dariuswalden

Husband, Father, Friend, Pastor/Coach

confessions of a recovering pharisee

CONFESSIONS OF A RECOVERING PHARISEE

I heard Duffy Robbins speak at a youth leaders conference some years ago. Duffy shared a list of characteristics found in a group. These characteristics were things like fiercely dedicated to the scriptures, fasting, and other spiritual disciplines. The hook was that they were from an ancient guide for Pharisees.

The Pharisees, like other religious movements, had a great foundation. Then, like almost all movements, they got off track.

The Pharisees became devoted to their movement over devotion to God.

I remember growing up in the latter years of legalistic holiness. “Its against my religion” was an often used phrase in my life.

The working definition of legalism is to add to what God has said. For my ancestors, if consuming alcohol is wrong, then drinking soda pop from a bottle is wrong – because someone might think you are drinking. Same applied to chewing gum; someone might think you are chewing tobacco.

When we demand that everyone think alike, vote alike, preach alike, …this is the pathway towards legalism. God has given us, as someone has said, “roots and wings.” There is indeed wiggle room for many life choices. All of our life choices must be founded in scripture.

Jesus was confronted by another discipleship group; John the Baptist disciples. Jesus made an incredible statement, “For John came neither eating or drinking and they say ‘he has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.” Matthew 11:18,19.

Side note: we sing a song “Jesus friend of sinners” but probably wouldn’t sing “Jesus, glutton and winebibber.” The truth is, Jesus won’t be coopted by any of us. “Wisdom is justified by her children.”

So, as a recovering Pharisee, I have to ask – are my children; spiritual and natural – closer to God because I put on them a burden neither I nor my fathers were able to bear?  It’s a rhetorical question.

The answer to rebellion isn’t extremism. When we read the New Testament, we are confronted with saints that are doing crazy things; stealing, taking one another to court, being lazy, hating one another…but the answer wasn’t to go back to the old system, it was to move forward into the new system.

Grace is the new system. It isn’t a license to sin, it’s a license to live holy. Titus reads that grace teaches us how to live holy in this present age. Paul despised legalism, not because he wanted to live a loose life, but because holiness only comes from freedom in Christ.

Paul got angry in his hyperbole. Hey you in Galatia, if you think that circumcision makes you holy, why not emasculate yourself? Ouch.

So, when I find myself and others saying and doing things that say, “if you are really devoted to Christ, you MUST do this and you MUST to that.” That’s legalism.

“Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” Jesus said. Our word is indeed our bond. Adding to it, according to Jesus, is of the devil! (Matthew 5:37)

At our church, when someone joins the church, they do so “in front of God and everybody.” Will you questions are asked. The corresponding answer is yes. The right hand of fellowship is extended. No papers signed. No vows made. That’s legalism.

Discipleship in messy and legalism is easy. I would prefer to make disciples, and I believe that is what the Lord wants.

Victory is in Jesus and therefore in me

VICTORY IS IN JESUS AND THEREFORE IN ME

Here we are in the throes of the Lenten season. For many, these 40 days have become a required religious exercise with no meaning. For some, this season means nothing different whatsoever. For yet another group; perhaps the most dangerous of all – is the belief that due to the finished work of Jesus, no personal application is necessary at all.

Legalism is a word bandied about in church circles. Like many terms, it has lost its original meaning. Legalism is adding to God’s word.

That’s it.

Therefore, when God has given me a command, he has already decided that I am able to obey His commands! I heard a radio preacher the other day say that God’s commands to us are impossible to do, but that he wants us to strive – knowing that we can never obey them!

That’s not only foolishness, but it makes God to be a celestial prankster. The scriptures do not teach us to try harder. The scriptures teach us to trust more!

Jesus is our example. After His baptism, our Lord was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. There, in the desert, he faced the devil himself. You may reference this encounter is Luke 4, in its entirety.

Jesus is tempted three ways. He’s been fasting and praying. He’s been alone. He knows the mission ahead.

When I think of this encounter, I am humbled and amazed. First of all, the text reads that at the end of 40 days he was hungry. I don’t know about you, but whenever I am prompted to fast, I’m hungry after 30 minutes! Gas fumes smell like food.

I want to encourage you to fast – which means to “not eat food.”  Over the years we’ve made fasting fun. A few years ago the Daniel Fast was made popular, and to this day, many churches do a 21 day Daniel Fast at the first of the year. So popular this became, there is even a cook book for the Daniel Fast! 

