Category Archives: 53. Calling

Calling (Sunday) – 1 Samuel 3:1-11

 

Word from the Lord was rare in those days. (1 Samuel 3:1)

Is word from the Lord rare in ours? The devout  would respond, “Absolutely not!” yet they would have different reasons for their confidence. One group would say ‘no’ because they have the Bible and it is the full and inerrant communication from God to man. Another group would say ‘no’ because they have apostles and prophets who share words from the Lord. One of the big reasons I named this blog In The Middle With Mystery is that I have good friends in both of these camps yet who will have little or nothing to do with each other. It is a mystery to me that co-heirs in Christ of God’s Kingdom, where unity is of preeminent value, view each other as heretics.

I don’t believe either group’s source of inspiration is as inerrant as they think and I certainly don’t have a monopoly on truth. I need my family on both sides of this divide. I really do. I recognize the invaluable contribution that scripture has made to the Church, to culture and to my own life. It has been profound. Yet powerful changes took place in the first three centuries of Christianity without the Bible. Some amazing transformation also occurred in me in three months, before I had ever opened the scriptures.

This offends part of my family and that grieves me but I must be honest. I have also heard the word of the Lord independent of scripture. It is blasphemous for my sola scriptura family to hear me say this but his Spirit is within me, and he is not silent. Learning to hear God’s voice (and making mistakes) is one big reason there is some fear and trembling left in the working out of my salvation. Did you hear that? I not only have salvation. I am working it out.

I (Jesus) do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. (John 17:20-21)

What I see of the future comes by way of hearing God’s heart in scripture. I believe, in his sovereignty, while never violating an iota of our free will, he is going to have a Bride and she will not be the bipolar one that is still struggling with her identity on earth at this time. I don’t know if it will be because of a single, or many bursts of light, but something is going to give, and when it does, in some sense, I believe we shall be one in some recognizable way that will cause the world to see and to believe. When we pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” unity, among other things is what I anticipate as God’s answer.

One thing really stands out to me in our passage; that is, God can be speaking and we can fail to understand that he is speaking to us. How blessed we are if there is an Eli, whose lamp is still alit, who can help us to process what we are hearing. This is a primary reason why we were commanded to not forsake our interaction with each other. Our relationships are not optional. They are vital and we must understand this, because in reality, we are spiritually conjoined in Christ.

So, what is our application? To begin, I would suggest that it is to find the community of saints God has called us to be a part of. This could be those who gather in the established institution with its bricks and mortar or it could be among a more nomadic tribe who has been called to function together without the overhead and tradition. Either way, my point is that we must present ourselves to God and to each other with the same attitude Samuel acquired;

Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening. (1 Samuel 3:9)

Most authentic believers carry within them a that-the-world-might-know ambition. Since they have been saved from terminal spiritual cancer they are left with the same hope and aspiration for others. How could this be otherwise? And since unity was so prominent in his final request to his Father, and since unity is also sited as a remedy to the world’s unbelief, then this same motivation must become an operational part of our hearts. Since Christ lives in us, nothing could be more natural than our gathering, anticipating that, by way of our unity, others might come to see and to attain eternal life in Christ.

Christians are odd balls to say the least. The scriptures refer to us as aliens and strangers. Coupling this with our understanding that all things are possible with God should equip us to think outside the box (or wineskin, as the case may be). Our world has zero hope outside of Jesus and he is currently being represented by 42, 000 denominations at last count. I am willing to be so bold as to imagine that God might indeed do something new in response to his own prayers and ours that would draw attention, of the most positive type, to his Bride. Perhaps our story, as the Church, will conclude as did our passage;

 “Behold, I am about to do a thing at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle.” (1 Samuel 3:11)

Father, awaken your Bride to her ultimate calling – to glow radiantly in the midst of darkness, to such a degree that the hopeless, the captives and the downtrodden look upon her and find Life. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calling (Saturday) – Acts 9:1-31

Everyone has their heroes – people whose experience inspires us to think in new and hopeful ways. Paul (or Saul, at this point) is one of those guys for me. He is a living demonstration of repentance – one who was traveling with purpose and passion in one direction and then, after a divine ambush, began traveling in the exact opposite direction. In a matter of weeks, he went from breathing threats and murder to speaking out boldly and arguing in Jesus’ behalf!

His life also highlights God’s sovereignty. It is pretty clear that Saul was elected and was the blessed victim of irresistible grace. The gospel Paul heard was a snap of light that knocked him off his horse. Ringing in his spirit as he lay upon the ground was the question, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He might have thought “that” is a very good question but instead he asked, “Who are You, Lord?”I would love to know the involuntary convulsion of Paul’s heart when he heard his answer, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”

Saul was stunned but no more so than was Ananias – God’s special currier, who actually protested his assignment. Given Zacharias’ (John the Baptist’s dad’s) experience, Ananias may be lucky he even had a voice. (Perhaps Jesus is more patient than Gabriel?) But Jesus prevailed, Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”

Chosen? To suffer? The linkage of these two ideas (except in regard to dead apostles) is alien to most of us in modern evangelical Christianity. In fact, even though it is false, there is a great deal of doctrine that wars against this pairing. The root lie goes something like this; “After all, we are the head – not the tail. We are sons, not slaves.” (These are beautiful truths but only if viewed within the whole council of scripture.) Most of us see Paul as one set apart and above the type of lives the rest of us are called to live. While I recognize Paul’s unique calling as an apostle, I also recognize God’s unique way of raising his children.

Although He was a Son, He (Jesus) learned obedience from the things which He suffered.(Hebrews 5:8)

I don’t believe Jesus and Paul were exceptions. The New Testament does not teach this; why should we believe it?

