Fired by love's urgent longings, I am his rocketman.
Signs and Wonders

Signs and Wonders

Do you ever wonder what is was like for the Father and the Son before Jesus became man?  They had glory in each other’s presence.  They were complete together, the Father loving the Son and the Son loving the Father.  Before giving himself up to death for us Jesus prayed:  “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work which you gave me to do; and now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory which I had with you before the world was made.”  (John 17:4-5)  This was his prayer and it’s our deepest desire.

Glory in this context is something like fame, honor, exceedingly great reputation, indescribable beauty, luminosity, brilliant light, or as Augustine suggests,”brilliant celebrity with praise”.  The following verses give a sense of it.

Yahweh then said to Moses, ‘Again I shall do what you have asked, because you enjoy my favour and because I know you by name.’  He then said, ‘Please show me your glory.’  Yahweh said, ‘I shall make all my goodness pass before you, and before you I shall pronounce the name Yahweh; and I am gracious and I take pity on those on whom I take pity.  But my face’, he said, ‘you cannot see, for no human being can see me and survive.’  Then Yahweh said, ‘Here is a place near me.  You will stand on the rock, and when my glory passes by, I shall put you in a cleft of the rock and shield you with my hand until I have gone past.  Then I shall take my hand away and you will see my back; but my face will not be seen.  (Exodus 33:19)

I saw a brilliance like amber, like fire, radiating from what appeared to be the waist upwards; and from what appeared to be the waist downwards, I saw what looked like fire, giving a brilliant light all round.  The radiance of the encircling light was like the radiance of the bow in the clouds on rainy days.  The sight was like the glory of Yahweh. (Ezekial 1:27-28)

bodie milkyway rising monolaketufasIn the countryside close by there were shepherds out in the fields keeping guard over their sheep during the watches of the night.  An angel of the Lord stood over them and the glory of the Lord shone round them.  They were terrified, but the angel said, ‘Do not be afraid.  Look, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people.’ (Luke 2:8-10)

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lamp stands, and in the midst of the lamp stands one like a Son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest; his head and his hair were white as wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters; in his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth issued a sharp two edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.  (Revelations 1:12-16)

[Jesus] is the radiance of his glory, the exact representation of his nature, and upholds all things by the word of his power.  (Hebrews 1:3)

Jesus is the Word of God, Faithful and True.  He existed in the beginning with the Father and everything was made through him.  He is the Son who was, is and always remains in the heart of the Father; and he came to make the Father known to us.  (See John 1:1-3, 18)

Scripture tells us that the Father loves us so much that he gave us the Son so that we might believe in him and have eternal life.  So the Father sent Jesus into the world, not for condemnation, but to bring us salvation.  (See John 3:16-17)  Many have believed, many continue to believe and many will believe in the future.  But not everyone.

When Jesus spoke to the people and performed signs and wonders there were many who did not believe in him or in the works that he did.  Even though light had come into the world, many loved darkness more than they loved the light, because their deeds were evil.  (See John 3:19)  The same is certainly true today.

warmsunrisecroppingworkingJesus came into the world to save us — to show us the Father and to enable us to share in their life — to live with them, in love, forever.  He spoke about the Father, he taught about the Kingdom of God and he performed signs and wonders to demonstrate the authenticity of his message.

What signs did he perform and why did he do it?

Just to mention a few, He changed the water into wine at the marriage feast in Cana.  (John 2)  He healed the official’s son there as well.  (John 4)  He restored the lame man laying beside the pool in Jerusalem who has been ill for thirty-eight years.  (John 5)

Afterward, responding to those who were persecuting him Jesus said,

… the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, the Son does likewise.  For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all that he himself is doing; and greater works than these will he show him, that you may marvel.  (John 5:19-20)

… I can do nothing on my own authority; as I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.   If I bear witness to myself, my testimony is not true; there is another who bears witness to me, and I know that the testimony which he bears to me is true … for the works which the Father has granted me to accomplish, these very works which I am doing, bear me witness that the Father has sent me.  (John 5:30-32, 36)

Jesus also fed thousands with a few fish and a couple of loaves of bread.  He walked on water.  He commanded the storm to cease and it did.  He cast out demons.   He raised the dead.  He told many people the secrets of their hearts.  He passed through crowds when they were trying to kill him.  These things are recorded for us.  But as the gospel of John reports:  “… there are many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”  (John 21:25)

Why did Jesus perform these signs and wonders?

Certainly, he was motivated by love and compassion.  But primarily, he did it so we would change our hearts and minds, and believe the good news.  Repeatedly, Jesus told those who resisted him, if you do not believe my words, believe for the sake of the works that I do.

‘I told you, and you do not believe.  The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness to me; but you do not believe …’  (John 10:25-26)

And when those he was speaking to sought to stone him for his message he answered them

‘I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?’ … If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.  (John 10:32, 37-38)

sunrise horse farm fences 1Even with his friends and those who believed in him, Jesus didn’t rely solely on the spoken word, but demonstrated the authenticity of his word with signs and wonders.  When Jesus encountered Martha after the death of her brother Lazarus, she said,

‘Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  And even now I know tht whatever you ask from God, God will give you.’  Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’  Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’  Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives  and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?’

… Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’  Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.’  Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?’  So they took away the stone.  And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me.  I know that you always hear me, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that you sent me.’  When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus come out.’  The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth.  Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’  (John 11:21-26, 39-44)

Jesus, by his own words, tells us that he performed this miracle so that those standing by might believe.  If we accept him at his word, this means that even the Son of God, the Son closest to the Father’s heart, the only perfect man, born without sin, full of grace without measure, in whom the fullness of God dwelt, used and depended upon signs and wonders to confirm his preaching and demonstrate the authenticity of his message, enabling many to believe.

If Jesus needed signs and wonders to confirm his message, what do you suppose we need for people to listen to us?

 

Photos compliments of Jim Begley

 

 

 

 

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Care for a Drink?

Care for a Drink?

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.  (Matthew 5:6)

Have I ever really been hungry or thirsty for anything?  Many times I have said, “I am hungry” or “I am thirsty”.  Sometimes, I have even claimed to be starving or dying of thirst — but not really.  On those occasions, I was just a little bit hungrier and more thirsty than usual.

Of course there are people, lots and lots of people, who experience extreme hunger and desperate thirst.  Although I have never seen it myself, I know from TV and other reports that many people die in famines and droughts.  They literally die of hunger and thirst.  Nothing I have ever experienced comes close to that kind of desperation.

But what about hunger and thirst for righteousness?  I wonder if my hunger and thirst for righteousness has anything in common with what Jesus was talking about?  Maybe the hunger and thirst I experience is as dissimilar to what Jesus meant, as my experience of physical hunger and thirst is, to what people experience in famine and drought.

Sometimes I think my longing for God, my desire to please him, my hunger to be in close relationship with him, is really something.  I feel it passionately at times.  But then, I will encounter someone else whose longing, desire, hunger and thirst, makes mine pale in comparison.  I know from experience that it is not usually helpful to make comparisons, but I think, on occasion, it’s good to take stock of where I am and, from time to time, the Holy Spirit will use others to help me see what’s really going on, in and around me.

One thing is certain, I know there is more, more hunger, more thirst, more desire, more longing — and I know I need more.

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, ‘If any one thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, “Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'” (John 7:37-38)

This verse refers to the Holy Spirit and speaks of “rivers” of living water.  This sounds like lots and lots of rapidly moving water.  I think Jesus was talking about more than just a trickle.

He will drink from the brook by the wayside.  Therefore he will lift up his head.  (Psalm 110:6)

high falls dupont forest workingThe word for brook in this verse means “torrent”.

Is it possible, Jesus intends for torrential rivers to flow out of our hearts?

If so, why would I be satisfied with a trickle?

Maybe it’s because that’s all I want.

Perhaps, if I desire I torrent, he will give me a torrent?

 

Photos compliments of Jim Begley 

 

Who Is Helping Whom?

Who Is Helping Whom?

If you abide in me and I abide in you, you will bear much fruit for apart from me, you can do nothing.  John 15:5

On the way home from work Friday night, I stopped for a man struggling with his suitcase and the other things he was carrying.  I noticed him out of the corner of my eye as I was driving along talking on my cell phone.  I asked him if he could use a ride and he said, “Yes”.  He put his bag and other stuff in the back seat and sat down in the passenger seat next to me.  He hand me directions to the hotel he was looking for as I finished my telephone conversation.

I introduced myself and he began to explain that he had spent all day trying to get admitted to the VA Hospital into a six month in house alcohol treatment program.  Apparently the VA was unable to admit him on Friday, but will admit him on Monday.  IN the meantime, someone at the VA made arrangements for him to stay in a half way house on Saturday and Sunday night;  his sister arranged a hotel room for Friday night.

At the time I picked him up his was trying to make his way to the bus stop to catch a ride to the hotel.  His sister made a reservation for him at the Econo Lodge.  There happens to be an Econo Lodge right across the street from the hospital; that’s where his sister told him he had a reservation.  But, when he went to check in, the desk clerk told him that he did not have a reservation at that location. She directed him to another Econo Lodge across town.  When I encountered him, that was his destination.

As we drove along, I asked him why he decided to seek the alcohol treatment.  He told me that his mother is 88 and, although she is doing fine for now, he doesn’t want to show up at her funeral drunk.  He explained that this is his last stop.  It is time for him to do something about his problem.  He was very forthright about and seemed committed to changing his life.

When we arrived at the other Econo Lodge, I waited outside to make sure he was able to check in.  He soon came back out to tell me that this hotel didn’t have a record of his reservation either.  I gave him my cell phone to call his sister.   She told him that his reservation was at the hotel across the street from the hospital.  So we turned around and headed back in the direction we had just come from.

On the way back, he explained how he caught a bus that morning from his home town so he could enter the alcohol program only to find out when hetrees sunrise b&w finalprntadj got here that the person responsible for admitting people to the program didn’t work on Fridays.  He  spent a very frustrating day at the hospital but would have to wait around till Monday to start the program.  Now he was having trouble finding the right hotel.  I could tell that he was a little discouraged.  He was trying to get his life straightened out but was having difficulty getting started.

Back at the original hotel, I parked the car and went inside with him.  As soon as we got inside, the clerk apologized,  explaining that his reservation was there all along, but that it had been misfiled.  She was very kind to him and clearly felt  bad that she had put him through all that trouble.

