Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hearing His voice and being known by Him

I have had several inquire as to whether I had taken them off of my little email list. I have taken no one (who has not requested it) off my list. I have been very busy. . . too busy over the past several months. I have not done very much writing for several months. I am back. I am not going to get that busy again. I suffer for my busy-ness in many ways. . .

John 10:27
My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me. . .

Jesus' sheep hear His voice and merely from their hearing He knows them. . .What is the meaning of this mystery? How does He know them from their hearing? He knows them in that they react. . . they look up. . . they respond to the sound of his words. Imagine a pasture of sheep all feeding and minding their own business. The shepherd calls to them. The ones who know Him stop what they are doing, lift their heads and turn to Him. The rest of the sheep ignore Him. . . continue on with their own concerns. . . ignoring the unfamiliar voice. . . thereby the shepherd knows who are his!!! He speaks. . . they hear. . . they respond. . . they follow. . .

How does he speak to His sheep? Surely through His written Word. . . can you? Do you read His Word and not have it effect you? Do you continue on your way without being changed by His Word? You are in danger of not being recognized by Him. Preaching is another way He speaks to His sheep. He gives words to a man of God to give to his sheep. There is one Shepherd above all. Below Him Pastors, also meaning shepherds who speak the mind and intent of the Shepherd above all others. Have you lost your ability to be moved by preaching? Have you heard it all before? Is your heart hardened and no longer able to respond to the sound of the Shepherd's voice? Is the preacher's message always for someone else? Be ware, we need to find meaning and be effected by all of God's words to us. His Words, His wisdom have layers and layers upon more layers of meaning.

The outer layers are easily accessible and easily digestible, but we are not only to be sustained by milk and sodden bread. The meat is deeper, more difficult still there within the same pages, contained within the same sermons as the milk and bread, but requiring greater effort to procure and a more mature digestive system for break down and use in the body. The infant needs the spoon of softened sop lifted to his lips and gently trickled down their throat so as to not choke them. The eating of meat requires teeth and strength of jaw to tear off from the bone and to gain benefit from.

In what other ways does He speak to us. . . through brothers and sisters. . . through strangers unaware of what they are saying. . . unaware of the significance of their meaning. . . .He speaks to me through many natural events. Literally He speaks to me by sunsets and clouds in the sky. . . snowflakes dancing before my eyes. . . I cannot count the times that a hawk, an owl, a dove has swooped low over my car or spilled the air from his wings and hovered right in front of my passing. I weep. . . I give thanks for these little hugs that God gives me every day. If I were only more in tune with His messages I am sure I would find endless delight and encouragement in His messages to me. . .

It is my responsibility as a sheep to come to know His voice in all its tones and manner of reaching out to me. I must always be aware of His calling and be ready to respond so that He might know that I am His sheep and He my shepherd. . . I must be ready at a moment to follow him. In this same vein and on the flip side, it is very much also our responsibility as sheep to recognize the voice of impostors and not to be led astray by a false shepherd's voice.

Yesterday I had a tremendous day of worship of God. I've driven over 1100 miles in three days, spending very much the most of my time in the car praying and worshipping Him. I got to my hotel room Monday night and I was just overwhelmed at His goodness. His presence just washed over me. I fell to my knees and began weeping and praising Him in gratefulness at what He has done for me. . . completely overcome. . . a voice in my head said, "Would you feel this same way if things weren't going so well for you?". . . I was taken aback, stung by this question for a moment. My worship and praise stopped.

Suddenly I was filled with doubts about myself and the sincerity of my worship. Am I only happy because things are going well in my life. . . .Questions arose. . . doubts. . . confusion. . . . . AND I KNEW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This was not the voice of my shepherd. My shepherd's voice does not cause doubt and confusion. My shepherd's voice brings peace and joy and comfort. That voice, the voice of that impostor quieted my worship and troubled my heart. I rebuke that voice!!! That is not the voice of God, but of the one who wants to disrupt the honor and praise of God. It is my. . . It is our responsibility to close our ears to any shepherd, but the one true Shepherd!!! We must follow His voice and His voice only!!!