“As He (the Son of God) is, so also are we in this world.” (1 John 4:17)

“A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:40)

“Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me (Paul).” (1 Corinthians 4:16)

Jesus influenced Paul. Paul influenced Timothy. Timothy, in turn, was faithful to influence those God entrusted to him. Who influenced us? The circle is not unbroken. Has evangelical teaching even attempted to draw from the way God parented his original disciples? The apostle’s current relevance seems to have far more to do with the doctrines they advanced than with the lives they lived. I believe this is a tragedy.

While I am no fan of suffering, of trials, of tribulations or testings, they are part and parcel of life in Christ. (At least this was true in the scriptures.) In God’s economy nothing has to be wasted. However, I believe that treating the New Testament as a mere historical account of the early church is a recipe for bad stewardship. Relating to the second generation (Jesus was the first) of a new race of men as if it were something childish that must be put away is the ultimate expression of burying one’s talents.

What would be involved in digging up our treasure? Of seeing the glory of God resting upon his Bride – the Church? Shall we wait for God to knock us off our horses? Or, having the New Testament as living words, could we simply dismount of our own accord and repent of any notion that would discount the present value of the apostle’s lives?

Do not move the ancient boundary which your fathers have set. (Proverbs 22:28)

Father, we have always had a propensity to misunderstand your heart. In this hour, take whatever measures you must to insure that we are on the narrow (yet secure) path of life in your Son. May your Church be built up once more and go on in the rightful kind of fear and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit. As we revisit your role as Father and Lord, may we reframe our understanding of suffering and bear your name with the same honor as did your first disciples. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calling (Friday)—Luke 5:27-32

Let’s look in on a social gathering, taking place two thousand years ago, in the spacious home of Levi the tax collector. He is just now welcoming his guests…

Good evening everyone. Most of you know me as Levi. I am the popular Jew who collects taxes for the nation of Rome.” The humor was not wasted on his fellow publicans. “This is my home and you have been invited here to meet Jesus—the man who has become the big story in our nation. He and Zaccheus will be arriving shortly. Before they do, I want to tell you how I met him or, shall I say, how he ‘called’ me. I’m not really sure which happened first but I would like to tell you my story.”

Levi proceeds, “It was just a few week ago, I was tending my booth when Jesus approached. I was stunned. What would the Teacher have to do with me? Had he come to make things right with the Emperor?” The crowd laughed. Levi was putting his guests at ease with hard-bitten publican sarcasm. You know, in our line of work, we can get to the point pretty quick, but I’m telling you, we don’t hold a candle to Jesus. We were barely in voice range, when he simply said, ‘Follow me Matthew.’” 

The evening’s host continued, “I was on my heels—Matthew? How could he have known my childhood name? That is what my father called me. There are so many things about Jesus that mystify me. Did you know Matthew means ‘gift of the Lord?’ Jesus tells me Matthew suits me better than Levi, which means—not surprisingly, ‘to take.’ Going for the laugh, another taxman said, “Can Jesus give us all new names?” The crowd roared at this joke, but Matthew just smiled. As his guests warmed in the humor, he was recalling that Jesus had just told him he was to become a fisher of men. He was making his first casts.

Matthew let the good will flow among his guests for another minute or so then ask if he might continue. It was no problem. They wanted to know what he meant when he said Jesus had called him. Matthew continued;

For whatever reason, it was quite easy to walk away from the booth that day. It was another thing altogether to process what it meant to follow him. What about my vocation? What would Pilate say? What about my home? My family?”

As his guests pick up on the dilemma of following Jesus, Matthew continues, “It turns out my apprentice will handle the business just fine. Pilate doesn’t care who runs the booth. As to my family—you can see I am still blessed to have one.” The crowd murmured their recognition. “And, you can also see that I still have a house. My wife, keenly aware of Jesus’ leave-everything-behind teaching, has informed me how handy she personally thinks walls and roofs are in raising our family. And I notice…this house is serving us quite well this evening.

We know the Teacher told a rich landowner that, for him, to follow, it would require that he sell everything. Did this apply to all Jesus’ followers? This question is the elephant in the room, isn’t it? Friends, in the past weeks I have listened to Jesus teach numerous times regarding wealth and possessions. He sees them as snares capable of trapping a man. Jesus is walking me through this right now.”

Matthew’s passion builds. “I and the other eleven have given him permission to say whatever he wants to us. Truly, anything less would be insanity. He has wisdom and authority like you can’t imagine. I enjoy a free flowing dialogue with Jesus, and he has said nothing to me, as yet, regarding liquidating my assets. However, what has changed since meeting the Teacher is title.

In the presence of a great deal of wealth, Matthew offers priceless advise: “I can see from his teaching and his leading that he is calling all men, not just twelve, to follow him. It is clear to me this means the relinquishing of our rights to all that we are and all that we own so that they do not own us. Jesus is laser focused on our hearts. He is inviting men to cede their personal and property rights to the kingdom of God. My sense, and I was not born yesterday, is that this is the best bargain, and the only sane response a soul can make to Jesus.

Matthew addresses those gathered with as much sincerity as he possess: “I don’t know what the future disposition of my holdings will be. Jesus is not big on telling us what is ahead. I do know that I trust him. It is nearly impossible not to. As he looks me in the eye, I know he is gazing at my heart. And perhaps the greatest mystery is this; as defiled as I know I am, he does not retreat like other so-called religious leaders. To me, this makes Jesus a shepherd in the truest sense of the wordHe is what my heart has been waiting for.

            “Jesus will be here in a few minutes. Allow me to wrap this up. What does relinquishment look like? I have concluded this leave-all feature of following him will be literally applicable for some but legally applicable for all. Our hearts must be ceded to him and thus begins a process. I have already found my heart trying to back peddle. My career? Really? Yet, as I entrust this potential worry to him, I find an inner freedom I had not known existed. In responding to his call, I have inherited a windfall of life. As to these goods we so highly value—it is not foolish to relinquish our rights to things we cannot keep in order to gain that which we cannot loose. This, my friends, is the kingdom of God, and you will soon be hearing more about it. Excuse me while I welcome Jesus into my house.

