A Deeper Life podcast – Intro

Are you hungry for more but unsure of what will fill the restless place in your spirit? Do you wonder if you are walking with God in all He intends for you? Whether you are far from God or doing what you know to do in living for Him, A Deeper Life offers solid biblical insight on finding the “more” you were born to live.

Be it Unto Me: Thoughts on Mary’s story

If I could have known how the words I spoke that day would carry me through so many broken places, I am not sure I could have even uttered them. But, oh the joy that has come from my surrender and my steps through paths that were unknown then!

Scene one

It was an angel! A real-live breathing, shining, frightening angel. I was no one. A young woman in a small town from a small family with no right to hear the words that he came to bring. Yet he was real, and his words struck my heart, touching something deep within me that I had not known was there until that moment. Feelings rose that I could not put into words. And when he showed me what was to come, what God had said what was going to be, I was amazed. He answered my one question, “How can these things be?” He told me the Holy Ghost will do the work, and I believed wonderful things were about to unfold just as he said! There was nothing left for this simple handmaiden of the Lord to reply, except, “Be it unto me according to thy word!”

Scene two

Not here! Not now! Not in this horrible, nasty, crowded, confusion of a city with a census in full swing. Could I not have stayed where I had prepared to bring this God-touched child, this God-conceived holy one to birth? How could this happen? Have I already brought shame on my Lord who trusted me to carry this child? And yet here He is, my precious baby, Jesus! And yet still, shepherds – of all people, shepherds – are here surrounding this lowly manger to tell us that not one angel has appeared to them, but a whole heavenly host of angels filling the sky! The angels have told them that He is here! I see it. How could this not be the will of God, even as wrong and out of place as a birth in this stable seems to be? As far as it was from my plan? I must say, “Be it unto me!”

Scene three

Egypt! Why here? Our people were warned never to return to the land of our fathers’ captivity, and yet Joseph says an angel showed him this is where we are to be kept safe. It started with those wise men, majestic kings from the East bringing their unspeakably beautiful gifts. What riches! We had never seen such wealth in all our lives. They bowed in reverence to this precious child as to the true King of Kings! They even shared how they were led by a star to the very spot where we stayed with our young child.

But they had stopped to ask that wicked King Herod where He was. Oh, how long will we be here? The angel in Joseph’s dream said that Herod would be seeking Jesus’ life. Even now I have a horrible foreboding of what could have happened in Bethlehem after we left. Herod is so ruthless. Not one child would he spare in his desperate attempt to clutch his kingdom to himself. Whatever God’s plan for keeping this treasure He has brought into our lives safe from the enemy’s wiles, I can only say, “Be it unto me!”

Scene four

I do not understand. Crowds of people throng the house where He sits to teach. Is it safe? Is it wise to allow this to happen with the Romans about everywhere? Will they not at some point come here to see what is going on? These rulers, unlike the ones who were sitting within the temple when He was a boy of twelve, reasoning with them like the wisest of priests, now keenly watch him, looking for every word they think might be wrong. Oh, would they not love an opportunity to turn Him over to the filthy clutches of those demonic soldiers who delight to do us hurt at every opprtunity? I must go to Him. I am His mother. If anyone can show him how he is putting himself at risk, His brothers and I must be the ones to speak reason unto Him.

Scene five

We are here at the house where too many are gathered. We cannot even get in at the door! I must have someone tell Him we are here. He will come for me.

How can this be? His only response to the summons that His mother and His brothers are here and waiting to talk to Him was, “Who is my mother? And who are my brothers?”

What is this? Who has He become? I know He would never have said these things when we were alone in our home where I raised Him and nurtured Him and cared for Him. How has He become this person who does not seem to value His own mother?

Yet, what He said – what was it? “For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and my mother.” It recalls to me the moment when we understood what we thought was disrespect, as He intentionally chose to stay behind without a word to us, knowing we were leaving Jerusalem: “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” At only twelve years old He had put this thing He must do ahead of our relationship. Is that what He is communicating to me now? “If you want to be among those who are close to me, it cannot be by hindering what I am doing or asking me to place any earthly kinship ahead of my calling. I must only do the work of my Father. Do you want to be a part of that, or will you stand on ceremony, insisting you are right, and not move closer to me?” Oh, dearest Jesus, I will go with you. I will follow you and not suggest that you must go my way. With all my heart I cry unto you now, “Be it into me according to thy word!”

Scene six

All my fears are coming true in one day. Arrested, beaten, and now, a cross! A cross! Oh, if only I could have saved him from this end. I knew they would not abide His teachings going against their authority forever. Even I could never have fathomed the depth of their hatred for Him. No more cruel death was ever known than this. How can I even bear to look up at His bruised and bloodied face? And yet, I must! If I had not known him as my son, I could not even recognize him now! The words flood back to me of the aged Simon when we had brought our precious eight-day-old baby to be circumcised: “Yea, and a sword shall pierce thine own soul, also!” There were times I believed my pain was that prophecy coming true, but today there is no doubt left.

Oh, now He speaks to me! From his agony as He hangs there, he is mindful of me! “Woman, behold thy son,” and to His beloved disciple, John, “Son, behold thy mother.” Now John is here to comfort and support me, though he has no words. We are all broken together. I am a mother who submitted to the will of God for bearing a child conceived by the Holy Ghost. I do not understand how it could have come to this. Oh, how can it be, that in my heart swell the words that I uttered to the angel and to the God who sent him to me. With my head bowed in sorrow, my spirit somehow whispers, “Be it unto me according to thy word.”

