WHAT IS CHARACTER?

There’s an old adage that says, “Reputation is what people say you are; character is what you are.” Character is what you do in the dark. Character is determined by what would transpire if you knew you’d never be found out. Character is the making of a man of God.

I read a story recently about Coach Cleveland Stroud and the Bulldogs of Rockdale County High School. Rockdale High School is in Conyers, Georgia. They had just had a tremendous basketball season: 21 wins, 5 losses. They were on the way to the Georgia boy’s basketball tournament and what they were sure would be a state championship.

Ironically, the new glass trophy case that was purchased for what they knew was a cinch is bare in the school gymnasium. The Georgia High School Association deprived Rockdale of the championship after school officials said that a player who was scholastically ineligible had played 45-seconds in the first of the school’s five post-season games. 

Coach Stroud said, “We didn’t know he was ineligible at the time. In fact, we didn’t know it until a few weeks ago. Some people,” he contended, “have said we should have just kept quiet about it, that it was just 45-seconds and the player wasn’t an impact player. But you’ve got to do what is honest and right and what the rules say. I told my team that people forget the scores of basketball games but they don’t ever forget what you are made of.” That is what you call character.

Ability will enable a man to go to the top. But it takes character to keep him there. Character is what the Psalmist spoke of when he referred to the man that would swear to his own hurt and change not.

Character refuses to give in to pressure. Character does not just go with the flow. Character is not socialized by peer pressure. Character is what God is interested in.
Daniel and the three Hebrew boys were 500 miles from a teaching priest, 500 miles from the remnants of the temple, 500 miles from the godly influence of their parents. But their convictions and character were the same in the courts of Babylon as they had been in the dusty streets of Jerusalem. They had what you call integrity.

Joseph’s brothers took his freedom. The slave traders took him into bondage. Potiphar made him a slave. Potiphar’s wife painted him as immoral. Forgotten in prison, yet never once did Joseph lose his character. He was the same in the prisons of Egypt as he was under the scrutinizing eye of his father in the tents of Jacob. 
Homes are built on character. Nations are built on character. Institutions are built on character. Churches are built by men and women who are not for sale.

If there are examples of character in the sports world, how much more so should there be examples in the church? 

Bits and Pieces told the story of Ruben Gonzales, who was in the final match of a professional racquet ball tournament. He was a champion and he was supposed to win. In the fourth and final game, at match point, Gonzales made a super-kill shot into the front wall. The shot won it for him. The referee said it was good. One of the two linesmen affirmed that the shot was “in.” After just a moment’s hesitation, Gonzales turned and shook his opponents hand and declared that his shot had skipped into the wall, hitting the court floor first. The result was that he lost the match. He walked off the court. Everyone was stunned. The next issue of National Racquetball magazine displayed his picture on its front cover. People could not imagine why he did it. A player with everything officially in his favor, with victory in his hand, yet he disqualified himself at match point and lost. He was asked by the magazine why he did it. Gonzales said, “It was the only thing I could do to maintain my integrity.”

That, ladies and gentlemen, is character and regardless of the cost that is what we’ve got to have in the church. The only one who eternally counts knows and He is the one I must face when hidden things will be “shouted from the housetop.”

“Let the Words of My Mouth…”

Ramona Cramer Tucker wrote an article entitled, “Loose Lips” that was published in Christian Reader, a periodical published by Christianity Today. I’ve heard it said that a gossip is a person who knows how to turn an earful into a mouthful. It’s been called halitosis of the brain. Friendships have been destroyed by it; marriages disrupted by it; jobs terminated because of it. Wars have been ignited over gossip. I have often said that unless you are part of the solution – or part of the problem – or are personally involved in some way – it is gossip. 

Job cried to his accusing comforters, “You, however, smear me with lies; you are worthless physicians, all of you! If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom” (Job 13:4-5, NIV). The wise man of Proverbs cautioned, “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends” (Proverbs 16:28, NIV). Jesus himself said, “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37, KJV).

In her article, Ramona Tucker related the following true account of an incident “When Gossip Destroyed Trust:”

“It happened over a diet Coke at my friend Ann’s house. As we both “tsk-tsked” about the escalating divorce rate, Ann, whose husband had left her four years earlier, commented, ‘I’m so sorry for the women behind the statistics. I know what it’s like to be alone and scared about what’s going to happen next.’

Just then, I thought about asking Ann to pray for Maris, a mutual friend who had just told me her marriage was in trouble. I rambled on with details of Maris’s marital woes. Ann hadn’t a clue our friend’s marriage was so deeply troubled. She felt terrible that Maris hadn’t told her about it.

After our conversation, I felt sick, but I pushed my feelings aside. However, as the days wore on, I realized——painfully——that I’d been wrong to share news that hadn’t been mine to share. Not only had I broken my struggling friend’s confidence, but I also had put Ann in the midst of a distressing situation.

I swallowed my pride and phoned Ann to apologize. Then, taking a deep breath, I phoned Maris and asked if I could come over. Before we even sat down, I blurted out in misery, ‘Maris, I blew it. Remember a month ago, when you shared with me how you and Mark were struggling in your marriage? Well, last week when Ann and I were talking, I told her about you and Mark. I had meant to talk in general terms, but then——well, your name slipped out.’

