The Great Escape

Praying til Penetecost Day 49

"Be saved from this perverse generation." Acts 2:14

In the "Fifties" our family would often take pre-interstate trip across the United States. From Dallas, Texas we travelled west to California, and east to New York City. On one occasion in the we even led a caravan of cars from Dallas to Ridgecrest, N.C. for some kind of youth camp. That was a lot of traffic lights, speed traps and "Burma Shave" signs. In spite of all the delays behind slow moving tractors in small towns and unsynchronized lights in big cities, we made it back with all cars in tact and every teenager accounted for. One of my memories of these trips across the country is the numerous signs declaring, "Jesus Saves!" One weary traveler must have had too much time on his hands. He had taken a brush to one of these signs of salvation, and added in bright green paint the words, "GREEN STAMPS!" I have to admit that I was amused by the irreverent humor. I don't remember my Dad laughing at it, but I still smile when I think about it 50 years later.

For the uninformed and much too young, "Green Stamps" were a marketing tool that was used to attract customers to the gasoline station. The merchant provided stamps to the buyer in exchange for the gasoline they purchased. The stamps could be placed in books, and then taken to a "Redemption Center" and exchanged for merchandise. The gas station attendant even pumped the gas for you. It was a great system. You would keep you eyes peeled for the "Green Stamps" sign outside of a station, and then pull up to the pump, and say to the attendant, "Fill it up with Ethyl." Before you paid for the gasoline, he would ask if you collected "Green Stamps." If you were interested in them, then he would tear a portion of them out of a large book, and hand them over to you. As a kid, I had more than one episode of "glue sickness" after spending the next several miles licking them and placing them in the book. Good times!

After Peter's message at Pentecost, the people in the crowd said, "What shall we do?" They were told...

  • "Repent...
  • Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins...
  • Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38)

The account in Acts tells us that Peter kept on encouraging people to...

  • "Be saved from this perverse generation." (Acts 2:40)

The word "saved" can also be translated "escape, deliver, protect, do well, heal, preserve, make whole." It carries with it the concept of saving oneself by getting away from danger. The King James Version uses the word "untoward" to translate the word that the New American Standard Version calls "perverse." Both of these translations can be clarified when we understand that the word used here is the primary source for the word we know in English as "scoliosis." It is transliterated from Greek to English with virtually no change. This word is used by the medical community to describe a spine that is winding, and crooked. Without correction scoliosis will bend a person into a pretzel, and force them into a grotesque shape that is a far cry from the original function of the spine.

The first step to salvation is to admit that you are crooked and in need of correction. The word "crook" is used today to describe a person who willfully strays from the law, and flirts with the dangerous consequences of his behavior on a daily basis. An unrepentant sinner is bent on having their own way in life, and refuses to choose Jesus Christ as the only way to escape the judgement of that awaits an uncorrected life. Unsaved people need to escape from the winding, crooked, perverse, untoward, and wayward world around them. The longer they walk in the way of the world, they become more bent over by the consequences of sin.

The hope of the world is wrapped up in this initial call of the church, "Be saved!" There is a way of escape from a life of sin. There is a way to correct the crookedness that the consequences of sin brings on any life. The person who has had their heart pierced by the truth of God's word can find healing, and be made whole by the Presence of Jesus Christ taking possession of their life through the Person of the Holy Spirit. There must be a time when and a place where the decision is made to get back on course for what God had in mind from the beginning. There must be a willful choice to receive forgiveness from Jesus, and fullness from the Holy Spirit. There must be a turning away and a separation from the danger that comes from walking with people who do not see how crooked they are.


Praying til Pentecost Day 48

"And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit..." Acts 2:4

These simple words have caused a great deal of discussion. They mean what they say, but what do they mean? There are some who believe the Holy Spirit is a liquid additive who can be used up or evaporate over time. They teach that a person must be constantly taking in more and more of the Spirit or they will be empty of His Presence. Others teach that a believer does not need more of the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit needs more of the believer. They offer the concept that the Holy Spirit enters in all His fullness into the heart of the believer at the new birth. They say that the responsibility of the believer is to offer the Holy Spirit constant and consistent access to every room of His heart if they want to know His fullness. Some hold a theological position that teaches there is no evidence of the Holy Spirit's Presence unless a believer can give evidence of their ability to speak in other tongues. Some say that this manifestation of tongues ceased in the first century, and to add anything to the saving work of Christ as a sign of His finished work on the cross is tantamount to heresy.

Words do mean something. Too often their definitions are ignored or they trigger a misunderstanding that leads to conflict with people we love. As a boy, I laughed at a cartoon I once saw in a Reader's Digest magazine. It pictured two men at a bar. One of the men was a big Texan in a cowboy hat who was pounding the daylights out of the other man dressed in a business suit. The man being attacked by the Texan had made an insulting remark. The caption read, "I said, 'I hate TAXES! I hate TAXES!' " There was an obvious misunderstanding between the two men. The man being pounded at the bar had said something that he sincerely meant, but it was not said with a hint of insult. To the man who overheard his remark, it was insulting all the same. See what I mean my misunderstanding. You have to wear a hard had when talking about the Holy Spirit. It is dangerous work.

