"Nothing here is new except in the sense that it is a discovery which my own heart has made of spiritual realities most delightful and wonderful to me. Others before me have gone much farther into these holy mysteries than I have done, but if my fire is not large it is yet real, and there may be those who can light their candle at its flame." (A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Do You Love Me?

I wasn’t sitting on the seashore warming my hands by a charcoal fire like Peter.  But I was confronted with the same issue, and just like Peter, three times.

Actually I was at the duck club.  A company with which I have a close relationship owns a duck club on property it leases in Northeast Arkansas.  When the old farmhouse that is there is not being used, I can go there to spend some time in prayer and solitude.  (I am re-discovering the “spiritual disciplines” which include fasting, prayer, solitude and silence.  I’ll write more about that later.)  The duck club is a perfect place to pray, and perhaps more importantly, to hear God’s quiet and gentle voice.  I go there alone; there’s no TV or radio – just the wind and several thousand birds enjoying the rice fields that surround the farmhouse.

You’ll remember that about a week after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His closest disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John 21).  This was the time when Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?”  It is interesting to note that just a few days earlier, while warming his hands at another charcoal fire, Peter had denied Jesus three times.

On one particular trip to the duck club, I was studying John 14, and the Holy Spirit (Jesus-in-Spirit living in me) was confronting me with the same issue.  Do you love me?  My immediate response was, “Yes!  Of course I love you!”  But then He challenged my answer...three times:

First, it was verse 15: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”  “Okay,” I said, “I understand that.  I will do that.”

Then it was verse 21: “He that hath my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me: and he that loves me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”  This changed the whole issue.  In verse 15, the condition was “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  Now the “If” was different:  If you keep my commandments, you are someone who loves me.”  At that moment I could think of some places where I wasn’t living in total obedience.

Finally (and the third time), the Holy Spirit drove it home in verse 23: “If a man love me, he will keep my words.”  There it was.  My love for Jesus is clearly and unmistakably defined and revealed by my obedience.

At that moment, God’s quiet and gentle voice was loud and clear. 

At first my mind was flooded by memories of the many, many times I had been disobedient.  But those memories were quickly laid aside as sins that God had forgiven and remembered no more.  So I wasn’t going to remember them anymore either.

But I was confronted with my repeated failures, the recurring disobedience.  I’m not fighting new battles, just the same old ones over and over.  Those instances brought my love for Jesus into clear question.

My mind went to the Apostle Paul’s classic description of the battles he fought and lost. “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15, ESV).  And I thought about the many times I had laughed when repeating what I had heard someone else say, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh has it surrounded.”

How could my love for Jesus be challenged when my spirit is willing, but my flesh is so weak?  But, without question, the Holy Spirit was challenging my love for Jesus.

This happened months ago, and it was been a matter of frequent prayer and study for me since.  Here’s what the Holy Spirit has been teaching me.

First, it was true that my spirit was willing and my flesh was weak.  And I was doing the things I hated.  That was the state of my condition, but it was not where God wanted me to stay.  And it wasn’t where I had to stay.  “The spirit is willing, but the flesh has it surrounded” was just a sorry excuse for my recurring disobedience.  (The best definition I’ve ever heard for an excuse is “the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie,” and that applied here.)

Second, God can grow me to where both my spirit and my body can be brought into submission to Him…not perfectly in this life, but a lot doggone closer to it than I was!  This growth is known as “spiritual transformation.”

Spiritual transformation into Christlikeness…is the process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it takes on the character of the inner being of Jesus himself.  The result is that the “outer” life of the individual increasingly becomes a natural expression of the inner reality of Jesus and of his teachings.  Doing what he said and did increasingly becomes a part of who we are (italics added).[1]

In other words, as Jesus is formed in me (which I so desperately desire) then how He would act in my circumstances and situations becomes the natural expression of how I will act in those circumstances and situations.

For instance, in His Sermon on the Mount in phrases such as “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also,” or “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you,” these are not as much commands that we must obey as much as they are descriptions of how we will act automatically when Jesus has been formed in us.

This is why I have become an apprentice of Jesus, which is another way to say I am a disciple of Jesus.  I am learning how to live my life as He would live it if He were I.  And that means I must be transformed – and I am being transformed.

This is exactly what Paul meant when he wrote, “I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me (Gal. 2:20).  As Dr. Willard precisely explained it,

We take action to accomplish the will of God in his power.  Our tiny “willpower” is not the source of our strength.  We hardly notice any exercise of it, though it is fully dedicated to carrying out God’s purposes in every respect.  But we are carried along by the power of the divine drama within which we live actively engaged.  So far from struggling to resist sin, we are devoted to realization of righteousness all around us.[2]

This is where those “spiritual disciplines” are becoming such an essential part of my life. Jesus spent 40 days after His baptism in the desert in solitude, fasting and prayer, and He frequently withdrew from everyone to pray, sometimes all night.  After his conversion, Paul spent three years in the desert of Arabia in solitude, silence, fasting and prayer (Gal. 1).  How can I possibly expect to live in obedience and submission to the will of the Father without doing the same things?

