AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR IN JAIL

I had quite the shock at the last small group Bible study in jail. The guys walked in, and I noticed there were a few more than usual. One of the new guys sat down right next to me and we looked at each other and pretty quickly realized we were old classmates. We stood up, shook hands and hugged each other. While we were both glad to see one another obviously this wasn’t the way we would have chosen. We had a few minutes of small talk and jumped right into the lesson.

We have been working our way through Romans and this night we found ourselves in chapter seven. For those of you that know your Bible’s you probably know this is quite the chapter. This is the chapter in which Paul walks us through what it looks like when someone attempts to please God in the flesh. When it comes to the term flesh there are many various ideas and definitions among great Bible teachers and scholars which generally leads to disagreements  about this chapter. For me I have come to the conclusion the word “flesh”, as used here, is simply defined as “humanity operating as if independent of the Spirit of God.”

With this definition in place we can begin to see what the Apostle Paul is really trying to tell us here. While some Bible translations use the term “sinful nature” in place of the word “flesh.” I have come to believe that is not a good translation. If you look in Ephesians 2 you will read we “were by nature (by birth) the children of wrath.”  We were indeed born a sinner, with a sinful nature, only because we were born with the wrong spirit within us. This of course is the reason Christ tells us we “must be born again.” In other words, we need to be born of God’s Spirit which will give us a new nature. We cannot have two nature’s at the same time. We are either a child of the devil or a child of God we can’t be both.

Romans seven starts with an illustration of a man and woman in marriage. We read where the only way the woman could get out of her union, or marriage, to her husband, is if he died but we also discover he simply will not die, so she’s in a quandary. The good news is God has provided a way for the woman, who is actually us in this illustration, to be removed from the old union by having her (we) to die by being co-crucified with Christ. Now that we, by faith, have died with Christ our old marriage union is severed, and we are free to be joined to our new husband Christ. Now whereas we, in our old union, could only produce fruit unto death we are now joined to Christ in order to produce fruit for God.

Essentially Romans seven is Paul showing us what it’s like for the wife attempting to bear fruit for God through her own so-called independent, flesh efforts. It would be like a woman deciding to get pregnant and claiming all along she can and she doesn’t have any need of a man to do it. Paul says, “The thing I want to do I don’t do and the very thing I don’t want to do I keep doing.” The reason is because he has been deceived, like all the rest of us, into thinking God’s law is something we can keep rather than something God gave us to show us we can’t. This would be the equivalent God saying to the woman “produce fruit for me” as a commandment. The woman hears the command and sets out to get pregnant. She tries and tries saying, “I want to get pregnant. There’s the desire in me to produce fruit for God but for some reason there seems to be no way for me to do it.” Who will deliver me from this endless cycle of trying and failing? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. I know! I’ll trust in him to produce the fruit God is looking for through me. After all apart from him I can do nothing.

While my old classmate and I didn’t expect to see one another, and especially in jail, I know he heard the truth that night. The truth of how human beings were designed, or created, to be a vessel, temple, wife and branch in which God’s Spirit lives. As a vessel and temple we learn how we are meant to be the container rather than the contents. As a vessel and temple we understand we are distinct from God’s Spirit within; but as a wife and branch we start to see there is a union between our spirit and His. While the illustration of us being a temple teaches us we never become like the deity housed within, the wife and branch, on the other hand, tells us there is a joining of our spirit with God’s that makes us one with him. Just as a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife to become one flesh with her “He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.”

The pathway to understanding our union, or oneness with Christ, only comes through our own Romans seven experience. Once we truly see ourselves as dead to sin in Romans six we must move on to seeing ourselves as dead to the Law in Romans seven before moving on into life in the Spirit which we read in Romans eight but let’s not get ahead of ourselves that’s for next week.

Louie

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12 SHORT YEARS: A NEW ADVENTURE EVERYDAY

Today marks 12 years Tracey and I have been married for the second time. Due to some pretty gnarly habits and fast paced lifestyle our first try at marriage went down in flames. Truth be told, I don’t know how anyone can stay married without Christ.

Looking back it seems we were both running from God and our upbringing. Tracey grew up attending church on a regular basis and so did I. It seems, like many others, by the time we reached “Adulthood” we thought we knew better than our parents so we hit the road to live life our way. Doesn’t the Bible tell us “All we like sheep have gone our own way”? The good news is God is all knowing, and if it wasn’t for us partying and frequenting bars we probably wouldn’t have met each other. Imagine that–two prodigals. We were both running the wrong way but that meant we were running the same direction.

Without going through all of the gory details let me just say we had been married for 5 years when it all collapsed. Tracey came to me one day, looked me in the eye and said, “Are you willing to make this relationship work?” Now just for a little clarification, let me say she had been attending church and attempting to get her life together for a while before this confrontation occurred. I, on the other hand, didn’t want anything to do with it, and I was deep into addiction and denial.

When she asked me about my willingness to make the relationship work all I heard was “Are you willing to straighten up?” At that point I wasn’t and said, “No”. That’s all she needed to hear so she packed some things and left. What was meant to be a two week separation, with the hope that I would come around, turned into a divorce. That’s when things really turned dark for me.

My destructive behavior became worse and worse, because without Tracey around it seemed I had no conscience at all. Of course that isn’t really true but it did make my bad choices a little easier to make. I no longer had to tip toe around her so the partying took over even more. For those of you that have been there you know that can’t last. At some point there comes a crash. People always want to know what did it. They say, “What was your bottom?” I can’t really say there was any one thing but rather a series of things. Tracey left, I could no longer function well enough to keep my employment, friends didn’t want to come near me because of my poisonous attitude, and I lost all hope of being able to manage my life.

