Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rank has privileges. The President of the United States enjoys travel, dining, and entertainment options that few of us can imagine.

Now, imagine that the President decided to forego these privileges and instead chose to live a simple lifestyle among society's poorest people. Outrageous! No doubt he would be widely criticized for belittling his important position.

Someone greater than the President freely chose to do exactly that:

"although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:6-8)

The phrase, "emptied Himself", is difficult to wrap our minds around. I'm picturing a bottle of the most expensive wine available being opened and poured out into cheap paper cups and given to some of the dirtiest, poorest, most destitute homeless people in the world. The expensive wine, rather than being used for some advantage among the rich and powerful, is instead given to those who could not possibly offer anything in return.

The priority of the majority is filling up (fame, fortune, pleasure), not emptying out. Upending our lives in emptying service runs completely contrary to the norm but is the true pathway to achievement and fulfillment, as modeled by Jesus:

"For this reason also, God highly exalted Him" (Philippians 2:9)

It was not in SPITE of His humility but BECAUSE of it that God exalted Him. Emptiness was turned into fullness. Weakness became strength. Poverty became wealth.

The Principle of the Upside Down is our pattern. Experience fullness through emptiness. Find strength in weakness. Acquire true wealth through poverty. Lead by serving.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The implications are astounding. These four short verses explode with possibilities.

"For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise." (Galatians 3:26-29)

It's like being adopted in to the Rockefeller, Gates, Bush, and Spielberg families all at once and having full benefit of their power and finances. Except that it's even greater; vastly greater. A simple act of faith inducts us into the very family of the Creator. Not only that, this act of faith that moves us to baptism wraps us with the perfect personage of God's one and only sinless Son, Jesus the Messiah. We could not be elevated to a more exalted position.

This new exalted status completely revolutionizes relationships. All imposed class, racial, and sexual distinctions are obliterated. All persons of faith are equally exalted.

As if all this were not enough, there is one additional benefit of monumental significance - the inheritance of Abraham of old. This man of faith who was promised the ancestry of the Christ, an innumerable genealogy, and a specific land inheritance has become our rich relative in the faith. His inheritance has becomes ours.

All of these astounding promises and truths leave you and I with a smug humility (if there is such a thing). We see how futile the frenetic efforts for power, money and prestige really are. These elusive pursuits are obtained only through divine action on behalf of the humble faith seeker. We are destined to be given that which others zealously seek to buy or conquer.

Given our amazing status per these words in Galatians, our entire lifestyle is radically reoriented. Status and wealth seeking is replaced with status and wealth equalizing. We live and operate in harmony with the One who will "with righteousness ... judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth" (Isaiah 11:4). We are merciful to the oppressed and generous to the deprived. The agenda of His kingdom takes priority over pursuit of our kingdom.

Celebrate your exalted status today. Bask in the freedom it brings from the tiring pursuit of this world's elusive prizes. Capitalize on that freedom and let it serve to advance the cause of the weak and the poor.

Press on for the Kingdom, Kingdom citizens!


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

K + P + P = I. It's a simple formula with tremendous possibilities. It's found in Acts chapter one and goes like this: "K" (Kingdom message) + "P" (prayer) + "P" (power) = "I" (Impact). Let's look for a few moments at each vital component.

"To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God." (Acts 1:3).

The priority of the Kingdom message is found in the fact that Jesus focused His last forty days on earth on this important message. We are not truly ready for Christian living and service until we have "gone to the Kingdom school" to learn and live the message.

"These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers." (Acts 1:14)

This intense devotion to prayer was in response to the promise of power: "but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." (Acts 1:8). Apparently the apostles and the early believers made the immediate connection between prayer and power: if they were to receive the power they must first wait for it in prayer.

The combination of the Kingdom message with prayer and ultimately power resulted in immediate as well as far-reaching impact - impact that is felt even by us today. And this dynamic combination of "K+P+P" is the formula for true impact by believers today. If we are to rock our world it will be according to this formula.

I'm committed to being a lifelong student of the Kingdom. The more I know the more I realize how little I know. I'm continually finding new insights that reorient my understanding of Scripture and the mission and plan of the Lord Jesus for my life and His church.

I'm also discovering more of the power possibilities through prayer. A silent prayer "experiment" begun in our local church astounds me with possibilities. Could it be that the early believers waited in an upper room in silence before Yahweh, the Creator of all and the giver of His Holy Spirit?

These thoughts go out to you today with the sincere desire and prayer that the Kingdom message become intensely real and life-shaping, that your life and church fellowship become powerfully effective through focused prayer, and that the impact of your life and church fellowship be far-reaching.


