How Things Happen

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31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

Matthew 13:31-33, ESV

These are perhaps the three most potent verses in the entire Bible. And whenever you find “potency” you will find a strong possibility of exponential growth. It may be a steady synergy, or an explosive fission. Either way, it’s going to grow!

Both the seed and the yeast have so much in common. They are two sides of the same proverbial coin. And they represent explosive growth. If they are unleashed, watch out! They are both “pep and power” and now set loose they will take off.

The seed is put in the ground and the yeast in the flour. And the farmer and the baker both do their initial work of planting or kneading, and then they just stand back, their work is pretty much done. They now just let “nature” take its course.

These parables Jesus taught here are small— but hardly less significant because of their brevity. These two can bury you with all they imply and mean. When we think clearly about yeast in your cupboard and that single seed in its package, we should see the “life” that resides in them, and the potential that waits.

I think much about the Church. At times, I admit I get frustrated with it. I get judgmental, and fearful that it won’t survive into the next century.  I truly understand that I can be critical. At times my friends must deal with my “ugliness,” but still they put up with me. (They are true friends.)

The kingdom is growing, and advancing. I love the wonderful promise in Isaiah 9:6, (usually read at Christmas time only. A mistake.) But Isaiah 9:7 is also pretty amazing too,

“His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen!”

Let it grow, let it grow! 

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ybic, Bryan

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When Rags Became Grace

“Ebedmelech from Ethiopia was an official at the palace, and he heard what they had done to me. So he went to speak with King Zedekiah, who was holding court at Benjamin Gate. 9Ebedmelech said, “Your Majesty, Jeremiah is a prophet, and those men were wrong to throw him into a well. And when Jerusalem runs out of food, Jeremiah will starve to death down there.” 10Zedekiah answered, “Take thirty of my soldiers and pull Jeremiah out before he dies.”

11Ebedmelech and the soldiers went to the palace and got some rags from the room under the treasury. He used ropes to lower them into the well. 12Then he said, “Put these rags under your arms so the ropes won’t hurt you.” After I did, 13the men pulled me out. And from then on, I was kept in the courtyard of the palace guards.”

Jeremiah 38:8-13, CEV

At the very last, there was just one remaining.  A single man, Ebedmelech.  He was a Ethiopian; made a eunuch by the will of the king.  The situation in Jerusalem has gotten very difficult.  In an action of revenge and reprisal, certain men intend to kill the prophet Jeremiah.  They take a certain satisfaction in this, and Jeremiah is thrown into a very deep cistern.  They intend for him to starve to death, which is a terrible way to die.

The king in these last pathetic days is being manipulated by the surviving leadership of the city.  Zedekiah gives tacit approval for the destruction of Jeremiah.  He just lets it happen without a good reason.  The prophet is lowered in the muddy cistern.  Without food, he will soon starve.  In the minds of this evil mob, they have taken care of the any last vestiges of a godly ‘righteousness.’

But there is one, he is a wild card.  And no man would have guessed it.  Ebedmelech, the Ethiopian eunuch steps forward and decides to change history.  Not only his ethnicity, but his state as a castrated man are definite issues.  This mob never recognized him as someone who would intervene.  He was a non-entity, a non-factor. He was black, and a eunuch, a nobody.

But Ebedmelech is intervening, in the face of terrible risk, he steps out boldly to make an intercession.  He doesn’t appear to be intimidated, and makes a cry for the truth.  He becomes an intense and strong advocate for the release of Jeremiah from the deep mud.

Ebedmelech is given the ‘green-light’ by king Zedekiah. Ebedmelech rounds up thirty men to assist him as he delivers the prophet.  Ropes are brought out, and out comes Ebedmelech with a big armload of rags.  They shout down to Jeremiah.  The instructions are called down to him of what needs to take place for the extraction.

It’s interesting, but the rags are the most interesting. 

They are really an extra touch, not a necessity.  The rags become essentially, a form of grace.  They would pad the ropes, providing a degree of comfort as the prophet is pulled up out of the mud.  Ebedmelech showed the heart of God in what he did.  There was his desire to somehow make the prophet comfortable.  In doing so he communicated a kindness and concern that was saturated with God’s own enveloping presence.

Our illnesses– physical or mental, have moved us to a lonely place on the edge. 

We are those on the so-called ‘margins.’ Ebedmelech has now become a carrier of God’s grace.  Jeremiah could have been lifted up by just the ropes.  It would’ve been more difficult, granted.  But the rags sent down by Ebedmelech provided the prophet an extra gentleness.  And I am certain it did not pass by without notice.  Their mention in this Book of Jeremiah is significant, and shows Jeremiah’s deep appreciation of kindness.

We can gather up much from what has been written.  We will sometimes find ourselves in parallel situations.  But our kindness and concern can make the difference.  Admittedly, they are quite insignificant–quite minor. Call it ‘icing on the cake.’ But when you show the kindness of our Father, you will infuse the situation with love, and grace.  

