The Way of the Dragon or The Way of the Lamb

BOOK REVIEW

The Way of the Dragon or The Way of the Lamb | (Searching for Jesus’ path of power in a church that has abandoned it)

Jamin Goggin & Kyle Strobel | Nelson Books, 2017

Actually, I heard this book recommended by a brother and fellow church member, Seth York, on one of Hershael York’s PastorWell podcasts, and so I got and read it.

I thought I was reading my own life’s story written by someone else … complete with constant references to the same Scriptures that have taught me, guided me, encouraged me, strengthened me, and kept me from despair and giving up on myself for the past 50 years. I found myself profusely highlighting, marking, writing notes and comments in the margins of the pages, as well as making copious notes in a reading side-journal I keep as I read.

So, here’s the crux of the issue – this issue of “power”: every one of us wants to be a person of influence with others for God. We want our lives to matter, to count. We want to “make a difference.” We want to be effective as a positive, edifying influence in God’s Kingdom. We want to be useful to God as an instrument of His grace in the lives of others. And, that’s a good thing. That’s what God gives every one of us our gifts to do.

The only problem is: far too often we seek to exercise that influence through channels of human wisdom and power. It is so easy for us to revert back to our default fleshly confidence in our own skills, abilities, strengths, or even our very gifts from God. It’s a common axiom among us to “play to your strengths.”

That is what Goggin and Strobel are calling “the way of the Dragon.” These carnal exercises of human wisdom and power are “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (James 3.15) and are implemented with “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts” (verse 14). It leads, not to humble service and giving of ourselves to others, but rather to wanting to use others to promote ourselves or advance a personal agenda. It produces a desire for position, prestige, and even a celebrity of some degree or another. I’ve even heard talk of “leveraging” certain people, or positions, or events to advance one’s own personal ministry ambitions. The common methods employed in this “way of the Dragon” are coercion, intimidation (bullying), and manipulation.    

However, Jesus has mandated, “It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20.20-28). What we will have to discover is that Jesus’ way of wisdom and power (“the way of the Lamb”) is by His grace working His own wisdom and power through our weakness and brokenness (1 Corinthians 15.10; 2 Corinthians 4.7-12; chapter 12.1-10 et. al.).

There is also the constant reminder throughout these chapters that everything we are doing in the Kingdom of God – all the activities that go on in our churches and in our ministries – it all is in the arena, context, and environment of constant spiritual warfare. Here is just one of many summary paragraphs I highlighted – this one from chapter 4, “Standing Against the Powers,” page 75:

“The church, the place where kingdom values should reign is the place where we come to know and participate in the way of God – where ‘we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places’ (Eph. 6:12). The church is the place where the powers are to be exposed for what they are and are continually put to shame as they were upon the cross. Sunday morning worship in this sense is a spiritual battle, but the battle isn’t limited to Sundays. This is why we need to discern the fruit of the church to see where it is rooted. Is the church walking in the way from below – a way that is unspiritual, earthly, and demonic, driven by selfishness and jealousy – or is it walking in the way from above, made manifest on the cross in love? This question should be at the heart of our small groups, conferences, seminars, and publishing; it should be woven into our parenting, friendships, and service. This question should drive us and deeply unsettle us.”  

One aspect of this book’s writing that I most appreciate is how the authors gathered their content: both Goggin and Strobel are writing from their own personal experiences of personal brokenness and what others may even call vocational ‘failure,’ or at least certainly disappointments. But, what these two “young influencers” have done is sought out the counsel of a number of older, long-experienced servants of the Lord. They listened to them tell their stories, and then wrote about the lessons they learned (or were affirmed and reinforced to them) from these older servants’ lives of living, ministering, and serving in “the way of the Lamb.” I admire their humility and willingness to learn from others who had walked in “the way of the Lamb” before them, instead of strutting into the Kingdom arena with the self-aggrandizing announcement, “We’re here! We’ve got this now!”

Just a personal note here at the end: God has led me on this way of brokenness and weakness all of my ministry. I began my public Gospel ministry with an attitude of pride, but God effectively broke me of any confidence in and reliance upon my self-contained ability or power through a series of experiences which not only marked me at that time, but which have also followed me ever since. He knows how lay His hand on me at any time, pull me up short, and remind me that without Him I can do nothing; and that “we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4.7). This verse became my signature reference through those experiences and remains to this day.  

So, to anyone who struggles with a deep, discouraging, and maybe even debilitating sense of your own weakness and inadequacy, get this book and read it. You are actually stronger than you know – through Christ in you!

