Category Archives: 06. Shaped By The Word

Shaped by the Word – Psalm 1

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,

Nor stand in the path of sinners,

Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 

But his delight is in the law of the Lord, 

And in His law he meditates day and night. 

He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,

Which yields its fruit in its season

And its leaf does not wither;

And in whatever he does, he prospers. 

 

The wicked are not so, 

But they are like chaff which the wind drives away. 

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. 

For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,

But the way of the wicked will perish. Psalm 1

To be blessed, according to the Amplified translation is to be fortunate, prosperous, and favored by God. However, this Psalm 1 blessing is a conditional one, dependent on who we associate with and our orientation to the law of the Lord.

How is a born again Christian, living out of a new covenant and a new life in Christ supposed to relate to conditional promises from the Old Testament? Let’s be honest: we cannot help but be attracted because of the richness of the promises, but do we really want blessing as our motive and obedience as our means? Do we really want to enter into a relationship with God that is dependent on us delivering the goods? What if one only meditated in the day and not the night or happened to keep company with the unregenerate? I believe I know the answer to these questions, but I tell you the truth, I believe every child of God is going to have to work the answers out for themselves.

I have friends who relate passionately to the Old Testament because of their attraction to prosperity. They are devout and seemingly beyond my appeal that there is a better way. Because I bought into it as a younger believer, I am sensitive to quid pro quo religion, where, if I do this or do that, I will position myself to receive God’s blessing.

It may sound arrogant, but I am a blessed man, before I ever pick up my Bible, because I have a new life in Christ. I am a child of God before I even read or quote the scriptures. By trusting in Christ, I was grafted into him—the Vine. The fruit I bear is directly related to this reality, not my adherence to the law of the Lord or my proclamation of it. The laws of the Lord originated out the Lord’s own being and you and I now live in that being and he lives in us. In Christ, we have the ultimate blessing. In him we are heir to everything he is and has. In Christ, we truly have an unfathomably rich inheritance. It is a huge step backwards to try and receive promises by virtue of our initiatives, compliance, or recitations.

If I just trashed your doctrine, you’re welcome. If I did, you are probably also thinking that Rob does not hold the scriptures or obedience in high regard. I promise I do, but I don’t think about them as a means to anything. My love of the scriptures and any inclination I have to live in harmony with them is a byproduct of the eternal life that is in me, which is compatible with the scriptures. I love his word because his word first loved me. When I obey his word, it is because his word already lives in me and beckons me, for the good of my heart, to agree and comply.

I am very familiar with the schools of Christian thought that have us confessing and declaring his word so that particular outcomes will be produced. I gave this theology a thorough test drive and found it incompatible with the new life that was in me. The very practicing of it placed God in a box that was much too small. Is God, our good, good Father, withholding his blessing until we incant his words as if they were some magical or mechanical trigger to release a blessing? If we proclaim his word, it should be because our soul exults in those words, not because we want something from God we cannot have otherwise. In him we have it all. He, the person of God, is our all in all.

God is a better parent than us. Did we withhold our children’s provision until they ask us with just the right words? The childlike, trusting heart I believe God wants to produce in us is one that simply trusts that he knows our needs and delights in meeting them. I think he likes us to ask, but, oh, the things we do beyond the childlike asking.

I am saying this as one who is feeling pretty desperate for some relief. Pain showed up on my doorstep 17 years ago in the region of my lower back and never left. It has just kept moving in on me a little at a time to the point where I’m not sure how to tolerate it any longer. That will sound like a pretty shabby confession to part of my faith family, but not to my Father. At this writing, he did not just recoil at my negative confession. I can’t explain why pain has been woven into my story but I am unwilling to credit my lack of faith or positive confession with its presence. If pain continued to encroach on my earthly comfort, would it diminish his goodness? Discredit his affection for me? Reflect poorly on his fatherhood? I echo a sentiment with Paul: “I speak as if insane” (from 2 Corinthians 11:23).

Until we are set free from these earthly bodies, which are so prone to decay and degeneration, what response does God want from us? What is he looking for in our hearts? All I know is that even sons sometime ask their Father why he has forsaken them only to discover that resurrection life is just around the corner.

