Tag Archives: Life

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!

The Gift

cd7478-christmas-gift-christmas-card

Sitting up wide-eyed under the weight of a cotton quilt, a tussle-haired child hurriedly wipes the sleep from her eyes, drops from the bed to the cold floor and begins to navigate her way carefully and quietly down the dark hallway and into the den. Peering cautiously through the doorway, her eyes adjust to the dancing lights stationed like sentries on the small green tree in the corner. Darkness retreats with the onrushing charge of daybreak. Her searching eyes focus, like a lion about to pounce, on the prize that sits partially hidden under the evergreen boughs. A small box with a huge white bow wrapped in layers of bright red and green foil paper silently awaits her searching fingers and excited eyes. The gift she has anxiously awaited all year is finally hers to open. It’s Christmas morning!

Sitting in the darkness on the steep hillside watching their sheep, a solitary band of shepherds stare in utter amazement as the angels begin leaping across the skies like Roman candles in a holiday firework display. A fragile young wife and her frightened young husband welcome a child that refuses to wait any longer for his birth. Amid the stench of the cattle and the labor pains, the Fragrance of God makes his entrance into his creation and is gently placed in a stone feeding trough in a small, out-of-the-way town called the House of Baked Bread. No throngs or multitudes of family or well-wishers await the announcement of his birth outside this rather unusual delivery room. The Father of all good gifts has finally delivered the gift humanity has anxiously awaited throughout the centuries. It’s Christmas morning!

Kneeling beside a sick and broken addict, a young man shares a powerful story with compassion and purpose. For the first time in many years this shackled creature begins to consider what freedom is really like. Not freedom to do what he wants, but freedom to be what he was created to be. Calmly and carefully the young man shares a Scripture here and an experience there. The Holy Spirit hovers unseen, like a mother hen with her biddies, bringing forth eternal life. Through the sobs of hopelessness a confession is offered and a cry of faith is answered. A new creation is born. The gift received is new life conceived through Jesus Christ. It’s Christmas morning!

Christmas is more than a day we celebrate; Christmas is the gift we have been given. Immanuel—God with us—has given us the gift of abundant, eternal life in him. Share the gift with someone and watch God unwrap the real gift of Christmas morning.

Am I a Christian Zombie????

Am I a Christian zombie? Now that’s an interesting question you might be thinking. Freeze the first picture that went through your mind. Everyone knows what a zombie is. In our culture they have become folk heroes, video game celebrities, and movie icons. It might even be chic, bad, hot, rad, or cool (depending on the generational language you speak) to be a zombie.

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page let’s get a working definition for a zombie. It’s a dead body that appears alive. I could give a more graphic description of one but this will suffice. We use the term “zombie” as a slang term to denote someone who is just one click on the life meter above a corpse. All of us have had days when we’ve wandered around in a funk or fog wondering what the heck am I doing? I’m breathing air, occupying space, but getting nothing done. You know what I mean—it’s a dead man (or woman—zombies are no respecter of persons) walking.

It’s very easy to go through the motions in our relationship with God. If we are honest, all of us have done this at one time or another. You may have been weary and exhausted, or caught in sin, or hurt by someone you trusted, and then, all of a sudden, you wake up two weeks later and find yourself mindlessly coasting—you spiritual gear knocked into neutral. That’s what I mean by a Christian zombie—going through motions but making absolutely no difference in anyone’s life including yours.

I’m not talking about being a Pharisee—a hypocrite. They belong to another class of zombies for which I do not have the time, energy, desire, or word space to describe. I am talking to regular people who love Jesus, follow Jesus, but without knowing it, are aimlessly wandering around in right field in the high grass near the bleachers desperately trying to find Jesus.

Right now might be a good time to test yourself and see where you register on the zombie meter. Today is a good day for a self-evaluation—a good time to check your spiritual oil.

  1. Am I existing but not living abundantly? In other words, am I just here getting by. Jesus said in John 10:10 that He came that we might have life, and might have it abundantly. That means a life of superabundance, excessively good, over and above and life over the top. Am I living an abundant life?
  2. Am I modeling a powerless life?  Is it a life marked by religious piety—a mindless list of do’s and don’ts. A life externally shaped to look one way, but on the inside a life totally empty—a Hollywood movie set façade of powerless power. Do I hold a form of godliness, yet I have denied its power (2 Timothy 3:5a)? Am I living a powerful life?
  3. Does my daily walk require faith? Am I walking naturally or supernaturally? If the Holy Spirit decided to step out could I survive without Him? Perhaps I am walking without him—walking without any faith whatsoever? A faithless walk is a natural walk and does not require God to get by. Am I living a faith-filled life?
  4. Does my outward reputation match my inward devotion? Is there any passion or do I have it all—job, family, the right church, membership in the right organizations…? Do I look good on the outside but feel dead on the inside? Am I living a passionate life?

