Salvation Road Part 2

Posted: November 20, 2019 in Meditations
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“Who are you, Lord? he asked. “I am Jesus, whom you persecute,” the voice said. “But get up and go into the city, Where you will be told what you must do.”  Acts 9:5,6

Ginger Baker, the legendary drummer of Cream, passed away this past week. Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, and Eric Clapton produced musical magic fifty years ago that still inspires this old man. A song off the Disraeli Gears album, “We’re Going Wrong’, sticks in my mind. Bruce wrote this song after a spat with his wife. Nothing speaks to resolution, all the energy focuses upon a building frustration. Baker’s drumming senses the seething anger constrained by decorum, the rhythm intense but muted. Measure by measure the intensity builds. Clapton’s lead guitar pulses to Baker’s drums, each feeds the other. Bruce’s bass guitar echoes the whirl of pain unleashed. A fevered pitch captures every fiber of our being as we careen into a journey whose end is undefined. We go because we must; the end doesn’t matter, not as long as the music keeps playing. So often, this is how we live life, not knowing, not understanding. We get swept along in the emotion of circumstance finding no resolution until it is too late. Life has come and gone.

God does the unexpected. Saul had no clue what happened in that moment. “Who are you?” He knew but didn’t know. The Jesus he hated was now Lord. But how? The heroic faith of Christ followers lay suppressed in his mind but now exploded to consciousness. The Scriptures of Messiah must be true. Saul now beheld the glorified Christ. It made sense. In that moment, hate melted, the storm of circumstance stopped. Saul chose Christ. The music went silent. Life would never be the same again. The Apostle Paul speaks out of his own experience when he says to the church at Corinth, “Now remember what you were, my brothers and sisters, when God called you. From the human point of view few of you were wise or powerful or of high social standing. God purposely chose what the world considers nonsense in order to shame the wise, and he chose what the world considers weak in order to shame the powerful. He chose what the world looks down on and despises, and thinks is nothing, in order to destroy what the world thinks is important. This means that no one can boast in God’s presence.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-29

Today many are shocked that Kanye West proclaims the Gospel, stunned by the images of prisoners surrendering to Christ in a Houston jail. God chooses the anointed ones, not us. Wouldn’t it be incredible if revival breaks out in the chaos of the inner cities? I relish the thought of God shocking all of us, and yes, that means me. We see pain, sin beyond description, chaos with no order. God sees purpose, possibilities in every one of us. We, the nameless masses, are desired by God, to work for God, to the glory of God. Every experience good and bad directs us to encounter with God. But will we seize it? We have a choice, Saul had a choice. He seized it, and history was never the same. Now he waits for you, the moment of decision is now.

Salvation Road

Posted: November 19, 2019 in Meditations
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“He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”  Acts 9:1,2

Saul had no idea what was about to happen to himself on the road to Damascus. The great persecution spearheaded by rabbi Saul struck fear in every member of the Church. Many died by his hand, countless others beaten. The full blessing of the Sanhedrin rested upon his bloody cause, the extermination of a cult. Nobody saw the reality of the obsessed zealot’s heart, doubt had wedged a growing rift in Saul’s heart.

Where do you suppose Luke got his account of the stoning of Stephen? Who was there? The Apostle Paul, Luke’s friend and travel companion, told him the story countless times. Paul gave his testimony wherever he went. Paul remembered everything from this dark period. Memories flashed faces that haunted him forever, the lives he destroyed before his conversion. Stephen”s words never left him, the heroic faith of martyrs forever etched in his brain. Saul grappled with a crisis of faith he couldn’t understand before the Damascus road experience. Jesus will soon confront him at the moment of decision. Only then will Saul surrender, only then will the angst within become clear.

I remember my own road to my moment of decision. I was seventeen, felt completely lost, no vision, no feel for my future. But I was a senior in high school and life was pushing me forward ready or not. I grew up in church but none of it connected with my heart. Nobody knew and nobody asked. And why would they? The church was all I knew. Sundays, Wednesdays, every youth activity, I was there. But I was dying a quiet death within. I dropped off a key at the parsonage. Pastor Windle answered the door. Pastor greeted me with the same big smile I saw my entire life. “Phil, if you ever want to talk, please give me a call. I would love to spend some time with you.” I thanked him and left. Did he know what I knew?