Scene seven

Risen! That tomb is empty! He has been seen now of over five hundred people! Ascended – caught up into the Heavens in the clouds. An angel was there, declaring, “…He shall come again in like manner…” Instructions to wait at Jerusalem for the promise of the Father.

I must be there! I must receive this promise! I will not miss anything my risen Lord has asked me to do. As beautiful as it was when the Holy Ghost overshadowed me to conceive, what will it be like to receive the Holy Ghost as Jesus said?

An upper room. Fervent prayer. Then, tongues of fire! A rushing mighty wind! One hundred twenty of us all speaking in unknown tongues at once! Joy unspeakable and full of glory! No joy I have ever felt compares to the love, the flood of power and joy flowing out of my innermost being! It is truly the river of living water Jesus spoke of.

Peter is preaching to the amazed crowd who have gathered to hear and to see. He tells their convicted hearts what to do about their sin. They know now that they have crucified the Lord of Glory! He gives them hope: “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”

We are being baptized in the lovely name, the only saving name, the name of Jesus. Three thousand people today. This will grow and cover the whole earth as God desires.

I know the officials will fight against it, as they fought everything else that He did, but I know, too, that this is the reason why He came! I see it now. I understand all that He did, taught, and suffered was to bring us – even me – to this appointed time when God’s laws would be written in our hearts, and this precious Son I bore and raised and gave up to die would conquer death and come to live in me as the Holy Ghost! What more is there to come? I cannot say, but I will shout these words throughout my days on earth and into eternity, “Be it unto me according to thy word! Oh, hallelujah! Hallelujah! Be it unto me!”

Coming to God

But without faith it is impossible to please him, for he that cometh to God must first believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him, Hebrews 11:6.

What does it mean to “come to God”? This is the central theme of all time if it were to be distilled to its core element. Nothing else we do in life will eternally affect us as will our choices relative to the things of God and our never-dying souls.

More has been written on this than could be contained in a vast library of printed books, with ideas and doctrines so diverse that it is not possible for them all to be true. And yet they continue to multiply. No wonder so many people shut off their inner voices that had been urging them to continue seeking until they find the truth. It is not easy to find. But is it impossible?

The Scripture verse above says that it is not impossible. It does not say that it is easy. “Diligently seek” is not a phrase that carries a connotation of occasional thought, blind acceptance, or comfortable acquiescence. Let us break down what God says is required for coming to Him, by focusing on the elements of this verse.

He that cometh to God… Who is “he”?

  • Someone who has faith (Hebrews 11:6, But without faith it is impossible to please God…)
  • Someone who is being drawn to come to God (John 6:44, No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him…)
  • Someone who is beginning to respond to that drawing (James 4:8, Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.)

How does he “come to God”? The image above of a child’s first steps has implications…

  • The child is being called to come. (John 15:16, Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you…)
  • The child has to take a physical step. (Luke 9:23, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.)
  • The child will be rewarded when he takes even a halting step. (John 6:37, …and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.)

How does he “believe” and “have faith”?

  • He hears the Word of God (Romans 10:17, …faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.)
  • He believes what he hears, understanding that believing requires some kind of response (Acts 2:37, Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?)
  • He acts on what he has heard; he obeys the Word (Romans 6:17, But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.)
  • This response of obedience allows him to receive more of the Word (John 7:17, If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine…)

How does he “diligently seek”?

  • He continues to make steps (2 John 1:6, And this is love, that we walk after his commandments.)
  • He fights to know the truth (Jeremiah 29:13, And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.)
  • He forsakes all to follow (Matthew 13:46, Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.)

Our illustration of child’s first steps is instructive in more ways than one. In that child’s mind, he knows there is a response required of him to do what his parent is asking: “Come to me.” That infant brain is struggling to make the connection between what he understands and what his little body knows how to do. His muscles are not yet trained to respond.

It is not the first time he has been asked to come, yet this time he wills himself more strongly than ever to get his chubby body balanced, to raise his little foot, to lean forward slightly at the same time, to plant his foot and stay upright while he repeats the process with the other foot. Even if he falls, he is rewarded for trying. But he must keep trying.

Years later, if he is asked to come to his father, failing to do so will be an act of disobedience, of choosing not to continue, but today it is a factor of him attempting to discern what it means to “Come to Daddy,” and of not giving up until he makes it happen.

God draws us to Him. That drawing requires a response. That response is not a one-time acquiescence, but a full-time walk of submission and obedience that brings more knowledge to be obeyed, more light in which to walk. (John 8:12,…I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.)

But what if we start to follow, obey a little, face something we are not quite ready to embrace, and decide to stop? Jesus told His disciples, Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth, John 16:23. A guide can only lead you where you will follow him.

The Spirit of God will lead you, but if you stop going forward, He does not. You are perfectly welcome to stay somewhere along the way that fails to get you into “all truth.” God is a gentleman, and though He will prompt and stir, draw and convict, He will not, cannot, force you to continue to follow. What then?