Once he was checked in, he followed me back out to the car to get his stuff.  I asked him if I could pray for him.  He gratefully accepted my prayers.  Afterward he thanked me for having the courage to stop for him and for going out of my way to help him.  I could tell he was really encouraged and, as I was leaving, he said, “I really believe God had you there for me”.

danville statues ky finalI believe that too.  I drive that same route home day after day and I have never stopped for anyone else.  In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen anyone there who I thought needed help.  If I hadn’t come along, he would have used his bus pass to get to the other hotel, only to find out that he was in the wrong place.  I am not sure what he would have done then.  I suppose he had enough money to catch a bus back to the original hotel, but I’m not sure how he would have contacted his sister without a phone.   I guess he could have borrowed someone’s phone.  Most likely, he would have ended up in the right place though I think he would have arrived there much later and in a much different mood.

For my part, I am grateful for the opportunity to be an encouragement to him.  It cost me almost nothing, a little bit of gas and a little bit of time.  But I received much more.  For those few minutes when I was helping him, I felt like I was doing exactly what the Father had arranged for me to do.  I was doing his perfect will.  Even though I pray daily to do his will, I don’t often have experiences when I am absolutely certain that I am doing exactly what he wants me to do at the exact moment he is asking me to do it.  And the best part is, I can’t take any credit for it.  He arranged the whole thing.

Photos compliments of Jim Begley

Brook by the Wayside

Brook by the Wayside

You sit at the right hand of the Father and he is making your enemies your footstool.  He sends forth your mighty scepter from Zion and you rule in the midst of your foes.  While pursuing your enemies, you drink from the brook by the wayside and lift up your head.  ( See Psalm 110:1,6)
I asked Jesus to come into my heart when I was a senior in high school, mid 1974.  Since then, I have followed him through the ups and downs of life; prayer has been a significant part of the journey.
For many years, prayer, like my life, had high points and low points.  I went through seasons of what I considered “good” prayer, when it was easy to be faithful and I felt like I was growing spiritually.  Those times were quickly followed by periods of “poor” prayer or no prayer at all. Then one day, about eight years ago, everything changed. Like the father in the story of the prodigal son, He came running after me and nothing has been the same since.

I was having my prayer time early one morning following my usual routine which consisted of  singing to the Lord, reciting psalms out loud, intercessory prayer and a brief time of quiet — just sitting in his presence.

Suddenly, I was aware that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were present.  Nothing flashy happened; I didn’t hear any voices; I didn’t have any visions.  But some how I knew they were there.  It felt as if I were in one room and they were in the room right next to me; and I had this desire to be closer to them, not outside, but in the same room with them.  I felt a gentle prayer rise from inside of me:  “Lord, draw me in to where you are.”

And then it was over, just as quickly as it started.  I could hardly tell anything had happened at all.  Yet I knew something was different; like I was more alive and all of my senses were working just a little bit better than they were before?

The next morning, the very same thing happened in exactly the same way.  Once I again I prayed:  “Lord, I want to be close to you.  Draw me in to where you are.”  It was all very gentle, almost imperceptible; but, my life hasn’t been the same since.

From those moments, my prayer changed completely.  My usual routine involved singing songs to the Lord, reciting vocal prayers, reading the psalms out loud, with some praise and worship and a few challenging minutes of sitting quietly trying to listen to the Lord thrown in at the end;  after the two “encounters” described above, my prayer  became much deeper and quieter; I found myself sitting for an hour or two just adoring the Lord in my heart.  Surprisingly, this has become normal for me.

I went from active prayer, where I was doing all the work and getting what seemed like very little benefit, to passive prayer, with the Holy Spirit pouring grace, love and divine life into my heart, making me better and better, from the inside out, with seemingly little effort on my part.

I know it sounds too good to be true or, maybe, that I am exaggerating; but I am not, and it is true.  The best part is what has happened to me since.

Almost immediately, I began to experience deeper conversion.  I noticed there were areas in my life that had been resistant to change; yet, all of the sudden,  they began to improve.  One problem in particular, despite significant effort and perseverance, refused to go away.  As a result, I had given up hope that it would ever change.  Not long after experiencing this deeper prayer, the problem disappeared altogether without me thinking about it or trying to make it go away.

Soon I began to experience a deep peace, much deeper than I had ever experienced it before.  Previously, I enjoyed brief periods of passing peace, but this was different.  The peace I experience now abides; it may go away momentarily, but it always returns.  This inner peace is so powerful, that it brings calm to the outward circumstances of my life.

Another benefit of this deeper prayer, is what I describe as an awareness, almost a certain knowledge, that Jesus dwells inside of me.  Before I knew this truth abstractly and by faith, but I have come to know it through prayer in a substantial and tangible way.  I have a growing understanding that I carry “the presence” within me everywhere I go.

Additionally, I have become a better person than I used to be because of this prayer.  It is impossible to spend time face to face with Jesus and not become better.  Undoubtably, I should be better than I am, but I am becoming better than I ever deserved to be.  It’s all because of what he does in me when I spend time with him.