Monday, May 18, 2009

The power and possibilities of hands are amazing. We can use them to creatively build or violently destroy. They can be used to caress or to cripple. They can be instruments of good or of unspeakable evil.

An enduring image of comfort and assurance is of "the LORD, Yahweh, who brought you up from the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm" (2 Kings 17:36). The image of "an outstretched arm" is one of action. Make no mistake: Our Father's omnipotent arm is outstretched and His hands are prepared for action. They are hands of care and caress for His children, but hands of judgment and wrath for the evil and unrepentant.

I'm reminded of an image shared by a participant in a group silent prayer time recently. This person envisioned reaching her hand toward the bright light that is our Father and was surprised to sense a powerful image of the Father reaching back to her. The God of "the outstretched arm" was active in that group experience, offering a comforting and reassuring hand to one of His own.

We serve and worship a God of action. He once reached out His hands and formed the first humans, and our entire human history has since been filled with instances of His hands being active in the events and lives of His most personal creation. His hands have hurled fiery judgment on unrepentant cities and have directed watery judgment on an evil world. But His loving and provisional hands have also parted waters, provided food from heaven, and restored the sick and raised the dead.

We are in the hands of the God of the outstretched arm. This truth is the source of unspeakable comfort and assurance for His children in the midst of severe trials. Though trouble will touch His children, they are safe in the Father's hands amidst even the most severe trials. Jesus perfectly reflects these thoughts in saying,

"I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand." (John 10:28-29)

A well-known insurance company declares itself to be "the good hands people". The God of the outreached arm with loving hands is ultimately so. May you find peace and security in His hands today as you face trials of various kinds.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The death of a marriage is a failure to love and appreciate one's spouse. It is spiritual death to do the same with our Father. I'll dare say that the greatest sin is not what we do in disobedience but in falling out of love with our Father and losing our child-like awe of Him.

A number of people that I know have discovered and grown to appreciate that the God of the ages has a name, Yahweh. The Jewish people have historically known this to be the name of God but in reverence have been extremely cautious in writing or saying The Name. A proper respect and awe of both the being and the name is vital.

The One True God Yahweh pronounced judgment upon the people of Israel because they had lost their sense of awe of Him. Through His prophet Amos He warned them to "Prepare to meet your God, O Israel." (Amos 4:12). His warning is following by a self-description that ought to generate renewed love and awe by all who read:

"For behold, He who forms mountains and creates the wind And declares to man what are His thoughts, He who makes dawn into darkness And treads on the high places of the earth, The LORD (Yahweh) God of hosts is His name." (Amos 4:13).

These are truths that I know, but I wonder if I REALLY know them? My head acknowledges the Father's self-description, but does my heart? Do I stand starry-eyed in His presence, or has "maturity" and learning diminished my awe of Him?

I've lately become convinced of the need to wait silently before Him in order to grow in my appreciation of Him. A recent group prayer experience of solitude has helped heighten my awareness of the Creator of all who fills all and is in all. The truth that we can know Him if we are still before Him is more real than ever.

If our lives are devoid of times of silence and solitude it is certain that we are losing our awe of our Father. May we return to the silence and discover a fresh awareness and awe of the God Yahweh who waits there for us.

It's an intriguing story: the most reluctant messenger of all was one of the most effective. A few words spoken matter-of-factly and without passion brought a city of 120,000 people to its knees.

If hearts are responsive God is willing. Perhaps that's the great message of the Book of Jonah. This reluctant prophet was well aware of the Father's gracious nature but desired instead His holy wrath against the enemies of Israel. No doubt he hoped his simple and dispassionate message of "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown" (Jonah 3:4) would be ineffective in averting judgment. Much to his dismay, "the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them." (Jonah 3:5)

Amidst Jonah's extreme - even suicidal - displeasure God instructed concerning His gracious nature: "Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?" (Jonah 4:11). His probing question was designed to stir similar compassion in this heartless prophet.

It's important to know the gospel in order to share it with others, but even more fundamental is a compassionate heart for the lost that moves us to share. If we care we'll share regardless of how basic our understanding or simple our speech.

The greatest thrill in life is working with a hardened sinner and seeing their heart soften and their life change under the molding influence of the gospel of the kingdom. Such works of grace leave us in awe of the incredible life-changing power of the gospel: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16)

Who has the Father placed in your life and path who needs to know and experience His grace through His Son Jesus? Is your heart filled with enough compassion to move you from your comfort zone and beyond your lack of understanding to share what you do know and have experienced of His grace?

