Injected or Infected?

I heard on the radio yesterday of six more deaths due to the flu here in Washington, 34 thus far! Although Paula and I have both been fighting something, our symptoms have been fatigue, congestion, and coughing rather than intestinal and respiratory distress with a fever. We are about half-way through the flu season and “public service announcements” are still urging people to get a flu shot. I got mine a couple of months ago—an injection of some strains of the virus which are dead, from which your body builds antibodies which can fight off the live virus if you are flu_shot_needleexposed. Before they gave me the shot they told me of the risks and asked for my consent. Here in the Pacific Northwest Physicians are recommending the injection for everyone between 18 and 64. With the flu near epidemic rates, the choice between immunization or infection seems pretty straightforward—when it comes to the flu, I prefer an injection to infection.

God used the experience, including yesterday’s newscast about another death, to remind me of another situation—one where many people have been unknowingly immunized against infection. Unfortunately, not only was the immunization administered without knowing consent, in this other situation the infection is to be much preferred over immunization. You see, the infection I am talking about is an infection which enables you to be hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; and struck down, but not destroyed. Wow! If those are the effects, I’d definitely prefer the infection to the immunizing injection. What about you?

Of course I don’t have scientific proof, but I believe it is possible to inject people with a dead form of truth (perhaps by exposure to [or “teaching” by] those Paul describes as “having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof”), to the effect that those injected become immunized. They think they “know the truth and are free”—yet they find their personal experience does not match the life Jesus promised—life actually experienced by His early followers. Thereafter they can be exposed to the truth, but because they are immunized, they don’t become infected. In time such people become disillusioned—some of them will become crushed, despairing, and destroyed; they may conclude that everyone else is faking it (so they will too), Christianity is a lie (so why bother), or that it’s not for them (even those once infected can lose heart, so why are we surprised if the merely inoculated walk away?). Maybe you know some people like this; maybe, just maybe, to a greater degree than you are willing to admit I have just described your own experience. If so, I have good news! God is in the business of bringing life to the dead. He is fully capable of bringing real infection to those who’ve previously been merely inoculated! But He won’t do it without your consent: Are you willing to catch the fever? If you are already infected, are you willing to expose others?

Over the next several weeks I hope to expose you to contagious truth! I can’t guarantee you will get infected, that is up to you and the Spirit of God—but if living “hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; and struck down, but not destroyed” appeals to you, talk with Jesus right now about your desire to catch His fever. It is not about you, it’s about Jesus; He is the one who leads us in His triumph.

Until next time, ask Him to let you see Him as Triumphant and praise Him as The Victor.

John

Make Time for Wonder

    On this Christmas Eve, I offer you a few thoughts from my heart to yours. Sharing heart to heart is itself so . . .  central to life and so much this time of year brings forth deep emotion.  At this time of year in particular God brings to life for me certain memories, much as He makes new again the realization that He came and “pitched His tent among us.” Because I hope to prompt wonder in you, I’ll try to keep my words brief.

One memory that comes to me is of the insightful and pleasant prose of Ken Gire in his Moments with the Savior, like this excerpt from a prayer which follows his contemplation of the wise men’s search (and discovery) of the promised King:

Thank you for the stars and the dreams and the Scriptures and the many ways you reveal yourself. Give me eyes to see you in the circumstances of my life, ears to hear you in the Scriptures, feet to find you in the Bethlehems of this world, hands to bring you my gifts, knees to bow before you, and a heart flowing with worship.

I suggest that wonder is an essential for worship—but the press of time and the Season make wonder even more scarce at Christmas. Maybe that is part of the Enemy’s plan. I think the wise men had to make time for their search—while even Israel’s spiritual leaders were busy about the things of YHWH, those who made time to seek Him were richly rewarded. Again, I encourage you even now to make time for wonder. Perhaps you should take a deep breath through your nose, pause, then allow it to flow out your mouth—Jesus, quiet my heart—then re-read the quote, a bit more slowly and as from you to Him.

One fairly common memory for me at this time of year is a new realization of being tired . . . perhaps exhausted or drained would be more accurate. Perhaps you can relate. Several years ago this feeling resulted in my use of a photo of a used tea bag as the image representative of a line (What then can I bring Him, empty as I am) from James Taylor’s In the Bleak Mid-Winter. It came to me again, with tears, a couple of weeks ago as I listened to some children singing songs about Jesus’ birth—longing to give Him something of real worth, but sensing I have nothing left to give.