Sometimes there are misunderstandings that happen even when good people try to offer up their description of what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Much of the fog can be cleared away by a simple look at the Scripture record. When we bring cultural or theological prejudices to the text, the confusion and conflict begins afresh and anew.

The evidence of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit is very clear. "But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them." (Acts 2:14) After Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit, he began to speak boldly about the Person of Jesus Christ. The same man who had denied Jesus was transformed into a bold spokesperson for Him. The man who had led the disciples in the upper room in a ten day prayer meeting was empowered to speak to people about the crucified Christ. He was a changed man. A bragging coward had been turned into a courageous preacher. You can't make this stuff up!

The word used to describe the work of the Holy Spirit, "filled," is translated from the Greek word for "fill" which means literally or figuratively to imbue, to influence, to furnish or to supply. In the simplest language, the Holy Spirit exercised His influence over the praying disciples, and they in turn began to speak with "other tongues" so the people gathered in Jerusalem were able to hear the Gospel in their own language. This emphasis upon known languages being spoken by people who obviously did not know them made a profound impression on those who heard them do it.

The chain reaction of the Holy Spirit's work had begun. The text goes on the describe the response of those who heard the message of Peter and the other apostles.

  • "Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?"

The Holy Spirit convicts people of their separation from God, but more importantly He leads them to do something about it.

  • Peter said to them, "Repent and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

Repent means an about face, a turning around to the face of God, must take place in the life of the believer. Immediate obedience to the command of Christ to be baptized reveals evidence of this new sense of direction. The gift of the Holy Spirit cannot be received by people who are still moving in the wrong direction. It is not a change of vocabulary, but a change of direction that is evidence of the Spirit's fullness.

  • "For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself."

    The call of God is not limited by national boundaries or racial prejudices. God calls those who are far off to draw near to Him. Their response to His Word is evidence of the Spirit's work in their lives.
  • "And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them saying, 'Be saved from this perverse generation.' "

    The voice of God remains the same regardless of the changing centuries or cultural complexities. He provides a way of escape from a sinking ship through the Person of the Holy Spirit.

    What happened next in the lives of the early believers is a time capsule that must be explored to appreciate the unchanging work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people today.
  • "So those who had received his word were baptized...
  • They were continually devoting themselves
  • to the apostles' teaching
  • to fellowship,
  • to the breaking of bread
  • to prayer
  • Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe, and many signs and wonders were taking place through the apostles
  • had all things in common
  • sharing with all, as anyone might have need
  • day by day continuing with one mind in the temple
  • breaking bread from house to house
  • they were taking their meals together
  • with sincerity and gladness of heart
  • praising God and having favor with all the people.
  • And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved." Acts 2:41-47

Later, the Christ chosen apostle Paul expressed the influence of the Holy Spirit in this way...

  • "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit..."
  • Speaking to one another...
  • In psalms and hymns and spiritual songs...
  • Singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord...
  • Always giving thanks For all things...
  • In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ...
  • To God, even the Father...
  • And be subject to one another in the fear of Christ." Ephesians 5:18-21

For a person to be filled with the Holy Spirit means that a believer is under the influence of a new authority in their life. Fullness is evidence of the Holy Spirit making a profound transformation in a person's sense of direction, their list of priorities, and the content of their character.


Praying til Pentecost Day 47

"When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place, and suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit was giving them utterance. " Acts 2:1-2

Perspective is everything. It is possible to be so close to the truth that it is impossible to see it. There is a great deal of wisdom in the old saying, "Sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees." Taking a step back can sometimes help a person take a step forward in gaining a fresh perspective on a truth that has been in front of them for a very long time.

Every thought and every insight I have about God has been given to me by the Person of the Holy Spirit. I have never seen the physical Person of Christ. I have been dealing with the Spirit of the Risen Christ from the first moment I met Jesus. The Holy Spirit created a hunger in my heart for a love relationship with Jesus. All I know about the Son of God has been provided to me by Spirit-inspired Scriptures, and explained to me by the Holy Spirit. In spite of this 54 year relationship, I always enjoy going back to the Day of Pentecost for a review of that moment in time when the consistent, constant, comforting companionship of the Holy Spirit was offered to believers.

The Day of Pentecost was not the birthday of the Holy Spirit, but it was the birthday of the church. The local church remains the hope of the world as long as the people who gather within its walls are filled with the Holy Spirit to the degree that the message of the Risen Christ overflows their lives and splashes onto the lives of those outside the walls of the church.