Father, I pray that you would heal my body, specifically the degenerated, arthritic components of my spine. Please mend the nerves and the inflamed tissues that surround these areas. You are the healer of every facet of my being. And by the way, thank you for every minute of the previous 17 years. While I would not trade them for anything, please note that I am currently negotiable. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Shaped by the Word (Monday) – Colossians 3:12-17

At some level Paul had experienced the peace that surpasses all comprehension. When it came to his family in Christ, though, he struggled. Matters affecting their spiritual health weighed on him heavily. Paul was aware of Satan’s schemes to use so-called Christians to delude tender young hearts with persuasive arguments. This passage is what a spiritual father has to say to his children so that they could combat the threat.

Paul is keen that his spiritual charges maintain a watchful rest, sustaining both encouragement and gratitude. How are they to do this? First, they must acknowledge that they are a body, one that is intentionally knitted together by love. There is a good deal of protection in the body of Christ in and of itself. The next thing Paul wants to get across, though, is so simple that most miss it. It is simply a true knowledge of God’s mystery—Jesus Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Paul knew that with Jesus alone at the core of our being and at the center of our theology, we have a full assurance of understanding. He knew that the discipline of honoring this mystery is the source of our stability. The thing that troubled Paul was that the sheep were not content with a mystery. They tended to gravitate toward the principles of the world rather than toward Christ himself; they leaned towards ideas that appeared more concrete, ideas derived from human tradition that appealed to the natural and un-renewed mind. Anything added to the simple theology of Christ was, to Paul, a danger. Spiritual fathers suffer when they see us attempting to accessorize the mystery.

What Paul is continually trying to say is that, in Christ, heaven has already come down to earth. Jesus said it was expedient that He leave but that he would send us The Helper. In the Holy Spirit, he has done this.  When the battle is hot and we feel we need reserve power from heaven, The Counselor says:

The Spirit in you is far stronger than anything in the world. 1 John 4:4 MSG

His divine power has granted to you everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.  2 Peter 1:3  NAS

The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. Colossians 1:27  MSG

Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude. Colossians 2:6-7 NAS

Spiritual fathers (those who take responsibility for the potential in the people around them) labor as did Paul, even struggle to: “admonish and teach every man with all wisdom so that he can present them to God complete in Christ—the mystery in us which is the hope of glory.” from Colossians 1:28 and 28 NASB

It seems God has worked overtime in my heart to loosen the nuts to my bolt-on theologies to help me to see that He alone is my LifeHe knows that in simple and mysterious truth is hidden the abundance of all and more than I will ever need. What you will frequently find in my posts has to do with my account of the unbolting process that God has underwritten in my life.  As I have recently found myself gratefully standing with my bolts lying on either side of me, it seemed appropriate to name this blog in the middlewithmystery.com.

Father, life seems a process. Help us to understand the ways of our hearts so that we may all find ourselves utterly content with You alone, our Rock, our Fortress, our Savior, our Advocate, our Intercessor, our Peace, our Joy, our Strength, our Origin, our Destiny, our Glory, our Wisdom, our Way, our Truth, our Victory, our Sufficiency, our All-In-All, our very Life. Truly Lord our cup is running over if only we could see it.  Open our hearts to the beauty and simplicity of this mystery. For our joy and your name’s sake. So be it.

 

Devotion (Monday)—Colossians 2:1-17

At some level Paul had experienced the peace that surpasses all comprehension. When it came to his family in Christ, though, he struggled. Matters affecting their spiritual health weighed on him heavily. Paul was aware of Satan’s schemes to use so-called Christians to delude tender young hearts with persuasive arguments. This passage is what a spiritual father has to say to his children so that they could combat the threat.

Paul is keen that his spiritual charges maintain a watchful rest, sustaining both encouragement and gratitude. How are they to do this? First, they must acknowledge that they are a body, one that is intentionally knitted together by love. There is a good deal of protection in the body of Christ in and of itself. The next thing Paul wants to get across, though, is so simple that most miss it. It is simply a true knowledge of God’s mystery—Jesus Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Paul knew that with Jesus alone at the core of our being and at the center of our theology, we have a full assurance of understanding. He knew that the discipline of honoring this mystery is the source of our stability. The thing that troubled Paul was that the sheep were not content with a mystery. They tended to gravitate toward the principles of the world rather than toward Christ himself; they leaned towards ideas that appeared more concrete, ideas derived from human tradition that appealed to the natural and un-renewed mind. Anything added to the simple theology of Christ was, to Paul, a danger. Spiritual fathers suffer when they see us attempting to accessorize the mystery.