Father, it is you with whom we have to do, and this is not burdensome. May your kingdom government have increasing rule within us. We welcome you into our hearts – your home. Amen.

 

Calling (Thursday)—Jeremiah 1:1-19

There is no way you will be able to fully appreciate this post without spending some time in our passage. I have taken all my cues from Jeremiah.

What would you say if the Lord came to you and said, “What do you see?” We know Jeremiah said, “I see a boiling pot.” If the Lord were to ask me, “Rob, what do you see?” I would say, “Lord, I see a melting pot – that is cooling rapidly.” The term melting pot was popularized by the play of that same name by Israel Zangwill, first staged in 1908. Here is the conversation where the phrase was used:

DAVID: There she lies, the great Melting Pot–listen! Can’t you hear the roaring and the bubbling? There gapes her mouth, the harbour where a thousand mammoth freighters come from the ends of the world to pour in their human cargo. Ah, what a stirring and a seething! Celt and Latin, Slav and Teuton, Greek and Syrian, black and yellow … 

VERA:  Jew and Gentile.

DAVID: Yes, East and West, and North and South, the palm and the pine, the pole and the equator, the crescent and the cross–how the great Alchemist melts and fuses them with his purging flame! Here shall they all unite to build the Republic of Man and the Kingdom of God. Ah, Vera, what is the glory of Rome and Jerusalem compared with the glory of America, where all races and nations come to labour and look forward!

Ah, that David and Vera had been right. The glory of the America they saw has faded however. They envisioned the grateful huddled immigrant masses, yearning to breathe free, being assimilated into a common way of American life. They saw the great Alchemist melting and fusing the myriad groups into one solid homogenous culture. Continuing in describing to God what I see:

“Lord, might I also add: it seems someone has turned down the fire beneath our pot. We are not melting together. We have become stratified into interest groups bent on having our own way. We have become a society obsessed with our personal rights and we insist that our government enforce them. It seems that lawlessness is increasing and love is growing colder.”

No doubt Jeremiah was called to be a prophet. He and a handful of other men were integral to the revelation of God in a particular season. Perhaps there are prophets today. I hope so. They are desperately needed. However, rather than wait for one to appear, I am more inclined to encourage the prophetic voice that is within each of us. My dispensational gifts-are-gone friends will protest, “Prophet? Brother, are you not thinking more highly of yourself than you ought, Romans 12:3?” (They almost always quote chapter and verse.) And I will respond, “I don’t think so… I am only thinking so as to have sound judgment. Has He not raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus? Romans 12:3 and Ephesians 2:6.” (I am not opposed to quoting scripture either.)

Those who are in Christ have a prophetic voice within them. Jesus, our Prophet, Priest, and King, resides within us, if we have been born again. It is a great mystery, but we also reside in him. The prophetic voice simply comes from people who know that God formed them in the womb and appointed them to overcome their reluctance to say what they see. They are not looking at the American dream from a cruising altitude of 30 thousand feet, considering this –ism versus that -ism. They are looking at the kingdom of God from 30 million miles and they know that “God is watching over His word to perform it.

Prophetic vision from no more than even 35 thousand feet, augmented by just a little history, knows that nations do not have a permanent lease on their glory. Even minor prophets know that God will pronounce His judgments on wickedness, upon those who have forsaken Him, upon those who are offering sacrifices to other gods, worshipping the works of their own hands. Sound at all familiar? Not concerned?

 Be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect. (Luke 12:40)

False prophets surface in times of trouble. Hitler was Germany’s. His angry rhetoric awakened the indignation of a nation with a wounded self-image. Galvanized under his leadership, his nation raised itself up and destroyed most of Europe, putting the whole world at risk.  Beware of egoist leaders who promise, whatever it takes, to restore the glory of their nation (as they see it).

Perhaps God does not like the way the American Dream is playing out. What does God do with a nation of people who have become “lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful and arrogant?”  Because we are Americans, will God excuse us if we are ungrateful, unholy, and unloving? Will God not have to apologize to other nations if he overlooks people who are “irreconcilable and without self-control, people who have become haters of good, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” And how much worse is it when we are “holding to a form of godliness although we have denied its power?” (Borrowing from the prophetic voice of Paul in II Timothy 3.)

The last person you want at a party is a prophet, isn’t it? They say things no one wants to hear. The stock market may be rocking along, most terrorism is on foreign soil and the Yankees may be back this year. The prophet interrupts the festive spirit, saying: “From God’s perspective, things are not as they seem.”

As to our melting pot, there is a great showdown between the cross and the crescent playing out before us. It is hard to conceive that our great Alchemist will melt the two together. How are the people of the cross to turn the other cheek and love an enemy who would like their head on a platter? For my kid’s sake, I regret that a quick fix has not been offered. Shall we just tread water then, waiting for Jesus to come back, since there is no hope? (FYI: That was not the prophetic voice.)

Perhaps we should begin by praying for our leaders. Perhaps we should be careful to avoid indignant and haughty voices who lead polls by expressing their ignorance in anger. Perhaps we should not ultimately trust in our robust economy or our military might. Perhaps we can see the prophetic value printed on our currency: “In God we trust.” To avoid becoming the American nightmare, may we reclaim for God what is rightly his within this American Dream.

Father, I pray for the United States of America that you would have mercy on her. We are a proud and independent people who have lost their way. Interrupt us where our pursuit of happiness has run afoul with your idea of liberty and freedom. Raise up the prophetic voices, Lord, and grant they become the roaring and the bubbling we hear next. Amen.