Just in case you are still reading – and interested: here is another excerpt from chapter 2, “Power in Weakness,” which is written, by the way, in conjunction with their conversations with J. I. Packer (pages 29-31):

“The problem confronting Paul was that he did not embody any of the marks of power the Corinthians valued. In many ways, he was the exact opposite of what they desired: He did not have an impressive physical presence, he lacked bravado and confidence, and he was meek and gentle in his leadership (2 Cor. 10:10). He did not speak with eloquence (2 Cor. 11:6), and he did not boast in money, intentionally refusing to take money for his ‘services,’ choosing to work a menial job that would have been socially dishonorable (2 Cor. 11:7). On top of all this, Paul experienced continual suffering and hardship (2 Cor. 11.21-30). Each of these things was a sign of weakness in the eyes of the Corinthians. The totality of Paul’s weaknesses had become unpalatable to them. The Corinthians wanted a super-apostle, not an apostle of weakness … Rather than meeting the Corinthians’ expectations, however, Paul shone a light on the very weaknesses that caused him criticism, putting his weakness front and center (2 Cor. 1:3-7; 6:2-10; 11:16-12:10). Radically, Paul embraced the very things that the Corinthians rejected, identifying these weaknesses as signs of his true apostleship. He argued that his weakness was actually verification of the power of God working through him, and he rejected the Corinthian view of power as worldly success, bravado, and status. For Paul, the power to dominate and win was antithetical to the nature of the Gospel. This is not merely a question of what leadership ‘style’ you like, but a question of whether you embrace the way of Jesus. The high point of Paul’s defiant response to the Corinthians’ lust for power is found in the passage we began with: “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor.12.9-10).

For a culture so fixated on power, it is hard to imagine how paradigm-shifting these words were, and how difficult they would have been to hear. But, of course, our own cultural context mirrors the Corinthian context in nearly every way. In a culture boasting of personal accomplishment and success, Paul’s response was to boast in his weakness. Why did he do so? So that the power of Christ may rest upon him. Paul viewed an embrace of weakness as an embrace of strength, because in weakness he could depend upon the might of God. His weakness was the source of his power. Paul did not anchor his life as a follower of Jesus in his ability, talent, gifting, resume´, or strength, but in the grace of God alone. To marshal these skills or achievements in his flesh would have been to embrace power from below and thus reject the Gospel. Paul wrote, ‘For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power’ (1 Cor. 1:17). Incredibly, Paul argued that to embrace the Corinthian way – to put ourselves forward, emphasizing our strengths and seeking our own power – was to empty the cross of its power.”

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“BLESS YOU, MOM!”

Today is my Mom’s birthday.

So, as a partial expression of my love for her, I want to excerpt a portion from a message I preached on Mother’s Day, 13 May 2001.

The message is from Proverbs 31.28, “Her children rise up and call her ‘blessed’; her husband also, and praises her…” I titled that message, “Bless You, MOM!”

“Motherhood is a bond created by God between a mother and the children born to her. God created and made us to love, to think, to feel this way toward our mother. It is a bond forged by our literal physical connection to each other.

Let me tell you just a little of what my Mom did for me…

MOM carried me in her own body for almost a whole year and suffered all the inconveniences of pregnancy…

MOM delivered me into the world through her own pain and discomfort…

MOM nursed me and fed me…

MOM cared for me when I couldn’t take care of myself…

MOM, especially, re-arranged her whole life for the whole rest of her life around her love, care, and concern for her children…

MOM taught us to know and love God and to love each other…

MOM instructed us in respect, manners, and right ways of living…

MOM praised us when we did right (which was every now and then) – and disciplined us and corrected us when we disobeyed and did wrong (which was more often than not)…

MOM counseled, comforted, and consoled us in our injuries and hurts…

MOM worried, even when I didn’t think she had to – but she always told me: “I am your Mother … it is my prerogative to worry!”

When I was only 20 years old, I travelled to West Virginia from North Carolina every weekend to preach in a church in Charleston WV. I would leave work on Saturday afternoon and drive 4 ½ hours to Charleston to preach on Sunday. I would arrive Saturday night, stay overnight, preach Sunday morning and then again Sunday afternoon; then drive home again and get home usually around midnight. And my drive home at night was along winding state roads through WV and VA and finally into NC. And Mom would stay awake and sometimes worry until I got home.

Mother never retires from Motherhood.

Mother will always be Mother.

MOM can console, sympathize, and comfort like no one can … and she did – through the fevers, coughs, upset stomachs, vomiting, diarrhea, earaches, mumps, chicken pox, measles, and anything and everything else that afflicts her children. I still have vivid memories of Mom smearing three children at one time with a paste made out of corn starch, covering our itchy measles sores to try to give us some relief – staying up all night to do so.

Dad loved us – but he couldn’t touch our feelings like MOM could … and did.

When I was probably 12 years old or so, I was walking after school down to a bookstore that Dad had opened up down in the small town East Rainelle where we lived. The school bus passed and Robert Caudill who was one of the school bullies leaned out the window of the bus and spit snuff spit all over the hand-me-down jacket I was wearing. I liked that jacket – it was my favorite jacket – and Robert Caudill just spit all over it. He didn’t injure me physically, but, he sure did terribly hurt my feelings!

I walked into the little bookstore and Dad was there, working on a print job in the back of the store – another sideline he had. I was fighting back the tears. I told Dad that Robert Caudill had spit on me. Dad was the realist – the pragmatist. (Just a few years previous to this, Dad had spent five years of his young life fighting Nazis in Europe, so he knew all about mean people.) He said, “Son, I’m sorry. Things like that happen. There are all kinds of people in the world and some of them … well, we just have to put up with them.” (That’s probably what I would tell my son, also.)

But, that’s not what I wanted to hear. I WANTED SOME SYMPATHY!

So, Mom was there also. She wasn’t always there, but she was that day. I blubbered out, “MOM, ROBERT CAUDILL SPIT SNUFF SPIT ON MY FAVORITE JACKET!” Mom gave me what I wanted … and maybe needed. She just hugged me to herself in her arms, and said, “Well, David, Robert probably doesn’t have a good home. That may be one of the reasons he’s so mean. But, WE LOVE YOU … AND I’LL WASH YOUR JACKET, AND IT WILL BE ALL RIGHT!”

