Monday, March 27, 2017

Burning Bridges

Hebrews 11: 1 "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

Precious Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,

I am utterly dependent upon You. You have called me to the faith life. I have answered with obedience. Life with You has proved safe and dangerous, protected and risky--simultaneously. You have shown me incredible miracles of answered prayer.

Some would call my faith life reckless. They would push me toward a dependence upon material safety that defies faith. That safety is defined by words like "sustainability" and "security."  I recognize within me a desire for safety. That desire for safety wants to see. It would seem to defy the very faith life to which You have called me. Temptation draws me to measure success with things I can count. That safety would place my trust in money and material things rather than You. I am tempted from the faith life to the sight life. I am tempted to look for loopholes that appear more secure. I am tempted to build bridges of retreat.

A.W. Tozer wrote: "The man of pseudo faith will fight for his verbal creed but refuse flatly to allow himself to get into a predicament where his future must depend on that creed being true. He always provides himself with secondary ways of escape so he will have a way out if the roof caves in."

I don't know how to live this life of faith as I ought. My creed calls me to faith. But I find myself repeatedly attempting to construct safety nets and escape routes if faith fails! Incredulously, I profess surrender to the faith life, but all too often, You prick my conscience that I am living by sight, not faith. The Apostle Paul reminds us "
For we walk by faith, not by sight" (II Corinthians 5:7). 

Paul Chilcote prayed: "Give me enough to provide for myself and my family, but save me from the temptation to think I need more. Help me to realize how easily I  can be led astray by worldly riches and how quickly they can take over my heart. It is very easy, indeed, for my possessions to own me, and for me to lose track of my most important love." (Praying in the Wesleyan Spirit, p. 89).

Help me to be a responsible leader. Birth vision and direction in the faith life, not apart from it. Professional criteria demand strategic plans, operational plans, budgets, fundraising goals, marketing efforts, and the energy and industry to carry them out. Birth these in the faith life. Keep me filled with Your Holy Spirit. Empower me to lead from a heart and mind filled with faith in You.  

I burn bridges of retreat. I abandon backup plans. I cast myself utterly upon You. The faith life is my life. You are my life.

In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,
Amen. 
Every Bridge is Burned Behind Me
Johnson Oatman (1898)


Since I started out to find Thee,
Since I to the cross did flee,
Every bridge is burned behind me;
I will never turn from Thee.



Thou didst hear my plea so kindly;
Thou didst grant me so much grace,
Every bridge is burned behind me;
I will ne’er my steps retrace.



Cares of life perplex and grind me,
Yet I keep the narrow way.
Every bridge is burned behind me;
I from Thee will never stray.



All in All I ever find Thee,
Savior, Lover, Brother, Friend,
Every bridge is burned behind me;
I will serve Thee to the end.



Refrain

Strengthen all the ties that bind me

Closer, closer, Lord to Thee,
Every bridge is burned behind me;
Thine I evermore will be.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Liberal v. Conservative

Ezekiel 22:26 Her priests have violated My law and profaned My holy things; they have not distinguished between the holy and unholy, nor have they made known the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they have hidden their eyes from My Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. 

John 2:13-16 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” 

Matthew 21:12-13 Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’”

Dear Jesus, 

Conservative versus liberal ideologies are nothing new. In Ezekiel's youth, temple worship was polluted by compromising, tolerant priests who refused to recognize the difference between the holy and the profane, the clean and the unclean, the righteous and the sinful, true worship and idolatry. These sins of the priests, along with the failures of the prophets and the people, were at the heart of Israel's rebellion that landed them in oppression and captivity. They "profaned my holy things."

During Babylonian captivity, the Hebrews, under the leadership of Ezekiel, the prophet, searched their hearts, the Scriptures, and their history in order to understand how they had violated God's covenant with them. They started synagogues for the purpose of studying the Hebrew law. A conservative group of holy men, scribes and Pharisees, emerged from captivity as the spiritual leaders of the nation. These scribes and Pharisees were the leaders of a spiritual and national revival movement in Israel for the next 400 years. 

By the time You appeared upon the scene in the first century, two political factions dominated Hebrew life and culture. The Sadducees were the political moderates and liberals. The Sadducees practiced appeasement of the Roman occupying presence in Israel in order to protect their political party. The Sadducees controlled the high priesthood in the Jerusalem temple. Although they were the minority party of the Jewish ruling body, the Sanhedrin, the Sadducees rarely lost a battle they wanted to win against the conservative faction of scribes and Pharisees.

The scribes and Pharisees were among Your chief opponents--lawyers, students, scholars. These pietists prided themselves in their scrupulous observance of the Hebrew ceremonial law. Their laws reached far beyond the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, to include oral tradition, interpretations, and explanations of that law. Their addendums were massive, and carried the same moral obligation for the people as the Law of Moses.

