Monthly Archives: November 2011

Position is Everything

In the early spring, as the heat from the sun bears down and the wind whispers through the vineyard, the grapevine begins to put on branches. As the nutrients and moisture are drawn up through the roots and distributed through the branches, they double and triple in size almost over night. Inch by inch, foot by foot they grow away from the strength and stability of the vine and with their own weight pulled by the natural force of gravity they find themselves drawn slowly to the ground below. On the ground, they run wildly, seeking the heat of the sun, but eventually covered by the dust of the soil their fresh newly formed leaves become dirty, distressed and diseased.

This was the vivid picture Jesus was painting in the minds of His disciples in John 15, when He declared, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He (the vinedresser) takes away.” Jesus uses a very descriptive Greek word to describe what the vinedresser does when this occurs in the vineyard. Sadly it is not translated very well in any of our English versions and thus we miss a very beautiful portrait of God’s grace applied to the believer’s life.

The word Jesus uses is “airo” and is better translated “to lift up from the ground” instead of “to take away.” Elsewhere in the New Testament, this word is used to describe the disciples picking up the fragments of food after the feeding of the five thousand (Matt. 14:20) and of Simon being forced to bear (pick up and carry) Jesus’ cross (Matt. 27:32). Don’t miss this spectacular meaning as Jesus uses this very specific term.

The vine produces the fruit but the branches bear it. Therefore every branch must be lifted up from the ground and attached to the trellis. Branches left on the ground bear no fruit and are either trampled under foot or they become diseased. A good vinedresser, intent on maximizing the yield of his vineyard, regularly walks through the vineyard in the spring and early summer alertly looking for braches that have fallen to the ground and when he finds one, he gently lifts up the branch and washes the dirt and grim away. Then he carefully trims away the damaged or diseased growth and with loving kindness weaves it carefully back into the trellis. There in the warmth of the sun, with the gentle breeze of the wind, the branch is keep dry and healthy, away from the deadly fungus that grows in the dampness of the ground.

This is the picture Jesus desires that you see and understand. He does not cast away the branches that are “in Him,” but He does do whatever is necessary to produce fruit through you. We often stumble and fall to the ground, but the Vinedresser never allows you to stay there. Instead He “lifts you up from the ground,” and through the cleansing of His blood through repentance, He then places you in a position where the warmth of His life and the wind of His Holy Spirit can maximize your ability “to bear more and richer and more excellent fruit” (Amplified Bible). He will discipline His branches but make no mistake He will not discard you. His goal is to produce in you the richest most abundant fruit possible and He will do whatever is necessary to cause you to reach His potential for you.

Will you allow Him to lift you up, cleanse you, and weave you into the place where you can bear the fruit He desires to produce or are you comfortable there on the damp ground where the warmth of the Son and the wind of the Spirit are never experienced and where your constant companions are disease, blight, and fungus? Remember this simple principle of bearing fruit: Position is everything.  Lifted up or left down, the direction always determines the difference in the harvest.

 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit.”  (John 15:1-2)

Push Out into the Deep

“Push out into the deep!” Those words echoed like a trumpet sounding the call to arms. Staring out through the railing of a balcony eleven floors above the glistening white sands of the Gulf beach, above the roar of the crashing emerald waves, the eternal words of Jesus spoke clearly into my spirit, “Push out into the deep!”

The “deep”—an ominous place of mythical proportions.  It’s a destination just beyond the boundary lines where safety and security exist—just beyond the reach of life’s normal journey—the abiding place of every uncertainty—the resident address of unnerving fear—the zip code of the unknown—the abode of the miraculous—the habitation of Almighty God.   

The very sound of it strikes at the depths of our primordial craving for safety and survival. The response is almost involuntary—a recoiling—a drawing back like one standing too close to the brink of a bottomless abyss. And yet the very sound, the clarion call of God, grasps one’s heart like the song of the mythical sirens whose melodious voices caused ancient mariners to crash their ships on the ocean’s hidden reefs of rock and coral in a mad rush to possess what they could never own. His voice seizes both the spirit and the soul and simply will not loosen its grasp.