"The day of Pentecost..." - This was a very popular Jewish feast. The Jewish calendar scheduled it to take place 50 days after Passover. Devout Jews from all over the world would return to the city of Jerusalem for the celebration. After the Holy Spirit had done His work, thousands of transformed people would go back to their homes with a Spirit filled message about the resurrection and repentance. Leave it to God to be right on time with the right message.

"They were all together in one place..." - The 120 disciples gathered in the upper room had been praying and waiting for 50 days. For 40 days the Risen Lord appeared to over 500 disciples and taught them about the Kingdom of Heaven. As always, a remnant gathered to pray about what they had heard. They had done all they could do, and now they were waiting for something that only God could do.

"Suddenly..." - This is one of my favorite words in the Bible. It is only mentioned three times in the New Testament. It is used here to describe the arrival of the Holy Spirit in the upper room. Secondly, it describes the appearance of the Risen Lord to Saul on the Road to Damascus. Finally, it describes the sudden death expected to happen to Paul when he was bitten by a viper on Malta. This was meant to provide a picture of fast and immediate action that caught people completely unaware. The Holy Spirit manifested His Presence and power unexpectedly and without warning. This was a total and complete surprise. His movement was marked by unprecedented speed and unnerving sound.

"There came from heaven..." The Holy Spirit's Presence and power was not a result of the work of man. He was sent down from Heaven by God. Any time prayers are lifted up to God for a movement of the Holy Spirit, they should not be thought to contain the power of persuasion to trigger an explosion of the Spirit. Praying people benefit from the grace of God. God's delayed response to the prayers of His people does not mean He has deserted their cause. His swift response does not mean that they have finally hit on the magic words that God has been waiting to hear. Prayer is simply how we set our sails to catch the wind of heaven. Without prayer we are dead in the water. Praying people are not proud of themselves when God begins to move. They know that a movement of God is more about Him than it is about them. When they rush to take credit for what God is doing, the next rushing sound they hear is the Spirit leaving the scene.

" a violent and rushing wind..." - Life in Tornado Alley of Oklahoma gives people a perspective on violent rushing wind like few other places on earth. It is not unusual to hear about people who prepare for the worst by putting on helmets and wrapping themselves in pillows in a safe room when they hear the sound of the sirens. The experience of the early disciples reminds us that the upper room is not the safe room. They were not prepared for the speed, the sound, or the scale of a movement of the Holy Spirit. No matter how long or how much they had been praying, they were still caught unaware by something only God could do. People are never able to prepare themselves totally for what God is capable of doing in their lives. The upper room is never a place to run from the storm. In truth, the upper room may be the eye of the storm. It is still the safest place to be in spite of the all the fire and the fury swirling around a movement of God.

"It filled the whole house where they were sitting..." - Whether the disciples were standing on the promises are just sitting on the premises, the Spirit of God descended on them. His movement was a total saturation of the praying community. The picture of people sitting portrays them as waiting people. The position of their bodies may be a key to understanding the condition of their hearts. They had been been told to go to Jerusalem and wait for the Promise of the Father. The longer they prayed about the commission they had been given, the weaker they must have felt to carry out the task. By coming to the end of themselves, they came to the beginning of God.

"And there appeared to them tongues of fire..." - The wind and the fire that represented the movement of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost are often used as images to promote a contemporary spiritual awakening. My father, Don Miller, has often warned me about expecting power and warmth from "painted fire." This is what he calls man-made efforts to generate a God-sent renewal of His church. The logos, and web sites of many churches are marked by computer generated graphics that stir the imagination, but they seldom produce the heat that can thaw out a heart that has grown cold in the winter season of unrepented sin.

"Distributing themselves and they rested on each one of them..." - The tongues of fire were moved by an unseen hand and landed on everyone in the room. There are no exemptions, deferments, or exceptions to a movement of the Spirit of God. Praying people should expect to be heard, and then expect to be touched by a movement of God. When God's Spirit moves into a community, there is no place to hide. A movement of God often results in some very unexpected leaders raised up to carry out assignments, and achieve victories that only God can get credit for.

"And they were filled with the Holy Spirit..." - This is the result of a movement of the Holy Spirit. He fills people with His Presence. He is not a liquid additive. He is not a mere fluid, and He is more than a majestic force. The Holy Spirit is God. He is Jesus. He is not a junior partner in the Trinity, or a replacement for the Risen Christ. He has not moved Jesus off the scene, but has come to lift up the name of Jesus. People who are filled with the Holy Spirit are under the control of the character of Christ. They speak more about Jesus than they do about themselves. They live more for Jesus than they do for themselves. They are filled with the Spirit, but they lift up the name of Jesus.

"And began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit was giving them utterance..." - The book of Acts tell us that these "other tongues" were not ecstatic utterances or guttural, child-like gibberish. These were intelligible languages that were understood by the people of existing nations who were in the city to celebrate the feast of Pentecost. God used this remarkable expression of His love to widen the circle of His love to include people who had never heard the truth of the Gospel. They would take this truth home with them, and it would become the seed from which future fruit would grow. God has always had a world on His heart, and people who are filled with His Spirit will have a concern for those who have never heard the Gospel.