You know what? it was! And, you know what else? it still is.

My MOM is worth more than all the world to me.

‘BLESS YOU, MOM!’”

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“My Father! My Father!” – a testimony to Grace

an excerpt from my portion of a personal tribute delivered at our Dad’s Memorial Worship Service

15 February 2013

Reading from the Word of God…

Psalm 103.1-5

Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy Name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Psalm 16.5-11

O LORD, you are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; you maintain my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; yes, I have a good inheritance. I will bless the LORD who has given me counsel; my heart also instructs me in the night seasons. I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices! My flesh also shall rest in hope. For you will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will you allow your Holy One to see corruption.

You will show me the path of life;

in your presence is fullness of joy;

at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

And, as much as our human hearts are breaking right now with our temporary separation from here, we wouldn’t begrudge him the fullness of joy and the pleasures of the Presence of his Lord Jesus Christ for anything in earth or Heaven.

LET’S PRAY AND COMMIT THIS SERVICE TO THE GLORY OF JESUS CHRIST…

On behalf of our Mom and our family, we want to thank you for gathering here with us today for what we are calling a MEMORIAL WORSHIP SERVICE.

We welcome you to the Presence of God – and to the worship of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Because God is here – and we are in His Holy Presence.

And, this is a Worship Service.

Our Dad charged us and gave us instructions years ago for how this service was to be conducted … and then reminded us again of those instructions repeatedly over the past few months.

Everything we will do here today – and the ways we will do it – will be not only according to his instructions, but HE CHARGED US TO GLORIFY GOD … MAGNIFY THE GRACE OF GOD … AND PREACH THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST  IN EVERYTHING WE DO.

-______________________________-

He did, though, have some HUGE debts of personal gratitude that he wanted to express.

He told me to be sure to ‘make special mention’ of some of his personal friends whom he wants to know how much he loves you: Tommy and Becky Tincher & Gary and Louise Mabe … and his personal physicians who ministered to him physically: Dr Mitchell & Dr Abbott & Dr Duck … and we want to express our profound personal appreciation to: DAVIDSON COUNTY HOSPICE

 -______________________________-

OUR DAD’S LIFE WAS A TESTIMONY TO THE GRACE OF GOD GIVEN TO HIM…AND LIVED THROUGH HIM.

1 Corinthians 15.10 ~ BUT BY THE GRACE OF GOD…I AM WHAT I AM! AND HIS GRACE TOWARD ME WAS NOT IN VAIN; BUT I LABORED MORE ABUNDANTLY THAN THEY ALL – YET NOT I, BUT THE GRACE OF GOD WHICH WAS WITH ME!

-______________________________-

So, as His personal testimony to the Grace of God, please take your copy of our Service Program and stand with us as we worship God by singing “AMAZING GRACE”

-______________________________-

2 Kings 2.12

“MY FATHER, MY FATHER,

THE CHARIOT OF ISRAEL AND THE HORSEMEN THEREOF!”

That was Elisha’s personal tribute to his father in the faith, Elijah, as he stood by the Jordan and watched him taken to Heaven by the fiery chariot and horses that God has sent to transport Elijah alive…to Heaven.

Elisha was acknowledging that the old prophet had been the real strength and might of the nation: ‘the true chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof”

Chariots were the fastest means of transportation in that day, and were also the strongest measures of a nation’s military strength, prowess, and protection.

Israel had scorned the old prophet – and had turned away from their True God.

So, Elisha was acknowledging that the old prophet had been the true measure of the nation’s strength – and now he had just witnessed him going away to Heaven.

Our Dad was an old prophet of God’s Grace and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

‘My father!  My father!’

Our Dad was not only our biological father, but he was also our spiritual father in the faith of Jesus Christ. 

He and Mom not only brought us, their children, into the physical world of human life – but they also led us into personal faith in Jesus Christ and into the eternal life of the Kingdom of God.

Our Dad was also a spiritual father in the faith to some of you, and a brother and companion in service to Jesus Christ to many of you.

And – to all of us – our Dad was a model…example…and pattern for us to follow and by whom to shape and live our lives.

Our Dad was not a man of impressive gifts and abilities, but he was a faithful servant of the gifts and abilities God did give him.  He may not have cut a wide swath during his life and ministry, but he did cut a good swath – and a clearly-marked swath.

Anywhere Dad was, and lived, and served, he impressed, impacted, and inspired everyone who knew him with his simplicity of faith and love for Jesus Christ and His Gospel.

Dad may not have been known for his outstanding talents – but he was known for his deep spiritual convictions, his Christ-like character, and his godly conduct and integrity.

-______________________________-

His life was a testimony to the Grace of God!

And from the time that God claimed him by His Grace…and called him to come and follow Him…and serve Him with the rest of his life – Dad faithfully answered and fulfilled that call.

The Holy Spirit convicted our Dad of his sins and brought him to faith in Jesus Christ in February of 1949 … exactly 64 years ago this very month.

Shortly thereafter…God called him by His Grace to preach Christ and his Gospel!