You may be uncomfortable with what I am about to say, but Scripture is replete with examples of religious, even spiritual, people who are not part of the true Kingdom of God. Consider these:

  • Matthew 7:21-23, Not everyone that sayeth unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
  • Luke 13:24, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.
  • Jude 12, These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds
  • 2 Timothy 3:2-7, For men shall be lovers of their own selves… lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God, having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof…ever learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth…
  • Romans 1:18, For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.

Someone did not continue to seek; they found a bit of truth, maybe repented at one time, but never followed on to fully obey. They stopped and camped right there, building a whole doctrine around a piece of the puzzle that was never meant to stand alone.

What did those who continued to follow on find and obey? Remember the question from Acts 2:37, Men and brethren what shall we do? Here is what they were told:

Acts 2:38, Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Three actions:

  • Repent (Luke 13:5, I tell you,… except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.)
  • Be baptized (Mark 16:16, He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.)
  • Receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (John 14:26, But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.)

There are many who now direct those who would come to God to “just believe,” without ever fully defining for them what that means. Notice how many action words Jesus used:

  • do (Matthew 7:21, Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.)
  • keep (John 14:15, If ye love me, keep my commandments.)
  • walk (John 12:35, Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you…)
  • follow (John 10:27, My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.)
  • come (Matthew 11:28, Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.)

Having heard these things, how will you seek? Diligently, with a heart to obey what is revealed to you? Or casually, only willing to justify your actions and lifestyle?

Only knowing the truth as Jesus defined it, by obeying His Word continually, will ever make you free:

John 8:31-32, …If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

And it goes on and on, until we meet Him face to face:

Philippians 3:14, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Hebrews 12: 14, Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Strongly Rooted or Dangerously Disconnected?

pexels-photo-247537.jpegThere was no real reason to notice it that day — the strong, stately pine with a lone branch suspended over the narrow side street.  It was familiar area I travel almost weekly, yet I was “seeing” this sight for the first time.

Something about the way that bough shot straight out, forming a canopy over the road, supported by nothing but the trunk that wore it so gracefully, caught my attention. “What on earth would seem remarkable about a pine branch here in the middle of Mississippi?” you might wonder. Large, stately pines are just about everywhere you could look in our area.

I’m sure a few weeks ago I wouldn’t have appreciated this one nearly so much.  But then, a few weeks ago I would have probably laughed at the idea that a near-record snowfall was about to hit our little piece of the South, with a crushing load that would leave most every roadway littered with pine boughs.

The branch I noticed that day had held on when others hadn’t. Its strength had a chance to speak to me in a special way.

THE STRENGTH IS NOT ITS OWN

A tree’s limbs are only as strong as their connection to the trunk. The branches grow there in the beginning because life-giving sap is able to move within the channels at their core. As long as this process continues unhindered, they are likely to remain intact. It doesn’t always work that way, of course. An almost imperceptible flaw can develop from some insult to the tree — a high wind that loosens some fibers or insects that burrow deep to make their home. Over time this process can progressively work against that branch, leaving it vulnerable to fall in an event that others might withstand.

Jesus used this analogy in the spiritual realm: “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing,” John 15:5. He taught His followers about the life He was soon going to place within them, when He would fill those who obeyed Him with the Holy Ghost. Oh the joys of becoming connected to the Vine! The power He would pour out on the Day of Pentecost — which Peter told the crowd was “to you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as our Lord shall call,” (Acts 2:39) — would turn the world upside down. But Jesus was showing them ahead of time that what He would place within them was not going to remain a strong, vibrant force unless they fought for it.  It was a connection that would have to be maintained for them to remain alive and productive in Him. 

He went on to say, “ If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned,” (John 15:6).

THE DANGERS

Beside our house, a beautiful cedar which had seemed to be growing a safe distance away when we built there, now has branches that stretch over that part of the roof. As it sits on the side where the power line comes in to the house, the power company recently trimmed up limbs closest to the line to avoid a catastrophe. During our snow event, branches that had seemed a safe distance above broke under the weight fell onto the  line.  It could gone very badly, pulling the line completely out of the house.  The tree will likely have to come down, as it has now become a hazard.

The same boughs that had blessed us with shade and beauty became a liability very quickly once they were disconnected from the trunk. Likewise, our disconnection from the Source of strength and joy affects so much more than our own lives.

Eve in the Garden discovered that what seemed to be a simple choice she was free to make on her own affected her husband, the children she would have, and all generations to come. All she could share with them of the Garden of God was her memories of being there and the shame of what caused them to lose it.

A disconnection that produces a fall inevitably brings someone else down as well. Others look to us, whether or not we are aware of how much we matter.

IT’S A FULL TIME JOB

Staying connected requires fighting our tendency to drift, to pull away from the Source of life. It requires a diligence to push ourselves to fervently pray every day.  We must read the Word of God with a goal of examining ourselves in the light of the Scriptures — exposing any area where some slight damage to our connection may be forming — rather than simply justifying ourselves that we are “close enough” to what it teaches. Faithfulness to the house of God where the Word is preached in power and anointing can never be neglected, for even in our best efforts, we will not always be as honest with ourselves as is required to stay connected on our own.

It is indeed not a comfortable thing to walk with God. We serve Him in a fleshly body with a carnal nature. “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24).  These words of desperation were spoken by the man who wrote most of the New Testament.  Can we conclude he was only able to accomplish what he did because he saw his fight for spiritual health as it truly was? He told the Corinthians, “…I die daily,” (I Cor. 15:31), and “…I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection…,” (I Cor. 9:27). He knew how to stay connected, and the vital importance of regularly experiencing the power of God that Peter described as “joy unspeakable and full of glory,” (1 Peter 1:8).

