Some Things are to be Experienced not Explained

As I sit with Bible and commentaries before me I prepare for tonight's Wednesday night Bible Study. I have been teaching through Luke for more than 9 months and we have finally come to the Mount of Transfiguration in Luke 9. 

In reading the passage again I am reminded how difficult it is to prepare a lesson that is so frequently read or well known. That is because we preachers like to end a study with a statement like "and this is how such an experience may appear in our own lives." We stretch too make events in Scripture apply to our lives. However, I have come to conclude that not all passages are meant to be read for anything but reverence and awe. 

How many preachers have tried to somehow relate the agony of Abraham as he straps his young son to the altar on Mount Moriah to some common experience of life? What human endeavor could ever match such a passionate story? Or  how many teachers have attempted to relate their own baptism to the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River? Even those of us who have been privileged to baptize and be baptized in the Jordan know the vast difference between our experience and that of Christ. We did not have the heavens open and hear God affirm our identity. There was no dove descending from above in my experience.

Now I sit with the amazing picture of Christ's transfiguration in Luke 9 before me. To what does this relate? I know many messages have been preached about descending from a mountaintop experience into the valley below for service. That is a valid point and well deserving our consideration, but to minimize this beautiful story to that is to trivialize the scene.  Other passages may be used for similar application without doing harm to those texts. 

No, I believe some texts are worthy of pondering without the need of reducing them to daily applications. The Red Sea parting before the Israelites is so much bigger than just God providing a convenient parking spot at a crowded mall. The betrayal of Judas is much more than a harsh word written about you on someone's Facebook post. We need not reduce the picture Jesus paints of the impossibility of a camel passing through the eye of a needle to the necessity of such an animal dropping to its knees and crawling through a small city gate. No, the ridiculousness of the word picture leads to Christ's statement that "what is impossible with man is a possibility with God." (Matthew 19:26)  

So ponder the glory of Christ's garments glowing whiter and purer than any launderer on earth could achieve. Meditate on two prophets from the Old Testament appearing within a rock's throw to speak to their Creator and their Redeemer of His death. Now wait and listen to the voice of the Father as He affirms His Son from heaven where Moses and Elijah had only recently departed and where Jesus will soon return. 

Some things are far too great for us to cover with the cloak of common application. Some events should remain uncovered so we may see the brilliant light of God's glory before us.   


The Length People Go to Deny Jesus

 

James ossuaryThe lengths people will go to ignore Jesus, or even deny His existence, is obvious in the case of the much debated and examined ossuary with the inscription, "James, son of Joseph,brother of Jesus.".

An ossuary is a stone box with lid used in Israel for centuries to collect the bones of the deceased. After the body was buried and decomposed the bones were gathered and placed in an ossuary. The inscription of the name of the person was engraved on the outside. This was necessary because often these boxed were kept with the bone boxes of other members of the extended family.

 Genesis 50:25 (NKJV)
25  Then Joseph took an oath from the children of Israel, saying, "God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here." 
 

1 Kings 13:31 (NKJV)
31  So it was, after he had buried him, that he spoke to his sons, saying, "When I am dead, then bury me in the tomb where the man of God is buried; lay my bones beside his bones. 

This particular bone box was first reported in the Biblical Archaeology Review in 2002. Immediately detractors began to claim it was a forgery. In 2005 forgery charges were brought against the owner. The trial lasted 7 years. If it were found to be genuine, it is the oldest written reference to Jesus. The trial ended with the acquittal of the owner. Case over. Right?

Those who still wish to deny the ossuary's authenticity have formed a committee of their own. They have assembled a committee of "experts" to determine its authenticity for themselves. The committee's report admitted that it had chosen some members who had "expressed an opinion on the subject." Closer scrutiny reveals that these members had already expressed outspoken opinions to the effect that the inscription was a forgery.

Why such aggressive attacks against the "realness" of the box. In my opinion the answer is simple enough; to remove another evidence of the most important and controversial person in history: Jesus Christ, the Son of God. How adamant would the opposition have been if the name were some obscure first century politician or wealthy citizen? What if it were a Roman senator? Would there be such an effort to discredit it or it's owner? I don't think so. When the name of Jesus is mentioned there is always controversy. The truth is those who hide in the disciplines of science have free reign to obscure and deny the existence of God in the publications of their own making. However, when God makes an unannounced visit into their own well guarded world, they rush to discredit His reality.

