Thursday, June 24, 2010

Beholding the Glory

It's a funny thing about knowing Jesus, that the longer you know Him, the greater the longing to know more about Him becomes. It's a desperate, but exquisitely beautiful, hunger that drives you to try to get closer and closer; to search out the things of God in His Word; and to constantly seek His presence and strain to hear His voice. But there are some followers of Christ who have let their love for Jesus grow cold. They've lost the hunger and forgotten the joy and passion of "first love." Or maybe they never knew it, but when a person's love of Christ is "lukewarm," a spirit of religion can slowly begin to take root. The joy and passion of knowing Jesus, and the freedom available in Him, are slowly replaced by a hardhearted, self-righteous, bean-counting mentality that keeps a close watch on what others are doing and not doing, and feels justified to openly criticize. It's people like this who've earned the Christian church in North America the label "hypocrite". 

God does not take this issue of love growing cold lightly. The first and greatest commandment, according to Jesus is to love God with all  your heart, soul, mind and strength, and throughout the Bible God calls His people to return to their first love. He doesn't like it when the things of the world distract us from loving Him with all we've got.

In Revelation 2, Jesus asks John to deliver a message to the Christians in Ephesus. Although by all appearances the Ephesian church seems to be doing everything right, Jesus says, "But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first." He goes on to give the Ephesian church an ultimatum, either turn back to what you once were or lose your place in the Kingdom of Heaven. He knows that a people who have lost their first love for Him will not represent Him or serve Him as He desires they should.

I've been in the midst of churches who've lost their first love for one reason or another. One such church enjoyed an amazing time of revival that made it a place of healing and power; it impacted nations as many received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and were anointed to preach and minister. But even so, their love grew cold because they became complacent, believing that, because of the great move of God among them thirty years ago, they knew all there was to know about Him and didn't need to seek Him anymore. The hunger to go deeper, the longing to draw closer, slowly faded and was replaced by arrogance and pride and gossip and strife took hold of the people. The Holy Spirit was all but removed from this church for a time, but thankfully, they have turned and there is life among them again.

So what is the secret to staying in that place of first love? It's not easy to remain there, especially when those who've become jaded by familiarity and complacency scoff, and scorn, and even try to trip you up. You start to doubt and to wonder if maybe you really are foolish, or crazy. It takes focus, it takes work, and it takes help and encouragement to "abide" in Jesus' love. But I believe the "secret" lies in this simple but profound verse:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

It's when we behold His glory that we fall deeper and deeper in love with Jesus. It's when we are beholding His glory that we experience the awe and wonder we felt when we first met Him and were born again. It's while we are beholding His glory that we remember who He is, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the One who is above everything on earth and in heaven and under heaven, the Alpha and the Omega, the One through whom and for whom all things were made - the exact representation of the Father. And as we behold His glory with unveiled face - not running away or holding anything back - we are changed. As we continue to behold His glory we are slowly transformed into the SAME image, becoming more and more like Him. We do not fall back to our old comfortable  ways or become complacent with what we have and what we have achieved. No, we continue moving closer to His holiness and majesty, always being made more like Him from one degree of glory to another.

I want to be awakened to Christ's glory every single day, to pursue precious glimpses of His glory in every waking moment. One experience of His glory just isn't enough for me. There are times when I need His grace to do this, times when sorrow or complacency and jadedness begin to set in. But as I continue to seek Him and to behold His glory - even in the very world around me - I find I can abide in that place of first love. And I find that the hunger and thirst for more of Him continues to grow stronger every day. It's this hunger and thirst - placed in me by God through the ministry of the Holy Spirit - that drive me to go deeper, to seek further, to keep longing to know more of Him and to be more like Him.

I read the latest newsletter from Threshold Ministries while taking a break from writing this post and was reminded that as a member of Threshold I am exhorted to:

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. (Romans 12:11)

Lord, I pray for those who think they know you but have lost their first love. They've forgotten what it means to be loved by You.  They've lost the joy and the passion of knowing You. May they behold Your glory and be renewed. May they fall in love with you all over again. And, Lord, it's only by Your grace that we can abide in Your love. I ask that You would give me my daily portion of grace and revelation so that I can remain in Your love, beholding Your glory forever!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Waves of mercy, waves of grace

Standing on the ocean shore this morning staring out to sea, I watched the waves lapping the shore as I talked to my Father. Each time I pray while I'm at the beach, I feel led to pray for God's mercy and grace, and His provision, to flow to me across time and space in waves, just as the waves of the sea continually flow towards me from some distant place which I cannot see.

