substance. One more message comes through loud and clear: The products of faith are world altering, spiritual revolution -- not soul binding, impotent religion.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Holy Week -- Cleansing The Temple

But despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people did not believe in him. This is exactly what the prophet had predicted: LORD, who has believed our message? To whom has the LORD revealed his powerful arm?
~ John 12: 37-38

We are in the midst of Holy Week. All over the world believers are prayerfully contemplating each sobering footstep of Jesus' sacred journey to the cross where their redemption was secured.

Have you ever taken time to piece together the last week of Jesus' life as told in the gospels? Last Sunday, Keith (Sr. Pastor at Christ Community Church) asked us to do so in preparation for Easter. The story is filled with dramatic events that capture and culminate the earthly ministry of Jesus. Each step was intended to leave a an emphatic message. In the next few posts I would like to look at Holy Week a couple of days at at time.

Looking back at Palm Sunday, as we now call it, we are left in disbelief. Would anyone have guessed that voices from the same throng that called out -- Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Praise God in the highest heaven -- would soon be spewing the blood-thirsty chants, Crucify him?

Before I move on to Monday, I want to preface it . . .

For a short time I was privileged to observe the life of Henry Blackaby from a fairly close distance. Henry is the most godly, humble, merciful, Christlike servant of God I have ever known. With a broken heart, the Elder Statesman preaches and pleads for the repentance, revival, and return of the Church to its Author and Finisher. He is the real deal.

More than once, I watched the same man put on the prophet's mantle, and with
holy fire in his eyes, preach against hollow piety and the spirit of religion. I recall a time when I sat beside him as a man turned the powerful message of the gospel into something akin to soliciting members for the local country club. When the man concluded, Henry turned to me and said, I don't know what that guy was offering, but it wasn't the gospel. No repentance . . . no mention of sin. Bill, don't you ever do that!

I can honestly say, I haven't . . .

That leads us into the Monday of Holy Week.

On Monday Jesus purposefully instigated direct conflict with the religious elite. Entering the Temple, he cleansed it -- not with the gentle flick of a wrist, and a few drops of sacred oil or water. Scripture paints the gentle Jesus with flashing eyes, consumed with the zeal of a holy vengeance -- absolutely ransacking the cash registers of greedy money changers.
Sounds of crashing furniture echoed off the temple pillars, and Jesus' voice thundered, You have made my Father's house of prayer a hideout for religious criminals! Those who profited from the penance of the very people they led astray were labeled a band of outlaws. The scene was chaotic as the flailing hooves of four-footed animals slipped and skidded and clopped across stone floors. Frenzied doves -- freed from their cages -- flew toward the nearest crack of daylight.

Have you ever continued on in that story?
The Son of God gave a display of a sanctified rampage, yet the blind and the lame came to him in the aftermath -- in the Temple -- and Jesus healed them. Children gathered around Jesus and sang praises to him. So much for prophetic preaching scaring away seekers . . .

There are churches where the need for teaching and comforting the saints needs to go out of vogue. Prophetic preaching is desperately needed. As in the Temple, Jesus needs to be brought in to clean up -- not cheer up -- the weekly gatherings. Unless that happens, the spiritually blind and lame will never come to find Jesus, and babes in Christ will never be singing his praises.

That is one of the dramatic messages Jesus left in the week of his passion.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Clouds

Look up at the heavens and see; gaze at the clouds so high above you . . . Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of him who is perfect in knowledge?
~ Job 35:4-6; 37:15-17

Sounds of tree frogs and crickets dominated the twilight. Slowly, we were enveloped by darkness as another day yielded to night. Before it was lights out, Sandy and I spent a few minutes with our head tilted back watching clouds race eastward across the sky. Still visible on the southern horizon were massive billows stacked up for thousands of feet -- their western edges picked up the final rays from the setting sun -- reflecting soft, beautiful, pastel colors. God's glory is never far away.

We looked up . . . we gazed . . . we stood quietly . . . we were filled with wonder.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Will You Keep It Intact?

Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket -- safe, dark, motionless airless -- it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
~ C. S. Lewis

Have you ever had a recurring dream? Not a once-or-twice dream, but one that visits your sleep many, many times? I did and it puzzled me. I never considered it a nightmare -- I never lurched upright in bed, shaking, and drenched in a cold sweat. After about the third rerun though, I began to ask myself, What is this about? Perplexed, I would shrug it off during my waking hours.

I am reluctant to write about the details -- they may seem macabre -- stay with me.

The identical dream revisited each night, and in the dream I was in a casket, but I wasn't dead. There was no procession of people filing by my corpse -- no music -- nothing but silence. I was alone. As the dream progressed the lid of the casket would slowly begin to close over me. Night-after-night, like the trailer for a movie, the vision returned. With each recurrence, the lid of the casket would descend closer-and-closer, and the band of light between the walls and cover of the coffin would get thinner-and-thinner. The top never completely sealed shut, and I never felt panic. Then the dream would fade away.

After two weeks the dreams stopped and never returned, but this morning, weeks later, its recollection came back as I followed a trail of C. S. Lewis quotes. Come with me, and I will show where that path ended . . .

Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken . . . If you want to make sure of keeping it intact . . . Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket -- safe, dark, motionless airless -- it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

The recall spoke comfort and peace and a message of grace into my heart . . .

