When the Night Seems Long

       Have you ever had a moment where the command of God comes through so strong you simply know you have to do what He is telling you to do right then and there?

I had such a moment last week. I felt I needed to call a lady from our church. The business I had to speak with her about was hardly earth-shaking but I knew it had to be done at that time on that day.

I called.

She answered.

Turns out she was on her way for a biopsy to find out if she had breast cancer ( not at all why I thought I was calling).

In the last year this sister-in-the-Lord has sat by the bed-side of one son severely wounded in a motor cycle accident, walked with her father through a major heart attack, stood beside her mom through breast cancer treatments, and her sister who nearly died of renal failure. Now her daughter may have celiac disease, and her seventeen year old has been experiencing mysterious black-outs. It’s been a long year by anyone’s estimation.

I hate to say it but she is not alone. So many are going through so much. This present darkness of night seems to be closing in more and more with each passing day. What can we do when the night seems so long?

First, remember Christian you are the light of the world. No one needs to walk in darkness when one of us is near. Inside of each one of us is an inextinguishable light. We carry within us the hope of the ages.

Second, when the night seems long shine your light. Be practical in your spreading of hope. Call someone and offer prayer. If you are suffering ask someone to pray for you. Don’t just go to church. Be the church! It may be midnight out there but it’s time for the sleeper to awaken!

Finally, speak to this darkness and command it to leave. Sing and make music in your hearts to silence this foe and this avenger. Antichrist’s spirit may be strong but it is not stronger than the worshippers of Jesus Christ. We are the victors in this battle brothers and sisters! I’ve read the end of the Book. We win! Don’t you forget it!

How can I pray for you today?

Prayer Weekend

      Over the weekend I attended a men’s prayer retreat and evangelistic services at our church. While I had some time to catch up on reading I did not find a good time to write; So this post is just a tad behind schedule.

     Here are some of the thoughts God shared with me during the retreat in random order:

1. God is in the midst of challenging the church’s paradigm of giving. He is calling us to a new level of simplicity and sacrifice.

2.  The best way to lose sight of temptation is to look at Jesus.

3. The prayer work God is calling His church to now is preparation for what lies in the future.

4. God is bringing His people to desperation so that they will seek Him.

5. Seek God and desperation will lose its edge.

6. Remember giving yourself to the social life of the church is not equivalent to being saved.

7. Many in the church long to grow close to the pastor rather than Jesus. This must not be encouraged. In the hours of desperation it will be just them and Jesus. They must know how to access the presence of God for themselves.

8. When people go to church to seek answers they often end up with shallow empty religion. When people go to church to seek Jesus they always end up with a vibrant living faith.

9. Faith works best when there is no natural hope.

10. Sometimes more is not always better, sometimes it is just more.

11. When Jesus comes in His kingdom the highest ranking officials, the most prestigious among us will not be governors or kings but those who worship in the temple. There is a deep privilege in prayer.

 What has God been sharing with you in prayer lately?

Raising the Temperature Pt. 3

      So the question has been raised, “How do I raise my spiritual temperature?”

     The answer is, “By relating to God.” 

    Now that seems relatively easy but God is not some slob off the street I can just walk up to. Relationship with Him is based on the fact that He is God and I am not His equal. Relationship with Him is based on the premise that I love Him by giving Him everything: heart, soul, mind and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5). That means I turn over all my decisions to him. All my emotions are put under His control. All my understanding is sold out to Him. If He thinks a certain way about a certain thing then I do too even if I disagree. It doesn’t matter what I think; it’s what He thinks that counts. Finally all my life force is turned over to Him. I will do what He says. That’s called obedience and it is the primary way I relate to God. Lots of obedience equals temperatures rising through the roof. Little obedience equals temperatures like Alaska in January. Half and Half obedience means I am  about the temperature of potato salad that’s been left out for eight hours in the hot sun. 

      I hear a lot of people say things like “Well I asked Jesus to forgive my sins. But I don’t go to church because I have a very busy life.” 

      I hear people say “I asked Jesus to come into my heart, but I just don’t like worship, reading the Bible or praying I guess that’s for other people.” 

