|Posted on April 7, 2020 at 11:55 AM||comments (0)|
Lately our attention has been focused on the Covid-19 pandemic sweeping the world as well as the “panic-demic” that is causing people to hoard toilet paper to save their own butt. Clearly our normal routines have been severely disrupted by the shutting down of our businesses and institutions. The resulting increase of financial and personal stress on families ordered to stay home and wait it out has put us all under a thick cloud of doom similar to what Jesus must have felt during the last week of his public ministry.
We refer to this week as “Holy Week”, but the forces at play during that time were anything but holy. While it started out with the triumphal entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem (what we celebrate as Palm Sunday) and ended is his triumph over death, hell and the grave (what we celebrate as Easter Sunday), the days in between were filled with conflict, confusion, betrayal, rejection, and isolation. How Jesus handled the intense stress of that week is amazing and the record serves as a model for dealing with our own stressful situations. As the author of Hebrews encourages us, “…let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” (Hebrews 12: 1-3)
The sequence of events that took place during that last week reveal several sources of stress building up over time. The intense conflict with the religious authorities beginning with the cleansing of the Temple and his daily teaching increased over the week with public confrontations and private conspiracies. The final preparation of his disciples for their ministry of loving others after he was gone was met with betrayal by one of his own and empty promises of loyalty. His agony in the garden as he bore our sorrow and griefs was so intense he sweat drops of blood. His false arrest and trial filled with slander and lies proved he was despised and rejected of men. In addition to the building personal stress Jesus endured he faced the intense physical stress of the cross.
The author of Hebrews tells us to focus our attention on the way Jesus endured the stress of the cross as our model. The key element of his endurance was “the joy that was set before him”. That joy or rejoicing is the supernatural hope produced by the Spirit of God during times of suffering and stress in all who believe. From his agony in the garden to his agony on the cross Jesus was empowered by the Spirit with a confident and joyful expectation of his own future (hope) to endure the stress. His faith expressed in his submission to the will of the Father as being the very best thing for him is what set that hope in his heart.
For those of us who are stressed out during this Holy Week because of the threat of the pandemic the hope we need to go on loving others like Jesus will come from the same Spirit that empowered Jesus producing hope in us. Believing who we are in Christ and submitting to the will of the Father in faith will fill us with the same joy that was set before Jesus. “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15: 13)
|Posted on March 31, 2020 at 11:35 AM||comments (0)|
Last Sunday was a first for the Church in the Woods. Since October of 2001 we have assembled in the woods at Freedom Ranch for weekly worship and fellowship. Although, at first, the facilities were “rustic” to say the least (generators and port-a-potties) the spirit was genuine and exciting. Over the years we’ve had only one or two occasions of hurricane conditions that prevented our meeting, but last Sunday we were unable to meet due to the threat of a pandemic. The threat of an invisible enemy, Covid-19, succeeded in preventing the public gathering of the saints at Freedom Ranch.
As usual, my initial reaction was one of skepticism and rebellion. Because I am always skeptical of the news media and naturally rebellious toward any government infringement on my liberty, my initial thought was to rationalize why I would continue the Sunday meetings despite the threat. Then I prayed and the Lord said, “Shut it down”. So last Sunday was the first meeting that was cancelled due to the pandemic. What made it especially grievous to me was the fact that we had planned a special service honoring our Vietnam Vets on March 29th, the national Vietnam Veterans Day.
When the Lord told me to suspend the Sunday meetings at the ranch he offered no immediate explanation other than the obvious threat due to the pandemic. As I stopped whining and began to think about the things that are just, honest, true, etc., I began to realize that Jesus is still in charge of the Church in the Woods and is doing something new with us during this time. Accepting the truth that Jesus is, indeed, the head of not only the “general assembly of the first born” but also the Church in the Woods at Freedom Ranch I began to see some positive outcomes of “social distancing” beyond preventing the spread of a virus.
For the past several years I have considered the use of modern technology to spread the gospel throughout the world. Being a “technophobe”, however, I have dragged my feet on learning to use the internet to its fullest and relied on others to try to capture the messages God gives me. Now I have no choice but to dive in with both feet to proclaim the gospel in a way I am not accustomed to. This personal challenge is “stretching me” out of my comfort zone, but I sense the Lord is planning on doing more with it than I have imagined. Although we cannot gather here at the ranch due to social distancing we can still function as members of the body of Christ in our homes and communicate with one another via technology.
