Last Spring my wife, Sherry, and I did one of our favorite things. We went on a long road trip. We flew to Dallas and spent part of a day with our spiritual parents, Larry and Devi Titus.
We then drove a rental car across the country to the Asheville, North Carolina area, where we spent several days in a private spiritual retreat at a wonderful place called The Cove. It’s 1200 acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains, established by Billy Graham. There’s a chapel, training center and lodges.
Everything there is done with excellence and care… but intentionally is not luxurious, so that the worldly experience supports rather than overshadows experiencing God and His presence. I came away from that experience with many things, not the least of which was a much deeper and better understanding of the famous evangelist, Billy Graham, as a man… his personal nature and character.
Over the several months since, Sherry and I have weathered profound life events and changes. Then, just 8 days ago, we found ourselves in Dallas again. This time it was to join Larry Titus, now a widower, and our larger spiritual family, to attend the celebration of life service for Devi Titus.
Many highly influential leaders from all over the globe were there, some of whom I have known beyond their public ministries for some time. And just seven days ago, Pastor Jack Hayford—a man and leader we knew, deeply admired and who influenced us greatly—passed.
I started thinking about how many lives, people groups and enterprises globally have been profoundly influenced by those leaders, Devi Titus, Jack Hayford and Billy Graham, and what they all had in common. They worked it out.
The actual thrust of this is scriptures that follow:
But first, I’ll challenge some norms, and boldly so. I applaud those who would say, “Where is that in scripture!” My loving response is, “Good news; it’s what the Holy Scriptures actually say, consistently, all over the place!” There are some that really jump out that highlight what I’ll claim next. I hope you’ll read these in their full context.
This is about contrast—contrasting normal with new normal… which is not new at all. Instead “new normal” is the original normal that over time was overlaid by the current normal. So, I posit this in the role of reformer.
Work Out Your Salvation with Fear and Trembling
Let’s start with a verse, Philippians 2:9-12, that most every churchgoer at some point has heard, or will. It will be helpful for the reader to read this aloud with great fire-and-brimstone conviction. Ready, go!
Philippians 2:9-12, NKJV Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;
Let’s go back to the time of Christ. Eventually there became twelve original disciples. Eleven walked with Christ in person before He was crucified, died and was buried, and rose again. Across those 42-ish months, these eleven were transformed gradually, bit by bit… but only somewhat. This, despite their direct contact with Jesus. Yes, Jesus was Emmanuel with them physically. But only so much actually took.
Their radical transformation began 72 hours after Christ’s crucifixion, death and burial. He walked through the wall and joined them! He resurrected! (John 20:19-30). I can only imagine how much that, and the next 40 days He spent with them prior to His ascension affected their paradigms and transformation.
I’m thinking that at Jesus’s ascension they found themselves full of recollection, full of information, full of experience, full of awe. Even so, they still lacked impartation and revelation, let alone the desire and wherewithal to launch a revolution. Surely they had questions. Likely, many.
The Holy Spirit Brings Divine Fire
But suddenly…! Ten days later, fifty days after Christ’s resurrection, it came! How? The Holy Spirit came—on them and in them at Pentecost. It was then that they truly assimilated Kingdom being, Kingdom living, their identity, their authority, their roles and responsibilities, their purpose and the divine fire to accomplish it.
THAT’S when they began living, unleashing and spreading the ruling presence of God. Their deliverance from the kingdom of darkness, the kingdoms and culture of the world around them, their freedom, righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit only blossomed and blew up AFTER Jesus left. That’s when their deepest questions were clarified and, over time, because answered.
On the very night He was to be betrayed, Jesus promised: “I will ask the Father and he will give you another [Savior], the Holy Spirit of Truth, who will be to you a friend just like me—and he will never leave you. The world won’t receive him because they can’t see him or know him. But you will know him intimately, because he will make his home in you and will live inside you.” (John 14:16-17, the word “savior” is used intentionally). That very thing happened! And still does!