Dad founded and pastored the Goldfloss Baptist Church here in Winston-Salem from 1954 through 1957.

He answered God’s call to move us to Rainelle WV in 1957 and pastored the Little Sewell Baptist Church there for the next 9½ years – from ’57 until we returned to W-S in ’66.

Then he pastored the Hillcrest Baptist Church here in W-S for the next 42 years … until he transitioned from active pastoral ministry in 2008 – and Pastor Day succeeded him & assumed that ministry responsibility.

And – even after he transitioned from active pastoral ministry, he continued serving the Lord in the Gospel by ministering the Gospel in various churches over the next few years – until his physical health began to fail him.

For all of those 64 years – our Dad faithfully served Jesus Christ as “the chariot of Israel and its horsemen”!

-______________________________-

In the book of Galatians, chapter 1, the apostle Paul describes how the Gospel of Jesus Christ claimed his love and the rest of his life.

He relates his former life in sin – even though he was actively pursuing and excelling in empty religion – …then it pleased God [in Paul’s words] to ‘call me through His grace’ –and ‘to reveal His Son in me…that I might preach Him among the Gentiles.’

But when the word began getting around among the churches that ‘he who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith he once tried to destroy,’ Paul relates this testimony: “and they glorified God in me!”

We glorify the Grace of God in our Dad!

Dad had only one goal in life: ‘glorify God and enjoy Him forever!’

Or as Paul expressed it again in Philippians 1.20:

‘according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.’

Our Dad glorified God in his life … he glorified God in his death … and, I assure you, he is glorifying God right now in the presence of Jesus Christ…in the fullness of joy and eternal life!

And he will glorify God forever!

And by the same Grace of God which he and Mom led us to confess and embrace – we shall join him shortly, and we will together …

‘sing and shout and dance about – and the Lamb will dry our tears!’

 Oh, yes, we will … sing and shout and dance about! 

And oh, yes, the Lamb will … dry our tears!

Our Dad would have one continuing prayer and hope for each one of you – and that is that you, too, will believe in the Lord Jesus Christ … and be there with us!

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Come Spring! (a little fun-love-song)

O! those mountains stand so tall and dark that lie across the way

and they seem to hold their hands up to the sky

just to keep me from my True Love who is on the other side!

but I ain’t one to despair – and here’s why…

‘cause come Spring, My Love, come Spring

I’m a-gonna cross those mountains high

and bring you back across here to live with me

and I’ll share with you my love ‘till the day that I die

on this you can depend

I’ll love you without end

– come Spring!

O! those mountains even now don’t separate you from my love

‘cause you’re with me in my thoughts and in my prayers

and come Spring those tall, forbidding peaks won’t be so tall at all!

‘cause I’m a-comin’ o’er the top

this bird they cannot stop

if I must I’ll tunnel through

any way just to get to you

– come Spring!

‘cause come Spring, My Love, come Spring

I’m a-gonna cross those mountains high

and bring you back across here to live with me

and I’ll share with you my love ‘till the day that I die

and I can’t wait to begin

on this you can depend

I’ll love you without end

– come Spring!

~dsp [1975]

BACKSTORY: I wrote this little fun-love-song for Debbie back during the loooong winter of 1975. Over the course of 1975, we had discovered and declared our love for each other and were engaged in August of that year. We planned our marriage for Spring of 1976 [June 18].

We were living 400 miles apart. I was pastoring in Alexander County, western North Carolina, and she was in Lexington KY. It was exactly 404 miles of ‘a long and winding road’ from my back door to her front door.

I would get on I-40 at Statesville NC, go west to Asheville and then to Knoxville – at Knoxville, I would turn north on I-75 to Lexington. And, it was mountains and hills all the way.

When I would step out of my house and longingly look west in the direction of where she was [which I often did], all I could see was hills and mountains – and I knew there were more and more beyond these.

In fact, this picture is the first range of hills that I would encounter after leaving my driveway. This picture was taken just outside the back door of the parsonage I was living in at the time [and where I would bring her back across to live with me]. These are the Brushy Mountains. Then, as I headed west through Hickory, I would come to Asheville and Black Mountain. More … and bigger … mountains. Then, on to Tennessee and drive for miles through what I call “Tennessee mountain passes” where I-40 actually snakes and spirals up and down around the sides of the mountains – and a couple tunnels thrown in to add to the fun. Get to Knoxville and head north to Lexington, and you’ll go up and down the mountains and hills of Eastern Kentucky all the way to Lexington.

So, you get the picture – that’s why I imagined that all these mountains and hills were just trying to hold their hands up to the sky to block me and keep me from my True Love who was on the other side. But, they couldn’t, and they didn’t. ‘Cause I did cross all those tall peaks, and I did bring her back across to live with me … come Spring!  

So, I wrote her this little fun-love-song over that winter, and I would sing it to her with the accompaniment of my autoharp. I composed the tune I sang it to – it’s never been written down because I can’t write music. So, nobody else knows the tune except for us. Maybe that’s a good thing. On some of those end-words to some of the lines [like, for example, “who is on the other siiiiiide,” “till the day that I diiiiiiie,” “won’t be so tall at aaaaallllll,”] I would stretch those words out and kind of wail them with inflections of notes, kind of like a slow yodel.