 

 

Calling (Wednesday)—Luke 19:1-10

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:1-10)

Zaccheus was a short, rich, tax collector—not exactly a winning formula for belonging. He had whiffed on size, socio economic-class, and vocation. He had struck out and didn’t even have a bench to retire to. For that matter, he didn’t even have a team. Zaccheus was a pariah. No problem though because “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

On this day, Zaccheus woke with an ambition: “I want to see who Jesus is.” To do this he was going to have to face his fear—the crowd. The chief tax collector had hardened himself against people. He had to do something with all these people who summarily dismissed and despised him. They hated him, so he hated them back, not because he wanted to—this was just the path his heart took to protect itself from rejection, something the human heart cannot tolerate.

He heard the elevated noise from the street. The crowds were out in force and he knew why. Jesus was passing his way. He set his heart on seeing Jesus, and he set aside his aversion to the crowd. He figured if their attention was focused on someone else, it might not get focused on him. He entered the fray, knowing his size was going to put him at significant disadvantage in seeing Jesus. But if Zaccheus was anything, he was ambitious and smart. He saw the best seat in the house and made his way to the sycamore.

He hadn’t been perched long when Jesus and a throng of followers came into his view. Zaccheus was surprised; “So this common looking fellow is Jesus? This guy is who all the fuss is about?” This mystery only fueled his desire to see who Jesus was. The great Teacher was being carried along by the crowd when, suddenly, he stopped. What had happened? The crowd stilled as Jesus looked up and addressed his admirer: “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.

“Jesus knows my name? He must stay at my house?” He nearly fell out of the tree as this news struck him. He made his way to the ground only to be met by the crowd who welcomed him with a barrage of grumbling. The sting was not quite so great as he saw Jesus smiling at him, “Hello my friend. Yestoday I must stay at your house.” Jericho’s diminutive outcast and Jesus were now leading this throng whose din was now muffled and sour. With each step, it was dawning on him just who this Jesus was. He was the friend of outcasts. Zaccheus’ heart was melting. Halfway to his house, he turned to Jesus and said, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”

Jesus didn’t say, “Well, it’s about time,” or, “Make it five times.” Jesus heard the words, but more importantly, he saw into this broken and hardened man’s heart. Jesus simply acknowledged what he had just seen his Father do, and said, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Many are troubled when Jesus is caught seeking out the one in 99. They grumble that he has selectively ignored the 99. I don’t think it is for us to say what Jesus does with the 99. Can Jesus not find them in their tree on another day? How many sons of Abraham were confirmed later that evening? No doubt, Jesus’ most recent follower opened his home to his fellow outcasts, perhaps other tax collectors. Maybe some prostitutes. Rather than focus on the supposed negative side of election, I choose to imagine that if these other stories were all written down, there would not be space enough for the volumes they would fill.

What were the first painful words you ever heard about yourself? Mine happened to come from classmates who I had thought were like me. I was thinking I belonged to them and I was like them. It was in this warm sense of belonging that I first heard kids say, “He’s rich.” The realization that I was not a member of them put some things in motion that effect how I believe Zaccheus thought about the crowd.

Protecting myself from the revelation that I did not belong, prompted me to consciously build my first wall (at a younger age, I had already built a few, which were more reflexive). I became a proficient builder as, over the years, I erected one wall after another. We all do. We all left the Garden with a cosmic sized rejection complex. Our walls become impenetrable fortresses where love is neither received nor given. Like Zaccheus, we end up with hardened hearts—wounded people wounding people. I suspect this is the backstory of human history.

Our one hope is that Jesus is still seeking and saving those who are lost—imprisoned within the fortresses they have built. Zaccheus’ story tells us that when we move toward Jesus, wanting to know who he is, he is faithful to move toward us, in surprising ways. He came to set us outcasts and captives free.  Jericho was a city that knew something about walls coming down. How fitting that Zaccheus would have his walls demolished in this city. How fitting that we would invite Jesus to tear down the walls in our own hearts, that we night receive his love and, in turn, be a conduit of it—that the world might see—that He might reign supreme. Regardless of our theology, we are each the one in 99.

Father, thank you that you still are seeking and saving that which is lost—even those parts of us that remain imprisoned. May our hearts grasp our blessed status as the 1 in 99. Overturn any lies in our hearts which have suggested that we have either been overlooked or are without need. Help us to see who you really are. Amen.

 

Calling (Tuesday)—Luke 5:1-11

Since I am a fisherman, this passage had me at first cast.

In this case, it is a last cast. Jesus persuades the fishermen to make one last cast of their nets. (I prefer 12-pound mono with a Pop-R, but I am a catch-and-release guy.) Simon & Associates caught and kept fish. Their last cast, prompted by a preacher with a huge audience, netted a windfall. Peter’s response was quite odd. He didn’t say, “Praise Adonai! We’re going to make payroll!” He said, “Please leave me alone. I’m a sinful man.” Profits producing conviction? What manner of Teacher was this? He was a very persuasive one, because “When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.”

Can you be a follower of Jesus and not leave everything and follow Him? My story explains why I personally answer “no” to this question.

When I came to Christ in 1976, I was lost and alone. I was without hope. This will sound over dramatized, but I knew I was being stalked by something dark and very powerful, and I knew it was going to catch me. I was scared. But a master fisherman was about to make a strategic cast. For a 23-year-old boy, His choice of bait was not surprising. I was lured into a church by a girl I was trailing. There I was, bushwhacked by a man with a very direct question, “Do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?” I responded, “I have no clue what you are talking about.” Before he could launch into the Four Spiritual Laws, I added, “I know I am ruining my life, and I am willing to give it to Jesus to do anything He wants with it.” I had never been more sincere. The gentleman led me in a prayer I don’t remember. All I recall saying to God is, “Here is my life. It is now Yours.”

