When Jesus says, ‘Come!’ Part I, Walking On Water

walking on waterOf the twelve men whom Jesus chose to be His disciples, the one I identify with most closely, and most often is Simon Peter, because he seemed to be the ‘talker’ of the bunch; always having something to say, with a tendency to put his foot in his mouth, and a penchant for spectacular faith one minute, and equally spectacular failure the next.  The fact that Jesus continued to love, accept, encourage and invest in Peter is a constant source of encouragement to me.

The empathy I feel for him peaks at every recounting of Peter’s struggles with doubt.  Sure, poor Thomas is the one stuck with the nickname ‘Doubting Thomas’, after his emphatic declaration that he would not believe Jesus had risen from the dead unless he saw Him with his own eyes and touched the scars from the crucifixion.  But there is more evidence in the Bible of Peter being repeatedly plagued by doubt, than Thomas’ one recorded moment of unbelief, not doubt; but more on that later.

There was the time when Jesus sent the disciples away in a boat, promising to catch up with them later; which was all well and good until they were caught in a sudden, violent storm on the Sea of Galilee which battered the boat around and put them all in peril.  Suddenly,  a ghostly figure comes walking towards them on…top…of…the…water, instantly redefining the nature and meaning of fear, until Jesus identifies Himself and they recognize that it really is Him.

Personally speaking, had I been in the boat, the first thing I would ask Jesus would be for Him to please calm the storm before somebody got seriously hurt or killed; after all He had done it before.  But not Peter:

“Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’  He said, ‘Come.’  So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.”  Matthew 14:28-29 (emphasis mine)

Little bit of doubt; spectacular faith!  People can say what they want about Peter, but I don’t see anybody else jumping up and down, waving their hands and hollering, “Me too!”, willing to get out of the boat for something so gloriously life-changing as walking on water!  They may have wanted to slap him upside the head for being so presumptuous, or maybe they felt a little jealous they hadn’t thought to ask first, or maybe they secretly wanted to see him fail, to justify their own lack of spontaneous, reckless faith, especially in light of what happened next:

“But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’  Jesus immediately reached out His hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’”  Matthew 14:30-32

Peter still believed Jesus could walk on the water.  He still believed that Jesus had told him to come walking on the water too, and of course he believed that just moments before he had been doing exactly that; walking on water!  As a matter of fact, that very belief put into action was the substance of faith that propelled him over the side of that boat and on to the water in the first place.  But then Peter allowed the sight of the ferocious waves to invade his belief, corrupting it with uncertainty, stopping him from continuing to act on his belief and keep on walking toward Jesus.

So, while unbelief is a stubborn, rebellious refusal to accept truth (remember poor Unbelieving Thomas), doubt may be more accurately described is that venom of uncertainty which, if we allow it, will paralyze us into inaction; stuck where we don’t belong and sinking rapidly below the ferocious waves of whatever circumstance, trouble or trial it was that injected uncertainty into our present active participle believing.

Believing God is the biggest, most important, most thrilling, most adventurous, most daring thing I ever do in my life, and sometimes it frightens me how much, and how often I can be just like Peter; as likely to go flying over the side of the boat when I hear Jesus say, “Come.”, but equally likely to start hollering for Him to save me when I let uncertainty corrupt my faith, I begin to sink, and start feeling like I am going to drown.

Back in the early 1980’s no one knew I was sinking as I stared out a classroom window at the Jamaica Theological Seminary, in Kingston watching a herd of cows lumbering leisurely down the street in front of the school on their way to pasture.  After much investigation, prayer and counseling, I had resigned from a perfectly good, stable job at the Bank of Jamaica to pursue studies in Christian Education, because I truly believed that was the next right step God wanted me to take in my life.