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FOLLOWING JESUS – the sequel

24 May 2020

I am smack in the middle of the third anniversary of probably the most transitional week of my life, and especially of my ministry (and I’m including my wife in this also since we are in and do everything together – she is always ‘the other part of me’).

Transitional, in that it changed pretty much everything I had known and done for the previous 45 years leading up to that week – three years ago.

Today is a Lord’s Day, and I am probably thinking about it more today because three years ago in 2017, that most transitional week was book-ended by two Lord’s Days: 21 May and 28 May. On 21 May, I announced and gave the church I was pastoring a one-week notice that I would be resigning the next Lord’s Day, 28 May … to be effective immediately.

And that’s how the transition turned.

It was such a momentous transition because when I got up on Monday morning, 29 May 2017, for the first time in 45 years, I was not a church pastor in some capacity or another. I assumed my first church pastorate on Wednesday night, 4 July 1973. I had pastored ever since. I was used to preaching and teaching multiple times every week. Then, on that Monday morning after resigning my last pastorate, I was like, “OK, what do I (we) do now? Where do we go from here?”

We had not made any advance plans for this transition. But, we had already made some commitments:

[1] We were going to follow Jesus wherever He chose to lead us and place us

[2] We were going to continue serving Jesus in whatever tasks and responsibilities He would be pleased to assign to us  

[3] and – it would be in the context and fellowship of a local church body … yet, at that moment, unknown to us

Everything I did was done in the context of “following Jesus.”

I had adopted as “My One Word”1 for 2017 the word “follow” because I sensed going into 2017 that life-turning changes and transitions of some order would likely be coming our way over the course of the year.

They did.

So, when I made my announcement that I would be resigning the next Lord’s Day, I preached my message that morning from John 12.26:

If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there will My servant be also. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.

Of course, verse 26 is in the larger context of especially verses 20-26:

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.

So, I developed my message in these three steps:

  1. verse 24 – A Parable to learn (a parable about following) – the seed falling into the ground and dying to grow fruit – of course, if you follow Jesus, that’s where you must go because that’s where He is going (see verses 27-33)
  2. verse 25 – A Priority to apply – about being willing to ‘lose’ your life to yourself by living to follow Christ
  3. verse 26 – A Life-Plan to follow [1] follow Jesus [2] serve where Jesus wants to work through you [3] you will please the Father when you follow Jesus

Here is the message I preached to announce our intention to follow Jesus wherever the next step would lead us … with Him!

https://daveparksblog.wordpress.com/2017/05/30/following-jesus/

So, as I say, here three years later, I’m thinking about it a lot.

However, I’m thinking about it all in a contented and thankful way. Following Jesus is always the rewarding and joyful step to take.

“All the way, my Savior leads me; what have I to ask beside? Can I doubt His tender mercy who through life has been my Guide?” ~Fanny J. Crosby

“He leadeth me, O blessed thought! O word with heavenly comfort fraught!” ~Joseph H. Gilmore

I must say that neither of us (my wife, Debbie, and me) had any fore-intention of taking any of the further steps to follow Jesus that He has led us into. We didn’t know – had no idea whatever – what our next step(s) would be. But, we trusted Jesus and followed Him. Where we are now and what we are doing now was not at all in our line of sight and vision.

It was not our foresight … it was Jesus’! “For He Himself knew what He would do!” (John 6.6) We had not even looked in the direction of the compass where Jesus has led us.

But, it has been – and is – a happy trail to walk in. Jesus promised it would be when He said, “and where I am, there will My servant be also.”

The road we have taken over the past three years was not only a road we had previously not taken, and not only was it a road that we had no idea of taking, but we followed Jesus when He pointed us to it and led us in it.

“And that has made all the difference!”2

1 If you don’t know what “My One Word” is, you can learn about it here: https://www.amazon.com/My-One-Word-Change-Your-ebook/dp/B008EGUFF2

2 “The Road Not Taken” – poem by Robert Frost

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Jesus Christ, The Gospel, and Reconciliation

Jesus Christ, The Gospel, and Reconciliation

The following quotation is from Darrell L. Bock [Tyndale New Testament Commentaries] on Ephesians 2.14-16. While this textual commentary speaks of the conflict, divide, tensions, and even hatred [one of the meanings of the word Paul uses translated here ‘hostility’] that was then-current between Jews and Gentiles, the same truth applies to any and every other conceivable root of bitterness and division that may exist among us. In fact, we might argue, that we don’t know and have any prejudices among us that would even come close to rivaling the Jew vs. Gentile racial/ethnic/religious/cultural hostilities they held toward one another.

Yet, Jesus Christ and The Gospel of His Cross creates a brand new ‘man’ or humanity or ‘race’ or community or ‘new creation’ people group – unique and distinct all to itself, unified, and made to be without distinction “in Christ.”

For my own understanding, I call this the New Covenant Race Theory [see Bock’s sentence below: “It is a new race in which the weaving together of that which had been separate is clear.”]

Read here what Bock says about their reconciliation by way of one-ness in Jesus Christ – and ‘go and do likewise’ in all our diverse relationships with one another. Not to do so is to reject and disobey this work Christ died to work in us [Ephesians 2.10].

14 For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 

Here is Bock:

“The results of Jesus’ death on the cross changed the world and the potential relationships between people: that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace.

