Spiritual Hunger & the Legacy of John Hunter

More than 30 years ago, I received a call from an elderly man named John Hunter. Someone had given him my name, and he said he hoped I might be able to answer some of his questions about the new things God was doing in the church.

I agreed to meet with him, and after that initial meeting John and I got together often. I learned that he had already known the Lord for more than 50 years—much longer than I had even been alive at that point. He didn’t flaunt his credentials, but he also had many years of experience as a church leader and Bible teacher. John clearly knew Christ in a deep and profound way.

So why did he want to get together with me?  That was something I always found puzzling. Was it that he had a fatherly concern for me as a young Christian leader? Yes, I’m sure he wanted me to succeed as a leader—but that was not why he wanted to get together.

Did he want to straighten out my theology? No, that was the furthest thing from his mind.

Still to this day, I’m shocked by John’s primary reason for wanting to spend time with me: He was so hungry for the things of God that he hoped to learn something  even from a “youngster” like me.

This may not seem so remarkable to you, but it still challenges me to the very core of my being. Why? Because John Hunter was hungrier for the Lord than I was.

Let me explain…

Before I met John, I was pretty satisfied with the spiritual level I had attained. I felt knowledgeable about the Scriptures and in touch with the Holy Spirit—wasn’t that enough? But John exemplified the same kind of insatiable hunger for God that the apostle Paul wrote about:

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect [mature], have this attitude  (Philippians 3:12-15).

Until his dying day, John Hunter was still pressing on, not satisfied with the knowledge of God he already had. In his later years John developed Parkinson’s Disease, which made it much more difficult to “press on”—but he did nonetheless. His gait was more wobbly each time we met, as if his tall, lanky body might fall at any moment.

But he insisted on getting together anyway.

When we sat to have lunch, John’s hands shook violently if he tried to gesture or to bring a spoon to his mouth. Often his food spilled on his shirt, drawing the attention of those at neighboring tables in the restaurant.

As his final days approached, John’s words came out slowly and slurred. Sometimes he didn’t finish the sentences he started. But I could always sense the presence of the Lord during the times we shared.

It will be great to see John Hunter again someday. In heaven, I’m sure he has a fantastic new body, unaffected by anything like Parkinson’s. And I can’t wait to see how his childlike spiritual hunger is finally being satisfied as he dances in worship before God’s throne.

Let’s remind each other to follow John Hunter’s example, always yearning to go higher, toward the “upward call of God”  for our lives. Let’s stay hungry until our hunger is fulfilled in eternity.

And perhaps the Lord would even have us invest ourselves in a new generation, as John Hunter did with me. Our lives will be changed when we do.

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You & I and the 4 Faces of Jesus

Recently a friend and I were discussing some of the hot-button issues in our country today. We mentioned such things as gay marriage, abortion, healthcare, and income inequality, to name a few.

We all have our opinions  on such things, of course. As believers, our opinions hopefully have been shaped by God’s principles and wisdom found in the Scriptures. In a world filled with moral relativism, we desperately need the Word of God as a plumb line to reveals our off-kilter values and behaviors (Amos 7:7-8).

But while discussing these things with my friend, I saw that being right on the issues is only half the battle. If are beliefs are right, but our attitudes are wrong, no one will be impacted in a positive way. Instead of having a platform to transform our society, we will either be ignored or ridiculed—and we’ll have only ourselves to blame.

So, while some people are too timid to address the hot-button issues at all, others undercut their message because of a calloused, unloving attitude toward their audience. They may be “speaking the truth,”  but they are failing to do so in love  (Ephesians 4:15).

No wonder we’ve lost our audience and become largely irrelevant in the debates over the pressing social issues of our day. How sad.

As I’ve pondered this unfortunate state of affairs, I’ve concluded that two problems must be remedied. First, our message must regain its clarity. The apostle Paul warned, “If the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?”  (1 Corinthians 14:8)

Where are the pulpits and publications today that are trumpeting a clear message from God instead of just spiritual mumbo jumbo? Too often, we sound more like politicians than preachers, coming down on each side of every issue. No one will be moved to action by that kind of indistinct trumpet sound.

