The Greater Calling

615 Wedding rings-thumb-570x250-77486Men often get excited about the verse in Ephesians 5 that instructs women to submit to their husbands. But it also says for husbands to love their wives even as Christ loved the church. This is the greater calling, because His love for the church compelled Him to lay down His life. Husband, if your wife is not submitting to you, perhaps it is because you are not loving her with the love of Christ. Are you laying down your life for her, abandoning selfishness and always trying to get what you want? Just as we love God because He first loved us, so shall our wives be drawn to us as we demonstrate our love for them on a daily basis. Just as we endeavor to please Him as a natural response to the revelation of His great love for us, so shall our wives respond to our love for them.

Here are some practical ways that we can walk out the calling to love our wives as Christ loved the church:

  • Pray for them. The most important thing we can do for our wives is to pray for them – often.  Pray for their safety, their health, and mostly for them to see the great love and grace of God.  Pray for them to have wisdom and to be secure in who they are. And pray for them to have a great awareness of the presence of God in their life.  As we pray for our wives, we are walking tangibly in our role as priest of our home. Submission to authority is much easier when those asked to submit know that they are being prayed for, cared for, and battled for in the arena of prayer.
  • Serve them.  What?? Yep…serve them.  Somewhere along the way we men got the notion that our wives are also our cooks, maids, nannies and housekeepers.  Even if they work outside of the home as we do, there is this idea that it is their responsibility to cook for us, wait on us, and clean for us.  Not to mention also take care of our children for us.  We come home, change clothes, settle into our favorite chair, click on the television and wait for the evening meal to be prepared and served.  What kind of message does this send?  Jesus Himself got down on his hands and knees and washed the feet of His disciples.  His character and His nature are to serve, and as we understand the reality that He lives in us, it will become our character, also.  Practically speaking, why not cook a meal, or wash the dishes, or fold the clothes? (On a regular basis) These acts of service will speak more loudly than saying “I love you” mindlessly from our perch on the couch.
  • Listen to them.  Oh boy.  I know this is a tough one for a lot of us.  We men are not by nature the best conversationalists.  We prefer the black and white, say it and move on.  Or better yet, just don’t say it at all.  If we have to have a conversation with our wives, our “fix it” radars kick on and we are half-listening, half-searching for a solution so we can get whatever the problem is solved, and return to our non-conversational comfort zones.  [pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]Here’s a secret: Our wives don’t want us to solve their problems.  They want us to listen.[/pullquote]

They want to know that they have our attention.  Listening shows we care.  It shows that they matter to us and that what they are saying is more important than what is on television or on the computer.

  • Honor Them.  A while back I was with a group of men and was amazed to hear the negative words that were being spoken by a couple of the guys about their wives.  It was very disconcerting.  I have made it a point to never speak negatively about my wife.  It is dishonoring and totally inappropriate.  1 Corinthians 13:5 says love does not dishonor others.  Our Lord’s love for us is honorable, He speaks words of hope and life and love to us.  So should we use our words to honor our wives.  When speaking to others about our wives, we should honor.  When speaking to our children about our wives, we should honor.  And when speaking to our wives, we should honor.  Here’s a verse to help you get started with words of honor: Song of Solomon 4:1a – “How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful!”

The key to enjoying a marriage relationship wherein our wives respect us as husbands is in us loving them as Christ loves the church.  He died for the church, and likewise we should die to ourselves for our wives.  As we come to understand the awesome love God has for us, we will be able to walk in that same love for our wives.  If we see God as demanding performance from us in order to earn His love or His presence in our lives, we will transfer that mentality into our marriage relationships.  We will place expectations on our wives that say, “I’ll love you if…”  Rather let us receive God’s awesome, unconditional love and grace and live daily with our wives in that same love and grace.  It will change our marriages in profound ways.  Proverbs 18:22 reminds us “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord.” Let’s love our wives deeply, passionately and selflessly…the way He loves us.

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“Dipped In Blood”

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True.  With justice he judges and wages war.  His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns.  He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.  He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.”  (Rev 19:11-13)

What a picture of Jesus Christ the king!  Much of Revelation 19 is devoted to John’s vision of Jesus as the conquering king.  I am intrigued by the statement, “He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood.”  Commentaries are split between the blood being that of his enemies, or that of himself.

In line with the latter, I believe the blood represents the sacrifice of Himself, the laying down of His life.  It represents His having paid the full price for sin, while never having known sin.  He conquered death, hell, and the grave and thereby has the full legal right to be the King of Kings.