      I have heard “ Jesus is my Lord but we’re in the New Testament God doesn’t require me to tithe anymore.” or “I will give to missions when we stop giving to all those people over seas. My money is staying in America.” 

     Some say “I ask Jesus to forgive me everyday. I know my lifestyle is wrong, but God just has to accept me the way I am because I can’t change.”  

     These statements all stem from a heart of disobedience. The Bible commands us to join ourselves with the body of Christ. We are commanded to study, pray and worship. We are ordered to give even sacrificially. Finally we are told we have no choice but to declare war on sin in our own lives even if we think we were born that way.

      Now I just lost some of you because you have now said “That’s impossible and I guess I will never raise my spiritual temperature.”

      Please give me another moment or two and let me win you back. Yes obedience is a requirement to raising the spiritual temperature and having relationship with God. But God also knew it would not be possible for us to do it ourselves. THAT IS WHY HE SENT JESUS TO DIE AND RISE FROM THE DEAD FOR US. 

      Jesus did not just die to forgive your sins. He rose from the dead so that you could be free of them; So that you could obey and have a relationship with God that would raise your spiritual temperature. But you have to decide to let Him do it. You have to give him control and let Him begin to help you defeat sin. And this is how He does it.

“The LORD your God will drive those nations out ahead of you little by little. You will not clear them away all at once, otherwise the wild animals would multiply too quickly for you.” Deut. 7:22 NLT

     Jesus is not asking you to win the battle today. He’s asking you to start it. You start. He’ll finish!

Raising the Temperature Pt. 2

     As you go through this study you might want to open your Bible to Deuteronomy 6 and 7 and give it a quick read through as well. We’re going to be talking about obedience for the next couple of blogs; It’s pretty important to the life of faith.

    Moses uses the word “obey”10 times in Deuteronomy 6 and 7 and several of those uses link obedience with loving God and Him loving us in return. So what’s that’s got to do with raising the spiritual temperature of the church? Let’s find out:

    excerpted from sermon notes 8-1-11

     We are talking about raising the temperature of the church today. I have to tell you, that is a thing sorely needed. A spirit of lukewarmness is descending, trying to put out the church’s fire. We must not let it! Further we do not have to let it! We do have a choice because the Bible declares, “Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.”  I John 4:4

      Satan doesn’t have any more power to make us lukewarm than he has power to knock God off the throne of Heaven. The difference between us and God is that when Satan came and tried to kick God off the throne, God fought and won. He used His power.

     Too many times when Satan comes and tries to cool down the fires of the Holy Spirit in us, we sit down and say “Cool down? No problem. Just don’t hurt me.” We don’t rise up with the power of God inside us and fight. 

     It’s time to raise the temperature of the church and we have a say in that brothers and sisters! 

     I want to tell you how to raise the temperature. But first I think it’s important that we look at some things that will not raise the temperature:

 More People in attendance at church will not raise the temperature. How do I know that? Well because a lot of people attend Lady Gaga concerts. She’s attracting more and more people every week but it doesn’t matter how many people go to her concerts even as repeats the spiritual climate of those concerts is still going to be ice. Because Holy Spirit is not invited there!

More money will not raise the temperature of the church. Money is not bad. It’s a tool. As such it has no more spiritual temperature than a hammer and we would never think of saying “More hammers will make the church more on fire for Jesus.” That would be ridiculous. 

Greater fame or approval in the world system will not raise the spiritual temperature of the church. In fact raising the temperature of the church usually makes approval of the world system go away. You don’t believe me? Let’s talk to the fastest growing church in the world in China. Declaring yourself a Christian doesn’t gain you approval there…. It could get you sent to jail though.

  Benchmark success will not raise the spiritual temperature of the church. This is a big trap for us. This is the mind-set that says “Set your goals for attendance and reach for them. Raise up excellent programs and the spiritual temperature will rise”. 

      I can tell you right now that won’t work. Setting and meeting goals will make us successful and if we get good enough at it we might become as successful a church as McDonald’s is a restraunt. Maybe we’ll even be able to hang out a sign that says  “ served communion” but bench mark success will not raise the temperature of the church.   