So what did the biased committee determine concerning the authenticity of the limestone box containing the name of Jesus, His brother and earthly father? In the end, the committee members unanimously agreed that the ossuary inscription is a forgery. To quote Gomer Pyle, USMC, "Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!" The length the world will go to deny Jesus has no limitations. However, they may take heed to the words of the One they wish to ignore:

 Luke 12:8-9 (NKJV)
8  "Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God.
9  But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.      

Enough said. We'll talk again soon.  


A New Vision for Dallas Bay

I like to think of myself as creative and innovative. The truth is I'm often just a first adopter in our community. Leading a church in a suburb of a mid-sized American city in the south it isn't hard to look creative. A one-eyed man in the land of the blind is king. So several years we were one of the first to open a satellite church a few miles from our main campus. We weren't the first to do this in our city, but there weren't many others. So it was exciting and new for many of our people. Just like any church, however, we had a few who were against it from the start.

Too make a painfully long story surprisingly short; it didn't work out. Today it is in the hands of a commercial realtor waiting for the right buyer. Just because others were doing it didn't make it right for us. We had some great things happen there. There were people saved and baptized. We ministered to the homeless. I know of even one couple who met there and today they are married. The Lord knows I hate to fail at anything but the experience, for the most part, just didn't work.

Randy Pope had bigger dreams for church expansion than I did. Randy is the pastor of Perimeter Church in North Atlanta. He had plans to plant hundreds of campuses in Atlanta. After successfully starting 4 in the city he invited an expert to speak to his staff. This expert gave an overall plan that would help them begin more than a hundred new sites in Atlanta. While the staff became energized by the vision Randy had a check in his spirit. Speaking to the advisor after the presentation he said: "Carl, what you have described is way ahead of its time. I predict it will be widely used one day. But not at Perimeter."  The pastor went on to say: "I could see where this vision would lead us, and I came to a sudden realization: we couldn't let that happen to our church."

Here are a couple of reasons Pastor Pope chose not to continue the multisite approach.

1. We are called pastor-teachers because we pastor in a significant way through our teaching. If the leader isn't preaching, and the preacher isn't leading, there's a serious disconnect. 

2. God calls each congregation in each specific location to engage the gates of hell in specific ways. When the message doesn't address the specific needs of the local congregation a lot of the impact of the spoken word is lost. As a pastor of a multi-campus ministry, dispensing a message from a distance to outlying congregations that need to engage their specific gates of hell, I am absent. My leadership is not available as needed in each local site. 

Randy doesn't criticize those who have chosen this model, but warns of the dangers stated above. He advises : I certainly wouldn't ask pastors of multi-campus churches to dismantle their structures. Instead, I'd ask them to consider why they're using that model and what is being produced."

I have come to conclude that our objective isn't to increase the numbers of our congregations, but to enlarge the number of inductees into the kingdom of heaven. We should encourage kingdom growth whether it swells the membership of our local churches or not. Soon I will be introducing a strategy at Dallas Bay to grow the kingdom through the formation of house churches in Chattanooga. Attendees at these gatherings may never grace the campus of our church. They may never grow larger than someone's home can contain. The make-up of these churches will probably be different than the homogenous look of the church I attend and serve. They may reflect people from Asia, Europe, South America and beyond. My prayer is that the result will be groups of believers that will reflect more the way we will spend eternity than the brief time we have here to be His witnesses.

I'll let you know as soon as I have a clearer vision of what God is laying on my heart. Until then pray with me that God will lay this burden on the hearts of others and the the Lord of the harvest will send forth workers. Talk to you soon!         


Who is that Man in the Mirror and What did He do with my Hair?

As I sat looking at the charcoal grey apron pinned around my neck covering my form down past my knees I noticed a stark contrast. Locks of nearly white hair lay against the dark vinyl apron. It had been a couple of months since my last haircut and my hair was both noticeably whiter and thinner. How could this be? My father is 86 and his hair isn't this white. It isn't white at all. My brother is four years my senior and his hair isn't white either. What gives?

