Sunday, February 10, 2013

Thoughts on Discipleship

[This collection of thoughts on discipleship first appeared in a series of random thoughts on Facebook. They are collected here and will be edited and expanded throughout 2013.]

1. "Christian maturity has less to do with personal stature than with functional and fruitful relationships in the Body of Christ, relationships that share our mission which is the ministry of reconciliation." JDJ

2. It is all too easy to be paralyzed by uncertainty. In the struggle for clear direction into the future we often neglect the important aspects of daily existence. I have found this to be especially true for those who hunger to know God’s will for their lives. My advice is simple; when you don’t know what to do, do what you know to do. Be faithful in the little things, the routine but essential practices of Christian living.  JDJ
3. A couple of years before he died, my father took me to the finest restaurant in Nahunta, Georgia. The mason jar glasses were clean, even if the floor was not. While there he introduced me to one of his childhood friends.
           He said, “This is my youngest boy, Jackie. He’s the reason I’m a Christian. He asked me once why I wouldn’t go to church. I told him it was because of the hypocrites that went to church. He told me he’d rather go to church with them for a few years than spend eternity in hell with them. I just couldn’t get that out of my mind till I got saved.”
           I had long forgotten that conversation between a seventeen year-old boy and his father. I will never forget his telling it. JDJ
4. Sorrow that has been embroidered with self-pity refuses comfort and serves only as a prideful veil for the bitterness of an unforgiving heart. It is a seedbed for self-righteousness and other forms of self-centeredness. When wounded, grieve, grieve hard, and grieve well, but do not let your pain and disappointment merge with your self-image or with your image of the world. You are not the pain and the pain is not you. Find yourself in the face of God. He will grieve with you and in His eyes you will find the reflection of who you are destined to be. His image of you will not resemble a self-portrait painted on a canvas of self-pity. JDJ

5. I once heard a preacher say a rut is just a grave with both ends knocked out. It seems we are afraid of losing control, especially the freedom to roam. If you are feeling stuck, it is time to discern if you are stuck in a rut or putting down roots where God planted you. Sometimes that which seems like a rut is just God opening the soil for your growth because it’s time to stop wandering and start bearing fruit. JDJ

6. God knows your heart; you may as well tell Him exactly how you feel about Him. Just remember you will be judged for what is in your heart whether spoken or hidden. I have found being honest before God, even about my differences with Him, is the best way to know myself and one of the best ways to know Him better. I always come away changed, sometimes with a spring in my step and sometimes with a limp that lingers. JDJ
7. Knowing God requires that we also know ourselves. The journey toward God always begins with a journey inward. Before we can embrace the One who is wholly other, we must own and discard those parts of ourselves that cannot exist in His presence. By His grace, all that can be shaken must be shaken until only that which is everlasting remains (Hebrews 12: 27). This is the fullness of life, to know oneself knowing God and being known by Him. JDJ

8. Humility is both the starting point and the necessary posture for any relationship with God. He resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6, I Peter 5:5). I have learned that humility is less about our thoughts and more about the inclinations of our heart. The truly humble do not have to convince themselves to honor others and exalt God above all; They are always predisposed to those ends. Thus, knowing God begins with the deconstruction of the idol we have carved as our self-image and a transformation of the way we see ourselves in relation to others . JDJ

9. The Christian life is a journey in which the future permeates the present. Our final place in God, that place of unencumbered fellowship with Him, should be fully realized now and yet ever in front of us. Ever satisfied, we ever long for more. We know Him now, and in knowing Him we hunger to know Him more fully. In theological terms, orthodoxy, both in the original sense of“correct glory/correct worship” and in the sense of “sound doctrine” is the purpose for our existence (ortho = straight, correct and doxa = opinion, praise, glory). The glory of God is the port toward which Christians sail and the stream in which we sail. Both our calling and our destiny are to worship Him forever in Spirit and in Truth. JDJ

10. Trials and tests in life are not about demonstrating how much we know or what skills we have gained. They do not come to us as challenges to demonstrate how well we can stand on our own, how strong or mature we are. In the darkest days we are not alone; He is with us. Not only is Christ with us in our tribulations, He is always at work in, with, for, and through us. The trying of our faith is not for the purpose of measuring how much faith we have. No, the furnaces of life exist to temper our faith, to perfect, purify, and strengthen it. In His suffering Christ was perfected as our redeemer (Hebrews 2:10). Our suffering is an opportunity to be further formed into His likeness (Romans 8:17-18, II Corinthians 1: 5-7, I Peter 1: 3-9, 5:10). Still, with Him we pray “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will." (Matthew 26:39). JDJ

11. Discipleship begins at the point a person chooses to consider the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not a rank of Christianity reserved for the super spiritual. It is Christianity. For discipleship is nothing more than considering the claim of Christ on our life and the inclination, leading to resolve, to fully surrender to that claim, to take up our cross and follow Him. A disciple of Christ is anyone who chooses to live their life with that claim foremost in their heart. The only question that remains is whether we will be faithful until the end. Thus, we do not become disciples because we are born again; we are born again because we became His disciples. JDJ

12. It follows from the previous thought that discipleship is a seamless garment that begins in evangelism, leads to our justification and new birth, gives motive and content toward our sanctification, provides structure (boundaries) and direction for a Spirit-filled life, and ensures our coming glorification. Discipleship is what we do to open ourselves to the full force of God’s abundant, transforming grace. Thus, the method and message with which we evangelize must be one with the method and message with which we nurture faith, all of which is the process of learning to respond to grace. JDJ

13. I am often troubled by our success driven models of evangelism. They invariably lead to distortions of the Gospel. The claim of Christ on His creation becomes perverted into a sales pitch for prosperity, “Give Jesus a try and see if it is not the best decision of your life. If I’m wrong you can always try something else, but you won’t.” Such perversions of the Gospel make it for us and about us when it is for us but about Him. They not only diminish His majesty, they invite His wrath. JDJ

 14. Before we can truly believe in ourselves, we must face the truth about ourselves. We must know ourselves, the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful. Attempts to build our self-esteem by focusing only on the positive will serve only as exercises in self-deception. The real challenge is not that of creating an image of ourselves as something great. The challenge is to believe He is creating something glorious out of us. Only when we own the truth about ourselves can we know the power of his grace to transform us into the image of Christ. Salvation is not a great escape; it is the final conquest. JDJ

15. His grace is sufficient to redeem us out of our sinful condition, out of the very power of sin to rule over us, and to sustain us in our suffering. His grace is sufficient to redeem us from our past that ever clings to us, and even to redeem all that is in our past. In Christ, all that was, all that is, and all that shall be in our lives work together for our good because we are called according to His purposes. JDJ

16.  Faith is the “substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). But the real challenge is not to grasp the essence of what faith is but to lay hold of the source and end of faith. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Faith in possibilities has little meaning unless those possibilities are grounded in promise and promise only has the substance and value of the person who made the promise. Faith that is not grounded in the person who makes the promise is the substance and evidence of our imaginations. Faith in the promises of God is effectual and lives on even after we have died (Hebrews 11:39-40). JDJ

17. Honor is something that cannot be hidden nor easily feigned. Neither can it be stolen, coerced, or purchased. Honor is a gift that demands to be given. It may be given on merit, unjustified but perceived merit, or position. It may also be given by association, that is, the merit of another. It is a commandment that we “outdo one another in giving honor to each other” (Romans 12:10). This imperative recognizes the reality that the honor we possess and the honor we give are derivatives of the honor of Christ. We have worth and value because we are His handiwork and His possession. So we must discipline ourselves to continually expand our capacity to honor Him by honoring that which is His, even when effort is needed. This requires that we expand our capacity to discern His presence and His grace at work in others. JDJ

18. [I share this thought during every worship service at the time of intercessory prayer.] If you are alive in Christ, you are so by faith. Have faith in Christ in you. Your prayer can be the prayer of faith; your touch may be God’s healing touch; your words may be the words of the Holy Spirit to someone right now. Obey the Lord. JDJ

19. We are blessed by God both because He loves us and because He longs to love through us. Likewise, the grace of God is by its very nature communicable; it never “dead-ends” in a receiver. In order for it to have its full effect on us, grace must be both received and given away in a manner that is consistent with the nature of grace. And the nature of grace is that it carries the character of God. Grace is thus given so that it might be graciously distributed. Only the heart that desires to bless is truly open to be conformed to the likeness of Christ. In this we become participants in the incarnation and in the redemption of the whole of creation. JDJ

20. One of the discipleship problems of our time is that we have allowed ourselves to be shaped by modernity’s, and now post-modernity’s, emphasis on the individual. With this focus on the individual, we mistakenly believe that mature disciples make disciples. That is not the message nor the pattern of the New Testament. While there are a few examples of individuals evangelizing as individuals through the power of the Spirit, the pattern was to minister in groups and to understand discipleship as the fruit of corporate and tandem ministry (some plant, some water, others reap). Disciples are not made by strong disciples; they are made by healthy churches. JDJ

21. Do not be discouraged; the journey from bondage to the Promised Land always goes through the wilderness. The wilderness is not just a barrier to be passed through, an obstacle to be quickly dismissed; it is a necessary place of preparation, a sojourn that is seeded with the promises of our future. It is there that we are purified and perfected both for the journey and for the destiny. In the wilderness we are perfected in faith as we discover the power of God’s word to defeat our enemy and it is in the wilderness that we discover the power of the Spirit to set the captives free from their internal chains. And it is in the wilderness that we discover the great cost of that freedom. JDJ

22. The journey through the wilderness is a journey in learning to trust, for trust is the essence of faith. In places of desolation and despair we learn that God will lead us all the way to the Promised Land (pillar of fire, cloud of smoke). In places of opposition we learn that He will protect us from our enemies and ourselves (Pharaoh’s army). Finally, in the face of famine we learn that He will provide and His provisions are sufficient (manna, quails, water from the rock). It is in the wilderness that we learn the comfort and joy of fully trusting the Good Shepherd. For the Promised Land is not a place where there is no need for God’s leading, protection and provision; it is a state where trust in Him has been perfected. JDJ

23. When we come to the full realization that Christ is with us, even the wilderness becomes the Promised Land. When we know His presence we know He is the river of life, the tree of life, and the bread of life. In His presence the deserts bloom, dry bones live, and the trees clap their hands. The primary challenge of the Christian life is not to believe that God can do anything or even that He will do what we ask. The foundational challenge of the Christian is to believe that the Creator of the universe is personally with us. For where His presence is known, His grace abounds. JDJ-#67

24. The fruit of the Spirit is not a set of personality traits. Some people are more inclined toward happiness than others. Some are more patient than most. These traits are evidences of God’s grace toward and within humanity; they are the fruit of His prevenient grace, His ongoing blessings on life. The fruit of the Spirit stands in contrast to the works of the flesh (Galatians 5: 19-24) . They cannot be attributed to a happy childhood or a genetic predisposition. The fruit of the Spirit is a sign of the Spirit’s transforming presence, not the Spirit’s augmenting or amplifying presence. The fruit of the Spirit is the sign we have passed from death to life in the Kingdom of God. JDJ #69

25. The fruit of the Spirit is not the product of spiritual discipline. We do not generate the fruit of the Spirit. We do provide, with God’s help, the fertile ground in which the fruit may grow. That ground is made fertile by the crucifixion of our passions and desires that are contrary to life in the presence of God (Galatians 5:24). The ground is further prepared by the desire to know and please God. Through the disciplines we crucify our flesh so that our whole being might be conformed to Christ and His life might flow through us. But the fruit is the manifestation of the Spirit’s presence, not our diligence. Thus, the fruit of the Spirit is the product of the Spirit transforming our affections to conform to the heart and character of God. The fruit is the manifestation of sanctification. JDJ #70

26. The fruit of the Spirit is the fruit of direct and immediate communion with God. All humans have some personality traits that reflect the character/image of God, characteristics that point to who we were before the fall. There is good in all of us, signs our true humanity has not been completely lost, evidences the grace of God is a work holding at bay the full force of sin. These patterns of behavior, character traits which we often refer to as the best of human nature, hint at the righteous potential of all of humanity and they bear witness to God’s presence in all of life. They do not merit salvation and they are not the fruit of the Spirit.  JDJ #71

27. God’s presence within all of creation is not the same as creation being present in God. Christ is the union of the Creator with the created. In our justification and regeneration we are baptized into Christ and thus enter into this union, a state of mutual presence with God. We are transformed from those who are alive by the grace of God into those who are alive in the grace of God. We become one with Him and share His life. Our fellowship is beyond our ability to comprehend or even to be fully conscious of, but it is real none-the-less. The fruit of the Spirit is the fruit of this union between the eternal Creator and the created. JDJ #72

28. The fruit of the Spirit is eternal in character. It flows from the personal presence of the eternal God. Where God is known, the fruit of the Spirit is evident. The fruit is the essential manifestation of the communion of God with His creation. Thus, the fruit is eternally begotten and historically manifest. It follows that the fruit is neither the beginning nor the end of grace but rather the never ending renewal of grace. The fruit works in us to transform us into the likeness of Christ; it works through us to extend the presence of Christ into the world. The fruit of the Spirit reveals that our future is already present even as that future rushes in upon us and it bears witness to the full extent of the atonement of Christ. The fruit is the sign we have entered into the Promised Land of union with our Creator. JDJ #76

29. The fruit of the Spirit is singular in nature. We do not get to pick and choose which traits we want to possess. Neither do we get to ignore those traits that seem inconvenient (such as “long suffering”). The presence of one trait must be accompanied by all of the traits or else they are not the fruit of the Spirit. This does not mean that the fruit must have achieved perfect union with us or that some traits might not appear more evident than others. It does mean that if the Holy Spirit is present in our lives, our lives will carry the full bouquet of aromas flowing from the Spirit. JDJ # 77