I had no idea what I had just signed up for. There has never been a more shocked human being than I was as Jesus, the new titleholder of my life, started doing anything He wanted. The demon trailing me was now off the job. The foreboding was replaced with a peace that freaked me out. For months I lived in a state of blissful shock: “This just cannot be! Frogs do become princes!” The dramatic changes Jesus had made in my heart stunned me. I could not account for them outside of the new arrangement between God and me.

I discovered quickly mine was not the conventional path into God’s family. As I spoke to others who identified themselves as Christians, I discovered I was missing many standard “conversion” features: I had not heard a clear presentation of the gospel; I had not felt an overwhelming conviction of sin; I had no fear of hell (other than the one I was living in); I had no thoughts of heaven; the Bible had not been opened; no scripture was quoted; I did not pray a conventional sinners prayer; I did not publicly walk down the aisle. Even though Jesus had obviously moved into my life, people wanted me to back up and cover these bases! It appeared at the time that Jesus had made a very unusual cast to catch me.

My experience was outside the church’s sanctioned protocol. I hadn’t invited Jesus into my heart because I was afraid of hell or because I believed God had a wonderful plan for my life. I had simply given my life away to God and He took it. Right or wrong, I had always equated my surrender to God as the same “leaving everything and following Him” we saw with our fishermen. I didn’t know you could invite Jesus into your heart—get saved—then pursue the life of your choosing. I didn’t know there were other paths allowing varying degrees of devotion. As void of orthodoxy as my experience was, I have never questioned its validity. I have never regretted how I came into God’s family. I gave my life to Him and He gave His Life to me, in Christ.

Being young and semi-pliable, I was quickly equipped by sanctioned persons with sanctioned ways. They had to shut me up. I was driving people crazy telling them about what Jesus had done for me. Since muzzles were not allowed, they taught me how to refine my story. I learned The Roman Road, The Four Spiritual Laws, Evangelism Explosion and The Bridge Illustration to share Christ with others. Experience is a powerful thing. To this date though, I cannot share Christ without telling them that one must leave everything to follow Jesus. Surrendering title is just part of the deal.

Many souls see God as a tough owner, one who would sheer you of all you have and keep you shorn if you ever did anything so radical as leave everything and follow Him. This is enormous B.S.

Think about it. If the Owner, who chose you and loves you, happens to have a radical pathway for you, it would only be because that is the path where He plans to fulfill His part of the deal. This is the path where He plans to reveal Himself to you. That is the big deal! Seeing God as a hard man (Mat 25:24) will lead one to the tragic act of burying his or her talents.

If you have been this fearful person, renew your mind. Repent of misshapen ideas of God. Surrender your life to Him with no strings attached. He is the Good Shepherd. He is trustworthy. The Lion of Judah is not tame but He is safe. Thinking of yourself as Christian, knowing you have never given your life to God is not a safe place. Surrendering is sound advice. There is really no other way.

He is no fool who gives away what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Jim Elliot

It is never too late. If you want to visit with me personally about this gospel, I’m always available to give an account of the hope that is in me.

Father, let the sifting and sorting begin. Draw our hearts to You. Captivate our loyalties. May we season this world as with salt where needed. May we overthrow it where it is killing people’s souls. Awaken us to our callings as sold-out sons and daughters that we may see the kingdom of darkness flee in fear. In Christ, let us reclaim the ground our enemy has stolen which is rightfully Yours. May Your majestic name be revered and honored at the core of our beings and to the ends of this earth. In Jesus Name. Amen.

 

Calling (Friday) – Luke 5:27-32

Calling – Luke 5:27-32

Let’s look in on a social gathering, taking place two thousand years ago, in the spacious home of Levi the tax collector. He is just now welcoming his guests …

Good evening everyone. Most of you know me as Levi. I am the popular Jew who collects taxes for the nation of Rome.” The humor was not wasted on his fellow publicans. “This is my home and you have been invited here to meet Jesus – the man who has become the big story in our nation. He and Zaccheus will be arriving shortly. Before they do, I want to tell you how I met him or, shall I say, how he ‘called’ me. I’m not really sure which happened first but I would like to tell you my story.”

Levi proceeds, “It was just a few week ago, I was tending my booth when Jesus approached. I was stunned! What would the Teacher have to do with me? Had he come to make things right with the Emperor?” The crowd laughed. Levi was putting his guests at ease with hard bitten publican sarcasm. “You know, in our line of work, we can get to the point pretty quick, but I’m telling you, we don’t hold a candle to Jesus. We were barely in voice range, when he simply said,

                                                         ‘Follow me Matthew’.” 

The evening’s host continued, “I was on my heals … Matthew? How could he have known my childhood name? That is what my father called me. There are so many things about Jesus that mystify me. Did you know Matthew means ‘gift of the Lord?’ Jesus tells me Matthew suites me better than Levi, which means – not surprisingly, ‘to take’. Going for the laugh, another tax man said, ‘Can Jesus give us all new names?’ The crowd roared at this joke but Matthew just smiled. As his guests warmed in the humor, he was recalling that Jesus had just told him he was to become a fisher of men. He was making his first casts.

Matthew let the good will flow among his guests for another minute or so then ask if he might continue. It was no problem. They wanted to know what he meant when he said, Jesus had called him …

For whatever reason, it was quite easy to walk away from the booth that day but it was another thing altogether to process what it meant to follow him. What about my vocation? What will Pilate say? What about my home? My family?”