CHECK YOUR CONNECTION

Where are you with being connected to the Vine? Have you established the connection Jesus promised His followers? Are you checking your connection consistently? Do you understand the fight of pressing toward the mark?

Dangerous disconnection often starts with satisfaction in where we are with God. Reaching for Him, calling on Him, seeking Him daily is truly the way to keep the life flowing from Him through us, to refresh, revive, and strengthen our hearts and lives.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on becoming, and staying, connected to the Vine. Feel free to leave a comment below.

SOME NEWS

Start to Finish: Starting a Walk with God That Can Finish Strong — some observations from my fight to stay connected over the past thirty years — is due to be published soon. I look forward to sharing these insights with you when the process is complete in a few weeks.  Look for it on Amazon, or find a link here on my site.

In the meantime, let’s stay connected!

 

 

 

The road to Heaven is paved with…

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

I’m not sure who said it originally, but most people have heard that admonition to take action on things we have only planned to do, to get ready for the final home we hope to have in Heaven. It is indeed a worthy thought because only actions will pull us from a world of sin and ready us for everlasting life where no sin can enter.

In the last 24 hours I’ve had an experience I would like to share, as it contrasts with the picture of how the road to hell is paved. After all, there is another road…

A friend asked me last night about a church in another city where she recently moved. A minister who once preached across the country as an evangelist, and whose preaching I greatly enjoyed, now pastors in that area. In answer to the request of my friend, I looked up the church’s website shared the link.  The site had an option for listening to sermons, and after sending the link I clicked that to explore for myself.  Listening required an app that I didn’t yet have, so I started the download process after settling into bed, and soon fell asleep.

As I tend to do, I woke up very early this morning and was lying in bed, thinking and praying, when I remembered the website and sermon. Clicking on it, I began to listen and enjoy.  As it was not yet daylight, and I was lying cozily in a warm bed, I soon dozed back off with the sermon playing in my ear. At some point I began to dream.

I pictured, in the first scene, a room full of people in chairs, who seemed to be new converts to the Gospel, being instructed by their pastor in how to use the Word of God, through reading it for themselves and hearing it preached (the message was on the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…,” from Ephesians 6:17). I won’t share all the aspects of what I pictured, and I remind you that I am simply relating an experience and how it affected me.

The scene transitioned after a bit, and I was seeing a line of some sort stretched up through the sky toward Heaven. Its path wasn’t totally straight but had some highs and lows in it.  Suspended beneath the line were what I would describe as individual cells or frames, one after another, side by side, up the course of the line.  Inside each of the frames was a man, dressed in a way that most would associate with attending church.

I saw the same man, moving as it were from frame to frame.  As I looked closer, I noticed each of the frames had words stamped on them, and as I focused more, I realized the words were titles. I became aware that the titles were titles of messages — sermons — that were being preached to the man, moving him along the line (road) toward Heaven.

In one of the frames, I saw the man picked up and shaken violently, as though by some circumstance he had encountered. After a moment he dropped back into his place, standing inside the frame. Hearing the message preached, he settled down again and recovered his composure.

The scene changed again, so that after having observed this occurrence from the side view, I found myself inside it.  I remember crying out to God, “I want to make it to Heaven! Help me to make it all the way in!” I continued to move from frame to frame, and from message to message, along with the others.

Soon we saw a man falling from above (remember, we were suspended in the air), going down past us. We reached out to grab him and pull him in, for we knew somehow that he was falling toward hell.  Though we tried repeatedly to grasp his hand, we were unable to hold him, for he did not grasp back as we reached. Sadly we had to watch him continue to fall.

I share this only because it so vividly depicts the fact that when God filled me with the Holy Ghost (in obedience to Acts 2:38) He placed me within a plan that will get me to Heaven if I continue in it.  That plan is that God in His wisdom has provided the preached Word of God from the ministry — primarily my own pastor — to direct and sustain me all the way to the gates of Heaven, the place He has gone to prepare for those who love and obey Him. It is my choice whether or not to continue to avail myself of that plan.

October is Pastor Appreciation Month, and I must say, I am thankful for the gift of the ministry, in particular my own pastor, Pastor John Bowen, Jr.  God has used this gift to help me avoid pitfalls, go through trials, and recover from losses, and I know this is the most precious thing God could have done for me.  I can read God’s Word, and I can hear God impress things on my heart in prayer, but I will never be honest enough within myself to hear everything I need to hear to keep my feet from wandering out of the path of righteousness that leads to salvation.  God set up His Kingdom to be maintained by a watchman on the wall (Ezekiel 3:17), who will hear from God and warn His people.

It is my desire to hear Jesus say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant…,” (Matthew 25:21). I must be honest with myself and know that if I have not been faithful, I will only hear, “Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity…,” (Luke 13:27). There is a literal Heaven, but there is also a literal hell, “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched,” (Mark 9:44). My actions, both in becoming part of the church and in staying faithful to it, will determine my destination.

“Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established,” (Proverbs 4:26).

Some reading this will be reminded to keep on the path they already have chosen, in obedience to the Gospel.  Others may relate more to the man who was falling, and have to choose whether or not to grasp a hand that is extended to them.

