Articles reflecting current events, musings, thoughts, and spiritual insights.

The Love Challenge

The Love Challenge

John, the apostle, in his 3 letters toward the end of our New Testament speaks about love. Different than his gospel in many ways, they are letters written to individuals or to the church at large, whatever that may have looked like at that time in history. He is the apostle that lived the longest of the 12 and was the youngest of the group. He would have heard of the deaths of Peter and Paul and probably many of the others as well. He had been imprisoned and exiled. He knew the sufferings of following Jesus as persecutions were being carried out. He would have known of the arena of death as Nero and his horde watched the lions devour Christians. All these took place while he was alive. Living to around the very end of the first century, he would seen and heard so much.

Yet, with all this suffering and the beginning of the most insidious attack on the Christian faith, Gnosticism, he does not lash out or write about the horrible leaders, the persecutions, the exile on Patmos Island. He writes of the love of God. He diligently qualifies who is a follower of Jesus. In his writing, you cannot hate your brother. You cannot fake your place with God by declaring one thing and living another.

He makes it clear that you cannot be a follower of Jesus and say he did not come in the flesh. So, mental practice and philosophical gymnastics are all for the pleasure and appeasement of the human mind. They are not true believers. Jesus coming in the flesh is a big deal. It is the incarnation, the very essence and basis for salvation.

So love, loving God, is best expressed in how we care for one another. It is so easy to become jaded with the slights, the offenses, the rudeness, the attacks, the false accusations. It is easy to become cynical or to become reclusive, avoiding people and living away from everyone. Staying a loving person, without being a doormat, is a challenge that only can be met with divine help.

What work went into John’s life to bring him to this place of love. Each verse hammers us with his admonition. Fathers, young men, on and on it goes challenging us to the core. ME, I just kind of cry out for help. I know that without the help of God through his Spirit, I cannot and do not want to love sometimes. Sometimes, I recoil at the idea of loving someone or someones. And I know that it has to go beyond lip service. It is easier to preach somethings than it is to live them.

So, I know that I must continue to strive to love. When I falter or fail, I have to get up and do it again. When the slap comes on the one cheek, the flare of anger must be overcome by the command of Jesus. Not easy, but necessary. Finally, I am challenged with something that cannot be conquered, but lived and managed daily. LOVE. -P. Bill

Endurance with Lots of Help

Endurance with Lots of Help

 

 The Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. Can you endure to the end? Can you withstand the various trials that come your way? Can you continue to love like you have never been hurt? Can the Bible still stir your interest? Does singing to worship still move your spirit toward God?

The Holy Spirit is given to us as a guarantee, a surety, an earnest. God is so sure that He will deliver salvation to you for eternity that He gives you His Spirit to assure you that His word is true. He also underwrites it with his immutable nature and even swore an oath upon Himself to let you know, IT WILL HAPPEN.

This heavenly pledge has been secured through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross and sprinkled on the Mercy Seat in the true tabernacle in heaven. The price has been paid. Now we must believe Him and live like no other.

Human struggle is all of our path. We cannot avoid it. It comes whether you want it or not. Living in a fallen world means you will have suffering, pain, difficulty, not because you planned it or maybe even deserved it. Sickness can come, brokenness can come, tragedy can come unexpectedly. But can you praise Him, love Him, in the face of these things. Many turn to blaming Him; as if being a Christian exempts you from the troubles of the world. Most Christians find that the troubles are usually more for them because they keep overcoming.

The sad person is the one who gets mad at God, walks away, blaming Him for their trouble and that He is not fair and “if there was a God,” this would not happen. Many think that since they came to Jesus, they should live happily everafter as if in a Fairy tale. The happily everafter will not happen in the part of our lives. There is a new heaven and earth coming that will provide that, but now we possess the kingdom with tribulations.

The Holy Spirit is with us and in us for the strength and power to live. He is the comforter. There would be no need for comfort if there was not discomfort. He is the teacher, to lead us into truth. He is the one who guards our spirit and lets us know when there is something awry, false, deceiving. He is the one who leads us; if we will listen. His leading tends to be with a soft voice and nudging, rather than harsh commands and demands. HIs leading is easy to miss when the cacophony of the world is loud. Yet, He is there even when we make our bad choices. “He will never leave us nor forsake us.” So, many times the Holy Spirit is along for a really bad ride. He is even there when we crash and burn. He is the power of resurrection.