     Don’t get me wrong more people, more money, fame and approval, success all nice things but they don’t raise spiritual temperature. They are by products of a rising spiritual temperature! They are like the carbon emissions from the tail pipe of your car. When the engine is hot the fumes pour out. But too often the church has been guilty of confusing spiritual temperature with the fumes. 

     What raises the spiritual temperature of the church then? It’s the RELATIONSHIP THE PEOPLE OF THE CHURCH HAVE WITH THEIR GOD!

     The problem today is not with our programs, our money, our popularity, or our cultural relevance. What kills the temperature of the church is our individual intimacy with God. The church goes into revival when its people live in revival by getting into relationship with God! Until that happens the church can get grants, build buildings, and offer programs and services but the temperature will only be lukewarm. It will remain so until the people stop going to church and start going to Jesus!

Now you tell me what do you think we need to do to grow in intimacy with our God?

Regret: The Good School Marm

     In Streeter Middle School where I was forced to go as a child (after all nobody chooses to go to Middle School) there was a teacher nobody wanted to have. We called her “Big Bad Bood”. Her real name was Mrs. Boudreau and she owned the reputation of being four and a half feet of pure mean. She taught algebra.

     I began having nightmares about her at the end of seventh grade which continued all through the summer right up until the time I started eighth grade in September. I dreamed about being hit with rulers because I couldn’t balance equations. I dreamed about being forced to inhale nose spray because I didn’t know the difference between positive and negative integers (I know weird :roll:).

    Anyway September came and I met “Big Bad Bood”. She passed out our algebra books and warned us that we would have them covered by next class or face detention. She gave us homework that day and told us how to do it. She taught with no-nonsense and gave us clear direction about what she expected. She answered questions directly and told us “The only stupid question is the one you never ask”.  I learned by the end of day one I had been frightened all summer of someone I actually liked! She was tough. She was a disciplinarian. But if you were willing to work you had nothing to fear.

      I am finding as I enter mid-life that regret is a lot like Mrs. Boudreau. As a young man I never wanted to have regret  just like I never wanted to have algebra. But I have found that regret is a part of life just like algebra is a part of eighth grade. You can’t get through life without it; That’s just part of being an imperfect human being.

    Regret is tough. Regret is a disciplinarian. Regret is a good school marm. It exists to teach us something. If we are willing to learn regret can become a friend rather than a foe. It’s when we sit and do nothing but curse our regret that she turns into four and a half feet of pure mean.

     Listen, we’ve all got regret. It’s how much you resist her teachings that determines how much pain she is going to cause!

What is your regret trying to teach you?


Accepted Not Accomplished

    I am convinced that certain pass times were invented by God for the sole purpose of helping to inspire men to speak truthfully to one another about life’s deeper matters. Fishing, for instance, is a good way to get me to talk about more than the weather.

     Not that I fish mind you. I tend to be a little dangerous with a rod and reel. But I like to watch; So when my brother-in-law and I walked up to the little pond behind the farm in Maine I knew we were in for a good conversation.

     As he fished we talked about a lot of things: dogs, kids, fish, jobs, family, all the stuff you have to get out of the way so that you can actually talk about what’s on the inside. Then we went deeper.

     When the bugs overwhelmed us we returned home and continued our conversation over a game of chess.  I knew I was going to lose as soon as I sacrificed my king’s right to castle.

      As more of my men tumbled into the dungeons of Cliff’s queen our conversation turned to things spiritual.

      Have you ever been in a conversation with a friend only to have the Holy Spirit hi-jack the thread in order to reveal His truth to everyone in the room? That’s what happened to Cliff and me. There we were between the death of pawns and rooks, discussing our personal walks with God, when suddenly Holy Spirit began to teach us both about how sanctification works.

     We were talking about things we were going through and how hard we were both trying in different areas of our Christianity when suddenly this word just  tumbled out between us.

 “Christianity is meant to be accepted not accomplished.”

     We both stopped, realizing that the words weren’t ours. I went for my notepad while we both kind of reeled in the shock of how God had just butted in with this thought.

