Saturday, August 30, 2014

More Than Water

This is so much more than water.



Over the span of several mornings I read the sixth chapter of the gospel of John.  In a nut shell, I find this chapter to be a dichotomy between what is perishable and what is eternal.  Jesus has compassion on thousands who've followed him to a remote place.  His desire is to feed them at the close of day.  His disciples could only find some meager bread and fish.  Jesus blesses it, distributes it and the meal for one person feeds thousands.  Its very cool.  Later in the chapter these same folks go looking for Jesus and find him across the lake.  He exposes their shallow desires to be fed again or do some other miraculous act that will capture their attention afresh.  They're just hungry again.  He conveys to them they need not what is perishable, but what is eternal, which is Christ himself.



I endeavored to listen for God's voice regarding this chapter in John.  Is there anything else I need to know these days about seeking what is eternal in Christ alone?  Earlier this week, I had an episode.  We're surviving by the graciousness of wonderful family members, but our independence and self determination is dramatically limited by not finding employment and having little money.  I tried to assist our son, Eli, by purchasing his parking permit for his academic year.  I didn't have all the information I needed to complete the application.  In addition, I had to transfer money from Anna's account to ours to complete the transaction.  This, in itself, frustrated me because we didn't have the sufficient funds on our own to do this.  I exploded!   I ranted and raved in the presence of my lovely, compassionate wife who, on occasion, has to put up with stuff like this.  Pray for her.



I was angry.  My anger was directed at two people, God and me.  I expressed frustration with myself for putting us into this predicament.  I then poured out my red faced venom and contempt for God before April and minutes later in the street in front of the house in the dark.  The next morning as I walked in the neighborhood for exercise I was sorry for the antics of the night before, but I wasn't sorry for expressing my frustration.  It was and remained real.  Later that morning from a place of calm and relative peace, I apologized to April and God.  She expressed her love for me.  I was grateful.  I then said sheepishly, "I hope God still loves me."  She quickly assured me God loves me, and then affirmed me by saying, "God has to act for us."



Later that day, I read Psalm 18: 6-9a,

  In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.
Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry.  
Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth;
    glowing coals flamed forth from him.
  He bowed the heavens, and came down . . .

I reflected again on John 6.  Jesus cared about the physical hunger of those who followed him, and he provided the perishable.  We, these days, need the perishable.  Psalm 18 fed me.  We've cried out to the Lord.  He's heard us.  I believed afresh he will bow the heavens and come down.  Cool, but John 6 conveys much more.  Jesus said to them, “I
am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and
whoever believes in me will never be thirsty (John 6: 35).
What is perishable will perish.  Money is spent.  Cars wear out.  Houses deteriorate.  What is eternal is different.  My frustration for the perishable not easily coming to us and permitting us to move forward with our plans is misguided.  My anger with God not providing for us how and when I believe we need it is, also, misguided and immature.  God IS providing for us.  Alleluia.  I need to think differently.

This, then, brings me to the gift our nephew, Larry (by the guiding hand of God, I believe) gave me yesterday via Facebook.  This commencement speech was passed along to him, and when he saw it, he thought of me.  That's funny.  I challenge you to watch this (no ice water needed).  For some of you, it will challenge your Christian sensibilities and puritanical view of language (he cusses), but watch it all the way through.  David Foster Wallace revived me to think differently at a time when I was thinking too much about myself, and too little about what is eternal.  Let me know what you think (that's an important word in this speech).


Monday, August 25, 2014

In A Snapshot

When I was a child I received as a gift from my parents on my birthday a Kodak Instamatic camera. It was marketed as a camera to fit into your pocket easily.  I thought it was cool, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was still in my father's house.  My mother, particularly, was excited to give it to me.  She was the one in the family to fill photo albums and document our growing up years.  I didn't take full advantage of having that camera, but I did take a few pictures.  A few made it into some album some place. 

In what has become my discipline, I read the Daily Office scriptures from the Book of Common Prayer not too long ago.  There was a thread that ran through the passages I read that united them in my spirit.  First, Psalm 147: 10-11:  His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner; but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.  Second, Mark 6: 5-6: And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.  

As I read these two passages, I pictured in a snapshot what was described.  In a snapshot, a horse performs with strength; a runner runs fast, but God's people fear him and hope in his steadfast love.  The Lord takes pleasure not in a strong horse or fast runner but in those who hope in him.  A snapshot  captures and records the image and the moment in time.  Psalm 147 captures the Lord's pleasure in a moment.  His pleasure is found in what his children are doing and believing in an instant while the horse works and runner sprints.  We may give acclaim to what a beast of burden can do and what the athlete can achieve.  This is what humans value.  The Lord of all values, takes pleasure in the spiritual focus of his children's hope in their God's unrelenting love for them. 

