Living Wholehearted

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I have dubbed him a “geriatric hero.” Caleb is the Biblical character I most often hear the older saints aspire to be like. Now that I have reached my current “mature” age of sixty-one, I am “all in” with wanting to like him too.

We know he and Joshua famously as the two spies who were part of the twelve man reconnaissance team for Israel, returning with confidence that they could take the land. Caleb (our hero) is also noted for having the zeal and desire to take another mountain of conquest at the age of eighty, while also leaving an inheritance for his offspring.

More than just the kind of person we should aspire to be like in our later years, I believe Caleb is a great example for believers of every age.  Six times in the Word of God there is a quality attributed to him: “He followed the Lord wholeheartedly.” (Num. 14: 24; 32: 11-12; Deut. 1: 36; Josh. 14: 8, 9 and 14.) I believe that Caleb followed with his whole heart for his whole life. The manner in which I carry out my current mission for God reflects the manner with which I’ve carried my heart before Him all along. 

I am impressed with the staying power of this man. With the Promised Land mission on delay, he was forced to wait another generation before taking possession of Canaan. Keeping heart levels up when destiny is on delay – this requires full devotion. 

Author Alicia Britt Chole gives this insight: “We find God’s pauses perplexing. They seem to be a waste of our potential. When those pauses extend beyond what we can comprehend or explain (say, for instance, three days), we often spiral into self-doubt or second-guessing. But in anonymous seasons we must hold tightly to the truth that no doubt strengthened Jesus throughout His hidden years: Father God is neither care-less nor cause-less with how He spends our lives.” 1

The issue for Israel was the actual giants in Canaan, plus the giants within themselves, that made them shrink back. I’ve been tumbled from the inside before. I know how it goes down.

The Promised Land as I see it, has an internal and an external dimension. God desires that we enter into our mission, our assignment, (career, parenting, ministry labors) while also desiring that we become like Him. (transformation of character, renewing the mind, healing the heart)

“But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, (internal dimension)  I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.” (external dimension) Numbers 14:24

Are there ups an downs in the journey? Of course. But there is also grace available, enabling us to be consistent.

“No matter how many times you trip them up, God-loyal people don’t stay down long; Soon they’re up on their feet…” (Prov.24:16 MSG) (italics mine; emphasis added)

And, I might add,  following wholeheartedly.

 

1 Alicia Britt Chole, Anonymous: Jesus’ Hidden Years and Yours (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2006) 27

Being Brave in Being You

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Reality struck me like a lightning bolt when the gospel message pierced my soul forty years ago. I was in the dregs of misery, a life without Christ, searching for meaning. I hardly knew who I was and what I did know, I didn’t like very much.  Jesus embraced me “as is” and the knowledge that He had been pursuing me all along, was overwhelmingly fantastic.

We have a built-in desire for love and belonging. The key to fulfillment is found in discovering our authentic and real selves. All my life I was coming up empty from self-management until I surrendered my hollow attempts at being somebody and became for the first time, the real me. I became, and am still in the process of becoming, a new man in Christ.

Our common arch-enemy is “shame” – who I am is unworthy of belonging. I am flawed. If others really knew who I was deep inside they would surmise that I have a deficiency. This dark, embedded lie was extracted from me when I was spiritually raised up from death, but I’ve been privy to this from the get-go: the forces of darkness will never give up in trying to reclaim you. Pharaoh released Moses and the people of Israel. They were delivered, but the enemy followed in hot pursuit. Actually I’m okay with this. It decidedly affirms our value and sets up another opportunity to see God’s glory displayed in victory!

I mentioned a couple of months back in Coming to a Life Near You , that there is an expectancy in the heart of God as He oversees the epic storyline of our lives.  I am so vested in my belief that God has an ongoing, never ending glorious plan for my life, that being a wholehearted disciple of Jesus Christ must be my benchmark. My partnership with Him is too good to ever forsake. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not always easy. But make no mistake; it’s always worth it!

So what about “being real”? It’s necessary to be rightly converted; repentance requires honesty. The man who led me to Christ held the first true mirror for me. I saw reality; my true state of soul. Once cleansed I began to be redefined. After a time of guiding me through my new birth and laying in some faith foundations, my friend released me to the care of others in a church  near my home. I was discipled in an excellent manner for two years before I moved on to a ministry assignment overseas. My first foundations still serve me well, to this day.

Subsequent growth phases in the journey are almost, if not more, intense than the initial conversion to Jesus. In those times I ask, “Where’s my mirror holder”?

We need real peeps around us; authentic community that will help us keep it real, remind us who we are in Christ, and run the race alongside us.

Seeing a real and true reflection requires courage; especially when denial or cover up present themselves an easier option. The word “courage” is from the root “cor”, the Latin word for “heart.” 1 Its original meaning conveyed: a person’s bravery in sharing their heart. The meaning today is more aligned with being heroic. Heroes are to be commended for putting their lives on the line, but there is another kind of courage, ordinary and every day.  It’s about living honest and open – being brave to just be “you.”

