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.

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.

The Name of Jesus

We were singing about the name of Jesus, so beautiful and wonderful, and I was feeling something special as I pictured what that name signifies.

A whispered, “Jesus!” brings His presence so tenderly to me when I am hurting.

At the name of “Jesus” every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

My heart, through the powerful move of God’s Spirit, was seeing the two images alternating in succession: the Jesus who is “nigh to all who are of a broken heart,” (Psalm 34:18) and the Jesus who will step into Earth’s last battle and destroy the Wicked one with the spirit of His mouth.

Jesus will reign forever and ever: nothing and no one can stop Him.

The same Jesus who robed Himself in flesh to walk humbly upon the earth, who would not break a bruised reed, who gave His life willingly for me that I could miraculously know Him (as a gentile Christian I am ever amazed that He opened the door for my salvation), who rose again, ascended, and sent back His Spirit to live in us, is walking and working to draw souls to Himself. His mercies are new every morning.

Yet, in the events of the end time, when we will face tribulation such as has not come on the earth since the world began and will not be after (whatever your thoughts about our departure, we must be ready for whatever will come on us before we leave this world), Jesus is able to keep us in Him until His triumphant return.

Oh, the power available to the One who draws near me when I weep!

I am so very safe in His arms, for the events of my little life, or of this whole world, are no surprise to Him.

Getting into God’s presence, where the Holy Ghost is poured out in a church that stands for the same truth the Apostles preached (and died for), is what will keep us in the love of God through whatever comes our way: the losses in life that we are to navigate by His grace and mercy, or true persecution such as was faced by the early church and is coming again upon the earth.

Our God reigns. He is the eternal King of Glory, and He is the Lily of the valley–my valley–all powerful, yet gentle and near to those who call upon Him in truth.

What a powerful name, Jesus! There is none like it in all Creation!

There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved but the name of Jesus (see Acts 4:12). Jesus said we must be born again of the water and of the Spirit to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5). Peter preached the first message of the church age with the undying plan of salvation when he told those who asked that they must repent, and be baptized every one in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins (which is the birth of water), and they would receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (which is the birth of the Spirit). Peter’s message, echoing Jesus‘ commandment, continues for us today: “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, to them that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” (Acts 2:38-39)

If you have not experienced the Lord Jesus in this way, I urge you to take a fresh look at what He has commanded all men.

There is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain. He will break whatever chain has held you from seeking Him with all your heart, moreover from striving to enter into His kingdom. He said, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate, for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able,” Luke 13:24. Verses 26-27 describe those who said they were serving God but found out in the end that their effort was not what He required. If you make striving to obey and to walk with Jesus your top priority, letting go of all claims to what obedience is supposed to “look like” or “sound like,” and determine to obey His word in all things, you can press toward that mark of being among the called, and chosen, and faithful who will be with the Lord of lords and the King of kings when He ultimately overcomes those who make war with Him. (Rev. 17:14)

Whether in the whisper of need or the shout of victory, the name of Jesus is above every name!

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.

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. . . 

It is Finished

“It is finished!”

Human history pivoted with the uttering of those words from the mouth of God, Who robed Himself in flesh and shed His own blood for our sins. The closing of one Testament and the opening of another was occurring before the bewildered eyes of His followers and the blinded eyes of those who too soon rejoiced over His apparent demise.

Without taking away from where those words were spoken and by Whom, I’d like to focus on what they may mean to us beyond what they signified on that Day of days. For they will be expressed in some sense by all who have faithfully run our race for God. Paul said, “I have fought a food fight, I have finished my course…” (2 Timothy 4:7)

Here are some thoughts about weighty matters we tend to forget in the daily grind.

During a Sunday service awhile back I was worshiping God to the strains of “Soon and Very Soon”, rejoicing over the promise of “going to see the King”. “No more crying there…” brought such a sweet picture of Jesus physicially touching each face of those who hear Him say,”Well done, thou good and faithful servant” to “wipe away all tears from their eyes”.  

Beyond that image, though, I was struck by the thought that tears won’t follow us into Heaven, not only because Jesus went to prepare a place of rest for the faithful, but also because on the way to the Promised Land, we who serve Him in Spirit and in truth will have finished crying. Scripture teaches that crying itself has a purpose. It is part of faithfully running our race.

Let that sink in.

Saints of God are doing something when we cry — something for the Kingdom. “As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.” (Isaiah 66:8)

Children are not born into God’s church by good advertising and wonderful programs. New saints are added because true saints of God wept and travailed and labored in an altar of prayer until a fellow human being was ready to repent and obey the Gospel (Acts 2:38). Sheep beget sheep, and anyone who has given birth or known anything about the process knows children don’t just appear in your arms. There’s sacrifice that accompanies bringing newborns into the world.

Jesus said, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted…” (Matthew 5:4) and “Blessed are ye that weep now…” (Luke 6:21) James admonished, “Be afflicted, and mourn and weep…” (James 4:9)

Surely there is joy unspeakable in living for God. But as Pastor John Bowen, Jr. preached in that service, “It’s not always harvest time – there is famine, too, and there is a time for sowing…” The Psalmist said, “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:6)

Are we to try to have all the good here, avoiding the pain? The Apostles rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for His name when they had been beaten. Where are they now? Rejoicing and enjoying their eternal reward.

The next verse of the song was “No more dying there, we are going to see the King.” See, the dying has a purpose as well. We are not meant to be here always, although we are natured to linger as long as possible, and fight to do so. That instinct is God-given, but it’s not all there is. Reality is on the other side of death. The “life forever”, and the eternal damnation, are past the river Jordan. We are living on this side only to prepare for that life or death.

We seem to treat that other realm as the surreal — somehow beyond reality. In the eternal scheme of things, this life is actually the surreal. “…For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away,” (James 4:14)

Even this earth is only here by His Word: “…by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth…” and “…by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto…the day of judgment…” (2 Peter 3:5,7) The earth, which seems firm and solid beneath our feet, is only temporary and one day it is going to “… melt away with fervent heat” (2 Peter 3:10).

The world that is to come after, where the soul of man will live or die with absolutely no time constraints, and no hint of an endpoint to the joy or to the indescribable torment, is the ultimate reality.

How should we then live? To prepare for the other side, the reality of eternity that we were made for. We get a choice — only on this side of Jordan — what we will be on that side.

“It is finished” only applies to what we are living here and now. On that side, we will never be finished worshiping and praising and enjoying the beautiful presence of the Lord, or else weeping and wailing and gnashing our teeth, remembering every instance we were stirred to go beyond what we knew and had in God, to be sure we were obeying what He intended for us to obey and to be faithful to what we had already obeyed.

Jesus will wipe tears from the eyes of those to whom He says, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant…”, which is worth shouting and weeping and rejoicing over.

Will you finish well? Beginning today taking steps today do so.