The Twelfth Man

Praying til Pentecost Day 44

"And they prayed and said, "You, Lord, who know the hearts of all me, show which one of these two You have chosen to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place. And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles." Acts 1:24-26

One of the most inspiring contributions to Texas football is the story of the Texas A & M "Twelfth Man." It is a healthy combination of truth and legend. The result has been the development of a fan base that is second to none. I'm glad you can't hear me choking as I write this, but it is still the truth. My personal athletic career reads much like a Greek tragedy, and my six decade long love affair with Baylor football has not given me much to cheer about. However, I can still recognize what an asset the "Twelfth Man" is to the eleven men who are on the field playing the game. The Aggie yell leaders are experts at whipping the spectators into a full-throated throng of active participants. They can be heard. They cannot be ignored. They make a difference.

I wish the same could be said of poor Matthias. He was chosen to be the "Twelfth Man" to round out the team roster of the eleven disciples. He got the position, but he never seems to have received the power to be a game changer. He was good man, and highly respected by his peers, but He just didn't happen to be God's man for the hour. Perhaps that is because, Jesus had already selected Paul to be the man who would take the place of the betrayer, Judas Iscariot.

Notice that the prayer offered up to the Lord gave proper deference to the Lord's prerogative to choose His own men. They prayed the right way, but they refused to wait for the right answer. They used a tried and true method for the selection of leadership, but it did not have the anointing of God on it. It was an early attempt of the church to put new wine in old wine skins. God was up to something new. The earnest but sincerely wrong disciples were using an old method to get a fresh movement. Doing the same thing and expecting different results is a form of insanity that has plagued the church for centuries.

Not to be too harsh on the disciples, their hearts were in the right place. They wanted to reach the world for Christ in obedience to the Great Commission they had received. They did the math and figured out that all they needed was one more man on the team to win the world. What they needed was the power and the Presence of the Holy Spirit. That is what they were put in the upper room to pray for and to wait for. In their impatience to get on with the work at hand, they turned a prayer room into a board room and a prayer meeting into a business meeting. Perhaps this is where we get the Landmark belief that the Baptist church can be traced all the way back to the first century. Talkin' and not prayin'! Just sayin' !

Some may disagree with my assessment, but Paul certainly believed he was the "Twelfth Man." He said, "And last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God, but by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me did not prove vain, but I labored even more than all of them, yet, not I , but the grace of God with me." (I Cor. 15:7-10)

When I was a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1974-1978, they were proudly pronouncing their newly achieved status as the world's largest seminary. One of the speakers at chapel brought a new perspective to this unique honor. He said to us, "Preachers are a lot like manure. When you spread 'em around they do some good. But when you get 'em all crammed into one place for too long, it can be a real mess." The students in the audience responded with good natured laughter, while the administration squirmed uncomfortably in their platform seats.

When I shared this story with my pastor, Dr. W. Fred Swank, he laughed and responded wryly, "God has to call three thousand of them to get one good one." He went on to say, "In the last 42 years I have called a bunch of them, and God has called a bunch. His bunch has always seemed to do better than mine." It was one of the most insightful pieces of information I have ever received on the call of God. When God's grace is placed on a person for ministry, there is a huge difference in the quality of the ministry that is accomplished. When His grace is withheld, His results are impossible to produce. Man made substitutes for God's grace may make a name for a minister or a ministry, but they do not make a world of difference.

The daily temptation of the earnest Christ follower is to get on with the task without getting with God. Praying and waiting til Pentecost is a model for contemporary disciples to follow. God calls us to Himself first, and then He empowers us for ministry. Get with God before you try to get on with His work.


Praying til Pentecost Day 40

"These with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers." Acts 1:14

Made for TV movies usually include a classic scene in any hospital trauma drama. The camera pans the worried faces of people gathered in a hushed waiting room. The door of the operating area abruptly opens, startling the despondent and anxious people out of their seats. Out walks an exhausted physician dressed in hospital garb, fresh from his battle with the forces of death. He removes his mask, looks down at the ground and then into the eyes of the family and friends of the patient. Then he speaks the dreaded words, "Now, all we can do is pray!" The reaction is priceless. It ranges from shrieks of horror to sighs of hopelessness. The scene closes with despair and despondency plastered on the faces of the actors. The camera fades away along with the hope of those who had expected more from the masked, miracle man. AAAANNNND SCENE. That's a wrap.

There is one thing that is common to almost every Hollywood version of this scene. NO ONE EVER PRAYS! The doctor gives the prescription, but no one ever fills it. People are caught in the paralysis of analysis. They come to the reality that, "It has come to THIS?!" Prayer is not picked up as a weapon of warfare to prepare for victory, but the prelude to an impending disaster. The message is simple and clear. When people finally have to turn things over to God, and depend on Him to do something about it, then things must be really be out of control.