Is it not amazing how patient He is? Patient with you, with me as we struggle with obedience, hearing His voice, following his guide. I would have given up on me a long time ago. But, He is ever there, ready to hear, to touch, to guide, to encourage, to exhort. And amazingly, He forgives all the blunders, the self promotion, the egotism, the self destruction, the failures. What a friend we have! What a God we have!  -P. Bill

Store Fronts and Basements

Store Fronts and Basements

 

Zechariah 4:6 (NASB) Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts.

We often forget that the Lord builds the house. In the Book of Acts it is said that the Lord added daily to the church such as should be saved. I know how easy it is to forget that no one can build the church except the Lord.

When you look around, read, study, you get the impression that the church is built upon successful programs, powerful people, location, and large financial backing. There are tons of books with success stories that give credit to certain approaches to reaching people.

Now, I am all about doing things with excellence with what you have. I have been in homes with dirt floors that are neat as can be and I have been in homes with beautiful carpets and tile and are a mess. Excellence is a matter of diligence and care, not the amount of money you have. My point is we often leave the Lord out of the equation of kingdom growth. We look to our ability to provide a slick presentation, a smooth worship experience, a glowing message and judge ourselves and others on how well it went.  However, the church has grown in caves, catacombs, forests, basements, and even grows when there is no place to meet as happened in the dark days of Communism.

Through the centuries there have been so many miracles of faith and a growing church that it would take a book to point them out. In those times we rely and understand that it is the Lord who builds the church, adding as He works in the hearts. Too much now may depend on man and not enough on the Lord. Having lived through a period of such hunger and ministering in that movement, I met and preached in garages, commanders’ living rooms, judges’ living room, hotel business meeting rooms, outdoor venues, coffee houses, basements, and store fronts. God showed up. People were added to the kingdom. People were hungry for God. All of those places would be regarded as inferior meeting places and you cannot build that way. Oops, someone forgot to tell God.

I have allowed and encouraged anyone who felt we needed to do things to make the church building pleasing for this culture. We have painted, changed things, built, purchased equipment, invested in sound and video, and made the building as pleasing as can be. It is a fairly modern, clean, friendly atmosphere. Yet, there is no rush to come to the church, in fact, most of the people who wanted and made the changes have left. (Go figure)

So, maybe, we have been missing the key ingredient, “The Spirit of God.” Not by might, nor by power, BUT by my Spirit says the Lord.” While we will do our best, continue with excellence, in the end, it is not us; it is God. -P. Bill

Gone Home

GONE HOME

1 Corinthians 15:54-55 (NASB) “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

A few weeks ago I wrote about the near death experience of Lora. It was powerful. The joy that she had was indescribable. She did not have adequate words to fully express the encounter. The best she could say was that she had been born again, again. She was not claiming healing or some miracle of deliverance. She was totally mesmerized by the glory of God. Her love went to multiplied levels. She was ready for healing or to be taken home.

She was taken home.

Death has a sting. It is a sting that wounds for eternity. Paul says the sting of death is sin. Sin, the transgressions against the perfection of God. Sin, the affront against God, not honoring Him, cursing Him, not believing He exists. Sin, the ultimate expression of independence against the creator. Sin, the disregard for other humans or even self in destructive behavior to self or others. The sting is the deception that leaves the person in a state of separation from God and the ultimate consequences of that separation from God while thinking everything is fine. The sting is the participation in the rebellion and attempted coup of Lucifer, either consciously or unconsciously. No matter, the result is the same. The sting is that most never know their fate until it is too late.

We all have strayed from the truth. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Yet, most never face that truth. The passing of someone brings all that in a sudden, crashing realization that life is short. Life is tenuous. It can end suddenly, unexpectedly. However, no one will escape that moment when this phase of life ends and the next begins. Choices made in this phase determine how the next phase is lived. 

All our temples, houses, bodies will give out at some point. All those who received healings will eventually pass. Even Lazarus who was raised from the dead, died again. It is appointed for man to die and then face judgment. It is so designed.

1 Corinthians 15:57 (NASB) but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The sting of death is removed in Jesus. Embracing Jesus removes the stinger, heals the soul, and ushers the person into eternal life with God. The victory was won at the cross and in the resurrection. The victory was at the cross and the victory lap was the resurrection.

Grieving is good. Separation from someone we love is hard. It makes us think. It underlines our own mortality. While many come to pay respects, support the family, it is those who are close that ponder it the strongest. Everyone has to ask the question, where am I in this process? Is the stinger still embedded in me? Or has it been removed by Jesus? You cannot fake death with a religious facade. Death knows when it still has the stinger in you. You might fool people around you, but death is not deceived nor impressed. Only when Jesus removes the stinger can you experience the true freedom of life.

