Saturday, May 13, 2017

Days of Elijah by Surprise

Our daughter, Anna, attended a church in Auburn, AL in February where she received what was believed to be a prophetic word from a guest preacher.  In his word to her, he said she and the family could expect this spring to be full of supernatural surprises.

Thursday was full of moments of discouragement.  There was also a moment in conversation with April when I told her I had to commit to believe the Lord's words and promises all over again that day.

There are days when I resign myself to the discouragement and just look for things to distract me from thinking about our circumstances.  Nowadays, perhaps in light of the fact God has not been silent since the first of the year, I've determined it is my responsibility to declare to myself, heaven and earth and my partner in life that God remains faithful and will do in us and through us what God's promised.  Alleluia.

Worked last evening, amidst the cucumbers and the cardboard and markdowns covered by fruit flies, I encountered the discouragement once again.  It was as if a personality all its own came beside me to tell me all was lost.  A flag began waving to worn me of the spiritual intruder confronting my spirit and all I believed to be true. 

I rose up within myself, spoke of what God has promised us, believing as if I picked up a weapon of my choosing, clothed myself with joy (its my strength) and took to the fight.  The melee was short and sweet.  I told myself I was choosing joy and belief.  God was our good Father who had not forgotten us.  We are anointed, commissioned, comforted and at peace.  Alleluia.  The attack was over.

When I got into my car and headed home, I simply turned on the radio looking for something to entertain or inform.  At the top of the hour on The Moody Radio Network, I found the opening sounds of a song I recognized with my heart.  It was a song from the CD, Revival In Belfast, by Robin Mark (1999). 

Back in the 90s, I took my first leave of absence from pastoral ministry.  I was fairly certain I wasn't returning to formal ministry.  After my mother passed away in '97, I knew I had to withdraw from the demands of ministry to mourn completely and to reassess my needs and values in life.  In this process, I joined a prayer group at the church where April was on staff.  We'd meet on Sunday evenings, listen to praise music and then pray together.  It was in this setting I first heard Revival In Belfast.  I've said in several settings to different people this CD had a role in saving my life in those days. 

As I listened afresh to Days of Elijah, I stopped singing along and just listened to the lyrics.  What dawned on me was so many of the images and scriptural references are either part of the original vision for us, allude to encounters we've had with God over the years or echo scriptures brought to us by Holy Spirit since January. 

These are the days of Elijah  . . .
(Right off the bat, these are the days unequalled.)

These are the days of great trials
Of famine and darkness and sword
Still we are the voice in the desert crying
Prepare ye the way of the Lord!

(I was moved weeks ago by Isaiah 40 and Luke 3 where this preparation is described.  God has not been silent.)

Behold He comes, riding on the clouds
Shining like the sun at the trumpet's call

(This sounds so much like imagery from Revelation which April has been studying for weeks.)

Lift your voice, year of Jubilee
Out of Zion's hill, salvation comes

And these are the days of Ezekiel
The dry bones becoming flesh

(Back in Albertville, God came to me in a dream about the book of Ezekiel. I think about this often.)

And these are the days of Your servant, David
Rebuilding a temple of praise

(This captures the vision of our farm - a thin place where heaven meets earth, and God encounters people in worship.)

And these are the days of the harvest
The fields are all white in Your world
And we are the laborers that are in Your vineyard
Declaring the Word of the Lord

(The days of harvest have come.  Its always been our passion to declare the word of the Lord.)

This song came to me as a pleasant surprise, a gift, actually.  Grace is even more accurate.  This and so much of this CD brought healing to me when I needed it. Some of the other songs, Garments of Praise, Shout to the North, Revival, Jesus, All for Jesus, greatly contributed.  It was foundational in raising my passion again for God and his kingdom.  I returned to pastoral ministry in 2001.  The next year or so I had an encounter with God awakening me to a prophetic gifting. 

Spring is suppose to be a time for supernatural surprises for this family.  This was a surprise, a subtle, simple surprise on a night I fought the simple fight of confronting an attack by the enemy and affirming the goodness of our Papa God still at work in our lives. 

These days are rich with potential.  Even now, we see the Lord working our way and our walk as we affirm his promises in us and for us. 

I've been inspired for years to give testimony of what God has said, has done and is doing.  This is a plain depiction of what our God gave to me as an unmistakable token of grace to his son.  These days are unique and not through yet.

Behold He comes, riding on the clouds
Shining like the sun at the trumpet's call
Lift your voice, year of Jubilee
Out of Zion's hill, salvation comes

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

God Engages the Church

Lying in bed, Sunday morning, I signed on to Facebook and watched the opening portion of a video blog post from Frank Schaeffer.  He's the son of Francis Schaeffer, the Calvinist theologian who wrote prolifically about the influence of secular humanism in America and influenced the founders of the Religious Right in America.  Frank parted from his parents' beliefs and ideas years ago and is an outspoken opponent of the same conservative movement his father influenced.

In the post, he referred to his father and some of the people he influenced.  That led me to look for videos of Francis.  I found an interview conducted by Pat Robertson on the 700 Club in 1982 with Dr. Schaeffer.  I remember watching it in real time in '82 and being fascinated.