The Risen Christ walked for 40 days among His followers. His final words pointed His disciples to pray and wait for what only God could do. They would wait for ten days before they received The Promise of The Father. In the grand scheme of things, this was a short stint in God's waiting room. Even then, they had a difficult time staying on mission. Any kind of delay usually causes people to doubt God is going to really come through.

One of the more repeated maxims of Christianity is, "God is never late. He is always on time." I would suggest that there should be an addendum to this. "He is seldom early." Waiting on God is an exercise in believing in the dark what you knew to be true in the light. Doubting in the dark usually leads to some form of despondency. The picture of the disciples gathered in the upper room is a tremendous encouragement to me. They obeyed the last thing Jesus told them to do, and God honored their dependency on Him. They were in the right place at the right time doing the right thing.

Prayer has a way of turning despondency into desperation. That is a good thing. Desperation is not the same thing as despondency. Gasping for air, and sighing in despair are too different things. One leads to the victory of new life, the other wanders into the tall grass that hides the trap of victimization. When the disciples gathered in the upper room to face life without the Presence of the Risen Christ, they received the Presence of His Spirit. The same thing happens in the lives of believers today. Jesus promised that He would not leave His followers without a Comforter. The Comforter who comes to Christ followers is not a "baby blankie" for hopelessly despondent people. The Comforter brings an invasion of the character of Christ into the lives of people desperate for a courageous change that only the Holy Spirit can provide.

The key to victory is found in the desperate realization of our true condition. The safest place in the world is when we come to the place in life marked by the sign, "All we can do now is pray!"


Praying til Pentecost Day 39

"What is that to you? You follow Me!" John 21:22

Every generation tries to give new meaning to ancient words. When generations clash, the sparks usually fly around any change to venerable vocabulary. The surest sign of age taking hold in a persons life is their anger level at the introduction of new words to describe old beliefs. On the other hand, the clearest picture of an aging "hipster dufus" is the constant effort on his part to remain hip by patronizing the younger generation with his adept use of their language.

I remember trying to convince an aging pastor that he could no longer tell the young ladies of the church that he couldn't wait to "make love" to them. He was shocked, embarrassed, and not a little angry when I informed him what the words had come to mean. He had been a pastor of the same church for 42 years, and his intentions had remained honorable to the end. It was the meaning of the words that had changed, not the content of his character. It was a difficult encounter for both of us, and I still get a tightness in my chest thinking about this lesson in changing vocabulary.

In the past three years, I have become a fan of the Turner Classic Movies Channel. I have to admit that I need a glossary of terms to understand some of the lingo. When the old gangster movies roll out the thirties and forties jive talk, I find it quaint and a bit disturbing. Every generation thinks they were the first to discover a unique language. Listening to Cagney, Bogart, Robinson, and the rest of the gang using such rough and unknown tongues makes me laugh. "You dirty copper!" has really lost its sting over the years.

There are buzz words that come and go in every generation. Some have the shelf life of a bag of "Twinkies." Others have the life expectancy of a fruit fly. While they remain, they are marks of "with it" people. In junior high I remember there was a word, "JUSTICE." I don't know when it invaded the halls of Gaston Junior High in Dallas, Texas. I was not privy to the original unveiling or the press release of its definition. I just recall that it could be used as a response to almost anything. Shortly afterwards, it was replaced in Bryan Adams High School with, "RIGHTEOUS!" When someone gave you good news or you saw something you liked, the proper response was, "RIGHTEOUS!" Another phrase that marked the late sixties was, "RIGHT ON!" It was meant to voice agreement, and encouragement. Who can forget, "AWESOME, DUDE, TOTALLY, WHATEVER, CHICK, PSYCH, WOMEN'S LIB, THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT, IT NOT MY BAG, and many others expressions that have marked the hipster from the dipstick.

The church is not immune from the invasion of a new vocabulary. Today it is not enough to call oneself a Christian. That ancient word is no longer clear enough to point people to what you are saying about yourself. Now a person must be called a "Christ follower." Don't get me wrong. Actually, I like this expression. In 1960 I was a Southern Baptist kid growing up on Long Island, New York. To be a Christian in that culture simply meant that you were NOT Jewish. It is probably not a bad thing for the church to take a periodic review of its vocabulary and see if what they are saying is understood by the people around them.

The changing of words does not necessarily mean a changed life or a change in conditions. The doomed people on the "Titanic" could have spray painted "Unsinkable" over the name plate of the ship, but it was still going down. When denominations and churches change their names, they would be wise to make sure a substantive change is taking place along with the stationery.