The “deep” is a place attained only by a clear invitation and utter abandonment. No amount of planning or preparing or programming will transport one to this destination. This is the place where experience falls in the dry dust, where common sense looses its confident bearings and passionate desperate obedience kicks in. This is the place where naked unbridled dangerous faith—not dazzling familiarity or even discernable facts – governs one’s movements. 

This is where a determined response—a leap—a “push” is demanded. A push through the terror of unspeakable fear—through the boredom of safety—through the dread of embarrassment—through long-held dreams and earnest expectations—a push into the unknown to know the unknowable majesty, mystery, and power of the Lord God.

But it is a push with direction. Out! Out from that which is comfortable—out from excuses—out from experiences—out from the ordinary—out from those acquisitions of security—out from anyone who would hold you back and away from everyone who stands between you and the very One who calls you. Push out!

Push out into! Into the unseeable—into the mist of mystery—into the haunts and the lair of faith—into the very place you said you would never go—that place you could not go—out into the God who’s not safe, but who is omnipotent. Out into a place that will engulf you—immerse you—bleach you out—turn you upside down and inside out—out into the only destination that will satisfy the unquenchable longings of your ravenous heart.

“Push out into the deep!” Push out into God! Push out toward the One you can’t explain but desperately desire to experience. Push out away from all that restrains you and into the One who draws you. Deep is calling deep. Spirit is calling spirit. Push out into the deep—let down your nets—and await God’s filling.

Check the Fire

“Meanwhile, the fire on the altar must be kept burning; it must never go out. Each morning the priest will add fresh wood on the fire… Remember, the fire must be kept burning on the altar at all times. It must never go out.”

                                                                                                                Leviticus 6:12a-13

How long has it been since you checked the fire on the altar in your own personal temple? Is it burning, blazing, smoldering, or has it gone completely out? Your responsibility as a New Testament priest (which by the way is your eternal vocation no matter the location according to 1 Peter 2:9) is to maintain the fire of God on the altar of God so that the aroma of the sacrifice of God can continually draw men and women to God as they come in contact with you, the temple of God.

The sons of Aaron were responsible for maintaining the wood that was used on the Altar of sacrifice. Each morning they would clean away the ashes of yesterday and meticulously prepare the wood by stacking it in a manner that would insure the consumption of the sacrifice and also guarantee a fire that would last throughout the day. The flame of the altar was to be a perpetual reminder of God’s holy presence at this place where sin met grace and death gave way to life.

A fire of that magnitude required a great deal of wood. Wood was rare and thus the cost of maintaining a perpetual flame was expensive. The scrub bushes and vineyard clippings of Palestine were insufficient to produce a lasting flame with sufficient heat, therefore it had to be harvested, split to fit, transported great distances, and stored with great care. In essence, a great deal of planning and preparation was required.

Skill was required in preparing a fire that would burn at a high temperature to quickly consume a bull, a goat, or a lamb. The priest did not just pile the wood on the altar; instead he carefully arranged it in a careful order. It took time, effort, and great skill to achieve the desired results of a hot but lasting fire. It was costly!

The arranging of the wood also required dedication. Every day no matter how hot or cold, no matter the aches or the pains, no matter who got the glory, the priests in charge of the wood went quietly about their job and carried it out with precision and professionalism. Their God required it and their nation expected it. Their job description was simple: “The fire must be kept burning on the altar at all times. It must never go out.”

Our job is very similar. Although we no longer arrange wood on an earthen altar, we are still called to maintain the fire of God in our heart, which is the temple of God. The wood of passion, intimacy, obedience, sacrifice, and love is fuel worthy of our God’s holy flame. But too often we attempt to burn the spindly sticks of worldliness and the vines of vainglory on God’s altar and expect a great blaze to erupt. Instead the fire dwindles, smothers, and ultimately goes out.

