Monday, April 25, 2011

I want to depart from my usual blog format which tends to be a bit lengthier and substantive and is designed for serious reading.  Whenever possible and when it’s called for, I wanted to do a “Monday Morning Musings” piece - reflections on all that happened and all God did on Sunday.  I thought that Easter would be the best time to kick this off as it has a “Super Bowl” of Sundays kind of feel to it to begin with.  I know I’m like a proud father but, first, let me say what an incredible blessing and honor it is to serve with such faithful people of dedication and excellence.  It really astounds me and makes me look far better than I really am!

Easter morning we witnessed another miracle!  No, not the raising of the dead, but the incredible numbers of people who come to church on Easter Sunday!?  Where do they all these people come from (and where do they all go)?  Nevertheless, I simply view this as a great opportunity to preach the glorious Gospel of Christ to them again and hope that the Holy Spirit will penetrate their hearts.  The real issue was not the numbers but the presence of God that was present.  You’re playing on your home field, and you’re playing on Easter, which most people have no real argument against, and it’s like the Holy Spirit loves to pour it on!  It also helps when both the kid’s choir and the adult choir, minister before you preach.  The kid’s choir is simply too much!  They put an incredible amount of work and practice in to each time they perform.  No wonder Jesus said “a little child shall lead them” because they completely disarm people with their innocence (some are a standup comedy routine), but they are dead serious about wanting people to get saved!  Then, the adult choir is just simply anointed.  It makes me think what a heavenly choir of 10,000 times 10,000 and 1000's of 1000's is going to be like.  Overwhelming is the word that comes to my mind.  Talk about setting the stage for the Word to go forth! Thank you to both.

I preached on The Day That Changed The World.  That was not a good title, but Pastor Rubi asked me for my Easter title long before I even had a sermon!  This was for advertising purpose, so, I gave him that one (it obviously was the Day that changed the world).  After studying the text that really inspired me I would have preferred to call it “Resurrection Horizons” from (Rom.1:1-7).  The passage that really inspired me was, “Jesus Christ our Lord, who was... declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.”  The word “declared” is the word “horizo” where we get our word horizons from.  It means to mark out or to bound like a boundary-line.  It is a word all about clarity and not ambiguity.  It carries the idea of a surveyor marking off a lot and saying “Here are the boundary lines of this question.”  Jesus’s unique Personhood as the “Son of God” and His purpose to save from sin was clearly marked off and confirmed unequivocally by His resurrection for the dead.  The resurrection was God’s seal or confirmation on the authenticity of who Jesus was, His atoning death, and His ability to bring salvation to men.  The Amplified Bible says “in a striking, triumphant and miraculous manner by His resurrection from the dead.”  To quote Albert Mohler, he said:

“The literal, historical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the vindication of Christ’s saving work on the Cross.  The issue is simple - no resurrection, no Christianity.  For this reason, believe in the resurrection of Christ is essential in order to be a Christian the Resurrection represents the Father’s complete satisfaction in the obedience of the Son – even unto death.  Sin and death do not have the final word.  Indeed, they are defeated through the saving work of Christ”

In our Evening Service was the final presentation of the play, “The Alabaster Jar.”  What a fantastic performance.  In my mind it would rival any professional production that you’d pay money to go and to see.  It was masterfully scripted by Pastor Fred Rubi, and with an incredible cast they presented such a moving account that revolved around (Lk.7:36-50) the story of the sinful woman who found forgiveness at the feet of Jesus.  The music that accompanied and played a major role in the presentation was phenomenal.  Much of it was Ladino music.  Until the play, I had no idea what that was.  It is basically Sephardic music which has its roots in the musical traditions of the Jewish communities in medieval Spain.  The meanings of the words were also portrayed on the screen which helped; but I can’t say enough about the quality and the anointing of their performance.  The musicians, the singers, the actors, the people who worked behind the scenes are to be applauded.  The last two Easter plays we’ve done, “He’s Alive” and “The Alabaster Jar” are both of such high quality that we may take them on the road next year in some fashion.  Again, my hat is off to all that made this work, and if there were a curtain call I’d be calling for an encore!!