I experienced God's power like a wave once, during a worship and prayer gathering at a Vineyard fellowship in the Maritimes. I was standing at the very back of the building and I sensed the surge of power coming towards me as the wave flowed from the front of the building all the way to the back. As it engulfed me I was almost knocked off my feet as the energy surged through me and swirled around me, traveling swiftly past me. I wish I could say that I knew what it was for or what it meant, but I don't. All I know is that I was dumbstruck with awe as I experienced yet another way in which the Spirit and the power of God moves.

So as I stood at the shore this morning praying, the  tide, which was going out when I first arrived, began to turn and the waves began to lap up closer and closer to my feet. "It's's coming..." I prophesied with the reach of every wave, and then suddenly the lapping water began to flood the sand around my feet. "It's here!" I declared, as it began to move beyond me.

A move of God is coming. We are only beginning to experience it as it travels steadily towards us from across time and space. It is just starting to lap at our feet, and already people are rejoicing and seeing visions and being super-charged by the power of God, as they meet Jesus, the Christ, and as His Spirit begins to move on their hearts, and transform their lives and anoint them with fire. But this is just a foretaste of what is to come! There is MORE!

We must prepare ourselves to walk in the fullness of the power that is to come. We must make ourselves ready to be used of God when His waves of mercy and grace flood the land around us and surround us and sweep us off our feet. Are we ready for this surge of power? Are we willing to lay everything down to serve His Kingdom purposes on earth? To be caught up in His train and carried along with Him as He sweeps through our land? It's time to decide. 

A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be lifted up,
   and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
   and the rough places a plain.

And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
   and all flesh shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

(Isaiah 40:3-5)

...for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:9)

Let it be so, Lord!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Rabbi, let me recover my sight!

I was reading the story of Blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10 the other day. It's a very familiar story about Bartimaeus,  a blind beggar, who rightly addresses Jesus as he cries out to Him for help: "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me." It's evident by his address, and by his request, that He knew who Jesus truly was.

Because of Batimaeus' lowly status in the Jewish society of his day, the crowd tried to hush him. They deemed his need not important enough to trouble the Rabbi for, but Jesus heard his cries and told the crowd to call him. And then, as Bartimaeus stands before Jesus, He asks him, "What do you want me to do for you?" and Bartimaeus replies, "Rabbi, let me recover my sight!" (vs. 51)

In Chapter 10, Mark recounts several stories of people who think they see Jesus and know who He is, but who do not truly see. The first is a rich young man who is doing all he can to enter the Kingdom of God - according to the letter of the law. He's obeyed all of the commandments of God, and he comes and kneels at Jesus feet and asks, "Rabbi, what must I do to inherit eternal life." (vs. 17) And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." (vs. 21) 

The young man leaves, crestfallen and filled with sorrow, for he had great possessions (vs. 22), and in his culture, his wealth represented God's blessing on his life. The rich young man recognized Jesus as a rabbi, a good teacher, and he may even have believed that Jesus was the Messiah, since he knelt in front of Him when he presented his question. But it seems likely that he was looking for more of a philosophical answer to his question, something that would "tickle his ears" and warm his soul. Or perhaps the young man was looking for a pat on  the back from Jesus for his strict adherence to the law. Any other rabbi would have been very proud of the rich young man, but Jesus was no ordinary, worldly rabbi. 

Then there is the story of Jesus' disciples, two brothers, who also thought they knew who Jesus was. They knew that He would be enthroned in heaven and they asked Jesus to give them the places of honour on either side of His throne. 

Although all of these young men had a level of understanding of who Jesus was, each one is actually blind to the truth which only Blind Bartimaeus is able to see. Jesus is the Son of David, the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One, the Son of God. They all knew this, and yet they still did not truly see. Somehow what they knew about Jesus got in the way of their really knowing the truth. It's called "familiarity". And it was familiarity that prevented Jesus from being able to perform miracles in his hometown of Nazareth. The people among whom he'd grown up thought that they knew who He was and were unable to believe anything apart from what they already knew about Him. Probably there are many folks who profess to follow Christ who've attained a similar level of understanding of who Jesus is and assume that they already know all there is to know about Him. They have become "familiar" with Jesus. But there's so much more! The more we truly know about Him, the more we realize how much there still is for us to learn!