But as important as it is for our message to regain laser-like clarity, the other problem is perhaps even more urgent: We must speak our message with “the face of Jesus.” This gets back to the “attitude” and spirit in which our message is delivered. Correct words  become hollow and impotent unless spoken with a correct heart  (1 Corinthians 13:1).

Perhaps you’ve never given it much thought, but this is a crucial issue. If the body of Christ is supposed to express Jesus’ “face” to today’s world, what expression should that be? Anger? Accommodation? Confrontation? Smugness? Disinterest?

I’ve concluded there are actually four  “faces of Jesus” presented in Scripture, and these provide us with a helpful glimpse of what our posture should be as we interact with our society. We see these four faces reflected in the description of the “four living creatures” in Ezekiel 1:10 (and mentioned again in Revelation 4:7):

As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle. 

If you grew up in a church with stained-glass windows, you probably have seen these four faces depicted. And as Bible commentators have frequently pointed out, the four Gospels each emphasize one of these four characteristics of Jesus’ personality and ministry:

LION: Matthew quotes the most Old Testament prophesies about Jesus, presenting Him as the King and the “lion of the tribe Judah.” (regaining our “roar” and seeing a mandate to “reign in life”)

OX: Mark focuses on Jesus as the suffering Servant, coming to obey the Father’s will and serve humanity by laying down His life.

MAN: Luke, as a medical doctor, emphasizes Jesus’ humanity and His concern for those who were hurting.

EAGLE: John presented an “eagle’s eye view” of Jesus’ life and ministry, revealing Him as the living Word of God who existed from eternity.

As Christians living in the 21st century, we are called upon to approach our world with each of these four aspects of Jesus’ nature:

  • As LIONS, we need to regain our “roar.” While we’re called to be kings of the jungle—ruling and reigning with Christ (Romans 5:17)—we’ve allowed ourselves to become tame and housebroken. Instead of being conquerors and victors, striking terror in evildoers, we’ve become more like kittens, a threat to no one.
  • As OXEN, we must approach our society with the heart of servants. Rather than being known for our angry denunciation of our nation’s shortcomings, we need to offer our love, prayers, and service to make things better.
  • As MEN and WOMEN, we must model the humanity  and compassion  of Jesus for those in need. This means weeping  over our city and our nation, even as we call them to repentance  (Luke 13:34-35).
  • As EAGLES, we must strive to see the big picture and view our world from God’s heavenly perspective. The Lord is calling us to come to a higher place of revelation and wisdom than we’ve had before: “Come up here, and I will show you things…”  He is saying again today (Revelation 4:1-2). And in order to have the maximum impact, the church needs “sons of Issachar”—people with prophetic insight, who understand the times and know what God’s people should do (1 Chronicles 12:32).

Jesus said that anyone who saw Him would know what the Father looked like (John 14:9). In the same way, a watching world should be able to know what Jesus looks like by observing the lives of His followers.

The world desperately needs to see Jesus again. But that will only happen if we once again model the face of a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle. It’s time to roar, serve, weep…and SOAR!

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Who Hijacked MLK’s Dream?

Guest Blog by Bishop George Bloomer

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Every time I hear the famous “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I get inspired—and angry. I get inspired by Dr. King’s powerful and lofty vision of a better world, where racial harmony is the norm rather than the exception. Yet I get angry because we’re still a long way from the fulfillment of that dream.

Think of how ironic this is. People on all sides of the political spectrum claim to agree with King’s stirring vision. Conservatives…liberals…independents. Who could be against racial harmony? In theory, no one is.

But there’s no doubt about it, Dr. King’s dream has been hijacked. Countless examples could be cited, from the trumped up rape case against the Duke lacrosse team to the George Zimmerman trial for killing Trayvon Martin. Right when you think you can breathe a sigh of relief and declare that peace and brotherhood reign supreme, some ugly incident proves otherwise.