This is about “putting off the old man” and “putting on the new man” (Colossians 3).  It is about the transformation that comes by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2).  Here is the exciting fact!  I can put off the old man and put on the new!  My mind can be renewed!  My mind is being renewed!  I am being transformed!  All, entirely, by the grace of God as I cooperate with Him.

How I long for the day when I can bless those who curse me without having to think about it.  I so want to get there before I transition into heaven.

[1] p. 159
[2] p. 152

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


My heart was crushed this morning as my studies took me through the Gospel of John’s 18th and 19th chapters.

When Jesus is “handed over” for crucifixion, he is placed in the custody of the Roman garrison that ordinarily handled such matters.  Here Mark’s Gospel (15.15) introduces Jesus’ full preparation for crucifixion.  While Jesus had already been given a “remedial” flogging by Pilate’s men, now the soldiers inflict the verberatio (the most severe and brutal of three levels of flogging).[1]

"The delinquent was stripped, bound to a post or a pillar, or sometimes simply thrown on the ground, and beaten by a number of torturers until the latter grew tired and the flesh of the delinquent hung in bleeding shreds.  In the provinces this was the task of the soldiers.  Three kinds of implements were customary.  Rods were used on freemen; military punishments were inflicted with sticks, but for slaves scourges or whips were used, the leather thongs of these being often fitted with a spike or with several pieces of bone or lead joined to form a chain.  The scourging of Jesus was carried out with these last-named instruments.  It is not surprising to hear that delinquents frequently collapsed and died under this procedure which only in exceptional cases was prescribed as a death sentence.  Josephus records that he himself had some of his opponents in the Galilean Tarichae scourged until their entrails were visible.  The case of Jesus bar Hanan, the prophet of woe, whom the procurator Albinus had scourged until his bones lay bare . . . also makes one realize what the little word phragellosas [to scourge] in Mark 15:15 means."[2]

God knew in advance that Jesus would endure this incomprehensible pain and suffering, yet He gave His Son for me.  My friend Jesus knew in advance that He would suffer this excruciating beating, yet He still willingly gave himself for me.  What can I give Him?  Only this paltry, sin-disfigured gift: me.  Me - made incredibly valuable, priceless – by the sheer magnitude of the price He paid.

Oh, how He loves!  Oh, how He loves you and me!

[1] Dr. Gary M. Burge, The NIV Application Commentary – John, p. 508.
[2] J. Blinzler, Der Prozess Jesu, quoted by Dr. Gary Burge, pp. 508-509.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Kingdom Driver's Test

As my pursuit of a 24/7 conversational relationship with God continued (which was, in reality, not me pursuing God, but God pursuing me), my daily fellowship with God grew longer and “deeper.”  By “deeper” I do not intend to imply some kind of “super-spiritual” status or study.  I simply stopped hurrying.  I began to spend more time listening to God through His Word and for His quiet and gentle voice speaking to my heart through His Spirit.  This was all His work in me.  My contribution was that I was cooperating with Him, which is how He wants me to live all of my life.  All of it is accomplished by His enabling power: grace.

As I mentioned in my journal entry of May 1, as I immersed myself in the Gospels, the Holy Spirit enabled my understanding that Jesus' message, His Gospel, was that the kingdom of God “is at hand” and is now available for entry by anyone willing to be born “from above.”  Jesus was and is Himself the evidence, the proof, for His announcement that the kingdom of God is now available for entrance by ordinary humans.

My journey was immensely aided by Dallas Willard’s extraordinary book, The Divine Conspiracy.  Dr. Willard explained that the kingdom of God “is the range of his effective will, where what he wants done is done.  The person of God himself and the action of his will are organizing principles of his kingdom, but everything that obeys those principles, whether by nature or by choice, is within his kingdom.”  And he continued…

And this “governance” is projected onward through those who receive him.  When we receive God’s gift of life by relying on Christ, we find that God comes to act with us as we rely on him in our actions” (italics added).[1]

God’s kingdom is projected onward through those who receive him.  That’s me.  I am here on planet earth for the purpose of projecting, advancing God’s kingdom here on earth.  And God will act with me as I rely on Him.  Dallas Willard – and the Holy Spirit – had my attention.

