Taylor Swift and the Providence of God

Not sure exactly how I ended up with Taylor and providence in the same sentence, but I think it started last night when Jeana, my beloved, told me that she read somewhere that Taylor Swift, God bless her, has made a million dollars a day since the first of this year. That is some serious smackeroo. 

I have to admit I felt the subconscious stirrings of a base envy. Wouldn’t THAT be nice, I mumbled to myself. Not to ever have to worry about feeding the family or paying the bills. But then I stopped. I remembered how God has proved himself real to me so many times by providing for my family and me miraculously. He did so again just this weekend. I asked God for provision–significant provision–Friday morning and he arranged it by the afternoon. Astonishing. And that is just one more in a looooooong list of miracles that God has worked just since the first of this year, the same time frame that our good sister Taylor was cashing the big checks. So while she may not have to worry, neither does she see the glory–the daily divine providence that comes in almost hilarious ways as direct answers to prayer. While I would like to have the big bucks, and maybe someday God will be pleased to let me, I think for now I would rather have God prove that he has my back every day. 

God has made himself real to me on a daily basis, and there is no way to put a dollar value on that. 

“Our Father…give us this day our daily bread.” 

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Hello, Wordshare! 

Love you guys! Praying a blessing on you, your families and churches. 

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Separation

Separation from the world is essential to Christian holiness. Yet true separation-holiness is defined by the the Holy One. Separation that does not flow from the Spirit of God through the Scriptures is not separation from the world at all. It is worldly separation, separation defined by religious tradition. And religious tradition is the worst sort of worldliness in the world.

The call to “come out from among her and be separate” is a call to come out of manmade-religion, whether pagan idolatry, Judaistic legalism or modern Christian tradition. Are you willing to be separate from the world? Then you must start by being willing to be separate from your religion. 

Are you willing to come out and follow Jesus? 

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The Good Samaritan Retold

A fellow was driving through West Texas along a deserted two-lane highway. Seems like he was somewhere out on the other side of Odessa, if I remember right. It was hot and dry and so dusty he felt like he was breathing face down in a sandbox. Through a shimmering haze rising from the melting roadway, he saw what looked like a small car stalled out beside the road about a half mile away. As he got closer and slowed down a bit, he could see that a flat tire was the problem.

Standing at the back of the car, with the trunk lid lifted and stuff scattered all over from bags and blankets was a young mother, trying her best to excavate the spare. She looked to be in her early twenties, college-age, maybe. Looked like she had three or four kids in the car, he couldn’t tell for sure. But he could see at least two little heads sticking up from car seats in the back and another little one or more climbing around in the middle.

His first impulse was what anybody would do–pull over and help her. But just then she turned around, and he got a good look at her. She was a pretty girl–real pretty, in fact–but she looked a little rough. Her shorts were real tight, real short, and her shirt barely covered anything. He quickly averted his eyes lest he sin and started wrestling with his conscience. On the one hand, he wanted to help this woman stuck out here all by herself. That just seemed like the right thing to do. But there was no doubt–no doubt at all, his quickening heartbeat told him–that she was the kind of woman that he, a good Christian man, and a happily married one, at that, should avoid at all costs. In fact, with him being a fairly attractive fellow as well, he reminded himself, he wasn’t really sure if something inappropriate might happen. Lord have mercy.

The wrestling match heated up. And then the tattoos did it, and his conscience was down for the count. When he saw the skin graffiti running up her arms and across her back–and he thought for moment that he might have even seen a little one peeking out of the back of her shorts–he knew what the Lord would have him to do. “Flee fornication!” he shouted out loud, as he gunned the engine and sped by in a terrified, but pious hurry.

The little woman stood mouth slightly agape for a moment as she saw her only hope for help vanish over the horizon. She cursed freely for a bit, confirming that fine Christian gentleman’s worst suspicions, yelled at the kids to “get the perdition back in the car and set down for two eternally lost seconds, please!”–though I should probably be frank and tell you that she didn’t actually say “perdition” and “eternally lost.” She chose a more colorful way of saying it that my pastoral discretion will not allow me to repeat. Unless I am quoting scripture, of course.