In that particular moment however, the rest of the class was engaged in a passionate, scholarly, but what I felt was completely pointless debate about the Second Coming of Jesus, (pre-tribulation versus post-tribulation versus mid-tribulation…aaaaaargh!…as if any debate, discussion or argument on the subject could affect in any way whatsoever, the time God has already set for Jesus’ return).  All the while I was completely distracted by my envy of the care-free life of self-herding cows, and by the doubt that was quickly becoming a cacophony of squawking parrots in my head screaming, “What have you done?!  What were you thinking?!  You lunatic person you!  Has God said…?!”

Back then I had already acquired a PhD in negative self- talk, but this was the first time I had chosen to believe God enough take action; to attempt to get out of the boat and go walking on water, and though I did not know then, but it would not be the last time.   However, walking on water is hazardous business and over the years I have swallowed enough sea water to be highly motivated to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, because certainty about God is the only thing that neutralizes the venom of paralyzing uncertainty or doubt.

Oswald Chambers describes it this way:

“To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, not knowing what tomorrow may bring.  This is generally expressed with a sigh of sadness, but it should be an expression of breathless expectation.  We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God.  As soon as we abandon ourselves to God and do the task He has placed closest to us, He begins to fill our life with surprises.” Daily Devotionals by Oswald Chambers.

 So here’s the thing, in our relentless pursuit of God’s plan and purpose for our lives we are guaranteed at some point to feel the venomous sting of doubt or uncertainty.   We must make every effort to know our God; His perfect character, His eternal word, His unfailing love and His unwavering commitment to finish the work He began in us the moment we first believed.  Of these things we must become certain, and remain certain, if we are ever to get out of the boat, and go walking on water, in the middle of a storm, every time He says, “Come.”

Peter and me, impetuous and imperfect, but certain of God and …just living the thing.

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Labels are for things…not people

labelsThe woman sitting next to me at the table looked as if she had come to our little circle straight from a photo shoot for the cover of next month’s edition of Vogue; every hair perfectly colored and coiffed, professionally manicured nails, flawless, picture perfect make-up, and glaringly expensive clothing that screamed, “Death to Nordstrom Rack!”  So, you can imagine my surprise when Miss Perfect over there was first to volunteer to share her present-day experience of our designated Bible verses:

 “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry.  He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock and established my steps.  He has put a new song in my mouth – praise to our God; many will see it and fear and will trust in the Lord.”  Psalm 40:1-3

 “Seriously?!  What in the world kind of pit or miry clay could Designer Clothes Debutante possibly have been delivered from?”  My evil, wicked, unredeemable, condemned-to-death, old nature almost snarled, but not out loud of course; the hypocrite in me was way too spiritual for that.

Unaware, she bravely told her tale of years of childhood sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse, which relentlessly pursued her into teenage years and adulthood till she felt hopelessly trapped in a pit of drugs, prostitution and violence; bogged down in a miry clay of unending pain.  Tears shimmered in every eye, and some rolled down faces as she described the kindness and love of Jesus that poured out from the life of one ordinary person ‘just living the thing’, which rescued her, enveloped her in the perfect, unconditional love of God, and set her feet on the road to abundant, eternal life.  Surely, the woman had earned the right to dress like a princess every day for the rest of her life!

 Burning shame poured over my meanness like weed-killer from Home Depot, making my old nature curl up and die… again… and I was glad!

 “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature; sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”  Colossians 3:5  (emphasis mine)

 “For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.”  Romans 6:6

 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  II Corinthians 5:17

 The strongest evidence of who is winning the on-going war between my old nature and the new creation in me that thinks and acts like Jesus, are the words that flow out of my heart, on to my tongue and come pouring out of my mouth unchecked.  And, I am absolutely appalled that even when I consistently and purposefully choose to starve my old nature to death, it almost miraculously finds new life and vigor whenever there is an opportunity to judge, or slap labels on other people.  Uncontrolled, the poisonous comments come out deceptively clothed in garments of pharisaical self-righteousness and pseudo-concern, accessorized with earnest, humor or sarcasm.  Aaaaaaaaaargh!