    It’s true though isn’t it? We started our Christian lives simply by accepting Jesus’ atoning death. We have to finish it up the same way. We can no more sanctify ourselves than we could redeem ourselves. Sure we need to be obedient to what the Spirit tells us, but in the end it’s all His work…all His power that makes us perfect.

After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?Gal. 3:3

Who Are You Really?

    Who are you really?

     Some of us think we are the product of our upbringing or our education. Some of us think we can be whatever we focus our minds on.  Some of us think we are just the sum of our experiences. Yet others think we can never really know ourselves at all.

     Now, Jeremiah, the prophet, indicated that we were clay in the hands of a Master Potter; So I am not sure that anything in the list above is really true.  Sometimes I think our upbringings, educations, experiences, and even our own desires do more to confuse us about who we are than anything.

     After all if God , the God of the universe, took the time and trouble to forge us then He had a purpose in that forging. If that is so surely He made us complete with all the gifts and talents we would ever need to accomplish that purpose.

     Have you ever heard of a tool craftsman who forged a screw-driver to drive nails? No! that would be ridiculous. If a craftsman needed to create a tool to drive nails he would make a hammer. And that item would continue to be a hammer even if it was told all its life by everyone around, it should be a screw driver. Even if it felt in itself it would like to be a paintbrush, a hammer could never do a good job of coloring a wall. Even if a foolish carpenter tried to use it as a pair of pliers the hammer could only ever be a hammer. You see, it was created for a purpose and could  only ever be successful in that purpose.

     Who are you really?

     The truth is down deep inside of you. Your identity was forged with you in the womb. God knew you and imprinted your identity deep inside you before you were even born. Yet the moment you came into the world everything in the world began trying to steal your identity.

     The power of sin exercised its strength upon you and told you, you were a thief, an alcoholic, or a homosexual. Yet none of those were part of the original design. Sin stole your identity.

      Who are you really?

      Relationships rose up in your life and took the place of God. Suddenly what people thought about you took the place of what God thought about you. An earthly father told his son he was weak and the boy gave up His God identity to prove he was no sissy. An earthly mother told her daughter no one would marry her if she gained too much weight; So the daughter gave up her God identity to prove she was beautiful.

     Who are you really?

      You went to school and learned that you came from a monkey and that life was about what you knew and who you knew. So you turned to amass knowledge and influence only to find out with Solomon that it was all “vanity”.

    Who are you really?

     I have done a lot of thinking about this lately. I feel like I’ve spent half my life trying to figure out who I am, by asking the world around me, only to find out that it never really had the answer to begin with.

     I know the answer is found in God alone. He and I are on a journey inward to find the answer that He spoke into my life long ago. I know that when I put away sin, my fear of what others think about me, and even my varied life experiences, when I gaze into the Word of truth and apply it to my life I shall know more than ever before who I was made to be.

     Who am I really? I am a child of God made to reflect His image. I was made a little lower than the Heavenly beings and I was clothed with glory and honor. I was made to be in fellowship with God and to draw other men into that fellowship by my life. I am who the word of God says I am regardless of what the world, the flesh, and the devil tell me I am.

… And if you will accept it THROUGH CHRIST so are you!

Cylon:“Truth What is Truth?”

A while ago I started a post about Christianity and culture called “Hold the Fort: I Don’t Want To Be a Cylon!”. This is part two in that series.

 Pontius Pilate asked Jesus “What is truth” as he was interviewing the Savior before the inevitable death sentence. While I don’t think many of us would like to be compared to Pontius most of our culture shares his sketchy understanding of truth. So many have fallen into this trap of relative truth, “If you think it’s true then it’s true for you. Everyone has their own beliefs.”

     It must be nearly ten years ago now, I was teaching school as a special needs IA. My student had gone off to his job placement and I was busy reading the Telegram during my lunch hour before geometry class when one of the teachers brought up the topic of religion. She began to talk about “those fundamentalists” and how if they were real Christians they would understand that God loved everybody no matter what they believed and that a loving God would surely never send anyone to Hell but would  accept everyone’s beliefs no matter what they were.

