Tag Archives: teaching

Don’t Forget to Wave

timelineI have been spending a bit of time grappling with time. The Lord has been showing me things about time, and about how time was created for us; we were not created for time. I hope that last sentence reverberates around your soul for a little while. It is a paraphrase of what Jesus said about the Sabbath. The Sabbath was created for man, not man for the Sabbath.

You see, in Jesus’ day, the Sabbath had become the master of the people. God intended to bless his people through the Sabbath, breaking the daily work cycle every seven days. The Lord knows us so well that he commanded that no work be done on the Sabbath. He understands our compulsion to work, to accomplish, and to achieve so well that he placed an absolute prohibition against work that could only be broken for emergencies. However, the legalists had taken over the sabbath principle, and turned the day from a day of rest to a day of meticulous rule keeping and mendaciously applied strictures on every day life. The sabbath law, which had been created to liberate man from bondage to work, had been turned into something that tied them more firmly in bondage. The Sabbath had been created to serve man, but the legalists made man serve the Sabbath.

In the same way, time was created to serve man, but after the fall it became man’s master. When death entered into the world, the clock started ticking. Suddenly, mankind had a finite amount of time to accomplish all the goals and pursuits that could have filled an eternity. Time, which had been created to bless mankind by marking days and seasons and years, instantly became man’s master.

However, when Jesus defeated Satan, he brought life and immortality to light (see 2 Timothy 1:10). One of the results is that time is no longer supposed to be our master, it is supposed to be our servant. The implications of that statement are well outside the scope of this article, and for now, mostly outside the scope of my understanding. But the Lord is trying to knock my blinders off so that I understand more.

To that end, he dropped a seed of knowledge into my soul today that left me dumbfounded for a minute. That tidbit is about the great cloud of witnesses. These witnesses are mentioned in Hebrews 12:1, just after the writer to the Hebrews has listed the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. Having drawn attention to these heroes who have gone before, the writer to the Hebrews says that “we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witness” (see Hebrews 12:1).

One accepted truth about time is that God exists outside of time. He created time for us. When I think of God existing out of time, I like to think of time as a foot long ruler. I imagine that one end of the ruler is the beginning of time, and the other end of the ruler is the end of time. In this view, God’s consciousness is larger than the ruler; it is larger than time. In reality, as he views time, he is viewing and interacting with every second of time simultaneously. That means that God is interacting with Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, Luther, and us all at once. We are the creatures of time, he is not.

I know, for many of you, I am messing with your heads right now. Actually, I am messing with your blinders. Until you begin to see time in this fashion, you will be limited to the human perspective. When God put eternity in our heart (see Ecclesiastes 3:11), he made it possible for us to conceive of time from his eternal perspective, rather than our limited time-saturated experience.

While this has implications for whole areas of theology—again, outside the scope of this article—as I stated earlier, the Lord showed me one thing today that stopped me in my tracks. He had recently given us a prophetic picture of a dear mentor who has passed into eternity. He actually showed us a picture of him sitting on a very comfortable chair, with a ringside seat, watching events that he helped set in motion begin to play out. He is truly part of the great cloud of witnesses. It was a very encouraging picture.

I was contemplating that picture today, and realized that since my friend was now outside of time, he could begin to see time from God’s perspective, though in a much more limited way. Although I believe our intellectual capacities will be incredibly expanded once we are free from the results of the fall, we are not God. We do not have his capacities. So I was considering how my friend might be moving his chair around different slices of time to take in the events of history. I realized, that since he can now see from God’s viewpoint, that it is possible to move his chair around the different slices of time and watch them as they occur. Do you feel your blinders shifting yet?

As I considered this, I realized that my friend could be watching slices of time in which he played a role. Then it suddenly occurred to me. That means, that while he was on this earth, my friend was already a part of the great cloud of witnesses watching the events of his life, and the lives of those around him, unfold with all the intricacy of a tapestry being woven together. Then the moment of revelation came. I realized that the great cloud of witnesses already includes every believer who will ever name the name of Christ.