I’m not anti-Daniel Fast. What I’m saying is that we – especially us Americans – can’t seem to help trying to make everything fun. Fasting is a call away for a specialized time of prayer, meditation, scripture reading, and self denial.

What also stuns me about Jesus’ time fasting is that he was worn down at the end. He was vulnerable. Why would God motivate us to this?  The answer is found in the overcoming.

Jesus was tempted to make fast food – Pun intended. Satan tempted Jesus to make a quick bread, thus using miracle power on personal gratification!   Oh how we – especially those of us that identify as Pentecostals – have taken advantage of this.

Esau was guilty of eating fast food. He was out in the woods being an unsuccessful hunter. His brother took advantage of the opportunity. Jacob made him stew. Esau wasn’t willing to wait to make his own food. He let his fleshly appetite cost him his birthright.

The Bible calls him unholy, (Hebrews 12:16) and warns us not be like him. The miraculous isn’t utilitarian. It isn’t for us to feed our fleshly appetites. Like Esau, if we won’t wait upon the Lord for provision, the cost is high.

Jesus could answer satan with the answer to his hunger: “man doesn’t live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.” This is a quote from Deuteronomy, when Moses was telling the people that God can feed them and sustain them all by Himself! God did. He sent manna from heaven and water from a rock!

In the Mark passage of the temptation, angels come and provide food for Jesus.

What does this mean for us? Jesus didn’t give into his flesh; even though he was hungry. We can call out to God and He will meet our needs!

Jesus was tempted to turn His back on God. Satan manages to give Jesus a panoramic view of all the kingdoms of the world. Satan offers to give it to him, if he will just bow down and worship him. Think of the boldness and audacity of satan.

This was perhaps an even stronger temptation than the food. This temptation dealt with the possible skirting of going to the cross, suffering, dying… an easy path. Satan was offering a half truth. It is in the devil’s purview to offer power to whomever he likes. God’s word identifies him as the prince and power of the air. Satan operates in delegated power.

The end-around obeying God is to simply offer ourselves to satan. The easy way out. The power now. No suffering, no self denial. All we could ever want – in this life, right now!

The lure of success.

John speaks to this temptation in his first letter. “…the boastful pride of life [pretentious confidence in one’s resources or in the stability of earthly things]…” I John 2:16 AMP. Jesus addressed the temptation to success and pride in the parable of the rich fool.

The rich man said to himself that he would build better, build more, have more, enjoy more… sound like America. The most wealthy nation in the world worries every day about who has more stuff, and why we can’t have more.

What do we do?  We choose, instead of answering like Jesus, “you will worship God alone,” we ask, “what else do you have?” 

Our lust for power and money will have a recompense some day. Sir, when you are on your death bed, what good will all of your money do? You get a fancier casket and a more expense hole in the dirt. You are still worm food.

Ma’am, that sweet talking fool at work is offering you heaven on earth in bed. Don’t give away your body’s power to satisfy what may be missing at home.

Temporary power is just that. Satan couldn’t offer anything eternal to Jesus; only for a moment of time. Jesus overcame that temptation too! Hallelujah, so can we.

Jesus was tempted to kill himself – What? What did you just read? Yes. 100%. Jesus was tempted to throw himself off a building. Hebrews 2:18 reads, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

We are in such a day that self death has become not only common, but generally accepted as ok. Hear what the voice of the Lord is saying to you, over the voices in your head. Jesus is the author of life. He was tempted in order for you and I to overcome.

Satan even used the scriptures to tempt our Lord. He will use scriptures to allure you. Remember; the devil is a liar.

Several years ago, a man was standing on an overpass planning to jump. I was a police chaplain, and was on call that day. The police said to me, “he’s saying the devil is in his head.” I said, “tell him the devil is a liar.”

The man came down. I was taking his wife to the hospital. We’d never met, but I discovered that she was a Christian. Her husband was struggling. She said, “last night my husband was saying that the devil was in his head. I told him to remember that the devil is a liar.”

God hears your struggles today. The devil only has one language; lies. As you are reading this, and you are struggling with self harm, I want you to know this: the devil is a liar. He couldn’t kill Jesus. Jesus said no to the devil because He had a reason to live.

You have a reason to live.

In Acts 16, Paul and Silas are in jail. The jailer was actively preparing to kill himself, but Paul cried out “do not harm yourself. We are all here.” This is what you may need to hear today. Jesus told the devil to step off – you shall not tempt the Lord your God.

Note: if you are actively preparing to take your life, call 911 right now. You can also call me day or night: 661-444-7642.