I hope we all respond favorably, because the road to Heaven is paved with messages preached by those who have obeyed, and are anointed by God to preach, the original Apostles’ doctrine:

37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? 38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. 40 And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.

41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. 42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers,” (Acts 2:37-40).

Running wild?

“Elephants belong only in the wild…”

“They let that child run wild…”

“I am just wild about Cajun cuisine…”

Wild cherry trees dot the edge of our wood line…”

“Wild” brings images to mind of roaming free and being master of one’s own destiny,  being uncontrolled and undisciplined, being enthusiastic past the point of ordinary constraints, or simply being sheltered from the effects of human hands. It certainly has its good and bad connotations. Here are some to ponder.

Flowering beauties

Our family loves roses.  I recall the running variety in the edge of our yard when I was a child. They seemed to bloom just in time for Mother’s Day year after year, providing this little girl the means of presenting Mom a bouquet of her favorite flowers.  Those faithful plants forged a special place in my heart.  Years passed, we moved, others had that home. Eventually, though, I moved back to an adjoining piece of land and built a home of my own.

On my place lies a spot where another home once stood — one that was torn down and gone before my living memory.  Nothing was really there to show for it except a couple of large pecan trees that rarely brought forth usable pecans any more. As the first seasons rolled by on our land recently reclaimed from hedges and brambles, I began to see evidence of that long-gone family’s preference for flowers:  multitudinous shoots of crepe myrtle,  enthusiastic daffodils and narcissus, and wild running roses.  Each Spring I get another glimpse of what is left of their well-tended garden, as a few rose and crepe myrtle blooms peek through the wild hedges that threaten to crowd out everything but their own bland greenery.

Those plants have persisted possibly a hundred years, getting such soil-nutrients, water, and sunlight as are available to glean.  They grow, they put on leaves, they bloom, they shed, they winter, they start over.  Nature allows them to do that.

A couple of years after I moved here, my mother settled on land she owned next door. Her home now sits just across the drive from that old home place. A couple of Mother’s Days ago, my nephew’s family gave her a two rose bushes and carefully planted them by the front steps. They exploded with red roses this year and brought her much joy as she admired them from her easy chair through the glass storm door. She was able to savor their beauty well into what should have been Fall around here.

This past weekend, I noticed the floppy appearance of the bushes.  I’m no gardener, but my nephew was there while I assessed what was needed, and gave me some tips for bringing out their beauty again. I put a pair of clippers to them and began to drop stems and leaves in a somewhat orderly pattern.  When I was done, there were lots of snips on the ground, and less of the plants to be seen.

The process

Pruning is a common practice for people with a green thumb (which I do not claim to have).  But thinking of its parallels in our own lives, imagine with me for a moment if they were literally conscious and able to communicate as we doWhat would those plants have said if they could have talked? Would they express their preference be left to themselves as their cousins in the woods nearby? If they were capable of getting away would they have stood still for this pruning process? In a few weeks, the result of that bit of tending, paired with some fertilizer and weed-pulling,  will hopefully be evident, barring some damaging event. A balanced, controlled beauty is expected to emerge.

There are those who believe their highest end in life, even in living for God, is to be their own person, to do their own thing, to follow the path they believe is good, not to have someone telling them what to do differently.  Sure, they realize they should go to church (in some cases), and that having someone expound on the way to do better is worth some of their time. But to see themselves with a need to have one with the authority vested by God speak into their lives goes deeply against their grain. Submitting themselves to one who would possibly advise against the direction  they are headed would seem particularly grievous, especially if they believe they are serving God in what they are doing. The value of hearing one whose God-given responsibility it is to tell them of actions that will bring undesired results if not altered is simply not a path they value.  Perhaps such people view that option as only for the weak, for those unable to find their own way without help. If the truth be known, that tendency runs inside any of us who are truly human. It’s all in what we do with it, though, that matters.

The Word of God warns us repeatedly that this is a tendency to be fought, rather than to be hailed as the mark of true greatness.  No more than the plants in our gardens can reach their full potential without a gardener to tend them can a man or woman be what God intended for them to be in the Kingdom without one to tend their souls. And my friend, that can’t all be about enhancing the soil for nourishment and watering in just the right amount, though we surely enjoy those times.  We must realize our need to have some things addressed in our hearts — to receive the pruning that only can be administered by the preached Word of God being delivered to us under the anointing of the very God who gave that Word to men He chose to have write it under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.

It isn’t for the faint of heart to watch what may have been your favorite “branch” — thought, idea, or plan — fall useless and discredited onto the ground beside you as the Word goes forth and challenges what you felt so good about in your own heart and mind.  It helps to keep in mind that “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the ends thereof are the ways of death.” (Proverbs 16:25)  “Every way of man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts.” (Proverbs 21:2)  “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) What we most need to hear, we will not tell ourselves.  What we most need to receive, we will not see by simply looking into the Word on our own — we’re simply not capable of being that honest with ourselves. We require a gardener, a God-given pastor, to watch and care for our souls.  How can we trust someone to do that? It is clear that not everyone who claims the title of “preacher” or “pastor” has our soul’s best interest at heart. What are we to do? How do we discern who is looking out for our interests not just their own?