What do I mean? When we, each of us, enters into that eternal state, we step out of time and take our seat in the great cloud of witnesses. We all then have the ability to peer through the sea of glass from God’s perspective outside of time. In a sense, we will be able to move our chairs to whatever place in living history we desire. We will see God’s glory played out in history as witnesses of his glory, from the beginning of time to its end.

That is why the great cloud of God’s people are known as the great cloud of witnesses. They witness God’s glorious works on the earth from the beginning of time to its very end. When we, each of us, step into that great cloud, we will be able to see from God’s perspective, like my mentor and friend. We will also be able to move from one slice of time to the next, examining God’s glory on display in the individual lives of every person who ever lived on this planet, in the individual lives of every animal and every insect that ever lived on this planet, in the birth and death of stars and galaxies throughout the universe. The staggering complexity of this universe means that we will be busy for quite some time giving glory to God for everything he has done from the very beginning of time to its very end. In the process, we will learn about new facets of our Creator and King, and be able to give him glory with even more understanding.

Now, to the reason for the title to this article. Since at some point in our future we will step out of time, and since we will then no longer be subject to time, but will be able to see time from God’s eternal perspective, this means that you and I are already a part of that great cloud of witnesses. We are witnessing the events of time as they happen, and as members of that great cloud, we are also observing the events of this slice of time, watching events unfold around the world and around the universe, but most certainly also seeing how the Lord worked in our own lives during this slice of time. That means—and this is the part that might startle—that means that we are already watching ourselves. So how about giving yourself a wave?

Paul, of course, described this by saying that we are already seated in the heavenly places with Christ:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7 NIV)

So go ahead and wave.

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The Miracle of Peace

DebateSome might prefer juggling with sharp objects over doing what we did Tuesday evening. A group of pastors, just slightly under a dozen to be more precise, decided to discuss the verdict of the George Zimmerman trial. This topic has polarized our culture as people from different ethnic backgrounds have interpreted the trial, and the events preceding the trial, in wildly different ways. Our decision to discuss this trial presented risk because, while the the group consisted of Bible-believing Christian clergy members, we were from a broad range of ethnic backgrounds. As a result, the discussion was sometimes loud—even a little heated, but even as we respectfully disagreed on points of view, we forged ahead for about two hours attempting to see things from each other’s perspective. At the end, I, for one, realized that it’s a miracle that people from different backgrounds get along at all.

The problem is that we all have different life experiences. Those life experiences color how we interpret everything around us. We cannot assume we know how other people are interpreting the events we are witnessing. We haven’t lived in their shoes. We haven’t seen life from their perspective. We are seeing events through the grid of our experiences, and others are seeing those same events through the grid of their experiences. When our life experience differs greatly, our interpretive grids also vary greatly.

This came out in our meeting on Tuesday. As we hashed through things we knew about the two young men whose lives intersected in tragedy, we came to understand that both young men were angry, and both had just reasons for their anger. One young man was angry that the homes in his neighborhood were being burglarized on a regular basis. He felt justifiable anger over this violation. He saw another young man walking through the neighborhood whom he did not recognize. He did not know that the young man was visiting someone in the neighborhood. He saw that other young man as part of the problem, and directed his anger at him.

For his part, the other young man was also angry. One of the pastors at our meeting, a man of African-American heritage, helped us understand why he was angry, even justifiably so. He told us that black young men get tired of being treated like bad guys in their own neighborhoods. They get tired of being asked what they are doing and why they are there, especially when they are doing nothing wrong and have every right to be where they are. They get angry because many people do profile them. From witness testimony at the Sanford trial, it is obvious that the younger man felt violated by the man who was following him. No doubt he resented being viewed as a threat when he was simply walking back from the store to the house of a family friend. His anger, understandably, was directed at his pursuer.