Maris’s jaw dropped. Her lips quivered. She got teary-eyed.

I plunged ahead. ‘I don’t know what to say. I wish I could take my words back, but I can’t. Can you ever forgive me?’

Maris sighed. ‘I wish you hadn’t said anything,’ she said slowly. ‘Having someone else know about it only makes it harder on me——and Mark. But you’re right. You can’t take your words back. I’ll phone Ann, so she knows you talked to me——and I’ll ask her to keep it confidential.’

Ouch. Although Maris and I had been friends for five years, I knew it would take a long time before she would trust me again.

‘Maris,’ I said, reaching over to hug her, ‘I’m really sorry. I promise I won’t share your confidences——or anyone else’s——in the future.’

‘Don’t promise what you can’t keep,’ Maris said softly, looking me straight in the eye. As soon as I got to my car, the tears flowed. I thought of Proverbs 15:2: ‘The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.’ I knew which one I represented.”

Given the opportunity to be wise or foolish – wisdom is always the better choice. Sometimes, though, we find ourselves guilty of “gushing folly.” We can repent. We can “make it right” with the brother or sister we’ve injured. And we can commit ourselves to David’s prayer, “Let the words of my mouth…be acceptable in Thy sight…”

TWO MEN, A ROAD, AND A RESURRECTION

Luke 24 chronicles their story. Two men walking along the road to a village called Emmaus about 60 furlongs (7-1/2 miles) from Jerusalem, talking about the things which had happened. Jesus Christ, the miracle worker, had been betrayed by one of his own. He had been sentenced to die and crucified like a common thief. The disciples were scattered. There were claims that his tomb was empty, attended by an angel proclaiming his resurrection. It was plenty to talk about. 

Then the scripture says, “while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them.”

The Stranger who attached himself to them joined in their conversation and “expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” It was late in the evening and they invited him in for supper. 

Luke tells it this way: “And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?”

These men were among the company of individuals who had left everything to follow Jesus. Every hope, every dream, every plan for their future involved their service to the Christ. Now he was gone. Where would they go? What would they do? The city had become stifling; so they chose a walk in the country. They had to get away from it all. They needed to escape their shattered lives that it now seemed impossible to rebuild. In fact, it seemed futile to even try to go on without Him. They wondered if they had done something wrong. They wondered what they were supposed to do now.
So they find themselves on the road to Emmaus. It’s the road one takes after a trip to Golgotha. Ken Gire said, “It’s the road we take when the other roads we’ve taken turn out to be dead ends.”

There’s nothing left for them in Jerusalem. It’s a lonely city now, as it echoes with the memories of what might have been – memories of a crucified Messiah. It is the proverbial “dark night of the soul” for them. 

Again I quote the writer, Ken Gire, who put it this way: “They leave behind the rumors of his resurrection. They carry with them only the reality of his death. And their sadness. The road they travel slopes away from the city and then squirms around a convergence of hills…The expansive starkness of the terrain mirrors the landscape of their soul. The starkness makes room for solitude. And the solitude makes room for their thoughts, giving them a chance to uncurl from the fetal position they have been in the past few days. As they walk, their thoughts stretch into conversation. But the conversations are overcase with emotion. Tears come and go. So do their thoughts.”

“They think of the beautiful dream the Savior had – the coming of God’s kingdom. When his will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. When nations would beat their swords into plowshares. When the wolf would lie down with the lamb. And there would be peace on earth. All the earth. And there would be goodwill among the people. All the people. It was a beautiful dream. But Friday shattered it.”

As they comfort and console each other, the Stranger joins himself to them. And they tell him their version of his own story. “Since the time they first met Jesus, they hoped he was the king he claimed to be. And they waited for him to usher in the kingdom. But then he died. And they hoped again, based on his word, that in three days he would return. And they waited again. Friday, Saturday, Sunday morning. Sunday noon. Sunday afternoon. Then they lost hope. Another one of Friday’s casualties. Without hope they couldn’t wait any longer. So they left.”

It’s interesting to note that Jesus was not angered by their fear and doubt. He didn’t blame them or chastise them for not believing the report of the women who said the tomb was empty. He did, though, blame them for not believing the Scripture. “”How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26, NIV). 

What transpired next, though, is the real message of the resurrection. You see, they stopped at the edge of town and they begged him to stay on with them. When he brake the bread and gave thanks – suddenly – they recognized him. The Stranger is no stranger at all! He is the their Savior! And then suddenly, He is gone again. Vanished!

But that still was not the end of the story. Luke goes on to tell that they, “… rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them, Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon. And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread” (Luke 24:33-35, KJV). Just a glimpse of Him was enough to give new life to their dreams. It was enough to strengthen them in their sorrow. It gave them enough hope not to give up on living, believing, trusting in Him. Just a glimpse was enough to go back to Jerusalem and share the hope – He is alive! Alive forevermore.