How it works

Please understand that the anointing that produces the true “surgery” our souls crave cannot be produced outside the context of fully submitting to the gospel that was once delivered to the saints through the preaching of the Apostles.  That is the foundation from which we must begin to build. I emphasize this point, because I want it to be clear as to what type of preaching I am referring. If a man who is called a preacher of the gospel will not first find and obey the original gospel (Acts 2:38), he has no right to address my need for being shaped and formed into the godly person I was intended to be.  (Paul said, “I marvel that you are so soon removed from the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.” Galatians 1:6-7). This may be a new concept for you,  one you’ve previously considered and rejected, or one you’re curious to know more about.

It starts with doctrine, though often we are geared to think that shouldn’t be brought into the discussion among people comparing their religious experiences.  But notice how changes in the doctrine officially recognized by the Church paralleled other changes that were not for the better. Most people would agree that things are not the same as they were in the early church.  A few who have studied the record of that time, as contained in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles,  notice that early baptisms were done in the name of Jesus, not in the titles Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  Few realize that the departure from this was not approved, allowed, or even intended by Jesus or the Apostles, who all prophesied and warned that after their departure many would come preaching another doctrine. Paul goes on to say in Galatians, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.  As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8-9)

Doesn’t it follow that we should be absolutely sure that what Paul, Peter, and the others preached, we would stand for and cling to?  If Jesus gave Peter the keys to the kingdom for his revelation received that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God”, shouldn’t his words and direction about salvation be the absolute standard we measure our doctrine by? Acts chapters 2, 8, 10, and 19 contain accounts of actual baptisms that were all done, directed and commanded to be done, in the name of Jesus.  Paul re-baptized believers in Ephesus who had not yet received the Holy Ghost, though they had been baptized unto John’s baptism. He insisted that baptism was necessary for the completion of their salvation, and that it be done in Jesus’ name, and when they obeyed this they were filled with the Holy Ghost.  Does your pastor insist on that? How does Galatians 1:8-9 indicate that departure from this teaching is viewed?

Who’s cutting?

“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit,  of the joints and marrow,  and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 11:12) If we are to sit under the authority of someone with the task of wielding the sword of the Word in our lives, do we really want that sword in the hands of one who won’t receive that most basic of revelations about what God has designed for His church? It is not my intention to offend, but neither is it my intention to be vague about where one should find their direction for living for God.

I was not raised in this type of church. My earliest faith memories are of a denominational church with teachings I’ve referred to above that were from offshoots of the original apostles doctrine. Did I have a sense that walking with God is what I needed to do? Yes, but how to do that was the question.  God worked to bring me to a time of seeing that the way of the Apostles — as expressed in Peter’s sermon the day the Church was born — was where He wanted me to be planted, bloom, and bear fruit.  It would be easy to dismiss that as being nice for me, but…or just intended for those want something “higher” or more serious, or have some “gift” for living holy and separated from the world. Listen to what Peter said to the crowd of thousands on the day the church was born:

“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.  For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to them that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” (Acts 2:38-39)

Did the part where he said the promise is “unto you…your children…them that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our god shall call” leave anyone out?  I submit to you that it did not.  I further challenge you to consider that it is for you, and that He is calling you to come into His garden, where He can put you into the care of a gardener He called according to this gospel, so that He himself can receive of the fruit you bring forth. There are many references in the Word of God to His having a garden or a vineyard or a plant of some description that He has planted, and how He interacted with that and what He expected. You see, we are the “plants” that choose whether to run wild or become part of the vineyard, the garden God will look for fruit in.

What now?

So where are you with this? Are you content to grow and wild in your vague ideas that somehow you are serving God, even though the thought of submitting to a true man of God rubs your spirit the wrong way?  Or are you willing to present yourself week after week, service after service, with a heart set to truly hear and receive what you need — whether or not it is what you want to receive? You will never be truly fruitful in the work of God until that is what you will do. Your choice: enjoy your nondescript existence among hundreds or thousands of other wild shoots that continue to multiply year after year, or allow God to set you in a special place under the eye of a watchful caretaker whose job it is in the Kingdom to see that you bloom and and bring forth fruit.

I suppose I am one of the original “free spirit” types.  “I must be who I was meant to be, without following the plans of others” was my mantra as a young person.  Give me a little credit: I grew up in the 60’s when the world beyond our door was changing radically, and freedom of thought was the highest order of mankind according to the philosophers (or the hippies) of that day.  But my desire to be “free” was in itself a type of wildness that led me to some interesting places.  I cannot point to any of them now as examples of my finest hour or highest achievements.  Paul said it well: “What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.” (Romans 6:21) Running wild just isn’t all it’s rated to be in the eternal scheme of things. Many realize too late that their independence cost them the best fruit life could offer.  Will you?

I urge you to consider these things.  Pray over them.   Then take a step in your consideration of them to place yourself where the taming of your soul could happen, by being present where the Word of God is preached by a man of God who holds to the Apostles’ doctrine — one who will bring what God has for you to hear, without fear or favor.  Your soul desires that, whether you’re brave enough to fight your flesh and seek it or not.

I submit that those wild plants I mentioned earlier would trade places with the tended ones so nearby if they had a consciousness of their situation and the will to choose, even if it meant trading off some of their freedom for pruning that might not be pleasant at the time, for the beauty that only comes from submission to a skilled and caring hand.

