The Narrow Path

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When I first committed my life to Christ forty years ago, my friends were shocked at my transformation. They found it hard to believe that I could live without all of the pleasurable activities that we pursued together. “How can you give up all the fun?” was a frequent question. The answer of course was quite simple: I had found true joy for the first time in my life – a deep and gratifying source of life that I didn’t need to drink, smoke, or manipulate to acquire. The exponential gain in my life reduced my former state to a negligible attraction.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

This pattern of the narrow gate leading to life, filled with vision and the restraint needed to facilitate its fulfillment, was modeled by Christ. “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor.8:9) The human birth canal is pretty tight quarters for passage; thankfully it is designed for elasticity and the light at the end of the tunnel is a gaping four inches. Jesus literally chose the narrow gate didn’t he?

Aside from the physical process there was the dimension of leaving the realms of glory to enter the broken limitations of humanity. Jesus went from omnipresence to: being in one place at a time,  having to walk to get there, and getting tired to boot. Perhaps the angels wondered, as my old party friends did, “You’re giving up all this, for that?” In this case however, they had a point.

“For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (First Timothy 6:10) Loving anything above God: is the root of all sorts of evil, weakens our faith, and eventually leads to sorrow.

Jesus said that “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24) He used the camel because it was the largest animal regularly seen in Israel. Remember the context of this verse: Jesus had invited a man to follow him, with the promise of treasure in heaven. But the young man “went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” We pierce ourselves with many griefs when we choose the lesser treasures of the wide road.

When I am navigating a passageway of growth I sometimes think of it as “eye of the needle” change. “I don’t see how we are going to do this Lord”, I gasp. The disciples asked a similar question: “Who then can be saved?” (19:25) Jesus replies: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (19:26)

The “wide gate” as the Bible describes it, has something for everyone. The greatest danger is in the exclusion of God or in modifying the Gospel message to make it palatable at the expense of being non-transformative. The “narrow gate” is pure and cleansing, and I might add, wonderfully rich in transition.

The narrow way is truly the most expansive.

 

 

 

 

 

The Two Mounts

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There are two mountains I’m focused on: The Mount of Beatitudes and the Mount of Olives.

The first is all about heart transformation and character change, which is the oxygen in a marriage. Husbands and wives who seek to live the beatitudes will have invigorating air to breathe in their relationship.

The second one, which alludes to the return of Christ, also keeps us connected to a life source that will keep our marriage healthy. 1 JOHN 3:2-3. “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”

I won’t be married to my wife in the age to come but our expectation of eternal life is a source of strength to our marriage today. It motivates us to rise above the petty troubles that seek to sabotage our home and to stir the power of the age to come, already a resident deposit within our hearts.  We have “tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come.” (Hebrews 6:5) Like Abraham we are waiting for “the city which has foundations whose builder and maker is God.” (Hebrews 11:10). It’s ironic that a strategic component of any marriage is one that transcends the life of the marriage.

A healthy marital gaze is to look beyond your spouse to see Christ. The point is to seek to minister unto Jesus as you’re interacting with your partner. In the end it’s about Him receiving glory. Our marital agreement on this point helps to keep our marriage expectations reasonable and maintain a greater measure of diligence. We have a vital role to play in intercession and daily interaction that will have great bearing on one another’s eternal rewards. The judgment seat of Christ will produce eternal rewards on our individual behalf even though we worked as a team to compile them.

Transformation of character translates into “gold, silver, and precious stones” at the judgment seat of Christ. 

Eternal purpose is the backbone of earthly purpose. The zeal to be a full partner with Jesus, to rule and reign with Him, makes me a better spouse today. It keeps a good “edge” to my personal development that instantly transfers positively into my marriage.

 

 

Fathers in the Gospel

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I was fathered by a man my own age, in the Gospel that is. He led me to saving faith in Christ, spent a few months helping me get into the Christian disciplines, then the baton was passed and I was fathered by others.

I was eighteen years in my first church, sitting under the tutelage of a Senior Pastor, who was old enough to be my “real” father. Along the way I was led by the Spirit to assist those younger in the faith, exercising the spiritual “father muscle” in my own life. This process is gender inclusive. I have received mentoring from both men and women in my journey.

The gospel lineage is insured by the reproduction of spiritual life. Fathers produce sons, who become fathers that reproduce sons. The Source, is God through Christ, “bringing many sons and daughters to glory.” (Hebrews 2:10)

One of the most well known and prolific father/son relationships is Paul and Timothy. “In Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.” (1 Corinthians 4:15-17)

Transformed fathers produce transformed sons.