Maintaining the fire of God exacts a cost and demands skill and dedication. An empty altar will never attract the fire of God and most of the individual temples (believers) that make up the corporate temple (the Church) have little or no wood on them. No wood – no flame. No flame – no fire! No fire – no power! No power – no presence! No presence – no God! No God – no life! No life – no hope!

Has the fire gone out? Then re-arrange the wood and ask the Lord to ignite it!

The Heartbreak of Bondage

The doors closed with a dull hollow thud. Behind it lay freedom, that treasured ability to do or be whatever one might desire. After an elevator ride up five floors, the doors opened to a stark white block cubicle with four stainless stools bolted to the floor, each facing its own 12” x 12” window. To the right of the small glass hung a lone black phone receiver for conversation. After what seemed like an eternity, a young woman with long, dark hair appeared dressed in a green and white county jail uniform. Only 20 years old, this young woman was now facing an unknown duration of imprisonment caused by a series of wrong choices and bad actions. She was in bondage because she believed a lie and tried her best to live it out with no regard for the laws of the land or the consequences of breaking them.

Bondage is the result of wrong choices and bad actions whether in the physical realm or in the spiritual realm. Spiritual bondage is the ultimate trade one makes whenever one believes the devil and his devious lies, while ignoring the gracious pleas of a loving Savior. Bondage knows neither age nor sex, and certainly is no respecter of persons. For the believer, spiritual bondage imprisons one in the choking chains of what might have been and in the surreal shackles of what will never be. Bondage is self-imposed hopelessness.

Spiritual bondage is usually a spiraling journey down instead of the mythical arrival at an unknown destination. It is like a potent slow-acting poison that paralyzes its victim inch by inch, until death seems more inviting than life. Bondage desensitizes the soul and the spirit’s desire for an intimate relationship with Christ and substitutes a devilishly designed regiment of endless spiritual calisthenics intended to erase every vestige of grace. Eventually, if freedom is not found, hopelessness settles like a dark cloud and the lack of real life is accepted as simply the way it is. Such is the existence of many who follow Christ. 

They’ve bought the lie of the devil and exchanged their precious freedom for a wisp of the short-term vapor of convenience. They’ve sold their spiritual birthright for a bowl of pleasure and in return reaped a whirlwind of slavery. Their drug of choice has been spiritual laziness, and its promised plethora of pleasure has dematerialized into a smothering yoke of servitude welded to an endless chain of despair. 

Oh captive one, would you not rather walk on the high places with the Lord Jesus than stumble around in the blackness with your shackles of hopelessness, despair, and death? Would you trade the unbearable chains wrapped around your body for His robe of righteousness? Would you be free again or do you like that dark cell’s comfort of the bondage you find yourself locked in? A life lived in spiritual bondage is boringly predictable but a life launched in freedom’s trajectory has endless possibilities.

Bondage is a choice you make. Christ died that you might have both eternal and abundant life. Both began at the moment you confessed your sin and asked Christ to save you. Both are yours to enjoy with Him for eternity. Both are irrevocable. Why then would  you settle for anything less? Will you live out a lie and deny you spiritual birthright?

Call out in a voice of humility! Lift up a cry of repentance! Say to the Deliverer, “Oh, God forgive me and set me free again from the sins that have so easily entangled me!” Let the chains of your bondage drop to the floor, push open the cell door of the prison house, and walk out into the clear bright light of His presence. Lift up your head once more and live – live – live in the freedom of Christ!

Heart Posture

 

“…Martha welcomed Jesus into her home. And she had a sister called Mary, who moreover was listening to the Lord’s word, seated at His feet.”

                                                                                                                     Luke 10:38b-39

 Mary of Bethany is one of the most unique characters found in all of scripture. She is mentioned in all four of the Gospels. Every mention of her name finds her location the same…at the feet of Jesus. She listened at His feet, she wept at His feet, and she anointed His feet. Her physical location discloses for us the spiritual location of her heart, a place of humility and passionate desire.

