Whispers That Matter - Greg Wigfield
Whisper: Whispers That Matter
01/28/18 – Greg Wigfield
Today I am writing the final 2018 devotional of 21 Days of Prayer & Fasting. I want to share one last thought with you. When our son, Ryan was in high school, I helped him with a book report on Ghost Soldiers, the story of the rescue of 513 survivors of the Bataan Death March during World War II. This is one of the most riveting war stories I have ever read, and going over it with my son reminded me of the horrendous ordeal that these U.S. soldiers faced under the cruel hand of their Japanese captors.
However, I will never REALLY understand all that these men endured. Abie Abraham from Renfrew, Pennsylvania really understood. Bert Bank in Tuscaloosa, Alabama understood. Tommie Thomas in Tucson, Arizona understood. Dr. Ralph Hibbs in Medford, Oregon understood. Why? Because they lived it.
There is something in your life as a Christ-follower that you have experienced, and you can share this better than anyone. Why? Because you have lived it. Here are a few things you have experienced.
First, God has extended you grace. If God gave you what you deserve, you wouldn’t be here right now. But He has not repaid you for the way you have lived. He extended grace. And He wants you to do the same for others.
Second, God expresses faith in you. He believes in you so much that He created you, gave you free choice in how you live, and then He gave His Son to die for you…knowing full well that you might possibly reject Him. Yet He believes in you. And He wants you to do the same for others.
Third, God expects the best from you. He knows what you are capable of, and He knows that you are not living up to your potential. Yet, He doesn’t write you off. He keeps hoping for the best for you. And He wants you to do the same for others.
Finally, God endures the worst from you. He has seen every mistake, every failure…everything! And He still has not given up on you. And He wants you to do the same for others.
My hope for you…and for myself is that we will learn to love God and love others the way that God wants us to love. It will truly change our lives for the better, and it will bring richness to our lives that nothing else will give.
I would like to close this final devotional with a paraphrase of I Corinthians 13 that has been written by Rick Warren.
“Because God loves me he is slow to lose patience with me. Because God loves me he takes the circumstances of my life and he uses them in a constructive way for my growth. Because God loves me he does not treat me as an object to be possessed or manipulated. Because God loves me he has no need to impress me with how great and powerful he is because he’s God. Nor does he belittle me as his child in order to show me how important he is. Because God loves me he is for me and he wants to see me mature and develop in his love. Because God loves me he does not keep score of all my sins and then beat me over the head with them whenever he gets the chance.”
About ten years ago I received a tragic email from a friend. It read like this.
Our daughter Tracy went to be with Jesus on Tuesday morning at 11:48. She was twenty-one years old. Tracy was an especially bright, beautiful young lady with a signature in her personality that left a lasting impression on all who met her. She was first on a waiting list of in-house recovery when she lost her battle against drug addiction.
As you might imagine, this email was not the introduction of a problem that was just recently discovered. This was an epilogue of a story that had taken many years to unfold. Tracy had been struggling with problems for a very long time before her death. And she wasn’t the only one who struggled. Her mother and father have been in the trenches with her from the very beginning.
I don’t know what the percentages are, but I do know that those who seem to overcome their addictions are those who have others go through the deep places with them. I marvel at parents who never let their child go no matter what they have done, no matter how many times they have failed. I have witnessed situations where I would think that the parents should just walk away…just give up. But I watch as they keep trying, keep praying, and keep giving.
I have a business background. One of the things that I learned in business was the IRS allowance for bad business decisions. I could invest in a venture, or a piece of software, or a marketing plan. And if my investment or software or plan would fail, I would have the luxury of being able to write off my losses and reduce my taxes for the year. I could just walk away from the deal and get a tax break.
While the Write-Off works well for business, God is telling us that it is not something that we can do with people. Read what the Apostle Paul says.
“Love puts up with anything…never looks back, but keeps going to the end.” 1 Corinthians 13:7 (MSG)
In other words, Love endures the worst. This may well be the toughest kind of love that exists…love that doesn’t quit, love that puts up with anything. This is the kind of love that cannot write off a person.
