Category Archives: Hope

Happy Birthday America!

Happy birthday America! It’s been 241 years since you were birthed in the revolutionary belief that all men (and women) are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What an amazing experiment our founding fathers began when they agreed on the Declaration of Independence in the summer of 1776 and the Continental Congress ratified it on that first 4th of July.

What a grand experiment indeed! Their decision sparked a war of independence against the most powerful nation in the world at that time. A skirmish outside Boston became a shooting war that bloodied the soil of thirteen individual colonies and galvanized these sundry immigrants into one single nation. Blood may have purchased their freedom, but great wisdom and amazing cooperation secured it for the following generations.

That cooperation has failed occasionally along the way, yet that great wisdom has righted the wrongs and found a way to regain the cooperation. This is nowhere better seen than in the issue of slavery, which ultimately resulted in a great Civil War—a war between those united, yet divided states. Yet somehow, someway—the cooperation was regained and the nation endured and grew.

This nation has readily endured sending her young men and women to foreign nations to fight and even die, so that freedom would not be thing only we enjoy. We have cooperated with allies and have withstood dictators, megalomaniacs, and armies intent on world domination, refusing to turn our head to the plight of those who were weaker. Great wisdom and cooperation have been the resources that have galvanized this nation in the aftermath disastrous events like Pearl Harbor and 9/11.

Yet today, 241 years later, it seems partisanship and utter selfish stupidity has supplanted wisdom and cooperation. We are a nation divided by beliefs, political parties, morality, news media outlets, and a thousand other things. We can’t even agree to disagree. Instead, like little children who can’t get their way, we’ve taken our toys and gone home. Intent of getting what we can, canning all we get, and shooting anyone who gets close to our can. Our laws and our government are not working because neither side is willing to use wisdom and cooperate for the good of the nation. Instead, what’s good for a few tends to overrule what would be better for all.

And in this morass, we have turned away from our Creator. Our founding fathers never envisioned a country without Jehovah God. They understood he was source of the freedom they were willing to die for. He was the fountainhead of liberty that birthed this nation into existence. It is true they wanted no state church to dictate their worship, but read history and you will find they hungered to worship God Almighty. Yet, the wisdom of this age has defied his laws, in a  foolish attempt to legislate him out of power and existence. We have embraced the idols of multi-culturalism, perversion, hedonism, relativism, and socialism—and called that which were never gods, our gods. And in doing so, we have called good evil and evil good.

And wisdom and cooperation have become about as rare as the dinosaurs. The politicians of Washington, the financiers of Wall Street, or the media moguls who broadcast coast-to-coast and around the world have no answer. That’s because the answer is not found in “what I want or the group I represent wants” but rather in wisdom (which can only come from God) and cooperation (which can only come when each of us are willing to see someone else as more important than we are).

Will this nation survive and stick 250, 300 or 500 candles in her birthday cake? I hope so, but this I know—it will not happen without wisdom and cooperation and “me the people” must once again become “we the people!”

Gone…without Explanation

thPlease!!!! No more bad news this week. My heart can’t bear another tragedy right now.

A promising young pop star cut down in the genesis of her fledgling career. Forty-nine bright-eyed young men and women (sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends…human beings) in full bloom, executed by the blind rage and hate of sheer evil personified. The essence of innocence, a two year-old toddler dipping his tiny feet in the cool water of a world class resort, snatched in the jaws of a primeval alligator, dragged from the arms of loving parents, and drowned. Each a different scenario but all with the same haunting result: gone…without explanation. Simply gone!

Why? That’s the answer to the million dollar question my heart and soul longs to hear. If I can answer this burning question, I can explain the darkness, accept it, and move on.

Deep down inside, a part of me wants to simply turn away and not look, as if that feigned ignorance would make the horror of these events evaporate like the morning mist off the mountains. But even when I close my eyes, the visual reminders hang on the craggy peaks of my mind like scarlet banners. Though I want to, I cannot ignore these horrific moments. Yet, I cannot explain them away either.

In that vacuum, that religious part of me charges to the forefront to give a viable, even believable explanation—to justify, rationalize, and defend a system of cherished beliefs. But the shields and spears of sovereignty, justice, and judgement, of cause and effect, and of choice and reciprocity, create more questions without answering why. And, it makes it easier to rationalize away my revulsion at the utter distress our nation’s shared experience. I will not rationalize these moments away—the people involved are far too precious…and real.

