The most important thing about me is my spirit. 1 Thessalonians 5:23
Is my spiritual growth determined by my:
decisions or by default?
choices or by chance?
planning or by passivity?
Do I really want to believe the most important thing about me is determined by luck, accidental good fortune, or the false concept of karma?
Will I rise to the challenge of intentional spiritual growth? Philippians 2:12
The Bible reveals that even the ant lives by decisions, choices, and planning rather than by default, chance, and passivity. Proverbs 6:6-11 (Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys)
The Apostle Peter is insightful when he explains, “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” 1 Peter 1:18-19
I am ransomed from the way of life that has “absence of purpose or failure to attain any true purpose (Moulton and Milligan).”
Jesus models living life on purpose or intentionality in the Gospel of Mark 3:13-15.
The direction of my intentional spiritual growth is not determined by chance but by Jesus’ revelation in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5, 6, and 7.
Augustine (354 AD – 430 AD) rightly stated, “If anyone will piously and soberly consider the sermon which our Lord Jesus Christ spoke on the mount, as we read it in the Gospel according to Matthew, I think that he will find in it, so far as regards the highest morals, a perfect standard of the Christian life: and this we do not rashly venture to promise, but gather it from the very words of the Lord Himself.”
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus invites us to the following intentional spiritual growth:
Although Resurrection Sunday is now past, resurrection life is fresh every day. Maybe we should call today Resurrection Monday because eternal life can not be contained in one day each year. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead gives life, 24/7/365 to the one who trusts in Jesus.
What is true of Resurrection Sunday is true daily. Consider, for example, the angel’s words in Matthew 28:5.
But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.
Today, like that first resurrection day, some people “seek Jesus who was crucified.” There is something special about the person whose heart continually looks for Jesus who was crucified.
Two very different things can be true at the same time. For example, “I have found the Messiah and I am looking for the Messiah,” show a heart that is both solidly anchored (I have found) and flexibly pursuing (I am looking).
Pastor Willard Leisy, now with the Lord, captured this idea with a unique sentence, “I am satisfied with a dissatisfied satisfaction.” Another friend, Duane Parrish, said “I am fully satisfied and yet I hunger for more.”
“Seeking Jesus who was crucified” was true, is true, and will be true of the devout follower of Jesus.
With God’s help it will be true that I have found, am finding and will find Jesus who was crucified.
Simple obedience to the life of Jesus calls us to love our neighbors. At least in Anchorage, Alaska, one’s neighbors are, delightfully, from around the world.
Hispanic, African, and Dutch neighbors live next door to our family home and they are friends all. Northeast Anchorage is extremely blessed with a kaleidoscope of nationalities, tribes, and ethnicities. We couldn’t be more highly favored.
MCA Church is on the journey of learning to love our neighbors well and to love at that deeper level is our calling. There are a few things we are learning as we walk with God into greater neighboring.
First, every person has been gifted by God with unique voice. We believe that to be human is to have voice and one of life’s greatest sins is to silence a person’s unique expression. I am convinced there is no gift of the Spirit called “muffle the other’s voice.”
We have paid a relational price with a few folks for releasing the voiced life. I will always remember some of the things said to me over the years.
“I’m leaving this church because you allowed “that” woman (Pastor Fay) to not only speak in church but to serve communion.
“I think I’ll worship elsewhere. I’m not comfortable worshiping around people with special needs who sing too loudly or don’t know how to behave in God’s house.”
“Pastor Kent, if other ethnicities go to church here, my kids may date one of them.”
“Young man! I need to speak to you right now. Are you trying to turn this into a black church?”
Oh, Lord, have mercy. Just writing these old complaints almost gets me angry all over again. What ungodly NONSENSE! These sentences flowed from hearts filled with an anti-neighboring spirit.
Those early days have been swallowed up in God’s new work among us. All of those attitudes have been washed clean by the blood of Jesus and we are a neighborly congregation where women, men, folks who are differently abled, young, old, and of every ethnicity are welcomed to add their voice to the pre-heaven mix called MCA Church.
Second, adding meaning to the embrace of each person’s voice is the practice of suspending judgment. It is very simple. I am not listening if I am judging. Neighborly listening requires the total suspension of judgment until after the communication is complete.
A core component of suspended judgement listening is what I call embracing the dignity of pain. If one is not free to express their pain without being judged, they are truly not free at all.
It is too easy to get gagged by a group code of silence that says, “You can hurt but you can’t give voice to your pain.” It is powerful to respect the other by extending to them the dignity of their pain.
One of my friends said to me, “Pastor Kent, when I was a child I was taken from my home by the government and placed in many foster homes. In each foster home, I was sexually abused. As I grew older, I repeated the sexual abuse on my own victims. The people who abused me, repeatedly, were never even corrected, but I went to jail for a long time. God made me to follow the herds, live off the land, and to be close to his creation. I almost went crazy locked up in that jail. I said to myself, “When I am released from prison I will never sleep another night inside.”