     I listened for a while as she spoke to everyone in the teacher’s lounge. I tried, oh I tried, to bury myself in the Celtics scoreboard but when other teachers started nodding their heads in affirmation I had to speak up.

     “What church do you belong to?” I asked.

    “I am a Catholic.” She replied.

    “Do you believe Peter was the first Pope?”

     “Of course I do.” She replied a little taken aback.

    “Well your first Pope disagrees with you.” I replied. “Because he said ‘There is no other name under Heaven whereby men can be saved but the name of Jesus.’; So that means, according to the guy you say was the first leader of your church, if you do not believe in Jesus you cannot go to Heaven.”

     The room fell silent. The lady stared at me as if I had just murdered her kitten. Then she stormed into the bathroom and wouldn’t come out until I had vacated the room. 

     Our society has really lost its grip on truth and with it, its grip on reality. The idea that everyone can make up their own idea of right and wrong, truth and falsehood, is just…well… crazy. My idea about reality cannot be as valid as a divergent idea about reality. One of them has to be right and one of them has to be wrong. Case in point either there is a God or there isn’t. Christians and Atheists can’t both be right. Both ideas cannot be equally acceptable. Further the idea that every man gets to decide what is right and wrong isn’t working for our society now. What makes us think it is how Heaven runs?

     We struggle with truth because we struggle with telling people they are wrong particularly in the area of morality. For some reason we think that the area of morals should be subjective. Honestly though, morals are mostly as cut and dried as 2+2. Adultery is as wrong as 2+2=5. Lying always causes trouble. And stealing will never be O.K. It doesn’t mean there is no room for mercy but lets not confuse mercy and forgiveness with changing moral codes to fit our lifestyle.

So fellow Cylons you tell me: What is truth?

Passion: The Comforter Bears Witness

     “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, [even] the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning. ” John 15: 26,27 KJV

          My favorite game as a kid was “Superfriends”. Yep, no hide and seek for me, no baseball or football. I was a role player all the way. While other kids were learning to catch, I was pouring over the comic section at the local penny candy store and wishing I could be like Superman, Green Lantern, or The Flash. Truth is  I was the nerd who could read before he started kindergarten but always got picked last in gym. I think I liked imagination games because at least on that playing field I stood a chance of competing and winning.

     Real life, though, isn’t a role-playing game. I soon found out that being able to answer all the questions in class and running slower than the girls puts you on the bottom rung of the social ladder for the most part and keeps you there particularly if you never hit your stride.

     It’s not really a wonder that my childhood game turned into a preadolescent fascination with the supernatural. My penchant for comic books turned into a thirst for books about the New Age. I began trying to channel spirits and believed I could talk to the dead. By thirteen I was one weird, messed up kid.

     But then through a series of events God broke in on my life. I wasn’t seeking Him. I was looking to talk to the dead guy who owned my parents house in the fifties. But God was looking for me. The Comforter, the Holy Spirit of God, sent a witness in the form of a godly teacher.

      When I told my mother that I wanted to go to my teacher’s church she said “No if you’re going to go to any church it will be your Uncle Tom’s.”

     That was strange because everyone in the family thought Uncle Tom was crazy. But the Holy Spirit knew what I needed; So He arranged it. I remember my first experience with the Pentecostal Church. It was wild! I heard people speaking in tongues and other people interpreting those tongues. Another guy spoke a  prophetic word  in the service. Then the pastor called people forward for divine healing. People fell over while he was praying for them and all the while the church was singing and rejoicing in the Lord. There was a lot of clapping and shouting and praising God…and I experienced the supernatural presence of God for the first time ! Right there in that little New England Assembly of God I found the Source of all power and somehow I knew I didn’t have to imagine being “super” any more. I realized if I could just tap into this Source I would never be the “weak one” again.

     A movement has grabbed our churches since those days. Some of us have become “seeker-sensitive” espousing a notion that supernatural displays of power in the public service will turn people off and send them packing out our doors. I’m here to testify that is a lie. I needed the supernatural presence of God. Other people need it too. The Holy Spirit and His demonstrations of power are indeed outlandish, wild, extreme, sometimes even a little frightening…but they prove God is powerful to a world that is craving empowerment.