The citizens of Jesus' hometown in Mark 6 were astounded and then offended at what Jesus did on one sabbath in Nazareth.  On that same day, he was amazed at their unbelief.  This is not a snapshot, but it’s a solitary day where Jesus declared and manifested the Kingdom of God among people he's probably known all his life.  In this day, they shift from being amazed to being offended.  Jesus could only do a little because of their unbelief.  In this solitary day, they were amazed at his insight but offended at him.  In a day they're offered a taste of heaven, and in the same day they rejected who brought it to them. 

I also read the 11 verses of Revelation 4.  The apostle John sees in a vision worship taking place in heaven.  In a snapshot or a series of moments in Revelation, there is worship by the four living creatures and the 24 elders before the One seated on the throne.  It's not over a span of time extended but a series of rich moments depicting an awesome display of worship that eclipses any worship display on earth by those who value strong horses and virile athletes.   

April and I attended worship recently at Word Alive International Outreach.   Kent, the lead pastor, didn't preach in the service we attended.  Instead, he followed the leading of the Holy Spirit.  There were a handful of new believers' baptisms scheduled.  In the midst of immersing new believers in their portable baptismal pool Kent spoke to the congregation and invited anyone who sensed the Lord's prompting to declare a new found faith in Jesus as Lord to come forward and be baptized.  In a snapshot, in a series of moments, on a solitary day, we witnessed over 20 immersions of children, teenagers and adults followed by applause and cheers after every believer disappeared under the surface.  It. Was. Glorious.  In a snapshot, we all believed people's lives were changed by the grace, mercy, truth & power of God that met them as they arose from the water with new life.  Alleluia. 

The prophet Isaiah wrote about what the actions of God would look like in bringing the covenant people from Babylonian bondage in a snapshot, in a series of moments, in a day. 
Who has heard of such a thing?  Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day?  Shall a nation be delivered in one moment? Yet as soon as Zion was in labor she delivered her children. Shall I open the womb and not deliver?  says the Lord; shall I, the one who delivers, shut the womb?  says your God.  -- Isaiah 66: 8-9 

Things do happen in a series of moments, in a day and can be captured for posterity in a snapshot.  Quite often, those snapshots don't end up in an album, but, rather in our hearts and memories.  It is the will and way of God to impact us in a moment with eternal ramifications.   

Seeds are planted and develop over time into plants that produce their own seeds.  This is a sound biblical metaphor that captures a picture of the Kingdom.  Just as valuable a picture in understanding the Kingdom of God, where and how God dwells, is the image of a nation being born in a day, a hometown experiencing heaven coming to earth and an awesome worship experience unequaled by any liturgically orchestrated service found in a church nearby. 

What can happen to us in an instant, in a day when God is honored first in our hearts above all things?  What can happen when we hear a gracious invitation to trust in our God all over again and respond in word or deed by faith?  Our very nature and view of this world that God so loves can and will change.  In a snapshot, in a  moment, in a solitary day.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Bruno

A day last week was full of spiritual highs in grace and love being shared with us, it ended with financial fears pushing hard on us.  As we have before, April and I agreed what we're facing is not just, yet we need to endure.  The next day I read from Psalm 118:
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever
. . . Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.
. . . I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the Lord helped me.  The Lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.
-- Psalm 118: 1, 5, 13-14

I also read the hemorrhaging woman story in Mark 5.  One verse struck me.  For she said, 'If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well. (vs. 28)'  

The night before April dreamed of marrying a man fresh out of prison named Bruno.  She told me and shrugged her shoulders.  A little while later I looked up the meaning of the name in The Name Book.  Bruno means brown (she likes brown).  The spiritual connotation according to the book is "rich in God's grace. (I like rich)"  The spiritual connotation in the entry was, But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Phil 4: 19). This is all good.

Earlier than that I read a tithing testimony from a periodical I retrieved from the mail box after my morning walk.  I became passionate about sowing seed financially at church last Sunday out of a check given to us recently.  After reading scripture and looking up Bruno and sensing the passion to give, April and I talked about it and agreed to give in faith.  Of course, I'll use pennies (Hidden Treasures)!

With the woman from Mark 5 who sought to touch Jesus' robe in order to be healed, we tithed with passion in order to receive a financial breakthrough, and, be assured, I'll give testimony in this blog in the hours or days to come.

Regardless of what has pushed hard against us, we will and are praising and believing in the God that is rich in grace!  Alleluia!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Hidden Treasures

A few days ago we packed our two cars with Anna's stuff she was taking to Auburn.  Yes, our youngest baby started college.  Later that afternoon we got rocked by some financial bad news (let's just say it left us empty in more ways than one).  I went into the bedroom where April and Anna were sitting watching TV.  I told them about the crisis and to pray.   