Anyway, he was gone, and she was mad. Real mad. And then, I’ll be, if out of the east she didn’t hear the sound of another vehicle coming her way. She stopped pulling on the blankets in the trunk and started waving at the approaching Ford F-250 that looked like it just drove out of an oilfield. It may have been red, or even orange, at one point in its life, but she couldn’t tell for sure from all the West Texas caliche painting it a sort of dull, lifeless gray. She waved furiously at the friendly looking fellow peering at her through the front glass, and then sighed in relief with an uncharacteristic, “O, thank God!” which seems to say that she did have some good left in her, as he slowed and started pulling over.

As he climbed slowly from the cab of his pickup truck she ran toward him gushing with gratitude that help had finally come. She noticed the Christian fish on his window and a Bible slung up on the dash. He had a WWJD wristband and a belt buckle the size of El Paso that proclaimed in graven gilt: “J-E-S-U-S.” She knew now that he was a good man who would help her. At least, that’s what she thought. It didn’t take long to lose that notion.

Here’s what happened. Tommy–for that was the man’s name–had been praying just that morning for the Lord to open him a door to reach some lost soul today. He climbed out of the truck ready to save a soul. He saw the flat tire, but it was only a blur on the edge of his singleminded vision. This woman was on her way to hell, taking her children along, no doubt, and Tommy meant to save ’em all. And by the look of her–Tommy now saw for the first time–she needed it bad. Real bad.

Tommy stopped just at the back edge of her disabled chariot and turned to look at her with a heavy anointing starting to rise upon him. She was still prattling on, so glad to have a kind stranger stop to help, totally unaware that she was about to be hit with a tsunami of right-minded soul salvation. Tommy sucked in a deep breath and let her have it.

“Young woman,” he said, through slightly gritted teeth, “do you know the Savior?” Her eyes widened a bit, and she laughed a nervous little laugh. “Who?” she asked. “The Savior?” she said, her voice slipping a few notes higher as a twinge of fear flickered behind her eyes. “Is this guy a lunatic?” she wondered to herself. “Is he joking? Since he stopped to help, does he mean that he is the Savior?” All of this, and thousand other wild thoughts bounced around in her head.

Tommy repeated the question, stepping just a little closer and lowering his voice for dramatic, Billy Graham effect. “Do you know the Savior?” The tatted tart froze. Dead still. She looked at him, eyes narrowed, and then she got it. This man had come to save her soul, and, banish it all to the place of eternal torment, all she wanted was her tire changed. “Excrement!” she said, though I am once again applying pastoral license, “I don’t care about the Savior! I just want my eternally lost tire changed!” She was–you may have noticed–getting mad again. And when this one got mad, as a dozen boyfriends could attest from painful personal experience, she could get really mean. Most certainly needed Jesus. Tommy was right about that.

What he didn’t expect, though, was that she would speak to him of this and that, interesting things about his parentage, stuff about his mama that, frankly, he had never heard before. She told him in a most earnest and forthright manner what he could do with himself and every other person, apparently, on this side of the Brazos River. She dressed Tommy down for the next five minutes in a way that he, with long experience in the oil field, had never heard before.

Tommy was shocked. And then he was saddened. All he meant to do was to stop out here in the hot West Texas sun and save this little offscouring of society from an even hotter place. “Some people just don’t care if they go to hell,” Tommy thought. “In fact,” he went on, now thinking out loud, “some people surely deserve to go there. No wonder God created a place of eternal fire and damnation! For people just like you!” Now Tommy was mad, but his was a righteous indignation. “Alright then,” he said, ” you can just go to hell!” But we must point out that he said it in a good Christian way. God love him.