While communication through modern technology may be somewhat cumbersome until we get used to it, it may prove even more effective as it makes our communication more intentional and personal than casual. Online meetings also serve to include people from outside our geographical area who may not otherwise get together with us. Above all, I trust the same Holy Spirit to direct and empower us in a new era.
|Posted on March 26, 2020 at 11:10 AM||comments (0)|
I have mixed feelings about the Covid-19 pandemic we are experiencing. On the one hand I want to be sensible about my response to the official statements and advisories given by the “experts”, but on the other hand I am somewhat skeptical of their statements and especially their motives. Maybe I’m just in denial but I can’t help but believe this situation is blown out of proportion. The reported facts and statistics so far don’t seem to match the hysteria. I have yet to understand people fighting over toilet paper!
Beneath the confusion, however, is a subtle but persistent thought that we are facing a hidden threat being masked by the Coronavirus. The fact that this threat has reached global proportions indicates to me that the real threat has more to do with geopolitics than a virus. It is clear to me from the prophetic scriptures that a global empire will emerge in the future. Although the exact details of how that comes about are not certain, the fact that it is led and empowered by the forces of evil that characterize the anti-christ and his political minions is clear.
This insidious threat is not new, however. John spoke of it in his first general letter saying, “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that anti-christ shall come, even now are there many anti-christs; whereby we know that it is the last time.” The spirit of anti-christ is the humanistic philosophy that trusts man rather than God to deal with all threats ranging from global warming to the Corona virus. The spirit of anti-christ eliminates Jesus from the picture all together and excludes any directions he may have for us through his indwelling Spirit. Governments and rulers who reject the personal leadership of Jesus fall into the global plans of the anti-christ.
But John goes on to give us assurance by saying, “But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.” The word translated “unction” means “anointing” and refers to the promise given by Jesus to his worried disciples concerning the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is his job as the Comforter to guide us into all truth, teaching us and reminding us of what Jesus wants us to know. Although we may not be in a position to rule over others and set the plans for how we are to cope with this or any other threat. We are not left floundering around like orphans in this world. We have the personal indwelling of the Spirit of God to lead us into all truth and direct our every response.
What will our response to this or any other threat be? Whatever it involves it will be characterized by the very fruit of the Spirit, i.e. love, joy, peace, longsuffering, goodness, gentleness, faith, meekness, and self-control. It will be what we can do to love others like Christ in the midst of the storm.
|Posted on March 19, 2020 at 10:50 AM||comments (0)|
Unless you live under a rock in the wilderness I’m sure you’ve all heard much more about the Coronavirus than you want. I’ll not repeat the various warnings and official responses to this threat, but I do want to address the more insidious problem that is equally as contagious as the virus itself. Anxiety leading to panic feeds on any threat, imagined or real, and often does as much damage as the threat itself. This is why Paul outlines a three part “formula for worry” in his letter to the Philippian church. Writing from his prison cell facing his own impending death to a group of believers experiencing sever persecution Paul describes how we are to cope with such anxiety and panic.
In Philippians 4 he writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” In this first part Paul calls for us to rejoice in all things, even in threatening situations, knowing the Lord is close by to intervene on our behalf. He calls on us to turn our worries into prayers that express both our requests and our thanksgiving and promises the supernatural peace of God will literally guard our conscious and subconscious minds.
Because it is impossible to quit thinking about the threat, even after we receive the peace of God in prayer, Paul directs us to actively change our thinking, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Rather than dwell on the variety of issues that come up because of the threat, Paul tells us to think on positive outcomes. God has and will continue to provide for his people no matter what threat they may face. Instead of whining about all that can go wrong we need to focus on what is going right.
Finally, Paul encourages us to follow his example saying, “Those things which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.” The only time we can worry about anything is when we are idle. Following the example of Paul who stated earlier in the letter “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” is to live in confidence knowing that we cannot lose. Striving to fulfill our high calling of God in Christ Jesus despite the threats this world may present is a sure way to eliminate anxiety. We cannot focus on loving others like Christ and worry at the same time.
Following the personal leadership of the Spirit to love others like Jesus is the surest way to experience the presence of the God of all peace. Jesus promised his disciples that whoever followed his directions in loving others would enjoy both he and the Father living with them (John 14: 23). All worry ceases when the God of peace is with you.
|Posted on March 12, 2020 at 10:45 AM||comments (0)|
After 40 plus years of trying to teach people to love others like Christ I am convinced of two things. Number one, the need for such relational ministry is greater now than it ever has been. And number two, I can’t convince anyone to love others the way Christ does no matter what I say or do. Studying the way Jesus prepared his disciples for this ministry in the upper room reveals the many obstacles he faced in overcoming their natural self-centered concerns to set them free to fulfill his new commandment. Loving others the way Jesus does is both counterintuitive and supernatural. It requires the miraculous work of the Comforter Jesus promised helpless disciples.