Thanks be to God for Miss Perfect (I never learned her name), for some among my present company of friends who have been kind enough to educate me about their first impression of me, and others who still love me in spite of now knowing the ridiculous labels I had placed on them before I knew any better…ahem…Cheri…ahem.  Hard lessons learned, bitter pills swallowed, and having to eat way too much crow have made me ruthless when it comes to putting the beat down on my old nature’s inclination to unequivocally judge and label people, and considerably more inclined to forgive when I am on the receiving end.

Some years ago I successfully tested and installed what I call my “Crazy Filter”; an intangible ‘device’ implanted in my mind whose sole purpose is to capture and diffuse those irrational, spiteful, baggage-induced thoughts and feelings about people before they can be formed into words and sentences, and come spewing out of my mouth.  Its components are wisdom, truth, discipline and the love that God consistently pours out on me, even when I am at my worst.

 “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly love, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  Colossians 3:12-13

 Whenever the filter works, I am amazed at the good people I come to know well, to partner with on this narrow road that leads to life, and will treasure for eternity.  And as for the judgment or labels that still manage to slip through the filter, they are immediately classified as ‘subject to change’ and stamped in big, bold letters ‘take no action: investigation pending’.  Unfortunately, it is also true that with the filter in place it may take a little longer to distinguish the weeds among the wheat, but the benefits far outweigh the risk.  Besides, God always has my back, and the power to use even that which was meant for evil, and turn it around for good and my benefit.  Booyah!  Win-win baby!

 So here’s the thing, God purposefully places very high value on unity among all those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ; The Way, The Truth and The Life, so much so that it was the subject of one of His last recorded prayers before making the ultimate sacrifice on the cross for all our sin:

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.  And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:  I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”   John 17:20-23

Judging and labeling people is the biggest obstacle to unity among believers in Jesus.  It is absolutely necessary, but never easy, to recognize, acknowledge and repent of the self-righteousness, arrogance and pride that perpetually builds and maintains the walls between us – and our enemy knows it.   Just imagine what a formidable force we would be as the people of God against the kingdom of darkness, if the spiritual weapons of our warfare were constantly aimed at the real enemy of our souls, instead of each other.

Absolutely necessary…never easy.  But it is for His glory…to further His kingdom…to fulfill His purpose…we set our face like a flint…determined…against all odds…to keep on…steadfastly…just living the thing.

Under Arrest

under arrestIt is indeed an extraordinary experience to be arrested by an idea; to be stopped dead in your tracks, captivated by a truth that slaps handcuffs on your mind, restricting the movement of your thoughts to any other subject, and temporarily confines you to a moment on the time-space continuum where your life changes direction, sometimes without you even being fully aware of what just happened.

“He could be the one.”  “She completes me.”  “We were meant to be.” “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”  If your reaction to that last sentence was some variation of, “Hold up! Wait a minute!  Whaaaaaa…t?!”, then welcome to my first arrest.

I was in my early teens, minding my own business, and reading through the book of Job and there it was; Job13:15!  In all my thirteen years of going to church almost every Sunday, I could not recall ever having read that before.  Who says that?!  How does an ordinary human being ever get to such a place in their relationship with God that they would say of Him, “No matter what happens, no matter what He allows to come to my life, even if He chooses to ‘kill me dead’ (classic Jamaican), “yet will I trust Him”?

You have to wonder if Isaac felt that same level of trust as he lay tied-up on that make-shift altar on Mount Moriah with his father Abraham over him, knife raised, about to sacrifice his only son in a life-altering test of faith (Genesis 22:1-19).  Or was Isaac terrified and screaming bloody murder, hoping the servants would hear and come rescue him from his crazy daddy?!  Either way, there is every indication that Isaac remained devoted to his father and to God even after that episode, possibly because he too saw the lamb that appeared miraculously to take his place and heard the voice out of heaven say,

“‘By Myself I have sworn,’ says the Lord, ‘because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son – I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.  And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.’” Genesis 22:15-18 (emphasis mine)

 To this day, I remain captivated by the ideal of having such a relationship with God that I do trust Him, no matter what, and will always choose to do what He says is the next right thing to do, never giving in to fear.  There is nothing blind about that kind of faith which commits to relationship with God knowing that you may find yourself in terrifying situations, but He will never abandon you, and if you are willing to stay the course, you are guaranteed to experience the unequalled thrill of fulfilling the plan and purpose for which you were placed on this planet.