I worship you my God. . .
I love you with everything within me. . .
I desire more than anything else to live in eternity with You. . .

Please Lord, help me know your voice ever more clearly. . .

I love you Lord. . .
I love you all. . .

Dave Stokely

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Death of a Sterling Man. . .

My son, Colin, called Friday morning, weeping on the phone. His grandpa, my ex-wife's father, had died that morning and Colin had just found out about it a few minutes previous to calling me. This too was a blow to me as well. Richard was someone you figured, or maybe deeply wished to be invincible.

In ones life, you meet a handful of people whose character is. . . I don't know to describe it. . . somehow above the rest of us. Richard was one of those very special people. I do not know of anyone who had an unkind word to say about Richard. I am sure that he was not perfect. I'm sure he was not without fault, but in any respect he was a wonderful man.

Adrianne, my daughter; Colin and Rachael, his girl friend; and Kristine, my ex-wife and I met at the hospital. Richard was still in his bed. I'd never been present for this kind of thing before. I didn't know what to expect. He was in a double room, in the bed by the window. There was a fellow quietly watching TV in the other bed. The curtain was drawn, as a partition between them, but there were no other signs that Richard had expired. Other than the unique stillness about him, he might have been sleeping. . . but he was not. He was gone.

I would not have recognized him, if I had just happened upon him. In his prime he was close to 6 feet tall. At his death he weighed less than 100 lbs. The memories of shared times were too large for the husk before us. . . We all wept and hugged and wept and prayed. The children giving him hugs and kisses. . . gently holding his hand in somber silence for long moments. . . We talked quietly about memories of time together with Richard. He and my son shared birthdays. My son was born in Germany in 1978. We weren't able to call back to the family for a couple of days. He was very tickled when he found out about the very special present of May 9th, 1978. . . . my son and Richard enjoyed one another. They shared much more than just birthdays.

Last summer, Jackie and I rented a cottage on a lake in Michigan. All our family were invited to come up and enjoy the week. Our week last summer was done in imitation and memory of a week Richard gave all his family in 1987. What a glorious week we had. Richard, his wife, all the kids and grand-kids fishing and swimming for the week. What golden memories I have of that week with Richard and his oldest son Eric, fishing maybe 6-8 hours a day in that little rowboat.

I don't know what prompted Richard to rent that cottage on Gun Lake at that time. . . maybe it was a sage attempt to forestall an ominous feeling. . . maybe it was an attempt to disrupt some premonition of a coming train wreck for his family. I don't know, but in the next couple of years three of his four children would divorce. That one last golden week is remembered shining hugely brightly shortly before a terrible season of darkness came into my life. . .

What was it about Richard that set him so high in so many people's memories? He is being buried in dress clothes, but no suit. Richard was not a suit kind of guy. Yes, he owned them. Yes, he wore them when the occasion demanded, but that was not his element. There was no pomp about Richard. He was a basic man, not gold, not platinum, not diamond studded. . . I chose sterling for my description of him. Surely a precious metal, not common, but also not something exclusively for the use of kings. . . Richard drove Fords and Chevys and Buicks. He probably could have afforded them, but no BMWs or Lexus' or Cadillacs were ever found in his garage.

One of his greatest joys was to shop for bargains at the grocery store. This was a passion with Richard, more of a hobby, maybe part game for him, a challenge to find little bargains in the aisles of Krogers, Martins, and Meijers. Every few days he would head out with a handful of coupons and an ad from the paper. He would return a few hours later with his little cargo of treasures. It was a joy for him. He was frugal, but never miserly. It was not out of necessity or greed that he shopped like this. He would about as soon give it all away to his kids or friends as anything else. It was a challenge, like I said a game for him. I'm sure Jean, his wife, probably won't exhaust Richard's room of food stores in the basement for a couple of years or more.