Not all prayer is the same and my time with him is different everyday.  I have had a few encounters that have touched me profoundly.  However, most of the time, I just keep him company.  Some days I am aware of his presence and, on other days, he lets me feel his absence. But whether I feel his presence or not, I am always hungry for more of him.

Before my experience of deeper prayer, I found it very challenging to be faithful to my prayer time.  Prayer was something that I knew I needed to do; it was a duty that I felt obligated to fulfill.  I wanted to be faithful, and at times I was, but more often than not, it was hit or miss.

However, since the Lord has taken me deeper in prayer, it is now something that I want to do.  I wouldn’t miss it for anything.  I pray everyday, some times for long periods of time and at different times throughout the day.  For several years now, there has been no more sense of obligation or duty, only a desire to be where he is.

Now I pray almost like I breathe, no thought or effort is required.  Prayer has become my food and my drink.  I don’t eat and drink because I have to — no one forces me to take nourishment for my body.  I eat and drink because I want to — I can’t help but do it.  The same has become true for prayer.

Brook photoPeople have told me that what I am experiencing will not last.  I listen, but I don’t believe it.  They are right, of course, about the feelings; feelings come and go.  But the prayer I am describing, doesn’t have anything to do with feelings.  Rather, the life of Christ, has taken root in me and it has a life all its own.
I suppose you can read this and become discouraged if what I am describing hasn’t yet happened to you.  You may think there is something special about me.  If so, you would be wrong.  Honestly, the Father came running to me; I was not running to him.  I know, as well as I know anything, if this can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.  So please be encouraged.  Ask, knock, seek and you will not be disappointed.

In closing, I long to pray.  I hunger and thirst for more of him.  I open my mouth and he feeds me with the finest wheat and honey from the rock.  (Psalm 81:16)  I drink from the river of his delights. (Psalm 36:8)  He quenches my thirst from the brook by the wayside. (See Psalm 110:6)

7 Quick Takes (5/24/13)

7 Quick Takes (5/24/13)

Welcome to my new readers! I’ve just launched this redesigned blog on WordPress and decided to join up with Jennifer Fulwiler’s 7 Quick Takes as a way to get to know other bloggers. I’m looking forward to sharing more with you about my family and the unique community in which we live.
One

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Times Square

When the kids were little, things were a lot simpler.  For one thing, at bed time, they were all present and accounted for under one roof.  Tonight, Shea will fall asleep in New York city, not too far from Times Square.  Shea has been enjoying all the sights and sounds of the  big Apple with her good friend, Casey.  Life is good when you are a sophomore in College.

Two

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Uncle Micah and Emmett

Micah and Sean just completed a trek by car from Augusta to Phoenix in a day and a half.  They drove Lucia’s car so the she now has use of it while she’s living in Tempe.  Even though they drove for 32 hours, Micah and Sean couldn’t resist a side trip to Toombstone before reaching their final destination.

 

Three

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Emmett

This is Emmett.  He is now enjoying the company of his Uncle Sean and Uncle Micah.  He was a little timid around them when they first arrived, but he is warming quickly.  What a lucky boy to have such good uncles.

Four

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Shea and Sea

 

Speaking of Sean, he brought me a jalapeño hamburger from the Village Deli the night before he and Micah left for Arizona.  The hamburger was delicious, but I couldn’t eat it all.  Sean ate half of it.  When he bit into the burger, he winced in pain.  I thought he might have a toothache.  When I asked him about it, he said it wasn’t his tooth, but his jaw that was hurting.  He didn’t know what caused it to hurt but told me it had been hurting all day long.  I put my hand on his jaw and prayed for Jesus to heal it.  As I was praying, the pain in his jaw went completely away.  He said, “Thanks Dad”.

Five

We are launching our new blog site this weekend.  It has a brand new look and we added some new features.  I am very excited  about a new section that we have added about the Alleluia Community.  The Alleluia Community is a Christian community with members from 11 different denominations who are doing their best to follow Jesus and to love each other along the way.  The Community is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.  Every month or so, I will invite someone to share a post about life in the Alleluia Community.

Six

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RyGuy

Talk about a busy weekend.  Ryan finished his last day of the 10th grade today.   Sarah is busy making approximately 350 cupcakes (give or take depending on whether I can sneak one or two away) for a wedding on Saturday.  Tomorrow night is the wake service  and Saturday morning is the funeral for a very good brother in the Lord, Barry Forde.  We are going to miss Barry.  On Sunday, we have two very special nieces graduating from High School.  Thank God for a long weekend.

Seven

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Resting at the end of the journey

God is good.  Across the table, sitting on the window sill is Sarah’s chalkboard.  She has written the following on it:  “Today I am thankful for Micah and Sean’s safe travel, Ryan’s last day of school and cupcakes.”  It is good to be thankful and we have so much to be thankful for!  The end of school, the beginning of summer, graduations, weddings, the celebration of life, the burial of a good man, things past and things to look forward to.

 

With Jesus It’s Always Personal

With Jesus It’s Always Personal

One day, when Jesus was in Jerusalem, he went to a pool near the Sheep Gate where there were a large number of sick, including those who were lame, blind and paralyzed.  Apparently, from time to time, an angel would go down into the pool and stir up the water; the first person who entered the water afterward was healed.