What Paul is continually trying to say is that, in Christ, heaven has already come down to earth. Jesus said it was expedient that He leave but that he would send us The Helper. In the Holy Spirit, he has done this.  When the battle is hot and we feel we need reserve power from heaven, The Counselor says:

The Spirit in you is far stronger than anything in the world. 1 John 4:4 MSG

His divine power has granted to you everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the    true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.  2 Peter 1:3  NAS

The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. Colossians 1:27  MSG

Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude. Colossians 2:6-7 NAS

Spiritual fathers (those who take responsibility for the potential in the people around them) labor as did Paul, even struggle to: “admonish and teach every man with all wisdom so that he can present them to God complete in Christ—the mystery in us which is the hope of glory.” (from Colossians 1:28 and 28 NASB

It seems God has worked overtime in my heart to loosen the nuts to my bolt-on theologies to help me to see that He alone is my LifeHe knows that in simple and mysterious truth is hidden the abundance of all and more than I will ever need. What you will frequently find in my posts has to do with my account of the unbolting process that God has underwritten in my life.  As I have recently found myself gratefully standing with my bolts lying on either side of me, it seemed appropriate to name this blog in the middlewithmystery.com.

Father, life seems a process. Help us to understand the ways of our hearts so that we may all find ourselves utterly content with You alone, our Rock, our Fortress, our Savior, our Advocate, our Intercessor, our Peace, our Joy, our Strength, our Origin, our Destiny, our Glory, our Wisdom, our Way, our Truth, our Victory, our Sufficiency, our All-In-All, our very Life. Truly Lord our cup is running over if only we could see it.  Open our hearts to the beauty and simplicity of this mystery. For our joy and your name’s sake. So be it.

 

 

 

 

Shaped By The Word (Sunday) – Proverbs 3:1-6

Shaped By The Word —Proverbs 3:1-6

 My son, do not forget my teaching,

But let your heart keep my commandments; 

For length of days and years of life,

And peace they will add to you. 

Do not let kindness and truth leave you; 

Bind them around your neck, 

Write them on the tablet of your heart.

So you will find favor and good repute 

In the sight of God and man. 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart 

And do not lean on your own understanding. 

In all your ways acknowledge Him, 

And He will make your paths straight. (NASB)

There are certainly things in man’s heart that cause him to zigzag in his course. Yet we are in the presence of a verse that promises God can make them straight. Very good. But when traveling, the first order of business is to determine one’s destination. If we were to take this passage alone, we might conclude our destination is a long and peaceful life, one in which we end up finding favor with both God and man. But this is not the whole council of scripture. Solomon had not yet met Jesus and Paul, who added to Scripture’s more complete council:

 Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. Luke 17:33

 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself. Acts 20:24

It puts a terrible strain on the whole council of scripture to interpret the New Testament through the lens of the Old. The Old Testament, as an inferior covenant, must be interpreted through the New. An eye unaided by New Testament lenses will read our passage and conclude with glee: “It is as I had hoped; life is all about me! All I have to do is live in compliance—retaining and honoring his commandments.” If this is our course we have zigged.

As a new Christian in 1976, I was the prodigal, “Born To Be Wild” child, firing all of my guns at once and exploding into space. (If you were born between 1950 and 1960, you are likely hearing Steppenwolf’s raucous and awesome melody in your brain. It was the hymn of my generation.) In my zeal I aimed my guns at God and pulled the trigger. At high velocity I hit a cross roads right away. Do I do ministry or business? I chose ministry because I wanted to serve God and that was the road for zealots like me (or so I concluded).

Something very interesting happened next. Two people from the house group I was attached to came to me privately and asked me to pray about my choice and reconsider. They simply said, “We have individually had a check in our spirits about your decision.” While I pondered a “get thee behind me (along with with thy checks) reply,” I decided to follow their council. I ended up withdrawing my enrollment papers to Bible school and have been on the construction trades and business path ever since.