I didn’t understand just how deep God’s love was until I was at my worst. It was at the point of my greatest failure that I discovered His greatest character trait…love. God is love. And His love endures the worst.
Take a moment today and think of someone who has displayed this kind of enduring love. Perhaps it was the parent of a lost teenager. Maybe it was the spouse of an alcoholic, or the spouse of someone who became disabled and required extensive care. One common characteristic that you will find is that this person has given up many of their own dreams and ambitions to simply love. If you cannot think of someone like that, then take a look at Jesus Christ. He refused to quit on lost humanity. And when it looked like there was no hope for us, He spread out His arms and gave His life.
When I think about that kind of love, I realize that I Corinthians 13 should not be called the wedding Scripture. It’s too messy…too tough…not all that pretty. But it’s the kind of love that can change lives.
My father is a very gifted builder. Without any formal training, he has managed to build everything from large houses and commercial buildings. He even learned how to do his own engineering and architecture, and more than once I would watch as he would take a set of blueprints to an architect and/or an engineer and get them to put their stamp of approval on them so that he could submit them to the appropriate jurisdiction.
One of his construction projects was to build an auditorium for the church in which he was the pastor. He got the men of the church together, and they built the walls of the church out of laminate beams and concrete blocks. Then his plan was to cover the blocks with brick on both the inside and outside of the building. However, when he went to buy the bricks, the price of bricks had skyrocketed, and they could no longer afford to purchase them. So my dad went to Plan B.
He found two century-old brick houses that were going to be torn down, and he went to the owners and convinced them to let him tear down the houses in return for giving him all the bricks out of the houses. Long story short, the church property was covered with piles of bricks from these old houses. All of the bricks were covered with old mortar and plaster.
Then my sister and I, eleven and twelve years old respectively, were given hatchets and were placed on top of the brick piles and told to chop off all of the old mortar. We did that for what seemed like many years. I had actually seen movies where men were placed on top of rock piles with sledge hammers, but they were wearing striped uniforms and had leg irons around their ankles…same kind of thing. Today this would be illegal.
What happened next, though, was a thing of art. My dad and some of his masonry friends laid the bricks on the building. He then washed the bricks with muriatic acid (my first encounter with a hallucinogenic drug) and then covered them with polyurethane. You cannot imagine the beauty of old, hand-made bricks, cleaned and covered with a luster that shows a hundred different clay-based colors.
Ok, Greg, what does this have to do with me?
Like old bricks, you and I are the substance of old houses…houses built by man. Our only fate is that of the demolition crew. But God sees something in us that we don’t see. Where we can only see dust and residue of the past, God sees something beautiful, something we could never imagine. So He tears us down, and begins to chop off the gunk. And then He cleans us up and builds us into something that we never believed we could be…a beautiful building. And when His light shines on us, the hues of His beauty shines through our clay-based existence.
The Apostle Paul talked about this. He said, “We are like clay jars in which this treasure is stored. The real power comes from God and not from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7 (CEV)
God wants to build something beautiful with your life. Perhaps it looks like He doesn’t have that much to work with. All you may see are old bricks…but God sees the beauty in you. And He will use that beauty to make an incredible difference in the lives of others.
The year was 1966. The Dow Jones average was 785. The average house price was $14,200, and gas was 32 cents per gallon. Star Trek debuted that year, and the two top songs of the year were I’m a Believer by The Monkees, and Good Vibrations (yes…the Beach Boys)!
Something else happened that year, something that altered my life and thinking. I was in the eighth grade at John Handley High School. At that time, the junior high students were in the same building as the high school students. And that is the year that our schools desegregated, and several hundred African-American students joined our student body. Honestly, I was excited. I love change, and when this event occurred, I considered that this was another world opening up to me. I was horribly naive.