Both young men had justifiable reasons for their anger. Unfortunately, there were no peacemakers to step between them that evening. There were no peacemakers to help them explain their anger to each other, and to resolve it in a peaceful manner. There was no one there who was able to pour oil on turbulent waters. As a result, as often happens, anger lead to confrontation. The confrontation escalated beyond words, and an awful tragedy occurred.

We couldn’t be in Sanford to help that evening. But we can help now. We can be peacemakers. If we will attempt to see events through the interpretive grid of both young men, rather than just the one we most identify with, we can become peacemakers. We can pour the oil of peace on the troubled waters of our time. That is our opportunity, that is our job description. If we take up that challenge, we will see a miracle. That miracle is the unbelievable grace of people from different backgrounds getting along.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9 ESV).

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Unless You Also Repent

15794713_s“Unless you repent.” Jesus repeated these three words twice while speaking to a crowd of his followers. He spoke them the first time while referring to the actions of a homicidal maniac who had murdered tourists who had come to a special event. He spoke them the second time while referring to people who were victims of an industrial accident at a work site. Since we have been traumatized by similar events this week, we should probably pay attention to what Jesus said about them.

We can find what Jesus said in the book of Luke, chapter 13.

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)

While Jesus was meeting with a group of people, someone decided to let him know the latest headlines. The Roman governor of Judea once again demonstrated his brutal nature by viciously attacking pilgrims in Jerusalem. It was a shocking and unexpected attack that would have grieved the nation. Rather than raging against the perpetrators of the massacre and calling for justice, Jesus directed his listeners toward the fragile nature of life.

To consolidate his point, he told about the tragedy in Siloam. We have no other description of this event, but some believe this was a construction accident, and that the majority of those who died were workers who were building the tower. Again, this was a shocking event that would have grieved the nation because of the orphaned children and widows left behind by this tragedy. Rather than attempting to assign blame for the accident, Jesus again directed his listeners toward the fragile nature of life.

Why did Jesus do this? We live in a world where bad things happen. Homicidal maniacs, industrial accidents, and myriads of other threats and diseases are always threatening to strike down friends and family. These things happen to good people, people we enjoy as friends, family, and neighbors. They can also happen to us, unless we take the necessary steps to protect ourselves and our families. That necessary step is repentance.

Repentance is an oft misunderstood word. People don’t like it all that much because it conjures up images of froth-mouthed preachers slamming pulpits and condemning sinners. Images such as that do not have a whole lot to do with repentance. The Greek word that is translated “repentance,” literally speaks to a change of mind. When Jesus uses it in Luke 13, he is calling on his listeners to turn their minds away from their self-reliance, to repent of their lack of God-focus, and to agree with God that they desperately need him for life and protection. That is the repentance of which Jesus spoke. The wondrous thing about this repentance, this agreement with God, is that it can protect us while we live in a world where bad things happen. It can stop us from perishing in events caused by homicidal maniacs, negligent building owners, or the myriad of other threats we face in this world.

I was once walking down the streets of St. Petersburg, Russia with a friend of mine during a Spring thaw. I wasn’t very comfortable walking down the street we were on, because workers were clearing ice from the roofs of the five and six story buildings on that street. When I asked about it, my friend, who lived there, told me that it was common for large chunks of ice to fall unexpectedly from the buildings during a thaw. He explained that many people had been killed in this way. The workers were making certain that this street was safe.

We walked back on that same street a bit later that day. Since the workers had already finished the street, I didn’t feel uneasy about the ice. As my friend and I were walking down the street, he was telling me a story about some ministry he had done in India. The story included a particular van that they had used in India. Just as he was telling me this story, one of those exact vans passed by us in the street. This so surprised him that he stopped short, thrust out his arm, and pointed at the van in amazement. He stopped so quickly that I almost ran into him, and had to stop abruptly to avoid him. Just as I was turning my head to look where he was pointing, a massive chunk of ice slammed onto the sidewalk right where we would have been if he had not stopped so abruptly. The chunk was easily large enough to have killed us both. If that van had not gone by right then, we would have become two more victims of a senseless tragedy.