A week passed. Pastor’s words kept echoing in my mind. I wanted to talk, I wanted to call. I kept saying, “I’m okay. Not now.” The reality, I was scared stiff. I never opened up to anybody. I didn’t trust myself, I didn’t trust others. Saturday evening came. The church basketball team was playing that night, I knew pastor was going. I called Pastor Windle, my heart pounded. I wanted to talk. Mrs. Windle answered the phone. I asked to be picked up for the game. “Oh Phil, he just pulled out of the driveway. I’m so sorry.” I hung up, disappointed. Another day, I thought. Two hours later, the phone rang. Mom answered. Her tone of voice changed immediately. Pastor was dead. I ran upstairs to my bedroom, shut my door, the tears spilled. “Damn you, God. Damn you to hell.” Little did I know that I was less than a month from my moment of decision, the moment that changed my life forever.

 

 

 

Murder, A Step Away

Posted: November 17, 2019 in Meditations
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Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul”  Acts 7:58

Thus begins the story of the most influential man in church history, The Apostle Paul. Saul was no innocent bystander at Stephen’s execution. He stood as an observer for the Sanhedrin of Jerusalem, the highest religious authority for the Jews. Saul hated Stephen, a follower of The Way, a cult following the teachings of a man named Jesus executed two years earlier. This was just the beginning. Saul envisioned stamping out this blasphemy by any means available. In his own words, “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.” Acts 26:9-12  How did faith in God come to this? Why?

Saul grew up in Tarsus, a city of a half million people on the Mediterranean Sea at the base of the Taurus Mountains. A center of international trade, Saul grew up in a prosperous Jewish family. He spoke Aramaic in his home, spoke Greek in the marketplace,  and studied Hebrew in his religious training. His father sent Saul to Jerusalem as a young teenager to study under the great rabbi Gamaliel, the grandson of Hillel. Saul excelled at everything he put his mind to, he was fast tracking to a position of high leadership in the Jewish community. Mom and Dad had to be proud and deeply satisfied.

Identity shapes men and women. Who am I? What is most important to my life, the lives of others? Saul knew the Scriptures better than I ever will. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Never rely on what you think you know. Remember the Lord in everything you do, and he will show you the right way.” Proverbs 3:5,6  He knew this verse by heart, yet Saul stepped over a line too many of us cross, his belief system overwhelmed the personal relationship with God. His voice replaced God’s voice, all in the name of God. The Jew pursued an identity in God. Too often, especially for a Pharisee, their identity was found in the keeping of the law of Moses. Paul recalled, “I was circumcised when I was a week old. I am an Israelite by birth, of the tribe of Benjamin, a pure-blooded Hebrew. As far as a person can be righteous by obeying the commands of the Law, I was without fault.” Philippians 3:5,6  Purity of faith trumped life itself.

We commit these same sins today. Politics in America fights a zero sum war. The opposition must be destroyed. You must be good or evil – God forbid you have elements of both. Christians bicker over doctrine, question the salvation of sinners, and forget to love their neighbor. “The written law brings death, but the Spirit gives life.” 2 Corinthians 2:6  Who and what reigns in our hearts? Do we denigrate others? Do we elevate ourselves as Christians at the expense of others? We love truth, we pursue it with a whole heart. But objective truth without God kills our ability to love with the love of God. In Saul’s case, it led to murder.

 

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Love, Then Love Again

Posted: November 13, 2019 in Meditations

Protestors dragged church pews, statues of Jesus and other religious iconography out through the doors of the historic building before defacing it

I watched young Antifa thugs gut a Catholic church in Santiago, Chile this past weekend. Dressed in black, individuals carried out statues of saints, the virgin Mary, Jesus Christ – the statue of Christ, beaten, pierced and dead seemed so ironic. Paintings, altars, and finally the pews got stacked in the street atop a rubble of shattered statuary. Doused in gasoline, a march did the rest. Billows of mottled black and gray smoke rose high above the city skyline. None of this hideous act was done in the dark of night. Crowds milled on this street in broad daylight. Nobody raised a hand in protest. Most striking, police were nowhere to be found. As I write, five churches have been destroyed in this past week.