This Easter season my prayer for you is that you will see Who it is that walks with you. There are some conversations that can only take place on Emmaus roads – some times that we will only see you when we allow you to break the bread of our lives and give thanks for it. I close this article with an excerpt from a prayer by Ken Gire:

“Stay with me, Lord, especially in times when I am disheartened. Show yourself to me, even if it is only for a moment. For your presence means more to me than my understanding. And seeing you when life doesn’t make sense is better than not seeing you when it does. Just as I pray you would be with me in my suffering, I pray I would bee with you in yours. Help me to be with you in your weakness in the wilderness, with you in your tears on the road to Jerusalem, with you in your agony in Gethsemane, with you in your tortures on the cross. Help me to understand something of the depths of your pain that I may appreciate more fully the depths of your love…”

A Man Named Horatio

Recently, while preparing a sermon, the lyric to an old hymn kept coming to my mind and heart. A little research on the matter, made it an appropriate illustration to go with the message. I share the story here:

Horatio G. Spafford, was a Chicago Presbyterian layman. He was born in North Troy, New York on October 20, 1828. After graduating for college, passing the bar exam, he established a quite successful legal practice in Chicago. He enjoyed a very lucrative law practice, yet always maintained a keen interest in Christian activities. He was personally acquainted with D. L. Moody and the other evangelical leaderes of that era. George Stebbins, a noted Gospel musician of the day, described H. G. Spafford as, “a man of unusual intelligence and refinement, deeply spiritual, and a devoted student of the Scriptures.”

In 1870 and 1871, H. G. Spafford encountered some troubled waters in both his personal and professional life. His only son died, which, of course, brought great sorrow to the remaining family. He invested heavily in real estate on the shore of Lake Michigan. The Chicago Fire of 1871 entirely wiped out his holdings. The repercussions were far-reaching. Desiring a time of rest and rejuvenation for his wife and four daughters, and wanting to be with D. L. Moody and Ira Sankey in one of their campaigns, the Spafford family planned a trip to Europe. Last minute business developments caused H. G. Spafford to remain in Chicago, but he sent his wife and daughters on ahead a s schedule. They embarked on the S. S. Ville du Havre. He was to follow a few days later on another ship. 

November 22, 1873 the S. S. Ville du Havre was struck by the Lochearn, an English vessel. It sank in twelve minutes. Several days later the rescued survivors landed at Cardiff, Wales. Mrs. Spafford cabled her husband a two word message: “Saved alone.” 

Spafford left Chicago to join his bereaved wife. On the sea near the area where it was thought the shipwreck had occurred, Spafford penned words poignantly describing his own grief. Yet, as you read through the entire lyric of the song, you see that H. G. Spafford was able to turn his thoughts from his own life’s sorrow and trial to the redemptive work of Christ – and ultimately to the promise of His return. H. G. Spafford is the writer of:

It Is Well With My Soul
Lyrics by Horatio G. Spafford (1828-1888)
Music by Philip Bliss (1838-1876)

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Tho Satan should buffet, tho trials should come
Let this blest assurance control
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate
And hath shed His own blood for my soul

My sin – O the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, O my soul.

And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trumpet shall resound and the Lord shall descend
“Even so” it is well with my soul.

It is well with my soul.

It is well, it is well with my soul.

The Bible tells us the story of the woman whose son had died in her arms embarking on a journey to the house of the prophet. The servant went out to meet her and asked, “Is it well with thee? is it well with thy husband? is it well with the child? And she answered, It is well” (II Kings 4:26). There was a miracle in her house that day.

Whether you are reading this today in the midst of a personal storm or sailing on calm waters, whether your heart is rejoicing or broken by sorrow – if in the midst of your tragedy and turmoil, you like the Shunamite woman can even whisper, “It is well…”

Perhaps you, too, will find a miracle is just waiting to happen. 

It is well – it is well with my soul! 

Building Trust

The word “build” connotes tools and the expertise to handle them. Two of the greatest tools for respect are actions and words. The scriptures say that by Him actions are weighed. It’s not just what you say, but why and how. What is the motive behind what you do and say? How are our actions and words interpreted? These are the things that build trust, respect and confidence.

Warren Bennis claims that trust is one of the basic ingredients of leadership. He adds: “Integrity is the basis of trust, which is not so much an ingredient of leadership as it is a product of it. It is the one quality that cannot be acquired but must be earned. It is given by co-workers and followers and without it the leader cannot function. Trust is the foundation upon which relationships in every setting are built.”

Charles Christian, in one of his periodicals, gave ten rules for respect. I want to utilize them with my own comments added in. Let’s take a slow mental journey, stopping occasionally to ask, “Are these my tools and am I handling them properly?”

If you have a problem with me, come to me privately. All of us have been disappointed by hearing others pre-judge us without ever having inquired of our own rationale for the problem at hand. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s not just the golden rule, it’s the only rule.

If I have a problem with you, I’ll come to you privately. One of the questions I have most asked people in conflict with one another is, “Have you been to them privately?” After all, this is what our Lord taught. It would amaze you to know how many private things could stay private without going public if you would just go and ask, “Did you say this?” or “Did you do it?” or “Why?”

If someone has a problem with me and comes to you, send them to me. I’ll do the same for you. Just recently a man called me with reference to something he alleged a friend had done. My retort was immediate. “Have you been to him?” He said, “No.” I said, “Let me advise you. Before you make another call, or discuss this any further, go to him immediately.” I found a few days later that he had done that and the problem was solved. Reconciliation came. If he had not have done it, he would have simmered, stewed, cooked, and finally ended up half-baked over something that mattered very little. If it matters little, make little of the matter. 