It was only years later that I understood the council of these two people. In those years that followed my first crossroads, I met people who had graduated from this same Bible school. There was a common theme to their ministries: they knew how to get God’s stuff. If you did this and said that, God’s health, wealth, and blessing would be yours. I was stunned. Their revelation had exceeded that of both Jesus and Paul. While they zigged, I zagged. And Jesus said to both of us:

 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

My zag led me on a different course. I took the road I believed Jesus described as discipleship—a path available even to the likes of a tradesman/businessman like me. To those on this track (and all tracks for that matter), he says:

 If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? Luke 9:23-25 ESV

Only the Lord knows where and how frequently I have strayed (or am straying) off this path, but I maintain steadfastly that the only authentic windfall for a disciple is Jesus Christ himself. His stuff may come and go (I’ve seen it), but he never leaves nor forsakes us. If we are holding out for a material or financial windfall, let me blunt, our hearts are not on a straight path; we have not chosen the most important thing. Our hearts were created for one thing. When that one thing is not in place, we have lost sight altogether of our destination.

If we shoot for the world, we will miss God. If we aim at God, he adds precisely what we need in the way of material. Solomon’s wisdom in today’s passage of scripture is valid, but it is amplified eternally by Jesus’ spin. He’s very straightforward:

 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21 ESV

Father, thank you that you are our life and that our years, however many, will be swallowed by eternity. Thank you that you are our peace. Thank you that even if this world hates us, we have kingdom favor. Thank you that as we walk in your Spirit, we are not dependent solely on our own understanding. Thank you that as we live with You as the One with whom we have to do, our paths are straight. May our every word and deed be flavored in kindness and truth. Amen.

 

 

 

 

Shaped By The Word (Saturday) – Proverbs 4:20-27

 

Shaped by the Word —Proverbs 4:20-27

When I hear the directive to watch over my heart with all diligence, I immediately think of Jesus as the Lord over the whys of what I do. It is in our hearts where our whys form and direct our lives. Why we think what we think shapes what we choose to do, and what we choose to do determines the courses of our lives. The reasons of our hearts are the springs we’re commanded to steward. In a kingdom in which the primary law is love—for beings that will stand before God—these whys are enormous. David, the psalmist-king knew this:

 O Lord, you examine me and know. You know when I sit down and when I get up; even from far away you understand my motives (i.e. my whys).

I think the author of Hebrews knew this as well when he said, “No creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account (NET).” The NASB translates this same phrase as “with Him whom we have to do,” immediately before which comes:

The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

We enter this world bent on getting from it what we want when we want it. When we’re not doing that (which is practically never), we’re protecting ourselves from getting hurt. This is problematic. We cannot love well with such whys operating as the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. Someone may be thinking: “Wait a minute, now. I play the piano at my church,” or, “I am an elder,” or, “I am a this or I am a that.” When we give an account of our lives to God one day, are these the things we really want to tell Him? I don’t think so.

For this reason, God tells us the whys of our hearts are crucial: everything, all of life, depends on what flows from this spring. The Word and the Spirit ask, “Why do you play the piano at your church? What motivates you to be an usher? A Sunday school teacher or a missionary?”

Our motives are varied, but here are some probable ones: there’s no one else to do it; I like doing it; I have been doing it so long, it’s just my habit now; it’s my duty; it’s my gift; I have been called to this ministry. These motives may be authentic and valid. Or, they may simply be what we tell ourselves, like froth on the crest of waves. God (who prefers compassion above sacrifice) plunges deep and discovers even the most profound springs of our desires and actions.

What if our good deeds are inauthentic? What if they gratify only our selfish desires? What if our deeds flow from springs contaminated by our wounded hearts?

An incredible number of people are burning out in their God-serving—going through the motions, flowing from bitter springs. Is it because our selfish and wounded hearts are incapable of going the distance? Is it the Lord mercifully intervening? I’m willing to bet—on both questions—yes. The Word exposes the hurtful ways of our hearts (born of flesh), which harm us now and will cost us later.

If you feel threatened or offended by this post, count it all joy. Consider the possibility that your flesh is reacting to the sword of the Spirit that is coming threateningly close to your heart, or that your Lord has identified something you have mistakenly claimed as your own. Consider that this disruption might be the beginnings of a work of grace within your heart. Wounded hearts are notorious for being insecure and defensive. Insecure, fleshly hearts are ingenious at carving out territory, claiming turn and titles for themselves: I am over the Sound Booth; that was my idea; I am Pastor. Again, “I am this and I am that.” If we found our identity and self worth on a title or an activity, our springs are deeply bitter and our actions are harmful. God has something so much higher—a promised land of abundant life. If we will let Him work in the deeper places of our hearts, He can take us there. It is what we were created for. This is God’s why, and it must become ours as well. It is our inheritance and our destiny.