BUT IF NOT: Coming to a city near you

“Read it again, Mommy.”

I really don’t remember the number of times, but I know they were many. I picture where they all took place.  As we snuggled in for bedtime reading after family prayer, my young daughter would ask for the story about the three Hebrew children of Daniel chapter 3.  For several weeks it was the only story she wanted to hear.

We began to feel we were marching in with Nebuchadnezzar’s guests: the princes, the governors, and captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces. The melodic names of instruments danced off our tongues: the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music.  You remember the story, right? The beautiful tones signaled the throng to bow themselves and worship the Babylonian king’s enormous golden image.

The most memorable part, of course, was the choice of the three young men, dubbed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo — captives, exiles, cut off from their opportunity to worship God as they knew to do, but elevated to the king’s ministry by their distinction above his other ministers. These worshipers of the One True Living God stood up to Nebuchadnezzar and declared that they would not bow, that their God was able to deliver them, and this: “But if not, be it known unto you, O king, that we will not bow.” They would be delivered, or else they would die, but they would not surrender.

In May, 1940, 350,000 British and Allied troops faced certain destruction when they became trapped at the port city of Dunkirk, France. The Nazi Blitzkrieg had just raced across that country and outmaneuvered what were thought to be impenetrable defenses. It appeared the entire British Expeditionary Force — practically all of Britain’s army — was about to be annihilated, along with thousands of others standing in defense of Europe against Hitler’s maniacal aggression.

The story is told of a British commander who telegraphed this simple message to his homeland: “But if not.”  The intent was instantly recognized.  The troops desired, of course, to be rescued; they wanted to avoid the destruction heading their way. But whether it came or it didn’t come, they would not bow, they would never surrender.

In this case, as in the original story, help did come.  Their choice of response to certain death galvanized a rescue effort that came to be known as “The Miracle of Dunkirk.” The inadequate number of military vessels in the harbor were joined by private fishing boats, yachts, lifeboats, rowboats, and any other craft that could be floated, ferrying 338,000 men to safety. An equally brave force stayed behind to engage the enemy and delay its advance.

As of this writing, we in the U.S. who worship the One True Living God remain comfortably isolated from the choice faced by those three Hebrew boys.  “Turn from your faith or die” doesn’t often come up on this shore. Believers in other parts of the world face it daily.  Do you realize that there will come a day when no one is spared? Whether that comes in our lifetime or not, we must not see this persecution as to whether it effects “us” or “them.”  True followers of our Master know that the Body of Christ has no geographic boundaries, and that when one member suffers, all suffer. At the minimum, we must pray for those in persecution’s grip today, advocate for them where we can, and assist in any way that is opened to us.  But we must wake ourselves from slumber and recognize that for Biblical prophecy to come to pass, as it seems to be rapidly doing, the current state of things cannot continue always.

We must be ready to die.

How does that make you feel? Have you thought lately that the way the world is shaping up–where hackers can access your bank account at any time they set their sights on it, where the most closely-guarded servers have to repel attacks continuously, where illegal drugs, guns, and terrorists’ weapons of choice are traded daily beneath the radar of law enforcement–there is coming a day when “the solution” will be introduced?  I posted on Facebook after the bombings in Paris that terrorized people become willing to accept greater controls over their liberty than those who feel they securely occupy their land.

This is not a exegesis on the book of Revelation, but the most elementary student of the Bible knows that a time is coming when no one can buy nor sell without something that is imposed upon them, stamped into their flesh, which allows them to continue to participate in commerce as they did before.  I could go on for awhile about how much more immediately relevant those prophecies seem today than when I first believed thirty years ago. For example, the scriptures saying that those who refuse the mark will be beheaded made me wonder if that was just symbolic term for execution in general back then, as I was not aware of much beheading being done in the decades since the French Revolution of the 18th century. It is a gruesome daily event in many areas now.

Being inflammatory is a great way to get people to read and respond to what you are saying.  I try to avoid that cheap trick at all costs.  You either read someone’s writing because it speaks to you, or else you move on to something that does. But if God has given me a platform to have others consider anything He wants them to be thinking on, then there are times when the only option is to stand and say, “This is what the Word says, and we must hear and consider its implications for our own lives.”

I say again, “We must be ready to die.” That is the only way to face the “mark of the beast”. Many are prepping for a breakdown of the things we know.  But stores of things will not only run out, they will also make the owners targets.  After they run out, then what? Have we gained that much by extending our security just a little? Many who experienced the devastating floods in Louisiana weren’t “preppers” as the term has become popular, but had enough to spare and to share. In 24 hours time, they had nothing but the help of others to rely on.  I say that not in any way to be critical, for we should do the best we can with what we’re given, but it amazed me how quickly even the fruits of wise living evaporated before our eyes; as even as lives were forever changed.

In the days to come, we would be the most thankful that we were spending these days not prepping by storing up things, but by getting our hearts ready. Ready to live without our mobile devices and technology, because the God who sent Philip to find the Ethiopian eunuch in his chariot without a GPS can bring to us the information we need when we walk in His Spirit.  Ready to not know where the next meal is coming from, because the God Who sent the ravens to feed his prophet knows where we live. Ready to face uncertainty about our family members, because we were already told that when we truly follow our Master, we are taking up a Cross — something He gave up His life on — and putting Him ahead of father, mother, sister, brother, and child.  Again, this isn’t a “somewhere in the bye and bye” for many who profess Christianity today.  Crucifixions are regularly carried out by ISIS, as but one of their gruesome execution methods.