Ultimately, from the depths of my spirit—my faith part of me cries out in despair, “Why, O God, why?” In the tumult of those moments, every answer ever given in human history shoves its way to the forefront of my mind and jockeys for position—loud, obnoxious voices with nothing to say. Finally it all becomes quiet—graveyard silent. And a reflection occurs—perhaps I’m seeking the answer to the wrong question. Yes, they are gone…and perhaps there is no explanation—at least not one I can understand.

And then it bursts forth—a thought, as it pushes its way into my shattered sanctuary of tortured solitude, echoing with intensity. A still, small voice—not a mortal one and certainly not my own. Then, this voice answers with the real answer instead of a question: “Why will not be the solution, but rather what are you going to do in the midst of it? What are you going to do because of it?

 

Wanted: Dreamers

Of the human experience, one of the saddest realities is the adult who never achieves his or her dreams. Statistics reveal this description fits eight out of ten of us. Perhaps even sadder is the fact that most of this eighty percent won’t even remember as adults the dreams they imagined as children. That’s a disheartening stat for a dreamer.

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Our childhood dreams are clues to the destiny God has for each of us. Yes, I believe those dreams are given to us by God in seed form. He plants them in the cracks and crevices of our soul and spirit, and over time, they sprout in our heart and mind. If we partner with God, those dreams begin to produce fruit and move from the realm of imagination into the realm of reality.

As children, we are all fitted with an aptitude for imagination—the ability to perceive something before it has become a reality. Imagination can be the stuff of far-fetched fantasy or the genesis of a reality yet to be discovered or created. Both find their residence in the heart and the mind of a child. And this imagination fertilizes and irrigates the dream God has planted in us.

But sadly, most of those dreams are stolen. We accept the limitations of others, their crushing words, our insatiable appetite for acceptance, or we bow to the altars of reason, intellect, and cynicism. Those dreams entrusted to us by God are eventually lost under the debris of unbelief somewhere deep within in the dusty, cobwebbed corridors of a no longer needed childhood imagination.

Our world desperately cries out for a handful of dreamers who will once again entertain those God-sized dreams. We long for a few visionaries, who glimpse through their imagination what God’s reality for this world looks like. We crave some romantics who will lead us out of this malaise of skepticism and back into the authenticity of a society marked by genuine love. Without the ability to transact in the currency of the imagination, the hearts of those who profess to be Christ-followers will calcify and eventually petrify, leaving the world to its own hopeless, apocalyptic implosion.

We must reclaim our God-given capacity to dream. Dreaming is not a waste of time, it is a necessity to rescue and redeem our limited time. I challenge you to ask God to awaken the dreams he’s sown into your soul and spirit so long ago. Stop gorging yourself on what culture, society, intellectualism, or business says is equitable, acceptable, and financially feasible. Stop listening to the naysayers and the doomsdayers. Blow off the dust, take it in your hands, hold it close to your heart, and nurture that dream until it becomes all that God says it will be.

Let the dreamers arise and ascend until these divine aspirations move from the fertile fields of imagination into the fruitful place of realization.

Requiem for a Warrior…Russ Calvin

photo_20150609_AL0068019_0_russcalvin_20150609A requiem is a lament—the wailing of a heart broken—a song of sadness that emanates from deep within the soul. Throughout human history these songs have accompanied the death of a warrior. Russ Calvin was such a warrior—a man who battled and wrestled in spiritual realms so that we might enjoy God’s blessings in the physical one. He was my friend, Worship Pastor, and brother-in-the-faith. And today I choose to put my sadness in words to encourage others on their own journey. Perhaps it will push you farther, higher, or deeper in your own excursion through life.

Russ was a gentle giant, whose passionate pursuit of God leaves deep footprints to follow for those of us still chasing after God. Russ finally caught the Savior whom he had run after throughout his short lifetime. Thirty-seven years seems so young—so brief, yet Russ accomplished more in that limited span than most of us will in a long lifetime. He made time count, knowing that none of us is promised tomorrow.