"Father, fill my heart with Your compassion. Even as I train to know Your word better, may that knowledge be coupled with a heart of compassion for Your lost children. Make me aware of that person or persons You have placed in my life that You desire me to reach with Your gospel "

May this day be an adventure of compassion and grace.

The need for dreamers and visionaries has never been greater. Anxious and uncertain people eagerly desire a genuine dream and vision.

Few passages of the Bible are as thrilling as the exciting prophecy for our day, quoted by the Apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost at the birth of the church:

"It will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions." (Joel 2:28)

The Spirit of God is given to lift us from the mundane and inspire and motivate us for the great possibilities that alone exist with our Father through His Son Jesus. A major focus of those dreams and visions is the Great Commission - winning and making disciples: "And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of Yahweh Will be delivered" (Joel 2:32)

We indulged in a little dreaming in church yesterday. We considered the power of "compound interest" in terms of disciple making and envisioned the possibilities. A band of twenty disciple makers would grow to six hundred and forty in five years if each one discipled just one person for one year and trained them to be reproducing disciples. The numbers jump exponentially over ten, fifteen, twenty and twenty-five years. The logistics for that kind of growth in a local church becomes daunting, to say the least (where do over 1 billion disciples gather for worship?)

The bottom line for such a dream and vision isn't numbers; it's faithfulness. The prime mission given to every believer is that of making disciples - thoroughly training kingdom citizens to become responsive and obedient to the word of God and the God of the word. Herein is found our greatest personal joy and fulfillment as well as our fullest obedience.

There are voices today lamenting the rise of radical Islam and the implications of an oppressive Islamic world. The people of God are Spirit-inspired to envision a multiplying throng of obedient disciples who enlarge and enrich the kingdom of God in advance of the return of Jesus to planet earth. Wholehearted obedience to this divine vision is the need of the hour.

So, who is that one person the Lord has placed in your life to be your yearlong "discipling project"?


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

I picture a cartoon of someone with a "hinged head" where someone else opens it up and puts something in. I'm sure that's not what really happened.

"Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem." (Luke 24:45-47)

I'm intrigued by the phrase, "He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures". Even as I read this I wish He would do the same for me! How often I have been perplexed by what I read and yearn for true insight and understanding. And yet I realize that He has indeed opened my mind, and yours, as we read.

There are two key premises essential to understanding the Bible. The first is an understanding that "it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem." The concept of a suffering Messiah is crucial in understanding the overall message of the Bible.

The second essential key is understanding the "mystery phase" of the Kingdom of God - the presence of an unseen kingdom in the world today in advance of the visible kingdom to come at the return of Jesus. Jesus explains the importance of this truth in Matthew 13:10-17.

With these two key premises in mind the Bible is unlocked to us for our understanding and application; our minds are opened to understand the Scriptures. We are then prepared to participate in taking this gospel out to the peoples of the world.

Perhaps this all seems like a simple three-step process in understanding the Bible once and for all. Actually, it the beginning of the process of a lifetime. Understanding these key premises is merely the doorway to the greatest adventure of all; the door is wide open to us for a lifetime of instruction by Jesus through the instructive power of Holy Spirit (John 14:26). That instruction guides us along in to service and outreach.

I'm thankful for an understanding mind. Perhaps the greater challenge is for a more responsive heart, but that's a thought for another day ...


Monday, May 04, 2009

No one ever had fresher breath, and it had nothing to do with modern mouthwashes or breath mints.

"And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit." (John 20:22)

Talk about a breath of fresh air! Jesus, in His glorified resurrection body, breathes on His faithful followers and empowers them with the Father's dynamic Holy Spirit. He does so in response to an important declaration and directive He has just given:

"Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you." (John 20:21)

True peace can only come through the Comforter, God's Holy Spirit, and that peace is essential to our mission. As recipients of peace, we are sent out into the world as Christ's duly-appointed representatives to share the gospel of peace: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9)

The gospel of the Kingdom that we experience and promote is truly a message of peace. It offers personal peace between individuals and God as well as ultimate peace in an earthly paradise. It produces a peace which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7) amidst a world of turmoil and conflict.

I've received the breath of the Spirit that produces peace and sends me out with the gospel of peace, but sometimes I long for a "fresh breath" of the Spirit. There are times in life when the air seems a bit stale and there is a longing to open the windows of our lives to the refreshing breeze of the Spirit.

This much we can be confident of: Jesus stands near each of us and breathes the Father's Spirit upon us in measure just as we need to experience peace and to be sent out with His message of peace.

"These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)