This was a humble church on the poor side of town. Why? Why would protesters attack the dreams and sacrifices of generations of Christians, people who toiled in conditions far worse than those faced by this generation? The selfishness, the lack of respect, the hate – it all boggles my mind. I weep for the parishioners who lost their church, who face the venom of godless persecution. I weep for the Catholic church, the increasing target of hate in the world. I am not Catholic but I am a Christian. I feel the pain of this offense. An attack on the Catholic church is an attack on the Bride of Christ, the greater Church, God’s kingdom on earth.

The blood of martyrs has watered the church throughout history. Jesus warned his disciples early on, “You will endure persecution. Men will hate you, they will revile you because of me.” Even so, Jesus commanded all of us, “But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:44,45 Folks, this is not natural. How does a normal human being react to the senseless destruction of a humble church? Let me indulge myself – I’m mad as hell. I want justice, I want vengeance, I want restitution. And where are the police? I demand an investigation. I demand arrests, convictions, and draconian punishments. My pain demands pain, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a  tooth. That is my flesh. Obviously Christ demands something else.

Jesus said, “If anyone wants to come with me, he must forget self, carry his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his own life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24,25 Don’t waste your time looking for this kind of goodness within yourself. You won’t find it. This kind of love only comes from a full surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit. No, you cannot hold unto the pain. You cannot feed it by any justification. Give it all to Jesus, every drop of pain and bitterness. Only then can wounds be bound, only then can the love of God flow freely. I still marvel at the last words of the martyr Stephen, “Lord! Do not remember this sin against them!” Pray, love, then love again. God will do the rest. God will have his way.

A Divine 911 – Part Two

Posted: November 9, 2019 in Meditations

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Getting to Joe’s house was no problem. I dropped Joe off several times on my way home to Wisconsin the past year. A block away from Joe’s house, I thought, “This is it, we’ll soon find out why I’m here.” And if nobody is home? I honestly can’t remember asking that question. Within seconds that question was irrelevant.

I pulled into the gravel driveway behind Joe’s house. No cars, the place seemed empty. I began to walk the stairs to the back door. The door opened, I looked up. It was Joe. I knew he was in trouble. Have you seen heartbreak, the agony that twists every fiber of your being? That was Joe. He had a huge plastic jar of pills under one arm and a thermos in his hand. Before Joe could say anything, I said, “Joe, God sent me here. He loves you. Don’t do this.” Joe didn’t speak. I continued, “What’s going on?”

Before Joe transferred to Missouri State University, he attended a local community college. A counselor took an interest in Joe – she did her best to help him, encourage him. She gained his trust and Joe survived, perhaps even thrived. Unfortunately, Joe could not discriminate between a professional and personal relationship. The counselor told Joe, “I can no longer see you.” Joe chose suicide rather than live life without her in his life.

“Joe, why would God knock me upside the head to come see you? If God didn’t care about you, why am I here at this precise moment? Joe, I don’t know what God has up his sleeve for you but it must be pretty big.” It took another thirty minutes to talk Joe off the ledge. We went inside. I called his mother who worked as a nurse. In fifteen minutes, she was home. The rest of our time in that kitchen is a blur, so much emotion. I hugged both of them. Mom assured me the situation was under control. I left.

I would love to tell you I kept in touch with Joe and that we are friends today. That is not the case. I did not pursue Joe, a reflection upon my shortcomings. I moved to California, got married and moved on with life. My old campus pastor gave me updates. Joe had a great year, a renaissance as a person and as a member of the campus ministry. That is my solace.

The most important person in this story is Joe. God used extraordinary means to preserve the life of a young man. God had plans for Joe and Satan was not going to win this battle. How God did this intervention is of little consequence to me.

What did God teach me? One, God loves us and God loved Joe extraordinarily, a young man most peers rejected. God sees what we cannot see. Two, be available – even if it takes a mule kick to the head to get your attention. Three, obey. Never say no to divine opportunity, no matter how small. An old hymn says, “Trust and obey, for there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey.”

A Divine 911- Part One

Posted: November 8, 2019 in Meditations

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Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out. Acts 8:26, 27

May is a glorious time of year in Missouri and in 1980, I was the king of my world. My car, music blaring, pushed across the Mississippi River, the Great Arch of St. Louis in my rear view mirror. Welcome to Illinois, land of Lincoln. Interstate 55 leads the way to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, home sweet home.