Tommy turned and stomped back toward his truck muttering mightily about sinners in the hands of an angry God. He reached for the handle of his door, and then ducked as a shoe or sandal or some sort of wicked footwear bounced off his windshield just to the north of his head. “Jesus loves you!” he yelled over his super-sized, aftermarket side mirror and climbed into his air-conditioned truck. He squealed tires, peeled gravel and laid rubber for a half mile down the road. Like Jehu, he drove furiously to execute the vengeance of the Lord.

The little woman stood there in a daze. Her emotions veered wildly from hilarity to outrage to dumbfounded incredulity and back again. She cussed, she laughed, then just stood there staring off in the distance like a pixie troll turned to stone at the first light of dawn. “Unbelievable,” she thought, and turned back to start on the trunk again.

She didn’t even turn around this time when she heard it coming. Sounded like another tarnation-ed truck with an overcompensating Cummins diesel and and jack-donkey-ed oil rig evangelist, and she didn’t want no more of that. Again, her sentiments are pastor-scrubbed for the children and our wonderful but sensitive sisters in the Lord. Yes and amen.

Anyway, she wasn’t going to get her hopes up this time, so she didn’t even look around when she heard the truck stop and boots crunching on the gravel. She stiffened slightly when she heard a smooth voice with an exotic, British-sort-of accent ask, “Having trouble with your tyre?” She turned slowly and raised up ominously from the trunk ready to skewer him in exasperation for stating the obvious. Just as she was about to release a blue volley of epic proportions, the curses froze on her lips. Her eyes locked on his for a moment. Dark, brooding eyes that looked like they could be either very friendly or very dangerous. Her gaze then drifted upward to the turban that wrapped his head, and then down to the robes that draped over the sport coat and jeans that ended at a pair of handcrafted Leddy’s boots. She didn’t actually know that they were Leddy’s, but I felt that point should be emphasized. He was an amazing, yet terrifying blend of the Middle East, West Texas and the British Empire all at once.

“Of all people to stop, this has got to be the worst!” she thought, as a silent desperation started rising in her belly. “He will probably kidnap me, abuse me for days and then sell me and my children into slavery somewhere in Saudi Arabia.” Her knees felt weak. Her sweat-soaked body went cold, and she thought she would pass out right here, right now, in front of God and this cowboy-booted terrorist. She closed her eyes and waited for the worst. She heard him say, “Miss?” A pause. “Everything ok, miss?” She slowly opened one eye. Then the other. He was smiling in a quizzical, almost goofy sort of way. You have to wonder if he had seen this reaction before. 

“Ma’am,” he said, speaking in his best bilingual Texas drawl, “do you need help changing your tire?” Took her a second to speak, since she was trying to process the fact that this turban-headed foreigner didn’t seem to be preparing his scimitar and duct tape. She drew a deep breath, stepped back one step, and attempted to speak. “Yes,” she croaked, “I need help with my tire.” That epic speech concluded, she relapsed into a timid but encouraged silence. “Do you have a jack and a spare?” he asked. “Apparently not,” she squeaked. And then, gathering up astonishing courage, she told him the sad, sad story.

The car was borrowed. The tires were exhausted with life. The road was rough, and the rubber parted. A blowout ensued, which scared the bejeebers out of her and the children, and once she finally got the careening vessel safely stopped, she emerged from the near-wreckage to find that the spare was missing and all other tools were doubtless in hock. But she said all of that with fewer and finer words, words that would have made Jack Nicholson proud. The man that was “not from ’round here, ar ya?” laughed out loud. He laughed until he leaned against the side of the car, wiping tears from his eyes. “You are amazing!” he wheezed and gasped. “You are truly amazing!”

The little woman smiled an uncertain smile. She wasn’t sure exactly why he was laughing, but laughter was certainly better than murder. The foreigner wiped his eyes, and introduced himself. “I am Ahmed, but my friends out here call me Joe. Not sure why, but they do. And you are?”