Why would Mary continually position herself at the feet of the Lord? Had He forgiven her of some terrible sin or equally grievous transgression? Perhaps…but just maybe the secret of her desire lay in the root meaning of her name. “Mary” was a common name in N.T. times and was a Greek derivative of the Hebrew name “Miriam,” who was the sister of Moses and Aaron. The root meaning is “bitterness.” Perhaps Mary’s nature was captured in the descriptive meaning her name.

Bitterness is often the result of a grievous injustice, a deep wound, or a terrible trauma. It is unrequited anger turned inward, instead of at the source of the wrong.  Left to its own, bitterness claims and controls the thoughts of the head and ultimately poisons the desire and the longings of the heart. Bitterness painfully destroys an individual from the inside out like an insidious cancer that spreads from organ to organ. Bitterness left untended always results in emotional wreckage and spiritual famine.

But why sit at the feet of Jesus? Why not look eyeball to eyeball and argue your case to the very One who is the source of justice? The reason is that bitterness is never dealt with through justice. Bitterness must be dealt with through humility and forgiveness. Where better to learn humility than at the feet of humility personified. Where better to learn forgiveness than at the feet of the very One God the Father sent to bring forgiveness to a condemned and dying humanity.

Perhaps Mary sat at Jesus’ feet to hear instead of to be heard. In hearing His words she found the answer to her need for justice, her longing for acceptance, or her desire for unconditional love. In those moments, as the soothing sound of His voice and the power of His words flowed, the bitterness she had experienced over a lifetime simply melted away as heaven’s grace flowed into her pain and emptiness like a rain shower on parched dry ground.

Perhaps Mary sat at Jesus’ feet to be held instead of to hold. As He gently touched her face or stroked her long dark hair, the disappointment and rejection of a lifetime evaporated from the intense heat of a heart filled with unconditional love. No longer rejected but now accepted, Mary blossomed and began to produce the fruit of humility as the Light of heaven shone brightly into her now accessible and fertile heart.

Perhaps your longing is the same as Mary’s, to be accepted and in that acceptance changed from bitter to humble. Perhaps you really desire to hear more than to be heard or held more than to hold. Today, if this is the need of your soul, kneel at the feet of the One who desires with all His heart to hold you and whisper His words of comfort not just into your ears but into you heart as well. Mary’s posture positioned her for a marvelous posterity of which Jesus pointed to when He said, “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done shall also be spoken of in memory of her” (Matt. 26:13).  Is the present posture of your heart positioning you for marvelous posterity or just more problems?

Storing or Pouring

How does one build a ministry that will impact not just this generation but countless generations to come? Advertising and marketing specialists would say, “Package your message in memorable sound bites and saturate the market with your face so everyone knows who you are. Blitz the talk-show circuit and share what you think. Get your name in print wherever and whenever you can. Build your public persona so that you become a household name.” In essence create an atmosphere where you are the center of attention.

A major problem with this approach is that you get your minute or two of fame and then you and your message are forgotten. Often the message so carefully crafted and communicated was not even worth the minute or two of fame it garnered. Countless men and women have burst on the stage of life with a meteoric rise to fame, only to crash and burn in the pit of obscurity.

Jesus Christ was born in relative obscurity according to our standards and yet He and His simple message of forgiveness and life continue to impact generation after generation. He did not come to build a great name, to draw huge crowds, or even to do amazing things that would insure a large following. He simply came to seek, to serve, and to save those who are lost. He came to flesh out God so that we could understand and live.

His ministry was not based in popularity or publicity, although great throngs of people followed Him. His life-changing message was based in purity, bathed in power, and bequeathed to each of His followers with the promise of persecution. And yet through the centuries countless, and often nameless faces have committed all that they were to carrying forth that simple message of life. Why?

The answer is simple and yet profound. It is clear and yet missed. Jesus poured His life into people – one person at a time. It was not the crowd that reaped the riches of heaven’s message, but instead the beggar, who everyone ignored, and the town whore, who everyone despised, and the leper, who everyone retreated from, and the tax collector,, who everyone hated, and even the cripple who everyone endured. Jesus touched the individual, but rarely if ever the crowd. Jesus withdrew from those who would make Him the king of the teeming populace to pour out His life into twelve future revolutionaries and even one of them could not embrace Christ’s method of kingdom building.