I graduated from seminary weeks earlier. My first professional assignment began in July. My belongings fit comfortably in the trunk of my little Opel. Lynn, my wife to be, rode shotgun. A weekend party awaited us, a bevy of friends and family looked forward to meeting the future Mrs. Brown.

Lynn Taber caught my eye the moment she came through the door with her roommate. I still pinch myself at age 65 – God blessed me with a loyal friend, an incredible mother, but most importantly, my wife loves Jesus with a whole heart. I didn’t deserve her. In 1980 she committed to a man who was far younger than his years, incomplete and imperfect. I had one trump card, I too loved Jesus. 

Five miles outside of St. Louis I experienced a moment that remains a singular event, I physically felt the jar of God followed by his distinct voice in my brain. I turned to Lynn, “Honey, I think I just heard from God.” What did he say?” she asked, “He said, “Turn around, go to Joe’s house!” Lynn didn’t hesitate, “You better take the next exit and go to Joe’s house.”

I met Joe in the first weeks of Fall Semester 1979. I lived at a ministry house off campus where I assisted the Campus Pastor while going to seminary. Joe came to us a troubled young man, nervous, wary – seemingly ready to bolt any second, never to be seen again. By his own admission, Joe would come to the aid of a squirrel before he would assist a human being. He radiated intense pain, a pain that left him alone, most students shied away from him.

God blessed us with Joe, I really mean that. We discovered a humor that surprised all of us. His Elvis Presley impersonations were spot on. I gained his trust, I became his friend. Initially, I saw the quirks, the foibles, the glaring weaknesses. As time passed, I recognized rare passion, a keen intellect, a loyalty that knew few bounds, a trait that made him vulnerable, fragile.

The arch loomed large. My car sped toward Kirkwood, a full thirty to forty minutes away. I never once questioned why I was doing this. Am I on a silly goose chase? Am I playing mind games with myself? None of that happened. I just knew and so did Lynn. We didn’t know why, it didn’t matter. God said, “Go to Joe’s house.” We were on our way to Joe’s house. I pressed the accelerator.

 

Not For Sale

Posted: November 7, 2019 in Meditations

The Bible tells a fascinating story about a man named Simon in Acts 8. He lived in Samaria, a city 118 miles north of Jerusalem. The whole region knew who Simon was, rich and poor alike. He claimed to be the spokesman for God. His magic, whatever it was, amazed all who witnessed it and many followed him.

Philip the Evangelist came up from Jerusalem to preach Christ in Samaria. Revival broke out, miracles of healing and deliverance marked the evangelistic gatherings. Throngs of men and women surrendered their lives to follow Christ; joyous converts were baptized. Simon the Magician believed and was baptized, completely dumbfounded by the inexplicable miracles he witnessed.

When word of the great revival reached Jerusalem, the church sent Peter and John to Samaria. The two leaders prayed over each convert laying hands on them. One by one, each new Christ follower received the Holy Spirit. Simon wanted that power for himself and offered to buy it from Peter and John. Peter rebuked Simon, “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no share in this ministry because your heart is not right with God.” Acts 8:20,21  Peter then identifies the root and totality of Simon’s sin, “I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” Acts 8:23

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We do not possess God; God possesses us. The Great God, Infinite Goodness, the Holy Spirit: God and his kingdom is not for sale, never has been, never will be. We don’t manipulate God, we do not barter with God. In fact, the Christ follower capitulates, he surrenders everything he is and ever hopes to be to our Great God. Every sin, every wound, every secret gets laid bare before God. In our brokenness, we die to ourselves that God might grant resurrection, a new life, a new hope, a new purpose driven destiny. The Apostle Paul says, “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” 2 Corinthians 5:15 We live for Christ alone.

Peter confronts Simon for his own good. Without death, there is no new life. “Simon, you are full of bitterness, hurts that now strangle your spirit. Look around you. Simon, do you want their joy? Surrender. You are chained to your sin. You, my friend, are a dead man walking. Repent, give it up while you still can. Christ is your only hope.” Simon can’t do it, he won’t do it. “Pray to the Lord for me.” Acts 8:24  The only individual that can pray the prayer of surrender is you. Nobody can surrender for you, nobody can arrange salvation for you. God is not for sale.