I also believe the blood on the robe is a constant reminder for all to see.  It heralds that He gave His life as a ransom for all.  It is the eternal signature of God’s love and forgiveness.  As we gaze upon Him, we cannot help but see that He is not only the king, but also, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  (John 1:29)

His kingship was legally obtained through His having paid in-full the wages of sin.  Because He knew no sin, He rose from the grave victoriously, death could not hold Him.  Sin’s penalty could not hold Him.  And the good news is that He gives this same victory freely to those who believe. “…and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”  (Romans 3:24)

Sadly, it is common for many to feel like the rider on the white horse is coming after them.  Religion teaches that He is angry and ready to judge without warning our smallest faults and largest failures.  This mindset says, “Yes He died for our sins, but our human propensity to fall short is really greater than His fulfillment of God’s justice on the cross.”

Let us remember that it is by His grace that we have been born-again into His kingdom.  It is His grace that “teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions…” (Titus 2:12)  And it is His blood, an eternal reminder on the robe of the King, which has redeemed us and brought us to the place where “nothing can separate us from the love of God.”  We are His bride, and He is deeply and passionately in love with us.

The rider on the white horse is the king and lord of all.  He wages war against His enemies and is victorious.  We who believe are not His enemies.  He has redeemed us and called us His own.  His reign is forever, and so is His love.  As it says in Revelation 19:7, “Let us rejoice and give Him glory!”

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Get Out of the Boat

A while back, during the worship service in our church, the Holy Spirit spoke to me about the time the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water.  I was reminded that there were 12 disciples.  Why didn’t the other 11 venture out onto the water with Peter?  I thought of 3 possible reasons:

  • Fear. Perhaps they saw the waves and fear kept them glued to their spots in the boat.
  • Amazement.  Perhaps they were amazed at what was happening with Peter.  After all, he was walking on the water!
  • Watching.  Perhaps they were just caught up in being spectators, not even thinking, “Hey, I can do that, too!”

The Lord said to me that He wants us to get out of the boat and walk on top of our fears.  Don’t let fear glue us to staying where we are in life.  Step out.  It may be scary, but the key is keeping our eyes on Jesus.  As long as Peter kept his gaze on Jesus, he walked on the water.

He also said that He wants to do amazing things in each of our lives.  Sometimes we are so caught up in what is happening to someone else, we are simply amazed.  Sometimes we are even envious.  Again, He wants our gaze to be on Him.  He wants to do great things above and beyond what we can ask or think.  Let’s allow Him to be amazing in our lives, too.

And finally, He said that just sitting back and being spectators is not what He wants from us.  We are all called to participate in the kingdom.  We are called to fix our eyes on Jesus, and let Him begin and end our faith.  This requires action, getting out of the boat, and walking by faith in Him.

Get out of the boat.  Look to Him.  Believe Him to do the amazing.  And don’t be a spectator, be a participator!

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No Gifts For You

gift1You are so ready.  You’ve been looking forward to this moment all week.  The table is set with the finest china and crystal.  The aroma of the meal fills the house, energizing your sense of expectation.  You know I’m coming to visit, and you can’t wait.  In all likelihood, I am bringing you a gift – something that you know deep down is going to be very special.  All your attention is focused on our time of fellowship and communion.  The doorbell rings.  You invite me in and you are so happy that I have arrived.  And there it is, a gift wrapped just for you.  Then, without warning, you suddenly get distracted.  “It’s time to move on to something else,” you lament.  Dinner is forgotten.  We have no fellowship. After a while, I excuse myself quietly, leaving with the gift I had for you, which you have forgotten in your attentiveness to some other item on your agenda.

Sad isn’t it?  Yet this scenario is played out week after week in many if not most church services across America.  We gather together for worship.  Jesus is with us as He promised.  His presence begins to manifest in response to our corporate worship.  The Holy Spirit is there; ready to impart a gift or gifts to many.  Those who are spiritually sensitive know that God is ready to move.  Then, without warning, it’s over.  We move on to the next agenda item, leaving the Holy Spirit and His gifts to be ignored.

This is good, right?  After all, do we really want to interrupt our agenda and allow mere members to be vessels the Holy Spirit moves through?  What if the pastor never gets to preach his sermon?  What if we take the offering in the wrong place, or miss the funny announcement video?  We worked hard on this agenda and we know what’s best for our meetings.  What if we lose control?