After introductions were made, Ahmed–AKA., Joe–helped her rummage one more time through the trunk to see if that spare had sprouted in the interim. It had not, and her foreign friend checked undeneath as well just to be sure. Nothing there. So, the man from sandy river took her and her kids into town, where he rented them a suite at the Holiday Inn, arranged for a tow truck to haul the little car into town and paid to have new tires put on all around. He bought them dinner and covered every expense expecting nothing in return. When the tatted tart and all her children of the different last names–turns out there were four of them–finally turned in for the night, the mysterious stranger departed into the sunset certain that all the little family’s needs were met. For he left his American Express on file with the manager.

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You Can Be Led By the Spirit

HOLY-SPIRIT-191606_630x298Ask three people what it means to be “led by the Spirit,” and you will get five different opinions. For many, to be led by the Spirit simply means to get in tune with our random impulses and sanctify every emotional urge with “the Lord led me” to do this, that or a dozen other things. And while it is true that being led by the Spirit includes being sensitive to the voice of Christ within, being led really is much more practical than that–and more wonderful than that at the same time.

The idea of “being led by the Spirit” comes from Romans 8:14 where Paul said: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Paul’s direct reference is how we as a new Israel are led by the Spirit into a new exodus that takes us out of slavery into sonship. We are led by the Spirit from attempting to live righteously because we are commanded to do so to living righteously because we desire to do so. We are led by the Spirit, the Holy Spirit that dwells within our human spirit and prompts our heart to live right willingly–free will-y, as it were. That is the entire point of Romans 8.

That is the theology of “being led by the Spirit.” But how do we live out “being led” in daily life? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Read your Bible. The Scriptures are God-breathed, and if you want to be led by the Spirit, you must hear what the Spirit is saying through the Word of God. The words of Scripture are the vocabulary of the Holy Spirit. Read, and he will speak.

2. Pray every day, all day. Keep an ongoing conversation with the Holy Spirit. Prayer allows the Holy Spirit to sort out our motives and renew our mind to think the thoughts of Christ as we meditate on Scripture. Prayer wrestles with our will and submits it to God. We are led by the Spirit as we pray in the Spirit.

3. Gather and talk. When we gather with the people of God, we are led by the Spirit at work in the body of Christ. The Spirit at work in the church speaks to us through the teaching of the Word and the shared counsel of others who are living the same life we are. Talk about your decisions with others who share your faith.

4. Stop, look and listen. When we develop the daily habit of reading the Bible, praying and taking seriously the input of other believers, we can then safely trust ourselves to hear the voice of the Spirit within. The inner voice that we hear will not be merely our own desires masked as the will of God. Reading through the Word, sorting out our motives in prayer, receiving wise counsel from others–all of this trains our inner ear to discern the voice of our Shepherd when he speaks.

That is a good start on being led by the Spirit.

Want to go a bit deeper? Check this out.

As I noted above, the background to Paul’s teaching on being led by the Spirit in Romans 8 is the exodus of Israel from the Old Covenant law to the New Covenant of Spirit-led life in Christ. When Paul talks about being led by the Spirit, he means specifically that we must be willing to cross over the sea from the flesh into the Spirit where we are no longer led by the rules and regulations of the law and are led by the direction of the Spirit. Slaves are told what to do; sons are advised as they figure out what to do. Slaves are commanded; sons are counseled.

Jesus spoke about being led like this in John 14 and 15. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete, which is Greek (parakletos) for “guide” or “helper.” These days we might call the Paraclete the ultimate “life coach.” Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to come alongside us and guide us through the rugged terrain of life. He promised to guide us into all truth.

The Paraclete is also described by John the apostle as our defense attorney who rises to stand by our side in court and offer the astounding defense that Jesus has already paid the penalty for our crime. (1 John 2)

In Galatians 4 and 5, Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete guiding a young son into maturity. The ultimate goal of Christian maturity is to “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). A son, though he is an heir, is no different from a slave as long as he remains under the tutelage of an appointed guardian. But when he reaches majority and maturity, the guardian that once cracked his knuckles now walks alongside and advises him respectfully. The young son who once struggled to match his stride with the guardian now walks in step with his teacher. The teacher has now become his counselor.