Russ was soft-spoken, not loud and boisterous. But when he spoke, the volume, tenor, and depth of what he said often rang like a clap of thunder. When he spoke of Jesus, it was not the platitudes of a preacher or the clichés of a theologian, but rather the experience of a lover who had experienced the heart-to-heart connection of genuine intimacy with God. Russ knew God, not facts and figures about God. They were on a first name basis—a beloved Father and his treasured son. You can fake a lot of things, but you can’t fake what it’s like to have been in the intimate presence of God. Russ knew—he’d spent long spans of precious time in that secret place.

Russ was also a man who knew and understood God’s Word. His grasp of God’s promises was not a shallow one. No, he staked his life, his marriage, and his ministry on the fact that God cannot lie. In the midst of the suffering he endured as he battled heart and kidney issues, Russ refused to let go of or give up on any of the promises God had whispered into his spirit. He tenaciously hung onto those promises like a bulldog. He stood faithful when many who were treating him gave him no hope. Russ believed God, and he acted on that faith. He spoke it. He prayed it. He shared it with doctors, nurses, technicians, strangers, and friends. He obeyed the words God had given him—he acted on the revelation whispered to him by the Holy Spirit. Obedience is the outward sign of an inward belief. Russ heard the Word—then he acted by obeying the Word—the promises given to him by the God who cannot lie!

Russ was a spiritual warrior. He understood the battlefield and his ancient foe. His calling was a simple, yet profound one. He had been commissioned to enforce the victory of Calvary, to destroy the works of the devil, and to be a vessel God could use to set the captives free. Spiritual warfare was not a theory to discuss for Russ. No! It was a daily life and death wrestling match to engage in. He knew what it took to snatch souls from the jaws of the hounds of hell and he was willing to engage those demonic mongrels if it meant freedom for another person. He was feared by hell and empowered by heaven.

Russ did what he could do with what he had to work with. His complaints were few—just a wish that he could do more, serve more, share more, or worship more. He was limited by the weakness of his heart—but not anymore! He fought through debilitating pain, weakness, discouragement, and frustration—but not anymore! He was limited, constrained, and unable to do many of the things he longed to do—but not anymore! Russ is now free—free to worship without restraint or limit. He is free to dance. He is free to lift his hands like an eagle spreading its wings to heaven. He is free to run, to jump, and to spin in utter unbounded joy. And best of all, Russ is free to sing with an unrestrained voice that cannot be silenced by disease, death, or even the devil.

I could sing a sad lament, a wretched requiem, but if I did it would have to be about someone other than Russ. Yes, we are separated from Russ for a time, but Russ is not dead. No he is more alive than he has ever been. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living according to Jesus. You see—God cannot lie! Russ is alive and he is enjoying the literal presence of the One whom he chased after so hard.

In the meantime, all of us need to get after it while we still can. Pursue God with all your strength. Russ did! Love people with all your heart. Russ did! Don’t worry about those things you can’t do—do the things you can. Russ did!  Worship the Lord with total abandonment. Russ did! Trust God’s promises, walk them out, and enjoy every one of them. Russ is!

Victory in the Garden of Gethsemane

The Garden of Gethsemane was the scene of one of the most magnificent, yet mysterious moments in the passion of the Christ. Passion comes from the Greek word paschein meaning suffering— i.e. the suffering of Christ. Most of that suffering occurred during the last eighteen hours of his life.

Gethsemane was located in an olive grove just across the Kidron Valley on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. Gethsemane means “olive press.” This olive press located among the olive trees across from the Temple and the Golden Gate was the place Jesus chose to spend each night during the final week of his life according to Luke 21:37. This was a safe, quiet place out of the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem, but within minutes of the Temple. Here he would rest, talk with his disciples, and pray.

This was the place Jesus chose to go on the night before he would be crucified. This was also the location of a cosmic battle few of us understand. Here Jesus won the battle in prayer that would be played out a few hours later as he was scourged and crucified. Great battles and contests are often won in the mind before they are experienced on the field. There on a stone in an olive grove Jesus went to war in prayer to prepare his mind and soul for what lay ahead.

Most of what took place is a mystery to us. We can’t fathom his grief, his pain, or the extreme pressure that was unleashed on the mind Jesus by the forces of darkness as he prayed. This was the most extreme form of spiritual warfare ever fought. The enemy of our soul always attacks the mind. One of the basic axioms of warfare is: Control your opponent’s mind and you control your opponent. That was, is, and will always be the devil’s modus operandi in every testing and temptation. It works most of the time, so why change?