30. The fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) is essentially relational in character. While it is true that the fruit must be rooted in the innermost self and addresses the need for transformation of the human soul into the very character of God, the fruit always flows outward toward others. The fruit takes an object. Love does not exist without someone/something to love. Joy has no meaning without others with whom to share it. Peace expresses our integrity of existence which is always a shared existence. Patience is tied to hope and anticipation as related to something or someone outside of ourselves. Kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness simply have no meaning beyond of our relational existence. Self-control may be sought in isolation but it has its fullest meaning as a trait of human relationships. The fruit of the Spirit is relational because its source is the relationship of the human spirit with the Holy Spirit. It is relational because there is only one giver and sustainer of life and that eternal Spirit will not rest until all creation is united in Christ. JDJ #78

31. The fruit of the Spirit is the fulfillment of righteousness. Stated inversely, “against such things there is no law” Galatians 5:23. There is no law against love, joy, peace, etc. because these are attributes of God; hanging from the branches of the believer they are signs God’s righteous reign over His creation has begun. The fruit of the Spirit is the law of God, not the law that judges, exposes sin, and condemns, but the law that energizes, renews, and fulfills the righteousness of God. JDJ #79

32. Freedom must be understood as a relational concept. Too often we think of being “free from” when we should be thinking of being “free within.” Freedom “from” implies independence which does not exist. If we exist, we exist as interdependent beings. No one is an island unto themselves. Thus, freedom is not about being disconnected, it is about how we connect and with whom we connect. Neither is freedom primarily about choice, or freedom from control. True freedom is always of, toward and within God. Our freedom in Christ is the freedom to be and do all that we were created to be and do. Any state of existence that is outside of God’s personal presence, His design, His purposes, and His control is but an illusion of freedom. Our freedom is the freedom to discover and fulfill the good and perfect will of God. To be free is to knowingly participate with God in His work of perfecting us as members of the Body of Christ. JDJ #80

33. We have been called to freedom in Christ (Galatians 5). The first expression of this freedom is freedom from bondage to the Law and all other works-based systems for achieving salvation. These serve to chain us to our sins and are doomed to failure. With this initial freedom comes the necessity of choice between living after the flesh or after the Spirit (v. 13). In Paul’s writings the “flesh” does not refer to our material existence but to that aspect of fallen creation that resists the life and moral influence of the Holy Spirit. The flesh is that dimension of human existence which rejects the sovereign reign of God. The choice to live after the flesh is to follow a delusion of freedom. It is in truth a choice to return to bondage to a law of sin and death that reigns from within. This bondage generates works of unrighteousness, the works of the flesh (vs. 19-21). Those whose lives are marked by such things have no place in the Kingdom of God. JDJ #81

34. The fruit of the Spirit only grows in soil that has been made free in Christ. This freedom is "out of" and "unto." It is freedom out of, or from, the power of sin to rule over our lives. It is freedom unto all that life was intended to be, the fullness of life. Thus, as previously stated, true freedom is always of, toward and within God. This gift of freedom is then synonymous with the gift of eternal life and requires a choice to live in that life which is eternal; eternal life is the person Jesus Christ. The fruit of the Spirit is then the incarnation budding forth into all of creation making our lives the first fruits of the fusion of the eternal with the created. JDJ #82

35. We are not saved by our works, but neither will we be saved without them. Faith without works is dead (James 2:17, 25). Faith and works are not two ends of a continuum; they are two sides of the same coin. Believing, repenting, and confessing are themselves foundational works which flow into and out of life in Christ. We are not saved by them, but we could never be saved without them for they are the channels through which the life of Christ flows. In these three works we are co-creators with Christ for they are both products of our will and gifts of God. So it is with all of our works of faith; in our faith and in our works we are joined with Christ so that His life is made manifest through us. JDJ #104

36. Faith in Christ must be understood not as mere intellectual assent, i.e., what we think we believe, but as a life of worship for to truly believe is to acknowledge who He is and to respond accordingly. Correspondingly, the disciplines of Biblical and theological study, through which we seek to expand and enhance our faith -- more than our understanding, must be approached as events of worship. We must not study primarily for the sake of gaining knowledge, for that only puffs us up with pride (I Corinthians 13). We must study for and toward His glory, which is the heart of worship. His glory is not a detached and impersonal concept. His glory is a consuming fire and at the same time a connecting power; it is an impenetrable wall but it is also deep crying out to deep. His glory is that of an unapproachable God who invites us to come and dine. His glory is the heaviness of His personal presence, a weight too great to bear so that it must consume and carry us. Therefore, in the study of His Word we must approach Him with fear and trembling and yet without an ounce of timidity for it is He who has wooed us into His chambers that we might know the glory of His love. #105

37. Just a Thought: In some circles the current pattern is to replace the confession “I am a Christian” with “I am a Christ-follower.” This terminology has some merit. First of all, it is clearly grounded in the pattern and teachings of Jesus as given in the Gospels. He repeatedly called His disciples with the command that they follow Him. He insisted that anyone who would be His disciple must take up his or her cross and follow him. A second justification for the phrase lies in the fact that the word “Christian” only appears three times in the Bible. A third argument lies in the ambiguity of the word “Christian”; the label carries too many meanings to be clearly understood. Finally, the phrase “I am a Christ-follower” has the benefit of being dynamic; it portrays Christianity as something to be lived.
None-the-less, I find the phrase insufficient. The indication that one is following Jesus does not clarify the distance with which one follows nor the nature of one’s relationship with Christ. Most who followed Him abandoned Him in the end. I fear in today’s language to follow Jesus means little more than to occasionally read His tweets, some of which we “like,” a few we even “retweet,” but most we ignore. One can follow Him out of curiosity without being attached to Him as Lord. You can follow Him with uncertainty about who He is. If we are to be Christian we must be a Christ-follower, but we must also become attached to Him, transformed by Him, and governed by Him. Perhaps we should state simply “Jesus is my Lord.” This would shift the focus from what we do to who He is in our lives. JDJ #106

38. Just a Thought: Many in the Western church have become obsessed with relevance to the postmodern generation. Much effort is being given to seeing the world through the eyes of postmoderns and asking the questions they are asking. This is well and good provided we do not forget our task is to bring them to God’s view, God’s set of questions and God’s answers. JDJ #108

39. The church should not try to shape society into its image until it has been transformed into the image of Christ. We should spend less time ranting about the evils of those outside the church and more time edifying those inside the church. We should spend less energy promoting morality within the world and more time addressing the immorality within the church, less time arguing for law and order in the streets and more time practicing Christian discipline in the pulpit and the pew. The best tool for shedding light on the evils of the world is not public condemnation of sinners but rather the witness of holy love within the church. JDJ #109

40. If you have something to say, say it. It is not your right to speak; it is your gift and perhaps your responsibility. The Word of God gave Himself to set us free and His freedom finds expression in our words: words of praise, words of compassion, words, of knowledge, words of wisdom, words of witness, etc.. Don’t let others, or past experiences, oppress you into silence. “Out of the heart the mouth speaketh.” Let your heart be seen in your words spoken in love, compassion, and truth. Like Him, give yourself; give your words. JDJ #112

41. If you are alive in Christ, Christ is alive in you. And Christ in you has the same heart, the same mission and the same power as when He walked the shores of Galilee. He wants to work through you for the purposes of his Kingdom. The primary challenge of faith is not to believe that Christ will do something for you; it is to believe He is in you and He desires to work through you. It is to truly believe He is making you to be salt and light, a channel of His grace.  When we believe this we become the embodiment of the great mystery of God’s plan of redemption through Christ. We become the sign of the incarnation, living epistles of the gospel. In the power of the Holy Spirit, our words become His words. And this faith in Christ in us frees us from the burden of trying to make things happen. We become free to hear and obey. JDJ #113

42. Words are important. The essential nature of words is not that of abstract ideas or particularized reason, but that of selfhood. Words are the gift of the self. They are the effort of one soul to reach out and connect with others, to be known. In ancient Hebrew “words” could be utterances or actions, the core idea being that one person intentionally attempts to express outwardly his or her internal thoughts or feelings. Thus, in the Scriptures the foundational purpose of speech is not to convince, but to expose the real, inner self. This lies behind the observation by Jesus that “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” In one sense, our words are always a truthful self-portrait; they expose the heart. If we lie, our words reveal us to be a liar. Twisted words come from a twisted heart. If we love, our words reveal us to be a lover. If we are bigoted, our words expose our prejudices. If we have integrity, our words have integrity. For this reason the Word of God will not return to Him void; His word carries His presence. It is also for this reason that we shall be judged for our words, not for their content but rather for what they reveal about us.  JDJ #114

43. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to wait. We wait for things we think we need. We wait for the person or event that will change our lives. We wait for God’s voice, for direction in life. We wait for divine deliverance. We wait for Christ to return. Indeed, waiting is an essential aspect of life in general and the Christian life in particular. Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall rise up on wings as eagles; they shall walk and not faint. When waiting is done as an act of obedience and in anticipation of His presence it is a form of worship. It is service before the Lord. When we wait in hope of His appearance and with faith in His promises, we are attend to Him and His purposes. How we wait is a measurement of the glory and honor we hold for the one for whom we wait. JDJ #115

44. “Have you no shame?” Those words from my childhood are gone from American society. Shame is now thought of as a curable disorder. It is mistakenly equated with low self-esteem and a poor self-concept. It is treated as though it is the product of a bad childhood. In these scenarios, shame is defined as the state of feeling guilty whether one is guilty or not. In modern thought feelings of guilt need to be cured and/or excised from our lives. But in the Scriptures shame is a good thing; it is the recognition of the presence of evil and the corresponding fear of being contaminated by evil. Shame arises at the mere possibility of that which is holy being profaned. In other words, shame is the tension that comes with the knowledge of good and evil. Before they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed. After their fall they sewed leaves together to cover their shame. When they had no sin there was no basis for shame; but when they became marred by sin, shame became essential for their survival. It is the mark of a working conscience and the gift of God’s grace. Without a sense of shame there would be no repentance, for Godly sorrow works repentance. This great escape from shame is in reality a flight away from God. JDJ #116

45.  When it comes to shame, our first task is to discern if our sense of shame arises (a) from actual guilt, or (b) from a devalued sense of worth, or (c) from a heart made sensitive to righteousness and unrighteousness. Shame that flows from actual guilt is a redemptive impetus, an awareness of sin, which flows from the convicting presence of the Holy Spirit. It is a gift. Shame that arises from a false sense of guilt or a low sense of worth needs to be lifted from us. We all carry a sense of shame arising from episodes of embarrassment. Sometimes those were momentary events that exposed our humanity and scarred our self-image. (We got caught “with our pants down.”) This type is an attack on our personhood; it is a form of spiritual warfare. Shame that expresses sensitivity to that which is holy and to that which is sinful is a sign of God’s prevenient and sanctifying grace. The closer we draw to God the more sensitive we are to that which does not belong in His presence and the more repulsed we become at the very thought of those things. This shame is a sign of healthy growth in Christ. JDJ #117

46. One needs only look at Christian television to conclude the church is deficient in shame and negligent in the practice of discipline. JDJ #118

47. For those who would be disciples of Christ it is helpful to remember that Jesus spoke much about dying and little about discovering, much about believing and little about understanding, and much about obedience and little about performance. Discovery, understanding and performance are terms of education and they focus on us as individuals; they are experiences of individuation, possession and objectification. Death, faith and obedience are relational in character; they are inter-personal experiences of connecting, letting-go/holding-on, surrender, and trust. His call is for us to die to ourselves so that we might live in Him, not for us to discover ourselves so that we might understand Him. JDJ #121

48. The coming Kingdom of God is one of freedom and justice, peace and tranquility, and joy and prosperity. We have entered that Kingdom and yet we await that Kingdom. We live in the tension between the already and the not yet. Some aspects of the Kingdom are more fully realized than others. Some lure us into the future, others transform our present into that future. By faith we can now be all He desires us to be in this period of waiting for His return. As we wait, the Holy Spirit in us is the guarantee (surety deposit, or payment-in-kind) of all that is yet to be. JDJ #122
49. Justice is a defining trait of the Kingdom of God. It is a central promise of the reign of God but it will be the last component to be fully realized. Justice awaits its consummation in the final judgment. But justice is not a prerequisite for inner healing or the freedom in Christ that comes with that healing. Many people fail to realize freedom in Christ because they cling to their past experiences of injustice. They have been wounded and wrongly believe they will find healing only when they have justice. Sometimes we must relinquish our claim for justice, we must forgive, in order to accept God’s gifts of healing and freedom. Forgiveness is a sign the Kingdom has come, the reign of Christ has broken into the present. JDJ #123

49. Tranquility is another defining trait of the Kingdom of God. There will be no violence or even discord in the reign of Christ. While we await that day, Christ gives us peace, His peace, that overcomes the stress and afflictions of this life. His is the peace of inner wholeness, shalom, that conquers fear in the storms of life; it holds us in the comfort of His arms in the face of oppression, hatred, bigotry, and persecution in all its forms. The peace of Christ in us is the promise of the peace of God for all of creation. The challenge for us is to understand and believe that the peace of Christ is one of the central signs the Kingdom is present; it is His desire for us to possess it now. JDJ #124

50. Prosperity is another defining trait of the Kingdom of God. Life in the reign of Christ will be marked by abundance. We will have more than we can now imagine; we will be weighted down with all good things. And so in this life we celebrate all of His gifts, which are beyond numbering, but we must also identify with the afflictions of Christ. We must be conformed to His likeness by being joined to Him in His suffering. Through this we gain confidence that we shall be joined with Him in the resurrection, remembering that this present suffering cannot be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. In seasons of plenty and in seasons of want His glory pulsates throughout our being. With the hum of His glory, our soul intones the joy of our salvation, a joy that cannot be silenced or even muffled by that which is passing away, the outer state of our existence. In this joy we join the anthem of the redeemed being sung in heaven and on the earth, now and throughout the ages. JDJ