As his guests are picking up on the dilemma of following Jesus, Matthew continues, “It turns out my apprentice will handle the business just fine. PIlate doesn’t care who runs the booth. As to my family – you can see I am still blessed to have one.” The crowd murmured their recognition. “And, you can also see that I still have a house. My wife, keenly aware of Jesus’ leave everything behind-teaching has informed me how handy she personally thinks walls and roofs are in raising our family. And I notice … this house is serving us quite well this evening.”

We know the Teacher told a rich landowner that, for him, to follow, it would require that he sell everything. Did this apply to all Jesus’ followers? This question is the elephant in the room isn’t it? Friends, in the past weeks I have listened to Jesus teach numerous times regarding wealth and possessions. He sees them as snares capable of trapping a man. Jesus is walking me through this right now.”

Matthew’s passion is building. “Myself and the other eleven have given him permission to say whatever he wants to us. Truly, anything less would be insanity. He has wisdom and authority like you can’t imagine. I enjoy a free flowing dialogue with Jesus and he has said nothing to me, as yet, regarding liquidating my assets. However, what has changed since meeting the Teacher is title.

In the presence of a great deal of wealth, Matthew offers priceless advise, “I can see from his teaching and his leading that he is inviting all men, not just twelve, to follow him. It is clear to me this means the relinquishing of our rights to all that we are and all that we own so that they do not own us. Jesus is laser focused on our hearts. He is inviting men to cede their personal and property rights to the kingdom of God. My sense, and I was not born yesterday, is that this is the best bargain, and the only sane response a soul can make to Jesus.

Matthew is addressing those gathered with as much sincerity as he possess, “I don’t know what the future disposition of my holdings will be. Jesus is not big on telling us what is ahead. I do know that I trust him. It is nearly impossible not to. As he looks me in the eye, I know he is gazing at my heart. And perhaps the greatest mystery is this; as defiled as I know I am, he does not retreat like other so-called religious leaders. To me, this makes Jesus a shepherd in the truest sense of the word. He is what my heart has been waiting for.”

“Jesus will be here in a few minutes. Allow me to wrap this up. What does relinquishment look like? I have concluded this leave all-feature of following him is literally applicable for some but legally applicable for all. Our hearts must be ceded to him and thus begins a process. I have already found my heart trying to back peddle. My career? Really! Yet, as I have entrust this potential worry to him, I find an inner freedom I had not known existed. In responding to his call, I have inherited a windfall of life. As to these goods we so highly value – It is not foolish to relinquish our rights to things we cannot keep in order to gain that which we cannot loose. This, my friends, is the kingdom of God and you will soon be hearing more about it. Excuse me while I welcome Jesus into my house.” 

Father, it is with you whom we have to do and it is not burdensome. May you kingdom government have increasing rule over the dominion of our hearts. Amen.

 

 

Calling (Thursday) – Jeremiah 1:1-19

Calling – Jeremiah 1:1-19

There is no way you will be able to fully appreciate this post without spending some time in our passage. I have taken all my cues from Jeremiah.

What would you say if the Lord came to you and said, “What do you see?” We know Jeremiah said, “I see a boiling pot.” If the Lord were to ask me, “Rob, what do you see?” I would say …

Lord, I see a melting pot – that is cooling rapidly.

The term melting pot was popularized by the play of that same name by Israel Zangwill, first staged in 1908. Here is the conversation where the phrase was used …

DAVID: There she lies, the great Melting Pot–listen! Can’t you hear the roaring and the bubbling? There gapes her mouth, the harbour where a thousand mammoth freighters come from the ends of the world to pour in their human cargo. Ah, what a stirring and a seething! Celt and Latin, Slav and Teuton, Greek and Syrian, black and yellow … 

VERA:  Jew and Gentile.

DAVID: Yes, East and West, and North and South, the palm and the pine, the pole and the equator, the crescent and the cross–how the great Alchemist melts and fuses them with his purging flame! Here shall they all unite to build the Republic of Man and the Kingdom of God. Ah, Vera, what is the glory of Rome and Jerusalem compared with the glory of America, where all races and nations come to labour and look forward!

Ah, that David and Vera had been right. The glory of the America they saw has faded however. They envisioned the grateful huddled immigrant masses, yearning to breathe free, being assimilated into a common way of American life. They saw the great Alchemist melting and fusing the myriad groups into one solid homogenous culture. Continuing in my opportunity to answer God …

 

Lord, might I also add, “It seems someone has turned down the fire beneath our pot. We are not melting together. We have become stratified into interest groups bent on having our own way. We have become a society obsessed with our personal rights and we insist that our government enforce them. It seems that lawlessness is increasing and love is growing colder.”

No doubt Jeremiah was called to be a prophet. He and a handful of other men were integral to the revelation of God in a particular season. Perhaps there are prophets today. I hope so. They are desperately needed. However, rather than wait for one to appear, I am more inclined to encourage the prophetic voice that is within each of us. My gifts-are-gone friends will protest, “Prophet!? Brother, are you not thinking more highly of yourself than you ought, Romans 12:3” (They almost always quote chapter and verse.) And I will respond, “I don’t think so … I am only thinking so as to have sound judgment; Has He not raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus? Romans 12:3, Ephesians 2:6.” ( I am not opposed to quoting scripture either.)

Those who are in Christ have a prophetic voice within them. Jesus, our Prophet, Priest and King resides within us, if we have been born again. It is a great mystery but we also reside in him. The prophetic voice simply comes from people who know that God formed them in the womb and appointed them to overcome their reluctance to say what they see. They are not looking at the American dream from a cruising altitude of 30 thousand feet, considering this ism versus that ismThey are looking at the kingdom of God from 30 million miles and they know that …

                                         God is watching over His word to perform it

Prophetic vision from no more than even 35 thousand feet, augmented by just a little history, knows that nations do not have a permanent lease on their glory. Even minor prophets know that God will pronounce His judgments on wickedness, upon those who have forsaken Him, upon those who are offering sacrifices to other gods, worshipping the works of their own hands. Sound at all familiar? Not concerned? 