Jesus overcame so that you can overcome. There is victory in Jesus; therefore there is victory in me.

I NEED REVIVAL

I NEED REVIVAL

Whenever God does something in the earth, there are strong voices of opposition. In a sense, it is a litmus test. John, the one who baptized Jesus, was an “equal opportunity offender.” He told the Romans to stop cheating the people, and that they needed to be baptized. He told the religious leaders that they had no spiritual standing, and that they needed to be baptized. John included that “fruit” came with baptism.

There are strange bedfellows in the current spiritual awakening in America; atheists and conservative alike are decrying it. These folks, bless their hearts, have exalted themselves as the harbinger of truly religious affections.

The Sanhedrin in Acts 5 bring the apostles to trial. They order them to cease and desist preaching about Jesus. The apostles inform their elders to judge for themselves, but they cannot help but speak! Gamaliel, a well respected Pharisee, informs the Sanhedrin to leave it alone. “…for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail, but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God.”

I need revival in my soul. Perhaps you are of the opinion and conviction that Christians never need renewal. I would say that this position is ignorance at best and arrogance at worst. There isn’t one follower of Christ that never needs a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit after their conversion.

In the Book of Acts, the Day of Pentecost church had encounter after the other in their “post conversion” state. The Apostle Paul talked about a euphoric experience in his post conversion life. John the beloved received a “caught up” experience called “the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Here are some observations that we should be aware of:

  1. God answers prayer – There are people that have been praying for years for spiritual renewal in America. HOW God answers prayer is up to God; after all, He’s God. When we call out to God, (as He has commanded us), He often answers in ways that we cannot fathom, or even understand.
  2. Spiritual Awakening is never clean – In every move of God with humanity, there are faults along the way. The explanation is simple: God is working with fallen mankind!  The early church – in Acts 2 – didn’t believe that non Jews could be saved! Think of that. God poured out His Spirit on 120 racists!

We so often dismiss what God is doing because of weirdness, or faults in the people. Common sense should tell us that if we need anything, we need a spiritual awakening to have our eyes opened to our prejudices, our fears, our faults, our “know it allness.”

  • The Gospel of Jesus is powerful – The modern mindset does not fully comprehend how powerful the gospel of Jesus is. Paul realized its raw and effective power. He said “it” is the power of God unto salvation. Furthermore, he rejoiced in the preaching of the gospel – regardless of motive – is effective. Should we preach and teach sound doctrine? Of course!  We should have a measure of skill regarding how to argue the truth, (apologetics). Our main thrust must be the Holy Spirit’s power to convey truth; not our overwhelming concern with “watching out” for those that are messing it up. God always works from the heart out, not from the head down.

Paul taught (in writing and experience) that the demonstration of the Spirit’s power is what conveys the gospel. A man in my church years ago told the story of how he came to Christ.

Ray worked in the World Trade Center. Like many Jews after World War II, he was an atheistic Jew. One day at work he had a thought to go get a Bible and read it. He wasn’t aware that this was the Holy Spirit. He bought a paperback Bible in the gift shop, and jumped to a verse in Leviticus; something having to do with the order of offerings.

Ray was undone. He was so overwhelmed with emotion that he left his office and went home for the day!  A few months later, he came to faith in Jesus, and went on to be a missionary.

  • God will never give me what I don’t want – The safety net for every doubter and denier, is that the Holy Spirit will not come upon those who don’t want Him to. Jesus breathed on the disciples, but they still had to go to the Upper Room.

There are those who simply say that God will move when He is good and ready; that spiritual awakening is “pot luck,” This isn’t consistent with scripture. The famous verse from 2 Chronicles is still the truth today! My people. Called by My name. Humble ourselves. Seek His face. Turn away from wickedness, (that’s called repentance). What does God say?  I WILL HEAL THEIR LAND.

With over 70 shootings in the first 2 months of 2023, war, violence, abuse of every kind – our land stinks with the pus of sin.

Isaiah said to put away the finger, and then light will come.

I’m putting my finger in my holster.

I NEED REVIVAL.

David Griffis On Friendship

I highly value friendship. Maybe more that I should sometimes. Dr. David Griffis, author, husband, and prolific preacher offers this incredible insight on friendship:
I write today about friends….real friends. It is a subject that God himself takes very seriously, as we shall see. Friends….true friends, next to God and family, are your greatest treasure. Consider these scriptures……

“A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17 KJV)
This scripture gives to us the foundational truth about real friendship. A real friend always loves you no matter what. A true brother or sister is placed in your life for your times of adversity. They will see you through any and everything.