51. In this time between times, prosperity is not a reliable sign of the presence or absence of the Kingdom. Neither is the absence of prosperity a sign of God’s favor or the lack of His favor. It rains on the just and the unjust alike. What I am trying to do in my own life and ministry is to move away from reacting against the false teachings of our time and to move more clearly into stating the truth of the Gospel. I no longer want to preach against the word-of-faith movement; I want to encourage a faith-in-the-Word movement (allowing that being “for” sometimes means being clearly “against” something else). JDJ #126

52. My view is that prosperity is a gift from God that is unmerited; we do not deserve or earn it. It is never an indicator of our spirituality. God does respond to our needs when we pray in faith but He has not promised the abundance of His Kingdom until Christ returns. What is clear from Scripture is that we are called to identify with Christ in our sufferings. Suffering, and not prosperity, is “a means of grace,” to use Wesleyan terms. The grace and presence of Christ abounds for those who are in pain and/or poverty. Our current task is to identify the Kingdom with the presence of Christ in, among, and through those who hurt. We must do this without romanticizing poverty and suffering. The fact that God suffers with us and He is present in our suffering does not imply that He is the author of our suffering but rather His presence is the assurance of His power to minister grace in the presence of suffering. JDJ #127

53. The love of God will drive us to weep over the sins of others as if they were our own; It will also restrain us from condoning those sins as though they were insignificant or nonexistent. In this age of tolerance, there is too little tolerance for differences of opinion and religious convictions. It is not only possible to tolerate those with whom we strongly disagree; it is possible to love them, even to love them enough to disagree with them. Tolerance, after all, is but a form of apathy and apathy is a dehumanizing absence of concern. We are not called to tolerate; we are called to something much greater, love. JDJ #128

54. The Holy Spirit has come that we might know righteousness and sin when we see them and to teach us how to respond  (John 14-16) . I grieve deeply that some among us call evil “good” and good “evil” in the name of tolerance. They have closed their ears to the Spirit and invite the wrath of God. On the other hand, I rejoice with those who by the Spirit see good in the midst of evil; they are witnesses to the grace of God and they are called to bless and nurture that which is good. Through this they fan into flame the convicting presence of the Holy Spirit. And I honor those who by the Spirit see evil in the midst of good; only, let them remember the parable of the wheat and the tares. They have been called to grieve and pray with the Spirit and to be led by the Spirit in their response. Too often we see and act without seeking the face of God before acting. -- come Holy Spirit and teach us truth; cause the Word of God to burn in our hearts. JDJ #129

Jesus emptied himself of His glory and took on human flesh; He became human. This “kenosis” (emptying) was an act of perfect love. As the late Church of the Nazarene professor Mildred Wynkoop has pointed out, kenosis is always a mutual act, emptying oneself involves opening oneself to others. Self-denial is an act of discovery and becoming. Our sanctification is our union with Christ in His love, making Christian perfection to be perfection in “kenosis,” emptying and receiving in mutual love JDJ #131

56. The essence of human existence is communicable. Human existence is at its core relational. To be human is to exist with a fundamental need to know and be known by other humans and by God. Without this need and the corresponding capacity for relational union, we do not exist in the image of our triune God. JDJ #132

57.   Pentecostals in North America have largely abandoned one of the central expressions of their spirituality, the testimony. It continues to be woven into sermons and is given space in small group meetings and private conversations. When it does surface in these settings, there seems to be confusion about its purpose. Some seem to think the purpose of Christian testimony is to recount the great things they have done for God or with God. But the nature and purpose of Christian testimony should be to bear witness to the great things God has done for us. When we become the major character of our testimony, the subject who acts heroically, we have cast ourselves into the role of a messiah; a substitute messiah is in fact an anti-Christ. JDJ #133

58. Christian discipleship requires a change of identity, or self-perception, and a change of vocation.  Our new identity is to be drawn from the image of Christ. Likewise, our new vocation is to be drawn from the work and mission of Christ. We are to be like Him in character, behavior and purpose. This identity, character and purpose are tied to our union with the body of Christ. In Christian fellowship we discover who we are and what we are gifted to do. In this process of learning and serving together, the entire body is growing into the fullness of the image and stature of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:12-13). As members of His body we extend his mission by reaching out to those who do not know Him. This is the mystery God has made known to us (Ephesians 1:9-10); we are joined to Christ in life and purpose. JDJ #134

59. The image of Christ is that of the only-begotten Son of God: begotten, not made, without beginning or end. Within the eternal, triune, unchanging Godhead He is the Son of God. He belongs with the Father, expresses the Father, and fulfills the will of the Father. Therein lies the most fundamental transformation that must take place in our self-perception; God is our father and we are His children: with beginning but without end, created and recreated, cut off but now united. We were aliens and strangers to the things of God. We did not belong. Now we are heirs and joint heirs with Christ, members of God’s own household. So, Christ taught us to pray “Our Father” and the Spirit within us cries out “Abba Father, dearest Father.” In Christ, we are children of the Most High God. We belong to God; we belong with God. In reverence, we come into His throne room without fear of rejection. In Him, we have come home. JDJ #135

60. The change of our self-perception from that of strangers to God into that of children of God comes with an appropriate calling. Above all else, our vocation as His children is to love and enjoy Him. This is not the love of obligation or a love born of an unpayable debt; it is the love of intimate devotion. Some seem to relate to God as though loving Him is a burdensome duty. They do not yet grasp the nature of our relationship. To know God is to know His love for us and it is to love Him without reservation. When we truly know God as our Father we delight in Him, in His presence, in His will, and in His word. When we think of God it should not first be of His glorious power before which one cowers, nor of His commandments which must be obeyed. No, let us always think first of His embrace with which He reminds us we belong with Him. His presence in our lives is the presence of all that is good and beautiful and He delights in sharing all good things with His children. JDJ #136

61.Being conformed to the image of Christ requires letting go of what was and laying hold to that which is eternal. One huge transformation in our self-identity requires letting go of the label of “sinner” and embracing by faith the identity of one who is being made holy. In the New Testament a common name for the church was “the saints” or “the holy ones.” It is all too frequent in our time to hear Christians describe themselves with words like “I am just a sinner saved by grace.” It is true that all Christians were, like the rest of humanity, sinners in word, thought, deed, and nature. It is also true that Christians are saved, are being saved, by grace and not by anything they have done. But the great deception of the “sinner saved by grace” statement is that it implies that sin is a normal or natural part of the Christian life, something that will only be removed at our glorification. The Scriptures are clear that believers sin (I John 1:9, 2:1), but they never make sin an acceptable condition in which to live. If anyone continues in a life of sin they have no part with Christ (I John 3:5). Christians are reproved, exhorted, and rebuked to live Godly lives. Those who are alive in Christ are being made holy (Ephesians 5:26, I Corinthians 6:11, Hebrews 10:29). While it is no doubt self-defeating to describe oneself as a “saint” (think “pride”), it is never-the-less necessary that we know ourselves to be those who are being sanctified by the blood, the Word, and the Spirit. While potential and/or actual sin may be an ever present reality in our lives, we must not let it define us. JDJ #137

62. As those who are being made holy in Christ Jesus, it is our vocation to stand before God and serve as members of a royal priesthood. Some believe the primal root meaning of the Hebrew word for “priest” is to “stand before.” Only those who are acceptable in His sight can stand before God and only those who share in His holiness are acceptable in His holy presence, the Shekinah of His glory. Holiness is at the heart of the relational character of God. It is what joins us to Him that which drives the sinful from His presence, for only God and that which is joined to Him can be holy. Thus, to be holy is to be in communion with God; it is to share His passion and to be fused to His mission. In holiness we are called to worship, to commune with God, and to communicate His presence and will. Holiness is not a static state of impotent purity; it is purity bubbling forth in unencumbered and dynamic worship of the living God. As holy priests we enter the divine dance of the holy Trinity, what the ancient theologians called the perichoresis. As priests we come before God on our own behalf, but we also come on behalf of others; we are joined with Christ in His ministry of intercession. And as priests we go out from God to minister His presence and grace to those who cannot stand before Him; we are joined with Christ in His ministry of reconciliation. Holiness opens us to receive into ourselves the suffering of others; it drives us to own as our own their brokenness and their sinfulness so that we like Christ stand in the gap on their behalf. These are the callings of all who are being made holy in Christ Jesus our Lord. JDJ #138

63. Another transformation that must take place in our self-identity is that we must let go of the vestiges of the enmity that existed between us and God, and come to fully believe that we are His friends. We are friends of God. We find it easy to believe God loves us. He has to love us; He is love, after all. Children are loved out of their primal relationship with us, but we choose our friends. “Would God choose me as His friend? Surely God doesn’t like me. He knows all the stuff I have done and He knows me personally. Why would God want to be my friend?” Jesus told His disciples they were His friends; as evidence of this friendship He assured them that He had told them everything He had received from the Father (John 15:13-16). In that brief passage we get a glimpse into true friendship and the bases of our friendship with God. Friendship is mutual. Friends love each other. They share intimate and purposeful knowledge with each other. They participate together in those things each considers of greatest importance; they support and submit to one another. And they anticipate their futures together. Metaphorically, our friends are those persons with whom we want to share the journey. Now say it with conviction, “I am a friend of God.” JDJ #139

Post script: I am on the road trip of life with my BFF, God.  

64. As friends of God we are called to go and bear fruit that remains (John 17: 16). Our vocation is to be ambassadors of Christ who carry His life-giving presence into the world. This is predicated on obedience to His commands, conformity to His character and union with His purposes. As His friends we absorb His values, His affections; we love what He loves and reject as He rejects. The first and most abiding evidence of this transformation is our love for one another, but our blinders are also removed so that we begin to see all of creation through His eyes. As fruit bearers we embody His life and His will; as Word receivers we obey His commandments so that His word is communicated in our very being. But we must not be confused, this calling to re-present Christ to the World means that we will be received as He was received; we will be hated as He was hated. JDJ #140

65. In my youth I was trained in the Roman Road and the Evangelism Explosion methods of personal evangelism; I came to present God’s path to salvation as the threefold steps of repent, believe and confess. Repent from your sins, truly turn away from them and cling to Christ. Believe on Jesus Christ as God’s only begotten Son who gave Himself that we might be saved. Confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior. I have since come to understand there is a fourth component that is the dynamic foundation for these three, humility. Humility is the cornerstone for repentance. Without humility no one is willing to admit their failures and confess their need for help. Before we can believe Christ died for us, we must humble ourselves and believe there is an Almighty God who resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. And without humility a confession of His Lordship is nothing but a thinly veiled lie. Seen from another angle, love is the core affection that transforms our relational selves into persons who exalt the objects of our affections above ourselves. Love makes us smaller in our own eyes revealing it to be the core affection and catalyst for true humility. JDJ #141

66. In my youth I resolved to not let anyone “out holiness me.” I reacted to the legalism of my day by frequently asserting my confidence in God’s grace to sanctify. I often felt like many were looking at my bell-bottom jeans, print shirts and long hair (over my ears and on my collar) and judging me as worldly. It was as if holiness was an Olympic sport and they were determined to go for the gold and were just as determined to keep me off the platform, or somewhere outside the stadium. I wasn’t theologically astute, but I did have a deep conviction that holiness begins in the heart, centers on our relationship with God and expresses itself in our attitude toward others. I confess, I had my own set of standards for righteousness, some of which were not well grounded in the Scriptures. And I sometimes confused my own brashness for holy boldness. OK, I’m still working on that last one. Today, I love to see young people who have a passion for the things of God and a parallel hunger to please Him. Over zealousness is easier to harness than apathy is to invigorate. JDJ #142

67.As disciples of Christ, another transformation that must take place in our self-perception is in our role as servants of God. We must begin to think of ourselves not as slaves but as faithful stewards. As noted earlier, Jesus says we are not His slaves, we are His friends if we do what He has commanded. Submission out of fear is the posture of a slave; submission out of love is the posture of a friend and a sign of intimacy. In Biblical times stewards were entrusted with the possessions of their master and they were authorized to act in behalf of their master. They were servants who were trusted as friends. All that we have, all that we are belongs to God. He trusts us to use everything under our influence for His purposes and, as His parables reveal, He will richly reward us for our efforts in His behalf. JDJ #149

68. As stewards (not slaves) it is our vocation to co-reign with Christ. Christ reigns not through subjugation but through reconciliation. The ministry He has given us is the ministry of reconciliation (II Corinthians 5:18). We are His agents in the redemption of His creation. Our calling is to re-enact and extend His emptying of Himself for the salvation of others. We are debtors to the world in that the blessings we have received belong not just to us but to everyone (Romans 1:14). Our job is to use everything under our influence to share those blessings with those who need them. We are to be givers, distributing God’s grace to those in need. The great challenge is to believe that God is indeed at work in us “to will and to do His good pleasure” (Philippians  2:13), to believe that we are salt and light and our words/actions can truly be His words/actions. It is in the distribution of His blessings and the embodiment of His presence that we co-reign with Him. JDJ #150

69. As stewards the challenge before us is to make the talents that have been given to us profitable for the Kingdom of God, to use our talents to increase the reign of Christ. We wrongly interpret the parable of the talents to focus on condemning the burial of our talents with the assumption that Christ wants us to simply improve and display them, multiply them inside of us. I would suggest more harm is done by those who display their gifts than by those who hide them. Our call is not to show-case our abilities; it is to use them to bless others and glorify God. The focus must always be on ministering to the needs of others rather than on the improvement of our abilities. We increase our talents by investing them into the lives of others where they are multiplied. JDJ #151

70. There are those who seem to think that grace covers everything. Grace is God’s guarantee that nothing we do will make us less in His eyes. Grace is a “get out of Hell free” card. This is a perversion of grace as it ultimately destroys the very concept of sin. The corollary to this perversion of truth is to label every call to righteousness as “legalism” and/or “works-righteousness.” Grace does not free us from God’s call to righteousness. Grace reigns through righteousness; it provides the means for us to fulfill righteousness (Romans 5:21). Grace not only frees us from the guilt of sin, it names sin and frees us from the power of sin. Grace is not just God’s response to the sinner; it is God’s judgment on sin. The beauty and power of grace lies in its effect on the sinner and on the sin.  JDJ #165