It was simple pleasures like that that brought Richard joy. There was a transparency about Richard that was hugely attractive. You knew where you stood with him. There were no hidden agendas, no secret strategies. He was not a plotter. He wore his heart on his sleeve, if you knew what to look for. He surely wasn't overly emotional in a negative way. Richard loved to laugh. He loved a joke. He smiled most of the time. He surely had his dark days. He fought a life long battle with depression and anxiety, at one point becoming seriously addicted to Valium. He was a proud and strong man. He struggled to quit the Valium without the help of a physician. It was a very dangerous and difficult time for him. Richard cared deeply and therefore worried deeply. He had a tender and wonderful, an easily wounded heart. . .

I could go on and on with memories and stories, but I do not want to just gush with dripping sweetness and cloying maudlin words about Richard. That surely would not fit or do justice to the memory of him, but my son spoke to the shell of what once was Richard, "You taught me how to be a better person. . ." I don't know that I can add any higher praise. I would agree with that. . .

Richard I loved you greatly. . .
You also taught me how to be a better person. . .

Dave Stokely

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Wrestling Match. . .

The Wrestling Match. . .

The other day I was speaking to someone about our prayer walk and the looked for results from our walking up and down the streets of our city. I quoted the following verse:

Ephesians 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

I love preaching and teaching on this section of Ephesians at the jail. There is so much wisdom and practical advice for living a victorious life in these verses. Anyway I was explaining that by walking up and down the streets we are stepping out in our belief and exercising our faith. We are confronting the principalities and powers and rulers of darkness, on their doorstep, in their own dominion. The same prayers could surely be said from our Lazy-boy chairs at home or from upon our knees at the side of our beds, but by putting actual physical steps alongside of our prayers, we are putting flesh, substance on things hoped for, we are giving physical evidence to the world of the unseen spiritual battle that we are fighting. Yes the same battle can be fought from anywhere. We do not need to be in close physical proximity to pray for something to occur, but by the same measure God told Joshua and the Hebrews to walk around the city of Jericho for six days quietly before acting on the seventh to bring the walls down, thereby demonstrating their faith, thereby giving substance to their belief in the power of God to accomplish such a huge victory for them. This was by any worldly standard a ridiculous exercise. Walking around a heavily fortified city six times in the hopes of its walls being breached. . . what foolishness. . .

These words still fresh in my mind, a mere few hours later, I was speaking with another person, another friend who is in a terrible battle for his spiritual life. To watch someone go through such a torment, such a spiritual war. . . I don't know. . . I feel helpless. What am I talking about? I am helpless in his battle . . I can do little. I can offer words of encouragement. I offer to be there at any time of the day or night for my friend, but I cannot fight the battle for him. He is contending with some terrible and powerfully ancient reptile. . . rolling around in the muck. . . submerging and surfacing again and again in the frothy chocolate water. . . they spin. . . they thrash about, disappear and reappear again. The next go round, will my friend come up again? Will he surface one more time or will he disappear and leave me to wonder of his fate??? . . and I am handcuffed and helpless to come to their aid. . . other than with my prayers. . .It comes to my mind. I remember this verse. I want to shout at Paul. WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT???? WE WRESTLE AGAINST OUR FLESH AND BLOOD ALL THE DAY LONG. . . . Life is a decades long wrestling match of spirit and flesh. . . What kind of dream land do you live in Paul? What do you talk about in this verse???

I search Scripture for 'flesh', trying to find an answer to my questions. I run across another of Paul's sentences:

Romans 6:19
I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.


In this I find the answer to my accusation against Paul. Flesh is never spoken of positively in the Bible. The flesh is always weak. It never rules. It is always a servant. It is always ruled by its own hungers and passions. The desires of the flesh are the desires of our animal nature. Modern morality desires, no more than that, it needs evolution to be true, in that all the desires of the flesh are then explainable and justified by our degenerate past. Any perversion is then acceptable and explainable in the context of our origins of the primal muck and ooze. The fruit of muck and ooze never falls far from the evolutionary tree. According to the view of the world, woman was not made from the flesh of man, but man and woman were made from the flesh of the animal kingdom and thereby have no distinguishing calling, destiny, or obligation. Morality is a meaningless concept. Man is only one rung on a ladder that stretches forward and backwards into the mist. There is no true eternity. There are no consequences or remembrances past the ultimately forgettable history of our fourscore plus years upon this earth. No history. . . no consequences. . . translate into no restrictions on our actions.