Bright lights and big crowds are not the measure of success in ministry. Our job is not to construct the eternal church of God. Jesus said, “I will build My church.” Instead our job is to use the keys that Christ has given us to unlock and invite those He places in our path into His glorious kingdom. Our job is to pour our lives (the abundant and eternal one Christ has so wonderfully given us) into a few others so that they may in turn pour theirs into a few others.   

The secret of successful ministry is to be a pitcher that not only receives the glorious treasures of heaven but also pours forth with liberality those precious life-giving treasures. Jesus came from the treasure house of heaven and kept nothing for Himself; He emptied Himself and poured all that the Father had given Him into the lives of a few people. A pitcher is useless if it sits on the shelf and shines for all to see. It is only in the act of pouring that the pitcher accomplishes what it was created for.

Are you storing up or pouring out? The answer will determine whether or not your ministry is stagnant or successful – forgotten or remembered – burned up or rewarded

Revolutionaries Wanted: Apply Here!

“Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). The answer to this poignant question asked by Jesus over two centuries ago has stoked the unexplainable, uncontainable, and undeniable growth of His Body the Church. Fueled with a message of salvation, forgiveness, and hope, men and women from every strata of society have sacrificed their lives for the opportunity to see another person embrace this liberating truth. From Pentecost onward the delivery of Christ’s message has been more important than the life of any one messenger. Called to imitate heaven’s Deliverer, Christians have willingly embraced the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives to insure that “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3)would be passed on no matter the cost.

Today, we as believers stand in a regal line with a long heritage of spiritual ancestors who were willing to pay the price no matter the outcome. Their sole intention and purpose was to deliver the answer to Jesus’ question. And yet today acceptance, tolerance, and diversity are the buzzwords of a culture intent on bending God’s word to fit its own self-destructive destiny. Many parts of Christ’s Bride have waffled, wobbled, and ultimately capitulated the uniqueness of His message and embraced both a foreign and frightening fabrication as their message. A contaminated message diluted with little truth and fortified with a lot of lies has paralyzed her ability to take a stand and weather the ferocious but temporal onslaught of the enemy.

The Western Church is quickly losing her ability to proclaim the message because she no longer understands the message. Other things have taken the preeminent position that her Bridegroom once occupied. Her prophets have become pastoral maintenance men continually occupied with satisfying the egocentric bleating of overweight sheep, while their clarion voices are systematically silenced by an impotent inability to articulate the pure message of Christ’s Lordship and His call to die daily to self.

“Sacred” programs, which have been dead for decades, are petted, propped up, and canonized rather than accurately assessing their worth and burying them when they no longer accomplish their original intent, if that can even be discerned. Church programs are temporal tools for reaching the world not trophies to line the walls of denominational mausoleums.

Church politics – the games “little” men play to make them feel bigger—has decimated the purity of the Bride’s dowry. In exchange for the world’s power, the Church has committed adultery and idolatry and has forfeited her ability to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. She has soiled her pure white garments with the hellish dirt of compromise and immorality. Instead of putting on the royal armor of the crucified and risen King, she has dressed herself unashamedly in the filthy rags of a prostitute.

To regain the single focus of our spiritual heritage, the church must once again embrace not reformation but revolution. Make no mistake about it, when Jesus died on the cross a revolution began. This revolution was and will be marked by passion—a single desire for the personal presence of God; by preaching—a bold clear declaration of “thus says the Lord,” by prayer—an unapologetic position of total dependence upon the power of the Holy Spirit; and ultimately by persecution—a faithful surrender of one’s life to become a voice that even hell cannot extinguish.

The battle cry of this revolution is the message – the word – for which millions who have willingly given their lives as martyrs for the Kingdom. Let the cry go forth! Let the gates of hell once again give way to the ferocious assault of a pure Bride, who once again will shout with a clear triumphant voice, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”