Jesus explained many times throughout the gospels that the Son of God did not come to be served but to serve. He does not call people to follow Him so that they can be exalted and given honour and wealth and respect. On the contrary, He calls His followers to take up their crosses and follow Him. To suffer humiliation and poverty and persecution and hatred, as He did! He calls us to let go of the security and status of wealth and possessions and trust only in God to provide for our needs. He calls us to lay down our need for honour and title and recognition among our contemporaries, and to humble ourselves and become servants to both God and men.

The character of Bartimaeus is one of abject poverty and desperation. Bartimaeus is not proud. He has no wealth, no possessions, and has not even a hope of being given honour and respect among his peers. He stands before Jesus with nothing but his need and his faith. I was in the same place ten years ago, and when I realized my need for Jesus and cried out to Him, He responded in such a powerful way, extravagantly pouring out His manifest love out upon me, that I was forever changed. He healed me and raised me up and gave me sight. Suddenly I saw the world through different eyes and I was so grateful and filled with love for Him that I would do anything and give everything I had or ever would have to serve Him.

Over the past ten years of being "taught" by the church and by religious educational institutions, the keenness of my "new born" sight has began to dull. It's become clouded, and the cares of the world and the desire (need) to accumulate wealth and possessions has brought about a slow decay. But as I study this text my heart cries out, "NO! This is not what I want!" I don't want some watered down version of the gospel of Christ that allows me to remain complacent in my comfort zone looking out at the pain and suffering in the world around me from a "high" place. I know that when I get entrenched in comfort and in security that comes from money and things, I lose my boldness and my effectiveness as an ambassador of Jesus Christ and I no longer care about the circumstances and lives of other people. I don't want to become "familiar" with Jesus, believing that I already know all there is to know about Him because the more I seek to know Him, the more I realize just how magnificent and vast and glorious He is and it only makes me long to know Him more!

When Jesus first came into my life I knew Him as the Son of God, the Light of the World. I knew that I had met a "cosmic" being, one for whom nothing was impossible. If He could get hold of me in spite of my stubbornness, He truly was capable of performing miracles - and He did. He brought me into the knowledge of the love of the Father, and knowing His love filled me up so full that I needed nothing else. Because His love for me changed me life and set me free, I wanted everyone who was hurting to know His love too. 

Because of my love for Him I was so tuned in to the Father's heart that He would show me the ones He wanted to shower with His love. He would allow me to see into their hearts and show me the pain and the darkness in their lives, and that would give me a burning desire for them to know His love. He would tell me where to go and what to do and who to bless and what to say - and I would do it. If I was afraid, I would still do it! And lives were touched with the love of God because of my obedience and my boldness. He gave me the ability to see the spirit realm, to see angels as well as demons, and because of that sight, and my obedience to Him, a few people were released from harassment and bondage. It is for this reason we are commanded to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength - because when we do that we receive His heart for the lost and broken ones and He anoints us to heal and comfort and minister to them.

It's a tragedy that in North America, so many of us who call ourselves Christians do not really see Jesus and know who He truly is. Unless we have come before Him, filthy and dejected, poor and begging for mercy, nakedly admitting our need to Him, we have not truly encountered Him; we have not experienced His compassion, His healing love or His transforming resurrection power that changes us and circumstances in an instant. Humility and desperation are the keys that unlock the door to revelation and grace and free us from our worldly or religious mindsets so that we can see and know Jesus as He truly is. 

Although Bartimaeus' clothes were filthy, his heart was pure. He came to Jesus with no agenda, with no pride, and with no ulterior motive. His desperate cry was for mercy, and His one desire was to recover his sight. That is my prayer today.

Lord, I long to return to that same passionate first love I had for You. I want to live and breathe and have my being in You; to obey Your every word like I used to. I release to You everything that hinders me from being pure of heart and fully surrendered to Your will. Even what little prestige and wealth and  possessions I have, I give them all up for You. Forgive me for relying on the material things of this world for my security. Grant me the humility and wisdom of dear Bartimaeus; I come before you as he did, a dirty, tired old beggar. And just as he did, I cry out to You, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" "Rabbi, let me recover my sight!" I want to see you as you truly are!

 Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your faith has made you well." And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:52)