If we are ready to leave this world if deliverance doesn’t come, and if we are full of His Spirit when the final choices come, then when we refuse the mark of the Beast, we must understand that we will live as long as He wants us to–sustained by a raven if that is what He chooses, or martyred for His glory. You see, the story of the Gospel is that sometimes the “bad guys win,” but only for a night.  Joy–eternal joy–comes in the morning, but only if the corn of wheat falls to the earth and dies. 

I know I could have written about many more enjoyable things today, and God willing, I will do so again.  But it is most needful that we look at the reality of the scriptures, and the world around us.  Pastor Bowen has talked of being stirred much in the past few months to pray that God will help us be ready for what is coming on the church.  God doesn’t waste that kind of stirring. 

Be uncomfortable.  Stir yourself to seek God.  Make up your mind that now will be the time you will begin to dig more deeply and if necessary, to forsake all and follow Him.  You will never, now or in eternity, be sorry you did so.

Don’t move that Bible for me!

bible

“Don’t move that Bible for me! I don’t get that many chances with God!”

We were headed to lunch when I scooped up my Bible from the passenger seat to clear a spot for the social work intern to sit. Her protests would have amused me, except she seemed in dead earnest. In the ensuing discussion she described her upbringing in a strict Catholic tradition. Her earliest faith memories had stuck, as a perspective of “As long as I don’t mess up and offend God too badly, maybe He will let me into Heaven.” Those early experiences were her only concept of God.

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Never stop dating

“Never stop dating!”

That advice is given to those who want to know how to keep their relationship strong, perhaps from those who have realized just in time that their love had cooled and had to be rekindled.

We often struggle in various types of relationships to hold on to the sweet, close times. Life so strongly comes along and wedges its way between people who were once perfectly attuned to one another. How can we keep this from happening? What can be done?

Never stop dating. 

Be intentional about finding what brings a smile to that person’s face, and go out of your way to make it happen. 

The couple who graciously agreed to let me use this picture from a few years back has certainly been a shining example of this advice. Through cancer, strokes, unspeakable family losses, and health declines that most would find hard to comprehend, the light of love still shines so brightly between them. As this picture captured, they are beautifully intentional in showing their love and fierce devotion for each other. When God referred to the marriage relationship as demonstrating His commitment to us, I’m sure this is what He pictured.

As I was preparing breakfast the other morning, something caught my attention: I recognized a “little thing” as being something my Jesus had provided for me. In that moment I thought about what had happened over the past 30 years. The beginning of this beautiful walk with God was often marked by moments of becoming keenly aware of some small thing, and acknowledging how sweet it was that Jesus noticed that and addressed it; of how touching it was to feel His presence in the otherwise mundane occurrences of life; of how different that awareness and closeness were from what I thought was an equivalent walk with God in my denominational upbringing and the years before the Holy Ghost came.

I was still amazed for years at the depth of His presence I had been allowed to know, when in the past, I had only read about and imagined such a true closeness. I knew this change had come because of the Gospel of the Apostles (Acts 2:38) which I was allowed to see as being still  relevant today, and which would bring this power when literally obeyed. I knew that my doing so, by His grace and mercy, had brought all the difference.

When one person in a relationship who reaches out for a close, even intimate, moment is rebuffed or ignored, they often withdraw and become unreachable to the other party. We are formed in the image of God — not only our physical being, but our emotional make-up as well. God penned, through the hand of Solomon, the story of the maiden’s Beloved knocking at her door at a time she found it inconvenient to answer. By the time she decided to arise and open the door, her Beloved had withdrawn himself and gone. 

I remember wet tears rolling down my face once to read that story, and to understand the implications for the treasured walk with God I had been given: if the Spirit of God moved on me for prayer, for closeness, and my heart was “busy” and uninterested at the time, He could very easily move away and be unavailable when I found a “convenient season”. (Felix, who trembled at the preaching of Paul in Acts 24, and chose not to yield to what God was doing until a “convenient season”, never was recorded to have had God deal with him again.)

When God described, through the prophet Amos, Israel’s disdain for the feasts and solemn days He had commanded them to observe — times He had ordained for them to draw closer to Him — He said in that context that he would send a famine unto them, not for meat and drink, but for the hearing of the Word of the Lord. Please know that we don’t come to God when we decide to: we come when He draws us (John 6:44), or not at all.

Over time what changed for me was the recognizing what sweet things were being done, and the remembering that it hadn’t always been that way in my life. Taking the ones we love for granted is something we struggle with in every type relationship. We can even begin to believe we are the reason for our own success in situations where we would look pretty silly propped up by ourselves to make our own way in the world.

Remember. Recognize. Acknowledge. Look for God’s hand in the little things, and take time to thank Him. Talk sweet praises and loving phrases to the God who came to make everything new, and who walks in things both good and bad — for you. If you’ve never seen the truth of Acts 2:38 as it applies to your life, then seek to know God that way — don’t shy away because it represents something different than what you have known. For me, that seeking represented the beginning of something more beautiful than even I could have pictured at the start.

“Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, for thou has left thy first love.” (Rev. 2:4) 

It need not be that way: Start dating again. . .