We were only a couple weeks into the school year when it happened. Mr. Battaile, our new African-American home room teacher was trying to quiet down a rowdy class, when my baseball team catcher friend screamed out, “Don’t you tell me what to do you stupid…,” and then he used the ‘N’ word. I remember that moment as if it happened yesterday. I watched Mr. Battaile quietly sit down at his desk with horrible hurt in his eyes. I looked at every black student in the room and saw the same response. Had this happened in today’s environment, this situation would’ve been met with extreme anger, but in 1966 it was pure pain.
I was so hurt by this moment, and I couldn’t understand my pain. It didn’t happen to me. But I later realized that I had never seen anyone treated this way before, and it broke something in me. Here is why I am sharing this with you today.
If I experienced this depth of pain, what about the recipients of this horrible act. And this was not an isolated incident. This happened in communities all across the United States. Needless to say, the pain turned to anger, and the anger turned to riots, and now, more than a half-century later, peace and love have yet to be found.
Let me take a moment to share this with my white brothers and sisters. Most of us would say that we love all people and have no prejudice toward any race. Obviously, that is an important place to begin. But in my opinion, it is only the beginning. If we go back far enough in our ancestry, we will most likely find that our own families contributed to this place in which we find ourselves today with their intentional and unintentional racism. This racism was active. And its repercussions are still being felt today. There is only one answer for this problem.
“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” (1 John 3:18 NLT)
This says it all. It is not enough to feel love and to feel non-prejudice toward a people group. We need to be as intentional with that love as our ancestors were with their intentional racism. We need to intentionally act out our Christianity toward people of every color. We have a lot of ground to make up, but we can do this. In fact, in my opinion, the church is the vehicle God has given to us to fix this. Daniel 11:32 says, “The people who know God, display strength and take action.” Let’s be that church!
I am a firm believer that the church is a sleeping giant that, if awakened, could truly impact our nation and our world. In fact, that is the very reason that God created the church in the first place. Look at what Jesus had to say about us…
Matthew 16:18-19 “… upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.” (NLT)
This is Jesus’ way of saying, “This is war! Let’s roll!” In war, there is no neutrality. Either you are going forward, or you are going backward. Either you are winning, or you are losing.
In my opinion, the American church is asleep when it comes to Oneness (read yesterday’s devotional). When I was a child, we used to sing a song, “Jesus loves the little children…red and yellow, black and white.” It’s too bad that we have not shared the same love for one another that Jesus has shared with us.
But it is not too late! As we unite, black and white, red and yellow, we do something that Satan has not wanted to see us do for over 200 years in America. Our unity shifts the war in favor of the kingdom of God. And our unity will bring heaven right in the middle of hell’s domain!
Let me share with you one simple way you can start this movement within our own church. Let’s start by becoming friends with people of different races. I’m talking about becoming intentional about pursuing authentic friendships with people of other backgrounds, races, and religions. Let’s build bridges with people where every voice matters, every person on the planet has something to teach us, and every person you meet has a story to tell that you need to hear. Let’s make our dinner tables a place where strangers are lost and friendships are forged. When you read the New Testament, you discover that this is exactly how Jesus turned the world upside down.
I am deeply concerned about where we are as a nation today. We are more divided than ever! The fundamental cause of racial problems in America is in large part a failure of the church to address racial problems from a biblical perspective. And if the church could get this right, our nation would be on the way toward healing.
But we have a spiritual problem. Our problem is with God. And when God is the problem, God alone has the answer. So let’s take a look at what God has to say about this from His Word, the Bible.
Ephesians 2:14-16 “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.”
Ephesians 4:3 “Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.”
Romans 16:17 “…Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them.”
There is a strategy that God uses to destroy the attacks of Satan. It is the defining characteristic of His church. It’s the strategy of unity, or what we are going to call “Oneness.” Oneness is deeper than emotion. It is the declaration that we all need each other.
Oneness brings power. Genesis 11:5-6 “But the LORD came down to look at the city and the tower the people were building. “Look!” he said. “The people are united, and they all speak the same language. After this, nothing they set out to do will be impossible for them!”
Oneness brings glory to God. John 17:20-23 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one…May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”
And Oneness brings blessing. Psalm 133:1-3 “How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony! For harmony is as precious as the anointing oil that was poured over Aaron’s head, that ran down his beard and onto the border of his robe. Harmony is as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon that falls on the mountains of Zion. And there the LORD has pronounced his blessing, even life everlasting.”