One man who had been sick for thirty eight years was laying beside the pool.  Jesus saw him and knew that he had been laying there day after day for a long time.  Jesus went up to him and asked him:

Do you want to be healed?  The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.’  At once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked.  (John 5:6-9)

Little is revealed about the man in this story, but we do know a few things.  He was sick and couldn’t walk.  He wanted to be healthy.  He believed if he could get into the pool first after the angel troubled the water, he would be healed.  He had no one to help him get into the pool and couldn’t get there by himself.  He had laid down beside the pool day after day for a long time.  Presumably he had watched others enter pool and come out of the water healed.

What do we know or can we deduce about his character?  He was patient; he was certainly long suffering.  He had at least some faith.   He must have had some measure of hope, though you have to wonder how after so many disappointments.  The story reveals no hint of bitterness despite the fact that he has no one to help him, as he watched, time after time, others reach the water before him.  Apparently he was polite for he addressed the Lord as “Sir”.  He was obedient, because he did exactly what Jesus asked him to do and he did it promptly.

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What does this story reveal about Jesus?

Sometimes we go looking for him and other times, he comes looking for us.  It is always personal with Jesus; he encounters individuals not crowds.  He sees things in us we don’t see in ourselves.  He has his own reasons for doing what he does.  He doesn’t give up on us even if we are tempted to give up on ourselves.  He acts in his own time.  He rewards faith; he honors perseverance; he gives help when no one else can; and, his love never fails and it never runs out; it is always enough.

Alleluia Community-One Man’s View from the Outside Looking in

Alleluia Community-One Man’s View from the Outside Looking in

Alleluia Community was formed on February 11, 1973, in Augusta, Georgia, during a record-setting snowstorm.

It is impossible with words to give an adequate description of the Alleluia Community—one has to “come and see” it for himself. However, since Alleluia has been so life changing and life shaping for our family and so many hundreds of others, I must try to give you an overview. To be truly thorough would require an entire book. The community is every bit as unique as a fourteen-inch snow in the Deep South!

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My wife Nancy and I made a one-day visit to Alleluia in the spring of 1981, after some members of Alleluia came to our prayer meeting in Marietta and invited us. We got an early reality check as our three-hour drive wound into its final two miles. The condition of the neighborhood and surroundings had suddenly taken on a very depressed look just as Nancy announced from our page of directions, “One more turn and we’re at Faith Village.” I immediately responded, “Oh, no!”

Thirty seconds later we were arriving at the “bell tower” located outside of the house where noon prayers were to momentarily begin. Without introduction, we were soon inside the house among a group of forty people, young mothers and some not so young, with the largest number of small children we had ever seen in one room. The man leading the prayers was addressed as Dale—or as the kids called him, Uncle Dale.

While observing community life on our visit that day, we met twice with Dale, the man who had led noon prayers, who was also a community founder and elder. Dale was different from anyone we had ever been around; he was known to be very spiritually attuned and discerning and to intentionally say very little. He cut to the chase and didn’t really encourage us to come to visit Alleluia again, unless we were “called.”

We tried to quiz Dale about the community mission. What was it? What was their work? He would only reply “To be a people.” The community aspired to get everyone in their care baptized in the Holy Spirit and to work hard at “being a people,” which to them meant living out Christian family together. And yes, they were ecumenical. It was very important to us that any community we considered be ecumenical (multi-denominational), but I didn’t yet understand this “be a people” part. To me, it didn’t appear that the community’s mission and purpose were anything like our own. I was used to spontaneously “going out” in the Spirit and working with strangers.

faith villageNancy, on the other hand, was tracking with Dale, and by the conclusion of our visit she thought she was ready (and I should be) to pack up and move to Augusta and join Alleluia. I just wanted to get back on I-20 to Atlanta—the sooner, the better! Our trip home was long and filled with tension and disagreement. I felt threatened and would have been quite happy to forget all about Alleluia and Augusta!

Nancy had, for a long time, been personally drawn to a Scripture in Acts: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common… They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their numbers. Acts 2:42-44,46-48

Nancy was convinced that Alleluia Community was that Scripture being lived out. I was really immersed in the workings of the Holy Spirit where we were in Marietta and wasn’t looking forward to giving that up. To relocate to a place that didn’t impress me that much, and start over among people I didn’t know, in a town with uncertain business prospects, seemed questionable at best.

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Our one visit in 1981 had been a shock to my system, from a physical and material standpoint. To me, the Alleluia Community was the most austere, bare-essentials place that I had ever spent time in—the extreme opposite of the well-appointed houses I had designed and built in upscale neighborhoods in Atlanta. Most of the community members lived in a partially renovated duplex neighborhood. It had been built in 1951, and by the time the community was founded and members began to move into the first renovated duplexes, the complex had suffered over two decades of abuse and neglect at the hands of renters. It also was located in an active red-light, crime-infested area with pimps and drug dealers cruising the streets. Even in 1981, gunshots were heard in the distance at various times of the day and night. The community’s founders had sold their own nice homes on the west side of town to fund the purchase of this old, declining cluster of houses and had moved “down,” praying against the surrounding evil and for the demons to be put to flight.