So the chief priest and the Sadducees were in a struggle for the control of Your nation with the conservative scribes and Pharisees, all under the watchful eye of Rome. This power struggle set the Sadducees and Pharisees up for a fight with You, the Son of God.

You must have watched the exploitation of the people at temple all of Your life. The Sadducees controlled the chief priest position. The chief priest turned this power into a racket. His priests must inspect sacrifices people brought to temple in order for the sacrifice to be approved as without blemish and be permitted to be slaughtered and burned as an offering on the temple altar. The chief priest appointed the inspecting priest. The complicit task was to disapprove a prescribed percentage of the perfectly acceptable sacrifices, purchase them at a cut rate price above the powerless protests of the worshiper, only to introduce the newest acquisitions to the temple herd and resell them to a worshiper as an unblemished sacrifice a few days later.

The Sadducees had the scribes and Pharisees over a proverbial barrel. The conservative Pharisees had no moral authority to protest the enforcement of holiness in the approval of the sacrificial beasts. The Sadducees could simply hide behind their claim that they were fastidiously enforcing the Hebrew law. At that point, the Pharisees' protests failed, for legalistic enforcement of the Law of Moses was what they insisted. 

The Sadducees' combat with the scribes and Pharisees put the masses of the populace in a losing position. The chief priest was the winner economically. The Pharisees continued to insist upon fastidious adherence to the law. The people were the losers. 

You understood what was going on. I think that You had watched the exploitative process all of Your earthly life. I imagine You were first exposed to the process as a twelve-year-old boy. Perhaps, You and Joseph had even suffered the refusal of Your perfect sacrifice at the hands of the chief priest's corrupt inspector. Perhaps this was the topic of conversation that delayed You from the return trip to Nazareth. I don't know. I imagine that Your memory was so seared by this event that You had to do something about it. Not once... but twice.

Scripture records Your cleansing of the temple at the beginning of Your earthly ministry in John 2, and at the end of Your earthly ministry in Matthew 21 and Luke 19. I find it interesting that You bookended Your ministry with cleansing the temple. It must have been important to You!

Here is my observation. You transcended the trap of the liberal v. conservative political continuum of Your day by emphasizing holiness, prayer, healing, and spiritual power. You were not co-opted by political pressures into a personal compromise. You rose above the entrapment of politics and spoke wholeness and hope into an abusive situation. 

Hmmmm...

Think about that.

What does Your principled action have to say to inform me about how I should live in this present age? 

You were not reactionary. You thought and felt deeply about the matter of Father's house for many years. You loved the Father, the people, and true worship. You opposed everything from the left and the right that limited access to the Father through His house. You opposed the profiteering that had polluted the place of prayer. You loved the Father, the Father's house, prayer, and the people. You oppose the powerful on both ends of the political spectrum because they turned Father's house of prayer into a place of power, profit, and exploitation. 

What are the bonds that enslave people today that keep us from knowing our Heavenly Father. What are the barriers to prayer in my life today? Do I oppose barriers to accessing Father with the same urgency and persistence You showed? 

What about my temple? The temple of my heart? Is my temple polluted with profiteering and self-interest so that true fellowship with Father is compromised? Is my temple double-minded? Does self compete with my spiritual life? Jesus, drive the double-mindedness from our hearts and enthrone Yourself as the single object of my affection. 

The the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
Amen.

Friday, March 10, 2017

A Culture of Death

We live in a culture of death.

Everything in our world is banking upon the reality of death.

  • Medicine believes in death and fights it with every scintilla of science and every cent of one's hoarded resources.
  • Government believes in death. Social Security tables are betting for it. 
  • Courts believe in death. Wills are probated daily.
  • The insurance industry believes in death. They make billions on our hedging against its inevitability.
  • Even the church believes in death. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: "To rake in everything or to throw away everything, this is the attitude of one who believes fanatically in death" (Ethics, p. 92).

We hoard. We dispose. All of it in preparation to die.

But Jesus!

Jesus Christ is the only human being who ever raised Himself from the dead. Oh yes, we hear resurrection stories about how God has brought people and even organizations back from the dead. But Jesus is very God and very man. He raised Himself from death. He became victor over death. He descended into Hell and seized the keys of Hell and death.

Jesus believes in life. He neither hoards or disposes. He is never in want. He is plenty.

I just lost a friend. He died in his sleep at 44 years of age. In that moment of death, he was with the Lord Jesus. My friend is more alive now than ever. I don't know the physical location of that place. Some people say, "He is in a better place." Understatement. My friend has found ultimate reality--eternal life.

