Monday, November 30, 2009
A few years ago, at a evangelism home-group, we were asked to think about who might have been instrumental in getting us to the starting line in our walk with Jesus - then write them a letter. Here's mine:
Cape Cod, MA
I hope this letter finds you well. I know it has been many years since we last saw each other - over 20 in fact.
The reason that I am writing, is this: today our pastor was talking about evangelism and he asked us to think about how we got saved. During his talk he reminded us how God had first pursued us; most likely using someone else, as opposed to a divine encounter such as the one which Paul had on the road to Damascus. I began think about how the road to my salvation unfolded, and continues to do so . . .
As the pastor spoke, he gave us an assignment, which was to write a letter to the one that made the most impact in our decision for Christ—in my life that was you. There were others involved in the process, most of them from Cursillo. But it was you who said the words that caused me to believe in Jesus. Possibly you remember the struggle I had with all of this Christianity.
I hope that you’ll indulge me for a moment while I recount the story. In 1978 I came to believe. Then there was the first Cursillo which was a disaster for me - you were there to pick up the pieces. Before the second Cursillo, you and I talked for hours—possibly days. You patiently told me about Jesus. At some point you said, “Just believe and He will meet you where you are.” Silently, quietly, as I lay in bed one night, He did. I suppose it would be fine if the story ended there, but it doesn’t.
You encouraged me to read 9 o’Clock in the Morning; giving me a copy! I wanted faith like that, faith that believed in the supernatural, faith to be intimate with God. With the help of Fr. Folsom, I became baptized in the Holy Spirit. You were there for my confirmation. You were the one that taught me the truth of Romans 8:28. You were there when I gave the "Study" rollo on my third Cursillo. I am not sure if you are aware, but that same day God called me to ministry. I didn’t really get it then, but I do today.
I moved to Cape Cod in 1985, and it seems that the Spirit of God led me to the wilderness. For five years I was on my own without a spirit-filled community; just dead religion. Satan literally tried to kill me on two occasions. Yet, in the midst of it all, I remembered the promise that God gave me in a sunset.
In 1990 God apprehended me from the desert and I was rekindled with a fire so great, I was actually asked to leave two churches - too much passion I guess. That rejection was what led me to the mission fields of southern New England, North Carolina, Brazil, Norway and the UK. In Brazil I preached to 12,000 people in 21 days. Thousands received prayer, got healed and came to know Jesus. There is so much more God has given me the privilege of being a “vessel to do.
So, thank you Duncan for being the most important messenger God has ever sent me.
PS - I still teach a little guitar, work as a software engineer and I treasure my Oxford Musical Dictionary. I have been sober for 27 years and smoke free for 13. Our God is good all the time.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Everyday God is faithful to give me opportunities to serve Him by serving others.
Everyday is a day of ministry.
I have learned that ministry ain't that hard. Ministry is just doing the golden rule. I believe each one of us has an everyday ministry. I believe there are many that miss out on opportunities to minister because of a self important attitude. I also believe there are many that minister everyday. These are the people that:
- Don't just tell someone to 'call anytime', they make the time to call them anytime.
- Don't just say 'I will pray for you", they pray for them at that moment.
- Don't just make plans to 'get together', they schedule a time to call or meet in person.
- Don't just call to talk, they call to listen. (This is one I need a lot of work at doing!)
- Send a text, an email or call someone and let them know that God placed them on your heart.
- Send a gift card in the mail telling the person God loves them more than the sparrows.
- Offer their skills: help them out with a home project, or type up a resume for them
- Offer their tools, their furniture or their car that is not being used and just collecting dust.
- Offer to hang with their kids so a couple can go out for an evening.
- Offer those in need your time, your convenience and your personal comfort.
- Offer those in need whatever they can in the name of Jesus and when a person accepts the offer, they thank them for doing so.
*Tevet Caffeinated Version, TCV for short, isn't a complete Bible 'translation' and there will never be a published version unless you compile one. So as the mood strikes me, I will take a verse or two that I have come across and break it down or slang it up and pass it along.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Recently I [Joyce] did a paper for school. I am always doing a paper for school. This topic was to be a time I gave pastoral care to someone. Why is it that you never can remember something when called upon to do so? It was like what? Me? Did I ever minister?
At last, I thought of Rose. Rose was in her 80’s, Jewish, suffering from a dementia, confined to a wheel chair and living in a dementia unit at a relatively posh assisted living facility. I would see Rose once a week as part of my job. She rarely made sense. Sometimes she would scream for her husband. Nevertheless, I liked Rose. She was loud and Jewish. I think she reminded me of where I grew up, Brooklyn.
It was March and Purim was nearing. Purim is the Jewish celebration built on the Biblical story of Esther. I had asked Rose about her spirituality. She would sometimes light up when I mentioned something about faith. I decided to purchase a children’s book on the story of Esther, some Hamantaschen (a pastry known as Haman’s ears), a few noisemakers and help Rose celebrate Purim. I was going to make the dementia unit into a synagogue for a few hours.