Which brings me to my second arrest…

“For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation…”  Acts 13:36

 How does an ordinary human being ever get to such a place in their relationship with God that, in the midst of planning for college, career, family, life insurance, 401k, retirement and all such sensible and legitimate things, they deliberately choose to put  ‘serve the purpose of God in my generation’ as the primary, predominant and preeminent plan?

I may be in the middle of living that thing (see February 25th blog, ‘Not Disjecta Membra’), but recently I have been more captivated by the life stories of George Müeller, Dwight L. Moody, Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, William Carey, Mother Teresa, and Jim Cymbala, all of whom, at some point in their lives, deliberately decided to choose God’s revealed plan for their lives over their own, often perfectly legitimate, stable, comfortable plan.  God always has a plan, and the plan has always included meaningful work and purpose:

“And the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being…  Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.”  Genesis 2:7,15

 “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are Your works; that I know very well.  My frame was not hidden from You, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In Your book were written off the days that were formed for me, when none of them yet existed.”  Psalm 139:14-16

 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations…for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.  Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.”  Jeremiah 1:5-7

 “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”  Jeremiah 29:11

We each only get one lifetime to invest, risking our resources of time, energy and assets based on our anticipation and expectation of what will happen in the future.  What if you knew for sure what the future holds and your part in it?  What if based on historical evidence you come to the conclusion that God is indeed powerfully orchestrating and guiding the world toward His planned and pre-determined end?

And, what if you read the back of the book and discover that in the end, the purpose and plan of God Almighty trumps every other plan?  Then wouldn’t it make perfect sense to sign up for the guaranteed plan now, before you life resources are all gone? Yes. Yes it would.

“ I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.”  Job 42:2

The kingdom of God is not a democracy.  Like it or not, it is an autocracy.  The Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Covenant-making, Covenant-keeping God rules over all, so if ever I am tempted to get all uppity, presumptuous and demanding, it behooves me to remember that I’m lucky He loves me unconditionally and permanently.  One third of the angels He created, including satan himself know for a fact that if you decide to fight against God, sooner or later you are going to lose…big time!  He is who He is and does not change Himself to be accommodating or tolerant of our sin or rebellion.

Which brings me to my latest arrest; a simple six-word prayer a gem in a treasure trove of truth that stopped me dead in my tracks and still has me under arrest.

“Come, holy God, and be Thyself.”  Believing God by Beth Moore, p. 200

 Just to keep it real; my prayers more often than not sound something like this:

“Come, holy God, and be whom I desire, expect, need, believe in my hopelessly self-seeking way, and sure hope you are. Amen!”

How does an ordinary human being ever get to such a place in their relationship with God that we would dare to utter such a humble, daring and spectacularly courageous prayer and mean it?  You don’t have to read very far into the Bible to come across aspects of God’s character that are overwhelming, awe-inspiring and sometimes downright frightening!  He is as much loving Father, faithful Provider and strong Defender, as He is disciplinarian, Judge and Executioner, and I don’t get to decide which role is necessary in my current situation.  Of course I would always pick the soft, cuddly side of Him that dispenses comfort and blessing like candy; which would eventually destroy me and any hope of a healthy, mature relationship with God.

So here’s the thing, God has His finger in every pie and His nose in everybody’s business and His highest priority always has been, and always will be, the state of our relationship with Him.  His primary course of action always has been and always will be to do whatever needs to be done to continually change the DNA of this relationship till we truly love Him for Himself, and not just for what He can do for us.  In His pursuit of that goal we may find ourselves captured by a particular truth designed to change the direction of our lives in order to change the nature of our relationship with Him, and the wisest course of action is not to resist arrest, but to surrender completely to …just living the thing.