While we defend our turf and keep a safe distances from others and God (guarding our wounded hearts), we inevitably traffic in religion—harmful compensation to hearts not settled in Christ. When we stand before Him, Jesus wants us all to be able to say, “Lord, You alone were my satisfaction, my sufficiency, the source of my joy and my strength. The only reason I am here is because You first loved me. Because of Your relentless pursuit of me, my love has been growing. Your presence in my heart has allowed me to serve you more and more out of love. Thank You Thank You for delivering me from the tyranny of the unseen whys of my heart and the subtle hell of religion into which it led.

Father, make religion an enemy You place beneath Your feet. Continue to pursue and slay every last remnant of this foe, even where he has so cleverly hidden himself in the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. Set us free into Your very own liberty and joy. For our heart-pleasure and Your name’s sake. Amen.

 

Shaped By The Word (Friday) – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Shaped By The Word – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

 

 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (NASB)

I thought I thoroughly understood this verse in 1976. It was clear to me then that it meant each verse was designed to impart a specific truth I needed in order to live a godly life. I believed if I would study and memorize and obey those individual verses, I would become a progressively better Christian. That is the point of living… Isn’t it?

I think I have fuller appreciation of these verses today. I don’t think what I believed was false; I just believe those early convictions were incomplete. “All scripture is inspired by God” means that the whole biblical narrative—not just individual verses—is inspired. You might be asking yourself if there is really any big difference between studying the verses and the larger comprehensive story.  I believe there is.

Taking in the narrative connects the reader to the times and circumstances and the other personalities with all their varied motives in a way verse-study can’t. I believe its possible that some of our spiritual anemia may be a by-product of our missing the narrative, particularly the gospel narratives.

The bulk of western Christians look at Jesus in the Gospels and rightly see that He is God incarnate—the Lamb who came as a sacrifice. The efficacy of the atonement achieved by the unblemished Lamb was our salvation, which we have mostly thought of as an upgraded life after death in which suffering will cease and all our tears will be wiped away. Again, a truth. But a very truncated one.

Modern western Christianity often skips from the virgin birth to the cross. Consequently our sub-abundant existence turns out to be little more than an effort to manage our sinful natures (with a sprinkling of good works) until the day we’re called home. If this was the point, why did God inspire four writers to leave narratives of Jesus’ miracle-laden life, telling about His everyday, walk-around adventure? Was that just for the sake of proving He was the Son of God?  Was Jesus’ life story important chiefly because the founder of a religion must have historical details?

I believe if we can slow our pace down and wrench our attention away from our myriad distractions, we will find our hearts have the capacity to refocus—on the story with Jesus as the Son of Man, who did the Father’s will as a human being like you and me. Those big chunks of the gospel between Bethlehem and Calvary were breathed into the story for our benefit not only to reveal Jesus’ divinity, but also to highlight His life as our example. Jesus wasn’t a divine historical anomaly. He was our reference point for the abundant life He promised.

We are not going to facilitate a spiritual revolution through our cognitive mastery of the Bible. We can only recognize and involve ourselves in what God is doing and has always been doing, something the narrative of the Bible as a whole reveals. His original intention was to create a species of beings in His image, who would live in a loving, eternal community. While the bulk of the Bible story chronicles the breakdown of this plan, the new and latter part (the New Testament) captures the beginning of God’s restoration process, the process that is underway, beckoning for us to come along.

Jesus came announcing the kingdom of Godtelling us it had come in Him. He implied that it was then and is therefore now; and that, astonishingly, it was (and is) in us who believe. While getting saved and going to heaven is good news, the kingdom truly is the ultimate mind-bending, wonderfully great news. He never told us to get saved, go to church, and hang on until you die. He said:

“As I am in the world so are you. Look at My life and go do as I did. Reread the narrative children. Live out the story I am breathing into Your life. It was good that I went away not just so I could prepare an eternal residence for you but that you, as My residence on earth, could go and do greater works than I did.”

We get saved and often leave Jesus behind, moving on to Paul who seemed to be the primary spokesman of the New Covenant with God. Most evangelicals consider Paul’s precise doctrinal discourses to be the prime cuts of gospel meat, yielding their nourishment to those with the best study skills. I wonder: if Paul were living today, would he be throwing up his hands, writing letters of correction to us? And I wonder if Jesus wouldn’t say: “You have studied my word but I have this against you; You have not yet discovered how to live out of My life—a daily life of walking in My Spirit.”