Bonhoeffer wrote: "Within the risen Christ the new humanity is borne, the final, sovereign Yes of God to the new human being.  Humanity still lives, of course, in the old, but is already beyond the old. Humanity still lives, of course, in a world of death, but is already beyond death. Humanity still lives, of course, in a world of sin, but we are already beyond sin. The night is not yet over, but day is already dawning" (Ethics, p. 92).

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Mission Made Possible

“Dr. John, meet Raymond. He will be your interpreter as you preach.”

Robert had just introduced me to a young pastor who would preach alongside me in Swahili at the 2013 pastors’ conference of the Africa Gospel Church held at Tenwek Africa Gospel Church, a brief walk down the hillside from Tenwek Hospital. Rev. Dr. Robert Lang’at is the Bishop of the Africa Gospel Church, a Wesleyan holiness denomination started by World Gospel Mission in the twentieth century to serve the church in Kenya East Africa. Lang'at is also my friend, an alumnus of Wesley Biblical Seminary, and an advocate for WBS.

Raymond Tonui shook my hand warmly. His slight figure and sharp facial features framed a warm smile and intelligent gaze. As we prayed together before the message, I knew that I was with a like-minded brother.

Preaching alongside Raymond was invigorating. He translated my English into Swahili to the one thousand pastors in attendance with ease, anointing, and conviction. The first message we preached together had its text in Hebrews 12:14-17:  
Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;  lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.”

That service, the altar was crowded with kneeling, weeping, confessing Kenyan pastors, twenty feet deep into the aisles. Raymond remembers that evening, “I have not forgotten that night as the Holy Spirit spoke to us through the message of Holiness through you.”

Before the week was out, I met Raymond’s beautiful wife and two lovely children, and preached in the church he pastors, Karen AGC. I was present and preached at his ordination service at the close of the pastor’s conference. My heart was stirred when Raymond received the clergy collar along with the exhortation to preach the Word.

I learned that Raymond had graduated from Kenya Highlands Evangelical University, and that he desired to further his education. We talked about his attending Wesley Biblical Seminary as an online student in our MA Mission Possible program. This program commits to a tuition scholarship for international pastors in the majority world who can study online, in English, and with the recommendation of their host organization. I was the courier of Raymond’s college transcript from Kenya to Jackson, Mississippi.

Raymond was accepted and enrolled at WBS. In May, 2017, he is among the first Kenyans to graduate from Wesley Biblical Seminary’s MA Mission Possible program, and will do so with a Master of Arts in Christian Studies. Raymond describes his experience pursuing an online Master of Arts in Christian Studies at WBS: “I am grateful to God, you and the WBS Family, I am not the same person I was before. I have experienced the power of God in me and I am beginning to see his presence in my ministry. I believe in my heart that Holiness is what God wants for this Generation, and I stand up to be counted among those who will live and preach it. It has been a pleasure to sit under your feet and those wonderful men and women who serve as professors. I am eternally grateful.”

Your investment in the mission of Wesley Biblical Seminary is an investment with impact. You are impacting transformation in the Church at home and around the globe. Wesley Biblical Seminary depends upon the gifts of our friends to support 60% of our annual budget. We are dependent upon your prayerful and faithful monthly support to advance our mission. Thank you for equipping Raymond and many others to impact our world for Christ. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Are You a Tree or a Shrub?

Jeremiah 17:5-10 NKJV
Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the Lord.
 For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited.
 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
And whose hope is the Lord.
 For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.
“The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?
 I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give every man according to his ways,
According to the fruit of his doings.
Dear Lord,

Your prophet, Jeremiah, challenges me to be a blessed man and not a cursed one. He tells me that a cursed man is self-reliant and forgets You. His personal growth is stunted, limited, and dwarfed. His narrative is self-centered and narrow in its scope. The cursed one lacks an overarching story of the meaning of life, rather has lived life with a sensual lust, moving from one taste, sound, and feeling to another in an elusive quest for satisfaction, never discerning what is truly good.

On the other hand, a blessed man trusts and hopes in You. The blessed man grows roots like a tree on a river bank. I imagine a river bottom lined with the gleaming white bark of sycamores, their leaves as large as dinner plates--aging bark telling a tale of many floods, droughts, and storms. 

I have seen both the cursed and blessed. The cursed are packaged in prosperity as well as poverty. The contrast seems stark initially, until ones looks deeper. Then I see it. The cursed have pursued material existence. Sight, sound, touch, taste, and smells have dominated their concerns. Spiritual pursuits have been neglected. The cry of the eternal has been ignored until its whisper can no longer be heard by the self-imposed hearing impairment of the cursed. 