Why did we receive such obvious protection where others had not? I cannot speak to their stories, and would do them a disservice if I tried. I only know our stories. Both of us were walking in repentance. We understood our vital need for God’s protection in our lives. This is not about religion, sincerity, or merit. It is about humility agreeing that we cannot do it on our own. Because we had repented in this way, we did not perish.

Obviously, I do not know the people who have been killed and injured in our most current tragedies. I do not know their stories, nor do I pretend to know their stories. I am grieved and horrified by their senseless loss. My heart aches for those who have lost loved ones, and for those who have to experience a long healing process. If I think about it too closely, it is overwhelming to me and my heart becomes heavy with sorrow. I recognize that some are heroes who put their lives in harms way in order to save others. I am not thinking about them as I write these words, nor would it be appropriate to do so.

Instead, like Jesus, I am pointing in another direction. I am pointing at you. The losses we have experienced this week remind us of how fragile our hold on life can be. Jesus’ prescription for certainty still rings through the centuries, “Unless you repent, you too cannot be certain that life’s uncertainties will take you out. However, if you agree that you desperately need God’s help and protection, he will give it.” That is a lesson we can take to heart.
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My sympathies and my condolences to those who are mourning this week. The Lord can lift heavy burdens. The same Lord who would not let his listeners speculate about the moral or spiritual qualities of the victims of tragedy, also reached out to those who grieved. His invitation still stands, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
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The Last Enemy Falls

Calendar
I don’t remember being concerned about my execution date. I just knew it was coming. The leaders had decided that it was best that I die. I knew I had not committed some noteworthy crime, but I also knew that this fact didn’t matter. They had planned the execution, and they intended to go through with it. Apart from the fact that they planned on killing me, everything else seemed normal. I wasn’t even confined, but I did have an appointment that I had to keep.

The day of the execution came. I kept my appointment and walked to the appointed place. The leader was there, and so were his executioners. However, things took a difficult turn for them when I looked at them and said, “This isn’t going to happen.” As I spoke these words, everyone in the room became painfully aware that I was far better armed, and far better trained than anyone else in the room. Everyone knew that they could not force me to submit to their plans. They could not even hinder me. I turned and walked away from them, knowing they had no authority over me.

That is the dream that I had last week Friday. It is about our authority over death.

Death has reigned on this earth since Adam and Eve fell into sin. Every person born in previous generations, with very few exceptions, has died. Those of us who are still alive are walking around under a death sentence. There is a date marked on a calendar that we cannot see. We walk around living our lives as if everything is normal, just like in my dream, even as the day of execution draws near. This is an appointment that few have been able to avoid.

However, that will change. In 1 Corinthians 15 the Apostle Paul states that Jesus must reign at the right hand of the Father until all of his enemies are put under his feet. Then Paul teaches us about Jesus’ last enemy: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26 NIV).

Before Jesus returns, death will be dethroned. Jesus must sit at the right hand of the Father until he puts all his enemies under his feet. As the head of the Church, Jesus is guiding and directing us to batter down the gates of hell. The kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ. The Church, at Jesus direction and using his authority and gifts, will put all Jesus’ enemies under his feet. Jesus will not return until every last one of his enemies is vanquished. At a certain point, death will be the only remaining enemy; then death, too, will fall.

My dream was about death’s fall. One day in the future, hopefully the not-so-distant future, a generation of Christians will wake up to find that they have more spiritual authority and more spiritual power than death. They will realize that Jesus has given them so many spiritual weapons, and has trained them so well, that they no longer have to submit to death. They will gladly and victoriously say to death, “This isn’t going to happen anymore!”

When will this happen? Before Jesus comes again. He will remain seated at the Father’s right hand reigning until the last enemy is defeated. I believe he gave me the dream to let me know that he has been training his Church so well, that even though they might not realize it, they are gaining the authority and equipment necessary to defeat death. One day they will be confronted with death, and realize that they do not have to put up with it anymore. On that day, death will fall, and the stage will be set for Jesus’ return.