So be an  Ebedmelech,—  an outcast perhaps– but in a position of kindness.

 

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Doing Exploits

“Nothing paralyzes our lives like the attitude that things can never change. We need to remind ourselves that God can change things. Outlook determines outcome. If we see only the problems, we will be defeated; but if we see the possibilities in the problems, we can have victory.”

 –Warren Wiersbe

“…the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.”

Daniel 11:32

 

 

Going Crossless

We are a bucket full of nails,

“Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

Matt. 10:38

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Matt. 16:24

We can so easily process our faith to something respectable and somewhat pleasant.  This is a natural tendency. But the cross has a stigma, we might think we can easily defuse it, rendering it as harmless.  Acceptability is a wonderful thing to the modern day believer.  It is easy to turn from all that would make us different, and grasp a crossless faith. It does seem we conform rather than transform.

Effort is being made right now to twist and nullify your belief in Jesus.  It is a force that works on us, relentlessly.  Satan intends to destroy you. He is frightened by the power of the cross, and the spiritual truth it contains. The cross (and resurrection) destroyed the devil’s kingdom of twisted darkness. He will never recover.

Just as Jesus carried the cross He was to die on, you and I are to follow His example.  Jesus had to go to this place of death, and so are we.  My cross is not purely emblematic or abstract symbolism.  It entails a real death.  I pick it up and go to die.  Crucifixion is the end of me, it all comes down to this final point of termination.

Jesus escorts us to the point of death.  This is to become the framework for a sincere discipleship.  The cross, our cross, brings us to an end.  To be worthy of Jesus is to bear it boldly.  The cross develops into our thinking, and its dynamic pounds us into a spiritual reality.  Jesus intensifies the cross, making it the mark of authenticity of a disciple.

We have no options, if we follow it must be with a cross.  There is absolutely no room for us if we approach Him without it.  The cross transmutes our lives, and transmits a signal that we have complied with Jesus’ wishes.  If we advance at all, it will be through the cross only.

We must deny ourselves.  That denial is an intense working. “I do not know the man” was Peter’s statement against Jesus.  If we deny ourselves, we will take a stand against our own selves, turning against ourselves.  We will be pinned to the mat.

Our focus should be on the cross.  We must infuse it into our lives.  A tea bag will flavor an entire cup.  It turns a cup of boiling water into a wonderful beverage.  The cross that belongs to us will have the same effect.  It will make something where there was nothing.

“All heaven is interested in the cross of Christ, all hell terribly afraid of it, while men are the only beings who more or less ignore its meaning.” 

 Oswald Chambers

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More Current, Please!

angel1I have always had a crazy connection with electricity. As a young boy of six or seven I started to push nails into the wall outlets of our home. My mom would come in to find me in a heap, with the nail still in the outlet. It would blow me backwards, and I remember “smelling the ozone” from each experience. I did this fairly often. Mom grew very concerned about me.

Then I discovered the shocking world of electric fences. Most were “pulse” currents, which meant they were alternately energized– and then off. If you grabbed it at the right time, you could beat the fencer and not be shocked. Of course, complicating things would be standing on wet grass. But bringing your little brother meant you could grab his hand, touch the wire, and he would get the full voltage. This was always fun.

Coming into the presence of a holy and loving God should be a powerful jolt. But it needs to be real– never theatrical or showy. Whether it is prayer or worship, we reach into a real world. While electrical shock is detrimental, the Holy Spirit is always strengthening and affirming. My prayer the last few months has been this: “May it be the real me who connects with the real You.”

In a nuclear power plant the workers clearly understand the nature of fission. They can’t see it, or feel it. They must take precautions, because what they handle is really dangerous. In 1 Samuel 6, we read of the time when the Philistines controlled the Ark of the Covenant. But the power they received was not anything they could handle or manage. They finally sent it back. “But the Lord killed seventy men from Beth-shemesh because they looked into the Ark of the Lord. And the people mourned greatly because of what the Lord had done. “Who is able to stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?” they cried out. “Where can we send the Ark from here?”

God is dangerous, “my Bible tells me so.” My thinking often would regard Him as docile and tame, but I challenge you to understand differently. I submit to you that our faith should put us into a perilous place– one in which we are asked to do outrageous things. Like building an ark, or going from a slave to a prime minister, or getting out of our boat and walking on the sea. Furthermore, the Book of Revelation is John’s account of being in God’s power and majesty (Rev. 15).

“We worship a dangerous God and He is coming to threaten every area of your life.  God is a loving God, do not be mistaken about that.  His love, however, is unlike any human love; its chief concern is not to make you comfortable, but to make you free and to be free is dangerous and the act of making us free is dangerous.” Joe Spann (and below)

electric-shockPlease don’t try to domesticate God.

He is wild and pretty much unpredictable– and we will not ever tame or teach Him. You can’t manage Him, or train Him to use a box. (He will defy this.) If we are truly going to draw close it will be like stepping into a spiritual reactor, or sticking a figurative nail into a metaphorical wall outlet.