Jumping ahead a bit I went through a treatment program for a year and half in order to kick drugs. Toward the end of that time I made the move to go to church in the hope that I could find meaning and direction in life. I had come to a stand still without a clue as to which way to turn.

In a short period of time of attending church and reading the Bible I was born again. One night during a revival meeting I asked Tracey if she wanted to pray about our relationship. She agreed, tentatively, so we prayed. As a young man I had said a prayer for salvation but apparently it hadn’t stuck. My prayer this night wasn’t for salvation, or at least I didn’t think it was. Basically I prayed “God you have to show her I mean business.” I had tried to prove to Tracey my life was changed but she kept me at a distance and rightfully so. Now I was handing it over to God. If she was going to trust me again it was going to take a miracle so I left it in God’s hands. Little did I know how much my life was going to change because of that prayer.

On the way home from church, in my car alone, I was born again. I had no idea what was happening to me at the time, but the Spirit of God came into my life in a tangible way. I had a sensation that moved from the bottom of my feet through my whole body to the top of my head. My heart started pounding, I laughed and cried and was clueless as to why, but deep inside of me it was as if God was telling me “I’ve got this” and he has ever since.

Tracey and I were subsequently remarried on July 31st 2001 after being divorced for two years. Neither one of us was looking to reestablish our relationship, but God had other plans. Let me back up a minute. It was a little while after being born again because Tracey had to be convinced so she devised a plan. I had opened my mouth at some point and told her “I’ll try anything you want”. She took me up on that by way of getting me to eat broccoli. I never liked broccoli, but I told her I would try it so after smothering it in cheese I gave it a whirl. Well, it was just as I suspected, and I haven’t had any since but that night Tracey became convinced I meant business.

We have been married now for 12 years and what an adventure it’s been. We are both involved in jail and prison ministry, teach a couples Sunday school class and lead a Bible study on Wednesday’s. We have truly become one as God intended. A big part of the reason is I decided at some point to be all in. Living as two independent people in a marriage can’t work.

God designed marriage to be two becoming one. The reason is because it is a picture of the union we have with him in the Spirit. The Bible tells us “He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.” When two people are really working as one in a marriage it is a light to the rest of the world. It is to the glory of God because I promise without him in the middle this wouldn’t work. I guess we’ve already proven that haven’t we? Without him life is grueling, but with him as our life it is a new adventure everyday.

Written by Louie

TANDEM WITH THE LORD

Tracey preparing for the jump

In June of 2004 I had an opportunity to go skydiving with the 101st Airborne Division for the Week of the Eagle Media appreciation. I was not the first choice, but because a writers’ daughter didn’t want her to take the risk, I was able to go in her place. Once I arrived at the FortCampbell airbase, it began to rain, we waited around for the pilot to decide if it was safe to dive the skies. After two other media outlets were successful in their flight and descent, it was finally my turn. Boy was I excited and a little scared too; but my confidence was in the Lord and the experience of the man I would be attached to. His name was Matthew Cline and he was a professional. I trusted that he knew what he was doing because he was showing me what to do. He demonstrated how I would hold on to the reigns of the parachute and how to guide it left and right. He showed me where to put my hands and feet when we are exiting the plane. He told me he would do the hard stuff like, jumping off, counting the free fall oh, and pulling the parachute at the right moment. The flight team provided the clothes for me to wear, the goggles, gloves, helmet, the clips that would hold us together and most of all the Chinook. I didn’t have anything of my own except my willingness to attach myself to the one who had everything.

The Chinook traveled in a circular pattern until we were 13 thousand feet high, we leveled out and began to get into position. This is where I was well aware of the danger and excitement. I didn’t want it to end because I may never get this opportunity again in my life. My heart was beating super fast, my palms were sweaty and not sure what was going to happen. Matthew Cline stood behind me and clipped us together, this is called tandem. He was so close to me that I could feel him breathing. It was a great thing because I matched his breathing and became calm. I followed him to the edge of the opening on the platform as I put my head back, feet up, and hands on my straps, He jumped and I went with him. It was the feeling of Uh Oh….. Then it was too late…we were OUT THERE. It was very loud and the pressure of falling was pushing on my body like a rock. There was an army photographer falling at the same speed as we were and he swung around in front of us and took video and pictures. Smiling like a big dummy caused air to fill my mouth and I couldn’t get it closed.  It still makes me laugh when I think about it. After 54 seconds of free falling, the parachute opens, my feet fly up in my line of sight and it becomes totally quiet. There was such peace and quiet, beauty, serene and somewhat holy… a feeling came over me that felt sacred, a realization that very few people have seen this. I could only think of Jesus and how much He loves me. It was an unbelievable experience, and the Lord reminded me of how the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him.

Free-falling

I took these girls in jail on a journey with me through the viewing of this video of me skydiving, but Christ, at the time went skydiving as me. It’s a picture of how we have nothing to bring, but our willingness to be attached to Him as He does everything. “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” it says in Jude 24.

Rhema word came tonight, except Linda Parks and I was the only ones who could make it. A deputy came in the room to tell us it was storming outside and if there was anyone of us who had windows down on our cars, we needed to close them. A little while after that the lights blinked as if they were going out. A lady in the front row whispers to me, “I am afraid of the dark.” I whispered back, “everything is in the same place in the dark as it is in the light.” She pointed to the Good Book and said “Is that in the Bible?” She just made me laugh. We always have a good time in the Lord at jail and are thankful to the Lord and that He showed me how to use a real life experience to demonstrate His Love toward us when we can do nothing by ourselves.

Written by Tracey