This is how the Spirit works. The law of God was our guardian commanding us to obey the will of our Father. But now, in Christ, the Holy Spirit has become our counselor, teaching us as we walk alongside and seek his direction. But now, the decisions are up to the son. He must do what is right because he understands it and loves it. The law of God is written on the heart.

The Spirit leads us just as he fills us—from the inside out. As we keep in step with the Spirit, the Spirit provokes our emotions through conviction and love. As our emotions are stirred by the Spirit, our heart is softened and our neck is loosened. Our will surrenders to what is right as the Spirit teaches us the will and wisdom of God. Then, as the Spirit softens our will, our mind begins to open to the revelation of the Spirit as he teaches us the wisdom of God. He lays it all out and then offers us the choice to obey or insist on our own way. Because our emotions are engaged, our will is surrendered and our mind is now being renewed in Christ, we can make the decision to do what is right because we have internalized and externalized the wisdom of God. This is word made flesh, and it is how we fulfill the law by the Spirit.

This is what it means to be led by the Spirit.

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Wash Your Mouth

Had a great conversation this morning at breakfast with Tim Rivers. We were talking about the way God sees us and the way he wants us to see ourselves–as created in the image of God. Tim mentioned this video, one of several in an amazing series of videos by Dove. Check it out.

Well, well. Seems to me that many of us don’t hesitate to cuss ourselves in ways we would never cuss others. Makes me think of our good brother, James, and his powerful word on our wagging tongue:

“And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” (James 3:6-12)

With our tongue we “curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” Are you a “people” made in the likeness of God? How do think God feels about you bad-mouthing his masterpiece?  James says, “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.” Another way of saying, “Do you eat with that mouth?!” Says James: “My brothers [and sisters], these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?” We cannot spend our days praising God while cursing the offspring of God. You are his child, and he commands you to stop cursing yourself.

Spoken blessing is a well of water that bring health and life. “Life and death is in the power of the tongue.” Open up a well of blessing in your own mouth about your own self. Speak what God says about you, rather than what your enemy says about you. Wash your mouth.

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Communion: A brief introduction

Found this while rummaging through some old notes. A few scattered thoughts on communion that I presented just before we received the Lord’s Supper a few months ago. Looks like I arranged it as a series of questions and answers with random observations elbowing in. 

(Q1) Where did communion come from? How did it get started? What is its history?

Communion was instituted by Jesus on the night before he was crucified. The story of its institution is told in Matthew 26:26-29: 

26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Communion was instituted at the Passover meal, which was the “communion” meal of the Old Covenant. Communion fulfills and replaces the Passover meal. There are some similarities and dissimilarities between the two meals. (Continuity and discontinuity; 1 Corinthians 5) Communion was established as the sacramental meal of the New Covenant. It has profound and eternal significance. More on that below. 

Communion was anticipated long before the night Jesus was betrayed. As noted, communion flows out of the the Passover meal, which was a type of the new covenant meal. But God established the idea of a sacramental meal long before the Passover. God placed eating at the center of worship in the Garden of Eden. Obedience and disobedience revolved around eating: “You may eat of all the trees in the garden except the tree of knowledge.” And when Adam sinned, it was by eating a forbidden meal.

Food was created with deep spiritual significance from the beginning. Eating represents the union of the physical and spiritual realms—“keeping body and soul together.” The body takes in food and converts it to energy, and the spirit remains alive, united with the body. The lack of food causes the separation of spirit and body. Eating is communion: (1) the communion of the body and spirit; and (2) the communion of those eating together—when we eat together we are joined in spiritual union. 