If someone consistently will not come to me, say, “Let’s go to the pastor together. I am sure he will see us about this.” Again, I promise I’ll do the same to you. Third party involvement at this juncture can be important. If they don’t want to just discuss it with you, offer to bring another authority figure in on the discussion.

Be careful how you interpret me. I’d rather do that. Perception is everything. Something can be repeated and a wrong perception or slant given on words or actions. On matters that are unclear do not feel pressured to interpret my feelings or thoughts. It’s easy to misinterpret my intentions. 

I will be careful how I interpret you. That, too, is a promise. I may have seen or heard what you did. But I’ve not heard why you did it. 

If it is confidential, don’t tell it. The second rule to this is – Be sure and don’t tell it. And the third rule is, if you don’t want it repeated, don’t tell it. Recently I had a brother who was discussing a situation with me. He kept prodding me and finally said, “I know that you know the truth of this matter.” I looked at him and said, “There are some things I will carry to my grave.” He looked back at me and said, “I’ll accept that.”

I do not read unsigned letters or notes. I have a round file called a wastebasket that’s full of them. Occasionally, I might glance – but the first thing I do is look to see if it was signed. And, sometimes, even when it’s signed sometimes it’s necessary to “consider the source.” Cain was mad at God but he took it out on his brother.

I do not manipulate. I will not be manipulate. Do not let others manipulate you. There’s a difference in motivation and manipulation. If you are manipulating, it is strictly for your own advantage. If you are motivating, it is for the advantage of all. 

When in doubt, just say it. The only dumb questions are those that don’t get asked. Vernon Grounds was president of Denver Theological Seminary for years. At his retirement he was asked if there was anything he would do over in his career. He said, “Yes, I would quit playing God. There would be times when I’d look across the desk at my inquisitioner and say, “I don’t have the foggiest idea what you ought to do.” There are times when I just don’t know.

There you have it. I have often said that loyalty and respect are never demanded; they are earned. I tell preachers often that an election may give you the title of pastor, but only living with them gives you that position in their hearts. I end with the words of John Maxwell, “Respect is almost always gained on difficult ground.”

Running the Race . . .

Those who know me well will attest that I am not very athletic-minded. Generally, I am not caught up in any of the sports craze – be it golf, football, basketball, hockey or any of the rest. However, in the early 1990s, there was a picture and story that emerged from the Olympic games that is indelibly imprinted on my heart and mind. 

Derek Redmond, a British runner, was favored to win the gold medal in the 400-meter dash. Thirty or forty yards into the race he developed leg cramps, slowed and fell down writhing in pain. It was apparent that he was in tears and great pain while lying on the track. In just moments, the other runners had far outstripped him. 

Suddenly, Derek’s father came out of the stands and started to climb the protective fence. The security guards ran and grabbed him. He literally fought them off, jumped over the fence, and ran onto the track to the side of his fallen son. He then picked Derek up, put his arms around him, and literally carried the limping young man across the finish line. 

Quite frankly, I couldn’t tell you who won the gold, silver, or bronze that year. But I will never forget the picture that I saw of Derek Redmond and his father crossing the finish line together. It took great courage to finish the race but it was worth it! He would never have made it if someone hadn’t cared enough to help – if someone hadn’t broke rank, jumped the fence, taken a chance – and put his arm around a fallen son!

So what does that have to do with a New Year – and renewal and revival? Simply this: It’s a challenge to you, the reader, to make this a year when you reach out and help someone…and by a simple act of kindness toward another find yourself renewed – renewed in your commitment to God, renewed in your spirit by a singular selfless act.. 

We live in a world of people who need help. Some are in grave financial situations – and just a simple “offering” of some extra groceries would bless that family that is struggling to make ends meet. Others are physically challenged – perhaps an elder couple in your church or neighborhood would see Jesus in you if you would drop by and mow their lawn. Some are lonely – and just a simple smile and a moment’s conversation would be an immeasurable blessing to them.

Believe it or not, there is a gift of helps mentioned in I Corinthians 12:28. It may not be as auspicious as some of the vocal gifts or the government gifts, but there is none that is more needful. Are there any candidates for the gift of helps? I’ve often heard it said, “I want God to use me….” You make yourself available and I promise you, God will wear you out. If nothing else, just by helping others who are in need He will use you. It should be our desire for this New Year to be used of God in the gift of helps.

In this day of non-involvement, may God baptize all of us with the gift of helps. Someone on the job is hurting. Are you sensitive enough to note or care? You may not be the gold winner – but are you willing to help the leader finish first and look good? That’s what it is all about – helping.

Make up your mind that in this year, both in the secular and the sacred world, you are going to help. Volunteer to your pastor and church staff now by simply saying, “What can I do to help?” You will then be operating in the gifts of the Spirit. This could be your New Year’s pledge – and it could change your entire life.

Paul wrote to Timothy about “forgetting the things which are behind” and “pressing toward the mark.” It was a sports analogy – striving for the prize. Renewal and restoration – hope and healing – will come to those who learn the lesson of looking forward not backward – of reaching out to others, rather than forever clutching things tightly for selfish gain. 