Eventually, there arrived on scene a 12th disciple and apostle. He never met Jesus before Jesus ascended. But he sure did…afterward… on a road, on his way to commit heinous acts against Jesus’s followers that were authorized by religious leaders (Acts 9).
This 12th disciple met Christ the same exact way you and I did, or can, this very day. That guy’s name? Saul of Tarsus who became Paul the Apostle. That’s who eventually penned that letter to the followers in Philippi, from which we read the excerpt earlier. Please read slowly and carefully those same verses from a different translation, in context…
Philippians 2:6-13, TPT
Philippians 2:6-13, TPT (Emphasis added) [Jesus] existed in the form of God, yet he gave no thought to seizing equality with God as his supreme prize. Instead he emptied himself of his outward glory by reducing himself to the form of a lowly servant. He became human! He humbled himself and became vulnerable, choosing to be revealed as a man and was obedient. He was a perfect example, even in his death—a criminal’s death by crucifixion! Because of that obedience, God exalted him and multiplied his greatness! He has now been given the greatest of all names! The authority of the name of Jesus causes every knee to bow in reverence! Everything and everyone will one day submit to this name—in the heavenly realm, in the earthly realm, and in the demonic realm. And every tongue will proclaim in every language: “Jesus Christ is Lord Yahweh,” bringing glory and honor to God, his Father My beloved ones, just like you’ve always listened to everything I’ve taught you in the past, I’m asking you now to keep following my instructions as though I were right there with you. Now you must continue to make this new life fully manifested as you live in the holy awe of God—which brings you trembling into his presence. God will continually revitalize you, implanting within you the passion to do what pleases him.
Salvation & Deliverance
Here’s the point. It’s great news. The words save and salvation, before they were translated from the original languages to English mean deliverance. Becoming delivered from one way and existence to another, over and over again—rinse n’ repeat! Salvation is not a singularity, a one-time thing, a prayer. It instead is incremental, full deliverance from one kingdom to another: From the kingdom of darkness and the kingdoms of this world to the Kingdom of Light and Kingdom of God.
Salvation IS a process, it IS transformational loss, change and growth over time. Salvation IS trinitarian. As images and imagers of God, we are three persons in one, body, soul and spirit. Born anew from above, born again, converted, our spirit person is made completely new, all the old is no more (John 3, 2nd Corinthians 5).
Alive with God and Dead to Sin
At conversion our spirit person is alive with the ruling presence of God, completely dead to sin and utterly no longer of this world and its ways and systems. Our soul person and flesh person are invited and fully supported to come into alignment with our spirit person. This all is wholly dependent upon relationship with the person of Holy Spirit. The deeper and better we forge relationship with Holy Spirit, Christ is more fully revealed.
The more and better we know Christ, we cannot help but develop intimacy with Him. Intimacy only leads to trusting and obeying Him. And that is the path that leads to the greatest prize and existence of all: Proximity to Abba Father, full of glory and dignity!
Apostles - Sent Ones
That is what happened to each of those twelve disciples. Then they were sent out. That is the very definition of apostle—a sent one. It is a nautical term. A conquering empire would send out advance ships. Their job was to sail to lands previously under other rule, enter that land and establish the conqueror’s rule and culture. Not to take over existing civil governments and culture—no, no. Instead, establish and flourish their king’s rule and culture.
That is exactly what disciples do. They live their king’s way in the lands to which they are appointed. They spend the rest of their lives being transformed into actual imagers of their King, manifesting their King’s ruling presence and their king’s culture. They actively renew the way they think, move and have their being. They are very much engaged in the world and the systems around them but are no longer at all satisfied with being of that existence. They pledge allegiance to a different ruler.
How the Church Can Help
You might ask, “Well then, how is the church supposed to help?” Myriad scriptures give us the answers specifically. For a great synopsis, let’s look to the book of Ephesians 4:11-15, TPT. This is the same yesterday, today and till the end of time. Because Jesus is. (Hebrews 13:8).