“He is about to become dangerous to your everyday trappings, dangerous to your comfort, dangerous to your retirement plan, dangerous to your schedule, dangerous to your social standing, dangerous to your secrets, and dangerous to your religion. The good news is, He is also dangerous to your limits, dangerous to your fear, dangerous to your addictions, dangerous to your sickness, dangerous to your unforgiveness, dangerous to the chains that bind you chains that you have become way too comfortable with.”

The end result of this is that He wants to make you dangerous again; dangerous to your neighbors bondage, dangerous to the pain in the people around you, dangerous to the generations of abuse and pain in your family and the families you know, dangerous to the culture you are in every single day. And He wants to make us dangerous again. Dangerous to our neighborhoods, dangerous to our friends, dangerous to our culture, dangerous to the kingdom of darkness.”

I would like to make a toast, “May you see God as He is truly, and may you stick your nail into direct contact with Him. May you never settle for less, or want for anything more.” Amen.

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The Art of Offending Jesus

SIN_KILLS_SIGN Our actions can bless God, and others immensely. We really have no idea that we have such power in our grasp. But we do say and do things that do alter the realities of those who are trying desperately to draw close to Him. We like to be unattached from these very real things. We suppose that it is a “no-brainer,” we will always avoid any complications or entanglements, about our behavior.

However, reality is much more “unforgiving” then we imagine. How we conduct ourselves is certain, and is significant. Honestly, when we become believers and are added to His church, can we honestly behave worse than we were before our salvation from sin?

I’m afraid salvation from sin means “turning off the faucet.” We can’t avoid this, it will determine what kind of a Christian we are. What do we do? Do we continue to sin? “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?”

Romans 6:1-2, NLT

I’m truly convinced of this. Our decision to keep enjoying sin is disturbing. Our “death” in this case, has never happened. We have died to nothing, and remain untouched by the Gospel. We become just inoculated enough to make us believe that we are “ok.” Our lives keep moving, and we will never consider that we have made these wrong adjustments.11831809_417345445125926_2957479398676821867_n

Are we not “offending Jesus Christ” by not dying to our own sins? If we have pretty much remained the same kind of people, then it is very likely we have. Our enjoyment of sin indicates our real allegiance that we will have when “push comes to shove.” It really seems that we must shake off the old way before we can put on the new.

I simply suggest that you liaten to the Spirit as you make your choices.

Let him accompany you and show you what offends. I only speak boldly, because it matters more than you realize.

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I’m a Steamroller! [the Tongue}

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“And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.”

James 3:6, NLT

I have done many things in my 50+ years.  My resume is pretty broad and quite diverse.  I have been a corporate trainer, and I have been a commercial fisherman.  I have been an inner-city evangelist, and an Army medic.  I have been a senior pastor, and a missionary to Mexico.  But more than anything, I have been quite consistently, “a steamroller.”

Steamroller. I think I better explain myself.  I’m a man that has consistently used my words to crush other people, and this really disturbs me.  I have flattened people, smearing them on the pavement.  There was Vicky at the SOS- San Francisco Evangelism Ministry house.  She irritated me, so I went up and told her, the “Vicky, this is the Word of the Lord. Read Judges 16:16!”  And she melted before my words, torn and ripped apart by my twisting of scripture.  I steamrolled over her heart.  And I really don’t know why I did it. I wanted to be cute I guess.

As a pastor, I plowed over the hearts of “a children’s ministry.”  It was more subtle, but it had the same degree of a deep intensity.  (They would go on, but fizzle out in less than two weeks later.)  I was the steamroller that crushed their hearts and dreams.  Years before, at my Bible college, I stamped out and destroyed those who were not as precise as I was when it came to proper believing.  I steamrolled them as well.

Over the years I have become very grieved over my consistent crushing of those who were different, who saw ministry in a differing way.  When they would become “clear and obvious” to me, (their false doctrine and such) I considered it a scriptural necessity to “roll, baby roll” right over them.  But, I was oh, so foolish.  I harmed so many of His servants.  What I was doing was wicked.

My words–like weapons, were cutting and hacking and lacerating.  My words were crushing and stamping out the gentle hearts and their vision.  People, dear ones.  The things we say, go on to “burn and burn” and nullify the kind hearts of those who want to follow.  Often our “professionalism” as pastors and teachers very often cripple those who tenderly follow.  We go “nuclear” on them, scorching the earth, when all they needed really was a calm and directive word.

Brothers and sisters.  We have to stop this,  being right does not mean we are loving.  We divide the flock far too often.  We most likely will be right–but we don’t love.  We jump up in our steamroller in a split second.  We put it in gear, and we roll over those for whom Christ died–and we feel quite noble and holy, as we protect the Church from “bad thinking,” or bad examples.

Could it be, that what are you saying, wounds?

Be very careful.  You maybe right, and you just might be true, but if you are not loving, you will only hurt them, and undoubtedly you will regret what you have done.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.”

Psalm 19:14, ESV

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