F. B. Meyer wrote,

“It is a mistake to be always turning back to recover the past. The law for Christian living is not backward, but forward; not for experiences that lie behind, but for doing the will of God, which is always ahead and beckoning us to follow. Leave the things that are behind, and reach forward to those that are before, for on each new height to which we attain, there are the appropriate joys that befit the new experience. Don’t fret because life’s joys are fled. There are more in front. Look up, press forward, the best is yet to be!”

So reach out and help someone this year. Be the one to come down from the grandstand of life – climb over whatever obstacles may be in your way – and put your arm around a struggling brother or sister – and finish the race together! 

Happy New Year!

The Old Man and The Prophetess

Toward the end of Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus, there are two characters who are more often than not, not even included in our telling of the Christmas story. They are usually not the starring characters in the children’s Christmas musical nor the adult Christmas pageant. Their story, however, was vital enough to be included in the Scripture and cannot be overlooked this season.

The baby is born. The angels are now silent. The shepherds have returned to their flocks. Mary and Joseph are about the business of being parents. On the eighth day they named him Jesus and he was circumcised according to the law and the custom of the day. Luke says:

“When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” (Luke 2:22-24, NIV)

It was there – in Jerusalem – in the temple where they had gone to offer their sacrifice of consecration – that they encountered the old man. 

His name was Simeon. It means “the hearing one.” Luke tells us he was just and devout and that the Holy Ghost was upon him. He was “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” In his waiting, the Holy Ghost had moved on him and promised him that he would not see death until he had first seen the Christ, the promised Messiah. He no doubt woke up that morning and went about his daily routines until – the Bible tell us “he came by the Spirit into the Temple.” That probably wasn’t the first time he had allowed the Holy Spirit to direct his steps. We can only wonder if he arose that morning and somehow knew, “This is the day….” His name was Simeon. It means “the hearing one” – and now we catch a glimpse of what listening – and hearing – what the Spirit is saying can mean in one man’s life.

In the Temple, led by the Spirit, his path crossed with the new parents of a baby boy brought for circumcision and consecration. He took the child from them and praised God. He who had been hearing spoke these words back to the God who keeps His promises: 

“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32, KJV)

Simeon, the old man who had been frequenting the temple for years, waiting for a promise to come suddenly found himself holding that Promise in his arms. While others may have been expecting a conquering King, apparently this old man was not in the least dismayed or discomfited by the fact that he held a newborn baby boy. This man – this one who heard the Spirit – knew that his eyes had seen the salvation of the Lord – that light had come to the Gentiles, that glory had come to Israel. It would be years before his words were understood, before the light and glory was seen. But he who had waited for the promise knew that even in a newborn babe his promise was fulfilled.

As Mary and Joseph marveled at his words, Samuel turned to them. The Scripture tells us he blessed them both, then said to Mary: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Was there a sudden chill in the air? Did Mary shiver involuntarily at the thought of a sword piercing not just her heart – but her very soul? Did she stand at the foot of a cross some thirty-three and a half years later and remember the old man in the Temple?

Then enters the Prophetess. She was a widow of “four score and four” – which is 84 years of age. In trying to piece together her story, Luke said she had lived with her husband seven years before his demise. So somewhere probably in her early twenties she had been widowed – and since that time spent her days and nights in worship to the Lord. Luke 2:38 says:

“Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38, NIV). 

She saw Him, she believed who He was, and she proclaimed Him to all who were seeking Him! 

As we celebrate Christmas in 2003 and look forward to 2004, let us not forget the old man and the prophetess. Many of stand in the place Simeon was – waiting on the fulfillment of a promise. To you, hear what the Spirit is saying – and know that the answer to your prayer is almost in sight. 

May this be the year when you say, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the Lord…” May we all become like Anna, the Prophetess – recognizing Him for who He is – and proclaiming Him to all who seek Him! 

Give Thanks!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was killed in the Holocaust. He was a prolific Christian writer before and during his incarceration in a Nazi concentration camp. He was a Christian who participated in a small Protestant resistance movement. His helping Jews escape to Switzerland is what ultimately cost him his life. Yet, among his writings is this simple statement: “It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” 

So it is this Thanksgiving season, that we go to the Scripture and study briefly the instruction to “Give thanks…”

The phrase “give thanks” occurs 35 times in the Scripture in 34 verses. From the song of David in II Samuel 22:50 after listing so many of the Lord’s accomplishments he cried, “Therefore I will give thanks unto thee, O Lord…” to the final reference in Thessalonians when Paul said, “We are bound to always give thanks to God for you . . . “ we find plenty of examples of thankfulness, examples of things to be thankful for, ideas from which gratefulness should spring into our hearts and lives.

I Chronicles 16:8 reads: “Give thanks unto the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the people.” Has He done something special for you recently? Answered a special prayer? Tell somebody about it – and call upon His name when you do! 

“O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever” (I Chronicles 16:34). Have you experienced His goodness – are you aware of His mercy – new every morning in your life? Give thanks!

Sometimes thanksgiving is a prayer: “Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather us together, and deliver us from the heathen, that we may give thanks to thy holy name, and glory in thy praise” (I Chronicles 16:35). 