Bill, Your heart is not unbreakable, impenetrable, or irredeemable. You are fully alive -- not half dead. You have not selfishly locked your heart away in a coffin of your own making. For you, the adventure is worth the risk. You will remain vulnerable, and willingly release your heart to be wrung out and possibly broken. You will be fine. You are free. The casket is gone.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Subtlety

Patience has its limits. Take it too far, and it's cowardice.
~ George Jackson

In fact, if you know the right thing to do and don't do it, that, for you, is evil.
~ James 4:17

Is there a time to address a controversial matter head-on, or is it best to just leave it alone? Do we skirt around significant issues because of the personal repercussions that will result from doing rather than observing? That is the line of thought in a discussion Sandy and I had recently.

George Jackson's quote makes an insightful point -- sometimes the virtue of patience is the varnish used to gloss over cowardice.

James takes Jackson's line of thought a giant step further. The Jerusalem elder says there are times when the only right thing to do is to take action against wrong things -- categorizing right and wrong is not enough.

Notice the way James turns the words of his admonition. He specifically zeros in on the individual conscience. To paraphrase: You may be the only one who knows the right thing to do. Failure to do the right thing is evil.

Many a conscience has been soothed by calling cowardice patience. Soothed consciences become skewed consciences, and soon every moral and spiritual decision will be based on repercussions, not on what is right or wrong.

That is the subtlety of evil.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Benaiah

And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was a valiant man of Kabzeel, a doer of great deeds. He struck down two ariels [champions?] of Moab. He also went down and struck down a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen. 2 Samuel 23:20

An extremely rare event took place in Midland, Georgia today – IT SNOWED! I was upstairs sanding sheet rock and stopped to enjoy the magical white stuff floating to the ground and worry about this sure sign of global warming.

Benaiah came to mind . . .

Benaiah’s legacy figures prominently in the Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Samuel; 1 and 2 Kings; 1 and 2 Chronicles. Heroism, tenacity, and loyalty are Benaiah’s trademark characteristics. King David trusted Benaiah with his life, without reserve, and made him his personal bodyguard. He knew Benaiah would cover his back.

When young Solomon succeeded his father to the throne, Benaiah transferred his devotion, his allegiance, and his fierce loyalty to David’s son. It was Benaiah who executed Adonijah, Joab, and Shimei -- treacherous and traitorous, every last one of them.

When I was a younger man, I prayed that I would leave a legacy like Benaiah’s (with the exception of being an executioner -- mostly). I considered it an honor to display a heroic and tenacious loyalty to the authority I was under. I wanted to be the one who covered my leader’s back.

Then as a young pastor vested with authority -- the biblical kind -- I consistently asked God to send me a Benaiah . . .

A while ago, circumstances led a good friend to unite with a Baptist congregation across the Chattahoochee River. His new church is growing by leaps and bounds. Its pastor is young, on fire, imperfect, and blameless. When I spoke at this same church several months ago, my friend and I spent a few minutes talking and reminiscing after the service. Our conversation led to his question, “Bill, do you have any advice for me as I serve here?”

My friend is a stand-up guy -- the kind of guy you want in your foxhole when the shooting begins. My response came instantly . . .

“Go study the life of Benaiah. Be a Benaiah.”

Friday, March 7, 2008

Goodness And Mercy Found Me

Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. ~ Victor Hugo

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life . . .
~ The Twenty-third Psalm

A proud mom just passed along her daughter's blog to me. I pulled it up and was caught off guard by the musings and poetry of the quiet, private young woman. With transparency and courage she has journaled the painful process of chasing down the fragments of her shattered heart. Katie lost the love of her life -- a casualty of the war in Iraq. There was another loss -- her faith.

David, king of Israel, spoke of death as a shadowy place -- a valley. Those close to death must pass through it, and for a while she stumbled along that black trail -- feeling her way -- hoping to pull back her hand and find the lost faith clutched in her fingers. What else could she do -- God was nowhere in sight?

Verse clothed itself in flesh, Goodness and Mercy each took a hand and joined her along the way. The path of the broken is trudged at a slow and staggering pace, and it is an inescapable daily task, and the friends walked with her through the great sorrow -- every step of the way.

Katie is out of the twilight -- her soul has found rest.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

CRAVE

Send me a sign of your favor. Psalm 86:17

Every Thursday our church staff gathers in the sanctuary for CRAVE. CRAVE is not a clever acronym written in capital letters. CRAVE is meant to express an intense disposition of our heart as we enter into God's presence. There is nothing liturgical or sanctimonious about CRAVE. We begin with a common Scripture to read and then spread out to find our own Holy ground spot to meditate on God's Word. About 45 minutes later we huddle up and pass along whatever God may have revealed. Hearing what the Spirit of God speaks into the heart of each person reminds me of the opening verse of the book of Hebrews . . . at many times and many ways, God spoke . . .

This Thursday we were pointed toward verses 11-13, but we were not anchored to that passage. I found myself scanning beyond the verses under consideration, and while doing so verse 17 caught my attention. I heard David saying, I CRAVE for a unique sign from the Lord -- evidence that God's favor rests on me!

That phrase touched on a deep desire long held in my own heart. I found myself nodding in agreement and praying . . .

O God, I CRAVE for a unique sign -- evidence that Your favor rests on me.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Dragons

Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed. ~ G.K. Chesterton

There is a dragon . . .

The dragon can be destroyed . . .

The dragon will be destroyed . . .

In that day the LORD with his hard and great and strong sword will . . . slay the dragon . . .
~ Isaiah 27:1