 

1 Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

 

Eagerly and Patiently Waiting

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Expectancy is a part of everyone’s life; so is “waiting.”

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to son-ship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved…we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8:22 – 25)

We wait eagerly. We wait patiently.

How can we be so sure? How do we keep our faith strong? We have a solid down payment – a guarantee from God Himself.

God “sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.” (2 Corinthians 1:22) We have “tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit.” (Hebrews 6:4)

“Foretaste” – a small anticipatory sample of something that will happen in the future to a greater degree.

One of the first hymns I recall singing as a new believer was “Blessed Assurance”, by that great song writer Fanny Crosby. The first verse begins with, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine; Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!” The last verse ends, “Watching and waiting, looking above, filled with His goodness, lost in His love.”

Fanny Crosby was blind due to a medical error when she was being treated for an eye infection as a baby. Her grandmother and landlady were agents of God in her training. They taught her God’s Word and how to pray. The result – Her expectancy triumphed over her circumstances.

One of Fanny’s first know compositions was this poem that she wrote at the age of eight: “Oh, what a happy child I am, although I cannot see! I am resolved that in this world contented I will be! How many blessings I enjoy that other people don’t! So weep or sigh because I’m blind, I cannot – nor I won’t.”

Another one of my Crosby favorites is “To God be the Glory.” The last verse reads, “Great things He hath taught us, great things He hath done, and great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son; but purer, and higher, and greater will be our wonder, our transport when Jesus we see.” It’s all about going from something great to something greater

Eagerly and patiently waiting – “Are we there yet”? comes to mind. The key to helping our eager child to wait patiently on that road trip, is to give them something with which to occupy themselves; travel games, reading material, music. Fanny Crosby was married at the age of 38, wrote thousands of hymns, and was actively involved in ministry to the urban poor until her death at age 95.

The future gaze does not preclude present ministry but rather fuels it. 

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on things that are on earth.” ( Col. 3: 1,2)

A mind filled with the thoughts of God will be compelled into service. Those who wait patiently remain occupied presently in kingdom enterprise.

“For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven,  if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.” (2 Corinthians 5:1-4)

 

Coming: to a Life Near You

Coming attractions

Coming Attractions!! Ever been anticipating a new movie? Finally the trailer  is released!

Case in point: at this writing, Star Wars: Episode VII- The Force Awakens, is only seven months away! There is a buzz in the air. We know it’s going to be good. First off, because it’s just Star Wars. Secondly,  J.J. Abrams is directing and the music is by none other than John Williams.

Those who determine the script & sound of an epic story, having already proven their expertise, virtually guarantee its worth.

The coming attraction that proves to be a great film, moves its’ way into our treasured archive, most likely to be viewed again. Meanwhile, future films are created and hence more coming attractions.

Expectancy is a part of everyone’s life. Consider this psychology definition of “anticipation” – the imagining of a future event which creates an affective response. (I.E. It changes my emotional state, positive or negative.)

Anticipation can be long term or short term:

Eternity, the age to come, being a king and priest forever in God’s kingdom is a cause for excitement in my heart. You can’t get much more long term than that! Knowing this “coming attraction” in my story line fuels expectancy and releases emotional strength into my present day.

On the other hand I also look forward to date night next Wednesday, as I have for the past one hundred Wednesdays. I have the same date (hot) and generally go to the same restaurant, and same coffee shop.

“Same” is not boring by the way. I have served the same God for the past 40 years. He is consistent, invariable, unchanging, and the Provider of every good gift. (James 1:17)

I have been reading the same Bible, albeit in various translations, for the past four decades. My anticipation remains unabated. And what of God towards me?

Is there a reciprocal expectancy – a coming attraction in the epic story of “me” that stirs joy in  the heart of God?

(Who has, by the way, signed on to direct and compose YOUR story.)

Reciprocity derives from the Latin “reciprocus” – moving backward and forward. I have yet to discover all there is to know of God. I have yet to discover all there is to know of me. So my gaze is fixed on the Lord, and rightly so. This includes seasons where I must follow His eyes and the leading of the Spirit to an area marked for change in my heart. This will always be fruitful when Spirit led. It will not however always be fun.

“Change my heart O God” is not a plea for cosmetic change. It is a full on surrender to Abba, giving Him access to uproot and plant as He sees fit. This is one heart surgery where the patient remains awake. I must see my present reality in order to enter an transcendent one. Repentance and obedience are the steps of ascension. 

My Father sees the potential of conformity to Christ in my heart; the next episode of “glory” in the “From Glory to Glory” series. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor.3:18)

Even as He extracts gold from the “same” troubled area in my soul, one that we’ve been working on for decades, He is unmoved in His vigor.

I mine the depths in God. He mines the depths in me. I love this partnership.

 

 

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

two mounts

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.