I so appreciate my friends who have encouraged me to see the gospel in the context of God’s kingdom and not the other way around, to see my life in the context of the larger biblical narrative, where God’s original intentions will not be thwarted, where all things are being restored to Christ, through Christ in us. This has larger implications for us than some holding pattern until we die or the rapture comes.

Again, Paul might say, It’s no problem for me to remind us

                        Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another— showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the  tasks God has for us.” MSG

Father, thank you for your word. Help us to fall deeply in love with this indispensable God-breathed story into which we have so mercifully been included. Continue to awaken our hearts to the whole council of scripture that paints us into an increasingly beautiful pallet of color and grandeur. So be it, Lord.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shaped By The Word (Thursday) – Hebrews 4:12-13

 

Shaped by the Word —Hebrews 4:12-13

 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. (NASB)

Hebrews 4:12 is as meaningful as any verse in scripture to me. As a new believer, I memorized it, and since, it has affected everything that has followed in my walk with Christ.  I was (and I remain) fascinated by the idea of a living word. In a dying world, could there be anything more relevant?

When I became a Christian in 1976, I was not a reader. I had only read a few books in my life. My intellect was awakened at the same time my spirit was. The bible was the first book I read with any kind of absorbed interest. When I read it, it was as though my heart stood to attention, saluted and said, “amen.”

However, my “amen” caught in my throat when I encountered this passage. When I read these verses, my earnest yet naive heart paused and thought, “Wait a second Father. What’s the need for a sword?  Remember, I surrendered. I am holding nothing back. Could you please point that thing in the other direction? Somebody might get hurt here.”  It turns out this thought was as naive as Peter’s: “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!” Here is how the Message says it:

 God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what.

I liked the sword analogy better than the scalpel. I was going to wield that sword of truth and enter into manly warfare. The idea of a scalpel seems to have a different implication. I discovered as I walked on with Christ that He was endeavoring to make me into His likeness and that in spite of my new nature in Christ, there were thoughts and intentions, doubts and defenses imbedded in my heart that only a skillful surgeon and His scalpel could access. I have come to believe that to call Jesus Lord is in essence to say, “Lord, you have permission to operate on my heart at any time you deem necessary.”

While His Word is a comfort and an encouragement, it also exposes my own agenda. I have been shocked and humbled at how frequently (as in—always) my motives contain a little something in it for me. His Word’s living nature exposes death even in its most subtle (but no less deadly) disguises. I have discovered that I can be as unlike Christ in my motivation behind a hidden sexual sin as I can in leading worship.

Perhaps the most death-infected and recurring thought—which He has had to operate on over the years—is my insistence that I have no secrets or hidden things in my heart. And the Lord says, “Really? Be still. This will only hurt for a second.” And the surgeon proceeds:

 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

It is a game-changing revelation when it dawns on us that nothing we think or do can be hidden from Him, not even our motives—where the maturing disciples know the scalpel is most apt to incise. This awareness can be a source of ongoing humility, knowing that we are powerless to hide from Him. No matter where we are or what we are doing, we are laid bare. Those intimate with Him know, always: It is with Him whom we have to do.

Father—however holy or unholy we perceive ourselves, however close or far from You we imagine ourselves to be—let the Spirit and the Word expose our silly and sinful ideas that exalt themselves above Your loving Truth. Whether it’s Your rod and staff or Your scalpel, help our hearts come to rest in Your comprehensive love and care for us. Amen.

 

 

Shaped By The Word (Wednesday) – Joshua 1:1-9

 

Shaped by the Word – Joshua 1:1-9

 The Lord spoke to Joshua, saying, “Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them. Every place on which the sole of your foot tread…will be your territory. No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

For Joshua, it was Canaan, the land of promise. For the believer it’s the kingdom of God. To us both, God says, “With your minds saturated with My words and your wills committed to them, go. Possess the land and establish My dominion. Your enemies will flee before you. Put them to flight. I will be your constant companion so do not fear your opponents. Go. Be strong and courageous. Validate my promises. Vindicate my words.” To us both, He says,You are great. Go and be great.”