Dr. Willard went on to explain that everyone of us has a kingdom (or “queendom”) – “a realm that is uniquely our own, where our choice determines what happens.  Our ‘kingdom’ is simply the range of our effective will.  Whatever we genuinely have the say over is in our kingdom.”[2]

What we can do with our kingdoms by ourselves (although it might appear spectacular to some) is incredibly anemic and paltry compared to what we can do acting in union with God Himself.

We are meant to exercise our “rule” only in union with God, as he acts with us.  He intended to be our constant companion, or co-worker in the creative enterprise of life on earth.[3]

The Holy Spirit was making my heart so hungry for that kind of life.  That conversational relationship with God I was so desperately wanting - that relationship included me being God’s constant companion, His co-worker!

God nevertheless pursues us redemptively and invites us individually, every last one of us, to be faithful to him in the little we truly “have say over.”  There, at every moment, we live in the interface between our lives and God’s kingdom among us.  If we are faithful to him here, we learn his cooperative faithfulness to us in turn.  We discover the effectiveness of his rule with us precisely in the details of day-to-day existence (italics added).[4]

Intimacy with God in the details of my day-to-day existence – that was the hunger of my heart.  So I determined to walk there.  I woke up every morning thinking about it (and I still do).  When I got in my truck and headed to the office (or wherever), I was driving thinking about cooperating with God to extend His kingdom in my day-to-day existence.

And driving became the first real “test” of my commitment.  It might could be called my “kingdom driver’s test.”

For many of us, driving is one of our ”kingdoms” – the place where we intend for our will to rule.  That may be one of the reasons so many of us are rude or just plain idiots when it comes to driving.  We drive with anonymity (or at least we think we do).  Our world is inside our car, and we rule there.

I have a different kind of problem when it comes to driving.  I’m something of a “rules keeper.”  I stop at the stop signs.  I drive the speed limit in town and as close as possible to it on the interstate – trying not to get run over.  Yeah, I’m that annoying driver.  It was just how I was “raised.”  The problem is, I expect everyone else to keep the rules too.  With those kinds of expectations, I’m set up for some frequent and significant frustration – and sometimes anger.

As my fellowship with the Lord Jesus grew more intense – and real – the Holy Spirit was going to teach me what a horrific problem my anger was (more about this in a later entry).  In fact, I learned that almost every sin I committed began with anger.

So, I was determined to immerse the kingdom of my driving into the kingdom of God’s rule and will – and to extend His kingdom to the drivers I didn’t know, especially the ones who were not following the rules.

I failed miserably at the beginning.  But those failures became a little more intermittent and rare as the weeks went by.  I was so grieved at every failure.  But I remember Kathryn laughing one day as we drove to the office together when I asked her if she had noticed how much better Little Rock drivers were driving recently.

They hadn’t changed.  I had.  I was changing and growing!  It seemed that I was almost automatically praying for those non-rule keepers, and I was especially looking for opportunities to be courteous and thoughtful to those drivers who were not.  I can assure you, this is the work of God in me.  It was happening!  I was cooperating with God to use my little kingdom to extend and project His kingdom right here on earth.  If God could do this in me and through me in this insignificant way, I was even more convinced that He could change me in ways and areas where I needed a much more drastic transformation.

Don’t miss that word “automatically” in the previous paragraph.  That word became a cornerstone in my understanding of discipleship.  And that concept revolutionized my understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

[1] p. 20
[2] p. 21
[3] p. 22
[4] p. 23-24

Monday, May 1, 2017


There is a conspiracy afoot in the U.S. (and in the world).  I know this to be an indisputable fact – because I am a part of it.

This may trouble some people because of my recent forays into politics here in Arkansas, including three races for statewide offices.  I regret that I wasn’t more forthcoming about my participation in this conspiracy.  I campaigned on the premise of the liberties guaranteed by our Constitution, but I could have talked a lot more about real freedom.  The fact is, I am committed to a government that is much greater than that of the State of Arkansas, and even greater than that of what some mistakenly believe is the most powerful nation on earth, the United States of America.  Make no mistake, I am deeply loyal to the constitutional republic that is the United States of America (to the point that I am willing to die for it if necessary), but should I be confronted with the choice to obey the laws of the U.S. or the laws of this “other nation,” I will make the choice the first century conspirators made.[1]

In my March 17, 2017, journal entry, I wrote about my commitment to “a 24/7 conversational relationship with God.  I want to hear Him and recognize His voice every waking minute of every day for the rest of my life.”  On March 24, I wrote, “as part of my commitment…I knew I needed to know Jesus much better than I did, so I added a study of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) to my morning study.”