The Lord gave me a dream to let me know this is on his agenda. I saw death fall. The day is scheduled on the Lord’s cosmic calendar. I am praying that day come quickly.
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Don’t Be a Cowardly Spy

Once upon a time, God rescued his people in an amazing way. A bad king had made the people slaves. The people were very sad. God told the bad king to let the people go. When the bad king would not let the people go, God used supernatural power to force the bad king to let the people go. But the bad king was stubborn. God sent ten supernatural storms to shake the bad king’s land. Finally, the bad king let the people go.

But the bad king changed his mind. He was sad that he let the people go. So he chased them with his big army. When the people saw the big army, they were afraid. Once again God did supernatural things. He divided an entire sea so that the people could get away from the bad king by walking on the bottom of the sea (they could even pick up fish along the way for their evening fish fry). When the bad king tried to follow the people, he and his big army were covered by the water when God stopped doing the supernatural thing. The people rejoiced over what God had done for them.

Then God led the people and did more supernatural things. He even lived among them in a giant flame at night, and a giant smoke cloud during the day. God even let the people hear his voice. Finally, God led his people through a dry and dusty country to their new land.

When the people arrived at their new land, they saw that some bad giants already lived there. So the people sent twelve spies into their new land to see how many bad giants lived there. When the twelve spies returned, they were very excited because the new land was so nice. It was filled with green grass and wonderful fruit trees. The spies told the people about all the milk in the land, and how they were able to mix it with honey for a tasty drink like they had never tasted before. All the people got excited about their new land.

But then, ten of the spies forgot about the supernatural things of God. They forgot that God lived in the giant flame at night, and the giant smoke cloud during the day. They forgot about how God led them through the dry and dusty country. They forgot about walking on the bottom of the sea (and frying the fish at night). They forgot about the ten supernatural storms God sent to deliver the people. They thought about the giants. They became afraid.

The ten cowardly spies decided to tell the people how afraid they were. They told stories about the giants. They told the people how the giants would not leave the people’s new land. They told the people that the giants would not let the people live there. They told them how mean the giants would be. The ten cowardly spies forgot that God would help them.

Two of the spies were not afraid. They remembered the supernatural things of God. They remembered that God lived in the giant flame at night, and the giant smoke cloud during the day. They remembered about how God led them through the dry and dusty country. They remembered about walking on the bottom of the sea (and frying fish at night). They remembered about the ten supernatural storms God sent to deliver the people. They thought about God. They were not afraid.

The two brave spies were happy because they knew God would do supernatural things for them. They told stories about God. They told the people how God would not let the giants live in their new land. They told the people that God would not let the giants be mean. They told the people how big God is. The two brave spies remembered that God would help them.

But the people did not listen to the two brave spies. The people listened to the ten cowardly spies. The people forgot about the supernatural things of God. The people forgot that God lived in the giant flame at night, and the giant smoke cloud during the day. The people forgot about how God led them through the dry and dusty country. The people forgot about walking on the bottom of the sea (and frying the fish at night). The people forgot about the ten supernatural storms God sent to deliver them. The people thought about the giants. The people became afraid.

Then the people told God they didn’t want to live in their new land. God was very sad that the people did not trust him. He was sad that they listened to the ten cowardly spies. He was sad that they were afraid. But he told the people that they did not have to live in their new land. He told them they could live in the dry and dusty country for a long time. He told them that their children would be brave enough to live in the new land. The brave children would trust God and not be afraid.

God was happy with the two brave spies. God told them that they would live a long time. He told them that they would get to lead the brave children out of the dry and dusty country into their new land.

God was not happy with the ten cowardly spies. They had made the people afraid. God killed the ten cowardly spies who had discouraged his people. He did not want the ten cowardly spies to discourage his people any longer.

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting
our hearts on evil things as they did. (1 Corinthians 10:6 NIV)

There may be giants in land (even in Washington D.C.), but God still leads his people.
Discourage the people at your peril.

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