Sunday morning before services began my grandson Graeme grabbed his Poppy's hand to lead me on our stroll through the worship center and out a side door. It's a tradition that was started as soon as he was able to walk without assistance. When we finished our circuit I handed him off to "Howie." She is known to everyone but her grandson as Marilyn, my wife. I quickly returned to the worship center to glad hand as many visitors as possible before the service officially began. Shaking hands with one sweet lady I listened as she remarked, "I remember when my grandchild was that small. Just las week I sent him off to college." After sarcastically thanking her for her uplifting words I grimaced as a flashback of carrying Graeme's dad through the worship center suddenly invaded my thoughts. It seemed like just yesterday I was introducing him as our precious baby boy. Now I was introducing his son as my grand baby. What gives?

Can time pass so quickly and exact such a toll on our appearance without our notice. One day I'm sitting in a hospital waiting room listening as one of my members is trying to convince someone that I am old enough to be his pastor, and the next I am trying to convince myself I am not too old to be relevant. It all seems to have happened overnight.  It truly is as James wrote "What is your life? It is but a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away." So true! So true!

So here's the question I'm asking myself; "Do I have any less time to be productive than I did when I was twenty years old?" Do I need to write of many of my hopes and dreams as unattainable since I have reached my late fifties? Actually, after some reflection, I have determined I have the same amount of time I had as a young man; I have this moment. No more and no less. No one is promised tomorrow. No age is exempt from hardship, tragedy or death. All of us, regardless of our age, have a purpose and a reason for being. So I'm glad God is highlighting my hair. Lots of people pay good money to have someone far less capable do that. And so what if my hair is thinning. It couldn't happen at a better time; bald is cool again.        


Affirmation and Opposition: Two Indicators of Positive Change

After Sunday's third service I was blessed to meet so many new families visiting Dallas Bay for the first time. Their wonderful comments encouraged me once again confirming we are following the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Unsolicited affirmation is a great way for anyone following Christ to measure if they are fulfilling their God given purpose. Ironically, another is unexpected appearances of the enemy. I believe the only people, or Christian churches, that aren't opposed by Satan are those that are simply not threatening to reclaim enemy ground. This leads me to Sunday's last meet and greet.

As I worked around the coffee shop spending time with one great family after another, one man stood in the corner apparently waiting his turn to speak to me. After everyone, except myself and the deacon of the week, had left I approached the man to shake his hand. Immediately I could tell something was bothering him. He quickly informed me that he had waited to show me a video on his wife's phone. The man was visibly shaken. He told me he had watched it only once and would not watch it again. He even walked out of the room and into the hallway as he handed me the phone. Since I have not asked the man's permission I cannot tell you what the video revealed. I can only tell you that it was the creepiest thing I have ever seen. It was a clear manifestation of the demonic.

After watching the video I called the man back into the room. His first question to me was, "preacher, what do I do?" After asking some clarifying questions I told him that he needed to take control in the name of Jesus. Jesus has told us that He has been given "all authority in heaven and on earth" and that He had invested that authority into His followers. I'm not sure if the man did that or not, but I haven't  heard anything from him since Sunday.

I know the story is vague but let me assure you if I told you everything you may be sleeping with the lights on tonight. The point is this; Satan will attempt to frighten, confuse, or distract believers who are serious about their faith. The key word is attempt. He has no control over us except that which we give to him. I remember my former mentor telling a story of a late night demonic visitor. He had traveled to another city to preach a series of revival meetings. That Saturday evening an evil spirit sat upon his chest as he lay down in his motel room to sleep. He quickly rebuked it in the name of Jesus and the pressure on his chest was gone. However, activity continued in his room. As items were moved and as eery sounds emanated from the darkness, the preacher simply stated, "You can entertain me all night if you want, but you can't scare me." The activity ceased. The week was a great success in which the Lord delivered many in that church from the darkness into the light.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that "we do not wrestle with flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (Ephesians 6:12) This is the norm for a believer. Spiritual opposition is an indicator that you are being used by God to peel back the darkness and let His light shine through. 


Watch!

I'm spending much of my study time as of late preparing for the series "Timeless" that begins this Sunday. The messages look at the past, present and future through God's eternal eyes. It's not really a study in prophecy, although prophecy is a part of it. So the study got me to thinking about the events that are before us as believers. Here are some of my thoughts:

The Pentateuch, first five books of the Bible for you Gentiles, predicts that the Messiah will return after the Jewish people return to the land after being disbursed around the world.  (Deut. 30:1 - 3) Jewish people began returning in mass after Israel was reborn as a nation on May 14, 1948. Jesus concurred in His teaching when He declared that in the last days Jewish people in Jerusalem would be surrounded by their enemies. (Luke 21:20)

If we are to understand a generation to be 70 to 80 years in duration (Psalm 98:10) then the statement by Jesus in Matthew 24:34 must make us stop and think. 