"Well, Jeff, why didn't you pray?"  I did earlier like this.  "Oh, my God!"   

It felt like another cinder block on top of us.  Oh, God, help!  Ever felt like you couldn't petition or request assistance from a family member or friend or boss anymore because you've already asked too much of them, and it didn't seem to do any good?  That was me.  I asked enough of God.   It was now somebody else's duty to carry the cinder block for a while.  I went to get a shower.   I didn't know what the world would look like afterward. 

April and I scrambled that afternoon calling for and seeking some degree of grace from human sources.  We all reached a place of calm about supper time.  The three of us ate, and, afterward Anna shared a dream she had during an afternoon nap.  While her parents scrambled, she went to her room, listened to praise & worship music and dozed off.  She dreamed the three of us stood in an empty parking lot.  A penny fell from heaven, and I caught it.  Written on the penny was the word storage.  I said the empty parking lot might signify ministries that have left because cars often symbolize ministries or callings.  The ministries that we've all participated in or led have gone but are now in storage, kept safe.   

The penny was interesting to me.  Years ago, I led a group of folks from a church I pastored to a conference.   A few days before we left, I had a thought out of the blue as I was praying and reading some scripture.  The though was about pennies being treasure.  Don't ignore pennies because they can be treasure.  As we were driving to the conference in North Carolina, a member of my church called me.  She said she dreamed the Lord told her to tell me we'll be bringing home treasure.  All of that was pretty cool. 

We were thinking collectively about the dream.  Anna looked up on her smart phone the biblical meaning of storage.  In some bible dictionary online, the Hebrew or Greek meaning, I can't recall which, of storage was hidden treasure.  April then said Isaiah 45:3 kept coming to her that week.  Anna looked it up and fell apart in joy.  It read, "I will give you hidden treasures and riches in hidden places, so that you may know that I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name."   In the midst of her emotion, she said she knew now this dream was from God.  All three of us then affirmed together that hidden treasures are coming to us now! 

The night before, Anna dreamed she asked me how much money we had in the bank.  I said $6015.  She said there was no reason to worry.  It's interesting the next day I wished I had $6015.  The numbers mean something more than a dollar figure.  Our sons and daughters are dreaming dreams. 

Anna's afternoon dream conveys two things for us.  First, hidden treasures are due to come to us, and we claim them in the name of Jesus.  I don't mean to offend.  We believe simply what was passed along to us via Anna's dream in the midst of a very difficult day.  Second, Anna deliberately listening to praise & worship music to still her mind and heart in order to celebrate God above and beyond any difficulty positioned her to perceive the heart of the Father for her and us.   

See, this is our calling.  This is the vision the Father has given us for ministry, to provide an atmosphere to worship God and embrace the holy Presence.  By so doing, the worshipers and those in the atmosphere will encounter God and be blessed by the Presence in healing, revelation, understanding, visions, discernment, conviction, salvation, deliverance, peace, joy and anything else the Father would choose to pour out into the lives of those in his Presence where there's worship and praise.  This is our destiny, and our daughter was a demonstrator in what is to come. 

I walk in our neighborhood in the mornings.  I've found several pennies in these streets this summer. I've also learned, when I find a lost penny to pick up and all day I'll have good luck AND to openly give thanks to God for treasure found.                                               

Friday, August 1, 2014

More Than You Realize



We went to Bethel Atlanta (www.bethelatlanta.com/) last Sunday to worship with Jason Upton.  A couple prayed for us as we stood in line to get in the sanctuary (When was it the last time you had to stand in line and wait to get in the sanctuary to worship?).  The woman said to me our focus for ministry is merely on the front page of a brochure.  She believed the Lord told her we’re not looking or can’t see the rest that unfolds like a multi-paneled brochure.  She said, “It’s much more than you realize.”

This experience reminded me of the words of encouragement that came to us from several sources over the last few years.  The words conveyed a similar theme – you don’t realize what’s coming – it’s beyond what you’ve thought or imagined. 

I am blessed and strongly encouraged today.  What is yet to come to many different places in this country will dwarf what happened in the past.  What is going on now by virtue of the love and power of God in particular places will overflow into many other sectors and regions and people groups.  It’s much more than you realize.  Alleluia!

Don’t be discouraged.  Don’t be afraid.  Don’t be doubtful.  God is good and does good (Ps. 119: 68).  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for you will be filled (Matt. 5: 6).   And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?  (Luke 18: 7)

It’s a good day to be alive.