Part of why I like James’ version of this old poem is his use of instrumentals to introduce the song and its movements; God uses those chords to take me to a place of peace. In that peaceful place I am able to think on the Creator-Sustainer God who loves you without limits, and came in a helpless infant Jesus to show you how much! The empty as I am line opens the final thoughts of the poem, and through them Papa ministers to my heart.

What then can I bring Him, empty as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I could bring a lamb.
If I were a Wise Man, I would know my part.
What then can I bring Him?
I must give my heart.

Our heart is what it’s all about. Amid the rush of the Season, does He have yours? I won’t dwell this time on the reality of a pure heart within every child of God (although perhaps you should, perhaps that is the point He has for you in this today, maybe His gift to you of a pure heart is how He would catch you up in wonder, love, and praise. If so, go there [now]! You’re excused.). I am reminded of the expansive significance in Scripture of the word heart—Papa uses heart to speak of “the center of the inner life—feelings, emotions, desires, passions, understanding, thought, reflection, will, resolve, . . . the heart determines conduct.”

If I were a Wise Man, I would know my part.
What then can I bring Him?
I must give my heart.

If you haven’t already, please pause with Him; ask Him to bring new life to some of your memories of Him. And then make time for Him to do what you ask: Think on Him. Wonder. And if you have a Facebook account and He leads you to spend a few minutes with me and James, check out this (4 minute) photo montage for In the Bleak Midwinter I put together a couple of years ago (http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=1819086875790&saved#!/video/video.php?v=1819086875790 )

May your Christmas be wonder-filled. 

John

You smell like . . .

The other night I had a group of guys come over to talk and pray. As is common with us, a number of the guys embraced as they greeted on another. One of the guys commented to another, You smell like . . . a man! Great start to another time of real authenticity! Honestly! Turns out the brother had been climbing earlier in the day, hadn’t yet showered and was entirely unaware of any . . . offensive odor—how great to hear the truth from a friend! Ever wonder what odor you give off?

For many reasons this is the time of year when I am particularly aware of God’s work in and through us as described by Paul in II Corinthians 2:14 & 15:

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing . . ..

God doesn’t call us to be stinkers! Indeed, His purpose is to manifest the sweet aroma of Jesus through us. Peterson translates it people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. In considering these words several years ago God led me to think of myself as a “diffuser” of His gracious fragrance—I’m just the “reed” in the image; He  has placed me into Himself and Himself into me, so where I go His sweet aroma gets spread, not in an overpowering way but in a way which is refreshing. Like frankincense and myrrh, to some my presence brings a refreshing aroma while to others I have the stench of death—not because of me, but because of their own reaction to Jesus within me, living through me, being real.

Long ago over the hills outside Bethlehem the angels announced that Jesus’ coming was good news of great joy for all people (Luke 2:10). Is that the message you convey about Him? Do you allow His Spirit to overflow joy through you as a sweet aroma? The reed in a diffuser is pretty plain and the role is pretty simple. Yet, it is an important role if the fragrance is to make it out of the bottle!

Last night I was privileged to go with a group of students from Northwest University to share a meal and conversation with some older folks at Operation Nightwatch, Seattle. As we made the arrangements none of us knew that it was the birthday of one of the residents. Miss Linda was turning 64 but planned on just picking up some pizza and going back to her room to eat in the privacy of her room. But Miss Linda is a dearly beloved, blood bought, child of The King and Papa had better things planned for her! As the students engaged with her you could see her countenance change. She joined us for dinner, laughed, and offered up her dominoes (the games lasted for a couple of hours, past her normal bedtime). Pay attention and make note of how much Papa loves us! As I wrote an email earlier today to thank the students, I shared with them one of my favorite benedictions—from Richard C. Halverson:

You go no place by accident. Wherever you go, Christ is sending you.

You are no place by mistake. Wherever you are, Christ has placed you.

You go nowhere by accident—you are nowhere by accident.
Wherever you go–wherever you are—Christ is placing you or sending you,
because Christ has a job He wants to do where you are
and He can only do it in your body.

Think–wherever you are, Jesus Christ is literally present in the flesh.
Believe that, and go in that confidence.

As your thoughts and activities move from Thanksgiving to Christmas, may His exquisite fragrance be diffused through you, and may you too enjoy the aroma!

John

New Born Identity!

Greetings of grace to you Mighty Men and Women of God!

SkyFall is now in the theaters and last summer we got to see The Borne Legacy, but my favorite spy themed trilogy remains Matt Damon in The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Bourne Ultimatum. These three  blockbusters followed Jason Borne as he tried to unravel his covert past and rediscover his true identity. Do you remember who he was before he was molded into the prototype covert assassin through Operation Treadstone?