Matthew 24:34 (NKJV)
34  Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.
 

He was referring to the generation that would experience the restoration of the Jewish state. The time would be near if we began the dating to the re-establishment of Israel in 1948 or even the control of Jerusalem by Israel which took place in 1967. The first date would place the Lord's return from 2 to 12 years in the future. The second date would place His return as early as 21 years down the road. If you believe as many believe that 7 years of tribulation occurs before His return then His return could be very near indeed.

We know that no one can predict the time of the Lord's return. He warned His disciples of setting dates:

Mark 13:32 (NKJV)
32  "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Future events are better understood once they become past events. The birth and death of Jesus are classic examples. However, the Bible did foretell both happenings. The Bible has more to say about the next appearance of Christ than all other events combined. Certainly we will not know the moment but we are encouraged to be ready when it occurs. So it would serve us all well to heed Christ's words:

Mark 13:35-37 (NKJV)
35  Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming--in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning-- 36  lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. 37  And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!"


My Prayer for the Families of the Victims of 7/16 in Chattanooga

It's been one week since the tragic shootings in Chattanooga. One day Chattanooga is known as the best mid-sized town in America and the next we are known for a horrible violent event. One week later we know a little more about what transpired last Thursday, but we still don't know for certain why. There is one thing for sure, it has left a lot of hurting people in it's wake.

I struggled Sunday how much of the service to dedicate to the news. Should we scrap the planned service and dedicate it to the tragedy? Should I hold a prayer service only and then dismiss? I knew it would not be right to dismiss it altogether. I decided on making it the  priority of the morning but not to dedicate the entirety of the message or the service. Not everyone agreed with the decision I made and I am good with that. I decided to make it a priority by dedicating the first part of my message in the first two services and beginning the third and final service with prayer and Scripture reading.

Our media assistant excerpted those seven minutes of the third service and placed it on our church Facebook page. The video has been viewed over 2,100 times. Rather than me write my thoughts again one week later I am linking to those seven minutes here. I wouldn't say it any different if I were to have the opportunity again.

 https://video-atl1-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hvideo-xtp1/v/t42.1790-2/11756174_869654683083490_2147187508_n.mp4?efg=eyJybHIiOjQwNSwicmxhIjoxNzc3fQ%3D%3D&rl=405&vabr=225&oh=a9d64d4be8ce964e8bfec7ed03e67b25&oe=55B0F612


The Ultimate Deliverance from Evil

Today I have the privilege of participating in a memorial service for a young man who was a member of our fellowship. While I am 20 years his senior he was one of those guys I regret I didn't make an effort to get to know better. It would have been an honor to call him my friend.

Just over a year ago he was diagnosed with a disease that would eventually take his life. I kept up with his situation through members of his small group and prayer requests that gave a regular update as to his condition. On a couple of occasions I was able to pray with him and his wife personally. Every time I was so impressed with his courage and positive spirit. Last week my wife and I visited  him and his wife in the hospital. Once again I left  his room with my spirits lifted. I rejoiced when I heard was doing better over the next couple of days. I even commented to someone Sunday at church how much better he was doing. Then just after getting home from church I received word that this courageous young man had died.

I was taken back by my immediate gut reaction: anger. I felt angry toward God. This guy was a good husband and father. He loved God and was faithful to His church. Why? Why did God not spare this guy and allow him many more years with his family? Especially since there are so many men out there who don't care about God or doing what is right; they don't cherish their wives or their kids; yet they seem almost indestructible. If God can heal and deliver, and I've seen Him do both, why wasn't this guy a candidate?Then I met with his wife.

She sat in my office and described the positive attitude her husband kept during the whole ordeal. He did not believe in giving up or giving in. She described how his prayers were for God's will to be done and how even in his dying moments there was a smile on his face. While she spoke the Spirit brought a scripture back to my mind. I had heard Zig Ziglar quote this verse many times and tell how it brought peace to his heart at the death of his daughter. Here it is:

"The righteous perish, and no one ponders in his heart, devout men are taken away and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death." Isaiah 57: 1 - 2 (NIV) 

God, who as Creator is not confined by space or time, sees what lies ahead. We cannot. He knows what waits for His children tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. God, who loves His children so much that He died for them, mercifully calls them home from evil that we cannot see. Death becomes the ultimate rescue from pain. It is impossible for us to see that with finite eyes. We have to accept it by faith.      