It always was dark in the dementia unit. I never quite understood that even though I understood about dementia well. Rose and four of her fellow residents were sitting around a table. Everyone had that blank dementia stare. No one was interacting.
I sat down next to Rose and told everyone we were going to celebrate Purim. Rose did not respond. Rose was the only Jew in that unit. I told everyone that in the synagogue on Purim the scroll containing the story of Esther would be read. Rose nodded. I asked Rose what do we do when we hear the name Haman? No response. I said we are going make noise with these noisemakers or say boo. They practiced unenthusiastically.
I started to read. I read from a children’s picture book about Esther. We heard the name Haman the first time. With great coaching, they booed or made noise. I could tell Rose was beginning to listen. It was as something started to be switched on in her soul: the soul, that part of a person with dementia that stays intact and reachable, if we try. We read another page or two and the boos and noise got louder.
I got to the fourth page of the book. Rose stopped me. She started talking about Heiman, her husband. In the mind of a person with dementia, it is not a far leap from Haman to Heiman. I let her continue.
She shared with increasing lucidity about the trip she and her beloved Heiman took to Europe. I tried to get back to the story, to my program, but fortunately, I did not succeed. Rose continued. On the trip, they were too afraid to go to Germany. Much to my amazement, she said, “we were too afraid to go to Germany because Hitler was like Haman, he wanted to kill all the Jews.” I nodded.
She further shared how they met a German woman in France who asked her to forgive her country for what they had done. I realized something more important than reading the book might be going on at this point.
While some of what she said wasn’t clear, it was clear that she was remembering a wonderful trip. She was also connecting Hitler and Haman. She began to weep. She asked “Why? Why did he want to kill us?”
At that point, another resident, equally suffering from dementia looked at Rose. She said I am “German, my family is German, will you forgive us Rose for all the terrible things that were done?” Rose nodded through her tears. The woman was also weeping. Two women, who minutes before were in the foggy land of dementia came out for a few minutes to forgive each other.
It was a holy moment. It was a moment of forgiveness and reconciliation. I will never forget that day. It was ministry at its best in the most unusual of places. Ministry that I never expected would happen.
As I saw the residents begin to slip back into the surreal land of dementia, I thought it time for Hamantaschen. I poured a glass of juice for all the residents and we ate our Hamantaschen together. Before I left, Rose had to show me the picture of her precious deceased husband Heiman. She did this every time I saw her. While on the surface nothing had changed, I believe her soul was more at peace when I left that day.
Monday, November 23, 2009
On my third trip to Brazil I was part of a movement to transform cities and countries by the power of public worship, testimonies, prayer and fasting. The event in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, was named "The Call Brazil." There were churches from all over Brazil that came to pray at their nation's capital. The informal national day of fasting and prayer took place from 6 am until 6 pm on the "mall" surrounded by federal buildings.
Our team of about 10 Americans had arrived a few days before the event to pray and get to know the Brazilians that we would be serving. Each day before the event, we prayer-walked the perimeter of the mall area in groups of three or four. At one end there was a bricked plaza near a museum and other monuments. It was nearly 90 degrees in the shade and probably 100 in the sun. At midday very few people ventured outside. We probably should have done the same.
Teamed up with a couple of others, praying as the Holy Spirit lead, we walked the square. A few hundred yards away, there in the shadow of one of the monuments, was a lone ice cream vendor. I decided I should probably get some water as I had run out in the intense heat. I approached the young man and spoke to him in Portuguese telling him that I needed a bottle of water. He took out one bottle and told me the price. "Duis reis (2 Reis)," he replied. I only had a $10 Rei bill and asked if he had change. He said that he didn't have any change because there was no business yet today.
I felt the nudging of the Holy Spirit. If you have read some of my other stories on FireAndGrace.com, you know I am not very good at talking to people in public about Jesus. Not to mention that my Portuguese is barely acceptable.
I tried to remember some of my Portuguese lessons for ordering at a restaurant and conjured up my best Christian-ese in Portuguese.
I told the vendor that he didn't have to make change for the $10 Rei bill if he would let me pray for him. He tried to offer me more water then I could carry. I told him it would only be a minute so he relented. I placed my hand on his shoulder and he bowed his head and closed his eyes. In Portuguese I asked God to bless Him and give him a drink of the living water (bebido aqua viva). I felt a supernatural heat in my hand and he started to shake a little in the presence of God. I prayed in the spirit for a minute or so as the peace of God came in waves over him. When I took my hand from his shoulder, and as he opened his eyes, there was a Brazilian woman standing there that we did not know from our team. When I had thanked him for the opportunity I handed over the bill that I had promised and got my a bottle of ice cold water.
The woman who seemed to appear from no where (I pray with my eyes open), waiting her turn just behind me, began to preach the Gospel to Him. She told Him that by the blood of Jesus, God would save his soul that day. "Agora! (Now!)," she shouted. "Aqui! (Here!), she said in a loud and passionate voice.