71. In this age of spiritual libertinism, some who grew up in conservative churches are shouting about the legalism of their childhood. Some even label as abusive every restriction offered in the name of Christ. Certainly abuses have taken place through the misappropriation of the Scriptures and the usurpation of the authority of Christ. Those sins must be addressed. But not every “no” is oppressive constraint. Prohibitions may in fact be the avenue to true freedom. Spoken to a child, “do not play with fire” is not a suppression of life; it is the preservation of life. “Do not bring reproach on the Name of Christ” is not an obstacle to human fulfillment; it is a signpost on the road to everlasting life. Grace finds its meaning in the prohibitions of the Law and its fulfillment in the law of the Spirit. There is no more oppressive system than the delusion that there is no sin, for this lie chains the human soul to its own filth without hope of cleansing. The twins of that delusion are the myths of autonomy and self-actualization which imprison the human soul in a cell of isolation and deception. Perhaps the great sin of our age is the fear to name sin. JDJ #166

72. I teach a class on ministry with families. I find it interesting how little the Bible has to say about being a good parent and how much it has to say about being a good child. I also teach a class on leadership. The surprise here is how little the Bible has to say about being a good leader and how much it says about being a good follower. It seems our focus is on the wrong things; like our first parents, we desire the knowledge that brings esteem, power and control instead of the truth that brings fulfillment. JDJ #167

73. Just a Thought: Who can tame the tongue? (James 3:8). Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34, Luke 6:45). Our words not only reveal the truth of what is within, they nourish that truth, justify its existence, and expand its domain whether good or evil. Impure words give birth to even more impure thoughts. The impulse to curse another gives rise to vain imaginations and a deluded sense of self-worth.  Sin begets sin (Romans 1). The tongue is a fire from hell that sets the direction of our lives (James 3:5). It is the rudder that steers the course of our actions. Only the sanctified heart and the Spirit-filled life can turn the tongue into an instrument of the glory of God and a fountain of righteousness. JDJ  #170

74. A major error in Christian thinking is to only associate faith with power and gifts. Faith is not just about receiving; it is also about enduring. Faith in the person and work of Christ must be faith not just in His miracle working power, but also in the efficacy of His suffering. Faith in His life-giving power necessitates faith in His death. To truly believe in His resurrection is to believe equally in His cross. Thus, to be joined with Christ in His resurrection is to be joined with Him in His suffering. (Romans 8:17; Philippians 1:9; 3:10; II Timothy 1:12; 3:12).  In my youth I was often asked if I was willing to suffer for Christ. In my generation there was great effort given to scare us away from the “mark of the Beast.” With trepidation I deeply hoped that I would be willing to suffer for Christ, and make it in the rapture rather than suffer during the Great Tribulation. I have come to believe there is a more important question: am I willing to suffer with Christ? Christ will never ask us to suffer alone, to suffer for Him. He will ask us to enter into His suffering. JDJ #216

75. Very early in life we learn how and of whom to make our petitions; i.e., go to Mom if I am hungry; go to Dad if I want to play outside. For most of us we learned that sad faces and repetition were the keys to wearing them down. It didn’t hurt to throw in some promises at the right time. “Please, please, please, if you let me do this I’ll never ask for anything again.” Unfortunately, instead of developing mature asking skills, many of us forget how to ask all together. It is as though asking is a sign of weakness. But the Book of James says “You have not because you ask not.” He then clarifies that it might also be because we ask “amiss,” that is, for our own consumption (James 4:1-3). Jesus shared a couple of parables about asking, a widow asking a judge for justice and a neighbor asking a friend for a late-night snack for another friend. In both teaching events he stressed the righteousness and goodness of our Heavenly Father who desires to bless us. But He also stressed our need to keep on asking until we hear from God. “Ask (keep on asking) and it will be given to you. Seek (keep on seeking) and you will find. Knock (keep on knocking) and it will be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7; Luke 11:9). This is not “vain repetition”; it is the personal character of our relationship with God. Perhaps one message is that child-like faith must be expressed in child-like asking. JDJ #218

76. The transfiguration of Christ was no doubt a transforming event for Peter, James and John. They had heard about such events especially the accounts of Moses but they had never witnessed first-hand the glory of God. It was a turning point for Jesus as well. His conversation with Moses and Elijah included preparation for his “exodus” in Jerusalem. From that point on Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem. Three things are revealed about the Apostles in Luke’s account of (Luke 9:28-36). First, they almost slept through the glory. It is possible for even the closest of followers of Christ to miss the glory of Christ because of distraction or slumber. Second, they thought they could capture the glory; they wanted to build three tabernacles for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. The glory of God cannot be contained, controlled, or fossilized. Finally, when the cloud enveloped them, they were afraid and they heard the voice of God. Fear was an involuntary response to the heaviness of God’s glory. (The Hebrew for “glory” conveys “heaviness” while the Greek conveys “brilliance.”) The fear of God is the only appropriate response to His holy presence. It is through fear that we realize full acceptance and it is through fear that we are prepared for the trials that are before us. The glory of God is made manifest in this life as a call toward the fullness of His glory that lies in our future and as preparation for the journey that will take us there. JDJ #219

77. Our personal stories are sacred. They define us and form the foundation of who we are and who we will become. More importantly they contain revelations of the grace of God. No matter how dark and evil our history has been, God was there ministering grace. Furthermore, the redemption of Christ is not limited to the future state of our souls. He became incarnate, died and arose again for the redemption of all of creation and the redemption of our entire existence. In Christ, all that we are, all that we have been, and all that we shall be is being redeemed unto the glory of God. Our story is a testimony of His grace. JDJ #221

78. “I have some really exciting news. I wish I could tell you but I can’t. I promised to keep it a secret.” Jesus said, “Go into the whole world and keep my secret.” (The Gospel According to American Christianity 28:19) I am convicted today because that seems to be the gospel we live by even if it is not the one we read. JDJ #222

79. One of the enemy’s subtle tactics is to blur the line between our wishes and hope in Christ. Wishes have their origin in human desire. That desire may be righteous or evil, that is, it may be a desire for good things or bad things. Christian hope is always grounded in the promises of God (Romans 4). This hope centers in the presence and glorious reign of God (see Hebrews 6). Hope in Christ is the dynamic and living expression of faith in Christ. We hope for Him, for His return, and for His righteous reign. Such hope breathed by the Holy Spirit is the in-breaking of that for which we hope, i.e., God with us. When our faith lives our hope overflows. One of the great dangers of the Christian life is to allow our good wishes to overshadow God’s glorious promises, to get distracted by what we want and labeling it as “hope in Christ.” When that happens we confuse our imaginations with divine revelation and we destine ourselves to miss out on the abundance of His blessings. JDJ #223

80. All of us enjoy some new things; yet, all of us have times of needing the security of the familiar. The interface between the new and the old is called “change.” Change can be exciting and it can be threatening. It offers renewal and it intimates loss. Without change we will wither and die. On the other hand too much change or the wrong kind of change can kill us. There are changes we seek and there are changes that are thrust upon us. Each of us exists on a continuum somewhere between being paralyzed by change and being invigorated by it. We slide back and forth depending on the nature of the change and our current life circumstances. The good news is that God has designed us to adapt to the changes in our lives. We were created to learn and grow, to hold on and to let go. For believers, the impact of change on our lives is largely determined by faith. Do we believe God is working for our good at all times and in all situations? Do we trust Him to make all things work together for our good (Romans 8:28)? I have found the key to change for me is to resist trying to control everything and to hold on tightly to the promises of God. When I can no longer hold on, His promises hold on to me.  JDJ #224

81. God delights to give us the desires of our hearts, our wishes, as it were. He is constrained in doing so by His love for us. Not all of our desires are good for us, no matter how good they seem to us. Jesus said that if we seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness “all these things” (food, drink, clothing) will be added to us (Matthew 6:33). The promises of God are all tied to the Kingdom of God and its righteousness. They do not include giving us everything for which we ask. Those who truly seek for the reign of God in their lives are promised life in His reign, and where He rules blessings are beyond measure. The things we need for abundant life are there abundantly supplied. As we seek for His Kingdom we have His assurance He is already at work in us to desire and to do His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). If His Kingdom is foremost in our desires He will mold our other desires into that which is truly good for us; we will long for all the goodness He longs to bestow on us. In this time-between-times, when we are often uncertain of what is good for us, we cast our cares upon Him. We ask without fear of rejection; we seek with determination; we knock with perseverance, knowing that our Father cares for us. JDJ #225  

82. More important than faith that Christ will return is faith that the Lord who will return is with us now. In the New Testament, the Greek word translated as “comforter” means “one called alongside of.” In classical Greek it might refer to a lawyer, a coach, or a confidant. The core understanding is that in time of need someone comes to be with us. A parallel word in Hebrew is “helper.” When our world falls apart and our soul curls into the fetal position, we are alone, hopelessly alone, no matter how many well-intentioned people crowd around us. In those times we are like a lost child cowering in a dark cave crying for someone to come in and lead us out while simultaneously trembling at the thought of having to trust again. We may become that person who simply will not be comforted. In order to be comforted we must let someone be with us, stand with us and share the space of our pain. That requires trust. God desires to be the “lifter” of our head (Psalm 3:3), our helper (Psalm 54:4), the one we trust (pick a Psalm). The Holy Spirit was sent by Christ to be our comforter (John 14-16). The core meaning of these verses has little to do with our emotional state and everything to do with our relational state. God never wants us to be alone in the crowd; He wants us to know He is with us and He will never forsake us. JDJ #230

83. As followers of Christ, one of the great challenges of life is to cease to define ourselves by who we were as sinners and to begin to define ourselves by who we are becoming in Christ. I am not just a sinner who was/is being saved by grace; I am a child of God who is being transformed into the very image of Christ. If we fail to make this transition we destine ourselves to live out of our past failures. If we succeed, we set the course toward our destiny in Christ. JDJ #233

84. As Christ was perfected through suffering (Hebrews 2: 9-10), it should not surprise us when we go through tribulations. He was hated and he told us we would be hated. The writer of Hebrews used an interesting phrase for the world’s hatred for us; it is our “struggle against sin” (12: 4). The world does not hate us because we call ourselves Christians; it hates us because we are locked in a battle against sin, a battle that centers in our own affections. The world considers us its enemy because we do not dance to its music and bow to its Lords of power. We must not become discouraged in sufferings inflicted out of this hatred for our heavenly Father is watching. He is at work in it all for our good. In deed He is using the blows of the enemy to perfect us in our faith. The very blows delivered by the enemy for our destruction are being transformed by God into training exercises for our discipline (Hebrews 12: 1-11). When we who are in Christ Jesus suffer, let us never forget God is present, God is at work, and God is using that which is against us for our good. JDJ #256

85. There are those who seem to love Christ while considering His body a necessary nuisance. There has now arisen another group that says it loves Christ but finds the church an unnecessary option. Those who say they love God but not the church are like a man who said to His wife “Honey, I love your face, but the rest of you disgusts me.” JDJ # 262

86. Two recurring themes in the New Testament are the will of the Father and the mind of Christ. I long ago concluded these are two of the core concepts in Christian discipleship and that they are overlooked, misunderstood, and misappropriated. It is easy to grasp that Jesus came to do the will of the Father. He stated that fact over and over (see especially the Gospels of Matthew and John). But under the influence of Reformed Theology we tend to think of the will of God as something that happens to us. It is hard for us to grasp that God’s will is something that we are to know and in which we are to fully participate. Indeed, our eternal salvation depends on it. "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter (Matthew 7:21, see also 12:50 and Mark 3:35, I John 2:17). The Scriptures teach us that we are to “understand” what the will of God is (Ephesians 5:17), and “prove” the will of God (Romans 12:2). Believers are to be confident that God is at work in them to both know and do His good pleasure (Philippians 2: 15). Essential to the Christian life is faith that the will of God is good and that we have been called to know and fulfill it. JDJ # 320   

87. Three of the essential characteristics of the Christian life are love, humility and submission. Far too often we profess love while feigning humility and circumventing submission. It is critical that we understand these three to be essential traits of the life of Christ and that they are dynamically linked. Working together they are what the Scriptures refer to as the “mind of Christ” (Philippians 2). Christian love, humility and submission constitute the attitude, or predisposition of Christ in relation to the Father and in relation to creation. He set aside His glory, took on the form of a servant and became obedient unto death. Thus, these three attributes are most clearly expressed by believers in their Christ-like relationships. They are gifts from God initially bestowed in creation and restored in Christ. They are also attitudes of choice for which we are accountable. We cannot possess one without possessing all. Subjugation may be achieved through force, but Christian submission is a gift that must be grounded in humility, that sincere desire to honor and exalt the other. Love that is not wed to humility and submission is self-love, the desire to appear to be a loving person. Love and humility bind us together as members one of another and submission is the first fruit of their union in us. JDJ # 315

88. The disciple of Jesus Christ must be guided by one central and abiding question, what is the will of God? More precisely it must be a prayer, “Father, what is your will?” This is the question that must be raised in every point of decision. It may take differing forms such as, “Father, what are you saying in this situation?” Or, “What would you have me do?” This is not the same question as “what would Jesus do?” WWJD leaves God in the margins of the equation. It assumes the believer is on his or her own to effectively apply Biblical principles. It assumes God is not directly and immanently engaged with all of our life situations or at the very least that He cannot or will not make known His will. Just to sincerely ask God the question of His will creates a learning environment for spiritual growth and transformation. It shifts the focus from what we do before God to what we do with God. This quest to know the will of God is in and of itself an act of faith. We must believe God is present and active in every moment of our lives. He is always speaking, even in His silence He is speaking. Thus, the central method of discipleship is discernment of God’s presence and voice. In this we pray without ceasing, “… Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.” JDJ # 321