I watched several minutes of the interview again.  What caught me Sunday morning was what caught me in '82 on a different level.  He said he wanted to get Christians out of their pews to engage the culture

He wrote and spoke in his lifetime about how America's Christian culture has been circumvented by a humanistic worldview that relativized morality and spirituality and left this country without a devotion to God and any divine influence in politics, art, entertainment, education, etc.  He wanted the American church to arise and confront what he understood to be the organized opposition to Christian influences in this country. 

Engage the culture.  What's interesting to me is he spoke and wrote of the need to confront the known opponents (Planned Parenthood, ACLU, Hollywood, colleges & universities, etc.) by first confronting and engaging the church.  He found fertile ground in conservative, Reformed congregations, denominations and televangelistic ministries.  Conservatives, particularly evangelicals, awoke by virtue of Dr. Schaeffer's books and lectures and those of others from their post-Scopes Trial hibernation to vote and lobby for conservative Christian based standards throughout the culture.  Jerry Falwell, Francis Schaeffer and the aforementioned Pat Robertson were their spiritual influences, and Ronald Reagan was their political champion.

Engage the church.  As ordained clergy for over 20 years, I endeavored to engage the church into ministry outside the confines of a sanctuary.  There were some episodes of success, but the insistence on my part and my wife's part (who was also an ordained clergyperson) for the church to reach out was difficult because our biblical standards and worldview were not always shared by many in the church.  Again, there were the occasional successes, but most congregations were much more interested in having pastoral leadership that defended their beloved churches from radical changes to their racial homogeneity and class orientation. 

I'm still oriented to engage the culture by first engaging the church (its my family), but what happened Sunday in worship captures where I am and what I value in my relationship with Christ and his church.  My experience leapfrogs over any engagement I might have with culture or church that has any reformist or political connection. Sunday, we encountered God.

In a small congregation in Anniston, AL, April and I have attended worship on Sundays for three months.  Its our new worship family.  We've grown comfortable with the pastors and the environment of love for God and love for neighbors. 

Sunday's worship environment was relaxed and peaceful from our place in the sanctuary.  As worship in song began, an energy filled the room.  By the time the congregation joined in singing John Mark & Sarah McMillan's, King of My Heart, the energy became a wave of the presence of God (I know what that feels like) that buoyed hearts and spirits in the room.  I interpreted what followed was that the wave of the Lord's presence raised the tide of worship and hope.  What it did in me was prompt me to intercede in prayer for everyone in the room.  The air was pregnant with the compassion of God.  Again, this was familiar to me,  I recognized it.

The musicians, two guitarists and a vocalist, moved into spontaneous playing and vocals.  The praise became more demonstrative and overt.   Heather then moved into words of knowledge.  She said, in this environment, miracles happen.  She pronounced conditions and issues that were being healed and restored.  With the rising tide of worship, there was growing faith.  When the music portion of worship ended, our lead pastor, Royal, said we've witnessed, "heaven kissing earth."  Amen.

We witnessed our heavenly Father engaging the church like a passion-filled encounter with your spouse that leaves you breathless, believing all things in your relationship are now possible.  What could be the results of such encounters for a congregation?  God in Christ through Holy Spirit imparts grace upon grace and peace that passes all understanding.  Our Papa God captures us in his grasp, and we curl up in his lap and know we're safe.  We grow more and more comfortable with whose we are and who we are, our Father's cherished children.  We're assured again he forgives all our sins and heals all our diseases.  We're baptized in God's embrace as he breathes on us his Spirit.  We then discover our gifts from the hand of God which empowers our lives and our witness of what we've discovered from such regular encounters.  God engages the church.

With a refreshed spirit and a rejuvenated relationship with our God who is love and is faithful, we can't help but engage the culture.  This occurs through communicating in word and deed the power of grace and divine mercy in Christ through testimonies of what God has done and is doing.  Deeds of compassion to the hurting, lost and suffering begin to be on display out of the simple reality that we know we're loved, and we know for certain the one before us, stranger or friend,  is also loved in the same way by the same great, eternal God.  We can't help ourselves.  We now engage the culture through love and truth.

Are there political ramifications or the necessity to gather like-minded people together to strategize how to engage the culture to bring about necessary change?  In light of grace-filled, glory-filled encounters with a holy God who loves unquestionably everyone and who loves to display his Fatherly goodness when and where praise is offered freely by his children, the only strategy is to love like Jesus loves, and trust his empowerment given to his church in the power of His name, the power of His blood and the power of Holy Spirit inside and outside the church property.

This power doesn't justify anything the privileged does under the mantle of the church.  This power goes on display through the humble and the lover and the servant.  It is a certainty a single believer or a gathered body of believers will engage the culture through love and truth when this same person or group has regularly surrendered in faith to their loving Father and grown to know him as he is.

In love with his children, our Father engages us when we seek him.  When we find him and encounter his heart, we are urged by his Spirit to engage the culture, share his love and believe the results will change everything.