He bowed his head and began to cry out "Jesus," as tears ran down his face. He just stood there sobbing in the 100 degree heat. He accepted the Lord and gave her a hug. He turned to me and gave me the "thumbs up" sign.
5,000 miles from home, God was at work. The strange woman and the gringo... I believe the opposition can be beaten. How about you?
Friday, November 20, 2009
I met Nikki online after I figured out she had hidden her yahoo IM in her bigchurch.com profile. My charisma could not be contained by my profile and she responded to my invitation to chat. It was easy for me to ask very forward questions hiding behind a keyboard. I could be very suave and courageous behind an avatar and with 70 miles in between us. Supposing that rejection online would be easier than being rejected in person I asked her what she was looking for in a relationship and her expectations of any potential husband and father. We exchanged important core beliefs, favorite bible verses and worship songs. Really liking how our convys were going I was ready, yet still reluctant because I was worried about the response, to ask a critical question: Have you been Baptized in Water and Spirit. The answer would decide how eagerly I pursued this woman. The question caught her off guard, probably because we were chatting about something totally different. (Nikki quickly had to learn that conversations with me could be very abrupt and wide ranging in topics.) She volunteered that she had been Baptized in Holy Spirit and that she was scheduled to be Water Baptized in a couple of weeks. Whew! Knowing all of this about her Walk and how intelligent, funny and beautiful she is, I thought to myself I could easily forgive her for listening to country music. Thinking back, I probably volunteered that information.
I had known Nikki for about six weeks and had a couple of dates when she invited me to go to church with her again, this time to see her Water Baptism. I took this a good sign, that I had made a good impression upon her friends and Nikki told me that I may get a chance to meet her Mom. But it was really cool that she wanted me to be a part of her Spiritual life as well. I am always excited when a fully clothed person purposely chooses to allow another person to submerge them under water in front of a large number of people all in the name of obedience. It is really cool when the ladies set aside their pride and decide to soak their clothes, hair and make up in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
During our brief courtship I had learned that Nikki had grown up in the church but as an adult had an on again off again relationship with Jesus. She had come to the point in her life that she no longer wanted to walk down the middle of the road. At that time, she was a single mother of a wonderful four year old daughter, whose eyes and ears were more and more observant of her mother's words and lifestyle. But most importantly for Nikki, she was washing away the old.
I remember trying to console Naomi (unsuccessfully) after she saw "that man push Mommy under the water" and meeting Nikki's mom. I also remember an odd introduction to her Mom that almost seemed to be an interruption of a conversation that had taken place over the previous weeks. After learning my name, Jane informed that she had ‘reminded’ Nikki that she was already baptized as baby and that she didn't need to do this. As I sorted through my mental bible for the correct wording of Colossians 2:12 and 1 Peter 3:21 so I could ‘support’ Nikki as she finished the introduction between her mother and I. Before I could impress both ladies with my knowledge, Nikki simply replied “This is something I needed to do, this is my choice.” To which Jane excused herself with frantic hand gestures and the announcement that she “was already late for another church meeting.”
What I remember most vividly about that day is how beautiful and confident Nikki was before and after her baptism. It caused me to ponder about my Baptism and how awkward I felt before and after. I knew what I was doing and why I was doing it, it was just something I knew I needed to do. I guess I was looking for something spectacular to happen along the lines of the heavens opening up and angels appearing. Thinking back, maybe that happened, I dunno, because I was with all the others inside the Iowa City Rec. Center swimming pool. I was so impressed with her sense of accomplishment and new found purpose that just seemed to shine all around her. Nikki wasn't just caught in the moment of, it was like she saw how beautiful she is through the eyes of Jesus and saw the beautiful future in Christ that she had never imagined before. That day was truly something beautiful.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
My baptism was conducted in the church where I grew up, a Methodist church. The pastor who conducted said baptism just recently past away. He was a tremendous influence on me spiritually during my teenage years, and rarely missed any of my football games during that time. Since my baptism was conducted in February, it was a sprinkling ceremony with the congregation, my beloved church family, in attendance. The church wasn't opposed to an immersing baptism by any means which were conducted frequently in warm weather months in a nearby river. At the time, I really didn't know about or understand the oft controversial practice of sprinkling as opposed to immersion. All I knew and cared about was my obedience to follow in the lead of my Savior and be baptized in His name as a profession of my faith in Him...and Him alone.
Fast forward five years, and I'm in my sophomore year of college. I was seriously struggling with matters of faith but trying to remain obedient by attending a church in Nashville...a rather large church. I don't think it is important to call out the denomination at this point, but the church wasn't a Methodist church. As I became more involved...or maybe interactive is a better word...in the church and with members, an inquiry about my history was inevitable. Upon finding out about my Methodist roots, several of the members I had befriended began the Inquisition...Do you believe that doctrine? You honestly think you can lose your salvation? Were you sprinkled?