One final event of real note that might have been missed by many.  Sister Cara Montoya just had surgery on Friday which was an important procedure.  She was released to come home on Friday evening.  I was sitting at the back of the church on Sunday night following the Communion Service, and getting ready for the play, when Cara and her husband Manny and their son Toby walked in!  What a trooper!  She could have had lots of reasons for staying home from church on Sunday night but they wanted to be in the house of God!  I am humbled to Pastor people with that kind of devotion and faithfulness.  We love them and are praying for a miracle and complete restoration.

OK, enough!  I’ve got to go because even though yesterday was a great blessing and joy......SUNDAY’S COMING!

Pastor Warner
In 1950, the Clairol company (personal care products division of Proctor & Gamble) launched a one-step at home color formula, "Miss Clairol Hair Color Bath" which debuted with the famous catch phrase, "Does she...or doesn’t she? Only her hairdresser knows for sure." Not only was the product line a huge financial success, but that advertisement became one of the truly iconic lines of all time in the marketing industry.

No, I’m not thinking of dyeing my hair...grey is beautiful you know! What brought this to my mind was this past week. I returned from preaching in Santa Monica not feeling very well. It turns out I had a UTI (urinary tract infection) and ended up running a fever of 103.1. Needless to say, I did not feel too well, and completely ignored the work piled up on my desk, and the Easter preparations which were fairly demanding, and slept on and off for seven hours during the day on Friday. Well, I had a haircut appointment for Friday at 10:00 with Art Benavidez (Art’s Hair Studio) who has cut my hair for years and years, and knows me quite well. I slept through my appointment, and at the time I didn’t realize it or care all that much. But, you see "only his hairdresser knows" and mine happens to know me well. He thought, "Pastor never misses one of his appointments.". This is not a statement to my discipline or punctuality, it probably has more to do with my vanity or my commitment to my military style crew cut! So in Art’s mind he’s thinking that something bad must’ve happened to me to just miss my appointment (isn’t it amazing how we always think the worst has taken place?!), and he called to make sure I was alright. I really appreciate that. At the time, not too many people knew that I wasn’t well.....but my hairdresser knew!

I mention this for a reason. I am continually amazed at the number of people who tell me, "Pastor, we pray for you all the time." This amazes me. Every time I am humbled and very grateful that there are people who care enough to lift me up before the throne of God’s grace. I thank you and covet those prayers. I am convinced that any fruitfulness I am experiencing and the fact that I am standing and ministering in Christ’s strength is due to the people like this who pray for me. They do it even when they don’t know me like my hairdresser. To you, I say thank you.
Thursday, April 21, 2011

It was not a trip that I was particularly looking forward to.  Pastor Ross Hownslow in Port Elizabeth, South Africa had invited me to preach in their Harvester’s Homecoming, which essentially meant flying halfway around the world for a weekend filled with ministry!  So, I tried to back out at first.  “I’ll send you Pastor Rubi?  I’ll send you Pastor Smith?  How about a two-for one?” Ross, however was persistent, which meant that I had to give it a serious amount of thought.  I felt God telling me that I needed to go; and the reason was wrapped up in one word that was important to Him and His kingdom, HERITAGE!  Heritage is defined as property, status, conditions or character acquired by being born into a particular family.  True heritage are things of value that are passed from generation to generation.

You see, our church, had sent Alan & Laurie Kern to pioneer a church there 14 years ago.  There was a sizeable investment in personnel, money, resources, and in prayer and vision for world evangelism.  Since that time Isaac & Doris Cortez (San Antonio, TX) took over that pastorate, and when they left, Ross & Judy Hownslow (Perth, West Australia) took over that work and labored in an admirable fashion.  “P.E.” was part of our church’s “heritage” in that nation, and I felt God telling me I needed to go, not just for my sake, but as our congregation’s representative to acknowledge the seeds of investment all of these people were working to make.  I can certainly tell you, now, I was so glad I went!  To see the continued outpouring of God’s grace and Spirit that our church had initially made, was priceless.

Biblically, when we talk about heritage, we’re talking about the realm of sacred things!  (Acts 26:18).  Part of the miracle of salvation includes this vital transaction!  “To open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given an inheritance among God's people, who are set apart by faith in me.' ” Paul’s “last will and testament” to the Ephesian elders is the truth that none of us got here on our own!  (Acts 20:32) “I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”  One essential for identity and purpose, and for giving healthy direction to people, is a strong sense of and appreciation for our heritage in Christ and His Kingdom!