For the past fourteen months, I’ve immersed myself in these Gospels and it has been the most fulfilling and challenging study of my life.  And I’m only now starting the Gospel of John.  I have indeed been “drinking from a fire hydrant.”  On April 2, I journaled, “I needed help in those studies, and once again the Holy Spirit supplied that need in an unlikely place – a commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.”  The author’s name is Michael J.Wilkins, a Vietnam War veteran who had come to Jesus and is now a seminary professor.  Mike Wilkins introduced me (through his commentary[2]) to Dallas Willard, and I bought his book, The Divine Conspiracy.  This was indisputably a divine appointment.[3]  The Divine Conspiracy (and some of Dr. Willard’s other books[4]) has had a profound impact of my life in these last fourteen months.[5]

Which brings me to my commitment to “this other nation.”  It is actually a kingdom: the kingdom of God.  And it is the most powerful “nation” on earth - or off of it.

The Kingdom

I have been amazed that through all of these years of my reading and studying the Scriptures that I had not fully grasped the core of the Gospel Jesus came to earth to teach and preach.  But as I immersed myself in the Gospels, the Holy Spirit enabled my understanding: Jesus came to tell us that the kingdom of God “is at hand” and is now available for entry by anyone willing to be born “from above.”  (When was the last time you heard a sermon or Bible study on “the kingdom of God”?)

As Dr. Willard described, quoting Mark’s Gospel, “Jesus then came into Galilee announcing the good news from God. ‘All the preliminaries have been taken care of,’ he said, ‘and the rule of God is now accessible to everyone.  Review your plans for living and base your life on this remarkable new opportunity’” (Mark 1:15).[6]  And Dr. Willard explains…
This is a call for us to reconsider how we have been approaching our life, in light of the fact that we now, in the presence of Jesus, have the option of living within the surrounding movements of God’s eternal purposes, of taking our life into his life.[7]
Jesus offers himself as God’s doorway into the life that is truly life.  Confidence in him leads us today, as in other times, to become his apprentices in eternal living (italics added).[8]
“Apprentices in eternal living.”  An apprentice is exactly what I have become: an apprentice of Jesus.  That means that I am learning from Him how to live my life as He would live it if He were I.  As I learn from Him, He is changing every part and parcel of my life. 

“So how is all of this a conspiracy?” some might ask.  That answer begins with understanding what the kingdom of God is.  “God’s own ‘kingdom,’ or ‘rule,’” explains Dr. Willard, “is the range of his effective will, where what he wants done is done.  The person of God himself and the action of his will are organizing principles of his kingdom, but everything that obeys those principles, whether by nature or by choice, is within his kingdom.”[9]  Dr. Willard continues…
….the kingdom of God is not essentially a social or political reality at all.  Indeed, the social and political realm, along with the individual heart, is the only place in all of creation where the kingdom of God, or his effective will, is currently permitted to be absent.  That realm is the “on earth” of the Lord’s Prayer that is opposed to the “in heaven” where God’s will is, simply, done.
My purpose for existence on planet earth is to be used by Him to extend His kingdom throughout the earth. Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  That is actually saying the same thing twice.  God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven is, in effect, God’s kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. 

The conspiracy?  There are millions of us all over the earth – all of us doing the same thing.  We’ve accepted Jesus’ invitation to enter the kingdom of God and the eternal quality of life that being “born from above” produces in humans, and we are extending His life, His rule and His reign throughout the earth.  How are we doing that?  With enormous power: we are learning from Jesus how to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength, and how to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Actually, Jesus is doing all of this in us and through us!  Yeah, pretty awesome!


As Dr. Gary Burge puts it, I have become a saboteur,
…an agent for change that not only speaks the gospel to my world, but which also is angered by the things that anger God.  I need to be a saboteur who promotes kingdom values whenever and wherever I can.  If it means being outrageous as Jesus was outrageous…so be it.[10]
As Dr. Burge explains, this is not just a matter of ethical behavior or fidelity to religious traditions, “no matter how virtuously they evoke higher ethical, religious behavior among us.”
It has to do not with the human spirit, but with God’s spirit.  It is a foreign invasion, sabotage of the first order.  True religion unites humanity with God’s powerful Spirit, who overwhelms, transforms, and converts (in the full meaning of the word) its subject (italics added).[11]
Saboteur?  Yes!  Co-conspirator with Jesus and millions more who are His disciples?  Absolutely!  Pretty awesome?  Indeed!  And incredibly exciting.

[1] Acts 4:19, 5:29
[2] The NIV Application Commentary on Matthew
[3] I call this a divine appointment because I had actually had The Divine Conspiracy in my library for years and had never read it.
[4] Renovation of the Heart: Putting On the Character of Christ, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives
[5] I actually gave this book to all my children and their spouses last Christmas.
[6] p. 15
[7] p. 16
[8] p. 12
[9] p. 25
[10] This is an outstanding commentary on the Gospel of John: Gary M. Burge, The NIV Application Commentary on John, p. 106.
[11] Ibid.