I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt about my baptism as the group looked on in disgust at my answers. I had developed a good deal of trust with these people. Most were well-learned and several attended Vanderbilt with me...which was just across the street from the church. Doubt began to fill my thoughts concerning my very salvation. Would I actually go to Heaven if I happened to die that day?
There are points in each of our lives when we come to a major crossroads or fork in the path. You might think this particular dilemma of doubt is one for yours truly...and you'd be partially correct because I would face several in a short period of time. More specifically though, the paths I had to chose from with the greatest impact would be ultimately defined by the method I would use to find the answers I was now seeking and needed.
I look back now and picture a fantastical scene from Robert Frost's great poem...and I am tip-toeing to peer down two distinctly different paths. Given the relevance of where I was at this point in my life, I had the path of academia...worn well from the scholarly atmosphere of being in the midst of some of the greatest minds wondering the campus of Vanderbilt University. A school of higher learning that, to the surprise of some, has a world renown School of Divinity.
The other path is overgrown with weeds and barely resembles a path at all. It dips a little way into the journey disappearing from view and then there are obvious hills in the distance...some look quite steep. This path seems familiar to me in a way, but I can't quite put my finger on why.
So off to the library I go, to spend countless hours over several weeks in search of the answers. My determination to find those answers was unyielding, and my friends from the church were relentless in a continued belittling of my spiritual history. I read articles and books. Dissertations and opinion papers. But it seemed the more I read, the more confused I became.
Hours of discussion and debate would stretch into the early morning. Finally, after nearly a month of exhausting research and persuasion (which was above and beyond my normally heavy load of school work), I concluded I must have been told wrong and needed to be baptised again by immersion because I was never truly baptised to start. The service was conducted on a Sunday night...I never told a single person back home... for some reason I felt embarrassment.
When I was raised from the water, I didn't experience an epiphany. As a matter of fact, I felt even more confusion...and a slight tinge of guilt. The people who attended looked as if they had just won a prize fight. Smug and prideful. I only went back to that church a few more times before coming to yet another fork in my life's journey. A path chosen that would lead me through very dark times and even more mounds of doubt about His love and caring for me and His creation.
Now I don't blame the people in that church...no, not entirely. Had my efforts to find answers been spent in God's Word and not into what others thought about God's Word, in prayer and meditation and not discussion and debate, I might have avoided many years of being a spiritual nomad...well, maybe. That was the other less travelled path I had shunned.
God has a plan for my life...just like He has one for yours. I can spend all my time and effort trying to figure out that plan, hoping to shape His plan to my liking, or trying to discover why He has to have a plan at all...but in the end...it really doesn't matter.
It's His plan, not mine. His plan, His game, His rules. He loves me enough to give me a free will and to forgive me when I misuse that gift.
Sprinkle, dunk, shower or swim. God knows my heart...my intention. He knows my first baptism was in Him. My second was in search of something...something I actually already had.
21Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened,
22And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased. Luke 3:21,22 (NIV)
Monday, November 16, 2009
For most, baptism is the first experience we have as we attempt to be obedient to the scriptures - or at least follow religious practices and protocol. Here is a list of the stuff we do to participate in obedience to Christ (this is a Catholic list, but true in every church I have been in). I find most folks don't even know what some of the words mean, therefore; I have provided a scripture reference and very brief definition along with a few links for the naysayers.
Sacraments of Christian initiation:
* Baptism - Submersion/sprinkling with water identifying with the death and resurrection of Jesus. (Matthew 28:19)
* Confirmation - The laying on of hands to receive the power of the Holy Spirit. Confirmation of salvation. (Acts 8:19)
* Eucharist - Communion with wine and bread. (Luke 22.19)
Sacraments of healing:
* Penance and Reconciliation - Confessing our sins one to another. (James 5:16, 2 Corinthians 5:19)
* Anointing of the Sick - For healing. (James 5:14-15)
* Exorcism - Casting out Demons, deliverance. (Luke 9:1-2)
Sacraments at the service of communion:
* Holy Orders - Call to ministry. (Ephesian 4:11)
* Matrimony - Marriage between a man and a woman. (Hebrews 13:4)
As an infant, I was baptized somewhere in East Haven, CT. For obvious reasons, I don't remember the event. For many, a "Certificate of Baptism" and possibly a snap-shot may be the only evidence that the ceremony of baptism or Christening (Baptism, anointing with oil, and baby dedication wrapped into one.) ever took place. For others, they have given to baptism as a sign that they have made a commitment to Christ, and this is a public display of their faith.
Well, as usual, this rebel didn't do any of it that way. I was sprinkled in 1958, born again in 1978, and as a believer I was told that my "original" baptism was viable religious work of God, appropriately done in the sight of God. The same as a marriage before one was saved. I didn't need to get married again - or have "Christian" vows. Well, they were the experts, right? You know seminary and all.