You may not have been subjected to sleep deprivation and washboarding by the CIA, but I dare say you may be as unaware of your true identity today as David Webb was when he was pulled from the Mediterranean off southern France! But in contrast to Jason Bourne, you most likely remember your former identity so well, you don’t recognize who you now are as a result of the new birth. The truth is, you are no longer who you were, you’re totally new!

For some of you this may remind you of a question I have asked you to consider before—what is the extent of the New Covenant? In the words of the subtitle to the book Birthright, Christiando you know who you are? Unfortunately, in proclaiming “the truth of the Gospel” we have not been particularly adept at explaining the death of our old-self and the newness of our life in Jesus, but it is a near constant theme of the enthusiastic Apostles. Not only Paul (e.g., Romans 6:4-11, II Cor. 5:17, Gal. 2:20 & 6:14, 15), but also Peter (e.g., Acts 15:8 &9; I Pet. 1:2-4) and John (e.g., I Jn. 3:2) each marvel at this amazing truth. It is also revealed in the repeated description of followers of Jesus as saints—holy ones, set apart to God for his purposes. I cringed a bit again this morning as a dear brother repeated Satan’s lie to a group of believers gathered around, “I am no saint” he said. Like so many other still-blinded believers I meet, this brother allows occasional sin to rob him of his lofty place in Christ! As one preacher of old often declared, We are not saints because we live saintly; we live saintly because we are saints. And—this is of greatest importancewho you are determines how you live! Or, it will if you remember who you are! But you can’t remember what you haven’t first heard; as Paul asked the Romans, Or don’t you know?

Do you know who you are? Does being addressed as A Mighty Woman of God or A Mighty Man of God shock your spirit (as it did for Gideon when the angel addressed him with those words [or Valiant Warrior] while Gideon cowered from the Midianites, secretly thrashing wheat in the wine press [Judges 11:7ff])? Do you still think of yourself as “only human” or “not a saint,” or have you begun to embrace your true identity—a “born one” of God, created new in righteousness and holiness of the truth, a vessel of clay chosen by God as the dwelling place of the Spirit of the One who created the world, raised Jesus from the dead, and empowered by His Spirit to live in newness of life! Stated in words some of you will recall hearing from me before—You are a dearly beloved, blood bought, child of The King. If you struggle with this, I encourage you to talk with Papa about it! Prayerfully read some of the Scriptures set out above (and others to which the Spirit leads you) and perhaps some books like Birthight (Needham), Waking the Dead (Eldridge), or Authentic Christianity (Stedman). Maybe give me a call or drop me a line.

In every event, I pray that you will both recognize who you really are, be willing to say it to one another (I am a saint. You are a saint.), and by means of His Spirit live accordingly—you have a new-born identity!

John

Go Green!

While it remained unseasonably warm in Seattle through mid-October, the weather has cooled and the colors in the trees (and on lawns, sidewalks and streets) is now amazing. This picture is one I took earlier this week with my phone. As He often did with those who followed during the time He pitched His tent among us, Jesus has sent me thinking yet again about how some “common” aspect of “nature” speaks volumes of spiritual truth.

According a composite of articles from Ask.Com, “When leaves appear green, it is because they contain an abundance of chlorophyll. There is so much chlorophyll in an active leaf that the green masks other pigment colors. Light regulates chlorophyll production, so as autumn days grow shorter, less chlorophyll is produced. . . Sunny autumn days are needed for the brightest color displays, . . .. Overcast days will lead to more yellows and browns. . . . The major factor influencing autumn leaf color change is the lack of water. Not a lack of water to the entire tree, but a purposeful weaning of water from each leaf.”  

I’d been thinking about personal faith as including many distinctive beliefs (beyond the essentials concerning Jesus, what I believe about a particular passage of Scripture may be very different that what you believe about that passage). Thus, while I see divisions as bad [as I addressed in “Don’t Miss That Opportunity”], I see distinctive beliefs among Christians as an essential element of personal faith (consider prayerfully Romans 14, for example, where we are told to avoid both “regarding with contempt” and “judging” others in the family because of their different personal beliefs). An effort to force “organizational unity” is not the path to living as “One Church.”

I’m thinking differences in personal faith are like the variations of color in fall leaves. They are a beautiful thing, something we can celebrate as of God. Yet, such variation does not mean the leaves came from different trees or were not part of one another while actively growing. That in itself is worthy of some contemplation.