Your name may not be listed here with “Heman and Jeduthun and the rest” listed here – but you have been chosen – to give thanks to the Lord! “And with them Heman and Jeduthun, and the rest that were chosen, who were expressed by name, to give thanks to the LORD, because his mercy endureth for ever…” (I Chronicles 16:41).

Nine chapters later we find “Juduthun” listed again. His name literally meant “praise” and we find that he exampled gratitude as he “…prophesied with a harp, to give thanks and to praise the LORD.”

II Chronicles 31:12 – we find Hezekiah making appointments: “And Hezekiah appointed the courses of the priests and the Levites after their courses, every man according to his service, the priests and Levites for burnt offerings and for peace offerings, to minister, and to give thanks, and to praise in the gates of the tents of the LORD.” You and I must follow the priestly example – Give thanks – praise in the gates – every man according to his service! 

Nehemiah gives us a different list of names from a different time and place – but the instruction was the same: “And the chief of the Levites: Hashabiah, Sherebiah, and Jeshua the son of Kadmiel, with their brethren over against them, to praise and to give thanks, according to the commandment of David the man of God…” (Nehemiah 12:24).
Where do we praise him? “Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O LORD, among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name” (Psalm 18:49).

When we remember how holy our God is – “Sing unto the LORD, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness” (Psalm 30:4).

How long are we to be thankful? “O LORD my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever” (Psalm 30:12)

Psalm 75:1 is where we get the “give thanks” phrase twice in one verse. Perhaps it was because it was a song – or perhaps it’s because sometimes we need to be doubly grateful: “Unto thee, O God, do we give thanks, unto thee do we give thanks: for that thy name is near thy wondrous works declare.”

Psalm 92 is labeled “A Song for the Sabbath Day” – it begins with a simple statement about thankfulness – it is good! “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD, and to sing praises unto thy name, O most High…”

Psalm 97:12 echoes Psalm 30: “Rejoice in the LORD, ye righteous; and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.” He is a holy God!

Psalm 105 echoes I Chronicles 16:8: “O give thanks unto the LORD; call upon his name: make known his deeds among the people.” Psalm 106 picks up I Chronicles 16:34: “Praise ye the LORD. O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.” Psalm 106 again cries for deliverance: “Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the heathen, to give thanks unto thy holy name, and to triumph in thy praise” as heard in I Chronicles 16:35.

Psalms repetitive cry – from 106 to 107 to 118 to 136- it’s God’s goodness and mercy that endureth forever that makes David cry out: “O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.”

Psalm 119 reads, “At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee because of thy righteous judgments.” David had a solution for restlessness at in the midnight hours – arise and give thanks!

Psalm 122 declares Jerusalem a place of thanks: “Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the LORD.”

Psalm 140 reads: “Surely the righteous shall give thanks unto thy name: the upright shall dwell in thy presence.” 

When we reach the New Testament we find Paul’s references to giving thanks to be frequently about the people to whom he was writing. In Romans, he expressed his thanks to Priscilla and Aquilla: “Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus:who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.”

To the Ephesians he wrote, “(I) cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers…”

To the Colossians his words were: “We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you…”

To the Thessalonians he said: “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers…”He went on to give them – and us – the instruction: “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (I Thessalonians 5:8). Then finally he said: “But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thessalonians 2:13-14).

So this Thanksgiving season…Give thanks…for His mercy that endures forever – for His salvation that has delivered you – for His goodness and His care for you. Take the time, too, to tell the people He has placed in your life to help you – your pastor, your teachers, your friends – that you are thankful to Him for their place in your life. 

For each new morning with its light,
Father, we thank thee,
For rest and shelter of the night,
Father, we thank thee,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything thy goodness sends,
Father, in heaven, we thank thee.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

The Hungry Christ

Jesus, the incarnate God, was hungry. In the story of the fig tree, it says, “And He hungered.” His response in cursing the fruitless fig tree, when he was hungry and “found nothing” was perhaps the only destructive act recorded in his entire ministry. On the other hand, when He sent the disciples to town for food and lingered by the well in order to interact with the Samaritan woman, he said to the disciples, “I have meat to eat ye know not of.” I think if we pay attention here we can see that God does indeed get hungry. He craves prayer and hungers for worship. He is anxious for the fruit of the Spirit. What disappoints Him the most? When He comes expecting it – and it is not there.

God not interested in just a few mumbles called prayer – but an incessant and enormous and insatiable hunger for change. God is never drawn to full. He is drawn to empty.
We read in Proverbs 30:15-16: “The horseleach hath two daughters, crying, Give, give. There are three things that are never satisfied, yea, four things say not, It is enough: The grave; and the barren womb; the earth that is not filled with water; and the fire that saith not, It is enough.”

As the thirsty ocean swallows rivers and is not quenched – as hungry as the fire that eats up everything and still looks for more fuel – as unsatisfied as the grave is to take in millions and yet cry daily for more – that’s how insistent a barren woman is that God give her children or she will die – That’s how much we must desire to see the promises of God fulfilled in our lifetime.