To sum it all up in one simple question: If Jesus had preached the gospel I’m living right now, would they have crucified him?

Navigating the Valley Just Beyond the Mountaintop Experience

For every mountaintop experience we encounter there is a valley to cross following close behind on its heels. These valleys are the lows after the highs of a life-changing encounter with God. All of us love those mystical moments in the presence of God breathing the thin air of high altitude perched victoriously on the edge of the precipice staring at the next mountain to be climbed. But between this peak and the next one is a valley—a long distance of desert land. Most of us don’t want to think about the valleys. We long for the mountaintops. Yet… these valleys enhance those mountaintop experiences even if we refuse to accept this reality.

I’m not a math major, but if I were putting a percentage of time spent on mountaintops versus valleys, the valleys would win hands down. I can only speak for myself, but 99% of my time is spent in the valley. The valleys, not the mountain-tops, are where we learn to walk with God through faith. Faith grows in much the same way as a muscle. In exercise, a muscle is tested, broken down and strengthened. Like that muscle, faith must be tested to gain potency. There in that scrub land filled with all kinds of dangers and traps, we gain the practical experience of surviving and thriving as our faith is pushed to its limits and beyond.

Valleys seem overwhelming. The terrain is unwelcoming and dangerous. Every step is fraught with uncertainty. But as rough as the landscape is, there is always a path through it marked out by God. To find the path we must concentrate on the destination while at the same time implementing the lessons we’ve learned in the past. Every past lesson learned has an instant in the future where its experience will either assist or assassinate you. A word of warning! Don’t forget the lessons you’ve learned crossing the countless valleys that brought you to this one. Every one of them has a purpose.

Let’s be honest, the first few miles of crossing a valley can be depressing and discouraging. After all, we’ve just finished a descent from a moment where our life was radically transformed. The air was fresh, the scenery was breathtaking, and the company—well, there are no words to describe what being that close to God is like. Yet, the valley looms large before us. One of the things that I‘ve learned that may help you overcome that discouragement and depression is to learn to enjoy the journey as you make your trek to your next destination.

Most of us want to travel on the interstate system. We can drive faster and get to our destination quicker, but we miss much of the scenery and beauty of the land. We miss God! That’s right! God is just as present in the valley as he is on the mountaintop. With one exception, we have to slow down to find him—we have to “faith” him out. He’s there, but his presence is manifest in different ways—the smile of a child, the eyes of a beggar, the thank-you a down-and-outer, or the simple recognition that a temptation has come and gone and we were not caught in its trap. The valley is where we learn to appreciate the small things that seem to compound into huge things on the mountaintop. The valley is where our vision is developed so that when we actually reach the peak of that mountain we will recognize God.

Don’t look past the valley you are in. Those hours in the valley prepare us for those fleeting moments on the mountaintop. Don’t waste them or your next mountaintop will look just like another valley.

The Tea Party: Take Two

Several years ago I shared my disastrous experience as a guest at an imaginary tea party hosted by my granddaughter who was then four years old. Audrey became exasperated because of her Papa’s loud slurping of the make-believe tea and his refusal to hold his cup with pinky finger extended. She promptly banished me from what she obviously considered the social event of the season in Helena, Alabama.

Time (three years to be exact) has a way of healing those egregious lapses of etiquette and social graces. A few days ago, while visiting her at her new digs just outside Little Rock, Arkansas; I was once again invited to a tea party. This time I decided to do whatever it took (within reason) to be a humble and courteous guest. I feared if I were asked to leave this fantasy function I would be black-balled forever from the elite society my granddaughter rubs moves in.

The guest list was rather short, but it included Big Al and me. Big Al is a stuffed elephant (the mascot for the University of Alabama—Audrey has particularly good taste in football teams). The only things we two had in common were we were both male, a little overweight, and obviously not in charge. Audrey, our “hostess with the most-ess,” seated us in imaginary chairs at an equally imaginary table, which in reality turned out to be the floor. This was not an issue for Big Al, who is only a foot high and weighs only a few ounces, but it was a bit uncomfortable for me since I weigh quite a bit more.

imagesOur hostess went over to her closet and took out the perfectly manicured box that holds the sacred miniature china tea set and lace table cloth, and proceeded to give both of us very detailed instructions of what each piece represented and how it would be used. Amazingly, the description sounded exactly like the one her Tats (Cathy) had given her the first time they hosted one of these events together.