89. The “mind of Christ” is one of the most misunderstood recurring concepts in the New Testament. It is too often read through the lens of the modern concept of “mind,” i.e., the mind is the center of thought. Thus, to “have the mind of Christ” is construed to mean that one thinks like Jesus thinks. But, the New Testament use of “mind,” while embracing the act of thinking is deeper and broader than thought. The “mind” is the seat of one’s attitude or dispositions that gives rise to thought. It encompasses what we think before we actually think, including our inclinations toward truth, reality, and ethics. This is most clearly seen in Paul’s challenge to the church at Philippi to ”have the mind of Christ” (Philippians 2:5, see # 315). Christian love, humility and submission constituted the attitude, or predisposition of Christ in relation to the Father and in relation to creation. He set aside His glory, took on the form of a servant and became obedient unto death. That is the mind of Christ. Discipleship must concern itself with the transformation of the heart, the attitudes, and the affections. “By this shall all persons know you are my disciples in that you have love one toward another.”  JDJ #322

90. Doing the will of God is not dependent on knowing the details of the will of God; it is instead dependent on the desire to know and do the will of God combined with faith that God will order our steps. Knowing and doing the will of God is always an act of faith. We must believe that God has purpose, that He is at work in the world, and that He is at work in us “both to will and to do His good pleasure” (Philippians 2: 13). Even when we are convinced we know what God wants us to do, we cannot be certain of the outcome. We must trust that God will make all things work together for our good (Romans 8:28). In short, a commitment to do the will of God does not ensure clarity about what the will of God is. Sometimes we simply don't know what we should do when we are at a crossroads in life. In those times we trust and we keep doing those things we know to be the will of God. When you don’t know what to do, do what you know to do. Never let uncertainty about the seemingly urgent things in life interfere with faithfulness to that which in known to be important. In this we have the mind of Christ. JDJ # 324  

91. What we think about ourselves as Christians has a profound effect on what we believe about God and upon the impact of our witness. We are made to be overcomers by the word of our testimony for our testimony is a declaration of what God has done for us, a revelation of His life in us now, and a proclamation of what He plans for us. Our testimony must bring together our past, our present, and our promised future. There must dwell within us a rich hope of His return and the consummation of all things in Him. If we are alive in Christ His glory also dwells in us awaiting His return for its full manifestation. The glory of His reign over all creation already shines within us who are the first fruits of His resurrection. Thus, we are in error when we allow ourselves to be defined by what we were instead of what we are becoming. We are not “just forgiven.” Neither are we just “sinners-saved-by-grace.” Our salvation is a journey; we are traveling from being sinners into being those redeemed out of sin and toward being the saints gathered around the throne of God. We are further in error when we limit the atoning work of Christ in this life. By His grace we are what we are becoming, and we are not what we have been. We are “the-redeemed-being-made-holy-and-acceptable-unto-God.” Thus the focus of the Christian life should be on the journey out of the depravity of sin and into the abundant grace of the sanctified life. God is not content for us to be sinners saved by grace; He has called us into fellowship with His Son so that we might share in His holiness in this life and in the life to come.  JDJ # 382

92. The Scriptures nowhere describe Christians as “sinners saved by grace.” Purge that phrase from your thoughts. The Word of God affirms that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. It further makes clear that salvation is by grace and nothing the believer has done qualifies him or her for salvation. Those sacred writings are replete with examples of believers choosing to sin and being judged for it. They offer the promise that if any believer sins that one has an advocate with the Father and He is faithful and just to forgive his or her sins and cleanse him or her from all unrighteousness. But the Scriptures do not refer to the redeemed as sinners. Instead they announce that if anyone continues to practice sin they do not know God. Clearly, God expects and requires that all who desire to know Him stop sinning. No one will ever see Him who does not follow peace with all men and holiness. We must then ask ourselves, if God demands that we live holy lives, does He not also make provision for us to be holy? JDJ # 383

93. A voice whispers into our ears, “you can’t stop sinning; this sin is bigger than you are.” And that voice is correct. Sin is bigger than us. The good that we would do we do not. The evil we resist we perpetuate. On our own, without the grace of God, we cannot resist sin. But thanks be to God, Jesus has conquered death, hell, and the grave. Tempted in every way as we are, He who knew no sin, became sin on our behalf, and arose victorious over all sin. He bids us “Come unto me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” And what is the rest He gives if not freedom from the power of sin to rule over us and freedom from the works of the law that require us to be perfect while condemning us to live in our imperfections. The rest that He gives is His holiness, His righteousness that frees us from the burden of sin and the very impulse (nature) to sin. JDJ # 384

94. It is logical to think of the “Way of Salvation” as being comprised of distinct and sequential works of grace. Justification is that gift of God that establishes our correct, or right standing before God. It restores us to our place as His children. Regeneration is the “twin-moment” of justification; it is the moment of the new birth in Christ. Sanctification is that gift of God that frees us from the nature to sin and transforms our nature to that which shares in the holiness of God. For most of us in the Wesleyan tradition, it too begins at the moment of justification/regeneration but then continues throughout this life. Through it the regenerated person has the grace needed to resist recognized temptations or known sin. However, in our tradition there is also belief that a state of entire sanctification, or Christian perfection, is possible in this life. This refers to the purification and healing of the heart, or attitudes and affections. It is not perfection in the sense of final restoration to full human existence or abilities; we are still limited in our physical faculties, including mental abilities. It is a state of holy desire for God and the things of God. This condition must be maintained in the same way as life in Christ is maintained, through faith and devotion. Baptism in the Holy Spirit, or being filled with the Spirit, is that gift of God that unites us to God in vision and purpose. It is God’s empowering and abiding presence that transforms the believer into a living witness of Jesus Christ and His resurrection. Each of these are identifiable works of grace, separate in the sense of distinguishable. But it is error to overly divide them. They all flow from the same fountain, the atoning work of Christ on Calvary. JDJ # 385

95. Pride is the Achilles’ heel of all who teach, preach, and profess holiness. The temptation to think more highly of ourselves than we should is ubiquitous and subtle. Many give into it without being conscious of their fall. The emotions that accompany the joy and peace of the Holy Spirit are the same emotions that accompany self-adulation. Holiness is not about emotions; it is about affections. Should we keep on sinning lest pride emerge? God forbid! Pride flowing from self-righteousness is no more or less sinful than pride flowing from presumed grace; pride in one’s freedom from sin and pride in one’s freedom to sin are the same. Both measure righteousness by the presence or absence of sin when true righteousness is defined only by the holiness of God. Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit, received and maintained by the grace of God. Let all who would be holy know that it begins and ends with a humble heart. JDJ # 386

96. Recently, I read a blog by a well-known blogger/author who had recently attended a conference for a group of professing believers that has felt excluded from the church because of their sexual orientation. The blogger was effervescent with praise for the attendees, attributing their apparent love, joy and acceptance to the Holy Spirit and asserting the old adage “you will know them by their fruit.” She labeled the positive atmosphere of their gathering as the fruit of the Spirit. At this juncture, my concern is not to judge the persons attending the conference, but rather to critique her pronouncement of the Spirit’s presence. It is a dangerous and blasphemous thing to attribute to the Spirit that which is not of the Spirit. At issue here is the reality that discerning of the Spirit is not the same as observing personality traits and group dynamics. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). While all of these traits ultimately have their origin in God, their existence is not synonymous with the fruit of the Spirit. All humans are capable of these traits to some degree or another. The fruit of the Spirit is the abundance of these in lives being transformed by the Holy Spirit. So the Apostle lists the fruit in contrast to the works of the flesh: “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21). In brief, positive personality traits can coexist with the works of the flesh, but the fruit of the Spirit cannot coexist with the works of the flesh. We are called upon to practice “spiritual discernment” and not mere “attitudinal assessment.” The Spirit of God can only be discerned by the Spirit of God whose presence is always in union with the Word of God. JDJ # 387

97. There is a woeful lack of love for sound doctrine in the North American church; this appears to be true among all groups. In some circles there is a near disdain for sound doctrinal teaching. For many the disdain for doctrine is fused with a lust something new. People want something relevant, something engaging. This thirst for a new word, a revelation, a new teaching, makes the church fertile ground for false doctrines. In my faith group we have an abundance of crazy prophetic proclamations masquerading as preaching. Make no mistake, genuine prophecy may indeed appear crazy; just ask Hosea or Jeremiah or Ezekiel. But genuine prophecy is always wedded to the Scriptures. Both are Word of God. There is room in the family of God for differences in doctrinal interpretations of the Scriptures. Calvinists and Armenians should be able to accept each other as members of the body of Christ even while disagreeing about the nuances of the faith. But there should be no room for heresy, those teachings that contradict the core doctrines of orthodox Christian faith. Without a broad-based renewed love for sound doctrine we will see more and more of the saints falling from the faith into heretical doctrines. JDJ #388

98. Just a Thought: The snow storm that struck the south this week was tragic. Lives were lost; people suffered great discomfort with thousands stranded overnight in their automobiles and many thousands more in schools and churches and office buildings. In the midst of it all the fundamental goodness of humanity surfaced over and over again. Hundreds of strangers took strangers into their homes giving them food and shelter. Others used their four-wheel drive vehicles to ferry the stranded to safety. My nephew’s wife was one of those who could not make it all the way home; as she walked in the frigid darkness without appropriate coat or shoes, a good Samaritan stopped to give her a ride to her house. I am fully aware that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God and that unchecked-sin depraves the human heart. I do not advocate throwing caution to the winds; let us all be as harmless as doves and as wise as serpents when dealing with strangers. But I refuse to think of people as depraved and evil until their lives prove it to be so. I have too much confidence in the prevenient grace of God and too much assurance of the abiding image of God to lose faith in the human capacity for goodness. Evil abounds, and people do horrible things to others. But I believe that the grace of God is at work for, within and through people, even people that do not know Him. His love and mercy are not only toward the sinner, they exist within the sinner calling out to all “come home, come home.” Discerning God at work in and through others may be the most neglected Christian practice of our time. JDJ # 390

99. As we move toward Lent I am preaching a series of sermons on our new identity in Christ. The general theme is From Death to Life with a specific emphasis on our new identity in Christ. The themes for the first three weeks were taken from the book of Romans with a focus on Chapter 8. They are From Sinners to Saints (Week One), From Strangers to Joint Heirs With Christ (Week Two), and for today From Victims to Victors (Week Three). I would never want to understate the importance of what we do as Christians; faith without works is dead. But I am convinced our priority must be on who we are in Christ. If our relationship with Him is strong, our conduct will be righteous and effectual. We will faithfully “work out our salvation” if we are confident we are working out of the new life He gives. Who we are in Christ must be the impetus for what we do for Christ. And who we are is entirely the product of His grace. We are what He has made us to be, is making us to be. And what He is making us to be is glorious. We must not work for some future prize alone; we must believe the prize already lives within us and therefore our righteous actions are but the fruit of what we are becoming. JDJ # 393

100. If God is for us, who is against us? … Who will separate us from the love of Christ? But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.…For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31, 35, 37, 38-39)  We are more than conquerors through Christ. But we are not those who defeat and destroy our enemies. Our battle is not for the purpose of putting powers and principalities under our feet. Our only concern is to stay buried in Christ. He is redeeming all of creation. In Him and Him alone we overcome all things. This is our victory, every power that would pull us out of God’s hand falls before Him. Nothing can withstand His glory? We are caught up in His victory. Our task is but to stay in His presence, to keep our eyes focused on Him. JDJ # 394

101. God is always present, always active, and always revealing Himself and His will. He is always wholly present: Father, Son, and Spirit; Judge, Redeemer, Healer, Deliverer, Provider, Sanctifier, Creator, Sustainer, Beginning and End, Alpha and Omega, etc. We tend to know Him only in the dimension of our perceptions of His functional presence. We know Him as Healer when we are healed and as Deliverer on the occasion of His protection.  But in truth, He is present in the fullness of His Being at all times. When a disaster happens questions arise as to God’s presence or His purposes. “Why did God allow this to happen?” “Was this an act of judgment on us?” My answer, one that does not please all, is that of course God was present in the event. He was present judging the victims and all of the rest of us. But His judgment is always toward redemption (at least until the final judgment). Judgment is an expression of grace. Pity the person or group that knows not the judgment of God, for they have been judged and that judgment was to leave them in the flow of their own sins, unconvicted and unredeemed (Romans 1). I do not believe God causes evil to happen; I do believe we are prone to name as evil that which if good. We often reject God’s favor because we do not like the platter on which it was served. It is unavoidable to ask why a bad thing happened; it is better to ask God what is He wanting us to hear in the rumble of a disaster. In this we open ourselves to the abundance of His grace and we move closer to knowing Him in the fullness of His goodness. JDJ # 411

102. Just a Thought: There are many signs of a Spirit-filled church: exuberant praise, deep fellowship, devotion to the Word and sound doctrine, and faithful witness being prominent among them. But the central sign of the Spirit’s presence is prophecy. Prophecy was at the heart of the Prophet Joel’s proclamation about the outpouring of the Spirit; in that day the old and young, men and women of all social classes will prophesy. While there are varying nuances to how the word “prophecy” is used in Scripture, the thrust of its meaning is that a word from the Lord is given. Sometimes those words are about the future but always they are about the present. Prophecy is not just speaking God’s words after Him, i.e., preaching revealed truth; prophecy is speaking God’s words with Him. To prophesy is to speak God’s word as the voice of God, that is, to be vocal chords through which the Breath of God speaks. To prophesy is to become one with the Spirit-Word of God so that the act of true prophecy is a sign of the presence of God. For the early Christians prophecy was a sign the Day of the Lord’s reign was breaking in upon creation. True prophecy is therefore always convicting; it unveils our distance from the glory of God. Even prophetic words of encouragement and blessing expose the gap between God and us. True prophecy is also then an invitation to enter into the glory of God; it offers liberty in Christ. The Apostle Paul challenges us to desire prophecy above all other spiritual gifts. The will of God is established through each of the gifts of the Spirit, but it is through prophesy that the will of God is established and most clearly understood; prophecy edifies the whole person and the whole church. Let us hunger for all of the gifts, but let us hunger most for true prophecy for the desire for true prophecy is a desire for the will and presence of God. JDJ # 412