This passionate prayer will only be birthed in us when we experience true communion with Him. It is never borne of a shallow experience. Power comes out of passion. God doesn’t lend Himself to casual relationships. He is not for rent; He is not for lease; He is not for sale. He is absolutely available to those who will passionately seek Him.

The word “travail” associates with prayer – and also with birth. Just as ocean desires water – fire, fuel – the grave hungers for bones – God’s people must crave something that will bear souls and bring revival. When God gets ready to birth a promise, He looks for a barren soul that will cry “Give! Give! Give! Give!” God is looking for people who will cling to Him and desperately cry until power comes out of Him.

Rachel cried, “Give me children or I die!” In that desperation, the Bible said, God remembered Rachel and God listened to her and opened her womb. Before the womb was opened, there was a crying and a listening. God is not listening for political cries. Or for the cries of “Have my way, Lord!” He is longing for the cries of those who will do anything to bring birth to new children.

The apostles were torn between the work of the ministry and time spent in prayer. Ultimately they made their choice: “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). Notice the order: first to prayer, then to the ministry of the Word. 

This was the first administrative decision of the New Testament. In every collective meeting of the saints and the elders they gave themselves first to prayer because they needed power.

In Luke 18 we see an example of the power of persistent prayer. This woman made herself a spiritual pest. Every time the judge looked up, she was there crying out, “Avenge me of my adversary.” Finally, the judge relented. Jesus made the application of the parable for them. “And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily.”

Every time God looks up let Him see us crying, “Give! Give!” 

The question is, “Will whatever I’m praying for – whatever I’m doing – enhance anybody’s ability to see Jesus and to know Him and to come to truth?” Anything that leads to soul-winning and outreach must be utilized. Any method that distracts from that – any conversation that is negative about that – must go. The first thing we lay on our altar is our pride. It is not about us. It is about Him and His hunger. It is about the lost and their hunger for salvation. 

In Acts 15 the preacher was in jail and the church was having a closed-door prayer meeting. Peter, freed from the prison by divine intervention, knocked at the door. “No, it can’t be him!” Sometimes we get locked into believing it is our job to pray for revival, not have one. People pray and pray and no answers come. Why? They’re not in a position to open the door.

I cannot live knowing that there is more available and I didn’t access it. Praying about it – wanting it – but not enough faith to believe it into being. 

The true value of a thing is the price it will bring in eternity. History making prayers come when there is corporate unity and agreement with God and one another. God does not reveal Himself in a casual manner. When they corporately prayed the house and place was shaken. An unshaken church cannot shake the world. 

The disciples didn’t pray to Jesus; they prayed with Him. Find out what He prayed about and adjust your prayer list. Find out what He is hungry for and put it on your life’s menu. Commit yourself to feed the One who hungers for your praise and craves your worship. He alone is worthy!

The Power of First Judgement

The edict of the Word enjoins us, “Judge nothing before its time.” We all agree there are occasions when longevity and patience are both noteworthy and necessary for proper judgement. Yet, there are other times – times when delay can be disastrous.
How is that there are occasions when you just know. The secular world might call it intuition. In the church we could call it “the word of wisdom” or the “word of knowledge.” Something is seen or heard or felt – and instantly there is a witness in the spirit that this is either true and authentic or a forgery and a fraud. In today’s world it is so necessary to know when judgement should be crock-pot and when it should leap into the microwave world age.

I cannot tell you why there have been times when something looked real and sounded real – and was even saying the right things – but something in my spirit registered, “This is not right.” The Bible tells us to “try the spirits.” The emphasis is not simply to listen closely to the words but to discern the spirit in which the words are spoken. A man can say the right thing with the wrong spirit. In today’s world of spiritual forgery and charlatanism, we need the operation of the gifts of the Spirit and the five-fold ministry as never before. Diminished judgement in spiritual things is dangerous. Our mistakes can be eternal mistakes, not just temporal. Is this of God – even if it’s in embryonic stages – or is this the nemesis or a fraud?

Malcolm Gladwell who wrote The Tipping Point also wrote the now bestselling Blink. The book is just what its name infers. Its premise is that in a blink you know something – and accept it – or disdain it and reject it. The book is built around the attempt of a renown museum, financed by the oil mogul Getty, to purchase the Kouros. It’s simply a nude statue of a young Greek with his arms at his side and one leg stretching forward. It allegedly was hewn out of marble in the 5th or 6th century.

Strangely enough, many experts when they saw or heard of the statue in a blink called it a forgery. Thomas Hoving, who was at one time Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art stated that the first word that came to his mind when he saw the statue was “fresh” – indicating that it had the appearance of being too new to be so old. Another expert, when he heard the museum was purchasing the Kouros said, “I’m so sorry to hear that.”
Gladwell said these experts took a look at that statue and some part of their brains did a series of instant calculations. Before any kind of conscious thought took place – they felt something. Did they know why they knew? Not at all. But still they knew.
Another expert said the statue was obviously a fake. Yet, none of these had time to thoroughly examine it. You would call it – in their world – the intuition of an expert. They could spot it in a blink.

Do we have that kind of discernment in the spiritual world? Ten million dollars was at stake in this statue. Was it real or not? The Museum has decided to go ahead and display it when the Getty’s new exhibit hall is opened. The statue will bear this inscription: “It is either a product of about 530 B.C. or a modern forgery.” It’s simply a way of saying, “We don’t know for sure.” 