Most of us have hundreds, if not thousands of acquaintances,
And those acquaintances can be kind and caring for brief moments, as our lives intersect with each other, but those moments are quickly passed, and our paths go separate ways. Our experience with them is good, but not permanent, just pleasant memories fading into the mists of time.

Then there are those who call themselves our friends, but our life experience proves that claim to be false indeed. Their “friendship” was based upon what they could gain from us. Job in his hour of affliction said “and my familiar friends have forgotten me.”(Job19:14)

And again Job said “All my inward friends abhorred me: and they whom I loved have turned against me.” (Job 19:19) When Job prospered and was affluent his friends flocked to him with flattery, but when he is down and without wealth or influence, stricken with illness, they only criticize him as they desert him.

The writer of Proverbs put it this way…”Wealth maketh many friends: but the poor is separated from his neighbor”(Proverbs 19:4)
Succinctly interpreted….As long as you can benefit some folks, they’ll pretend to be your friend. Their shallow character permits that grave injustice to you. Once you can’t help them in their goals they are out of your life. Incredibly sad unfortunately, but incredibly true.

The Apostle Paul, awaiting his own execution in Rome, said “For Demas hath forsaken me having loved this present world” (II Tim.4:10)
Demas was gone, Paul would soon be dead and in Demas’s carnal mind, Paul was of no more benefit to him. He had plans and Paul couldn’t augment them. His plans were carnal, shallow and based on a coveted life position. For Demas, the old Apostle Paul couldn’t contribute to his future, so he ended the friendship.

But Paul wasn’t finished with this brief glimpse into true friendship. He would then mention others of his party, who at his instruction and blessing, had left to spread the Gospel, but then he states “Only Luke is with me…” (II Tim. 4:11). His true friend,
Luke, the beloved physician, stayed with him through his darkest hour. An old friend with a true heart would be there when his moment of death arrived…”Only Luke is with me”.

One day in God’s eternity, I think I’ll find Luke and thank him for being a friend to Paul and in so doing teaching me a great lesson on true friendship. You see, that’s what
true friends do….they’re there….always there for you. May I always be there for them.

Turning 60

“Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

In a few days I will turn 60 years old. Time is an interesting thing, and we find ourselves constantly trying to make it go slower or faster. We say, “this will save time.” We say, “let’s push this ahead.” The truth is, we can’t do either.

Time can’t be saved or moved ahead; but it can be redeemed, (as the KJV says) or better “made the most of” (Ephesians 5:16) every opportunity.  Moses wrote the 90th Psalm, and it is there that he underscores man’s predictable years on the earth; 70 or 80 if our strength endures.

As a man, turning 60 gives me repose. What have I accomplished on the earth? Who have I made an impact on? How has life changed for me? What lay ahead for the years I have remaining on the earth?

It can be dangerous to ask introspective questions. To be candid, I have discovered that I overthink just about everything in life, and internalize much. Despite my faults, it is important that in the seasons of life that we evaluate the where, whens, hows, and whats of life.

When we stand before the Lord, we will be rewarded. Scripture admonishes us to seek heavenly rewards. The rewards of heaven are based upon human success; the rewards of heaven are based upon faithfulness.

Stacey Cormier is credited with the saying, “success is in obedience, not outcome.” For a husband, it begs the question, “have I been faithful (not perfect) in my marriage; according to God’s commands?” As a dad, “have I been faithful (not perfect) to lead my children into the ways of the Lord?” As a pastor, “have I been faithful (not perfect) in handling the Word, leading the flock, and caring for the least of these?”

Psalm 90 has become a theme scripture for me. Moses, the man of God, is telling God’s people that the Lord works with us “in time” even though He is unlimited by time.

  • He’s our dwelling place in every generation – that’s why He’s referred to the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” Jesus says that He is the “God of the living.”
  • He’s an everlasting God – which speaks to us of His trustworthiness. 
  • He’s not limited to the constructs of time, but moves within our time miraculously. Jesus gets in the boat, and it immediately reaches land…time manipulated. The sun stands still for Joshua…time manipulated. What can take us a thousand years to do, God can do in one day!
  • God will move heaven and earth to help us make the most of every opportunity.

God has been so good to me. At age 6 I got saved, at age 7 was baptized in water, at age 12 I was baptized with the Holy Spirit, and at age 16 I affirmed the call to preach the gospel as my life vocation. God sent me a wonderful life partner; who knew the night we met, that we would marry and share our lives together… (38 years this August). God has blessed us with three wonderful, God-fearing children & their spouses, and six glorious grand children.