In 1991 I started to attend a Baptist church. I should have known with a name like that I was in for a challenge. The pastor invited me over for lunch, and gave me the speech out of the Southern Baptist Play Book. The only question he had for me after our little "talk" was "so what Sunday are we going to do this?" And by the way, you need to dedicate your kids too. I started to complain, but he showed me the Biblical reason for that too. (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)
So, I signed up for the family plan.
Before I tell you the rest of the story, let me tell you what baptism is not.
- It is a not a welcome ritual into the family of God. Salvation by faith is. Romans (10:9-10)
- It is not a "way to Heaven." Baptism is a "ritual" like communion with significant symbolic meaning. HERE is an article that seems pretty well written. All that to say it is not regenerative.
- It is not just some other thing that we do in church. For 2,000 years, believers have been baptized into a convent of "repentance and faith," as Jesus was in the Jordan by John. Jesus is our model, though He never sinned, He showed us how, and why - just like He did with communion.
- It is not optional based on this verse: "On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God, and keep it." Luke 11:28
- It is not specifically a "public witness." Our public witness is loving others in a such a way that unbelievers marvel at it. It is serving others in such a way that all men see our good works and praise God.
Baptism is for us to identify with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Through baptism we descend into the tomb; a place of death, and come out of the waters a new creature - symbolically of course. It is an expression of love for our savior, one that has faith in Him to receive us into glory.
The first Christian baptisms took place on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Need to see how you measure up to real Christianity? Check out this BLOG.
My day came, and in typical Southern Baptist tradition they filled the baptismal tank with freezing cold water. They stood us before the congregation and we were to publicly affirm our faith in Jesus as our personal Savior. As a Charismatic, I asked if I could give my testimony in tongues with an interpretation. After all, that is one of many evidences of salvation, is it not?
I told them about my struggles with alcohol, my need for God and of course my need for salvation from my sin. I quoted Psalm 40.
I went on too long, so they hurried the others through theirs.
A few of us donned our white robes and ascended the stairs to the "diving board." All I could think of on my spiritual day was the words to that old 70's song. "clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am; stuck in the middle with you." It seemed spiritual at the moment.
My turn came as I stepped into the water and the pastor looked at me and said, "David, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost." He leaned me back into the water, and I saw a flash of white light. The next thing I remember was him holding me in his arms saying, "I almost lost you there brother."
I made my way up the stairs to the applause of the congregation as the organist was played "Nothing but the Blood of Jesus." In the dressing room I wept. Something was gone, and something was new. I still can't describe it, I just know it happened.
That was baptism number two.
Number three was a baptism with fire. It is same one that is described in Acts chapter 2. When I first met the Lord, no one told me about that one. Like everything else in my walk, I read about it, and then I asked for it. I feel like I've taken too long - so that's a story for another time.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Be sure to stop and listen to that beautifully inspired, from the hand of God music today.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
I went to Catholic church growing up, I can't say I was raised Catholic because my Dad didn't practice and I rebelled against it as much as I could. Before we could 'join', my older sister and I were required to meet with the Monsignor and memorize some prayers - not really understanding the purpose. Why it was important for us us kids to attend and not my dad and why we had to "learn" our way into becoming a Catholic made very little sense to me - but definitely bothered me.
Eventually, mass and cathechism became more of a battle of wills than a disagreement about beliefs between my old man and me. I would skip mass as much as I could, sneaking a boom box out of the house and hanging outside a couple blocks away from the church listening to Kool Moe Dee or Anthrax. My Dad and I came to blows over it one night, when I got busted for skipping catechism. He snuck back to the house after I snuck back to the house instead of going to class. Words escalated quickly and tempers rose even quicker and my bedroom became a MMA cage. And this was fine with me, because during this whole time I was missing the Thursday night class.
I dabbled with Catholicism a wee bit after living on my own, I guess in some way still wanting to earn a Father's approval. The more I tried to understand what is was for me to be Catholic, the less I wanted to be Catholic. In the end, my passion for drinking eventually washed away any need for Mother Mary and her beaded necklace. Eventually, my life was on the verge of being completely wiped out by a tidal wave of alcohol, drugs and selfishness when God washed me clean.
Faith was something new, inviting and real. I wasn't getting twisted up in praying to dead people about specific issues, I was taking my prayers directly to the King. I decided my christening as an infant wasn't enough. I decided I should be the person that decides my need for Water Baptism. I was enthusiastically learning about the role Holy Spirit and understanding how much greater of a Help He would be than just reciting the same couple of prayers over and over. The Word by itself was filling my mind and my heart, removing the frustration of practicing dead religion.
As I grew in my Love for Jesus and Holy Spirit, I found myself still holding some bitterness towards God the Father. Understandable, considering how I was "raised" and how I never could meet expectations at home or at church. I kept the Trinity separated and sorta kept the Father at arms length as I grew in my Faith. I easily accepted what Jesus had done for me, delivering me from booze and willingly asked for more of Holy Spirit in my life. Even so, I still found myself distant from God because of my misperception that He already had one perfect Son, so He was going to always be disappointed by anything I did for Him. I somehow had it in my mind that there is little I could ever do to please God but I still had to. Somehow I had it twisted up that perfection was required of me and I knew it was impossible because I wasn't Jesus.