The stinger had been removed and the glimpse of glory in that near death experience allowed the testimony of eternity to be shared with family and friends and we were encouraged, blessed, lifted up, challenged, and comforted because it was a short time till going home.  -P. Bill

Hijacked

HIGHJACKED

Turn off the lights. Take the decorations away. Remove Santa. Silence the music. Refrain from the pursuit of gifts for everyone. Take it to bare minimum. It is Christmas. Bare bones Christmas. What do you have? For some, there would be nothing left. Paper, tinsel, yard decorations, all gone. They would have nothing.

It was that way, nothing. The shepherds were just doing their job when heaven interrupted. Mary was going about her life when the angel Gabriel appeared. Zacharias was on duty in the temple when he was approached by the angel. Joseph was approached in a dream and given command. Caesar Augustus was just interested in raising government funds that sent a nine month pregnant girl on the back of a donkey to Bethlehem. No parades, no lights, no decorations. Magi endured hours of travel, following a star of unprecedented brilliance. No media. No silver bells. The quiet of the desert was their companion.

In some ways the world has highjacked Christmas. Very little is quiet and reflective. Very little focuses on Jesus. Family, food, football, festivities have usurped the solemnity and miracle of the day. Oh, family is great, we love being together. Gifts are good, they tie us to the one who gave in a pleasant, memorable way.

But here is the truth. It is a miracle of epic proportions. A God-Man was born defying all the natural laws established by God himself. The Word became flesh. It would be called the Incarnation. It was the moment that answered the despair of man. It was the moment where the effects of the Fall would be rectified for those who would believe. He is the great light that has shone upon mankind. Darkness, spiritual darkness, death darkness, would no longer reign.

To as many who believe he has given the power of an eternal life. Not only eternal life being future, but life abundantly, now! The impact of the God-Man’s life has not lost its affect, its power, its presence. The God-Man has imparted his Spirit to each who calls on his name. This time of year is to remember the incarnation, the break through to humanity, the introduction of hope.

I encourage all to take some time to reflect, to be silent, to meditate. Remember, it is the incarnation. The word became flesh!! -Pastor Bill

Celebration

CELEBRATION

The Holidays are wonderful and hard. They are joyous and grievous. They illicit joy and sadness. For some it is anticipation and for others, dread. Some want it to last all year and others cannot wait till it is over. And for most, it is a mix of the two extremes.

Memories pile up as the years go by. Just like Scrooge in Charles Dickens book, A Christmas Carol, there were good times in Christmas Past. There were good relationships, good parties, and celebrations and fun. Time and circumstance had jaded him into a miserly, miserable person. The stewarding of memories is important. Selecting good ones keeps a person healthy in many ways. Sad memories or tragic memories can dominate our minds and spirits. Holidays can trigger those tragic memories and how we handle them are important to our spiritual and mental health.

While the celebration of Christmas is meant to remind us of the birth of the Savior, we can often make the holiday anything but about Him. It is easy to get caught up totally in the whirlwind of gifts, recitals, plays, scenes, trees, snow, dinners, family gatherings, and any other traditions developed. We can be stressed about money, time, family gatherings, and splitting time with relatives. We can become ouchy, grouchy, and touchy.

With the passing of time, Christmas changes. For some loneliness sets in because all the family then known have passed. Grandchildren are grown and families take on their own celebrations. Now, instead of hosting the family, you become the guest. Or worse, you have nowhere to go on that holiday. For some, it becomes a charity meal in a public place where a few serve the homeless.

Yes, this is a time of celebration because God provided someone to take away our sins, our loneliness, our depression, our meaninglessness and give us life, hope, joy, and meaning to our lives. We celebrate the gift of a Savior which the world had long waited for. To have the burden of sin removed and death defeated is the greatest gift given to all who will receive. We must lift our heads and attention away from the tragedies of life and focus on the eternal gift given. All the frills of celebration removed, there is still this glorious event that was carried out in the most humble of circumstances in order to give us the greatest gift of eternity, Jesus the Christ.

I am forever grateful! -P. Bill

ODE TO JOY

ODE TO JOY

So I have my ear buds in listening to classical music. I chose Beethoven and the first selection that played was “Ode to Joy.”Now there is an illusive item, concept, emotion. We read the joy of the Lord is my strength. To have that flowing in us seems so fleeting. We may try to capture it, but to no avail. We try to confess it and it becomes simply a mantra repeated. Often when it comes, it is unexpected. It is like a friend running up behind you and jumping on your back with affection, or the simple action of a child that pulls fond memories from the archives of the mind and there comes the joy of the present and the past mingled in the moment of joy.