Embracing my friends voice was life changing for me because at that moment the Spirit opened my eyes to the difference between a person who is homeless and one who is an outdoor resident.
Maybe if we had been able to listen to his pain sooner we could have helped prevent him from acting out his pain by hurting others so deeply. Without a doubt I feel extremely honored that he trusted me with hearing his voice.
Embracing each unique voice with suspended judgement is a delicate matter from time to time. Like the time I wore a hoodie on Sunday morning so that our black teenagers knew that they could safely voice their fears. At that moment my opinions of the Trayvon Martin case weren’t important. What mattered was for my church neighbors to feel safe enough to voice their fear. (Our teenagers born in Africa or born in African families prefer to be identified as African Americans. My black friends born in the USA or to families born in the USA prefer to be called black Americans.)
Equally important to suspending judgement and embracing the dignity of one’s pain is the grace to embrace the delight of one’s hope. Listen carefully and you will find traces in every voice of both hurt and hope.
Fanning the embers of hope into full flame is one of the indescribable joys of the listening neighbor. Nothing can compare to the emergence of hope from within the human soul.
“I have tested you to see if you are trustworthy with my pain and I now have confidence that you will be tender with my deepest hope.”
Suspended judgement listening not only embraces the other’s sense of safety to voice their fears but also welcomes them to a safety in which to voice their faith.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and voice gave shape and sound to the deep hurts of racism. Racisms hurt found it’s full voice.
Even greater, Dr. King’s life and voice gave shape and sound to mankind’s deepest hope. Reconciliation found it’s full voice.
When hurt and hope are voiced within the safety of a Jesus type neighbor the synergy is gigantic. The Psalmist said it this way, “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.”
Can’t really say that I am a scholar on the last days, end times, prophecy, Revelation, or eschatological events.
However, I am the world’s leading expert on that sense I sometimes get in the pit of my stomach. Since much of creation is circular, East and West must meet somewhere. What may be viewed as opposites can actually be in perfect agreement. This is the reality rolling around in my soul.
Malachi said that a very strange “day” would come upon the earth and all living people. This “day,” is unlike any other because it is best identified by opposites. It is the “Great day of the Lord” and at the same time it is the “Dreadful day of the Lord.”
At the core of my being I am aware that a very dreadful “day” has come. Although I want to say that the worst is behind us, I know it isn’t. Darkness will increase. Death will increase. It will look like all is lost.
Surely, the Christians in the Middle East can shout “This is a dreadful day!”
With the past, present and future moving into the consummation of God’s revelation, today must also be identified as a great day.
One would think that the more “dreadful” increases the less “great” there can be. Sort of like the more rocks there are in the glass, the less water the glass can hold. This is not an accurate take on the great and dreadful day of the Lord. In fact, the more “dreadful” increases, the more “great” increases too. Both are growing at an exponential rate.
Is it going to get more dreadful or great? YES. Both will increase with mind-boggling speed.
Reading the news reconfirms this feeling in my soul. On every hand there are extremely dreadful things happening virtually every day. It is wise to feel the dread.
Yet everywhere I look I see the great hand of God at work in ways that inspire awe. Today is truly, in every way, the great day of the Lord. It is wise to feel the greatness.
Jesus said, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Our response on this great and dreadful day of the Lord is to straighten up and raise our heads because God’s redemption for us is drawing very near.
I have this feeling in my gut that our redemption is nearer now than it has ever been.
“You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” Psalm 56:8
I don’t know why but in seasons of prayer and fasting tears often flow from my eyes. My vocal chords are still. No volume. Silent.
But I feel that I am in exceptionally meaningful conversation with God. I sense His holy presence near. The part of my brain that talks is still and the part that communes is fully alive and active.
Jeremiah seemed to know something about tears as communication. His people were far from the God whom they claimed as theirs. They were adulters, treacherous, and wicked with their words. The prophet’s heart was moved beyond adequate words so he said,
Oh that my head were waters,
and my eyes a fountain of tears,
that I might weep day and night
for the slain of the daughter of my people!
His desire to weep day and night could not be only a statement of grief. His tears would flow as condemnation of sin, conviction to his people, and prayer before the Lord. Jeremiah understood that tears talk.
Today my tears are a statement that my soul finds rest in God alone. In His presence I am both satisfied and longing for more.
With David the Psalmist my tears say,
For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
Much about God I don’t understand but His Bible makes this very clear. He has a bottle and a book and in them He proves that language of tears is important to Him. Maybe in His bottle He collects the tears and in His book He records the meaning of each drop.
The voice is the most powerful resource a human being has been given by God. Part of my calling is to help you find your voice, craft your message, and speak it clearly to the world. Your voice matters!