I wonder if God isn’t also saying, “Moses’ and Billy Graham’s time has past. It is time for you to arise and recognize your destiny. Christ in you equips you with the promises I made to these men and more. Envision the earth responding to my words, seeing Me as Lord. Lock arms with your tribe—those I am connecting you to—and help each other to recognize and represent My kingdom. Moses and Joshua longed to see the new covenant I have given you—this door into My kingdom. You are the Church. Everywhere you go you shall be My Church. Through you, light and truth will put fear into the enemy’s heart. Keep thinking and praying, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

I could not help but think of the lyrics to Josh Garrels’ song “White Owl.”

When the night comes

And you don’t know which way to go

Through the shadow lands and forgotten paths,

You will find a road

Like an owl you must fly by moonlight with an open eye

And use your instinct as a guide, to navigate the ways that lay before you,

You were born to

take the greatest flight

Like a serpent and a dove, you will have wisdom born of love

To carry visions from above into the places no man dares to follow

Every hollow in the dark of night

Waiting for the light

Take the flame tonight

Child, the time has come for you to go

You will never be alone

Every dream that you have been shown

Will be like living stone

Building you into a home

A shelter from the storm

Like a messenger of peace, the beauty waits to be released

Upon the sacred path you keep,

leading deeper into the unveiling

As your sailing, across the great divide

Like a wolf at midnight howls,

You use your voice in darkest hours

To break the silence and the power,

Holding back the others from their glory

Every story will be written soon
The blood is on the moon

Morning will come soon

Child the time has come for you to go

You will never be alone

Every dream that you have been shown

Will be like living stone

Building you into a home

A shelter from the storm

From where we are to where we are going, there will be a divide of darkness we must navigate that will require the Word and the Spirit. We will find the way. Our destiny is to take this greatest of all paths. The kingdom dreams that have been planted in our hearts will find expression, connecting us to each other as a shelter of safety for whatever is to come. As messengers of peace with our love-born wisdom, we shall call each other out into our appointed glory.

Father, reveal this part of our stories to the world, demonstrating the incomparable superiority of Your kingdom to any competing principality or power. Awaken us to the glory within. Help us to see ourselves as You see us. Amen.

 

 

Shaped by the Word (Tuesday)—Psalm 119:1-16

Shaped by the Word – Psalm 119:1-16

 How blessed are those whose way is blameless, 

Who walk in the law of the Lord. 

How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, 

Who seek Him with all their heart. 

They also do no unrighteousness;

They walk in His ways. 

You have ordained Your precepts,

That we should keep them diligently. 

Oh that my ways may be established

To keep Your statutes! 

Then I shall not be ashamed 

When I look upon all Your commandments.

I shall give thanks to You with uprightness of heart, 

When I learn Your righteous judgments. 

I shall keep Your statutes; 

Do not forsake me utterly!

           

How can a young man keep his way pure? 

By keeping it according to Your word. 

With all my heart I have sought You; 

Do not let me wander from Your commandments. 

Your word I have treasured in my heart, 

That I may not sin against You.

Blessed are You, O Lord; teach me Your statutes. 

With my lips I have told of all the ordinances of Your mouth. 

I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, 

As much as in all riches. 

I will meditate on Your precepts 

And regard Your ways. 

I shall delight in Your statutes; 

I shall not forget Your word.

With poetic passion an unknown psalmist preaches, prays and vows with all his heart to abide in God’s word. In this longest chapter of scripture, the statutes and law that are referred to are the Torah. I like to imagine what this author would have said had he been present when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. With the new covenant as the backdrop I believe he might have said something to this effect:

Oh Lord, that You have made me blameless in Your sight,

Inviting me into Your most holy presence,

Has dumbfounded my heart.

That You Yourself have become my great high priest

Is far more than I could have ever anticipated.

This is such a glorious surprise!

This new heart You gave me is spirit-compatible with Your Word.

How utterly blessed I have become having Christ to explain You to me.

When I ponder these things, I am filled with wonder, boldness and joy.

All Your precious words I am treasuring in my heart.

My heart has been made wealthy in You.

Your words are my daily feast and the product of my lips.

I dwelling in You? You dwelling in Me?

Astonishing.

Oh Lord, may the outward expressions of my life

Reflect the untold inner-wealth of my heart.

I am in awe of You. I am in love with You.

Father, please awaken the native hunger of our new hearts for Your Word. Help us to learn to feed ourselves, to personally discover and celebrate the blessed reality of our circumstance with You. I do celebrate You, Lord! Thank You that You will never leave nor forsake me. Amen.