We groan about the lack of miracles and manifestations of the gifts in the church.  Yet we never give opportunity for them.  In many cases the church has moved from being an overflow of godly men – elders praying and crying out for God to move, to a sterile, carefully planned meeting.  It’s not that the gifts are not there, it’s just that we never take time to open them.

It is time for the church to get off the fence.  If we are not going to let God move, then let’s not call ourselves charismatic, spirit-filled, or anything else that would give people hope that we will let Him move.  But if we genuinely want to see the awesome, amazing, New Testament church be what it can be, then let’s throw our agendas away, stop letting “creativity” determine what a meeting should look like, and just let the Holy Spirit move.  Trust me; He has good things for us.  His gifts are awesome.  He might just have one for you.

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Because the King Says So

2 Samuel 9:8 says, “Mephibosheth bowed down and said, ‘What is your servant that you take an interest in a dead dog like me?’”  Through the years religion has taught us a response not unlike Mephibosheth’s response.  It teaches us that, even though we’re in Christ, we are still evil, and we’re unworthy.  In essence, like Mephibosheth, we see ourselves as “dead dogs.”

But thank God for King David!  His treatment of Mephibosheth is a picture of God’s grace, mercy, & unconditional love, based only on a covenant. For us, it is the New Covenant made between the Father and His Son, of which we have been made partakers.  We can eat at the King’s table because He says so.

Religion says to be fearful of an angry, judgmental God.  Religion says “keep short accounts with God.”  Nowhere is that phrase found in Scripture, but it sounds right and feeds our natural mind’s logic that says surely we’re not really forgiven.  “Surely there has to be a part for us to play to keep our spot at the King’s table.”

Yes, we do have a part to play.  And that part is to believe, to gaze upon Him and be transformed by our minds’ being renewed in His grace and love.  “His grace teaches us to say no to ungodliness.”  It is amazing how simple it is.

Mephibosheth thinks David wants to kill him when David wants to bless him.  Mephibosheth saw only his brokenness and unworthiness.  Many times we look at ourselves and see the same brokenness and unworthiness.  But through Jesus’ horrid sacrifice on the cross, the Father has forgiven everything!  He beckons us, “Come boldly to the throne of grace!  Rest your head on the chest of Jesus like John did.  Rest and eat of Heaven’s best!

Like Mephibosheth, we are lame.  We are lame yet we are eating at the King’s table.  Though we are unable to “walk” in perfection, we are eating at the King’s table.  Why?  Because the King says so, that’s why.  It really is amazing how simple it is.

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Eyes to the Blind

Job 29:15 – Job in defending himself said as part of his discourse, “I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame.”  This verse can brand our hearts with God’s intention for us.  He wants us to be “eyes to the blind and feet to the lame.”  Eyes to see His love & help others see, and in seeing, standing and helping others to stand on the rock of His grace, truth, & love.

Hebrews 12:12,13 – “Therefore strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed instead.”  We have a greater call than we can fathom, to open blind eyes and heal the lame, simply by proclaiming, preaching, even sharing over coffee, the simplicity of Christ & His finished work.

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The Fire of the Holy Spirit – a Divinely-Inspired Thought

The following is a divinely-inspired thought that came to me as I was driving to one of my son’s soccer games last Fall.  I recorded it into my phone as I drove and have transcribed it here.  I hope it encourages you.

“The fire of the Holy Spirit consumes the flesh.  The sacrifices in the Old Testament were burned.  Why were they burned?  Fire consumes, it devours.  It encompasses, it destroys.  And as we are consumed with fire of the Holy Spirit, our flesh is consumed.  This doesn’t mean that our skin is suddenly a raging inferno.  But what does the Holy Spirit do?  He speaks of Jesus.  He speaks of Christ.  And as we allow ourselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit, our minds, and our attention, and our affections, and our thoughts, turn to Christ.

We want to have a little bit of the Holy Spirit.  We want to have the emotional rush that comes from being in a service and feeling His presence.  But, to be consumed with the Holy Spirit consumes religion.  It consumes the thought that there is anything other than Christ, that there is any other way than Christ.

He does not whisper in our ear that we have failed, that we have done wrong.  He can’t do that because He is whispering in our ear that we are loved by our Heavenly Father, that we are saved, that we are made new in Christ, that we are a new creation, that we are born again, that we are seated with Christ with Christ in heavenly places!  He’s not “speaking out of both sides of His mouth.”