In connection with his call to follow his directions (keep his commandments) in his absence Jesus promised to pray the Father to send them another of the same kind of Comforter he had been to them for three years. During their time with him Jesus had carried his disciples through some of the most troubled times of their lives. When they were afraid he was there to assure them. When they were confused he was there to direct them. He provided for their every need (both physical and personal) every day they were with him. Now he tells them of another Comforter that will continue to meet their needs just as he did.
He identified this Comforter as “the Spirit of truth” and later calls him the “Holy Spirit” known as the “Spirit of God”. The fact that he initially named him the Comforter suggests his emphasis on assuring his worried disciples that their needs would continue to be met even in his physical absence. After explaining the fact that the natural world could not see, receive, or know the Comforter Jesus went on to assure his disciples that they had experienced him living with them and would soon experience him living in them. It was the Spirit of God leading Jesus in all he did or said that the disciples experienced as living with them. Now Jesus announced that the same Spirit they had witnessed in him would be living in them.
The promise of the indwelling Spirit of truth is perhaps the single most important provision Jesus made for his disciples to continue his work of loving others. As he will explain further in this last ministry training class the way his disciples and us can fulfill the new commandment to love others the way he does is through the power of the same Spirit that empowered him. The indwelling Spirit of God that is given to all believers, the Comforter, lives within the new person God has made us to be in Christ to lead and guide us into all truth, comfort us with the love and assurance of Jesus meeting our needs, teach and remind us of his instructions, and make Jesus as real to us as he was to those first disciples. Every obstacle preventing our loving others like Christ is overcome by the indwelling Spirit of God.
The apostle Paul would later write about this promise of the Comforter in his various letters to the church. In his prayer for the Ephesians he asks the Father, “That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith…” Only the personal leadership and power of the indwelling Comforter can empower us to love others like Jesus.
|Posted on February 19, 2020 at 2:25 PM||comments (0)|
The work Jesus left us here to do seems overwhelming at first glance. In John 14:12 he said, “Verily, verily I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also…” The more we learn about the works he did, especially the miracles, the more overwhelming it seems. But he did not say we are to do the works he did, but, “the works that I do shall he do also”. By this he means that the work he has left us in this world to do is not really based on our own understanding and abilities, but on his. Paul describes our work as that of “members of the body of Christ” controlled, directed, and empowered by the head which is Christ.
The general nature and description of that work was given earlier by Jesus in John 13: 34 as, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” Regardless of the specific details of our work in this world, we know the ultimate purpose will be to love others like Christ. Jesus did not stop expressing the Father’s love for the world when he ascended back into heaven but continues his work through the individual members of his body from then until now. Each believer is called and gifted to do his work of expressing the love of the Father in their own unique way.
Having encouraged his worried disciples concerning their final destination in the Father’s house, Jesus then announced what they would be doing in his absence and went on to promise them the greatest gift a human being could receive from the Father. He promised them “another Comforter”, the Spirit of Truth who would not only be with them but living inside them. Although they had no idea at the time of the comfort and power they would receive from the indwelling Spirit, it is the means by which they and us who remain in this world would do the works of Jesus. He followed up that promise with the statement, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” meaning that he, through the indwelling Spirit, would be with them and us as long as we are in this world.
In explaining how they would recognize him even though the world could not Jesus declared, “At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” This statement of our spiritual union with the Father and Jesus describes the most amazing source of comfort and power to do the work he has left us in this world to do. As Jesus was “in the Father” expressing the love of the Father to the world so we are “in Jesus” doing the work he does. And through the indwelling Spirit of truth, the Comforter, Jesus is in us to direct and empower his work. Because of this spiritual union we are able to “be Christ” to others in this world.
It is doubtful that the first disciples were able to fully grasp all that Jesus taught in the upper room because of their emotional state at the time, but for us these promises and statements by Jesus present a thrilling purpose for our lives in this world. Regardless of our station in life the promise that we will do the works of Christ gives us eternal value and genuine meaning to say nothing of the love, joy, and peace that will follow. It is our privilege to “be Christ” to those around us at home, on the job, and in the community.
|Posted on February 12, 2020 at 12:25 AM||comments (0)|
One of the most exciting promises Jesus gave his followers is recorded in John 14: 12, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.” The context of this promise is his last “ministry training class” in the upper room on the night before he was crucified. He was preparing them for their ministries after he departed this world with assurances that his leaving was best for them.