This is the “missing piece” in so many people’s lives, both individually as well as nations!  The October 22, 1996 headlines of the Times of London read: “Lost Forever: A Nation’s Heritage Looted By Its Own People.”  It spoke about Afghanistan’s National Museum in Kabul which is in rubble.  It once held one of earth’s greatest multi-cultural antique collections: Persian, Indian, Chinese, Central Asian, and beyond.  Mujahidin rebels blasted into vaults and shattered display cases, looted the relics, and sold them here and there around the world for quick cash.  Pottery from pre-history was thrown into bags like cheap china.  The Bagram collection, one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century, disappeared.  Nearly 40,000 coins, some of the world’s oldest vanished.  The museum, once a repository for Afghan history, became a military post, and the storied past has now been ruined by the unbridled present.  A nation has lost its history.  With no history, there is no heritage.  And with no heritage from the past there is no legacy for the future!

What we have is a potent reminder about a real danger.  (Heb.12:16,17) “That no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.  For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.”  Esau sold his birthright!  This is not a story of Esau being tricked or swindled out of something, but it is the sad record of his selling things because he wanted to feed his flesh.  The Old Testament uses a strong word here, it says, he “despised” his birthright.  He failed to place the proper price tag on spiritual things, namely heritage!  The “Esau spirit” is definitely not dead today.  We see that God is not happy with the attitude of anyone who despises or fails to cherish the importance of their spiritual heritage.

Heritage should also be a powerful reminder of a two-fold responsibility.  The first measure of a man is to treat heritage with honor and respect.  This was the posture of Naboth when King Ahab wanted to negotiate with him about his property that was adjacent to Ahab’s palace.  (1Kgs 21:3) “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.”  This was not an ordinary piece of real estate, but if carried a sacred quality because it was about his heritage.  He refused to sell it at any price.  To do so would leave him with no meaningful future.  The second responsibility that heritage brings to us is to transmit it to the next generation!  (Ps.78:4) says, “We will not hide them from their children, telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wonderful works that He has done.”  The gift of faith brings a burden and responsibility to declare, demonstrate and pass on those spiritual realities to the next generation.  Listen, there is a generational quality to life that is transmitted and being passed on, for good or for bad.  The Pentecostal promise of the Holy Spirit carries this dimension (Acts 2:39) “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself."  Think beyond just yourself and your circumstances, and realize there is a wonderful and powerful spiritual heritage involved.  Those who’ve come before us as well as those who are to follow you!

This past week I received a letter from a young man who has caught some of this in his life and ministry.  He wrote to me, “Pastor Warner.....I wanted to write to you because in my heart I felt that I should.  Even though my relation to The Door Ministries was from my childhood, I remember my salvation like it was yesterday, and I recognize that something was spiritually planted into me that I cannot always explain.  But nevertheless it is there.  I have served the Lord since I was very young and if not for The Door, this may not have been the case - Thank you.” He spoke of some things that he was stepping out into in the future.  He said, “This process may take some time but I know that the Lord will open doors as He sees fit.  I wanted to ask you to pray for me — I understand the power of blessing that can only come from Spiritual Fathers.  Sir, I am asking nothing from you except that you lift me up in your prayers as I strive to be obedient.”  He’s echoing what David said centuries ago, “your lines have fallen unto me in pleasant places, yes, I have a good heritage.”  It is not accidental that the Hebrew word for “inheritance” (heritage) comes from two roots: stream (valley where things grow) and a shaft (of a mine) where treasure is found!

SO THANK YOU PORT ELIZABETH FOR BEING SUCH A BLESSING AND MEMORIAL TO ME ABOUT OUR “GOOD HERITAGE!”  There is an old hymn by Frederick Faber: “Faith of our fathers, living still, in spite of dungeon, fire and sword; O how our hearts beat high with joy, whenever we hear that glorious word!  Faith of our fathers, holy faith, we will be true to thee ‘till death.”  He’s calling attention to more than a song, but to sacred responsibility to give us in Christ Jesus our Lord.  When I think of all that God has done for us, I can say, “what a wonderful inheritance!”