                   Be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.

False prophets surface in times of trouble. Hitler was Germany’s. His angry rhetoric awakened the indignation of a nation with a wounded self-image. Galvanized under his leadership, his nation raised itself up and destroyed most of Europe, putting the whole world at risk.  Beware of egoist leaders who promise, whatever it takes, to restore the glory of their nation (as they see it).

Perhaps God does not like the way the American Dream is playing out. What does God do with a nation of people who have become lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful and arrogant?  Because we are Americans, will God excuse us if we are ungrateful, unholy and unloving? Will God not have to apologize to other nations if he overlooks people who are irreconcilable and without self-control, people who have become haters of good, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. And, how much worse is it when we are holding to a form of godliness although we have denied its power?  (Borrowing from the prophetic voice of Paul in 2 Timothy 3)

The last person you want at a party is a prophet isn’t it? They say things no one wants to hear. The stock market may be rocking along, most terrorism is on foreign soil and the Yankees may be back in 16. The prophet interrupts the festive spirit, saying …

From God’s perspective, things are not as they seem.

As to our melting pot, there is a great showdown between the cross and the crescent playing out before us. It is hard to conceive that our great Alchemist will melt the two together. How are the people of the cross to turn the other cheek and love an enemy who would like their head on a platter? For my kids sake, I regret that a quick fix has not been offered. Shall we just tread water then, waiting for Jesus to come back, since there is no hope? (FYI: That was not the prophetic voice.)

Perhaps we should begin by praying for our leaders. Perhaps we should be careful to avoid indignant and haughty voices who lead polls by expressing their ignorance in anger. Perhaps we should not ultimately trust in our robust economy or our military might. Perhaps we can see the prophetic value printed on our currency – “In God we trust.” To avoid becoming the American nightmare, may we reclaim for God what is rightly his within this American Dream.

Father,

I pray for the United States of America that you would have mercy on us – a proud and independent people who have lost their way. Interrupt us where our pursuit of happiness has run afoul with your idea of liberty and freedom. Raise up the prophetic voices Lord and grant they become the roaring and the bubbling we hear next. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calling (Wednesday) – Luke 19:1-10

Calling – Luke 19:1-10

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him,“Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” And Jesus said to him,“Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Zaccheus was a short, rich, tax collector – not exactly a winning formula for belonging. He had whiffed on size, socio economic-class and vocation. He had struck out and didn’t even have a bench to retire to. For that matter, he didn’t even have a team. Zaccheus was a pariah. No problem though because …

                          The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.

On this day, Zaccheus awakened with an ambition, “I want to see who Jesus is.” To do this he was going to have to face his fear – the crowd. The chief tax collector had hardened himself against people. He had to do something with all these people who summarily dismissed and despised him. They hated him so he hated them back, not because he wanted do; this was just the path his heart took to protect itself from rejection – something the human heart cannot tolerate.

He heard the elevated noise from the street. The crowds were out in force and he knew why. Jesus was passing his way. He set his heart on seeing Jesus and he set aside his aversion to the crowd. He figured if their attention was focused on someone else, it might not get focused on him. He entered the fray, knowing his size was going to put him at significant disadvantage in seeing Jesus. But if Zaccheus was anything, he was ambitious and smart. He saw the best seat in the house and made his way to the sycamore.

He hadn’t been perched long when Jesus and a throng of followers came into his view. Zaccheus was surprised; “So this common looking fellow is Jesus? This guy is who all the fuss is about?” This mystery only fueled his desire to see who Jesus was. The great Teacher was being carried along by the crowd when he stopped. What had happened? The crowd stilled as Jesus looked up and addressed his admirer …

                        Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.

“Jesus knows my name!? He must stay at my house!?” He nearly fell out of the tree as this news struck him. He made his way to the ground only to be met by the crowd who welcomed him with a barrage of grumbling. The sting was not quite so great as he saw Jesus smiling at him, “Hello my friend. Yestoday I must stay at your house.”  Jericho’s diminutive outcast and Jesus were now leading this throng whose din was now muffled and sour. With each step, it was dawning on him just who this Jesus was. He was the friend of outcasts. Zaccheus’ heart was melting. Halfway to his house, he turned to Jesus and said …

Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.

Jesus didn’t say, “Well, Its about time.” Or, “Make that five times.” Jesus heard the words but, more importantly, he saw into this broken and hardened man’s heart. Jesus simply acknowledged what he had just seen his Father do, and said …

Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.

Many are troubled when Jesus is caught seeking out the 1 in 99. They grumble that he has selectively ignored the 99. I don’t think it is for us to say what Jesus does with the 99. Can Jesus not find them in their tree on another day? How many sons of Abraham were confirmed later that evening? No doubt, Jesus most recent follower opened his home to his fellow outcasts. Perhaps other tax collectors? Maybe some prostitutes? Rather than focus on the supposed negative side of election, I choose to imagine that If these other stories were all written down, there would not be space enough for the volumes they would fill.

What were the first painful words you ever heard about yourself? Mine happened to come from classmates who I had thought were like me. I was thinking I belonged to them and I was like them. It was in this warm sense of belonging that I first heard kids say, “He’s rich.” The realization that I was not a member of them put some things in motion that effect how I believe Zaccheus thought about the crowd.

Protecting myself from the revelation that I did not belong, prompted me to consciously build my first wall. (I had built a few already at a younger age which were more reflexive.) I became a proficient builder as I erected one wall after another over the years. We all do. We all left the Garden with a cosmic sized rejection complex. Our walls become impenetrable fortress where love is neither received nor given. Like Zaccheus, we end up with hardened hearts – wounded people wounding people. I suspect this is the backstory of human history.