It was two years before I could get over the jolt of the first visit and bring myself to make another visit. This time, I began to see past the duplex buildings in need of improvement, the abused property and the rough surroundings, and to try to appreciate the committed people and the working of the Holy Spirit among them. By our second visit, the area and many of its houses had been improved significantly (but not nearly so much as my tolerance and understanding). The Lord had been working on my attitude and my values, and helping me to look beyond material things. It would take every bit of what we had gained from our “going down” experience with Jean’s house (all of which happened after our first visit to Alleluia in 1981) to prepare me to even consider moving to Alleluia. I had spent most of our married life trying to distance us from just this kind of housing and neighborhood.

On that second visit to Alleluia, Nancy and I were joined by Don and Karen, friends from our Marietta prayer group. They had heard the call to community a few years earlier, and were anxious to “come and see.”

During that visit, Don, Karen, Nancy and I agreed to start coming regularly that fall, every other weekend, which we did. We would travel in our two cars, driving together, leaving Marietta on Friday after work and returning home on Sunday around 9 pm. Each visit helped to release us from our attachment to Marietta. Many of our family and friends just couldn’t understand why we would be making these visits, even though the community frequently hosts guests from all over the world.

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Those weekends were chock full for us all. We were placed with different families to stay in their homes and experience community with them. We would be included in whatever they were doing. It was a great opportunity to learn to “fit in.” Many times, Don and Karen’s two adult daughters came with them, and Nancy’s mother, Fran, usually came with us, along with one or more of our three sons. Don and Karen and their daughters would generally be hosted in one home, and Nancy and I and our sons in another, while Fran would usually be placed in a third home.

On several occasions, we had not met our hosts before reaching their home. Sometimes, on our arrival, no one was home, and we would be greeted by a note of instruction on the front door. One such note read, “Welcome! You’ll be staying in the room at the top of the stairs, the one with the sheetrock against the wall.” These people were not out to impress, but were just very real and genuinely hospitable. They believed that the Holy Spirit selected those who visited. We sensed no attitude of exclusivity in any of the members, but rather a down-to-earth honesty and openness. On some of our visits, we would realize the next morning that we had been given the master bedroom, while the hosting couple slept somewhere else in the house, even on the floor. That’s sacrificial giving! We were already witnessing a deeper level of “dying to self” than we had ever seen. We were always treated with great warmth and acceptance. Their kids always called us Aunt Nancy, Uncle Gary, and “Franma.” Their love for Jesus showed in their care for us.

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Alleluia had teachings for the newer people on Saturday mornings, a work party in the afternoon, and a Lord’s Day meal Saturday night. Sundays were full: breakfast, then church services, brunch, and the weekly community gathering on Sunday afternoon. At the end of the meeting, community members “laid hands” on us, prayed us up for the journey home, and told us that they were sorry we couldn’t stay and “live community.”

We followed this schedule faithfully every other week. And came to know more individuals with each visit and appreciate their uniqueness and the ways that they had each been called to community. These people were genuine, they were in pursuit of God’s will and the “more” for their lives, and we felt the call to join them.

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Nancy and I were both tired of being disappointed by believers who would eagerly go part of the way, and then no further. It was obvious from the costly moves that many community members had made to get to Alleluia—leaving homes, families, friendships, jobs, and even careers—that they were not counting the cost. They had found their pearl of great price and answered the call to this new life, not knowing what that entailed. Many of them were former leaders of prayer groups in their churches, but had been willing to forego that for this higher calling, starting over at the ground level in the community, in accordance with God’s plan for their lives. Nancy and I wanted to live among believers with that level of commitment.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. Matthew 16:24-27

Gary & Nancy Garner

Gary & Nancy Garner

 

 

Garner, Gary (2012-07-02). Excerpts from Swept Up by the Spirit   Journey of Transformation (Kindle Locations 2296-2392).  Kindle Edition.

 

Awake O Sleeper

Awake O Sleeper

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  (John 1:1)  And the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us … (John 1:14)

Imagine, Jesus, the Son, the Word, with the Father, volunteering to become like you and me; choosing to leave heaven and come to earth.  Think about it.

Jesus, though in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped (and held onto), but [he] emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.  (Philippians 2:6-8)

The God-Man, the new Adam, first born of the new race, became just like us in every way except sin.
He left heaven, came to earth, in human form, to show us the Father, to offer his life as a sacrifice for us. to exchange his life for our lives.

Jesus was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. (Isaiah 53)  He was whipped, beaten, marred, stripped naked, publicly humiliated and crucified for our salvation.  This God-Man, laid down his life for ours, with legions of angels waiting in the wings, ready for his command.

What wondrous love is this, oh my soul?

And what about the Father?  I too often overlook what it must have been like for him.

The Son is the radiance of the Father’s glory and the exact representation of His being.  (Hebrews 1:3)
We regularly reflect on Jesus’ agony in the garden, scourging and tortious death.  What about the Father?

What would it be like for you to give up your son or daughter, to allow him or her, to be abused and tortured while you watched close by, knowing all the time that you could stop it.  Your son or daughter, in exchange for the life of your enemies.  This stretches our minds beyond capacity.

We think, well, God is God, and he didn’t feel it like we would feel it.  Didn’t He?  What kind of Father would he be?

A better father than me.