Naturally, they were confused and in shock at the news of his leaving them since they fully expected him to set up an earthly kingdom at that time. Although he called on them to trust him and explained that he was leaving to prepare a place for them and would come to get them, they were still very anxious and sorrowful. No doubt the promise that they would continue to do his work seemed more threatening than encouraging at the time. In effect Jesus was saying “I’m leaving you here to love others the way I have”. It’s doubtful that any of them saw this promise as a good thing.
Notice that Jesus did not restrict this promise to the disciples with him in the upper room. He stated that it applied to “whoever believes on me”. That means that we who believe on Jesus have been given the same promise those first disciples received and will likely see it as somewhat threatening rather than encouraging just as they did. For most believers the idea of doing the works that Jesus did seems more like an impossible dream than a promise. And anyone who takes it seriously may be thought of as some sort of fanatic with questionable mental abilities. Our natural response to this same promise today is very similar to those who heard it in the upper room.
Extraordinary and threatening as it may seem, however, the idea that we can do the works Jesus did on this earth is an exciting proposition. Considering the miracles that Jesus performed it is especially exciting to think of feeding the multitudes, turning the water into wine, healing the lame and crippled, casting out demons, and raising the dead! But is that what Jesus meant by the “works that I do”? Jesus didn’t promise that we would do the works he did, he promised that we would do the works that he is doing. I won’t rule out the miraculous acts as a possibility, but that is not the majority of what he did or what he is now doing. The miracles were simply signs that pointed to a greater reality of who Jesus was and is today and what he came to do for us. In short, the works he did and does today is better described as a revelation of the Father’s love.
The real significance of this promise is that we are given the opportunity to “be Christ” as his ambassadors on this earth. As such we are given the privilege of fulfilling our high calling of God in Christ Jesus by loving others around us in the same way he loves us. Sharing the gospel with those who are “dead in trespasses and sins” we can raise the dead. Teaching others to walk in grace and truth rather than law and lies we can heal the lame. The works Jesus does are infinite and eternal, and we have the privilege of doing them with him.
|Posted on February 6, 2020 at 11:10 AM||comments (0)|
The resurrection and ascension of Jesus into heaven was not meant to suggest that we are on our own in this world. While his absence from this earth may cause us to feel abandoned by him, especially in difficult times, the truth is just the opposite. Jesus assured his worried disciples during his last “ministry training class” in the upper room with the following words: “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know”. (John 14: 1-4).
Jesus didn’t come to establish a physical kingdom on this earth although it was what his first disciples were hoping for. He came to establish a spiritual kingdom in this world and ascended back into heaven to reign over that kingdom and prepare a place for his disciples. In leaving this world he was careful to point out that he was not abandoning his disciple saying, “I will not leave you comfortless” (literally like orphans). He promised the coming of “another Comforter” and called him the Spirit of Truth that had been in their presence and was going to be in them. He further promised the indwelling Spirit would “teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14: 26)
At the close of his class Jesus recognized the sorrow in his disciples and encouraged them by saying, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment; Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.” (John 16: 7-11) Although they didn’t understand it at the time, his leaving them was the very best thing he could do. Only after they began to experience the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit living in them and directing their lives were they able to enjoy the comfort Jesus promised them.
Finally, Jesus promised that when the Spirit of Truth had come, “he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear; that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine and shall show it unto you.” (John 16: 13, 14) It is by the Spirit of Truth that we know the Truth and are set free. It is the indwelling Spirit’s job to make Jesus real to us by telling us what he is doing for and through us. The followers of Jesus today may enjoy the same benefits he promised those first disciples concerning the presence and work of the Spirit of truth in our lives. Learning to be taught, reminded, led, and comforted by that same Spirit of truth that Jesus unleashed in this world is our greatest asset in life. It is by the personal working of the Comforter that we are connected to our risen Savior.
In the same way those first disciples were led and directed personally by Jesus we have the privilege of following him through the Comforter today. Even though we can’t see him in this physical realm we can experience his divine leadership, direction, and power in our lives today. It is this spiritual ability that allows us to “be Christ” to others fulfilling our purpose in this world.
|Posted on January 30, 2020 at 9:30 AM||comments (0)|
Being “Christ” to others is not something we can do on our own. We can see it as our “high calling of God”, our primary purpose in life, and earnestly desire to fulfill that purpose, but it is not possible without “resurrection power”. Even we who have been joined inseparably to Christ and share in his eternal life are unable to “be Christ” to others on our own. In fact, any attempt to do so will naturally lead to religiosity and be offensive to others. While this does not mean that Christ was not “offensive” (he constantly offended the religious folks), any attempt to “be Christ” on our own will only make us religious and offensive to God.