103. Just a Thought: I firmly believe “speaking in tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance” is the normative inaugural sign of baptism in the Holy Spirit. Of the five accounts of people being filled with the Spirit recorded in the New Testament, three specifically state they spoke in tongues (Acts 2, 10, 19). One occasion indicates the presence of some overt manifestation at baptism in the Holy Spirit but without naming it (Acts 8; note this baptism was after their water baptism). The fifth event was the Apostle Paul’s baptism in the Spirit (Acts 9) where there was no mention of tongues or prophecy, just the restoration of his sight; it was Paul however who would later write that he spoke in tongues more than all the Corinthians. The traditional language of Pentecostals is that “speaking in tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance is the initial evidence” of Spirit baptism. I affirm this statement but find it somewhat anachronistic; “initial evidence” is the language of the Enlightenment, not the Scriptures. God does not piddle with providing evidence as though He has to prove His case; He gives signs of His presence. Tongues are a sign the eschatological renewal of God’s people has begun. They are a sign the promise of the Father has come and God’s reign over and through His creation has begun. JDJ # 413

104.Just a Thought: According to the Apostle Paul, tongues are a sign, not to believers but to the unbelievers (I Corinthians 14:22). And yet, if an unbeliever enters a church gathering and all are speaking in tongues he or she will say the speakers are mad (v. 23). A quick read of these juxtaposed statements may appear to be a contradiction in thought, but they are not contradictory ideas. It is important to note that signs are not symbols. Symbols are visual images that by common agreement represent something that they are not. Signs, at least in the Biblical context, are the initial manifestations of an alternative reality, whether natural (weather) or supernatural. Signs are what they represent; they are of the same nature as that to which they point. Thus, the signs of the Kingdom are in fact the in-breaking of the Kingdom and not just arrows pointing toward it. For Paul to say that tongues are a sign for the unbeliever is for Him to equate tongues with the presence of a reality that is not yet fully evident. Tongues confront the unbeliever with the spiritual reality of God’s presence and of His nature to speak. Thus, speaking in tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance should be understood as a form of prophetic speech. As such, it demands a response; the hearer must interpret the event if not the words. A cacophony of tongues could only serve to confound the experience of the outsider. The sign would be buried in the confusion. Thus, Paul desires that all would speak in tongues, just not at the same time in a worship service. In those gatherings he prefers that prophecy prevail and that tongues be accompanied with the gift of interpretation. Lord, pour your Spirit out on us so that we will be a sign of your redeeming presence. JDJ # 414

105. Just a Thought: The Scriptures contain many references to God that are explicitly feminine in character.  They all flow out of the creation account where we are told humanity, male and female, is created in the image of God (Genesis 1: 26-27).  God speaks of Himself as having a womb (Job 38: 29) and of giving birth (Deuteronomy 32:18). He compares Himself to a nursing mother (Isaiah 49:15). He cries out like a woman in the labor pains of birth (Isaiah 42:14). He repeatedly describes Himself in the role of a midwife at the birth of a child (Psalm 71: 6, 22: 9-10, Isaiah 46: 3-4, 66: 9-10).  He fulfills the role of a mother or nanny nourishing and teaching Israel like a young child (Hosea 11: 1-4). He comforts like a mother comforts her child (Psalm 131: 1-2, Isaiah 66:13). He is as the mother eagle who cares for and teaches her young (Deuteronomy 32: 11-12) and He protects His own like a mother bear protects her cubs (Hosea 13: 8). Jesus speaks of Himself as a mother hen who would gather her young to herself (Matthew 23: 37, Luke 13: 34). These feminine images of God do not make Him female any more than the masculine images make Him male. All of them serve to communicate to us that our God is a personal God to whom we can relate. How sterile would our knowledge of God be if we did not know Him both as father and mother, masculine and feminine? JDJ # 416

106. Just a Thought: The straight and narrow path is not a slippery slope, but it is often lined with pitfalls, enemies, and anti-Christs, those who presume they have the right to mark the path. I grow weary of warnings about the proverbial slippery slope, especially as it relates to issues concerning women in the church. The recurring argument against women being charged to serve God in all the offices of the church is that any discussion of women’s rights and responsibilities within the church will start us careening down that slippery slope into the ordination of homosexuals. Frankly, I find that offensive, illogical and demeaning to women. The question of the place of women in the church should never be juxtaposed with the issue of homosexuality or any other sinful behavior. It is offensive, if not sinful, just to make that link. The question of the role of women in the church may be debated in light of the Scriptures, but it must never be stated or implied that women are by nature spiritually deficient just because they are women. The Scriptures never frame issues concerning women in terms of sin; the texts that supposedly restrict women address the issues in terms of Christian practice or decorum and not as issues of sin. The Bible does not suggest that a woman who speaks or acts in a manner not appropriate to church life has disqualified herself from membership in the Body of Christ. Homosexual behavior is always addressed in the Bible as sin that disqualifies persons from participation in the Kingdom of God. It is never addressed in terms of misguided Christian practice. The world may place women’s rights and homosexual rights on the same slippery slope that they call social justice or civil rights, but the church must see them as altogether separate issues. In modern times, the issue of women being ordained to ministry and sharing as equal partners in the life of church and society was born out of the Wesleyan/Holiness movement with its commitment to sanctification and social holiness. The Holiness churches have maintained that commitment and never found themselves on a slippery slope into sin because of it. They have always understood that the path of holiness is a straight and narrow way that both eschews evil and cherishes the promises of the kingdom. JDJ # 417

107.Just a Thought: Holiness is not measured by what we are against. Neither is it measured by the intensity of our opposition to sin. Holiness is a desire for God and the things of God. God alone is holy and only that which He occupies shares in His holiness. Thus, as it relates to our efforts, holiness in us begins as a process of the discernment of that which belongs in the presence of God and that which cannot survive in His glory, that which is sinful and that which is holy. It requires that we let go of everything that is contrary to His nature, cutting those things out of our lives.  But its character is love and not hate. If it could be measured it would be measured in units of love, units of passion for God and the things of God. Thus, it is less about what we are against and more about what we are for. [Note of clarification: I am not advocating Augustine’s definition of evil being the absence of good. I am suggesting that good, or the holy, will not suffer evil; it leaves no room for evil. Neither am I advocating his admonition “love God and do what you will.” I am saying that the love of God in us (not our love, but His) is a sanctifying presence.] JDJ # 418

108. Just a Thought: Holiness is a gift and not an achievement. It is the gift of God’s heart, His affections, implanted in the human heart. It is a multi-dimensional gift. One dimension is God’s heart toward us as creatures marred by sin. We cannot know the heart of God if we limit our understanding of holiness to His hatred of sin. Yes, God hates sin, but He hates sin on our behalf. He does not hate sin because it is an irritant to His sensitivities, or because it has some negative effect on Him. Sin does not touch God; it is the impact of sin on others that touches God. He hates sin because of what it does to His creation, to us. This is the central issue behind the story of redemption; He who knew no sin (Christ) became sin on our behalf. Love is the motivation of God to free us from sin. His desire is not just that we be free from the eternal consequences of sin, but that we be free from the guilt of sin, and from sin itself. In short, the atonement of Christ provides for the removal of sin and the impartation of His holiness; the pure heart is a heart full of the love of Christ. JDJ # 419

109. Just a Thought: Sometimes there is within the Holiness Movement (and other branches of Christianity) an inclination toward Stoicism, a tendency to equate emotions with weakness. This fear of passion is in my opinion the fruit of non-Wesleyan influences on the movement and a reaction to excesses of enthusiasm often associated with religious experience. A corollary problem within the movement has been a tendency to interpret holiness as self-control or self-discipline. This influence of the Keswick or "Higher Life" Movement can foster a form of works-righteousness. Together, these aberrations contributed to a tendency in some to model a form of holiness-as-harshness. I prefer to think of holiness as being characterized not by the absence of passion, but by the infusion of God’s passion, not freedom from emotion but emotions appropriate to Godly affections. The fears of losing control of our emotions or losing control to our emotions need not lead to an obsession with controlling our emotions. On the other end of the holiness continuum are those who tend to equate emotions with spiritual experience. Their relationship with God is measured by their feelings. This pattern is especially acute among some within Pentecostalism. It behooves us to remember that our relationship with God is determined by faith and not by feelings. Holiness is God’s gift that bears fruit in all aspects of human existence; the fruit does not produce holiness. JDJ # 420

110. Just a Thought: Another dimension of the gift of holiness is the impartation of God’s heart toward us as the redeemed. When we believe of Christ it is counted unto us as righteousness; holiness is “imputed” to us. But God does not look at us through rose-colored glasses that filter out emanations of sin in our lives. He is not in the business of deceiving Himself about our true spiritual state. Neither is He content to leave us in sin. God’s heart is to share His life with us. Holiness is the life of Christ flowing through us so that we share in the glory of His Kingdom. We are not static attachments to Christ; we are living branches, members of His Body. We are not merely called into the promise of a future life in Christ; we are called into His eternal abundant life. Personal holiness is woven into the abundant life we share in Christ. Regeneration into the Kingdom of God is thus a call toward entire sanctification, freedom from all the vestiges of sin. The heart of God in us forms in us a holy assurance of God’s love combined with a holy desire to please Him and faith that He has made it possible. JDJ # 421

111.Just a Thought: As I stated earlier, holiness is a gift and not an achievement. It is a gift derived from communion with God, for God alone is holy and only those things in touch with Him share His holiness. Christ is the source and mediator of this communion. We are living branches grafted into Him as the vine. Holiness is thus a partnership expressed as union and communion between God and His creation through Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit. While human effort cannot conquer sin nor transform the human soul, free will is an essential component of life in Christ. Just as faith without works is dead, holiness without commitment cannot endure. What we receive we must creatively express. The expression of holiness begins with the continued pursuit of God and with a corresponding pursuit His holiness; it motivates us to bring our bodies under subjection and to flee all temptation. This internal drive toward purity brings us to the awareness that we must undergo a radical transformation of our heart if we are to live a life fully pleasing to God; we must crucify our old nature that inclines us toward sin and be absorbed into His nature. It is critical that we understand that if anyone is in Christ Jesus they are a whole new order of creation. The Spirit of Christ in that person is the power and guarantee they can resist temptation. There is no excuse for a believer to knowingly sin. He or she can choose to not engage in known sin and God will make a way. But the new birth does not eradicate all of the old dispositions of life, the inclinations to love and serve one’s self above others. That transformation requires the healing of our heart. When by faith we fully die to ourselves we are by faith sanctified unto Him. Thus, holiness, or sanctification, is the fruit of the healing and wholeness of the human heart. JDJ # 422

112. Just a Thought: If holiness centers on sharing the heart of God and God is love, the hallmark of the sanctified life is love.  Inversely, the mark of sin is the love of self to the detriment of others. These truths have led many to faulty conceptions about Godly affections for the self. Humility is not self-disdain; love for others does not negate love for self. The sanctified person must love his or her self. God’s love is perfect love and if we know Him we know His love for us. If we know His love for us, we must love ourselves. Jesus did not say, “Love your neighbor instead of yourself.” He commanded, “Love your neighbor as (or like) yourself” (Matthew 19:19, 22:39, Mark 12: 31, Luke 10:27). In Him the love of self finds fulfillment in the love of others and the love of others makes pure the love of self. JDJ # 423

113. Just a Thought: A great deal of attention has been given through the centuries to the proper manner of keeping Sabbath. Enshrined within the accounts of creation and the giving of the Law, the Sabbath is considered by some to be one of the oldest continuing customs within Judaism. Most Christians have understood the Sabbath to be folded into Sunday as the Lord’s Day. Since the Reformation however there have been many who have opted to keep Saturday as their day of rest and worship. For both sets of believers there have been varying stipulations about what can be done on the day of rest, i.e., no games or other entertainment. Some have discarded the teaching altogether counting it as a vestige of Law with no place in Christianity. In modern times the emphasis has shifted to the benefits of keeping a day of rest; it’s good for your mental and physical health. In light of the fact that God declared that the Sabbath was a perpetual sign of the covenant between Him and Israel (Exodus 31: 12-18), should we not reconsider the significance of Sabbath for Christians. JDJ # 424

114. Just a Thought: Before considering the importance of Sabbath, it would serve us well to remember that the first practice ordained by God in the Scriptures was not rest, but work. Sabbath rest has no meaning unless it is juxtaposed with work. In Chapter One of Genesis all of creation is brought forth by the Word of God and blessed by Him.  Creation participated with creation; the earth “brought forth” vegetation (v. 12) and the earth “brought forth” living creatures (v. 15). But only the sun and moon, and man and woman are spoken of as purposefully engaged with creation. From the heavens, the sun and moon are to govern day and night (1: 16-18). On earth, man and woman are to rule over all animal life, be fruitful, multiply, and subdue the earth (1: 26-28). For six days God worked and on the seventh He rested. In Chapter Two man’s assignment was amplified. Humanity is not just to rule the earth, humans were placed in the garden to cultivate or serve (keep), and preserve the garden (vs. 15). Purposeful work was written into the DNA of human existence. Taken from the dust of the ground, humanity was to work the ground and nurture living things. Humans were designed to be generative, creative, productive, and administrative. It is through work that we best know ourselves within creation and it is through work that we are to know the pleasure of God in His creation. Sin and the curse made that difficult; grace makes it possible. JDJ # 425