This is the first of two purposes Paul notes for Jesus’ work. Jesus has formed a new community. Just as if one is in Christ, one is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), so with Jesus’ work there is a new community in the world.

The new man is humanity reformed, no longer tied to Adam but now in Christ, incorporated into the new people God is forming from Him.

Colossians 3.10 also uses this image, and in that context we are told that in the ‘new man’ there are no distinguished groups of people but all share an identity focused on Christ.

This is part of the workmanship God created us to be (Ephesians 2:10; the Greek verb ktizo, to create, is used in both verses).

Both Jews and Gentiles who believe and benefit from what Christ has done are moved into this new entity. The picture is not of Gentiles becoming Jews or simply moving into their space. Those who were near and those who were far are both now brought into something new, which is why Paul calls it the one new man…

It is a new race in which the weaving together of that which had been separate is clear.

This has been called the ‘third’ race, neither Jew nor Gentile, though we are to retain the understanding that God has woven these two together in a way that allows us to see the two made one.

There is no segregation in Christ, even in the midst of recognizing a distinction in where each group came from before being united, for reconciliation is only clear when the former estrangement is appreciated.

“Gentiles are not made into Jews or vice versa. They are who they are and yet they now function side by side and together, with Christ uniting them rather than the law dividing them.”

In practice, this will allow each group some measure of distinction, as opposed to homogeneity (Romans 14-15). Gentiles are not made into Jews or vice versa. They are who they are and yet they now function side by side and together, with Christ uniting them rather than the law dividing them.

“Their bond of oneness transcends the distinctions they also might have in some everyday practices.”

Their bond of oneness transcends the distinctions they also might have in some everyday practices. This reconciliation is available only to those who embrace what God has offered, for this deliverance into reconciliation comes by faith (vv. 8-10).

There is no idea in Paul of a dual covenant whereby Jews and Gentiles are saved by distinct paths to God. All roads come in and through Christ.”

Let it be!

Posted in Ephesians 2.14-16, I've been thinking, Reconciliation, The Gospel | Leave a comment

O God! You are my God!

Psalm 63.1-4

A Davidic psalm. When he was in the Wilderness of Judah.

God, You are my God; I eagerly seek You.
I thirst for You; my body faints for You in a land that is dry, desolate, and without water.

So I gaze on You in the sanctuary to see Your strength and Your glory.

My lips will glorify You because Your faithful love is better than life.

So I will praise You as long as I live; at Your name, I will lift up my hands.

David is praying this prayer of worship – and exclaiming this confession of his undying and unwavering devotion to God – NOT while he was on his way to worship before God in the tabernacle/tent he had built for God to house the beloved and venerable Ark of the Covenant.

NO! David is hurriedly evacuating Jerusalem – picking up whatever he could carry with him and fleeing his palace and City of God because his son, Absalom, has staged a deep-state coup against him, and is even now on his way to Jerusalem with his gang of conspirators to occupy the throne, the kingdom, and the capital city.

David has even sent back the beloved Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. When Abiathar and Zadok had followed King David out of the city in the train of evacuees – with the Levites carrying the Ark of the Covenant – David sent them back to the city.

2 Samuel 15.25-26 ~ Then the king instructed Zadok, “Return the ark of God to the city. If I find favor in the LORD’s eyes, He will bring me back and allow me to see both it and its dwelling place. 26 However, if He should say, ‘I do not delight in you,’ then here I am—He can do with me whatever pleases Him.”

Such was David’s absolute submission to God’s sovereign pleasure and will with him. “Whether I return to Jerusalem and all that I’m leaving behind…or not – that is the LORD’s call. He can do with me whatever pleases Him.”

But, it was THEN – and in those seasons and circumstances of devastating loss and deprivation – that David exclaimed: “O GOD, YOU ARE MY GOD!”

And, he knew and was confident, even as he headed further and further into the barren wilderness wasteland that GOD WOULD BE THERE! He would still meet God at the intersection of his desires and God’s steadfast love [verse 3].

He couldn’t go to the Tabernacle House of God, he couldn’t appear and worship before the physical Ark of the Covenant where God manifested His dwelling place – BUT HE WOULD STILL DESIRE GOD AND GOD WOULD SATISFY THE DESIRES OF HIS HEART…WITH HIMSELF AND HIS STEADFAST LOVE!

So, even in the wilderness – DAVID WILL SEEK THE LORD AND LIFT HIS HANDS IN DEVOTION, WORSHIP, AND PRAISE!

So, even right now – I have no idea what sort of ‘wilderness’ you may be wandering in – what deprivation you are suffering – what sort of ‘dry and weary land where there is no water’ landscape you may be looking at.

COME TO WORSHIP! God will meet your destitute and impoverished soul with His riches of Grace in the Gospel of Christ!

Psalm 63.5 ~ You satisfy me as with rich food; my mouth will praise You with joyful lips.

And, God will satisfy your deepest needs for Him, too!

If you are interested in viewing/listening to a message I preached from Psalm 63 in one of our church’s Midweek services – here is the link:

Posted in I've been thinking, Psalm 63, Worship | Leave a comment

Six years ago today – and still ‘transfixed on Jesus’ Face’!

dsp.PIC.Dad-full-head-shotToday is Sunday, February 10, 2019.

I am noting the date and day because today is the sixth anniversary (2013) of our Dad’s dying from here and going Home to Heaven and entering the Presence of Christ.