Have you ever tried to imagine what Jesus thought about as he anticipated his own death?
We think that because he was God, he knew what would happen.  We conveniently forget that he lived and died as the God-Man.  He emptied himself of his divinity; he suffered and died willing bound with our limitations.

Jesus knew and declared that he is the resurrection and the life.  Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.  He raised others from the dead as well.  Nevertheless, he laid down his torn body, resting in peace and the hope of the resurrection.

And so my heart rejoices, my soul is glad; even my body shall rest in safety.  For you will not leave my soul among the dead, nor let your beloved know decay.  You will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence, at your right hand happiness forever.  (Psalm 16:9-11)

Of course the Word, knew the prophetic word.  He knew this passage applied to his life, death and resurrection,  But he walked through it, step by step by step, empty of his divinity, in the form of a slave, in the likeness of men; and as a man, he lay down in hope.

Have you ever wondered what it was like for Jesus at the precise moment of the resurrection.  Can you
imagine what it he must have felt?  The stone is rolled away, light streams in, life pours in, and in an instant he is awake.  Can you envision the smile on his face, the gladness in every pore of his body, as he whispers to his Father, “it really works”!

Meanwhile today is Holy Saturday.  The day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  One of my favorite days of the year.

Have you ever considered what may have happened the day before the resurrection?  Maybe it went like this:

Something strange is happening — there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness.  The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep.  The earth trembles and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began.  God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone in search for our first parents, as for lost sheep.  Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve … He took [Adam] by the hand and raised him up, saying:  “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son.  Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise.  I order you, O sleeper, to awake.  I did not create you to be held prisoner in hell.  Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.  Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image.  Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you and we cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth.  For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead.  For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed … in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you.  See the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image.  On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back.  See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side.  My side has healed the pain in yours.  My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell.  The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place.  The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise.  I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven … [t]he throne formed by the cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager.  The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open.  The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.  (From ancient homily on Holy Saturday)

What a mighty God we serve!  What a great Father we have.  Nothing is left out; nothing is overlooked. Everything is prepared for us.

Those of you who have followed my my blog, know that I am fond of the name “Rocketman”, and you know why it means so much to me.  But you should understand, if you don’t already, Jesus is the pre-eminent “Rocketman”.  He is our first born brother. He is the first to rise from the dead into the resurrection; he is first to lift off from the earth.  He is the first to ascend to the right hand of the Father.  He is first in every way.

Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

Love Is Stronger Than Death

Love Is Stronger Than Death

Last week, my wife, Sarah and my daughter Shea and I were in Tempe, Arizona visiting Anna Kate (oldest daughter), her husband Ray, our one and only grandson, Emmett and Lucia (our middle daughter who is temporarily helping out with childcare).  We were there for just under a week and had a great time together.

As the hour for leaving approached, in usual fashion, I began to partially unravel inside.  It started with a few tears, privately at first, and then for the whole world to see.  No matter what I try, I cannot seem to help myself.  I am a grown man, yet I cry like a baby whenever it comes time to say goodbye.

I began this practice of falling apart early in adulthood, each time I would visit and leave my now deceased Dad, who lived in Washington State.  I tried to prepare for leaving and gave myself pep talks to avoid the tears; however, that rarely produced the results I desired.  I should have known then what it would be like to leave my own children and, now, grandchild.

People tell me it’s a gift.  I think I have a general idea of what they mean.  I am not always able to say exactly what I want to say to the people I love, but when I am weeping like a child, saying good bye, there is no misunderstanding what I feel inside.  But my manhood is completely and thoroughly undone in the process — poor, poor, pitiful me.

I know, of course, that those I am leaving are well provided for, well taken care of and in a good, safe place.  And that helps, but I still come apart at the seams.  Just the idea of separation, of being away, even for a little while, is enough to make the waters flow.  I suppose at those moments, I realize how deeply connected I am to the people I love, and I think they know it too.

Nick Goodwin

Today, some very good people, Vince and Cindy, along with their two sons, Danny and Joey, and their extended families, said good bye to their youngest son and brother, Nick.  Nick passed away as a result of an accident that occurred last weekend.

Nick was only 15 years old.  From all accounts he was the son everyone would love to have,  He was handsome, funny, fun loving, mischievous, athletic, a good friend to his friends, a good brother to his brothers and a wonderful son to his Mom and Dad.  Nick loved to finish first; he loved riding his dirt bike; he was fond of the color lime green.  He enjoyed hanging with his youth group and playing soccer.  Nick is well loved, well liked and will be well missed.

I cannot imagine the tearing, ripping and undoing that occurs when a parent says good bye to his or her beautiful, young son or daughter for the last time.  I cannot fathom the breadth, length, height and depth   of anguish, sadness, emptiness and pain generated from that separation and loss.  I don’t know how I could possibly endure it; how anyone can endure it?

Certainly, we believe in the love of God, the resurrection from the dead and eternal life; we hope to be united again forever, clothed in immortality, with every tear wiped away, with gladness in our hearts; but in that moment of surrender to death, there is only darkness, which seems to permeate every inch of our bodies.