Lessons from the waiting room

waiting roomIt is interesting how much you can observe about the ‘morphology of waiting’ from the reception area of a busy doctors’ office, where it seems having to wait is almost inevitable because of the many unpredictable factors that impact how promptly you can see the doctor.  Eleven plus years working at a large family practice gave me a diploma-worthy education in the five stages people go through when they have to wait and how to recognize and break the cycle as quickly as possible.

 Expectation is the honeymoon stage of waiting, full of hope and promise.  Imaginations run wild with creativity and excitement as we contemplate a plethora of ways in which the thing we hope for will be realized.   Whether it is a Demerol shot to end days of debilitating pain from migraine, or finally walking down the aisle to marry the one of our dreams, expectation can make us giddy.  Call it the ecstasy of anticipation that makes whatever or whomever we are waiting for all the sweeter, but is fleeting and diminishes rapidly, the longer we are forced to wait.

The second stage of waiting is anxiety, which gives rise to 101 questions.  What time was my appointment?  Am I in the right place?  Why is it taking so long?  Should I be doing something else?  On and on the questions pour out of that worry place, till our blood pressure is climbing and a zoo-worthy butterfly exhibit opens for business in your stomach without permits.   This is a good stage because it can be a quest for clarification and an opportunity for correction if there has been some kind of miscommunication or misunderstanding.

Years ago a sign was put up in the office encouraging patients to come up to the front desk with questions, twenty or more minutes after their appointment time had passed.  It was definitely a win-win; for patients who were able to get an explanation for the delay, and for staff who may have accidentally dropped the ball.  Being willing to ask the tough questions and accept the answers even if we do not like them is one sure way to prevent us from wasting our time waiting for the wrong thing or the wrong person, because the longer the delay, the more difficult the waiting process is going to become.

 Frustration!  This is stage three and truly where the rubber meets the road in the waiting process; the place of testing where the truth is revealed about the content our character and the condition of our hearts.  When we get tired of waiting frustration sets in, the masks come off, gloves come off, earrings come off, stilettos come off and the purse is in the tree!  (Seriously, if you know what that last part means you have earned a PhD in cultural awareness or you may be from the ‘hood’.  If you have no idea what it means, phone a friend, or post your perplexity in the comment section and I promise to let you know.)

Ironically, our sickest patients were often the most gracious despite their frustration, while others just got ugly, like the Israelites in the desert, grumbling, complaining, demanding, and unwittingly exposing the fact that their love for blessing and comfort far exceeded their love for God.  Moses later revealed one reason they had to wait,

“And you shall [earnestly] remember all the way which the Lord your God led you thee forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and to prove you, to know what was in your [mind and] heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.”  Deuteronomy 8:2 The Amplified Bible

Joseph languished in an Egyptian prison because his own brothers had sold him into slavery, Potiphar’s cougar wife had lied about him trying to rape her, and the cupbearer whose dream he had correctly interpreted promptly forgot about Joseph and his plea to put in a good word with the Pharaoh for two full years!  (Genesis 37, and 39-40).  Surely he had earned the right to be frustrated when all the while he was waiting for the fulfillment of dreams of leadership that God had given to him as a young man of seventeen, (Genesis 37:1-11).

Frustration tests our commitment to the things hoped for that are yet unseen, and demands perseverance and discipline to control the negative emotions roiling in our heart that too often spill out of our mouths, infecting life, hopes and dreams with the deadly poison of bitterness and resentment.  However, when frustration is controlled and directed, it can accomplish a good work.

“…but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.  Now hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit Who was given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

What we do with our frustration leads us into stage four of the waiting process; decision and action; defiance and rebellion or trust and submission.  Judas was one who decided to do something about his frustration with Jesus’ refusal to take advantage of His popularity with the people and lead Israel to overthrow the oppressive Roman government, showing off some of those spectacular miracles they all knew He was capable of.