I kept quiet fearing I might mess up and be asked to summarily leave. I just could not stand the public embarrassment of being thrown out of such a high society event being held in the suburbs of the capital of Arkansas. If that happened I would never be able to live it down, so I chose to let Big Al be the center of attention.

After the cups and saucers were carefully placed before us, Audrey began pouring the make-believe tea hot from her dainty little china tea pot. From time to time, she would refill the pot from one of the handles on her dresser which she claimed was the steamer. In a matter of moments this bedroom in Arkansas turned into a scene from Alice in Wonderland.

“How many sugar cubes would you like in your tea?” asked Audrey. The last time I was faced with this question I asked for far too many and was verbally given a public rebuke. Timidly I requested one—to which our host responded, “Why not take five!” My! My! Things have changed in three short years. So I said, “Five it is—fill her up!”

Things were going so well. We were laughing, sipping our tea (with pinkies extended—all except Big Al who has no pinkies), and snacking on make-believe chocolate chip cookies. When all of a sudden, Big Al put his trunk into the tea cup and began blowing bubbles. I will always believe this happened due to the sugar induced high he got from the five imaginary sugar cubes that were put in his drink. All of sudden Big Al became the life of the party blowing tea out his trunk like a water fountain.

Audrey was mortified (after she giggled so hard she fell backward, but she quickly regained her composure) and promptly began lecturing Al on the finer points of etiquette concerning tea cups, black currant tea, cookies and elephant trunks. Big Al took a beat down for his indiscretion, but his facial expression never changed—he kept his poker face. After all, he is what many would call a “party animal,” and he was certainly the life of this upper crust shindig.

Eventually the pretend party came to a close. We all hugged and made plans to do it again. Audrey packed up the tea set and carefully put it away. Big Al made his way back to “T-town,” with a designated driver due to the sugar- induced coma he was struggling with. And I—I savored the memory of a moment I will never forget and silently rejoiced in my somewhat temporary acceptance back into the high society circles that my glamorous little socialite granddaughter travels in.

Moments like these are too few and far between. They are fleeting and are usually missed by most of us because we are too busy—too involved with things that really don’t matter in the long run.

What’s more important—imagination or reality?

For me—it’s an instant spent looking at the world through the eyes of a child.

Is it make-believe?

Perhaps—but in those transitory moments at the tea party imagination became reality.

By the way, I learned a valuable lesson in case I receive another invitation to tea party—real or imaginary. Whatever you do, never, never put your trunk in the tea cup. It is considered rude and atrocious behavior by the citizens of Wonderland.

Riding Life’s Waves

Surfing a gigantic wave intrigues me, although I have no desire to try it under any circumstances. Yet I love to watch the experts—world class surfers—ride those monster waves. Those massive waves are a rich metaphor for life. When it comes to the waves of life, we are either surfing on the edge or swamped in the depths. There are no other options. Like the surfer, all of us are riding the energy of the chaos beneath us.

God created us to live life, not life to live us. That’s why he offers us eternal life along with abundant life. We were made to ride the waves of life, not drown in its churning murky depths. But staying on top of the board requires skills developed through the proficiency of practice. In other words, we don’t give up when we fall or fail, we get back up on the board and ride some more.

Have you ever been smashed by life? Has your life ever been turned upside down in the blink of an eye? Have you ever watched the plans you so carefully made disintegrate and disappear beneath that churning green water we call life.

All of us have. No one is immune to trouble, trials, or tribulation. All three are equal opportunity employers. Not one of us is exempt.

Where do these trials come from? The easy answer for many would be God, but not everything that happens is God’s fault or will. Trials have at least four sources:

 

  • Trials are the result of our own dumb, disobedient, or dangerous decisions.
  • Trials are the result of someone else’s bad decisions.
  • Trials are the result of the devil’s attack.
  • Trials are the result of God’s desire to teach us to ride bigger waves.

 

Our responsibility is to respond, not react, to trials otherwise we can become swamped by the waves of life. So how should we respond?

 

  • If it is the result of our choice—we repent.
  • If it is the result of someone else’s choice—we forgive.
  • If it is the result of the devil’s attack—we stand firm.
  • If it is the result of God’s hand—we submit in faith and trust God.

 

When trials and tribulation are the result of God’s hand, we must also be honest and admit our feelings to God, not complain to others. When we complain, we sink deeper and deeper into the depths of the chaotic waves of life. Most of us will cry out, but we must cry out to God because he is the only one who can help us.

We must also learn to worship in the midst of our troubles. Worship lifts our surfboard up and allows us to ride on the sweet spot of life’s wave. In the darkest moment of Job’s trials, he fell on his face and worshiped proclaiming, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed by the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

Trials have less effect on us once we commit ourselves completely to God. In other words, sink or swim I am riding these waves with God!