Now Faith and I have the honor to lead Southwest Christian Center; more personally, YOU. Psalm 90:16-17 gives a great statement of faith for the time ahead of us:

  • Let us see His works again! 
  • Let our children see His glory!
  • May Lord show us approval!
  • Make our efforts successful!

To colonize heaven in Bakersfield and Kern County and beyond is our vision! To see His work again: souls being saved, sanctified, baptized with the Holy Spirit, healed, and delivered from the bondages of sin.

To see our children experience His glory! Our one-generation church being overwhelmed in the Holy Spirit’s power; signs and wonders, dreams and visions.

To have the Lord’s approval on how we steward our finances, our life. How we behave requires the Lord’s nod of approval. Let His right hand be upon us.

To be successful; according to the faithfulness of our God and His servants.

 I don’t know what may lay ahead for year number 60, but if history is any indicator, I know that God will be faithful!  May I be found faithful, too.

The Present Future

Solomon declares in Ecclesiastes, “what has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” 1:9

In writing this, one can get the idea of hopelessness and despair. However, we can also attach hope to it.

How many of us have ever said in the last two years, “I’ve never seen anything like this before?” I have jokingly said, “well, the last time we had a pandemic…” None of us were ready for something to fundamentally change our life or our world.

But as long as there is God there is hope.

When God judged the world that was, only Noah and his family were saved. Their family alone was charged with the duty of taking care of the animals, the planet, and to repopulate the earth.

When God brings judgment, or when calamity happens, God is never surprised, and He always has a plan. God declared to Noah, that “while earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” Genesis 8:22 ESV.

While earth remains! What a promise. On the other side of calamity and judgment, God promised hope. Read that again.

Furthermore, God put a rainbow in the sky to become a visible symbol of His promise that He spoke.

Now, here we are, living in a drought filled land. The weather teams are saying that we are “ahead” on rain.

 We prayed for rain a few months ago. We are still praying for rain. I believe that God is “beginning” to answer the prayers of His people, and He isn’t going to stop with rain, because the rain by itself isn’t the goal, it’s the promise.

Unexpected Rainbow in Bakersfield

This picture was taken last week by Pastor Max VanDyke, from Kingdom Harvest Alliance Church. These folks are moving into our building, and will be sharing the campus, beginning January 2, 2022.

Please notice the double rainbow. Please notice that the inner rainbow lays on top of the cross in the courtyard.

Please let this valuable image burn into your heart.

Zechariah prophesies, “ask for rain in the season of rain,” Zech 10:1. In other words, when you see the rain coming down, shout “LET IT RAIN!”

Could God make it any more obvious for us that He’s a promise keeping God?

We ask for rain in the physical sense, and in turn we will get rain in the spiritual sense. We claim His promise of blessing and restoration. We shout for Him to “let it rain” on us. As the old song says, “mercy drops ‘round us are falling, but for the showers we plead.”       Our present is our future, because of the Promise of God.

Mary, What Did You Know?

Mark Lowry, according to his own words, has one hit song, “Mary Did You Know?” The song has been covered by several mainstream artists. It is a Christmas standard, and will no doubt endure time.

It was only a matter of time before music / lyric critics analyzed the song. On social media, one can read statements like, “yes, Mary did know.”

This isn’t news, but the holiday season is filled with inaccurate accounts of our savior’s nativity. Ask my wife. She will tell you that for years that I have displaced the magi from the manger scene, to a separate table, marked “two years later.”

This doesn’t go well, as one can imagine.

Mary didn’t ride a donkey to Bethlehem. The innkeeper isn’t named, and there is no record of him/her being grouchy. We have no idea how many wisemen there were. The king isn’t asking for peace, he’s trying to kill Jesus. There is no little drummer boy.

All of that doesn’t ruin the Christmas story!

What Mary knew or didn’t know doesn’t change the miracle of Christ coming to earth. Still, it begs the question, what did Mary know?

  1. Mary knew that she was a virgin, engaged to married. It wasn’t the angel’s announcement that made her a virgin, or the text that would be scrutinized for centuries; she knew. A woman knows if she’s a virgin! Mary testified (Luke 1:34) “how can this be, since I do not know a man?” Believe it or not, this one issue has been one of the most argued over parts of the Christmas story. Certain translations of the Bible read “a young woman.” I would submit that Joseph was a virgin as well, because the gospel of Matthew testifies that he didn’t have sexual relations with Mary until after Jesus was born, (Matthew 1:25).