Ephesians 4:11-15 TPT And [Jesus] has appointed some with grace to be apostles, and some with grace to be prophets, and some with grace to be evangelists, and some with grace to be pastors, and some with grace to be teachers. And their calling is to nurture and prepare all the holy believers to do their own works of ministry, and as they do this they will enlarge and build up the body of Christ. These grace ministries will function until we all attain oneness in the faith, until we all experience the fullness of what it means to know the Son of God, and finally we become one perfect man with the full dimensions of spiritual maturity and fully developed in the abundance of Christ. And then our immaturity will end! And we will not be easily shaken by trouble, nor led astray by novel teachings or by the false doctrines of deceivers who teach clever lies. But instead we will remain strong and always sincere in our love as we express the truth. All our direction and ministries will flow from Christ and lead us deeper into him, the anointed Head of his body, the church.
That IS salvation! That also IS discipleship! Two aspects of the same process, two sides of the same coin, a distinction without an actual difference!
What is My Part?
You might say, “Okay, I’m starting to get the story, and why it’s important. But what’s my part in it?” And THAT is THE question. For each person, THAT question is FAR MORE important than whatever answer a man, a book, a seminar, a degree, a subscription, a video series, a denomination, a church (including the one I lead) or a program could ever answer.
The good news? God not only has all your answers, He IS the answer. His eager desire for you is to keep asking. He is even more eager to answer in the ways He knows best, and to help you go from the known to the unknown in attainable steps. THAT is salvation; THAT in its very essence IS discipleship. It is inward salvation by the person of the Holy Spirit, and inward discipleship by the person of the Holy Spirit!
Your Salvation. Your Discipleship.
But you reasonably say, “I don’t think I can do this on my own,” or reasonably ask, “What is my part in all this?” Your salvation, your discipleship plan, is tailored by God to you. You are a once-in-all-history event. No human can tell you your process, let alone should try. I have GREAT news. God provides that too! Here’s a great start—seven ingredients constantly mixed in and stirred to create over time an ever-evolving, beautiful, appealing, powerful seven-layer cake.
This is from Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Peter. It provides us a great summary. (2 Peter:3-11, TPT). Please read these verses slowly and carefully.
2 Peter 1:3-11 TPT Everything we could ever need for life and godliness has already been deposited in us by his divine power. For all this was lavished upon us through the rich experience of knowing him who has called us by name and invited us to come to him through a glorious manifestation of his goodness. As a result of this, he has given you magnificent promises that are beyond all price, so that through the power of these tremendous promises we can experience partnership with the divine nature, by which you have escaped the corrupt desires that are of the world. So devote yourselves to lavishly supplementing your faith with goodness, and to goodness add understanding, and to understanding add the strength of self-control, and to self-control add patient endurance, and to patient endurance add godliness, and to godliness add mercy toward your brothers and sisters, and to mercy toward others add unending love. Since these virtues are already planted deep within, and you possess them in abundant supply, they will keep you from being inactive or fruitless in your pursuit of knowing Jesus Christ more intimately. But if anyone lacks these things, he is blind, constantly closing his eyes to the mysteries of our faith, and forgetting his innocence—for his past sins have been washed away. For this reason, beloved ones, be eager to confirm and validate that God has invited you to salvation and claimed you as his own. If you do these things, you will never stumble. As a result, the kingdom’s gates will open wide to you as God choreographs your triumphant entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Messiah.
Salvation: It's Not Complicated
The four pillars that frame and support salvation and discipleship:
Over time, as we continually submit more and more areas of our life to God and His processes, we change and grow. Our identity, authority, purpose and destiny come into sharper focus. And we acquire the tailwinds of heaven to accomplish who and what God intended eternally.
The Love of God They Radiated
I think of my experiences last Spring getting to see much better who Billy Graham was. I think of my experience 8 days ago, once again seeing those leaders, their track records and their hearts. I think of my experiences with Pastor Jack. I understand more deeply the attributes they hold in common, along with the source of their appeal and their power.