Jesus responded to this attack in prayer. He did not argue or even mention the enemy. He endured the crushing weight of the accusations, the condemnations, the taunts, and the haunting questions. He fought through the images, the sounds, the smells, and the feelings his impending date with crucifixion would bring as the forces of evil launched an all-out assault on his mind. Jesus told Peter, James, and John that “his soul is deeply grieved to the point of death” (Mark 14:34). Luke tells us Jesus was in so much agony that the capillaries in the sweat glands of this forehead burst and “his sweat became like drops of blood falling down on the ground” (Luke 22:44).

For many the picture is of Jesus kneeling in the moonlight with his hands clenched under his chin praying, but that is an inaccurate image that Scripture does not paint. Prayer was most often done from a standing position, but a careful reading of the Gospel texts imply that during this ordeal Jesus fell down numerous times and then after regaining his feet he would fall again under the pressure of the battle. What Luke describes with the word “agony” is a hand-to-hand wrestling match with an unseen foe whose only goal was to force or convince Jesus to stop short—to quit without accomplishing the Father’s will.

As Jesus prays, “Father, if Thou are willing, remove this cup from Me, yet not My will but Thine be done” (Luke 22:42), we are not witnessing a struggle between a reluctant will and an obedient will. Rather what we witness is Jesus declaring that the cup from which he is to drink is so revolting—so horrible, yet only because he knows it is the Father’s will he is therefore willing to drink it. Jesus is not asking God to change his will. No! He is asserting that because this is the Father’s will he wants it to be fully done!

Gethsemane is a watershed event. Yet for most of us the only sermons we’ve ever heard centered on a weak group of disciples who went to sleep and failed to pray. We’ve majored on the three times Jesus confronted his sleeping companions. We used it to bring guilt and condemnation on those who don’t pray long or hard enough. Gethsemane is not about apathetic, weak, or prayerless disciples. Gethsemane is about the agony of a Savior as he wars in the heavenlies to destroy the works of the devil and redeem humanity from their sin.

Be careful not to miss the short phrase found at the beginning of Luke 22:45—“And when He (Jesus) rose from prayer. . . .” Those six words alert us to a defining moment in the battle. When the struggle is over—when the hand-to-hand combat is finished, the victor is the only one who rises to his feet. Jesus has stopped praying—prayer time is finished. Why? Because his prayer has been answered—he has won the victory, so he stands up. The vanquished cannot regain his feet because his head has been crushed. The standing position is considered a sign of strength and Jesus is the last one standing!

Gethsemane is not about the failure of the disciples—none of them could secure our salvation anyway. No the focus of Gethsemane is about a powerful Savior who stands victorious!

The Parable of Redemption’s Price

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The light was blinding as the captives were led shackled with leg and wrist irons out from the dim, gloomy cells and into the street. Freedom and redemption were the last things on their minds. Naked, dirty, and beaten, the herd of broken humanity—prisoners of war—was pushed and prodded along the narrow streets by an unrelenting squad of soldiers to the center of town and into the market where the great auction would take place.

Cursing crowds of faceless torturers greeted the prisoners at every turn. The leg irons made walking almost impossible and so they trudged slowly through the abuse hurled at them by the cruel mob. Bloodied from the constant barrage of fists that greeted them each time they raised their heads, the prisoners finally arrived at the raised area in the center of the market. A huge crowd, with vengeance on its mind, cheered as the pitiful group of captives made its way slowly up the ramp onto the black block. This was the slave block from which each one would be sold as a slave to the highest bidder.

Men, women, boys, and girls, once proud and free, faced their tormenters defeated, broken, and without hope. Some wept silently, while others simply looked out at the merciless crowd with hollow, lifeless stares. Here on the slave stage the reality of despair became their hope for the future in the great drama they seemed destined to play out.

The dealer, a large dark individual with a loud blasphemous voice, began to call out the bid prices, and the sale began with a vengeance. Bidding was fast and furious. Strength and beauty, once considered valuable assets, made little difference to the buyers. Families were divided. Mothers silently died on the inside as their children were sold to monsters. Husbands wretched in agony as they watched their precious wives purchased by perverts. There in the market, life without hope became death without end, as each of the prisoners was auctioned to the highest bidder.