Why is this important? Prophetically speaking, it means that what Isaiah said, came to pass! “A virgin shall conceive…” (Isaiah 7:14). Practically, it means that two persons committed themselves to a holy lifestyle. I suppose that it seems antiquated, but God is still looking for holy and set apart people to work through.

2. Mary knew that she was going to bear the Son of God. The Jewish people of that day longed for Messiah / Christ to come, (the Jewish people of today long for the same!). When the angel announced the specifics of the birth of Jesus, Mary received the information as it related to the coming of Messiah. It was after her inquiry, “how can this be?”, that the angel continued to inform her that Jesus would be “the holy one…the son of God.” A few verses later, Mary says, “let it be, as you have said.”

What does it mean, that we would spiritually respond in kind? God is still looking for vessels to incarnate himself into. Her will was the key. Our will is the key.

3. Mary knew that life would not be normal for her. When Jesus was taken to the temple for circumcision, two prophets were there. Mary was told that her soul would be pierced. Mary “treasured these things in her heart.” As Jesus grew, she began to realize the difference; from when Jesus remained behind to discuss Torah, to when she insisted that He perform a miracle, to when she and Jesus’ half brothers & sisters showed up to take Jesus back home.

Historically speaking, when God reveals Himself to anyone, no one has the full understanding. Faith is believing what God said, accepting what He reveals, and moving forward into it. Did Mary know? Yes and no. The God of revelation performed a miracle through her, and now, as Mary testified, “all generations will call me [her] blessed.”

Amen, Mary. We are blessed.

My Worst Christmas Ever

During the War Between the States, Henry Woodsworth Longfellow wrote “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” For Longfellow, the war was very personal. He was an abolitionist, and despite this, his son Charley joined the Union Army. Merely a year before, Longfellow had lost his wife in a tragic fire; she had accidently lit herself on fire. Now with his son in the war, before Christmas of 1863, Charley lost his leg in battle. Longfellow’s testimony in the poem was that hearing the bells of the church that day transformed him from despair to hope.

In 1990 Faith and I lived in Ft.Riley, Kansas. I was a Sergeant in the Signal Battalion. Desert Shield was already engaged, and Desert Storm was on the horizon. On December 22 of that year, we were deployed to the Persian Gulf. We arrived in Saudi Arabia on 25 DEC 1990.

There were no bells on Christmas Day. As Dorothy said, “we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Back in Kansas, families were unsettled. Hundreds moved in with loved ones, as did my wife and three young children. Our youngest was less than six months old.

I remember having to correct my son over some small infraction just before we loaded up on the bus to leave Ft.Riley. Two months later I spoke to him on the phone. He said, “I’ll be good, daddy.” He thought I had left because he misbehaved!

Getting off the plane, I was now in the cradle of civilization. Abraham had walked this land. Our savior was born, due west, about 1,000 miles.

So, this Christmas there would be no time with the family, no special dinner, no visions of wide eyed wonder in my children’s eyes. Daddy was called away for a mission.

When I consider that winter away from my family, it becomes a stark reminder of what the mission of Jesus was.

Philippians 2 describes how that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords humbled himself and became a man. “…who, although He existed in the form and unchanging essence of God [as one with Him, possessing the fulness of all the divine attributes – the entire nature of deity], did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped or asserted [as if He did not already possess it, or was afraid of losing it]; but emptied Himself, [without renouncing or diminishing His deity, but only temporarily giving up the outward expression of diving equality and His rightful dignity] by assuming the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men [He became completely human but was without sin, being fully God and fully man]. Amplified Version.

He set aside his glory, and became a human. He left the splendor and glory of heaven to be  incubated in His own creation, (the womb of Miriam his earthly mother). He went on to live a life of self denial, rejection, and ultimately to suffer at the hands of angry people, and even to die the worst kind of death; torture and crucifixion… and all to accomplish the mission!

The passage in Philippians goes on to say that “because he stooped so low… God has highly exalted Him.”  The mission was accomplished. Hallelujah.

May I encourage you, this season? Perhaps it will be the first Christmas without family, or without your spouse. Perhaps 2020, 2021 have been rough for you, more than others. It may be that even harder times are ahead.

Take courage. God never wastes a hurt or an anxiety or any of life’s disappointments.

You and I can be “incarnated” like Mary/Miriam was with the wonderful word of God. This gives us great hope, that no matter what life may throw at us, He is WITH us, (Immanuel). He is IN us, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” He is FOR us, “if God be for us, who can be against us?”