Yes, I have taken some heat because of my support of my Christian black brothers and sisters who last Sunday, in prayer, asked God to help Americans see that black lives matter. I again want to commend the Church of God in Christ for using their voices to bring a deep wound to the forefront of the national Assemblies of God consciousness.
Today, if I understand the story correctly, a man greatly sinned against God, the people of our nation, the entire family of police officers in our country, the by-standers, his girlfriend, two police officers, and all of their friends and families.
Murder is among the worst of all sins. Murdering a person properly placed by God’s shared authority for the protection of the population is among the worst of the worst sins. In no uncertain terms the intentional, pre-meditated, surprise attack against peace officers, today and always, is not acceptable for any reason, ever.
To say “all lives matter” isn’t adequate. Officer Rafael Ramos and Officer Wenjian Liu’s lives matter. These officers have been robbed of their breath, joys, future and their lives. No more Christmases, birthday parties, weddings, or sunsets on the beach for them. They have experienced Cain’s sin against Abel.
Allegedly the accused, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, then committed the cowardly sin of suicide. If this is accurate, Ismaaiyl Brinsley completed sin in 360 degrees- he was wicked, in ways that defy reason, to the entire world and in every dimension.
It is clear. The human heart is capable of EXTREME evil. Morality, decency, respect, and honor can quickly be replaced by hatred, vile violence, immorality, indecency, disrespect, and dishonor. In a flash, a human being can become, as it were, a demon of hell.
Brothers and Sisters, this is why it is VITAL that we learn to find our voice and allow the other to find their’s too. As followers of Jesus we fight injustice with our words not weapons, language not Lugers, sentences not swords, grammar not guns, prayer not pistols, and verbally not with violence.
In my world of wishes, Ismaaiyl Brinsley would have been walking down a Brooklyn street last Sunday and heard some amazing music wafting out of a local Christian church, maybe one like the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Interested in the terrific sound and feel of the music, he decides to walk in and check out what’s going on.
He can hardly fathom what he sees. People of all ethnicities are harmoniously and energetically worshiping with song and dance. The love flowing in the racially diverse crowd is so different from the feelings he has inside; feelings of oppression, white aggression, hate, anger, and murder.
The next thing he sees rocks his emotional world. The pastor walks to the center of the stage and says, “Folks, today we will be in prayer for our nation. Today we are honoring Black Lives Matter Sunday. If you are here today and your heart is hurting, you can’t make sense of Grand Jury decisions, it seems to you that the world is intentionally stacked against those among us who are black, and your heart is full of rage, please know that you and your pain matters to us and to Jesus. The best way to deal with life’s injustices is to use your voice to cry out. The Bible is full of people crying out against injustice. Please come and talk with us. We won’t argue against you and your position, we won’t demean you, in fact we will honor you and your voice.”
Several years ago a hymn from my childhood began to take on a new sense of meaning for me.
Give the winds a mighty voice: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Let the nations now rejoice: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Shout salvation full and free; highest hills and deepest caves;
This our song of victory: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Rising up from within my soul was a new awareness – Since the winds have a mighty voice, shouldn’t every human being have opportunity to find and express their voice too! From that time until now, I have been searching for ways to help people find, value and release their voice.
Voice is at the core of what it means to be created in God’s image. Fourteen times in the Genesis 1 creation account it is recorded that “God said.” Although I have never seen it mentioned in any theology texts, one of the most important communicable attributes of God is the ability to communicate.
Additionally, the Apostle John tells us “In the beginning was the Word.” Our Lord is Communication Incarnate. Creation was spoken into existence by the Word. In a very real sense everything and everyone is language. It is then possible that creation is conversation.
The world, for thousands of years, has been filled with a heinous double jeopardy. First, for whatever crazy and ungodly reasons, you are thought to deserve your pain and second, you are unworthy to express your pain. “Suffer in silence,” we say.
The people in my home village experienced the double jeopardy. Their pain was real, expansive, and enduring. The forced silence may have been even worse.
This is, in my perspective, anti-Jesus, for He is the Living Word.
Decency demands that we give each other the dignity of our pain. The condemnation of the other person’s pain is de-humanizing and in effect destroys their personhood. If this de-humanization is followed up with a forced silence, we have created an Auschwitz of the soul.
To everyone who hurts today, I offer you the dignity of your pain. You don’t need to explain, validate, or have my approval. You are hurting and your pain matters. Your perspective, experience, and assumptions are important.
When I tell people that I battle with PTSD the immediate question is, “Why?” I think they really mean it well. What I hear, however, is an underlying condemnation sort of like, “You have never served in Vietnam or Iraq, so why should you struggle with post trauma issues?”
My opinion of your pain isn’t helpful. It is your pain and only you experience it.