And even Barack Obama’s two electoral victories haven’t created a harmonious, colorblind nation. Perhaps we’ve even taken a few steps backward.

There’s plenty of blame to go around, of course. Politicians, preachers, activists, educators, rappers, media executives, and self-described “civil rights leaders”—we’ve all fallen short of our responsibility to further the cause of racial harmony.

But it’s troubling that some of the primary culprits have been those who most piously claim to be the guardians of Dr. King’s dream. Yes, you know who I mean. Some race-baiters have gotten rich by stirring up the cauldron of prejudice and bigotry.

However, before we assign blame for the sidetracking of Dr. King’s dream, let’s first look at what he said in that majestic speech in front of a crowd of over 250,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. King did not pull any punches when he contrasted the continuing plight of many black Americans today with the American dream envisioned in lofty documents such as our Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Emancipation Proclamation. MLK referenced such things as poverty, discrimination, segregation, and police brutality as ongoing problems even 100 years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation.

While Dr. King didn’t shy away from honestly addressing the issues, his message that day was also filled with abounding hope:

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

It’s important to notice that Martin Luther King Jr. saw his dream as being “deeply rooted in the American dream.” It could be argued that, like Barack Obama, King wanted to “fundamentally change America.” However, I think there is a difference between the two.

Dr. King wanted to see America transformed into the shining city on a hill that its founders proclaimed. In a nutshell, he was calling the nation to live up to its own dream and potential—to “walk its talk” and reflect its highest values. “I have a dream,” he said, “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed—‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’”

There’s evidence that Barack Obama, in contrast, had his foundational worldview shaped by anticolonial philosophies that focus more on America’s flaws than its sublime and noble vision. His 2008 campaign famously preached “hope and change.”

But instead of being rooted in America’s original promises, not yet fulfilled, President Obama’s message seemed to imply that he alone could bring the country into the Promised Land. In contrast, just a few days before MLK’s death, he sensed that although he saw a vision of a Promised Land filled with racial harmony and justice, “I may not get there with you.” He fully understood that his dream was dependent on a higher power than human personalities.

But I digress…

Dr. King’s closing crescendo painted an awesome portrait of what race relations could look like in our nation:

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood…

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama…little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.

With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day, this will be the day when all  of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning: “My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.” And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California.

But not only that.

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Notice that Dr. King’s dream was not only  rooted in the American dream. He was a preacher of the gospel, and his message of hope and change was tied to his scriptural perspective that God is the ultimate Liberator. Why should people of all racial groups be treated equally? Because God is their Creator, and they all have a right to be His children.

Many people today claim to share Dr. King’s objective. Yet often there’s something missing. While their mission typically is fueled merely by well-meaning humanism, King’s was energized by holy zeal and a sense of divine purpose. Nothing less will get the job done.

 

 

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Betty White and Me

I heard on NPR radio that today is Betty White’s 92nd birthday. Betty and I starred in a musical together many, many years ago, when I was just a kid. Well, it would be more accurate to say that she  was the star, but I had a pretty good role too.

I played Betty’s son in “Take Me Along,” a musical you’ve probably never heard of. We got to sing and dance together in front of thousands of people.

There are two lessons I learned from my experiences with Betty—who is a really nice person, by the way.

First, I learned that fear is a normal part of life, and sometimes we need to jump into our role and do things despite our fears. Before Betty and I took the stage the first night, she asked, “Jimmy, are you feeling afraid at all?”

“Yeah, I sure am!” I replied.

“Well, I am too,” Betty told me with a wink. “But I’ve found that when I confront my fears, they always go away after I get started.”

Her words were very reassuring, and I’ve never forgotten them. It was okay to feel a little nervous before singing and dancing in front of thousands of people. Even Betty White was a little afraid. But she knew the fears would surely pass.

What about you? Are your fears causing you to procrastinate about “taking the stage” in a new phase of your life? If so, it’s time to cast your fears aside and “do it afraid”—because the curtain is about to open!