No matter how low it may go…God will exalt you in due time.

I came home in late April of 1991. My wife kissed me. My kids clung to me. We had a grand reunion, and many to come!

The Lure and Lust of Success

Someone asked me if I like fishing. My response was, and is, “no, I like catching.” Catching the fish is the goal, and so achieving it sooner than later is my desire! I don’t care for shopping; but I do enjoy buying stuff!

Early in my marriage, I discovered the difference between shopping and buying! Faith helped me discover that even though milk, eggs, and bread are the only things on the list…one needs to visit the jewelry counter.

Fishing vs. catching. Shopping vs. buying.

One activity is a journey, and the other is a destination. We call the destination success.

We are consumed with success. There is no discipline, job, or lifestyle that is exempt from our goal to be successful. We even give awards to people for being humble and self-denying. Often, we can’t even give without having some sort of nic-nac for giving, or a gimmick.

I’m going to sound contradictory here. I believe in having goals. I believe in personal achievement. Here’s the balance; if we can’t find joy in the journey, then the destination can be disappointing.

Faith and I are newer residents of California. We’ve heard all about the Golden Gate Bridge. Its iconic. Its on calendars, postcards, websites, and one of those things one thinks about when California comes to mind. To all of my California friends, Faith and I were disappointed when we saw it. The build up was incredible. The destination was so-so.

Jesus did not teach us to be successful; especially in the eyes of the world. At the end of it all, the reward is not according to our success, but to our faithfulness.

“Well done, good and faithful servant.” The words we long to hear!

Author Tim Hansel wrote years ago that “well done” brings up the imagery of a cooked steak! When we have enjoyed the journey, we leave nothing on the table. When we enjoy the journey, we are “well done” – all of our life poured out.

Dogs enjoy the journey. Do you have one? “Wanna go for a ride?” Doggy runs to the car, hops in, and sticks his tongue out the window all the way. Who cares where we’re headed? I’m enjoying the journey!

The lure of success and the lust for it can obscure the journey. If we are minded to being faithful, we won’t be in a hurry. We can be more tortoise than hare.

Bob Dylan was asked about being successful one time. Dylan said that suc-cess was made of two syllables; neither of which is good! Michael W. Smith, a multi Dove award winner, said that “it gets old.”

Solomon was king during a time that silver was as common as sand. He had a world wide following. He had more wives and concubines than one can make sense of. Yet he wrote these words, “vanity…all is vanity.”

Think again of the words of our savior. Matthew 25 is the context. The parable is about the Kingdom, and three servants mentioned. Jesus says that the owner divided talents, (silver, in this case), “according to their abilities,” (verse 15).

Not everyone received the same amount.

No method of use was mentioned.

The ones with the entrusted abilities began with nothing.

The owner didn’t make them owners of the silver. He made them stewards of the silver.

One of our challenges in the lure and lust of success is that we possess the false notion that everyone should have an equal share. Most of the time, we mean “money” when we think this way. Let’s think this through for a moment; “everyone gets an equal share.” This would mean that everyone on the planet would be the same height, weight, gender, skin color, mental capacity, and physical ability.

In other words, robots.

What a boring world that would be!

It is a dangerous, faulty, and disappointing notion for sameness to be our life’s ambition. If we’re honest, superiority, not equality is our goal.

The parable calls the servants to account. We shared this scripture at our church recently; 2 Corinthians 2:10. Here it is in the Amplified Bible: “for we (believers will be called to account and) must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be repaid for what has been done in the body, whether good or bad, (that is, each will be held responsible for his actions, purposes, goals, motives – the use or misuse of this time, opportunities and abilities).

Simple put, my goal in life is not be successful, but to be faithful. Faithful is not a consolation prize word; it is to be full of faith. Every motive, every investment, every action should be moved by faith. That is the measure of my stewardship.

Think of the size of your family. Did you grow up in a large family, medium family, or small family? Is a family with twelve children better than a family with one… or none? Of course not. Families of every kind are called to be faithful in what they do in life.

The lure and lust for success isn’t an adequate measure in the first place. James says that we must check our motives. “If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works wit the humility that comes from wisdom…jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom.” James 3:13-15 NLT

When the owner in the parable calls the servants to account, he calls the servant with one “wicked and lazy,” not because he only had one…but because he wasn’t full of faith in the use of what he was given. He didn’t enjoy the journey, as a matter of truth, he didn’t even begin the journey.