In describing his own seeking to fulfill the high calling of God Paul seems to list out three objectives for that lofty goal. First, he was seeking an intimate relationship with Christ in which he could know him personally. Second, he sought to experience his resurrection power. And finally, he wanted to experience his sacrificial death. All three objective seem to be required to fulfill our high calling of God, but of particular interest is the resurrection power. That power that could raise the dead is beyond any other kind of power known to man. It is the power of creation and restoration, the power of God.
To fulfill our high calling of God to “be Christ” to others we are going to need that resurrection power Paul referred to. And miraculous and mysterious as it may seem God has given that power to everyone who believes on Jesus. It is the power of the indwelling Spirit of Christ living in the new person God has made us to be. He has given us the “Spirit of his Son” because we are his children and that same Spirit that raised up Jesus from the dead is at work right now to make our sin-cursed mortal bodies come alive with the very life of Christ. The resurrection power we need to be Christ to others is now available to all who believe.
In the same context as Jesus announced that whoever believes on him will do the works he did he also promised to give them “another Comforter”. He was referring to the Spirit of Truth who he promised would lead us into all truth, teach us, remind us, and make Jesus real to us. This promise of the Comforter is the source of the resurrection power we need to fulfill our calling to be Christ to others. He is the same Spirit that not only raised Jesus from the dead but also led and empowered him during his life in this world. For us to be Christ to others in this world we are going to have to rely upon that same resurrection power of the Spirit.
Our part if fulfilling our high calling of God in Christ Jesus is simply faith. The Spirit’s part is power. We trust what the Spirit tells us about who we are and what needs to be done and he gives us the power to understand and get it done. While religion wants to reverse this order by having God trust us to do what we think is best, the divine order is the only way we can truly be Christ to others. Trusting the resurrection power of the indwelling Spirit to lead us personally in our relationship to others is the only way we can fulfill our high calling of God to be Christ to them.
|Posted on January 22, 2020 at 12:00 AM||comments (0)|
If we are going to strive for the “prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (what I have identified simply as being Christ), we are going to have to do more than just express the character of Christ. We are going to engage in and do the very “works of Christ”. To encourage his worried disciples Jesus promised they would be doing his works, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.” (John 14:12). He had shocked them with the announcement that he was leaving them here to love others like he had done and promised they would do “greater works than these” because he was going to the Father. Those works would only be greater in the sense their ministry would be longer than his as he was going back to the Father, but they would continue doing his works for the rest of their lives.
It is our privilege in fulfilling our own high calling of God in Christ Jesus to do the works he did while living in this world. We, too, are to seek that which is lost and to minister to their needs. Like Jesus we are to spiritually open the eyes of the blind, strengthen the paralyzed, cleanse the leper, feed the multitudes, raise the dead, etc. While we may not actually do the miraculous feats, he performed as signs from God, our ministry will accomplish the same spiritual purpose as his in loving others. This is all part of “being Christ” in this world.
Being Christ by doing his works needs to be defined in relational terms of grace as opposed to the religious terms of performances and job descriptions. First, they are words and actions that are expressions of the love of Christ in our relationships. Rather than simply record a list of rituals and religious activities to be performed, the Bible defines our ministries in terms of relationships. In every book or letter of the New Testament there is at least one major passage devoted to describing the way God wants us to relate to one another. In addition to loving one another, we are called on to forbear one another, in honor prefer one another, forgive one another, exhort one another, be kind to one another, encourage one another, speak the truth with one another, weep and rejoice with one another, warn one another, comfort one another, pray for one another, confess our faults to one another, support one another, as well as a host of others. Clearly, God is concerned about how we relate to one another! It is in our relationships that we are going to be doing the works of Jesus and, therefore, “being Christ to others”.
It is comforting to know that God has ordained these good works for us to do just as Jesus promised all who believe on him would do his works. We do not have to worry about identifying them or trying to do them on our own. We are God’s “workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God had before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2: 10). As always, our responsibility as Christians comes down to one thing and one thing only…believe! Trust what he says is true about us being Christ to others and trust the indwelling Spirit of Christ guiding us daily to do the good works he has planned for us to do.