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Jesus taught us that there would be “joy in heaven over one sinner that repents.”  This is not a subtle hint but a straightforward insight into what is truly important and valuable in heaven!  A soul that repents and is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  By way of contrast, we hear a lot of talk about heaven’s streets of gold as one of the things we’re looking forward to.  I’m sure this speaks of the overall magnificence of heaven, but, remember, it’s still just pavement!
Forgive me for bringing out the old poem “The touch of the Master’s Hand” read it again:
It was battered and scarred,
And the auctioneer thought it
hardly worth his while
To waste his time on the old violin,
but he held it up with a smile.
"What am I bid, good people", he cried,
"Who starts the bidding for me?"
"One dollar, one dollar, Do I hear two?"
"Two dollars, who makes it three?"
"Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three,"
But, No,
From the room far back a gray bearded man
Came forward and picked up the bow,
Then wiping the dust from the old violin
And tightening up the strings,
He played a melody, pure and sweet
As sweet as the angel sings.
The music ceased and the auctioneer
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said "What now am I bid for this old violin?"
As he held it aloft with its' bow.
"One thousand, one thousand, Do I hear two?"
"Two thousand, Who makes it three?"
"Three thousand once, three thousand twice,
Going and gone", said he.
The audience cheered,
But some of them cried,
"We just don't understand."
"What changed its' worth?"
Swift came the reply.
"The Touch of the Masters Hand."

And many a man with life out of tune
All battered with bourbon and gin
Is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd
Much like that old violin
A mess of pottage, a glass of wine,
A game and he travels on.
He is going once, he is going twice,
He is going and almost gone.
But the Master comes,
And the foolish crowd never can quite understand,
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
By the Touch of the Masters' Hand.
Myra Brooks Welch

The emphasis is mine, “the worth of a soul.”  One of the great contributions of Christianity is to bring us the understanding of the value of human life and the worth of a human soul.  This comes from three sources:   1st, Creation: human beings are made in the image of God.  This accounts for the cultural debate over the sanctity of human life that still rages in our nation. 2nd, Redemption: which is the apex of understanding.  If Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, He settled forever the value of the souls we encounter everyday of our lives.  3rd, New way of assessing people and things: “So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view.” (2Cor.5:16a) We no longer use a worldly measurement, especially an external one, to assess someone’s worth or value.  This should remind us that Christianity is first and foremost a “rescue religion.”

There is no question that God’s priority and the heartbeat of heaven is for souls.  Jesus called us “follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”  The two go together: following Christ leads to a partnership in His enterprise as well.  The religious people were constantly criticizing him by saying “this man receives sinners and eats with them.”  Their criticism was actually a back-handed complement!  Jesus Christ is the supreme example of a soul-winner.  He is the consummate “soul Physician” in the way that He worked with people.  After winning the woman at the well to Himself, He told his disciples “I have food to eat that you know nothing about!”  They’re wondering whether or not He stopped by McDonald’s or Taco Bell or something.  Jesus had to straighten them out by saying, “My food is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish his work.”  His “soul food” was all about touching people with the Gospel and bringing people to Himself and God’s salvation!  This is what caused D.L. Moody to say, “I would rather save one soul from death than have a monument of solid gold reaching from my grave to the heavens!  I tell you the monument I want after I am dead and gone is a monument with two legs going about the world—a saved sinner telling of the salvation of Jesus Christ.”

To finish up, this is why if you’re looking for employment how about (Prov.11:3) “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise.”  This winning implies a number of things: First, it is a word of burden, or responsibility.  Our calling has already been determined for us by the Lord Jesus.  Second, it is a heart word, a word of romance (i.e. “wins her hand”).  A love for Christ, for His church and for souls turns a work into a labor of love.  Finally, it is a military word, talking of winning a battle or winning a city.  In this case it is the fortress of the human heart with all its defenses that must be breached.   The divine appraisal is “he that wins souls is wise.”  Not only is this a developed skill but it tells us that this is truly worthy employment for every Christ follower.  In choosing something to give your life to or to make the aim of your life, then it’s hard to find a more noble ambition!    The prophet Daniel put this in the final context of an everlasting reward and inheritance, “Those who are wise will shine as bright as the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever.”  Shine on, my brother and sister, shine on!

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