Reclaiming Biblical Healing (Part 8)

The Jewish belief of a Messiah who would come and rule over Israel was, and still remains, a part of their eschatology. This deliverer would be a direct descendant of King David, consecrated by the Holy Spirit (the anointing oil of God), and would sit on the Davidic throne and rule God’s kingdom during the Messianic age. He would be the Anointed One, meaning he would embody the anointed ministry of prophet, priest, and king. In the ancient prophecies of the coming Messiah a clue was hidden that would clearly distinguish his identity from all the other pseudo saviors who would, in time, arise in Israel.

That defining clue in recognizing the Messiah’s identity was his ability to heal. The chief texts from which the Jewish theologians and rabbis developed this belief were found in Isaiah 35:3-5, Isaiah 29:18-19, and Isaiah 61:1. As they studied the Scriptures, it was clear that amazing level of healing he possessed would separate him from the rest. Sadly with the destruction of the nation of Israel in 586 B.C., the Jews began looking for a “son of David” who would come as a conquering king, rid them of foreign control, and re-establish their nation as a world power.

In the 1st century, John the Baptist declared in no uncertain terms that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah when he proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God. He is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” Jesus was anointed (baptized) as the Spirit of God descended and rested on him at his baptism. He left the Jordan and went into the wilderness “full of the Holy Spirit,” where he was tested by the devil over a period of forty days. After victoriously overcoming each temptation, Jesus (“full of the Holy Spirit”) went to his hometown and entered the synagogue and quoted the Messianic passage from Isaiah 61:1 and declared it fulfilled.

In Jesus’ day, the rabbis had divided miracles into two specific categories: (1) those that anyone who was empowered could do, and (2) the miracles only the Messiah would be capable of doing. Those that identified the Messiah were very distinct.

imagesFirst, the Messiah would heal a leper. They believed that only God could heal leprosy—an awful disease that slowly disfigured and ultimately killed the person infected with it. Leprosy was believed to be the judgment of God and rendered a person ceremonially unclean. The last Jewish person healed of leprosy in Israel prior to the coming of Jesus was Mariam in the days of Moses almost 1,500 years earlier. In Mark 1:40-42, Jesus touched a leper, healing the unclean and making him clean again. Later, he would heal ten lepers at one time.

imagesThe second Messianic healing miracle was the healing of a person demonized by a spirit of muteness, which left the person unable to speak. Exorcism was common in Israel, but for these exorcists to have success a lengthy ritual was performed that required the demon to give up its name. To cast it out they must possess the wicked spirit’s name. A mute person could not speak and thus the demon would not give up its name or leave. Jesus did not need a name. He exercised the power of God in Matthew 9:32-34 to set a mute man free. The crowd recognized the miracle and said so—“Nothing like this was ever seen in Israel.” The Pharisees, on the other hand, claimed Jesus was using the power of Satan to heal. But, to add an exclamation point to the fact that Jesus was the Messiah, he did it again in Matthew 12:22-23—prompting the people to begin asking, “Could this be the Son of David?”

The Pharisees responded again that he was doing it through the power of Satan. Why? Because they recognized that only the Messiah could do this, but Jesus did not fit their Messianic picture or their narrow, ritualistic theological system. They could not refute his miracles, so they attempted to smear and diminish his character in the eyes of the people. In fact, the Talmud, which is one of the central texts of Judaism and consists of commentary and explanation of the Mosaic Law, states that “Jesus was hanged on a tree for using sorcery.” Meaning, he was crucified for using demonic magic in his healing.

imagesThe third and final miraculous healing sign of the Messiah was that he would heal those who had been born blind. The apostle John records this particular miracle as one of seven signs found in his gospel that validated the deity of Jesus. John gives it a complete chapter (10). This miracle caused a major uproar and even a division among the Pharisees.

In his darkest moment, John the Baptist sent word from prison asking Jesus, “Are you the Expected One?” Jesus did not rebuke him, but rather sent this word back—“Go report to John what you have seen and heard; the blind recover sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me” (Luke 7:22-23).

Many would say Jesus did these works to prove his identity. Yet Jesus knew who he was and those who exercised their faith recognized him as such. The primary reason he did these miracles and all the others was to demonstrate God’s heart of love and compassion for those who were suffering from the attacks of the devil and the void left by man’s practice of empty religion. He performed them to demonstrate the message not simply prove it. The message of Jesus—the gospel of the kingdom—is true with or without the miracles.

By the way, God has never seeks to prove who he is to humanity—he simply reveals it. It’s up to you and me to believe and see—not see and believe!