When you hold onto your prejudices – the things that you allow in your life to bring separation – you block God’s blessing in your life! We cannot expect our prayers to be answered…
As we start our final week of 21 Days of Prayer & Fasting, our focus is shifting away from ourselves and toward others. Let’s start by looking to see if we harbor anything in our hearts toward others that block what God wants to do in our lives.
At Destiny, we want people to Know God and then Find Freedom. We want people to experience a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that results in freedom from slavery to sin. But our plan, and God’s plan for life does not stop with that. We also want people to Discover Purpose and Make a Difference. God has a plan for each of our lives, and that plan involves making an impact on the people around us.
Unfortunately, I have met many people who think that being a Christ-follower means to go to church and try to be good. That kind of approach to life will only lead to mediocrity at best. The Apostle Paul gave us a much better picture of the way we should live our lives.
“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Philippians 3:12-14 (NLT)
If the Apostle Paul could not reach perfection, I doubt that you will. But that did not stop him from engaging in the great adventure of affecting as many people as possible toward the kingdom of heaven. You and I need to live that same way. We recognize that God is not done with us. We still need to grow. But we push past our past and aggressively pursue the purpose and plans God has for our lives.
As we move on into week three of 21 Days of Prayer & Fasting, we are going to be looking away from ourselves and looking toward others. God wants to use us to reach others. Do not fall for the lie that you have to be perfect in order to do that. But we should all be conscious of our sin and failure and confess those things to God.
We should never learn to live with sin. God will not use us the way He plans if we live with impurity. But when we sin, the bible says, “If we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing” 1 John 1:9 (TEV). That is how we become pure. We confess our sins, and He purifies us. And as we continue on toward transformation, God will deliver us from evil.
There is a verse in the Bible that has always caused me to ask what looks like an unanswerable question. First, the verse.
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2 NLT)
Now the question. Who changes the way I think? Me or God? And the answer is, “YES!”
Let me try to explain how this works. You and I are souls. We don’t simply possess a soul, we are a soul. The ship captain’s manifest was correct. “There are 120 souls on board.” Yes, each soul has a body, but ultimately we are souls. Our souls are the combination of our mind, thoughts, and feelings. This is the part of us with which we are most familiar. We do not possess a soul. We are a soul. Our soul is that part of us that we will take into the next life. Our bodies are our bodies. We know all about that. Our bodies are temporary, but our souls are forever.
Then there is this other part of us…the spirit. Theologians have been arguing for centuries over whether we have a spirit, or are simply alive or dead to the Spirit of God. This does not matter to me. The effects are the same. Now back to Romans 12.
If I can simply change how I think, and that changes how I feel, which changes how I act, then I have done all of this myself. Who needs God? I just need to discipline my thinking.
Conversely, if I sit around and let God change the way I think, and that changes how I feel, which changes how I act, then I will be terribly disappointed. I have proven that over and over in my life. God will not act separately from me…from my soul.
So here is how it works. I know I need to change how I think. But my mind has developed mind-tracks that always lead to problems. So I need some big-time help. I need God!
I love this verse. “Let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.” (Ephesians 4:23 NLT) The word, LET means to ‘allow to enter’ or ‘to permit to enter.’ In other words, I have to do something. But I don’t have to do this alone. I have to allow the Spirit of God to enter my otherwise messed up world. For me, that means filling my life with God’s Word, the Bible. It means taking time to pray, to ask Him to be first in every area of my life. It means coming up with an action plan that starts to supplant the bad thinking in my life with the mind of Christ. In other words, “Let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.”
If you can grasp this, eventually your mind will begin to change. When that happens, your feelings start to follow. And before long, you will begin to act different. And then your life is on a trajectory for great success and fulfillment. We have just a little over a week left in 21 Days of Prayer & Fasting. There is time for you to make a radical life transition in this new year. Join us as we pray and fast for God’s best in our lives.