 I have a new task to add to my long to-do list when I get to heaven. I want to thank this young man for teaching his pastor about faith and courage. I want to let him know what a blessing he was to me in his suffering and even more the way he faced life's final battle. It's the least I can do. 


The Light at the End of the Tunnel

I am weary of trying not to offend others. I have come to conclude that is a burden I have not been called to carry. So I lay it down.

I have been asking myself how we got to where we are. I believe it is to some degree due to governmental policies and Supreme Court rulings. But these things have not happened in a vacuum.

A nation that was forged by and founded on Biblical truths and divine absolutes has declined to such an extent that its citizens have discarded such ideas as primitive and superstitious. What is retained of God's standards of morality are reduced to what is socially palatable and politically correct. "Everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes." (Judges 21:25

All the while the majority of Christ followers in America have enjoyed the benefits of our founding father's prayers and sacrifice while offering neither of our own. We have fiddled while Rome has burned. Now we point fingers at others and appeal to God to return us to the environment we once enjoyed where we can be comfortable and complacent again.

The church has become impotent by forsaking the source of her power in exchange for tolerance by a society that is increasingly hesitant to be so. We have traded the bold and confrontational truths of God's Word for a desire to fill our houses of worship with people who do not pray, do not tithe, do not witness and are unwilling to commit. We have, by our desire to be tolerated, lost our seat at the table.

The light at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train. It is the reality that the church was birthed and thrived in contention and public opposition. Early believers were forced to live out their faith or defect. The truth is that the church in America has lagged behind His followers in other countries in powerfully changing lives for decades now. God is moving in supernatural ways in places where He is least tolerated. He is radically transforming individuals, families and villages where persecution of His children is certain. If opposition is what it takes to make the church in America a force to be reckoned with again then the best days may yet be ahead of us.    


God and Evil

Of all the worthwhile charities out there today I know of just one that people universally support; St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. I don't mean to say that everyone financially supports the hospital, but I have never heard anyone publicly rant and rave that the organization is crooked or the whole thing is just a scam to rip people off. Why do you think that is?

For one, they have given no reason to make such accusations. Not only was our son one of their patients; he also worked for them right out of college. So I know first hand that they are honest and spend the vast majority of donations to make sick kids better.

Secondly, children who are ill is a universal concern and anyone who is actively engaged in making them better is widely supported. The underlying motivation is that we all hate to see children suffer. Which brings me to the reason for this post. The opposition to faith in God I encounter most often from unbelievers is the question of a good God and human suffering. How can the coexist?

No follower of Christ should ever consider this just a smokescreen used to avoid committing ones self to Christ by faith. It is a legitimate question not to be taken lightly. I've presided over too many graveside services of young children. I've left the hospital sick with emptiness after watching a mom stubbornly lose her fight for life to think this is a diversion. I have had to struggle with it myself.

What I have concluded has come from study, personal experience and observation. My wife and I experienced an unexplainable peace the night our son was diagnosed with cancer. I have talked with parents who have experienced that same peace even after death took their child away. What I have come to realize is that God does not alleviate all our pain or even remove us from the horrible consequences of evil. That is the issue I have never been able to settle. God does not remove His followers from the consequences of sin in a fallen world. If I am allowed to ask Him someday I certainly will.

However, one truth I have learned. He does not desert us in our pain. He may not eradicate evil from the world, but neither does He leave us to face it alone. I have known Him in the hospital room. I have felt His presence at the cemetery. I have watched Him dry the eyes of a crying child. In a sense, we are never closer to God than when we are in trouble or in pain. I have observed those who have neglected or rejected His love in good times embrace Him in their pain. Even after long periods of silence and tears He has broken through the darkness when those tears have achieved their divine purpose; to make us thirsty for His presence.

So I have learned that the reality evil does not obscure God. It is His invitation to know Him better. If it were not for pain we may have no need for Him. So many who try and alleviate the pain through drugs, experiences or isolation also miss an appointment with God. The substance or experience become a poor substitute for meeting with the Almighty.

So while I cannot explain why a good God allows evil and pain. I am eternally thankful He does not leave me to face them alone.