A ten million dollar mistake is one thing – but an eternal mistake is another. There are times when in the spirit immediate judgement is necessary. There are other times when it must incubate. The apostolic ministry must make room for both. There’s a great difference between “Agree with the adversary while you are in the way…” and “Lay hands suddenly on no man.” Yet, they are both scriptural. I plead again for a resurgence of faith and authority in the five-fold ministry. If judgement immediate and in longevity was needed among the early apostles, it is more so needed today.

A case in point was the demon-possessed woman at Philippi. Paul had gone into Macedonia with a direct word from the Lord – a vision. And, not only that, the disciples assuredly gathered that the Lord had called them to go. He not only had direct communication from the Lord but filtered that through the apostolic authority at Troas. When he arrived he found a group of women by the river in a prayer meeting. Then he found a certain damsel. The scripture said, “The damsel followed them for many days saying, ‘These men are the servants of the Most High God which show us the way of salvation.’” What she was saying was true. Paul did not execute instant judgement. He waited many days and then he discerned. 

The Bible said she had a spirit of divination. This is the only place in the New Testament the word Python is used. She had the spirit of Python. Python was a legendary Greek mythical serpent that fought with the Greek god Apollo. The word was actually used as a synonym for a ventriloquist. Paul discerned that the words coming from the woman did not have their source in the woman. She was literally voicing a spirit from an agent of hell. The devil began as a serpent in the Garden. He had grown to Python in Acts. But ended up a dragon in Revelation. He is ever-increasing in knowledge. He knows more about the church today than he did two thousand years ago. 

The spirit of Python will put the squeeze on you – as does the snake that bears its name. Yet, the great Apostle Paul was many days discerning. This is a case for “judge nothing before its time.” There are some things you have to wait, listen, discern – even if they’re saying the right thing – in order to acquaint yourself with the spirit that is behind it.
I have heard men say things that were right but their spirit was tainted. A spring cannot give forth bitter and sweet waters at the same time. We must worship and preach Him both in Spirit and in truth. Why does Spirit precede truth? Truth can be contaminated if it comes through the sewage content of a wrong spirit.

So, there is a power in instant discernment. But, there is also the legacy of length. You cannot believe everything you see or feel. There’s got to be that still, small voice. Sometimes it only crystallizes in the quietness of time. On other occasions it instantly erupts like the power of a volcano. 

A few years ago I was on vacation and checked in at the office. A Southern Baptist minister was trying to reach me by phone. I had never met this man. I had no idea what he wanted. My initial response was, “I’ll handle that when I get home.” Yet something clicked in my spirit. I had a word of knowledge come to me. This was a man who was very hungry for God and needed immediate attention. So, I took his number and called him from our vacation location. This man had seen me in a service and the Lord spoke to him and said, “Find this man and he will tell you what to do.” When I spoke with him that day and relayed that I would be home the next week, he immediately made arrangements and drove over 1,000 miles to come see me in person. He now has the Holy Ghost. This was an example to me of an “instant word.”

Some time ago I was in a service in southern Louisiana. A man came to me and told me about his daughter who was in Virginia, desperately in need of God. She had a dream and knew she needed to be baptized. I took her name and address and forwarded it to the pastor in that area., asking him to contact her. I explained that she knew very little about Pentecostalism but asked that he contact her personally and extend an invitation to attend his church to her. He did. She went – and fell in love with church and scheduled to be baptized. This word of knowledge – that the man’s story about his daughter was genuine and God-sent – resulted in appropriate action being taken and ultimately the salvation of a soul. Had it been ignored – had too much time passed before action was taken – the story might have been much different. 

There was a time when there were very few females in symphonic and philharmonic orchestras. Could it have been that those who made the choice had a male bias? Gladwell makes an interesting observation. Since the early ‘70s a revolution has occurred in musical auditions. They introduced what is known as the screen. Consequently, judges cannot see the players. All they can do is hear them. The musicians are not identified by their names, but rather by a number. Since the screen was introduced the number of women in top echelon United States orchestras has sky-rocketed five-fold. During one of the earliest recorded instances, a screen was introduced into New York’s Metropolitan Opera auditions. At that time, all four winning violinists were women. Yet, up until then, that was about the total number of women in the whole orchestra.

The lesson is apparent. There are times when the judgement made by an expert in the blink of an eye is right. There are other times when it isn’t. The problem is to tell when you are right and when you are not. 

May God send us sincere purveyors of apostolic ministry – Men who fear nothing but God, hate every aspect of hell and its attendant sin, and have as the magnificent obsession of their soul the exaltation of the Lordship of Jesus and the healing of hurting humanity through His Gospel. This is no day for religious playboys. I can remember old Brother V. A. Guidroz saying, “Fellas, if you want flesh go to the meat market. The pulpit is no place to parade it.” 

I understand the leading television shows today are called “Reality TV.” Wouldn’t it be tragic if the world had to go to the television for reality and come to church for a show? No need for religious charlatans but a dire and desperate need is present for men who walk in the operation of the Holy Ghost and are not just apostolic in word but in power, demonstration, and discernment of the Holy Spirit.