Allow me to present four character traits of spiritual fathers:

True gospel fathers live a life consistent with the message they teach. They are not perfect but they are persistent to re-align when needed. Walking in the light equates to quick repentance and the sweet fragrance of humility. You are comforted and encouraged by the fact that their maturity and leadership does not preclude their desperate need for daily grace. Every “jar of clay” shares this common table.

True gospel fathers will live a life of restraint for the sake of the gospel. “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:22-23) This is far from compromise or people pleasing. It is a lifestyle of submission to the Spirit whereby we are guided in how to respond to people.

True gospel fathers preach “Christ crucified” from the posture of experience and not as an academic sermon. They are not swayed by popular commentary that casts the gospel in the light of being foolish and weak. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:18,25)

True gospel fathers will go the second mile in birthing sons.  “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!” (Galatians 4:19) Perhaps you have experienced this – pouring out your life with much effort to guide and train someone, only to feel as if you wasted your efforts. 

Every spiritual father has no doubt been puzzled a time or two with those under their wing. Of course that would include those who have fathered you over the span of your journey.

Though insured by the sovereignty of God, this gospel lineage is enriched by the obedient responses from your heart and mine.

May we always be: as a son following and a father becoming.

 

A Different Gospel

It was less than twenty years from its inception when the early church came into contention with a “different” gospel. The Apostle Paul expressed it like this: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel, which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!  As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” (Galatians 1:6-9)

Whenever I have come into contact with a skewed gospel, it has either been watered down or ratcheted up. There is either a relaxing of necessary pursuit or the adding on of extraneous rule-keeping. Legalism was the issue for the Galatian church; it may make for a clearly marked path, but it is not the way of freedom. “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?  You are observing special days* and months and seasons and years!  I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.” (4:8-11)

Deserting freedom in order to return to slavery. Surely, none of us would advise such a trade-off. What was the main motivation, besides the familiarity of tradition and perhaps the coercion of family and friends? “The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.” (6:12)

The Cross is, and always will be, the dividing line of the true Gospel.

A few years later the Apostle needed to address some other issues. “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain…  But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith… If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.'” (1 Corinthians 15: 1-2, 12-14, 32)

There is a healthy tension (tautness) to be maintained in the gospel message. A central component to this is both the brevity of this life and the unending, perpetual life awaiting us. Whenever we lose the forward gaze of where all of this is going, the things of earth grow strangely appealing. On the other hand, resurrection hope fuels our endurance. “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (15:58)

The words I long to own, to be a true testimony of my life, are these: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

The words I would abhor to ever be true of me: “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?” (Galatians 5:7)

Forty years ago I embraced the Gospel of Christ and was radically transformed. I still love that Gospel today and have no desire for another.

 

* Special days to commemorate a meaningful spiritual event are not wrong. They will never suffice however, as a substitute for genuine, spiritual encounters with the living God.

 

 

New Beginnings

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I was “almost” a New Year’s baby. Mom told me I was born shortly after midnight on January 2nd. Hence the new year for me is a time of “double reflection” – the dawning of a new calendar year and a plus-one to my chronology.

A special milestone for me this particular  year is my “spiritual birthday” which I will celebrate on February 1st. It was four decades ago (1975) when I became a “new creature in Christ.” I remember as a young  boy being drawn towards the person of Christ, watching in earnest, films that portrayed His life and death. Nobody ever took our large, red family Bible off the bookshelf except for me; I loved to look at the pictures. My built in “designer cravings” were longing for activation. It was an arms’ length connect, later to become a heart explosion in the searching soul of a twenty-one year old man.

The cross is the “game-changer” in a person’s life. Conviction and confession of sin brings absolution; complete forgiveness and acquittal. It’s such a clean feeling that God describes it as being “born again.”

God of eternity past and future, scooped up a handful of dust to begin the timeline of man. While we all return to dust, believers in Jesus inherit eternal life and the promise of a glorified future body. God put a stake in the ground at a place called Calvary. Dust is forever redeemed here.

One of the most comprehensive statements which I believe defines the power of the cross is this one from 1 Peter 2:24, “By his wounds you have been healed.”

Peter’s epistle was aimed at helping the church navigate through trial and testing in the midst of a hostile anti-Christ culture. His main point is that we are empowered to overcome in the midst of suffering and hardship.