After centuries of waiting for Messiah, Judas was convinced that Jesus could be the one to fulfill all his personal desires for significance, power and influence.  He was done waiting, and decided that the best way to force Jesus’ hand was to sell Him out to the high priest and his cohorts.  Surely the threat of a horrific death on a Roman cross would compel Jesus to do something so spectacular that the kingdom of God would be established in accordance with Judas’ agenda and timetable.

 Never try to hustle, manipulate, or run some kind of racket or con on God to try to force Him to act.  It will not end well.  Ever!  He is God.  He does not exist to serve our agendas or abide by our timetables.  He sees all and knows all. His purposes and plans cannot be thwarted.

 “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.”  Job 42:2

And never decide to take matters into you own hands, all the while claiming to be following His instructions.  Saul tried that and lost his kingdom (I Samuel 15:1-34), and Sarah managed to orchestrate thousands of years of Arab-Israeli conflict when she decided to help God out, (Genesis 16:1-15).  There is only one wise decision to make in this stage of the waiting process:

“Commit you way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.  He shall bring forth you righteousness as the light and your justice as the noonday. Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him; do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.”  Psalm 37:5-7

 Trust and patience usher in the final stage of the waiting process; fulfillment and realization of hopes and dreams.  I came this close to naming my first daughter Thomas, in a grand, medication-induced gesture of overwhelming gratitude to the anesthesiologist who was finally able to give me an epidural after nineteen hours of hard labor!  Shock, awe, relief and tears of joy often characterize stage five of the waiting process, and the decisions and actions of stage four determine whether we a jumping for joy or hanging our heads in shame.

Back in the doctors’ office, roaring lions became bleating lambs the minute the doctor walked in to take care of them, often leaving the front office staff to shake their heads in wonder at the transformation.  In fact, I tend to cast a suspicious and skeptical eye at anyone who claims to enjoy or excel in the waiting process, but sooner or later we are guaranteed to find ourselves right there…waiting…for something to happen…or for someone to come.

So here’s the thing, whether we like it or not, the plans of God seldom come in a microwaveable container.  But, waiting for ‘the fullness of time’ to come does not need to derail our faith, instead it can be a profitable and productive time of discipline, trust and ever-increasing faith, that is, if we choose to love God for Himself and not just for what He can do for us, and are willing to persevere in …just living the thing.

Wrong again suckaaaah!

He is NOT here!
He is NOT here!

A perfect garden and a tree laden with forbidden fruit.  A lie believed and a choice made.  Mankind deceived with cataclysmic consequences.  Oh, how the enemy of God must have clapped his evil hands in glee.  In one fell swoop he had successfully separated the Creator from His prized possession, the crown jewel of all creation, the man and woman created in the very image of God, now lost to Him forever and beyond redemption.  Wrong!

The Omniscient (all-knowing) One already had a plan:

“The Lord God said to the serpent,… ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike you head, and you will strike his heel.’”  Genesis 3:14-15

A smelly, dusty barn and a newborn baby lying in an animal trough.  Wise men follow a star never seen before or since, and confide in an evil, insecure king.  Helpless women wail in horror and sorrow as Herod’s soldiers mercilessly slaughter every boy child two years old and under in the City of David, Bethlehem.  Yes, the enemy had gotten wind of God’s plan to save mankind and he was not having that.  The One born to be the Savior of the world must not be allowed to live, and in the murder of the innocents the enemy believed he had won.  Wrong again!

“…behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.’  When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt…”  Matthew 2:13-14

 But now behold the Man!  Nailed to a Roman cross stark naked,  in the most brutal and shameful form of capital punishment.  Beaten beyond recognition; innocent blood now dripping from the thorns pressed into His forehead; from the huge nails in His hands and feet; from the flesh on His back torn apart by thirty-nine punishing lashes.