Then one day when I was reading chapter 2 in Philippians and in verse 9, the word "therefore" jumped off the page at me. It changed the way I thought about the Lordship of Jesus and how I viewed the Father God. Holy Spirit used those nine letters to alter my thinking about living for God.
I understood that Jesus wasn't Lord because of who He was, it was because of what He did. Because He was obedient, God rewarded Him with the Name above all Names. Because Jesus chose to live His life as a servant, to live His life to glorify the Father, God rewarded Him accordingly.
I realized I would be rewarded for my words and deeds accordingly as well. I realized that God is generous in how He rewards His kids. What Jesus did for all of us is something only Jesus could do. That is why God's reward for Jesus is the greatest reward given to any man. Therefore, God would be generous to reward me according to my efforts based upon my obedience to Him. Therefore, I wanted to be obedient to Him and seek Him wholeheartedly. Therefore, I could let Him wash away the bitterness and misunderstanding that religion had imposed itself upon my relationship with Him. Therefore, I could believe that God is a loving, generous Dad.
Monday, November 9, 2009
After 30+ years as a Born Again Christian, it's hard to pick one. After so many seasons in the Lord, it is easy to forget the ones that pierced my heart so many years before.
That said, my favorite chapter in the Bible, other than Acts chapter 2, is Romans 8. The book of Acts I find amazingly exciting - yet the chapter in Romans has changed my life, my understanding of God, and propelled me into a place of awe.
As a young Christian I read the books of John, Acts and somehow I ended up in Romans. In John I met God, in Acts I learned about the power that was in me. But in Romans, I came to terms with my sin, my humanity and it collided with the grace of an everlasting God.
Let me explain. As a sinner, I sinned. I wasn't the worst, but no one said, "Oh he a good kid." In High School kids parents warned them not to hang out with me. "He's nothing but trouble." It was true. I needed God.
What's hard for people to see on the outside, is the pain that goes on, on the inside. They see bad behavior as the problem, when that lack of love, combined with addiction and the sinful nature become a deadly cocktail. Simply put, "hurt people, hurt people." For folks like me, I was also ashamed. I am still embarrassed, regretful and remorseful about things that I have said and done. That is why Jesus was able to invade my heart so many years ago. I could not stand under the weight of sin and fear.
If you read the 8th chapter of Romans, there are lots of things that matter in there. The major sections are Life Through the Spirit, Future Glory and More Than Conquerors. For someone like me, the fact there is no condemnation (v1), should be enough. Paul, however; goes on to say "you are controlled by the spirit." (v9) And then speaks of the relationship of the spirit and the flesh. (v11) He lays out the obligation that we have (v12) - that is comforting because we do not have to guess! He closes with the fact that we are co-heirs with Christ - that's right we get it all! (v17)
The next section he writes about how the Spirit helps us (v26), and the relationship with God in our mortal body - wow, the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead lives in me! (v11) If we can't fathom that even a little, we will never be effective Christians. I want it! How about you?
As Christians we are meant to have power! Power to heal, to speak forgiveness, the power to be vessels of His will, and creative energy. Meditate on that for a few minutes!
And now for the most amazing verse in this Christian's life, verse 28: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him." At first glance it seems simple - and it is. If we love God, he takes everything that we have done and uses it for His purposes. Think about all you have done, all your thoughts, everything that you have said, both on purpose or by accident. God can turn your sin into something of value for His kingdom. He can take your disappointments, your crimes, your thoughtlessness and use it for His glory.
We may be whining about how the devil is kicking our back side - but God can even use that. After all, Job feared and God gave him permission to at do some nasty stuff to a righteous man.
It is God's purpose to bring us into His Glory - the same glory that Moses saw the back side of while his head was in the cleft of a rock! (Exodus 33:17) This is the glory that is so pure that our mortal bodies would incinerate if we were to contact it. Yet, that is the plan of God to make us holy in spite of our bad works. And in the end for us to be in glory with Him forever.
And the part that I love the most - nothing can separate us from the love of God. NOTHING. Once we are Born Again, it is a done deal. God uses it all.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
"For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Friday, November 6, 2009
One thing that has drastically changed in my prayer life recently is that my prayers are focused more on other people and less on me (see Tony C Today post). In that light, I want to share an answered prayer I lifted on the behalf of someone else.
It's a genuine compliment for someone to ask me to pray for them. I know we often use the phrase to the point of near cliche, but I've also come to realize that praying for others was an example Christ displayed while hanging on the cross. Do I really need any more motivation than that to lift others in prayer?
Not that long ago, there were three separate people on my daily prayer list that had lost their jobs. They each had skills that made them very desirable employees, but the state of the economy had caused most companies in the country to freeze any additions. All three were convinced their unemployment could last quite a long time.