 

 

 

Shaped By The Word ( Monday) – Colossians 3:12-17

Shaped By The Word – Colossians 3:12-17

 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

Most Christians know George Barna’s name as it has been made popular through his statistics. They have little good to say about the trends in the Religion of Western Christianity: RWC. Although I am drifting, I am inescapably a part of the Oklahoma Synod of the RWC (RWCOS on our placards). Being a life-member of the RWCOS I have had the opportunity to observe our culture, and I do not take issue with Mr. Barna’s stats. As to his reports, however, I believe that if we can read them and weep, there is hope.

Through what lens would the RWC Christians George Barna polls interpret this passage and answer this question: “How do you let the word of Christ richly dwell within you?” It would naturally be through the lens of our experience. So, we RWC rank and file might answer Mr. Barna, “I let Christ’s word richly dwell within me by listening to my pastor’s sermons, by listening to teachers on TV and radio and by studying my Bible.” Some may even say, “by memorizing scripture.” But to discover what Paul truly meant, isn’t it important to know what this statement meant to the Colossian—who had no Bible, no concept of a paid staff, no concept of practically everything we consider essential to doing Christianity?

It is probable that the first words of Christ heard by the Colossians were from Epaphras, who likely was converted by Paul when he was teaching in Ephesus. The word of Christ came to them in the form of a transformed man and his story. Without the advantages (advantages?) of modern travel, mass communication, and structures with stadium capacity, the New Testament church was left with the primitive, yet obviously effective, means of a stripped down Gospel of Christ crucified and Him resurrected and the story of those whose lives it had transformed. Oh yes, there was also the power of God.

Where modern Christianity depends mostly on a pastor, his staff, and the programs they administer, the New Testament church depended mostly on each other and the simplicity of a fuller and simpler Gospel. Those Mr. Barna interviews probably look at the primitive church and think, “Oh, what the ancients could have accomplished if only they could have enjoyed the advantages we have in accomplishing the Great Commission.” The reality that seems to be escaping us is that the New Testament church and its simple stories and its simple Gospel turned the world upside down. The Barna Group on the other hand is reporting the world has turned the church upside down.

If this is true (and I acknowledge that many would posit that it is not), what are we to do? It seems obvious that we each need to have a story. Like Epaphras, we need to be able to give an account to our neighbors and family of the new hope within us. People don’t want us to invite them to church to hear someone else tell them about Christ. They want to see and hear of the resurrected Christ in our lives.  Are those outside the Church not correct when they observe the RWC and think we have many convictions but not many stories? We, with our political agendas (which have so little congruence to Christ’s teachings) refer novitiates to this book or that sermon. Do they not look at us and see what Barna reports?

We, with our strong convictions are mostly living our lives vicariously through others. Is it not fair for outsiders to ask, “What is Christ doing in their lives that relates to me?”? I believe the fields are white for harvest, full of people who simply want and need to connect with a body of people with a pulse, not an institution with a membership role. Here is a question that could get me lynched, but here goes: is it possible the RWC itself might have as many tares as any foreign mission field?

There is no hope of glory in this earth outside of that which is inherent in creation and that which will be progressively revealed through Christ in His Church. We are each called to work out our salvation with the sober understanding that a great cloud of witnesses is observing our progress (or lack of it). At one point Jesus says, “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me.” Isn’t He saying, “If My life doesn’t match My claims, then you have a legitimate basis for your unbelief”? My question is, “Have we—the RWC really given the world an accurate portrayal of Christ’s life? Or is it just a sanctified American Dream (SAD).

While the current stewards of our existing wineskin-thinking would justify their ministries by the numbers on the roles or by money in the bank, I think Paul and his New Testament cohort would suggest we adopt a new plumb line by which to measure—the current stories of transformed lives. I am not only referring to those first chapters of new life where we were saved from hell. Rather, I’m referring to the fresh stories of how we are being redeemed from the selfish little hells within our own hearts: updates that chronicle the presence of the resurrected Christ in our lives today, that evidence the presence of the Good Shepherd and His ongoing and intimate work in our hearts. Really, why should the world believe us if all we have is biblical convictions, conservative political affiliations, and second hand truth?

Father thank You that You are present and accessible to us all. Thank you that wherever we are, in You, all can be well with our souls. Help us to discover that incredibly good news and may that revelation update and refresh our souls and stories. May we allow Your word to have the run of our hearts—to the extent that we individually and collectively reflect Your resurrection life to all those who are watching our lives. Amen.