So as we allow ourselves to be consumed with the Holy Spirit, we find that our minds are beginning to be more and more set on Christ.  This is where we are to live.  It is a mind thing.  It is a mentality.  What are we thinking about?  Are we thinking about our skin, our body, our flesh, – our members?  Or are we thinking about the reality of the new creation – that we are in union with Christ, that He has cut away the flesh, that we have been made new in Him!  This is the message of the Holy Spirit.

He’s not sitting there saying, “Well, today you did this and that and you really disappointed the Father, today you sinned.”  And at the same time saying, “Your sins and your lawless deeds I will remember no more.”  He’s not whispering guilt and condemnation out of one side of His mouth and then saying out of the other side of His mouth, “I have cast your sins into a sea of forgetfulness.  I have cast them away as far as the east is from the west.”

This is the confusion that comes from legalism and religion.  It comes from decades of preaching mixture – that there is somehow that we can fix this body, this dying flesh, – these members.  And there is no way to fix something that is dying.  The way that we are to live is with our minds set on Christ, with our eyes fixed on Him, with our thoughts constantly being renewed to the new creation that we have been made in Him – that we are like Him, that we are in His likeness, that we are forgiven, that we are forgiven, that we are forgiven, that we are made new in Him!

And as we do this, our spirit man begins to take on more and more and more preeminence and prominence in our life.  And we find that our members begin to fall in line and begin to be led by the Spirit.  We can’t be led by the Spirit if our minds are on the flesh.  The mind set on the flesh is dead; the mind set on the Spirit is life.”

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“Yeah, but…”

Have you ever heard, “I believe in God’s grace, but…” Or, “Yes we are new creations, but…”  It’s like taking the most magnificent part of the Gospel and saying “Yeah, but.” There is no “but” in the Gospel.  Minimizing the truth is a safe way to keep from teaching it. Chances are it’s not something many leaders understand so they gloss over it.

It’s much easier to teach things that deal with the flesh than to share the reality of Christ and His love for us week after week. Painting pictures of the failure of the human condition make bestsellers, and leave congregations chasing after the “carrot” of holiness, feeling like they never quite measure up.  But this is not the truth.

Yes Jesus said we’ll have trouble in this life, but He has assured us that we can do all things through Him who gives us strength. He assures us that He has overcome the world.  He assures us that He will never leave us or forsake us.  He’s not standing by talking about our failure, holding the football of holiness like Lucy, pulling it away just when we think we’ve attained.  He has made us holy, the righteousness of God.  We are new creations in Him.  No “Yeah, but…” about it!

It’s time to take the “Yeah, but…” out of what we teach and believe.  “His grace is sufficient” said the Apostle Paul. And, “it teaches us to say no to ungodliness.” Pray for a revelation of the Gospel for yourself and for church leaders.  It is the “power of God unto salvation…”

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“Get Them Calves Outta Here”

I remember as if it were yesterday. Sitting across from a pastor friend I had served for years, and still respected and loved deeply.  We were in Selma, NC eating Chinese food for dinner. I had just recently heard the truth of the finished work of Christ, and was excitedly sharing with him the cool things God had been revealing to me.

We talked about my ministry of preaching in other churches, and he shared with me some very interesting advice.  “Mark,” he said.  “If you want more preaching opportunities, you need to change your message.”  Intrigued, I asked him to elaborate.  We had been talking earlier about how the truth of the Gospel sets people free, as illustrated in Malachi 4:2 where it says, “You will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.”  “You see, Mark, the grace message (as we called it back then), sets people free.  Pastors don’t want a bunch of calves running around.”

The implication was clear.  Calves who have been let loose from their stall are excited. They run freely, with no sense of being under control.  They are happy and even reckless.  The joy of freedom runs through them.  They kick up their hind legs and in their own way, rejoicing at being set free.

My pastor friend was telling me through illustration that many pastors don’t want a bunch of “set-free saints” in their congregations.  There is a fear of losing control. Perhaps it is a thought like, “If they are really free, maybe they won’t tithe or serve.”  Or, “If they see the true grace of God, they might start to sin.”

This conversation took place years ago.  Since that time, I have been blessed to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  What began as “the grace message” has taken root as the truth of the Gospel, the mystery of the finished work of Christ.  The reality of the eternal, unconditional love of God toward us, an incomprehensible, life-changing truth has become my passion, my life’s message.