The Risen Christ did not change his vocabulary for His followers. He pointed them to their roots. The first words Jesus spoke to the men he called to be His disciples, "Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men." (Matthew 4:19) His last words spoken to the same men on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. "Follow Me!" had to be a flash back to their first response to the same words they heard from Him three years earlier..

The words "follow me" mean today what they meant then. Jesus still says to His followers, "Accompany Me, join Me, walk with Me, come here after Me." Fellowship with Jesus is still all about "followship." It is not enough to take on the title of "Christ follower." From generation to to generation there must be evidence of the time spent actually following Christ.

How much time are we talking about here? The answer is based on how much of a difference do His followers want Jesus to make in their lives. Peter wanted to make sure that he would not be called to do more than the guy next to him. The Risen Lord rebuked Peter when he asked, "What about John?" Jesus called Peter to follow Him regardless of what was asked of John or anyone else. Christ followers are always focused on the sense of direction that only Jesus can provide. They are not influenced by the Christian celebrity of the moment or the book of the month. They take their marching orders from "The Way, The Truth and The Life." They focus their eyes on Jesus and move toward the sound of His voice. This journey begins with a first step, but it is not so much about a destination as it is about a destiny.

Practicing His Presence is still the best way to follow Jesus. His Spirit provides His Presence. "Praying til Pentecost" is not a mere fifty day journey. It is a call to a life time of followship. Praying prepares our hearts for a life time of waiting on God, and following His Son.

The Last Word

Praying til Pentecost Day 38

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." Acts 1:8

A member of my church in Georgia asked me one Sunday, "What are the last words you will ever hear a red neck speak." I was smarter than a fifth grader on that day, so I pleaded the fifth. With a dead pan face and perfect comedic timing he said, "Watch this!" I looked around and everyone else thought this was funny so it was safe to laugh. Gotta be careful these days in such a politically correct world. You never know when a joke session will turn into a lynch mob. I excused myself, and wrote these priceless words in the flyleaf of my bible. They are not inspired, but they do have ring of truth to them. That is what makes them so funny.

On a more serious note, our denomination is getting ready for another serious reorganization. Pastors in pulpits and people in the pews have been praying for the past year for some very special leaders who have been charged with the task of formulating a strategy for world evangelism. These folks will present a report at our annual meeting that will hopefully provide a sense of direction under the banner, "Great Commission Resurgence." Jesus launched his own version of this in once sentence.

Leave it to Jesus to keep church simple. He knew who He would leave behind to follow the directions. Every time I read the last words of Jesus, I am impressed with the brevity and the breadth of the commission He gave a small group of disciples. Before He ascended into heaven, He focused on their

Personal Poverty - "but you will receive power.
America on its worst day is still a wealthy nation. The American church still has an abundance of resources. What the church lacks is not the power to communicate what they believe, but the power to transform lives. Transformed people change the culture around them. They do not adapt to it, or camouflage themselves to hide in it. There had to be a personal admission before there would be any resurgence to the commission they received. They were poor in spirit. They needed a Helper, and would have to pray for God to give them what they had to have to live. Jesus would send them what they needed for an abundant life that would overflow their capacity to keep what they knew about Him a secret. This kind of praying is not about greed. It is about need.

Personal Responsibility - "...when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.
The Holy Spirit's personal power was meant to be a personal touch that would be sent to individual people with willing hearts and open hands to receive. The Holy Spirit would not come upon an institution, denomination, idea, concept, or nation. He would fall upon and transform the lives of praying people. Transformed people change the world around them. They let their light shine in a dark world. They do not look for someone else to do it, and hire them to get it done for them.

Personal Mission - "and you shall be my witnesses."
In ancient times, paid witnesses were usually bribed witnesses. Nothing has changed in the past 2,000 years. The Greek word for witness is rooted in the same word that is transliterated "martyr." The early disciples had such a passion for their mission that death could not stop them from telling what they had seen, and heard about Jesus. The refocus of a denomination on the Great Commission does not have much hope unless the individual members of that corporate body recognize that the call to tell people about Jesus is not an option. Every believer is accountable to God to share the message of salvation. They are not responsible for the response to the witness. They are responsible to share it.

Personal Vision - "both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."

This mission to tell people about Jesus would take some time for the disciples to grasp. What they heard was different from what Jesus said. They heard Him say that they were to be witnesses "to the Jews in Jerusalem, the Jews in Samaria, and the Jews in the remotest part of the earth." Their distorted hearing gave them a blurred vision. Jesus had a bigger plan and a wider net than the establishment of another ancient cult group. To reach the world with His message of hope, He sent His Spirit to His followers. He took His place in Heaven to intercede for them at the right hand of the Father. His people must see that they are citizens of a kingdom that has no earthly borders.

The message of the Risen Christ is so simple a child can get hold of it and even sing about it. "This little light of mine. I'm going to let it shine." Sing it loud! Say it proud! "Let it shine til Jesus comes! Let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine!"