Rejected and abused by the very ones He came to save.  Betrayed, renounced and abandoned by the twelve men He had poured His life and truth into continually for three years.  Lifeless now and laid in a tomb hewn into the rock that was meant for another.  Surely now, the enemy had finally won.

And see the former followers of John the Baptist, the former fishermen, the former tax-collectors…they had all abandoned lucrative careers when Jesus said, “Come follow me.”  What would they do now?  How could they face the “I told you so(s)”; the shame of returning to their former life labeled as failures, all their hopes dashed to pieces, and nothing to show for the past three years but a dead leader, and religious leaders gunning to kill them too.

Oh, how the kingdom of darkness must have celebrated and rejoiced as that huge stone was rolled into place in front of the tomb and sealed, as the Roman garrison took up their positions to guard it.  The enemy of God had finally won?  My youngest child would say, “Wrong again, suckaaaah!”

“And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door and sat on it.  His countenance was like lightning and his clothing as white as snow.  And the guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men.  But the angel answered and said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here; for He is risen, as He said…’”  Matthew 28:2-6

 He is alive for evermore!  The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead put such a ‘beat down’ on the enemy of God and his cohorts you would think he would just give up and accept defeat.  Not so.

“Be well balanced(temperate, sober of mind), be vigilant and cautious at all times; for that enemy of yours, the devil, roams around like a lion roaring [in fierce hunger] seeking someone to seize upon and devour.  Withstand him; be firm in faith [against his onset – rooted, established, strong, immovable, and determined], knowing that the same (identical) sufferings are appointed to your brotherhood (the whole body of Christians) throughout the world.”  I Peter 5:8-9 The Amplified Bible

 Knowing his destruction is inevitable, the enemy has redoubled his efforts against a new target, God’s prized possession, the universal church of Jesus Christ; those who have believed that…

“…God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”  John 3:16-17

 The Gaither Vocal Band sings a timeless song titled, The Church Triumphant, and the most classic rendition includes my hands-down favorite poem of all time, God Has Always Had A People.

 God Has Always Had A People

Many a foolish conqueror made the mistake of thinking that because he had forced the Church of Jesus Christ out of sight, that he had stilled its voice and snuffed out its life.

But God Has Always Had A People

The powerful current of a rushing river is not diminished because it is forced to flow underground. The purest water is the stream that bursts crystal clear into the sunlight after it has fought its way through solid rock.

There have been charlatans who like Simon the magician, sought to barter on the open market that power which cannot be bought or sold.

But God Has Always Had A People

Men who could not be bought and women who were beyond purchase.

Yes, God Has Always Had A People

There have been times of affluence and prosperity when the Church’s message was nearly diluted into oblivion by those who sought to make it socially attractive, neatly organized and financially profitable. It has been gold-plated, draped in purple and encrusted with jewels. It has been misrepresented, ridiculed, blotted and scorned.

These followers of Jesus Christ have been, according to the whim of the times, elevated as sacred leaders and martyred as heretics. Yet through it all, there marches on that powerful army of the meek; God’s chosen people that can’t be bought, flattered, murdered or stilled. On through the ages they march.

The Church, God’s Church Triumphant, is Alive and Well!

Now listen child of God. It’s alive!
Discouraged pastor, it’s His Church and it’s alive!
Lonely missionary, sow your seeds with confidence!  It’s alive!
It’s alive my broken-hearted friend!
Old saint, you’re not alone and forgotten, the Church is alive!
Busy mother, cast your cares on Jesus!  It’s alive!
It’s alive, young student. You’re not alone in serving the Lord!
Faithful father, there’s rest in the Lord! The Church is alive!

Cynical skeptic you haven’t killed God with your noisy unbelief.

He is Alive!

So family of God raise your hands and praise the Lord.

For the Church, God’s Church Triumphant is Alive and Well!

 “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people.  God Himself will be with them and be their God.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes: there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.  There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’  Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful.’”  Revelation 21:3-5

 …just living the thing.