Being unemployed is scary enough, but being unemployed and in the 45-59 age demographic can be down right discouraging. I communicated with all three several times each week, and I could sense the disparity as another week came and went. I made the decision to make each man a priority in my prayers, and I would request prayer for them at every opportunity. All three were men of God, and I'm sure were praying for employment daily also.
As another week would pass, my intensity in prayer would grow. God will always provide for us if we submit and have faith; however, I also know the pressures of meeting daily living expenses and providing for your family can test a man's faith under crushing obligations and expectations.
Several months passed with no real prospects for the three. Unemployment figures were spiking, and the outlook was grim. Prayer intensity increased yet again.
Amazingly, in the same week, all three men received job offers! Prayer answered. One of the three actually received job offers from two different places, and each man accepted a job that actually had better pay and benefits than his previous employment. Praise God!
I left out part of this story for a reason, so let me back up for just a moment and cover a deeply personal blessing in all of this. Two of the three men lost their jobs on the exact same day... May 14th. The other had lost his two weeks prior. I was scheduled for a heart catheter procedure on the morning of May 15th. On the same day the two had lost their jobs, one sent me an email of encouragement and the other sent me a text message that evening. The third man came to see me at my office the following week to see how the procedure had gone.
Unfortunately, I didn't get the email until a couple of days after my procedure (pre-BlackBerry), but that fact didn't dampen my appreciation in the slightest. The text message literally brought me to tears. I sat on my couch when it arrived and thanked God for people who thought of others before themselves and prayed that I too could be like that at all times....just like Jesus.
That text came from one of this blog's co-writers, David Johndrow. My drive to be a better, selfless prayer warrior comes from the example Christ gave on the cross...and from the example these three men live in their Godly lives thinking of others.
I know many others prayed for me also (like Dave Tvedt, our other co-writer), and I truly am thankful for each prayer sent on my behalf. I also believe with all my heart that God is using our online connections with one another, as Christians, to provide an opportunity for us to encourage, testify to His love, and to evangelize in His name.
Please allow me the privilege of lifting you up to Him in prayer when a need arises. I'm just an email, tweet, Facebook message, instant message, or text away...oh yeah...I still take phone calls too.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
I should know by now that He will not hesitate to give me opportunities to Glorify His name through me. In the past, I have prayed to be a better husband, a better dad, a better friend, a better servant of Jesus.... I am given the chance to do just that. When I have prayed to be a better husband, within hours I am asked by my wife to do something with her or for her when I am wanting to be left alone. When I have asked Jesus to help me be a better dad, my kids are at their worst behavior. When I pray to be a better friend, that's when I get a call from someone needing prayer during the end of football game. When I tell Jesus that I want to serve Him more, that is when I am asked by someone to give them a ride, help them move or run an errand for them.
But Jesus aint about making my life easy. He is all about making my life better. When I am so full of the King that the slop and slime of Dave is not visible, then my life is better. When I am holy, I won't have to deal with the consequences of my stupidity or selfishness. Also, when I am walking in the Love of Jesus and not the love for dave, life is better for those around me. They are the ones who benefit most by my obedience to Lord Jesus. When God is Faithful to answer my prayers for Holiness, those around me will see Jesus when they see less of me.
May all who fear you find in me a cause for joy, for I have put my hope in your word. I know, O Lord, that your regulations are fair; you disciplined me because I needed it. Now let your unfailing love comfort me, just as you promised me, your servant. Psalm 119:74-76
Monday, November 2, 2009
There came a time when I was unemployed. In the midst of my lay-off, I lost my company car. As I stood watching from my bedroom window, listening the sound of clanking chains and whirring hydraulic pistons, the tow truck came and took it away.
It was a tough time. I was renting a room just after my divorce. I had lost a job working for the company that I sold my Internet start-up to. I hadn't even had a chance to open a new bank account. The prospect of a car loan without a job was a stretch.
I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do, and I needed wheels.
The next day I borrowed a car from a friend at church to do some errands over the weekend. My daughter Erin and I were chatting as we stopped here an there. She was in the third-grade at the time. At 8-years-old she had gotten radically baptized in the Holy Spirit; showing a real propensity to hear from God. She turned to me and said, “Dad, don’t worry about the car, you are going to get a check for $2000 -- no $3000.”
I remember thinking that is such a long shot. I just looked over at her and smiled. Apparently my smile gave away my lack of faith. “No, really, God says.” She added.
I was regularly running a young adults group -- 13 to 33 -- that was hosted by a couple from my church. These kids were somewhat outcast from the regular congregation. They found Jesus in the excitement of the Holy Spirit’s presence.
Over the months prior, I had been teaching them about about character, faith, prayer and the spiritual gifts. Some of them were learning to pray for healing and others were prophesying. At the end of the meeting that Tuesday night, I asked them if they would pray for me. As a minister, I don’t often ask for prayer from those that I am ministering to. However; this night the Holy Spirit was exceptionally present during our meeting - I thought I'd take my chances.