The blessed are the ones who have listened to the bidding of the eternal. They have judged their own values, worship, relationships, and decisions on the basis of what endures after death. They have lived for more than the sensual. Along the way, the blessed have experienced great pleasure, but not because they sought it for its own sake. They sought You first. You have added earthly pleasure to their spiritual peace. The blessed live life with one overarching passion, to hear You proclaim "Well done" over their lives. They live for the eternal. These well-lived lives are not charmed. No, they have the same suffering, sickness, and sorrow that is common to our shared earthly existence. But their response is different. Their response ever reaches upward, hopeful... to know You.

I want to live among the blessed. Search me. Test me. Transform me. Know me. Make me a tree, not a shrub.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Amen.


Trees
by Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see 
A poem lovely as a tree. 

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest 
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast; 

A tree that looks at God all day, 
And lifts her leafy arms to pray; 

A tree that may in Summer wear 
A nest of robins in her hair; 

Upon whose bosom snow has lain; 
Who intimately lives with rain. 

Poems are made by fools like me, 
But only God can make a tree.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Death of Marriage

Jeremiah16:9 NKJV 
For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Behold, I will cause to cease from this place, before your eyes and in your days, the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride.

Revelation 18:21-24 NKJV 
Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “Thus with violence the great city Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore. 22 The sound of harpists, musicians, flutists, and trumpeters shall not be heard in you anymore. No craftsman of any craft shall be found in you anymore, and the sound of a millstone shall not be heard in you anymore. 23 The light of a lamp shall not shine in you anymore, and the voice of bridegroom and bride shall not be heard in you anymore. For your merchants were the great men of the earth, for by your sorcery all the nations were deceived. 24 And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth.”

Dear Lord,

Both Jeremiah and John utter frightening prophecies describing the death of marriage. Both prophecies pertain to Babylon. Jeremiah connected the death of marriage to the destruction of Jerusalem and 6th century B.C. Babylonian captivity. John's first century A.D. prophesy foretold the death of marriage in connection to the final destruction of end-times Babylon. 

I'm certain that I don't understand all of the implications of the times and seasons of these prophecies, but I can bear witness to the death of marriage in our land. Divorce has slayed many marriages. Pervasive sexual immorality has bypassed the blessing and commitment of marriage and family, substituting the impermanence of cohabitation. Children of these unions are born into instability and often cursed with poverty and abuse. We have legalized same-sex marriages, and exchanged the truth of marriage between one man and one woman, for a false and unproductive substitute that mocks the divine design. 

It seems to me, that the saddest implication of the death of marriage is the loss of an eternal lesson of hope. Jesus has gone to prepare a place in heaven for the Church, His soon to be bride. He has promised us a marriage in the land of eternal life. Jesus, the Bridegroom, will be married to the Church. The loss of marriage in our world today is a loss of hope. We need a shadow of that hope to come. Earthly marriage points to the hope of heaven, a new creation, and the marriage of Christ with His bride. Beyond the social, the familial... we need the spiritual hope of marriage.

Father, encourage husbands and wives today. Encourage them to fidelity to each other and to You. Help my marriage to be a blessing and motivation to someone that they, too, may enjoy this earthly spiritual and physical symbol of holy marriage, as preparation for heaven with Jesus, Your Son. Protect children who are born into homes with unmarried parents. Protect children who suffer the revolving door of false fatherhood, in the form of mother's boyfriends.  

Help us to point people to a better way. Your way. Holy marriage.

In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
Amen.




Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Nudge

Jeremiah 10:23-24 NKJV
O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself;
It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.
O Lord, correct me, but with justice;
Not in Your anger, lest You bring me to nothing.

Dear God,

I cannot know my own heart or motives apart from the discernment of Your Holy Spirit through Your revealed Word.  I cannot discern my path or even my next step, apart from You. Neither do I wish to do so. 

I want you to guide my feet to a plain path. I want Your Holy Spirit to discern my heart, my motives, my deepest intention, and lead me in a path of holiness within and without. 

Please correct my errors. I prefer to be corrected before I err. Check me with Your divine prompts to my heart. A flinch, a sigh, a nudge of intimacy. Help me to live close enough to You that I can sense the beating of Your heart of love for me. Tune the ears of my heart and conscience to hear Your softest whisper. Restrain me from resisting, ignoring, or overriding Your voice to take my own course of action.

But in those moments of disobedience, those occasions of haste when I ignore Your gentle prompt, correct me. Jeremiah prayed, "Correct me, but with justice. Not in Your anger, lest You bring me to nothing."

I want to learn of You. I want to hear and obey Your voice. I want to feel Your nudge.

In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
Amen.