Healing by Christ’s wounds (the Cross) is healing, period – from every injustice, pain, and wound that mankind will ever endure. To appropriate this into every region of the soul is our mission in life – to be conformed into the glorious image of Christ. We are a work in progress.cross

My spirit was completely healed when I repented of my sinful ways and chose Christ as Lord of my life. Absolved and acquitted however, is not the same as “erased” nor the same as being “exempt” from the challenges of life.

The heart is not erased but reconfigured for transformation.

The journey is layered with new beginnings all along the way. The Bible describes it as going “from glory to glory.” Life is a panorama that spans from cover to cover: In the beginning God created  ⇒ Behold I make all things new.  (Genesis 1:1 – Revelation 21:5)

Glorious new beginnings will always be on the horizon.

Following the Star

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The Bible speaks of a group of Magi – foreigners from the East who saw a star arise. They navigated their way to Jerusalem, escorted by its’ splendor. This group of men were the first worshipers of the Messiah – filled with joy,  bearing gifts, and attentive to the divine guidance that guaranteed their safety after encountering the Christ. “Having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” (Matthew 2:12)

King Herod and the rest of Jerusalem, were disturbed at the news of Messiah’s star. That is the reaction of the world system: “Don’t get too serious about Jesus.” Once you bring him the gift of your life and worship at His feet, you become a target of the enemy. Like the wise men, you must find another route to travel.

Christmas is the season of splendor and brightness. Decorations are pleasing to the eye; gift giving a way to express our love; and parties that gather family and friends reminding us of the blessing of community. Being raised in a church culture as a child, the manger scene was also included in the focus of Christmas. I never dreamed the day would come decades later, when such an expression in public places would be challenged in a court of law. You would almost think that Herod was still alive, or that “someone” was threatened by the impact of the incarnation!

There are many “stars” to follow in our day. What you see rising before you and decide to follow, is your star. Your “star” is what you diligently pursue in life; it’s your focus. 

Money, fame, power, and relationships top the list of glitter, luring us along the way with false promises, and leaving us mostly empty when our destination is reached. God’s provision will manifest in these forms but they are never to be primary or sought after as an end in themselves.

The baby in the manger became the Lamb – the Star of greatest splendor and the giver of eternal light. “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” (Rev.21:23)

He is the “bright and morning star.” (Revelation 22:16)

The journey to find Him, in every season of life, is worth the follow.

Shaping the World Through Prayer

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“I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land that I should not destroy it, but I found none. Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 22:30-31)

The implications of this passage are incredible – a shortage, a lack, of willing and available humans, for God to enlist in intercession.

“Intercede” means to go or pass between, to mediate between two parties. Intercession happens in our courts with lawyers interceding for clients. It involves delegation and authority. Another way of saying it would be representation.

God does nothing on the earth save in answer to believing prayer. (John Wesley)

Man was made to be the steward, governor, and representative of God’s kingdom on earth.

Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion… You have given him (mankind) dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet. The heavens are the Lord’s heavens, but the earth he has given to the children of man. (Genesis 1:28; Psalm 8:6; Psalm 115:16)

Adam initially represented God. He was equipped in every way, but stumbled. The second Man is the Lord from heaven, Jesus the last Adam, our perfect intercessor, high priest and redeemer. (I Corinthians 15:45,47)

Jesus is now functioning as our representative – guaranteeing access to the Father.

“At the time you will ask (pray) in my name, and I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf (for it will be unnecessary). For the Father Himself (tenderly) loves you because you have loved Me and have believed that I came out from the Father.” (John 16:26-27 AMP)

Jesus is not only praying FOR us; He is interceding so that WE can pray. This is the essence of praying “in His name”:

It is the assurance I have that I am praying with Jesus’ representation in the midst.

Intercessory prayer is Jesus ministering through His body the church. In this role the church, praying “in His name”, mediates between God and man unto reconciliation. We also, “in His name”, take dominion over darkness and enforce the victory of Calvary on behalf of others. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)

We are co-laborers with God, partners with Him. Our prayers release the finished work of the cross.

God shapes the world by prayer. The more praying there is in the world the better the world will be, the mightier the forces against evil. (E.M.Bounds)

If God shapes the world by prayer and He needs you and me to stand in the breach, then He actually shapes the world through us!

What a striking honor it is, to be invited into partnership with Him, to have a strategic position in Gods’ government!