Our one hope is that Jesus is still seeking and saving those who are lost – imprisoned within the fortresses they have built. Zaccheus’ story tells us that when we move toward Jesus, wanting to know who he is, he is faithful to move toward us, in surprising ways. He came to set us outcasts and captives free.  Jericho was a city that knew something about walls coming down. How fitting that Zaccheus would have his walls demolished in this city. How fitting that we would invite Jesus to tear down the walls in our own hearts, that we night receive his love and, in turn, be a conduit of it – that the world might see – that He might reign supreme. Regardless of our theology, we are each the 1 in 99.

Father, thank you that you still are seeking and saving that which is lost – even those parts of us that remain imprisoned. May our hearts grasp our blessed status as the 1 in 99. Overturn any lies in our hearts which have suggested that we have either been overlooked or are without need. Help us to see who you really are. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calling (Tuesday) – Luke 5:1-11

Calling – Luke 5:1-11

As a fisherman, this passage had me at first cast. In this case it was a last cast. Jesus persuades the fishermen to make one last cast of their nets. (I prefer 10 pound mono with a Pop-R but I am a catch-and-release guy.) Simon & Associates caught and kept fish. Their last cast, prompted by a preacher with a huge audience, netted a windfall. Peter’s response was quite odd. He didn’t say “Praise Adoni, we’re going to make payroll!” He said, “Please leave me alone, I’m a sinful man.” Profits producing conviction? What manner of Teacher was this! He was a very persuasive one, because …

               When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.

Can you be a follower of Jesus and not leave everything and follow him?”  My story explains why I personally answer, “No” to this question.

When I came to Christ in 1976 I was lost and alone. I was without hope. This will sound over dramatized but I knew I was being stalked by something dark and very powerful and I knew it was going to catch me. I was scared. But a master fisherman was about to make a strategic cast. For a 23 year old boy, his choice of bait was not surprising. I was lured into a church by a girl I was trailing. There I was bushwhacked by a man with a very direct question, “Do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?” I responded, “I have no clue what you are talking about.” Before he could launch into the Four Spiritual Laws, I added, “I know I am ruining my life and I am willing to give it to Jesus to do anything he wants with it. I had never been more sincere. The gentleman led me in a prayer which I don’t remember. All I recall saying to God is, “Here is my life. It is now yours.”

I had no idea what I had just signed up. There has never been a more shocked human being than I was as Jesus, the new title holder of my life, started doing anything he wanted. The demon trailing me was now off the job. The foreboding was replaced with a peace that freaked me out. For months I lived in a state of blissful shock, “This just cannot be! Frogs do become princes!” The dramatic changes Jesus had made in my heart stunned me. I could not account for them outside of the new arrangement between God and I.

I discovered quickly mine was not the conventional path into God’s family. As I spoke to others who identified themselves as Christians I discovered I was missing many standard “conversion” features; I had not heard a clear presentation of the gospel. I had not felt an overwhelming conviction of sin. I had no fear of hell (other than the one I was living in). I had no thoughts of heaven. The Bible had not been opened. No scripture was quoted. I did not pray a conventional sinners prayer. I did not publicly walk down the isle.  Even though Jesus had obviously moved into my life, people wanted me to back up and cover these bases! It appeared at the time that Jesus had made a very unusual cast to catch me.

My experience was outside the church’s sanctioned protocol. I hadn’t invited Jesus into my heart because I was afraid of hell or because I believed God had a wonderful plan for my life. I had simply given my life away to God and he took it. Right or wrong, I had always equated my surrendered to God as the same “leaving everything and following Him” we saw with our fishermen.  I didn’t know you could invite Jesus into your heart – get saved – then pursue the life of your choosing. I didn’t know there were other paths allowing varying degrees of devotion. As void of orthodoxy as my experience was, I have never questioned its validity. I have never regretted how I came into God’s family. I gave my life to Him and He gave His Life to me, in Christ. 

Being young and semi-pliable, I was quickly equipped by sanctioned persons with sanctioned ways. They had to shut me up. I was going crazy telling people about what Jesus had done for me. Since muzzles were not allowed they taught me how to refine my story. I learned The Roman Road, The Four Spiritual Laws, Evangelism Explosion and The Bridge Illustration to share Christ with others. Experience is a powerful thing. To this date though, I cannot share Christ without telling them that one must leave everything to follow Jesus. Surrendering title is just part of the deal.

Many souls see God as a tough owner, one who would sheer you of all you have and keep you shorn if you ever did anything so radical as leave everything and follow Him. This is enormous B.S. Think about it. If the Owner, who chose you and loves you, happens to have a radical pathway for you, it would only be because that is the path where he plans to fulfill his part of the deal. This is the path where He plans to reveal himself to you. That is the big deal! Seeing God as a hard man (Mat 25:24) will lead one to the tragic idea of burying their talent.

If you have been this fearful person, renew your mind. Repent of misshapen ideas of God. Surrender your life to him with no strings attached. He is the Good Shepherd. He is trustworthy. Thinking of yourself as Christian, knowing you have never given your life to God is not a safe place. Surrendering is sound advice. There is really no other way.

He is no fool who gives away what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot loose.” Jim Elliot

It is never too late. If you want to visit with me personally about this gospel, I’m always available to give an account of the hope that is in me.

Father, let the sifting and sorting begin. Draw our hearts to you. Captivate our loyalties. May we season this world as with salt where needed. May we overthrow it where it is killing people’s souls. Awaken us to our callings as sold-out sons and daughters that we may see the kingdom of darkness flee in fear. In Christ, let us reclaim the ground our enemy has stolen which is rightfully yours. May your majestic name be revered and honored at the core of our beings and to the ends of this earth. In Jesus Name. Amen.