One of the girls began. “I am seeing a small car.”
Another added, "I see you with money, yes, you are going to have a car by the weekend."
"Wow! If this is God, I can't wait." I thought to myself.
I got a ride home from a friend that was co-leading the meeting. He wasn’t very convinced that the prayers were of God. I shrugged my shoulders as I walked up my driveway - I wasn't so sure I was convinced either. I tossed a few worship CDs in the changer, got in bed and trialed off to sleep listening to Robin Mark and David Ruis.
The next day; Wednesday, I spoke with my pastor, and asked if he knew where I could find a car. Honestly, I was “fishing” hoping that the church would help me out in my time of need. He said he didn’t know, but he’d be willing to give me a ride to get some groceries and drop by my Post Office box. I was hoping that my unemployment check would be there so I could get it in the bank.
I twisted the key to the box lock and reached in grabbing a few pieces of mail and a couple of ad circulars; no unemployment check. There was a credit card statement and a letter from my mother. It seemed odd to receive a letter from my mother. We spoke regularly on the phone; usually about once or twice a week. She would always send a birthday card, which was a long way off, and a Christmas gift, which I had already received. I hadn’t told her about the car in our last few calls, but she did know that I was unemployed. I opened the letter, which read.
“David, I was praying for you, and I decided to send you this check. Enjoy life! I Love you, Mom”
I was so stunned I kept reading the amount. “Three thousand dollars and no/cents: $3000! I went and got in the pastor’s car-- I could barely talk. I just held the check out for him to read. “Well,” he said, handing me a folded check, “Here is what the church is able to do to help.” After he dropped me off, I unfolded his check which was in the amount of $150-- the exact amount I would need to pay the sales tax on a $3000 car.
I called my daughter and she was very excited that I had received the check just has she had spoken. “I told you, Dad!” she quipped.
“Thanks honey - hey, what color is my new car?” I asked.
“Green!” she replied.
“Are you sure?”
“Ummm, no, actually that is my favorite color. God said it's red.”
“OK. Thanks, I love you” I said as I hang up.
That night I met with the young adults group again. We got together almost every night. I made an arrangement to look for cars the next day with one of them who was not working. He and I stopped at one place, and I drove a red two-seater - well it was kind of maroon. It was more money than I had, but I liked the car and thought maybe I could negotiate a lower price. I took it for a spin, but the clutch was making noise and I decided against purchasing it. I stopped by a few used car lots, looking at mostly red and green cars. Nothing stood out to me, and everything was out of my price range.
The next day the parents of one of the younger kids in my group offered me a car to go looking again. I hit a few of the smaller lots around town. There was one that always seemed to have cars in my range—two to three thousand dollars. I pulled in, eyeing a beautiful green 4-door sedan. It was loaded with every option, leather seats and priced at $3295. So, I asked to take it for a ride. Alone, as I drove around town, I decide to call one of the girls in my group that seemed to have a real prophetic gift. “I am test driving a car, what do you think?” I didn’t give her any information.
She replied, “I had a dream last night about you driving a red 4-door, is it red?”
“No,” I said, “its not.”
I went back to the lot to look around a bit more. There were a couple of other red cars; only one was in my price range. I asked for an ignition key, the salesman put a dealer plate on it, and away I went. The car, a Mazda Protegé, void of all creature comforts -- not even a radio or automatic transmission -- oddly it had A/C.
As I negotiated traffic, trying out the brakes, shifting gears and testing the acceleration, I reached over to see if the A/C worked. As I touched the switch, I heard that still small voice. “You can drive this car to Florida.”
This was an odd confirmation to my friend’s dream-- but it was a red 4-door sedan for $3295. I decided that I was pretty sure I had the right car, the one the God wanted me to have. As I sat at the traffic light just before the dealer’s parking lot, I decided to put out a "fleece" like Gideon did. "Lord, if the salesman will give it to me for $3000, I will take it. Amen" That was my prayer in Jesus' name.
I stepped out of the car and the salesman came over. “I’ll take it for $3000.” I said.
As we walked into his office, he said, “Oh, I don’t think that I can do anything on the price.”
I pulled out the cashiers check for $3000 and put on his desk facing him. “I have cash, and I have it now.” I said. “I am going to buy a car before the weekend; do I need to keep looking?”
“I was going to change the oil, and put new wiper blades on it, but if you want it like it is, then we have a deal.” He reached over to shake my hand.
“We have a deal.” I said. After a few minutes he slid the purchase agreement across the desk and I signed it. Then he passed the title of ownership to me with a sales receipt. I took them to the Registry of Motor Vehicles and got my plates. It was Friday about 3. I had a car, a red 4-door - and right before the weekend!
Thank you Jesus!
Just a few months later, my plane tickets were canceled for a vacation I was planning with my kids. So, we got in the little red Mazda and drove it from Cape Cod to Orlando and back! Let me tell you, the A/C was very enjoyable that warm week in April.