Praying til Pentecost Day 37

"To those He presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, 'Which' He said, 'you heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.' " Acts 1:3-5

One of the least popular rooms in the hospital is the waiting room. It is filled with nervous people and anxious thoughts. Those who enter into its four walls have been told to go there, and sit until someone comes to get them, to give them further news or to provide additional instructions. It always seems to be a place stocked with ancient magazines, bad coffee, and uncomfortable chairs. It is not a place that a person would choose to hang out unless they were forced by intimidating circumstances to do so. This room does not have the winsomeness of a Barnes and Noble easy chair, or a Starbuck's couch. It is not a place that people enjoy, and it always looks best in the rear view mirror.

Whenever I make a trip to the doctor or the dentist, I can always count on a lengthy period of time spent in a room the office manager has set aside for the purpose of waiting. I'm not exactly sure what the appointment time was all about. When I get that little card from the receptionist, I am always amused at the specific time that is written on it. When I call the physicians office or web site to double check on the time of my appointment, I am always urged to be there 15 minutes early. I am reminded that the doctor does not like to be kept waiting. Well, at least we both agree on something. I do not look on my little appointment card as a promissory note that can be cashed in the bank of punctuality. It is, at best, a shot in the dark at when the doctor will actually invite me to enter into his presence. I can always count on the waiting room.

Waiting is one of God's favorite courses in the School of Prayer. It is not an advanced class for the elite students. It is as basic as learning the ABC's before starting kindergarten. When you first learn to parrot the letters of the alphabet, you have no idea that slurring the syllables of ELLOMENNOPEE means you have just arrived at class and begun to learn how to spell the word pray.

When the Risen Lord ascended into Heaven, He commanded His disciples to return to Jerusalem and wait. Luke's account says, "When they entered into the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying...these all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer..." Acts 1:13-14

After the disciples experienced the departure of Jesus, they went back to the city, and began to pray for the promise of the Father. They were waiting and praying. They were in the right place, and they were doing the right thing. They had been obedient to what the Risen Lord had told them to do.

Power seeks a vacuum. That is an obscure way of saying that when something needs to be done, someone will always step up and do something whether it is the right thing or not. People are mobilized by the urgency behind the phrase, "Don't just stand there...Do something!" I love Ron Dunn's book, "Don't Just Stand There Pray Something." That is what they were told to do, and yet, it did not take Peter long before he kicked into large and in charge mode, and turned a prayer meeting into a business meeting.

Peter looked at the assignment that the eleven had been given. "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." (Acts 1:8) After mulling this over in prayer for a while, Peter thought he had a plan. He said, "Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection." (Acts 1:21-22) It was not an evil plan, but it was just not God's plan. Peter had done the math, and somehow figured out that if they added one more man to the mix, and rounded out their number so that they could be The Twelve again, then they could carry out the program of world evangelization that they had been given to do.

If Peter was the Rock, and James and John the Sons of Thunder, then Matthias should be nicknamed, "The Who?" Thomas was tagged as the doubting disciple. Matthias could be called the disappearing disciple. Peter had presumed that a little prayer had given him insight into God's game plan for reaching the world with the message of the resurrection. He hit on a plan, but he had not received The Promise. The power that the disciples needed would not be a result of adding one more man to their team roster. They didn't need something man made, but someone God given. They needed the Holy Spirit, and Matthias was a poor substitute for a winning witnessing strategy.

Waiting on God often creates more anxiety before it delivers on the promise of the Father. Waiting brings a person to the end of their resources, and clarifies their need for what only the Father can do. The word W.A.I.T. can be described as WITHOUT ANXIETY, I TRUST. Praying places your need in God's hands. Waiting keeps it there until God delivers on His promise. Taking the problem back into your own hands will rob you of R.E.S.T. For praying and waiting to produce the right fruit, you must RELEASE EVERY SINGLE THING into the hands of God, and keep your hands off of them. Resist the urge to fix something with a premature plan and give God the credit for it.


Praying til Pentecost Day 34

What does praying do for a person? Why make an emphasis on "Praying til Pentecost? Why make prayer a daily discipline, and a personal priority? The Risen Christ called His disciples together and told them to go to Jerusalem and wait and pray until the promise of the Father was delivered to them. The waiting and the praying must have seemed as tedious to them as it does to us.

Perhaps the toughest answer we ever hear from God is not, "No!" It may be that the hardest answer to handle from God is, "Wait!" Let me suggest that while you are waiting, and praying that you allow prayer to give you a new...

Perspective = without the persistent priority of prayer, it is impossible to obtain an maintain God's perspective on intimidating people and circumstances. Prayer provides H.O.P.E when we Have Our Perspective Elevated. Prayer takes us above the noise of battle and gives us the confidence of our victory we have through consistent companionship with the:

  • Presence of God
  • Person of Christ
  • Power of the Holy Spirit

Praying and waiting also provides the means by which God offers us the joy of our...