115. Just a Thought: Sabbath is grounded in creation and creativity. God worked creatively for six days and rested. Human work was intended to be creative participation with God in the care of His creation. Adam, who was created from the dust of the ground, was to work the ground and care for the life it produced. Work was designed by God to be a normative human activity within creation; it was not the consequence of sin. The curse made work painful and difficult. "Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3: 17-19). “Sabbath” comes from the Hebrew word “shabbath” which means "to desist," "cease," "rest." In the Pentateuch it is especially connected with the Hebrew word “melakah” meaning “occupation” “business” or “work.” They are the words used of God’s work and rest in Genesis 2 and the words used in the commandments governing Sabbath. Through the use of these words the institution of Sabbath is directly connected to God’s work in creation. “Sabbath” draws its meaning not just from ceasing to toil, but from resting from creative activity. Taken together, creative work and Sabbath represent at least one aspect of the image of God and they are critical components of human existence.  JDJ # 429

116.Just a Thought: When God rested and declared the seventh day a Sabbath day of rest he entered into His creation, the eternal One circumscribed Himself within time, or at the very least the One who is infinitely beyond creation revealed Himself as existing within time, within creation. God’s Sabbath is the first indication the Creator who spoke the world into existence and brooded over the face of the deep had actually entered into His creation. By observing time He joined Himself to time, the Infinite One joined Himself to the finite. God did not rest because He was weary. He did not rest merely to set us an example. He rested to create space within creation for creation to commune with Him. He rested to point humanity toward His ultimate plans for creation. God will one day dwell with us and we will live in full communion with Him. By entering into creation this way He foreshadows His invitation for creation to enter into His rest. Here, in the very beginning, we see the foundational meaning of Sabbath; Sabbath exists so that we might know God within our world. Sabbath exists so that we might pause, remember the promises of God for creation, and enter into those promises. Sabbath exists so that we might now share in the first fruits of the coming Day of the Lord. JDJ # 430

117. Just a Thought: The cycle of work and Sabbath woven into creation by the hand of God exists at least in part as a pattern for knowing God. Sabbath is an invitation to withdraw from activity and know God through rest. It is not a withdrawal from creation, a state of ascetic escape from the physical world in order to enter a spiritual world.  To the contrary, Sabbath rest is intended for the whole person to commune with God; it is not an escape from creation but a withdrawal from creative activity. Thus, Sabbath represents an epistemology, a mode of knowing that emphasizes the centering and decentering of the self as a means of focusing on the One who is wholly Other, yet present. Sabbath is given that we might reflectively know God. Work offers an alternative mode of knowing, knowing through the union of reflection with action. The Greeks called this praxis. But work is more than the individual acting in a meaningful way on objects. Work offers a means of knowing the objects themselves, knowing them as dynamic expressions of God’s creative presence. More importantly work was intended to be a way of knowing God who is always actively present in His creation. Work is an epistemology of knowing God knowing His creation while also being known by God as His creation. I call this “Theopraxis.” Work was intended to be an expression of partnership with God through which we experience the Creator within His creation. Through purposeful engagement with His creation we know God knowing us as we with Him know that which He has placed in our care. JDJ # 431

118. Just a Thought: Work was not intended to be drudgery; suffering in labor is the result of the curse, not faulty design. Work was intended to be humanity’s primal expression of worship. Pietistic groups such as the Quakers and Mennonites understood this well. There is beauty in simplicity. Harmony with nature echoes the harmony of God. We were created to worship through our work and not in spite of it. That which we do with our minds, our hearts, and our hands should proclaim the beauty and sovereignty of our Creator. For this reason the Apostle wrote “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24 - ESV). He wrote this instruction specifically to slaves, those whose work was oppressive and with little or no reward. As difficult as it may be in today’s post-industrial rat race, those words ring out as a promise. God is with you. He knows and understands. He will join you in your field, assembly line, or cubical and transform it into a cathedral of quieted praise. JDJ # 432

119. Just a Thought: In the first Sabbath (Genesis 2) God both ceased to create and entered into his creation (See “Thought” # 430). The wholly other drew near, making Sabbath both an end and a beginning. It signaled the past, God had rested from six days of creativity. It also pointed to the future; He blessed the seventh day and sanctified it. That which is made holy is made holy unto God for the everlasting Kingdom of God. Sabbath was therefore a promise that more was on its way. It served as an invitation to know God both as Creator and Lord of History, and as the One who is wholly other, the One who is ever before us and beyond knowing. As the first to observe Sabbath God created sacred time and sacred space for communion with His creation; He entered into the Sabbath so that we might enter into His Holy presence. Sabbath points us to Him and draws us into Him. In Sabbath we are invited into the eternal life of the Alpha and Omega; the Beginning and the End is known in the present. Thus Sabbath lays claim to all time and all activity as belonging to God and it announces the coming age when God dwells with His creation. JDJ # 433

120. Just a Thought: Death is more a process than an event. It begins at the point life is no longer able to develop itself to its full potential or to fully repair or compensate for its damaged self. This is not to say that healthy persons or groups must always be increasing in size. Sometimes numerical increase (weight gain) is a sign of disease rather than health. Neither prosperity nor successes are reliable indicators of health or effectiveness. Inversely, transitional decline does not announce the end. Some components of life need to die in order for life to thrive; baby teeth must be removed to make room for permanent teeth. The caterpillar must loose some feet before gaining its wings. Our modern culture’s obsession with youth has blinded us to the beauty and inner strength that can only be attained through age. A decline in physical strength may signal the opportunity for increased wisdom and spiritual influence. On the other hand, any organism that refuses to nurture all of its organs practices masochism. “The eye cannot say to the hand “I have no need of you”” (I Corinthians 12:21). When the church fails to recognize and make room for the gifts of all of its members it practices slow suicide by destroying its potential for the fullness of life. Can any denomination long survive in these last days if it binds the feet of those who would be its swiftest runners just because they are of the wrong generation, race, ethnicity, or gender? The future belongs to those who can recognize God’s design for abundant life and give themselves completely to it by letting go of that which should die. Embrace the change God has intended. JDJ # 434

121. Just a Thought: Sabbath is first and foremost a call to communion with God. It is to enter sacred time and sacred space for the singular purpose of knowing and being known by our Creator. Sabbath is thus an end in itself. It does not exist primarily as a means toward something greater. Its purpose is not principally utilitarian. God did not give us Sabbath so that we would be physically renewed, or mentally renewed, or spiritually renewed. He could do those things in an instant if needed. These renewals were designed to be accomplished through the six days of creative work; work should renew. But sin got in the way. Rather, God gave us Sabbath so that we might be with Him.  Sabbath centers creation in the Creator. It makes worship the focal point of our existence. Yet, when properly practiced Sabbath does bear much fruit in the richness of life. It does renew and in this it serves to point us toward our intended future in God. JDJ # 435

122. Just a Thought: I am not opposed to the use of the word “sacrament” to designate the central rites of Christian life and worship (baptism, Lord’s Table, footwashing). For the record, I often use it because it is the most common designation in use in modern English. But I find it too far removed from the New Testament and too grounded in a Latin/Roman worldview for my comfort. I slightly prefer the word “ordinance” to signify those rites ordained by Christ to be practiced in the life of the church. However, I find the Eastern Church closer to the New Testament with its language of the “mysteries.” I fear in the West the sacraments function too much like a veil; they point toward the Holy One while simultaneously functioning like a barrier to Him. They are treated like icons that allow a glimpse into heaven and allow a little of heaven to touch us. Lost in the liturgical churches of the West is the full realization that the veil between us and God is removed. Christ leads us into the holy of holies. The mysteries are then much more than signs of grace. They are present events occurring within the coming reign of Christ. They express Emmanuel; God is with us. They are not occasions of special grace; they are special events infused with God’s promised presence. The mysteries are not primarily about grace at all. They are about life in the New Covenant; they are about the communion of the saints with each other and with God.  Or to express this in metaphysical terms, the mysteries are not occasions in which the material world is supplanted by the spiritual world; they are events in which the material world is being recreated and its incipient spiritual nature restored. In them the mystery of the incarnation of Christ is extended to His union with the Church as His body, which then serves as a promise of the summing up of all things in Him. Thus, the mysteries (or ordinances, or sacraments) are less about receiving a gift from God than they are about ongoing encounters with Him, the celebration of and renewal of our covenant relation with Him. They are events for the renewal of His glory yet to be revealed but already within us. They are a missional expression of God’s reign over creation. JDJ #437

123. Just a Thought: Sexuality is one of the most pressing issues of our time. Society has forsaken the fa├žade of Bible-based morality for one of self-grounded values. Under the guise of civil liberty and human rights, Western society has moved from a morality that restrained sexual behavior to one that flaunts it.  The women’s liberation movement evolved out of an earlier holiness-based feminist movement. The ground for women’s full participation in society shifted from the Scriptural promises of the coming Kingdom of God to misconceived concepts of rights to privacy and freedom of expression. Women’s liberation became synonymous with sexual liberation; the right to control reproduction gave rise to the supposed right to sexual expression. The sexual revolution has now been extended to homosexuality; behavior once outlawed as aberrant is now publicly celebrated.  It is now clear that the promise of the sexual revolution to provide human freedom and fulfillment was a lie. The fruit of antinomianism is never freedom; it spawns slavery. Law whether inscribed in codes or social mores exists to protect social order and insure stability. Freedom from restrictions favors the powerful over the weak. Thus we live in the age of unprecedented sexual slavery. Pornography has become focused on the domination and degradation of women and children. Young girls are being programed to think they have little value outside of serving the sexual desires of boys. The church must act quickly to address this problem. The answer lies not with the young alone but with the mature; adults must model holy patterns of Godly affection void of overt sexuality and innuendo. Parents must assume responsibility to teach their sons and daughters how to have Godly relationships. The church should approach the topic of sex as a gift from God intended for the fulfillment of righteousness in marital relationships. As awkward as it is, we must find avenues in which to address these issues or we will lose our children to the world. JDJ # 439

124.Just a Thought: During the second half of the twentieth century there was a steady flow of believers out of the historic liturgical churches into Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. Certainly there were many congregations in the “mainline” denominations that retained their historic identity while embracing charismatic doctrines and experiences. But the trend was to migrate to less restrictive liturgies with more phenomenological experiences. However, in the last twenty years there has been a reverse-migration taking place. Not a small number of persons rooted in the Pentecostal and Charismatic traditions have converted to more liturgical church traditions: Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican in particular – the same is true for other Evangelicals as well. For the most part this phenomenon is centered in the young and well educated. In my opinion, they are looking for a broader base for spiritual experience, beginning with a reasoned foundation for spirituality. They are looking for security in tradition. They desire to be connected to something bigger than themselves that is historically grounded. They are also looking for symbols, art, and beauty in worship, a more holistic approach to spirituality. Conversely, they are rejecting both a faith limited to reason (as is common among many Evangelical groups) and experiences grounded in individualism (as is common among many Pentecostal and Charismatic groups). Even so, they are retaining the self as ultimate authority, embracing liturgy and tradition more as a larger and safer pool in which to swim than constitutional delimitations of the faith. The church must do a better job of understanding the growing appeal of tradition and it must respond with wisdom and grace in light of the Scriptures. JDJ # 440

125. Just a Thought: There is much to commend in the liturgies and traditions of the historic liturgical churches. Through their images, symbols, and dramatic rituals they convey the Gospel more holistically than the typical Evangelical church’s more limited modes of expression. A Benedictine Monk I know (and highly respect) is fond of saying that he wished his Pentecostal friends could accept that there is nothing in Catholicism to prevent a person from having a dynamic personal relationship with Christ (and I agree). Yet, his own Catholic Church has in recent years put forth a concerted effort to evangelize its own members having recognized untold numbers of them have failed to personally own the truths of the Gospel. I am left with the question of why the historic churches have statistically produced so many members who do not profess having a dynamic personal relationship with Christ; why do so many of them need to be evangelized? Why are the ancient traditions and liturgies so appealing to some persons who were raised in a Pentecostal/Charismatic spirituality while at the same time they are so often ineffective in nurturing mature disciples among those raised within their own more historic spiritualties?  (Granted that Pentecostals are not known for keeping all of their youth.) In my opinion, formal liturgies may serve well to nurture an existing faith but they less effective in spawning a living faith. They provide a form for godliness but lack the power thereof. I suspect they are well suited for aiding in introspection by those with a living faith but are lacking in ability to generate such faith. They provide the security of structure and patterns of normalcy but fail to see transforming encounters with a living God as the norm of the Kingdom. Indeed, they may become a substitute for those encounters. They do not prevent, but they may hinder. For me, beauty is a poor substitute for glory. JDJ # 441

126. Just a Thought:  Apparently some interpreted my last “Thought” as pejorative against the historical, high-liturgy churches. That was not my intent. My desire was to merely point out that converts from Evangelical, Pentecostal, and Charismatic churches [herein EPC] to the more liturgical churches typically find the liturgies to be meaningful, beautiful, and edifying. This phenomenon runs counter intuitive to the experiences of many who grow up in these traditions, a significant number of whom fail to see the meaning and beauty of the liturgies. [I am not here addressing the experiences of those who grow up in EPC churches and remain there or move out of there to other traditions or to no tradition.] I was merely observing the obvious; (1) converts have a higher appreciation of the liturgies of their adopted tradition, and (2) EPC’s who convert to these churches tend to be more highly educated. My interpretation was that (1) formal liturgies tend to nurture an existing vibrant faith while having less of an impact on those who are nominally of the tradition and (2) those who get the most meaning from the higher liturgies appear to be the more highly educated [not that others don’t find them enriching]. One implication is that persons who convert from EPC’s to high church traditions are not necessarily switching spiritualities but rather adopting a more satisfying location for their already formed, more intellectual approach to faith. Further, their adopted tradition allows for a more holistic experience of that spirituality, one that fits well with the aesthetics of the more highly educated. [I recognize the reasons for converting are far more complex and diverse. I am merely offering what I believe to be one important thread in the cord.] The ultimate implication for me centers on the question of what the EPC’s need to learn from the older traditions in order to be more effective in making disciples. How can we be faithful to our own faith traditions (which emphasizes personal experience with God) and also embrace practices that are faithful to our own “catholic” heritage? For Pentecostals in particular, how can we retain our primal commitments to (1) the freedom of the Spirit to direct worship and (2) the promise of Spirit baptism with signs for all believers, while also recognizing the work of the Spirit in the liturgies, forms and structures of the church? I have committed 40 years of ministry to that later question but always from the stance that the presence and work of the Spirit as revealed in the Scriptures must take priority over liturgies and forms developed in the early centuries of the church and later. JDJ # 442