      Maybe the Holy Spirit freaks out the people who have always been picked first for the gym class. Maybe He seems strange to those who already have it in their heads they can make it on their own steam. But I have to tell you this “wimpy kid”, lost in his own personal dungeons and dragons game, needed a Comforter who would testify about a Jesus who loved me even though I didn’t measure up. I still need that! Somewhere along the way the Holy Spirit became that equalizing force I always craved.  

     How many I wonder are like me? Let’s open our eyes to the fact that we live in a nation increasingly disempowered seeking something.. anything that will fill the void of our weakness. It has always been the Spirit’s job to point the world to Jesus through displays of power that confirm the truth, that He alone can fill that void! The church has the responsibility to partner with him in that witness. We have been called to let His power flow!

Quench Not the Spirit. Happy Pentecost!

The Beauty We Can Keep

As I stretched to life this morning against the thick green comforter on my bed, the sound of a distant thunder echoed through the rain washed air filtering in past the bedroom screens.

    The morning mist carried the jasmine scent from the black locust tree to fill my room once again. I woke up the dogs and got them ready for their morning jaunt.

    The rain had let up as I gave the dogs their run through the wet green. I caught the aroma of the flowering chives beaten in with the fragrance of lilac finishing its walk through the New England spring. The wild Irish rose had bloomed in the sudden thunder-heat of last night and the Elizabethan garden was awash with its spice.

    The baby robins twittered in their nest under the eaves as the bullfrog sang from its home in the vernal brook behind the house.

     As I wandered the yard in the rising sun I found myself desiring to distill the beauty of the moment into something less fleeting something that would last for an eternity. I wanted to freeze the frame and stand in its peace and apparent perfection forever.

     Then God put me in mind of a conversation I had several years ago with a young man who had joined himself to our church. He was a young spitfire preacher who loved Jesus but thought of the Savior in the context of a bizarre mixture of Pentecostalism and Liberation Theology.

     I can still recall sitting at lunch with him in that little diner. He was almost weeping over his cup of coffee as he zealously asked “What can we do to turn this thing around Pastor J? What can we do to stop God’s judgment on the world? We can’t lose all this beauty! What do we have to do to save our planet from the wrath of God?”

     A little shocked I replied “We can’t save the planet. The Bible says it is going to burn. The only thing we can rescue out of the world is souls.”

     This morning as I walked through my gardens I thought about those words.  A day is coming when the scent of lilac and locust, chive and wild irish rose will be burned away by the fury of our God. In that day my earthly garden will stand no more. I cannot keep its beauty no matter how much I desire too. But there is a beauty I can keep. It is the beauty of souls saved for eternity.

        It is for this reason: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD [is] upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to [them that are] bound;  To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified. ”  (Isaiah 61:1-3 KJV)

     Those moments of “perfection” we experience in life, like the moment I had in my garden, are but quickly fading reflections, echoes of the heavenly life we truly long for. They are exquisite and dangerous if received in the flesh.  Carnal humans get lost in those moments of earthly beauty and turn their attention to seeking the echo rather than the singer, the reflection rather than the source. Sadly echoes quickly fade and reflections do not remain when once the mirror breaks (as life is wont to cause). Disneyland will never satisfy the cravings of the soul for adventure. Hollywood can never satisfy our desire to be loved even with its greatest romance and I cannot keep the passing beauty of this morning’s gardens.

     But there is a beauty we can keep if we will turn our attentions away from this world and focus ourselves on the Lord’s garden of souls. If I recognize that what I truly long for when I walk my gardens is the home I have in eternity and to be able to share it with the rest of the world, then my hunger for beauty is taken from the world and placed in the hands of the Savior where it belongs. He then can rightly position it so that, with Him, I focus on gardening for souls. My life becomes about scattering and cultivating the seed of the Word in the hearts of my fellow-men.

     Then I can enjoy the beauty of the Earth. For it is in the context of the beauty of the Kingdom of God I see it all!

May your focus be eternity and your joy in life be the hope of Heaven for yourself and all your loved ones!