All at once, the crowd parted as a solitary figure walked to the front of the auction and stood before the slave dealer. An uneasy silence fell over the venomous crowd. The great prince offered to purchase the whole lot for a single price. With glee beyond belief, the dealer pondered what price the prince would be willing to offer for such a pitiful mass of humanity as this. Prostitutes, thieves, blasphemers, liars, drunkards, and adulterers made up this lot on the block and their value was minimal, the dealer thought, but the prince was, after all, rich beyond belief. And so with an insatiable, heinous greed in his heart, the dealer named his price.

Silence fell across the crowd. Without a word, the great prince stepped up on the block, took off his regal robes, and gently touched each prisoner with his healing hands of liberation. The chains began to fall away and the prisoners began to leap off the slave block. Families were reunited, and hope began to bloom as the little group made its way out of the dark city and up toward the great mountain, which lay to the east.

Along the road, the tiny troop heard a great hellish shout of joy go up from the city. One of the newly freed prisoners stopped timidly and looked back. The awful sight he witnessed would forever change him. As he stared, he beheld a solitary figure naked, beaten, bruised, and bloodied, hanging the air, with his arms stretched out and feet pressed together, pierced with jagged pieces of iron, as the merchants of death and the grave bid for his body.

I am the one who looked back and I tell you the truth of what I saw that day. Suspended between heaven and earth, planted above the slave block was the price of my redemption…the Great Prince Himself.

He gave His life to redeem us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us His very own people, totally committed to what is right.” Titus 2:14

Overwhelmed by God

Have you ever had a moment when you were completely overwhelmed by God? What happened? How did your spirit, soul, or body react to his touch?

Perhaps you wept…laughed…collapsed…rejoiced…shouted…were totally confounded…or just went silent.  All of us are different and all of us respond somewhat differently to God’s touch. But one thing is for certain, when God touches a person, that person knows they’ve been touched.

Yesterday, as we were ministering to people who came forward for prayer, I saw the touch of God on a shy, blond-headed little girl. The fact that she came forward and waited patiently for her moment of ministry in front of almost a hundred people amazed me.

In fact, when I turned to assist her, I was struck by the matter-of-fact manner in which she stepped forward. No hesitation. No fear. It was as though God himself was escorting her toward her heart’s desire and she would not be denied. This little girl was waiting patiently in line to be hugged and prayed for by a ninety-nine year old lady who had just spoken for about ninety minutes. She carried her burden quietly but confidently, as if she knew somehow she would not return to her seat with it.

Her voice was so soft that the praise and worship music seemed to drown her words out. Ms. Ruby motioned for me and told me she could not hear what the child was saying. So I leaned in and asked her what her need was. She replied very calmly, “My Papa died!” A knot welled up in my gut, and tears flooded my eyes, but I relayed the message to Ruby, who took this precious baby in her arms, hugged her like there was no tomorrow, and began to quietly pray with here. Two people, one ninety-nine and the other seven or eight took a load far too heavy to bear into the very throne room of God and I was an overwhelmed witness of the power of God.

I was transfixed and undone—knowing I was standing in a holy place where all the presence and power of God was being brought to bear on an unbearable burden that was crushing a child. I was afraid to move—it was such a holy moment. I stood still and gazed at the wonder of God’s love at work.

I watched as God embraced this tiny girl because she was his most important treasure in the world at that precise moment. Her burden became his burden as he lifted it off her petite shoulders. Ruby’s arms became God’s arms as he drew her close to his heart. Ruby disappeared, and in her place stood the King of kings and the Lord of lords—the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

I couldn’t think. Or say anything. Or do anything. I was confounded and confronted with the gentleness of omnipotence. I was overwhelmed by God, touched by his power, yet torn apart by the tenderness of that touch.

That same touch carved out the Grand Canyon, dug out the depths of the oceans, and tossed the mountains into place. This touch, that flung the stars throughout the universe and gouged out the pathways of the rivers, had just wiped the tiniest of tears of the cheek of a little girl. His touch had reached deep into her chest and lightened the heavy load crushing her broken heart.

And…I was overwhelmed by God. Overwhelmed…because I know that I know he loves you and me in the exact same manner. He is omnipotence willing to touch frailty and give power to the powerless. He is unbounding grace willing to caress the powerless, the vulnerable, the helpless and the impotent. He is infinite love swallowing up the unlovable and the unwanted.

Oh God, I am overwhelmed by your presence! May I reside here forever more?