Relationship = without prayer it is possible to lose touch with our true identity in Christ. Believers are children of God.

My father has encouraged thousands of people to take hold of the hand of God while they walk down the paths of life. He has counselled that the joy is in the journey, not just in the destination. When we know who our Father is we are not concerned about what kind of a welcome we will receive when we come home to Him. Two quotes have guided me down this path.

"Believing prayer transfers the promises of God into the context of your problem." Don Miller

"Prayer is the intimate communication between the Heavenly Father and His child." Don Miller

Through prayer we experience:

  • Rebirth...It is the way we come on board.
  • Renewal...the way we keep on breathing.
  • Rest...the way carry on the conversation.

"Come unto Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28

The kind of rest that Jesus offers to us is found int the yoke relationship. He is the Captain of the yoke, and we are the Novice. He offers His companionship, His shoulders, and His strength. It is possible to be in the right position, but not experience the rest that Jesus offers. Straining for what we want will not provide rest. It is only when we lean into His will and His way that we find true rest.

R.E.S.T results by Releasing Every Single Thing into the hands of God by rolling it off our shoulders and over on the shoulders of Jesus through prayer.

Abiding = the abandonment of hope in anything or anyone else as the source of life other than Jesus. It is the unbroken fellowship with Him that allows His fruit to flow through you.

"If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you." John 15:7

  • God's Accessibility through Christ
  • Christ's Ability to believers
  • Believer's Availability to Christ

Yet = the turning point in your prayer life...taking you to a whole new level of maturity and mission.

Before a believer ever comes to the real power of God that is available to them in prayer, they have to come to the end of themselves. It is not a matter of bringing more of themselves to the table. It is a willingness to admit an emptiness that can only be filled by God. It is not a matter of knowing more about God, but it is a matter of talking to God rather than about Him. David had the "shadow of death" experience that moved God out of the third person and introduced God to David in a more personal, face to face conversation. David's experience is not unique. Every believer who takes hold of prayer to have a face to face conversation with God will find that the kind of intimacy.

"Yea thought I walk through the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for YOU are with me." Psalm 23:4

"Yet, not as I will, but as you will." Matthew 26:39"Revival is a new act of obedience." Charles Finney

Every believer is a potential prayer warrior, but potential just means you haven't done it yet. Prayer is the tool God has chosen to bring about change in your life, your church, your community, your county, your country and your world. Will you use it?


Praying til Pentecost Day 28

"For we did not follow cleverly designed tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty." 2 Peter 1:16
(Matthew 27:57-Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20-John 21:1-11)

I have to admit, I am not a huge fan of pageants and dramatic interpretations of Scriptural events. They seem to always go over the top or fall so short of the simplicity of the Gospel message. From a bale of hay and a bathrobe to full scale laser shows the Christian creative community takes tries to get ready for their closeup and deliver their lines. Unfortunately, too often the flight of a dove descending on the Beloved Son turns out looking like a Gospel Blimp. Something always seems to get lost in the translation...simple truth.

Jesus revealed Himself as the Risen Lord without fanfare, laser shows and brass bands. His quiet revelation seems to be a deliberate sabotage to the efforts of promoters and musicians intent on making the message of the resurrection a huge crescendo punctuated with a hands held high, "TA DAH!"

Quite to the contrary, Jesus simply spoke her name to Mary Magdalene. To the couple on the road to Emmaus, He just pulled along side of them and eavesdropped on their despair. To the unbelieving disciples huddled in a room, He appears and speaks with a calming voice, "Peace." One the Sea of Galilee, He plays the role of a spotter on the shore, and points the weary disciples to a school of fish.

His personal touch to Mary provides a glimpse of the intimacy that the Risen Christ offers to people post resurrection. He may not be physically present, but He actively and accurately intercedes for the needs of His followers. He knows them by name!

His willingness to draw near to a couple in crisis on the Road to Emmaus, paints a picture of a Savior who is aware, available, and active in taking the initiative to deliver a compassionate word of hope.

His provision of peace in the midst of a group of fearful followers was a foretaste of His power to deliver a blood transfusion for courageous living that would turn cowards into conquerors.

His direction to His disciples to cast their net on the right side of the boat reminds us that the catch always belongs to Him. Our effort without His guidance is an exercise in futility.

His provision of breakfast for His disciples reminds them and us that the Risen Christ will never be in their debt. He invites people to get in on what He is doing in the world. He doesn't need them to do for Him as much as they need to be with Him.

When Peter reflected on the Person of Christ and the power of the resurrection, he thought of His Majesty. For Peter, familiarity did not breed contempt.

Today, focus on the majesty of the Risen Christ, and thank God He is seated at His Father's right hand to intercede for you by name. He knows what you need, before you say it to Him, but say it anyway. You need to role the burden off your back, and place it in His hands. The power of the Risen Christ is found in His power to intercede for you and for me.