As I recently pondered this years-old dialogue, I realized that there is a dynamic among some pastors that is really ironic.  It is a lack of faith when it comes to the Gospel.  Oh sure there is plenty of faith for the status quo, to doing things as they’ve always been done, and teaching what they’ve always taught.  But God showed me that it is easier for pastors to yoke their congregations with a mixture of law and grace, then to trust God that He will provide if the people are set free.

It is the nature of Christ Jesus to give, to serve, to love.  Yet rather than trusting that reality, it is easier for some in church leadership to have faith in the control and manipulation of the law.  Take tithing and serving for example.  For decades, statistics have shown that, in a typical church, only 20% of the members tithe and serve regularly.  Why?  Is it because the motivation to do these things is presented as obligations for the believer?

What would happen if the saints were regularly told the truth of God’s amazing love (Romans 8:38,39), and that Christ lives in them? (Col 1:27)  What if they were set free from the mentality of obligation  and encouraged in the truth that God is no longer counting their sins against them? (2 Corinthians 5:19)  What if Sunday after Sunday the saints were encouraged to look to Jesus, the author and finisher of their faith, (Hebrews 12:2) instead of being questioned or subtly accused about their lack of pursuing holiness?  Is it possible that giving and tithing would increase as the natural response to God’s love, and if Christ’s nature in the believer was trusted to freely flow?  Would serving increase as an outflow of Christ in us?

If you are a pastor or church leader, pray about what God is saying in this post.  Where is your faith?  Is it in your ability to subtly control your congregation, or in the overwhelming faithfulness of God?  If you are a church member, ask God to give your pastor a fresh glimpse at the beauty and love of Jesus.  Ask that faith in the finished work of Christ would arise in his heart.

Be encouraged to set the saints free!  Let ‘em run  around in the exuberance of their freedom.  So what if something gets messed up (like sacred cows).  Let’s put our faith in Him and His awesome love to work His nature in the saints, manifesting in their tithing/giving, serving, and loving like never before.  Let’s trust His kindness to lead the saints to repentance.  Let’s preach His love and grace like never before, and open the stall doors and let those calves frolic in the joy of their freedom.  For whom the Son sets free is free indeed!

George Barna, in his new book, Growing True Disciples, says it well: “Ignite people’s passion for God and get out of their way.”  Amen!

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What Do You Do If You Think God is Ashamed of You?

My son, Andy, has a blog at www.tumblr.com It’s really good. You can check it out at http://www.tumblr.com/blog/shekinahgloryfall I was walking through the living room a few nights ago and noticed he was looking at a question someone had posted.  It read, “What Do You Do If You Think God is Ashamed of You?” Immediately I was like, “wow!” First, because I wanted to go into preach-mode, to which Andy quickly replied, “Yes, Dad, I know.”  (Living with me comes with the perk of hearing about God’s love quite a bit.)

The real reason for my reaction, however, was a genuine dismay that this question is even out there.  My answer to it is really quite simple.  What Do You Do If You Think God is Ashamed of You? Rejoice! That’s right, rejoice!  Now many of you may think I’ve lost it, but the simple fact is that, if you have been born-again, if you’ve accepted God’s gift of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, if you believe, then God is NEVER ashamed of you.  He will never be ashamed of you.

Too much of Christian teaching is centered on the topic of sin.  We’re taught to “keep short accounts with God,” to have someone “hold us accountable,” and to examine ourselves for the words, deeds, and thoughts that have been sinful.  The enemy of the faith has very successfully gotten the eyes of many believers off of the reality of the finished work of Christ, off of the reality that we are new creations in Christ Jesus, and the reality that God is not counting our sins against us.  (His words, not mine. 2 Corinthians 5:19; Hebrews 10:17)

Am I saying it is ok to sin?  NO! Like Paul in Romans 6 my answer is NO!  But we have died to sin, buried with Christ and raised with Him.  Let our eyes, minds, and encouragement to one another be focused on Him.  God said it is His kindness that leads us to repentance.  He is not leaving us in a place of shame and guilt because we’ve “blown it.”  There is No condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!

So if you find yourself feeling like God is ashamed of you. Cut it out, stop immediately, and rejoice! Your Heavenly Father is not and never, ever will be ashamed of you.  You are His beloved child, created in the newness of Christ.  He sings over you, He rejoices over you, He loves you!! No shame, none, period.

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