I insist on calling his physical death “dying from here” because for a Christian and a believer in Jesus Christ, physical death is only “dying from here.”

Physical death for a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ is not a cessation from being or existence. Nor are we zapped into nothingness or ether.

It is only “dying from here” to be transitioned to the Presence of Christ.

This is what God promises us in the Scriptures.

“So, we are always confident and know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight, and we are confident and satisfied to be out of the body and at home with the Lord.” [2 Corinthians 5.6-8 HCSB]

So, when our Dad “died from here,” he just transitioned from living here in his physical body of flesh and blood [he always called it “this tabernacle of clay”] to living in the body Christ has prepared for him in Heaven.

So, as I was saying, that was six years ago today.

And, six years ago, February 10 was on a Sunday also. I remember it so well.

But, today, six years later, I am feeling much more emotional about that day six years ago than I remember feeling on any of the other 2,190 days since then.

On that day Dad died from here, I think that, honestly, all we could feel was thanksgiving to God for releasing and relieving him from the sufferings that eventually led to his death. His last days were excruciatingly painful for him – and for us to have to witness it. His body had so deteriorated that it was starting to break down with him still barely breathing inside it.

And so, when the Lord finally called him to walk that last final stretch of ‘the valley of the shadow of death’ and into the blazing light of Glory, we could only rejoice and be happy for him – and thank God for finally receiving him Home to His Presence.

I also remember so well how the church services went that day as we were waiting for his going Home. I announced that morning in the church I was pastoring at the time that I had been talking with our family caring for Dad, and that his condition was moment-by-moment. [I was in Kentucky – they were in North Carolina.]

That morning, in our song-worship, we sang Matt Redman’s song “Ten Thousand Reasons” or “Bless the Lord, O my soul.”

We sang that third stanza:

“And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still, my soul will sing Your praise unending –
Ten thousand years and then forevermore”

…and as I am singing those words, I am thinking of our Dad’s last strength failing, his end drawing near, his time coming – but ‘still his soul will sing God’s praise unending – ten thousand years and then forevermore!”

My heart was so full of praise to God that this is so – and our Dad was about to enter into it!

This is true! This is our reality in times of physical death from here! This is God’s Grace! This is God’s Promise in Christ! This is our assurance and our hope!

I got word just later in the afternoon of that day that Dad had breathed his last breath here, and was in the Presence of Christ.

When we returned for our evening service, one of our brothers met me in the entrance hallway, and asked, “Dave, how’s your Dad?” I wanted to wait until I could announce and tell everyone at the same time, so I stalled him and replied, “Thank you for asking – he’s about the same.”

When the service started, and I got up to speak, I looked at this brother and called him by name, and said, “Brother, when you asked me a few minutes ago how Dad is, I told you ‘he’s about the same.’ I lied to you. He is not ‘about the same’ – he is ‘far better!’”

I then quoted the apostle Paul in Philippians 1.21-23 [HCSB]:

“For me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 Now if I live on in the flesh, this means fruitful work for me; and I don’t know which one I should choose. 23 I am pressured by both. I have the desire to depart and be with Christ—which is far better…”

  Then I went to describe how “far better” Dad actually “is” from Psalm 16.11 [HCSB]:

“You reveal the path of life to me;
in Your Presence is abundant joy;
in Your right hand are eternal pleasures.”

All of that is why we felt mostly just joy for him – imagining as best we could the ‘path of life’ he was seeing, the ‘abundant fullness of joy’ he was enjoying in Christ’s very Presence, and the ‘eternal pleasures’ he was beginning to discover and explore! And, all the while, “still my soul will sing Your praise unending – ten thousand years and then forevermore – FOREVERMORE!”

So, that brings me to today, February 10, 2019. For some reason, this sixth anniversary has been more emotional than any of the previous anniversaries – or other days – since.

Not sad – just emotional.

Then, it suddenly hit me during our worship service today. We are singing again about seeing Christ – personally, face-to-face.

This morning, it was while singing “Praise the Name of the Lord our God.”

Fourth stanza:  

“He shall return in robes of white
The blazing sun shall pierce the night
And I will rise among the saints
My gaze transfixed on Jesus’ Face!”

So, I’m already thinking about Dad anyway – and I could see him – there in the very Personal Presence of Jesus Christ Himself – singing some adaptation of that line:

“My gaze transfixed on Jesus’ Face!”

Then I understood that what has been making me so emotional today is that I am believing, I am realizing, I am actualizing, I am fore-tasting that THIS IS SO!

When we die from here, we really do enter the Presence of Jesus Christ!

We really do – and will – see His Face!

To die from here and to be absent from this physical body really is to be present with the Lord!

And so, the emotions that I am feeling today are the exultations of assurance, the stirrings of hope, and the anticipations of my own joy when I will join Dad and all the others who will be there with us –

“My gaze transfixed on Jesus’ Face!”

And, I like it!      

Posted in Dad, For My Father, I've been thinking | Leave a comment

Why is praying so hard?

WHY IS PRAYING SO HARD?

We all know that we must pray. We are commanded to pray.

And, praying is not just a duty, it is our means of personal, interactive communion with God.

And, truth be told, we want to pray. For those of us who are born-again children of God, there is an inner longing to pray. There is a constant reaching out to God – to touch the invisible.