The second lesson about Betty is that I never realized how successful and famous she would ultimately become. Wouldn’t it have been great if I had the foresight to stay in touch with her all these years?

I hope you will take this lesson to heart today. You may be rubbing shoulders with someone destined for greatness, so the best policy to value and honor everyone  you encounter today. You may even want to get their phone number in case they become a celebrity one day!

In Genesis 40 we read about the king’s butler and baker who shared a prison cell with a young Hebrew man named Joseph. Who could have imagined that one day he would be the most powerful man in Egypt?

The moral of the story is that we should treat everyone as if they are destined for greatness—for in God’s eyes, they are.

 

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LIKED or RESPECTED — Which One Would You Choose?

If you were given the choice between being liked  or being respected  by people, which one would you choose? Of course, the clever answer is to say we want BOTH. We want people to like us and respect us too.

But what if I told you it’s not always possible to be both liked and respected? And what if I pointed out that, too often, we tend to do things in order to be liked, even if those things cause us to lose people’s respect.

For example, it’s understandable if you want your kids to like you. But it’s far more important to do what it takes to gain their respect. Insecure parents often try to “buy” the affection of their kids, but that approach always backfires in the end.

Insecure bosses try to be the life of the party and everybody’s pal, even though sometimes a good boss has to hurt people’s feelings and make decisions that are unpopular.

Many of the Bible’s greatest leaders were highly unpopular at times. Moses faced major rebellions, Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern, and the crowd told Pilate to crucify Jesus, the Son of God.

Nevertheless, most of us are people-pleasers at heart. That’s why it’s so hard to be a good leader, or even a good disciple of Jesus.

Paul explained it this way: “Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ”  (Galatians 1:10).

Paul understood that at times we all come to the uncomfortable place where we must choose: Will we seek people’s favor or God’s favor? Will we be authentic servants of Christ or mere people-pleasers?

A quote attributed to Ed Sheeran says, “I can’t tell you the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.” Well said.

I hope you are a person who is both likeable and respectable. But if you have to choose, I encourage you to do the right thing, even if it’s not the popular thing. Put respect above likeability. You’ll be glad you did.

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Getting Our ROAR Back

It seems most of us Christians in the United States today have become like domesticated lions. While we’re called to be kings of the jungle—ruling and reigning with Christ (Romans 5:17)—we’ve allowed ourselves to become tame and housebroken. Instead of being predators, striking terror in the princes of darkness, we’ve become mere pussy cats, a threat to no one.

Is anyone afraid of the church in America today? Does the devil quake when the saints of God gather? Are those who pollute our society with moral filth concerned about a holy uprising of the Lord’s people in response?

And what about the TV preachers who happily go on secular talk shows to promote their books—yet refuse to take a stand on the moral issues of our day? Rather than represent the true Prince of Peace—the One who angrily cast moneychangers out of the temple—many have become mere pacifists, opting for peace at any price. Instead of challenging the world, we’ve taken the easy road and accommodated the world.

Abraham’s nephew Lot became a domesticated lion. He thought he had it made when Abraham told him he could choose the most lucrative place to live. But he became soft…spiritually dull…compromised. It’s not easy to maintain your spiritual edge when you’re living in the lap of luxury.

Yet Lot seemed to think all was well until two angels of the Lord came to visit him one evening (Genesis 19). After all, he was on good terms with the wicked inhabitants of Sodom—or so he thought.

How tragic. But we who are domesticated lions have taken a similar path. Just as Lot thought he could placate the men of Sodom, we smugly think the world actually accepts us. Lot found out too late that the people of Sodom were never fooled by his compromised life.

We who seek to follow Jesus need to remember how He prayed to the Father for us: “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world”  (John 17:14).

We all want to be liked and accepted, don’t we? That’s human nature. But sometimes the call to follow Christ will put us at odds with the world. What will we do then? Will we allow the world to emasculate us and turn us into kittens instead of lions? Or will be willing to die to ourselves and let the Lion of the tribe of Judah rise up big within us?

God wants to replace our pitiful meows with the ROAR of champions again. Are you ready?

 

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