It wasn’t evangelical appeal or charismatic zeal, though those are wonderful and God-breathed. Instead, it was the presence and the love of God they radiated. I realize, though, that is an outgrowth. They trusted God and yielded to His loving salvation and discipleship across time. At a deep level, people were drawn to them and related to them more as a true disciple of Christ and, eventually, as a father or a mother.
I’ll wind this down from that same heart to the best of my ability. As a reformer, I’ll lean on Billy Graham, who said something both prescient and beautiful almost 58 years ago.
"Multitudes of Christians within the Church are moving toward the point were they may reject the institution that we call the church. They are beginning to turn to more simplified forms of worship. They are hungry for a personal and vital experience with Jesus Christ. They want a heartwarming personal faith. Unless the church quickly recovers its authoritative Biblical message, we may witness the spectacle of millions of Christians going outside the institutional church to find spiritual food." Billy Graham (in 1956!) as quoted in "World Aflame," pp. 79-80
As for “church growth”…
Consider the following Quotes:
There have been some who were so preoccupied with spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ. C.S. Lewis
Jesus is God's exegesis of himself. Jesus is God's ultimate sermon. Bruxy Cavey
To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul's paradox of love. A.W. Tozer
God is...a man on a cross, loving people who don't love him. That's God. Will Willimon
Normality is a paved road. It's comfortable to walk but no flowers grow on it. Vincent van Gogh
When the church resists change, it is a classic case of letting the dead bury the living. Leonard Sweet
As for transforming and maturing as Christ followers ourselves…
Rethink "sinner's prayer". "...contrary to man's perspective, the Lord is not late with His promises to return, as some measure lateness. But rather, his "delay" simply reveals his loving patience toward you [all people], because he does not want any to perish but all to come to repentance."~ Apostle Peter, 2 Peter 3:8-9" Those verses do not refer to sin, in any direct sense.
Rethink the fundamental question. Is it truly, "Am I going to Heave?"
Or is it more like, "In my very essence am I with Christ and in Christ now? Believing, trusting, obeying, following, transforming? HOW: Am I inwardly proclaiming and expressing the Kingdom of God (the manifest ruling presence of God)? Am I outwardly expressing and demonstrating the manifest ruling presence of God?"
How closely do my thoughts, words and lifestyle choices resemble Matthew 5-7? (And if even a whiff of guilt, condemnation or shame arises, that's a key indicator)
My Challenge - Throughout 2023 Engage!
You don’t have to just take my word for it. Here’s my challenge:
Test this. Find for yourself where the Bible says:
The good news of the Gospel is we can go to Heaven
Being saved equals going to Heaven
We are going to a distant Heaven at all
Evangelizing means "winning the lost" and inviting others to pray the prayer
Get into the Bible daily. Read, listen to and discuss scripture!
Develop over time deep relationship and intimacy with Holy Spirit
Start or join a group of God-chasers. Hash over these things with others.
Let’s work it out! Together!
Together let's ask:
Holy Spirit, what are You saying?
What aspects of me do you desire to help?
Convert (pledge allegiance)
Ready me to serve
For Heaven’s sake (literally), let us not convert to Christianity, Churchianity, Doctrinanity, Denominationanity, Politicanity or any other inanity or insanity. Eternal life, God-life (John 10:10) was not, is not and never will be found in any ism, ology or sin-based construct.
Let us instead convert to a PERSON: Jesus, our Savior, our Lord, our Healer, our Deliverer, Discipler, Source, our King now and coming.
Let us instead become His FOLLOWERS, showing ourselves His followers and making Him famous!
Let us instead fully manifest this new life in Christ as we live in the holy awe of God—which brings us trembling into his presence! (Philippians 2:12)
Let us instead work out a life of ridiculous love and acceptance, of radical forgiveness and outrageous hospitality.
Let us commit to this today!
I speak into your spirit, and over you, your family, and those about whom you deeply care: May it become fully so!