But we who know God, know that man has a higher capacity than a mere animal, we are made not from slime, but in the image of God and with that capacity, with that divine heritage comes an ability and a duty to not ever allow the flesh to rule. God created every fleshly thing, but only into Man did God breath into his nostrils the breath of life, animating not only flesh, but more importantly giving life to the soul of man. This breath of God gave life to our Spirit. Our eternal soul must then rule the flesh or we are indeed merely animals. If we give the dominion of our flesh to another Spirit, it is then this spirit that we must wrestle against. I'm sorry Paul. You are right. We are not wrestling against the servant flesh, but we wrestle against the master of the flesh.

Physically I am handcuffed in my friend's battle, but I am not powerless! I am praying. I cannot see before my eyes the results of my prayers, but I believe. . . . I pray and believe. . . .

I pray for you my friend. . .
I love you my God. . .

Dave

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A New Year. . .

Today we begin another year, a new chapter in the book of our lives. What will this new chapter hold? We see those around us, in our immediate church family whose lives are very much different on January 1st 2008 than they were on January 1st of 2007. Lives forever changed by events, circumstances of health, finances, seemingly random events of car wrecks or unforeseen birth, renewal and blessings. For a truth is that life is about change. Even if nothing much remarkable happened in your life this past year, you are different. You and I are not the same people we were 365 days ago. For good or bad, we have changed. If nothing more, we have aged and with that should come greater wisdom. Unfortunately in my life I can see long decades seemingly without much movement in that direction.

Years ago, I would have said that nothing about life was constant, but change. Today I know that life is filled with change, but there is one constant and that is God. My faith is subject to change. My discipline varies with the day. My health, my finances, my job, my attitude go up and down in some crazy undulating, pendulamic sine wave, seemingly sometimes all peaking or tanking at the same time, but God is always there. The only question remaining to be answered about my life is did I keep my eyes focused upon God or did I turn away from Him and go my own way?

In the book of each of our lives there is the potential of a happy ending, a victorious ending, an ending inspiring to others, an ending displaying for all to see our inner strength that we are given by our faith in God. No matter our individual circumstances, we are all given different story lines in which to live, but within those givens are opportunities for either majestic wonders and victories or black hopeless despair. Each printed page of every book have roughly the same porportions of dark ink and white paper. That is the given, that is the raw material of our lives. It is the relationship of the inky stain and the snowy paper, that is within our control. What form do they take? In what direction do the pages lead? Both the modern novelist Stephen King and the ancient man of God, David the King faced the same blank pages when they began to write. The ancient King wrote of God's wonder and love and strength and faithfulness. We have his life giving, and strengthening Psalms. The modern writer King creates strange tales of possession and evil spirits. By him we have books that cause nightmares and terror and despair. They had the same raw material, the same medium of usage. Their focus and thereby their destinations were greatly different. That is not determined by random fate or by God. We have that choice of direction. We can choose to tenaciously hold to Him, to keep Him in our focus, to lift Him up no matter what may be happening around us or we can drift away into the fog and gloom. . . . lost forever. . .

We see those around us who have chosen to live their own lives apart from their faith in God. Theirs are stories of double tragedy. Depressing not only for the bleakness of their lives without God, but doubly dark in the thought of what for them might have been. . .

The story of my life is still being written. I desire a good ending, but that is not at all guaranteed. It is required of me to keep my eye focused upon Him, regardless of the wonders or horrors of my surroundings. If I do that I will arrive in His courtyard one day. He will greet me and give me a hug. I will be truly home and I will live in His house forever more. . .

Think of that day. . . let us keep our eye focused upon that day. Nothing else matters, but that we arrive in that wonderful courtyard and that we bring as many with us as we can. . .

I love you God. . .
Nothing else matters but You. . .

I love you all. . .

Let us have a wondrous new year.
Let us show our world the wonders and power of our Lord!!!


Dave Stokely