Part of the Christian experience is the expectation and promise of joy. Jesus endured the cross for the promise of joy set before him. We are promised that joy comes in the morning after a night of agony. We are told of joy unspeakable. Some kind of joy that is so deep that it has no verbal expression; it is the kind of joy that resonates in the spirit only. Joy may not be expressed as jumping around, leaping up and down, running with exuberance. Joy might be quiet, reflective, meditative, peaceful. Regardless of the expression, you know when the joy has come.

Joy has to be found in small things. We often speak of stopping to smell the roses or the coffee. The macro issues of life will dominate every breathing moment if we are not mindful and purposeful. The glaring, demanding issues of existence, family, finances, world affairs, political wrangling, social media, bullying, dating, marriage etc. will squeeze the life out of you. Those things are like a Boa Constrictor slowly squeezing the life out of you. Joy, in contradiction to the macro issues, looks for the finer things of life. The small, the joyful, the little things of childhood, nature, friendship, touch, flowers, animals are the micro moments that engender joy. Who has not watched a stallion run with tail whipping in the wind and not watch in amazement? Who has not looked at a rose closely and not been inspired by the intense color, smell, and intricacies of the petals unfolding? Who has not watched a baby take its first steps and not thrill at the boldness and effort?

That same kind of joy is meant to fill our hearts and spirits when we look closely at a manger, a baby is swaddling clothes, a gift given from a loving father. The joy comes when you know the human condition and the amazing promise lying there. For the next 33 years, this gift would continue to be unwrapped till the final meaning of it all was realized on the day of Resurrection! -P. Bill

Idealism…Youth Only?

Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done, on earth as in Heaven…
I have lived my life with a certain idealism that has never been realized. I have striven for this illusive goal, and have missed the mark. I remember sharing my desire of what Christianity should be when I was about 25 with another man just a little older than me. I remember where I was. I was teaching at the Magnolia School and was in the cafeteria talking to this man. He told me that it could never happen. I walked out of that cafeteria thinking to myself, “it will happen!” I moved with determination holding forward that ideal found in the New Testament. I grew up with the people who called themselves the Restoration Movement. They were committed to restoring New Testament principles and life to the church. Yet, as the years went by, it appeared to be a thinly veiled mantra with no power or plan behind it. So many things of the NT were missing.
Along came the Charismatic Renewal which somehow had been given that name after a few years of dynamic impact in main line denominational churches. This was birthed in Episcopal and Lutheran venues. Catholics were coming by the thousands. Conferences were held in Catholic halls of education. People came from all around the country seeking the power of the Holy Spirit. This was not the Pentecostal movement of the early 1900’s which touched people considered to be the poor and indigent. This was not the Holy Roller crowd which had gained a reputation of sorts. These were the society crowd full of pride and substance.
In this movement, I received the missing link of my pursuit. He was the Holy Spirit. This baptism completed the ground work for a truly NT experience. The Book of Acts was a possibility. As the Charismatic Renewal was winding down and mainline churches were putting an end to acceptance, people who were being rejected or told to make the Holy Spirit only a personal, devotional part of their lives, began to form small groups and small churches to give expression to the freedom they had found. In this time, it seemed possible to form a NT church.
However, as is so often the truth, they brought their baggage from Egypt (their past) with them. Church forms were carried over and the new freedoms were ritualized in the context of the old. New teaching emphases created what were called streams of doctrine. Faith stream, laughing stream, submission stream, plain people stream and many others were formed. Some really were not streams, but extremes.
I am still looking for the ideal of the NT church. Looking for the Book of Acts people. I have had glimpses, short experiences with it, but so far, nothing sustainable. BUT, I am still looking and trying. I still believe. -P. Bill

Vacation Lessons

Cathy and I had a very important, restful, vacation. It was important because our physical beings were being regenerated with rest and emotional rest. We both had periods of not feeling well, but we have experienced that before when it came to vacation time and we had time to shut down. Our place was right on the ocean and we kept the patio door open most of the time to allow the sounds of the ocean to flow into our one bedroom unit. One night in particular, there was a storm and the waves were crashing and the wind was blowing. I got up and went and opened the patio door and laid on the couch and watched the sea roar. The colors of the water changed regularly from the light sea foam green to darker shades of green. The breeze kept wafting through the door sending the scent of salt air into the room.