But, why is it so difficult to pray?

I have some reasons why it is so hard for ME to pray. You may or may not identify with these, or you may struggle with your own hindrances to praying.

But, for me:

PRAYING IS HARD BECAUSE I CAN’T SEE WHAT’S GOING ON

God promises and assures us over and over in His Word that He hears us when we pray. And that our praying not only reaches the ears of the LORD OF ARMIES [Hosts/Sabaoth], but that He responds and answers back. [see Daniel 9.23 & 10.12]

He does things here in our world in response to our praying. [see, for example, Psalm 18]

But, we can’t see that happening. It’s all going on in the realms of God’s Providence. And, God may take His sweet, wise, and gracious time in responding to our praying.

In the meantime, here I am – still calling on Him for things that I am persuaded are His will.

But, since I can’t see that happening, I get discouraged. I don’t want to think I am just praying and pleading into the air!

PRAYING IS HARD BECAUSE I’M NOT IN CONTROL

I am a control-freak because I am a human being.

All of us broken, fallen, sinful human beings are control-freaks in that we want our own way. I am, by my fallen Adam-nature, a “Me-centered” creature. I want my life my way – and I want it NOW!

And, if I can’t make it happen the way I want it to happen, then I’ll try to get God to do it for me.

Even when I am praying, I find myself wanting to tell God what I want instead of praying like Jesus taught us to pray by His own example, “Not my will, but Yours, be done.”

But, I am not in charge or in control of any of my praying.

In fact, if I was in charge or control of anything, I probably would not be praying to begin with. If I was in charge or control of the matter, I would have already done or would be doing it.

My lack of control makes it necessary for me to pray – and it makes it hard for me to pray.

But, that is the very reason I must pray. Because God is the God here. He is the One who is in charge and in control of all things.

PRAYING IS HARD BECAUSE I FEEL MY UNWORTHINESS TO PRAY

I know what Solomon meant when he prayed at the dedication of the Temple in 1 Kings 8.38-39:

“…whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or by all your people Israel, each knowing the affliction of his own heart and stretching out his hands toward this house, 39 then hear in heaven your dwelling place and forgive and act and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways (for you, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind)…”

“Each knowing the affliction of his own heart,” or as the KJV renders it, “which shall know every man the plague of his own heart.”

Oh, yes! this man knows ‘the plague of his own heart’! And, it makes my praying hard.

I am intimidated from approaching the Sovereign Holiness of God while knowing the plague of sin that rages in my own heart!

But, that is why we pray! In fact, in that very prayer in 1 Kings 8, Solomon’s theme and thread that ties this whole Temple dedication prayer together is the thread that we will turn to God and pray when we have sinned – and God will forgive…He promises!

But, I have to preach this to myself over and over. My bad conscience makes it hard for me to pray.

PRAYING IS HARD BECAUSE I KNOW MY OWN WEAKNESSES

Of course – I am weak!

Again, it is the very sense of my very weakness that drives me to pray in spite of the difficulty of the very praying.

I pray best when I pray desperate.

And, that, too, is by God’s design. He makes me weak – He makes me desperate – He makes me needy – He breaks me from thinking I am strong and “I’ve got this” so I will fall upon Him and His mercy!

And, He is always there!

And so – rather than being discouraged and hindered and intimidated from praying by all these human frailties – I should be emboldened and encouraged by them – TO PRAY!

Hebrews 4.14-16 ~ Since then we have a Great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the Throne of Grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

LET’S PRAY!

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DAILY TIME WITH GOD – “Let me see your face, let me hear your voice!”

DAILY TIME WITH GOD

When our Lord Jesus Christ taught us to pray, He instructed us to get alone with our Father – just Him and me – and shut down and shut out all the other distractions to my attention, and pray to Him in that ‘secret place.’

Matthew 6.6 [CSB] ~ “But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

That’s what Jesus promised. Your Father is actually, really, Personally in the secret place and with you in the exercise of our praying to Him.

And, He wants to meet with you there. He delights in you and delights to spend time with you.

In the Song of Solomon, the bridegroom [the man, the husband] calls out to his beloved bride [the woman, the wife] in the most passionate and endearing of terms – as he appeals to her to respond to his call to come and meet him and spend some time with him…he is really missing her and the pleasure of being with her!

Song of Solomon 2.14 [CSB] ~ “My dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crevices of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.”

Can you not hear the voice and the call of our Father in those same passionate words of invitation?

OUR FATHER DELIGHTS IN US –

HE DELIGHTS IN OUR COMPANY –

HE WANTS TO SPEND TIME WITH US –

ESPECIALLY IN OUR PRAYING TO HIM!

If my Father so delights in me – and so passionately wants to see my face and hear my voice – then He is certainly worthy of my shutting down all the other distracting voices and shutting the door on the competitors trying to snatch my attention – and delight in Him in times of private prayer.

That’s why, for the past many years, I have chosen to call the time I devote each day to meeting the God who is “there” and who is “here” with me – I have chosen to call that time my Daily Time With God.

He wants to see my face! And He wants to hear my voice!

And I certainly want – and need – to see His Face of Pleasure and hear His Voice of Life!

How loving and gracious He is to promise to meet me and spend time with me!

Posted in Delighting in God, I've been thinking, Prayer | Leave a comment