What can I do today to begin to enjoy the journey?

Are You a 10%er?

Before you get nervous, or scroll away, this is not about tithing. That’s for another day. Are you a ten percenter? We often talk about the one percenters; the small sliver of people that hold the majority of the world’s wealth. There a basically two prevailing ideas about the one percent; 1. they should give more to the 99% 2. they can do what they want to with their money.

I always find it interesting that we think we know what is best…for someone else! It reminds me of when I was being corrected as a child, and I would inform on my brothers. It wasn’t justice I was standing up for; I wanted to deflect my spanking on them! I am reminded of school clothes shopping with my children. Our budget was $20 shoes, their budget was $100 shoes. Without any knowledge of the situation, one could conclude several things:

  • Faith and I were hoarding money from our kids, and they were unjustly being treated.
  • My kids had no idea how much money we had, nor understood the value of money, or a budget
  • My kids were hiding money from other sources, but were holding out for more. They were unionizing.
  • My wife and I had budgeted certain money for school clothes, had communicated it to our kids ahead of time, and had informed them that the allowance was $20; anything beyond that would be their responsibility. HINT: this one is correct.

In all of the above situations, my children were grateful. They learned to understand that food, clothing, a place to live, and the main ingredient of love are not entitlements; they are a blessing.

We were going through a particularly hard time once, and even grocery shopping was “touch and go.” Someone had blessed us with much needed groceries. Our cupboards were full, as well as our refrigerator. Our youngest came home from school, opened the refrigerator, saw the food, and yelled, “we’re not poor anymore!”

That was a moment of thanksgiving. In her mind, food in the fridge equals no longer in poverty. She was right!

Poverty is often a mindset than a lack of money. Proverbs 14:23 reads, “Work brings profit, but mere talk leads to poverty!” (NLT) We have so many worried about the one percenters that we’ve forgotten to be a ten percenter.

Jesus encounters a group of ten lepers one day. They stand at a distance, (as they were required to do) and cried out to Jesus for mercy. It is obvious that they knew of Jesus’ healing power, otherwise they would have not called upon Him. Jesus tells them to go show themselves to the priests, which meant that He was declaring them “cleansed.”

The text of Luke 17:11-17 reads this way; “…and as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy.” Even before they got to the priest’s examination (the medical authority of their faith) the healing took place.

What would be your natural inclination at this point? There are others in the Bible who respond to a miraculous provision with shouting, dancing, praising God. Nine out of these ten went on their way.

One turn around and came back. The ten percenter.

He came back to Jesus, shouting, praising God, and fell to the ground (worshiping) with thanksgiving. The English translation falls short here, and we can hardly catch the emotion of the moment. He was “thanking him and thanking him and thanking him.” He’s showing gratitude. The word in this scripture is the same word that we use for communion, “eucharist.”

When is the last time you had a shouting communion service? Perhaps they should all be shouting communion services. Thank you for healing me, thank you for saving me, thank you for giving breath in my body, thank you for taking me into your family. Thank you, thank you, thank you Jesus!

The other nine were only in it for the healing. The ten percenter got healing and wholeness. Jesus said, “go your way, your faith has made you whole.”

He was already healed of the sickness of the body. Jesus now granted him wholeness of soul.

This is November 2021. There’s a ton of stuff to not be grateful or thankful for. A friend of mine is posting one grateful thought every day on social media. Today, my flesh and the world and the devil will attempt to get me to be distracted.

Distractions are anything that takes one’s mind off of being thankful to God.

If I’m complaining about my kids, I’m not being thankful to God. If I’m moaning and groaning about the economy or politics or the general poor condition of things in the world, I’m not being thankful to God. If I’m fretting over the lack of food in the fridge, I’m not being thankful to God.

Paul said, “with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God,” (Philippians 4:6) This is a unique statement; giving thanks in advance of the need! With thanksgiving – I’m giving you thanks God right now… letting my requests become known.

Do you know that Jesus already knew that the lepers had leprosy? Do you know that he already knows our needs before we ask him? (Matthew 6:8).

Thanking him in advance seems to be opposite, but we are being thankful to God because we know that he hears us, and longs to answer us. “With thanksgiving” praying is partnership prayer.

Thank you, Lord that my children are serving You and loving you.

Thank you, Lord that my husband is getting out of prison.

Thank you, Lord for making a way to buy this house.

Thank you, Lord for healing my body.

You may not be a one percenter, but you can be a ten percenter. There’s wholeness there.

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