Selah (pause and think)

Remember the earlier days, when all those distinct combinations of chemicals which give rise to color variations in the leaves were completely indiscernible, when the light was plentiful and chlorophyll production high, when each was an “active green leaf”? The green masked other pigment colors (we might say, you couldn’t see their colors for the green). As the light decreases in the days of autumn and the tree restricts the flow of water to the leaves, the other pigments become more dominant. The Lord takes my mind to “walk in the light as He is in the light” and passages where water represents the Spirit (like John 7:38 & 39 and Jeremiah 17:7 & 8). Like leave in summer, when we walk in the light (reveling in Papa’s love and loving others), people see Him in us: We are alive and lifegiving (as He uses us to actively absorb from the “environment” that which is hurtful to human life [as the leaf does with carbon dioxide] and He produces in and through us that which is necessary to life [much like chlorophyll producing oxygen via the leaf]).

As I was musing on some of these things (Papa continues to “open” them to me, even as I write), I was saddened by a short video by a theologian who decries the proliferation of denominations and “independent churches” as evidence of disunity, but says he doesn’t know the solution. Brother, God gives Life! Papa’s solution is beyond theology. His solution is simple: His solution is love. We will live as “One Church” not because of doctrinal uniformity but through unconditional love actively practiced in our day to day. What was it Jesus said? They will know you are My disciples because of your doctrinal unity? Not! Rather,

Everybody will know you are Mine when they see your love for one another.

His solution is simple, but not easy—not easy but hard, or better yet—not hard but impossible—apart from His Spirit, Whom He has poured out fully into all who are His. Such was the testimony of the world concerning the early Church:

Look and wonder at how deeply they love one another.

 

And He opened to them a parable, saying:

To what shall I liken the Kingdom of God? It is like a tree in summer, full of green leaves, furnishing far more than shade. Yet, many revel only when the green fades and vibrant colors dominate the leaves—colors which please the eye briefly but soon fall from the tree, litter the paths, and clog the streams. May each who has ears to hear, hear.

 

Walk in The Light. Live by the Spirit. Love.

 

John

It’s not Halloween any more: Lose the mask!

As I was walking yesterday I passed a young lady dressed as Snow White. It was Halloween after all! “Nice costume!” I said. But as I walked on, Papa took my mind on to how “openly” we “mask” ourselves on Halloween and how we are seldom that honest about other masks we wear every day. What if we not only “take off the mask” of the character we dressed up as on Halloween, what if we also dropped the other masks we often wear, the façades we put up to keep people from seeing who we really are?

For many kids, Halloween is the one day each year they wear a mask; for many of the adults, it’s a way of life! The masks we hide behind tend to make us “look better” than we really are—but not always! Sometimes we accept masks which others provide to help us blend in!

If you are willing to read more, I want to talk with you about a way of hiding who you are which might surprise you. Part of the surprise might come because you have accepted this particular mask so long that you think it is who you are! But we can’t rely on our own thinking here, we must listen to God. The particular truth about yourself I want to expose is based on what God has done in “the new covenant.” The passage I want you to consider is II Corinthians 3:8-12. There God says through Paul:

“For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. . . . For if what fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory. Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face” [in order to hide] (nasb).

Do God’s words through Paul describe you? Do you speak boldly about manifest glory in the here and now? Do you proclaim that you are not like Moses—that your experience in Christ is superior to that of Moses on the mountain and that you don’t hide the glory! Really?

I’ve got to tell you, most believers I run into are so fixated on their purported sinfulness that the glory is masked! They assert “I’m just a sinner saved by grace” so often you would think it was their mantra!  Just a sinner? Really? That is a mask that hides the real you! If you are in Christ, you are a saint. You are a saint in whom the God who created the world shines. Because of all Jesus Christ Is and has done, even when you sin you remain a saint! You don’t need to hide your sin; confess it and welcome God’s forgiveness. But please, don’t hide God’s glory in you behind the pious mask of self-abasement over an act of sin from which you are forgiven and fully cleansed! Unlike Adam or Moses, you are in Christ. God no longer remembers it (Jeremiah 31:34)! No act of sin defines who you are, all your sin has been removed, you have been fully cleansed; Let it go!

Please allow the Spirit to speak to you about these things. By the blood of Christ, by new birth and by adoption, you are a now child of The King! You have His character as your own; you are a new creation—created in righteousness and holiness of The Truth. He is the treasure within you—the light which shines forth from your “earthen vessel” is of God, not you. Don’t hide His glory; lose the mask!

John