127. Just a Thought: Too often worship is human centered. Many years ago David Horton shared with me some transitions he had made in his understandings of worship. He spoke of how he had early in ministry rejected the more testimonial songs of his Pentecostal youth, but he said, “then I made the mistake of reading the Psalms in the Bible; they are chocked full of testimony.” He also spoke of a transition from seeing worship as something we do to “move God into action” to seeing it as a drama we perform before God for His enjoyment. I suspect in the last decade of his life David made another transition in his understanding of worship. When I was blessed to worshiped with the Lee University Campus Choir under his direction I sensed he had entered into a more primitive understanding; true worship is to enter into the worship that eternally exists within the Triune God. We do this by entering through the worship of Christ our elder brother, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. We must enter into His life to worship with Him. I had suggested a simplified version of this to David in that earlier conversation; worship should be less of a drama we do before God than it is a dance we do with God. (I am not suggesting my comment influenced David; I don’t think he ever made major transitions without seeking God and doing thorough research. I did have a brief conversation with him about the transformation of the Campus Choir in which he shared it was the result of a divine in-breaking on the choir.) The Orthodox have especially retained the sense that worship is done with God, as have to a lesser degree the other historic, high-liturgy churches. This is why liturgy is critical to them. God is revealing Himself through the church, especially the worship of the church. Worship must therefore conform to the traditions handed down from the Apostles. Ask any Orthodox Patriarch and he will assure you their liturgy follows the pattern established by the Apostles. I personally cannot affirm this from my studies in the literature of the Ante-Nicene church. What I strongly affirm is the assertion that worship should be viewed as entering by the Spirit into the Triune life of God. I also affirm that the ordinances/sacraments are critical components of the dance of God. When we share them we should do so to the music and rhythms of the Spirit. JDJ # 443

128. Just a Thought: A few weeks ago I was complaining to God about the way He had mishandled my life; He had not answered some specific prayers in a timely fashion and because of His delays my life has often been less than ideal. In fact, He had taken 28 years to fulfill a request and as a result I endured a lot of pain and disappointment. I registered my confusion and dissatisfaction frequently during the intervening decades. The answer to my desperate pleas began to unfold a few years ago, but my complaints continued. What I heard Him say a few weeks ago was a little un-God like to my thinking: “Isn’t it about time you let go of this bone.” I understood it really wasn’t a request.  He expected me to cease my complaining about this. I struggled for a couple of weeks trying to let go and complaining that He wasn’t helping me let go. Then He spoke again, “Why are you complaining? I gave you exactly what you asked for the way you asked for it.” With that He reminded me of my specific prayers those 32 years ago, “Father, I’ll do whatever it takes for as long as it takes, if you will only …” [Lesson: be careful not only what you pray for but also how you pray for it.] With that reminder I have been able to shift from complaining to thanksgiving. This has not answered all of my questions, nor healed wounds inflicted over time. It has phenomenally altered my perspective. I have much more for which to be thankful than I allow myself to ponder. I am beginning to reinterpret those horrible experiences in my life through a lens of God’s faithfulness. I suspect there is much to learn from this process; I can be a slow learner. For now I am rejoicing in His reminder of my exact prayers. JDJ # 444

129.  Just a Thought: I sometimes reflect on my failures, my unfulfilled potential in service to Christ and others. I could have been a much better husband, father, pastor, professor, if only things had been different. I know I have come short in the exercise of my gifts and callings. I have a list of reasons to explain these shortcomings, but I know they are just excuses. Still I delude myself with thoughts of what I could have done for Christ if “things” had just been different. I could have made a greater contribution to the Kingdom of God. In an alternative interpretation of life I recognize that if things had been different, less painful and disappointing, maybe instead of doing more I would have done less. If I would have had fewer trials I may have really messed my life up. In deed, without those things that have buffeted me I could not be who I am, I would not have done what I have done; I would not know God as I now know Him. My trials and tribulations have served well to save me from myself; they have kept me in the hand of God, dependent on His grace and mercy. The story of my life is thus less about what I have done or not done for God, than it is about what God has been doing in, with, for, by and through me. We have been on a journey together. My trials have been His trials. My pain has been His pain. In it all he has been transforming and forming me into the likeness of Christ. For this cause I thank God for all of my trials and tribulations. I rejoice in His grace to keep me in Himself. JDJ # 445

130. Just a Thought: There are many signs of a Spirit-filled life, or perhaps one sign with many dimensions. The fruit of the Spirit will be present, especially love. Holiness of heart and life will be evident. I deeply believe tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance is the inaugural, and an abiding, sign. Years ago in a piece titled “Pentecostalism and the Postmodern Worldview” I suggested that the Spirit-filled life is marked by “a pre-analytic disposition to see God at work in, with, by, and through all things.” By that I meant that the fullness of the Spirit places the believer in connection with God’s presence within creation so that he or she is always inclined to read the world through the lens of a God consciousness. Before we think, we are “thinking” about God and our thoughts are shaped by faith that He is at work in all things. The Spirit-filled life is a faith-filled life of trust. I would now add that the Spirit-filled life is not only one inclined to see God at work, it is inclined to join God in His work. Union with the Spirit is evidenced by a primal desire for ongoing participation in the redemption of creation. This is not a matter of emotion, but one of affection. It is more than a desire to do something; it is a desire to do something with God, to be joined to Him in His action. The Spirit-filled life is a life being transformed into the likeness, attitude, and actions of Christ; it is a life that desires “to be a blessing.” JDJ # 446

131. Just a Thought: It is only by the Holy Spirit that one knows to call upon the Lord. By the Spirit one believes God hears, understands and is inclined to respond with grace. The fullness of the Spirit places God at the center of our existence so that His presence is the “center of gravity” for our consciousness; our thoughts are always inclined toward him (see yesterday’s thought). In this we “pray without ceasing,” that is to say prayer to God is the normal posture of our existence. Prayer remains a discipline in that we must take the time to shut out the world and commune with our Father. But prayer is always within us, a positive force looking for opportunities to fly out to the Father. It is that “pre-analytic disposition to see God at work in, with, by, and through all things” combined with the affection to know God in, with, by, and through all things. To pray without ceasing is to have a heart that longs without ceasing for the face of God. Such is the longing of the Spirit for the Father and Son; the Spirit sheds this longing, this love, abroad within our hearts. JDJ # 447

132. Just a Thought: The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he spoke in tongues more than all of them (I Corinthians 14). He continued that he would pray with the spirit and pray with the understanding. While the meaning of the sentence is debated, i.e., was he referring to spirit or Spirit? If spirit, in what sense? Human spirit? Or, spirited? The context I Corinthians 14 and other references to tongues makes clear to me that Paul is here associating “spirit” with tongues making it doubtful he does not intend the verse to be read as “Spirit” or perhaps “S/spirit.” What is undeniable is that Paul is contrasting “spirit” with “understanding” or “mind.” There are prayers that flow out of and are structured by reason or understanding. There are other prayers that flow freely from the depths of one’s being less formulated by human reason. There are prayers carefully structured to make our case before God and others that flow unencumbered from the whole of our being. Other texts make it clear that the Holy Spirit prays for us and through us making it certain that for a believer to pray “with the S/spirit” is always a combined effort between the divine and the human spirits (Romans 8:26).  In my own life, I find myself praying more and more with the Spirit in tongues. I pray with my understanding prayers of carefully chosen words, but I seem to desire more to pour out my soul before Him, my whole being. It is as though my prayers of understanding are increasingly being enveloped within this gift. I am discovering that often I do not know for what to pray or how to pray until I am praying in the Spirit. The Spirit informs and transforms my prayers of understanding. Praying with and in the Spirit carries me into and out from the presence of God. It changes my focus from what I want or think I need to what I believe He desires for me. Frequently, these are prayers for purification and sanctification; consciousness of the Spirit’s presence creates a desire to be an acceptable host for her habitation. JDJ # 448

133. Just a Thought: Prayer does not always come easy. There are times of despair, dryness, uncertainty and confusion, times when prayer collapses in on us. God seems distant and unconcerned. There is a part of me that believes that we should always be able to pray through to God’s presence and peace at any time. My testimony is that I have often not been unable to do so. There have been times of struggle when all I could do was let the Spirit pray through me in a heavenly language, whispering back into my spirit that God knows, cares, and has a plan. There have been darker seasons when words failed and all I could do was groan and moan, not knowing if it was the Spirit or I who was pleading for my deliverance. Even darker times have left me unable to make any sound toward God, times when it was all I could do to hold together the shattered fractures of my soul. Silence itself became my prayer and the silence of the Spirit my only comfort. It may seem strange to some, but my pain and my disappointment became assurances that I still existed and if I existed God had not forgotten me. The conscious sense of God’s absence affirmed that by the Spirit my life still centered on Him. In all of this I have learned that when I do not know how to pray or I am too weak even to join the Spirit in prayer, the Spirit still prays for me (Romans 8:26-27); Christ still intercedes for me (Romans 8:34; I Peter 3:18). Indeed, His strength is perfected in my weakness (II Corinthians 12:9). The prayers of the Spirit on my behalf are perfect and effectual in the times and seasons when I cannot pray for myself. JDJ # 449

134. Just a Thought: “Thank you for your prayers; I felt the prayers of the saints undergirding me through it all.” Growing up Pentecostal, I heard that testimony countless times. I always assumed it was a hyperbolic euphemism for the gratitude derived from the knowledge that others were praying; you can’t “feel” prayers, or so I thought. Then came October of 1986. Paul Henson resigned as Senior Pastor of the Westmore Church of God where I was serving as one of the associate ministers and I was asked to serve as Interim Pastor. The problem was that I was on a deadline to complete my doctoral dissertation. If the completed work was not submitted by the end of the first week of December, I would not be allowed to graduate; I had not yet submitted the next to last chapter. Because the church had been so good to me, I felt I had no choice to accept. I asked my family and covenant partners to pray for me but silently prepared my heart for the worse. It seemed an impossible that I could assume the additional responsibilities and complete my dissertation. But something happened. A couple of days after I agreed, I woke up with clarity and energy. I sensed grace. It was like I was wrapped in a bubble of grace. It was a palpable and constant presence unlike anything I had ever experienced. As soon as I became aware of this supernatural presence, I knew I was feeling the prayers of the saints. I was overwhelmed with a sense that people were praying for me, more people than I would ever know about. I knew without a doubt I was feeling their prayers and I knew I was going to be all right. That sensation stayed with me until a couple of days after I successfully defended my dissertation on January 27, 1987, three days before I was to be dropped from the program if I did not have a successful defense. I still think some people are prone to hyperbole and euphemisms, but I know God sometimes lets us feel the prayers of the saints. Our prayers for each other are more powerful than we can know. JDJ # 450

135. Just a Thought: Prayer is a discipline; prayer is a way of life; prayer is an attitude or disposition, a state of being. Thanks to my mother’s fervent, effectual prayers, I have always known that prayer is a vital aspect of the Christian life. Yet, I find I am continually learning to pray. In my youth I divided prayer into two types; there were prayers and there were PRAYERS. I thought of the first as words directed toward God. I thought of the second as taking heaven by force and laying myself and my desires at the feet of Jesus. PRAYER was the process of “praying through” to the peace and presence of God. Prayers were nice and God liked them, but PRAYERS moved God to action. To be fair to myself, it was not that I measured my prayers in decibels or numbers of tears. I measured them by the depth of my self-revelation, the depth I was willing to open my innermost self to God and the assurance He was present and working in my life. These prayers were/are loud and passionate. But emotion and noise were more the byproduct than the essence. I was convinced God would always respond to a sincere prayer that came from the depths of the human heart. That is the way we prayed in the Church of God of my youth and in our prayer closets. It came as a surprise to me that not all Spirit-filled people prayed that way and indeed some could not pray in the midst of such overt intensity. I have learned that there are many forms of prayer and that God listens just as carefully to all that are offered in faith. But I am not ashamed to confess that I still need to pray through to the presence of God even if that process is not a sight for the timid; but now it only happens when I am alone. JDJ # 451

136. Just a Thought: “I wouldn’t give you two cents for a prayer you had to read.” I heard a preacher say that when I was young and I’m pretty sure I repeated it on occasion. I am certain I believed it. My conviction was that prayers had to be born in the heart, formulated in the head, and spoken through the mouth. It was a neat paradigm for effectual praying. I even understood the Lord’s Prayer to be a recommended pattern not intended to be repeated verbatim. In time the logic of my argument began to break down. First, I began to recognize that my own prayers were laced with memorized Scripture quotations. Second, I became convinced if the Scriptures were indeed Word of God they should always be read and studied prayerfully. Before I knew it I was finding strength in praying the Scriptures. The Psalms and many other Biblical texts are in fact prayers given by God to be prayed, sometimes set to music. The Bible is a book that by design is to be a prayer book. It must inform our prayers and it must form prayers within us. Third, I had a prayer book thrust into my hands at some ecumenical gathering. What I discovered (to my disappointment) were beautiful and powerful expressions of our faith. Those “not worth two cent” prayers were prayers I could pray with my whole heart. It was immediately apparent how they could serve as a means to help people pray Biblically and theologically sound prayers. Prayers that had stood the test of time could help people identify with our common human struggles and learn to respond to those struggles in a way that pleased God. I would now suggest that effective prayers must fuse the head and heart and are typically sealed by being spoken. Prayers born in the head (or borrowed from others) must be joined to the heart and vice versa. Some written prayers are worth their weight in gold for those who hunger to please God and want to pray faithful prayers. In truth, I do not use a prayer book, but I am convinced they can be an aid to true worship. JDJ # 452

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