On days when the sky was blue and the sun was shining brightly, the ocean had its deep blues and sometimes close to shore brown finishing waves. On these days I would walk the beach, spending time listening to an audible book that was ministering to me deep down inside. At times as topics were covered, they would reach so deep that tears would come as the Holy Spirit used them to minister life to me. Really fresh sense of directions was coming, renewing me. Likewise Cathy was spending time with the Lord and He was speaking to her.The transformation was so evident in our time of ministry in Columbus. I saw the Cathy that I knew 20 years ago when it came to ministry. I was so happy to see her return to her calling and anointing.

There were a number of things the Lord spoke to me. We, as a church, have a lot of good work ahead of us. There will be a need at several levels for everyone to participate in. The journey of becoming what the Lord wants of us. One thing for sure, we are not trying to resurrect the past and the way things were done then. The nostalgia of those days has to be laid aside as a good history, but not current or necessarily relevant to today. However, there are key elements that God has and we need to discover how they are to be applied today. It is now a matter of re-inventing ourselves; it is learning what God wants us to be and do today. Many of us our older and do not like change, but change we must. You change all the time and may not know it. You are constantly adapting to changes in life, health, location, etc.

I am pleasantly encouraged and excited with what the Lord wants to do here in this next phase of the journey. Through the next months and maybe years we are going to find ourselves in the will of the Lord. We are going to be seekers, pursuers of the will of God. We are going to discover the joy of our salvation like we have not experienced in a while.

We must learn to enjoy the journey. We must focus on the positive things God wants and forsake the old ways of always complaining about what is missing, the things that are not quite the way we want them. If you are busy serving and engaged in building, you will cease being the critic. And, it is not the pastor’s fault that things are not always correct or good. It is the responsibility of everyone to connect and carrying the load. It is easy to sit at home watching a game and be the yelling, complaining, arm chair coach. They judge, but they are not in the battle, the trenches. They are not there watching the replay at the moment. It is the heat of the moment and everyone is in it, committed. When you are in it, you support one another, encourage one another, you do not complain and break the sense of unity, camaraderie, the team. -P. Bill

HARD CHOICES

HARD CHOICES

Life has hard choices. We are not always prepared for them, in fact, we usually are not prepared. Significant events can take place so fast that we hardly have time to respond with well thought out plans. Sometimes we just react. Other times we have to ponder, weigh the facts, control our emotions, think clearly, take a break, pull away for a while to gage our response.

Critical thinking is good, but sometimes there is a spiritual dynamic to it. Sometimes the leading of the Holy Spirit will take us in a direction that we do not want to go. Sometimes the leading of the Spirit is in contradiction with critical thinking. Not all rational decisions are rational. Reason may lead us in places we do not want to go or the results of our well thought out plans produce a result unseen and tragic. The Holy Spirit however, has inside knowledge. He knows the mind of Christ, He has the foresight of the Father, He sees the end from the beginning.

I have had on several occasions leadings of the Holy Spirit that ran contrary to reason, logic, and decorum. Yet, after struggling with the leading, I will yield. It is not that I do not want to obey, but careful weighing and asking for confirmation of some sort is not wrong. Confirmations can be just the incessant prompting of the Holy Spirit as the pressure increases with urgency. Other times, confirmations can come through circumstances or a word spoken by another.

Hard choices make us pray, think, ponder, wrestle with God. We test, complain, explain to God our reservations and how this does not fit our plans. And really why do we have to face this choice?

His ways are higher than ours. His reasons are inscrutable. Learning to surrender and obey is one of the Christian life’s greatest lessons and challenges. I do not know why I have been thrown into this difficult place. Oh yes, some are the consequences of bad choices made out of my own determination, but some I did not sign up for. They are not the result of my bad choices. Some come about because of my good choices. Good choices do not always produce a smooth road. Sometimes, maybe many times, they produce conflict when morality and character run juxtaposition with popularity and crowd mentality. Persecutions are based in this type of hard choice.

Yet, the high road, the right road may cause us sadness, separation, second guessing because of the results, possible isolation, but it is still the right choice. The Bible record is full of people making right choices, hard choices and suffering consequences that were wrong. Many of the New Testament writers acknowledge this result. They tell us to rejoice and be glad. Consider it an honor to suffer for Christ’s sake. (Personally, this is hard and a lesson I am still working on.) I have had several prophetic words that have exhorted me to rejoice and be exceeding glad. Hard choices, hard places, still working on the rejoice part.

P. Bill