Only the Good Shepherd can restore our souls, but not yet, not now, maybe some day …

When we lose someone very close to us, it shakes us to the core of our beings.  We tremble knowing how fragile life is and how easily things could have turned out differently.  We cannot help but cry out why?  Why did it have to happen?  Why didn’t you protect him?  Why didn’t you do something, anything?  At some level, everything we believe and cling to is violently assaulted by the unexpected death of someone we love.

My daughter, Anna Kate sent me this text after hearing about Nick, pleading:

Why do things like this happen?  How are we supposed to understand this?  How am I supposed to go about life and let Emmett out of my sight?  I don’t understand!

Good questions.  Anna Kate is asking the questions that are on all of our minds:  does the Father really love us?  does he really protect us from harm?  can we count on him to guard the lives of those we love?  is his right hand strong enough to hold us?

I replied to Anna Kate’s text with the following:

With courage, not dread of the foe, with fear of God and continual prayer, with love poured out and none held back, with faith and hope, expressed in thanksgiving for everything.

In times of darkness, when our faith is tested, we need to cling to the Lord in prayer.  He gives us so much when we go to him, especially when our hearts are laid bare and cut open by the circumstances of life.

We need to nourish our faith on the Word of God and remind ourselves of who he is and who we are in him.

We need to remember that he formed our inward parts, put us together in our mothers’ wombs and that he numbered our days.  He doesn’t make mistakes; he doesn’t fall asleep on the job and he never says whoops.

That “[p]recious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.  (Psalm 116:15)

Love really is stronger than death. (Song of Songs 8:6)

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:35-39)

Our hearts are too small.  Love expands them.  We need love, so much more love.  Love poured in and love poured out.

“For love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  (1 Corinthians 13:7)

Sometimes, living is very hard.  Secret things do belong to the Lord and there are so many things we do not and cannot understand.  (See Deuteronomy 29:29)

For now we see as in a mirror dimly, but one day we will see him face to face.  Now we know in part, but one day we will understand fully. (See 1 Corinthians 13:12)

Until then, I pray for Nick’s family, and for each of us, that

he may grant [us] to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in [our] hearts through faith; that [we], being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to understand with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that [we] may be filled with the fulness of God.  (Ephesians 3:16-19)

Our home is in heaven, and from heaven we are waiting for our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself.  (Philippians 3:20-21)

Nevertheless, in the meantime, we reign in this life through Christ (Romans 5:17); though like him we rule in the midst of our enemies.  (Psalm 110:2)  But it will not always be so.  Some day we will reign with him in heaven and we will rejoice with him as our heads are lifted up in songs of victory over all of our enemies.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.  (1 Corinthians 15:26)

 

Fruit

Fruit

I have been thinking about the life we are offered in Christ.  The scriptures are full of the promises of God which invite us to live an exalted and abundant life in him.  In particular, I have been meditating on the passage from the Gospel of John, where Jesus refers to himself as the vine and us as the branches.

Abide in me, and I in you … He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing … If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you … As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.  These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.  (John 15:

If I dwell in him, He will dwell in me.  If I live in him, He will live in me.  If I rest in Him, He will rest in me.  If His words dwell in me, if His words live in me, if His words rest in me, I will ask whatever I will and it will be done for me?

Jesus loves me just the same as the Father has loved Him.  He tells me to dwell in his love, to live in his love, to rest in his love.

If I do what he asks me to, I will dwell in His love, live in his love and rest in his love.  This is exactly what Jesus did and this is what He expects me do.  He believes I can.

Just like the woman caught in adultery, Jesus said to her, “go and sin no more”, believing that she would do exactly what he told her to do.

I see what he wants for me, joy, complete, full over-flowing joy!

This is the high life in Christ.  Life empowered by the Holy Spirit, lived in faith, inspired by hope, and pursued in love.  As companions for the journey, He gives me peace to rule in my heart and the promise of complete joy.

It seems so simple that even children can understand it — as they often do.  It sounds to good to be true, but its not.  In fact, I wonder if me miss the very thing we are looking for because of its simplicity.  I suppose we are naturally suspicious of anything that appears to be both simple and to good to be true.
Ahhh, we are well trained.

Of course, there is a price to be paid, but it’s not what we think.  We simply have to keep his commandments, that is, to do whatever he tells us to do.  His commandments are not burdensome because they lead us into the very thing made for and desire above everything else:  life in Him.

Paul tells us what we need to do:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  And over all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.  And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

If I dwell in Christ, if I live in Him, if I rest in Him, I can do all of these things, because He will do them in me.  If I do these things, then I will dwell in Christ, I will live in Him and I will rest in Him.
If I do these things, I will dwell in love, live in love and rest in love.

If I do these things, I will keep his commandments.  If I do these things, I will bear fruit.  If I do these things,  I will ask whatever I will and He will do it for me.  If I do these things, peace will rule in my heart and my joy will be complete.

I have tried this before.  In fact, I am continually working at this.  It’s a journey, but it’s one worth taking.  I am called to be just like Jesus “because as he is in the world so are we”.  Of course, I have not yet obtained this nor am I perfect.

Nevertheless, “… I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own … forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 3:12-14)

So I will press on; I will persevere remembering that “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me” and “[f]or this I toil, striving with all energy which he mightily inspires within me.”  (Col 1:29)

“He who calls [us] is faithful, and he will do it.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:24)