I’ll keep working to become more like the Living Word to have the grace of helping those I know and love to feel their pain and to give them the freedom of their voice.
To navigate the deep waters of life and Christian faith, “Whatever It Takes” is a truth that we need worked into the foundation of our beings.
I had been in prayer for several months, “Lord, you know MCA Church is ALL IN! We are fully into your call on our lives, the spreading of the Gospel to the nations, living holy before you, and walking Biblical lives in the Spirit. What is our next step? It seems that there is far more in you, but what does one add to being ALL IN?
It seems that God began to unveil to me a clearer revelation of the ALL IN truth. I began to realize the one can be ALL IN without going ALL OUT.
I can be ALL IN for the salvation of my neighbors without doing Whatever It Takes to point them to Christ.
I can be ALL IN for personal Christian maturity without doing Whatever It Takes to grow to my full potential in Christ.
I can be ALL IN for meeting the needs of the homeless and hungry without doing Whatever It Takes to meet their needs.
I can be ALL IN on weekend worship without doing Whatever It Takes to truly worship each weekend.
I can be ALL IN as a husband and father without doing Whatever It Takes to be a Christ-like husband and father.
I can be ALL IN on reaching my full potential in Christ without doing Whatever It Takes to do so.
I was immediately moved at the core of my being. “Lord, we will become a church that is both ALL IN and going ALL OUT. We will do WHATEVER IT TAKES!”
Are you ALL IN on the salvation of your family members? Are you doing Whatever It Takes?
Are you ALL IN on your personal health? Are you doing Whatever It Takes?
Are you ALL IN on breaking that addiction? Are you doing Whatever It Takes?
Are you ALL IN on hearing God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant? Are you doing Whatever It Takes?
The challenge is that ALL IN is cheap but Whatever It Takes costs everything. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his classic work “The Cost of Discipleship” said it this way,
“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession….Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
Throughout my life, music and lyrics have powerfully been the voice of God to me. Five or six songs literally called me to become the Christian man I intend to be.
It was during my high school years that I was struggling with the “Who am I” questions of life. As a disciple of Jesus, just how far would I go? Am I willing to take up my cross daily, for the rest of my life, and follow Christ? Am I willing to pay the price?
At this point in my life, I heard the following song. Don’t miss the call of the song simply because it is a 1970’s look and sound.
MCA Church, God is calling us to be ALL IN and to do Whatever It Takes.
The upside of not feeling well is the opportunity to study the Bible, worship, and pray. In some ways, my body simply began to tell me, “If you keep pushing this hard, I will start shutting down on you.” Since I need my body to cooperate for the fulfillment of my destiny, I requested a leave of absence. Graciously, our Board of Directors approved.
I have pledged to make my leave of absence a personal retreat with the Lord. When I awaken, I drink a healthy fruit smoothie created by Paula or Queilla, and then I settle into my “prayer chair” for a lengthy time of scripture meditation, prayer, worship, study, and listening to sermons.
In the Bible I am reading and meditating upon the Psalms one sentence at a time. The depth, breadth, and height of God’s word is profound. In studying, I am reading R.T. Kendall’s “The Sermon on the Mount: A verse by-verse look at the greatest teachings of Jesus.” This 414 page treatise (in the smallest font I have read in years) is exceedingly rich.
My worship time is a mixture of both old and new. I am finding Christy Nockels fresh take on classic Christian themes to be invigorating and inspirational. I also am re-visiting some of the songs that were foundational to my Christian formation. Songs run deep in my soul.
I have viewed and worshiped with this song often during my prayer times. To quote our much loved, Dr. Linfield Crowder, each time “I had a spell.” It is true, “Surely the Presence of the Lord is in this Place.”
Every downside has a bigger and more glorious upside.
Christian author Frederich Buechner is well known for saying, “Listen to your life.” For almost all of my fifty-two years I have been too noisy and active to listen to what my life is telling me. Like a man with ear plugs, I have blown right past the shouting of my body, soul, and life.
“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”
By not listening to my life I have arrived at a port of call named “exhaustion.” Full of faith? Yes. Confident in God? Yes. Excited about the future? Yes. Leading a well rested and balanced life? No.
How do I stop the hurry scurry of ministry and the backlog of emotions and the tiredness and exhaustion? A leave of absence is the best plan for me at this time. I have a “Personal Board of Directors” comprised of (all friends of mine) two doctors, two pastors, and my Bishop. It was a unanimous vote for me to take an extended season of rest and the MCA Board of Directors unanimously supported the plan too.
For several months, rather than primarily helping others, I will be learning to listen to the voice of my life.
Pastor Wayne Cordeiro of New Life Church in Oahu, Hawaii, made a presentation about his journey of learning to listen to his life. Pastor Wayne tells his story with clarity and conviction. Enjoy!
PS: As I listen to my life, we will continue our conversation through this blog. You are loved!