So, God created meals for communion from the beginning. Thus he placed meals at the center of covenantal communion throughout biblical history. From the Garden of Eden to the Lord’s meal with Abram to the covenant meal with the elders of Israel on the mountain to the Passover to the Feasts of Israel to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb…on and on it goes. Meals are communion. 

So when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper just before his death, he took all of that covenantal significance and bound it up in one eternally significant meal—communion. When we eat the Lord’s Supper, we enjoy the union of Spirit and body and we are joined by the Spirit to those with whom we eat. (1 Corinthians 6:12-20)

(Q2) What does Communion mean? What is the significance of the meal? What does it represent?

First of all, communion is done “in remembrance” of Jesus. At communion, we remember that Christ died, was buried and rose again for our salvation. But “remembering” in the Bible is more than just “recalling.” Remembering in the Bible includes the idea of “reenacting.” When we remember the death of Jesus at communion, we relive the moment and reenact its power in the present. In fact, when we “remember” at communion, we pull the past, present and future together in one powerful moment. There are three views from the table: 

(1) We remember the death of Jesus and relive his power to save here and now.

(2) We remember that Christ is joining his body together as one body in the present moment.

(3) We “display his death until he comes,” which means that, in communion, we bring the future coming of the Lord into the present and release the power of the coming resurrection in the here and now. 

Second, communion is a covenant meal. In fact, it is a covenant renewal meal. Jesus said that the cup is the blood of the new covenant. Communion signifies the covenant that God made with Christ as the Seed of Abraham. God promised Christ the inheritance of all the redeemed from the earth and a renewed creation. God entered into covenant with Jesus as the second Adam, and communion is the reenactment and renewal of that covenant. Every time we eat physical bread, we are renewed in the spiritual presence of Christ, which demonstrates objectively that Christ has been given the physical world as his inheritance. The church as the body of Christ is the earnest of that inheritance. 

Communion is also a covenant renewal meal between God and us. When we are baptized into Christ, we are baptized into the covenant faithfulness of God in Christ. When we receive communion, we celebrate the Holy Spirit’s renewal of that covenant—the covenant that God has made by grace through faith apart from our works, the covenant of grace that produces the faithfulness of God in us. Thus, communion is a renewal of God’s covenant with us that he will save us. God made a covenant with Jesus that he will save Christ’s elect and nothing shall prevent him from completing this task. 

(Q3) What does communion do? What actual effect—beyond merely representing something—does it have?

As stated, communion renews covenant. But communion also forms community. When we receive communion, the Holy Spirit makes us one in union with God in Christ and with one another. In communion, we are joined to Christ and we are joined to the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit. 

Communion effects reconciliation. Communion reaches back into the past and activates the power of the Cross to save all who believe, and it reaches into the future to pull a fully redeemed, totally healed world back into the brokenness of the present. Communion creates an intersection of time and space, heaven and earth past and future. (The three views we spoke about earlier.) 

Communion brings all people together on level ground before the cross as the cruciform pivot of all space and time. At communion, Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, men and women, Greeks and barbarians—and today, all races, nationalities, ethnicities, classes, etc. are reconciled in Christ. And communion is the living, visible model and mediation of the ministry of reconciliation. 

This is why Paul was so furious about the “unworthy” celebration of the Lord’s Supper in Corinth. (1 Corinthians 11) The Holy Spirit judged the congregation in Corinth for failing through racial and social division to “discern the Lord’s body” and some were sick and some were dying as a result. 

Communion forms unity and community. The unity of communion is the individual union formed between the believer and Christ and the believer with other believers. We are made one with God and others. The community of communion is the corporate union formed between Christ and the church as the body of Christ. Wherever communion is eaten, the body of Christ is formed. When two or three gather in his name—and Paul makes it clear that we gather to eat communion—Jesus is present. Actually present. And where Jesus is, the church is. And this is just an introduction to understating communion. But now, let’s put this understanding into practice and share the body and blood of Christ. 

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