REVEALING God’s Glory | Never Be Lacking In Zeal

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Oh, how I love that Easter occurs in springtime! What a joy it is to experience the rebirth of our surroundings. By the time you read this, trees will be bathed in various hues of greenery, and a new, colorful flower season will be well underway. Crocuses, forsythia, daffodils, etc., those harbingers of spring, will have shared their beauty and begun their regeneration for next year as tulips, irises, azaleas, rhododendrons, dogwoods, redbuds, etc., will have taken center stage. What an amazing show God provides every spring! If you are fortunate, meaning you are attuned to your surroundings, you will enjoy this annual gift from God while listening to the returning songbirds filling the treetops with their melodies. I wouldn’t be surprised if the psalmist had written, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24 ESV) on a beautiful spring day. Springtime is to be cherished not only for its unrivaled beauty but also for the opportunity to rejuvenate our own lives. The milder weather allows us to get outside and be more active, making us feel more alive from the sedentary life of being cooped up for months. Also, for many, the cold and bleakness of winter play havoc on our psyche, which takes a mental toll on us. The emergence of spring offers a time for emotional renewal as we welcome warmer temperatures, abundant sunshine, and more daylight for us to do the things we enjoy. Finally, spring brings the joy of Easter, representing the ultimate rebirth, Jesus’ resurrection, and the hope of eternal life for everyone. Easter is so much more than egg hunts, frilly bonnets, family brunches, March Madness, new sporting seasons, and a host of other warm-weather activities and events that will consume our time. And, of course, for 2024, there’s the brewing contentious election about to engulf and alienate us from one another. This Easter, more than ever, provides a wonderful opportunity to renew our zeal for the Lord by fostering a new sense of spiritual fervor to serve Him.

lenten roses
Lenten Roses

A Time For Renewal

Easter triggers such a renewal for me. When I think how much God loves me to have allowed His Son to be so brutally tortured and crucified for my sins, I am totally overwhelmed. Jesus pleaded with the Father to take this cup from Him as He knew what awaited Him. Yet, He honored His Father’s will so that I and others would have an opportunity at eternal life. Jesus willingly chose that unfathomable agony for me, and for everyone. But then came the beautiful first Easter morning when Mary Magdalene and two other women found that the rock was rolled away from the tomb, and it was empty: HE HAD RISEN! The hardest part for me of this story was that through Jesus’ resurrection, God intentionally picked me to be His friend, and now that really blows my mind. Me, of all people, who would do that for me? I have learned Jesus would and did. For seventy years, He kept knocking at the door to my heart; He never gave up on me; He just kept knocking, waiting for me to answer. Thankfully–and I raise a hallelujah–I finally realized I needed Him too and invited Him in. I am thankful every day that He accepted me. But on and around Easter, I still have a heightened sense of gratitude that He kept calling me. He transformed me when I said yes, and He is still refining me almost twelve years later.

An old Southern Gospel song, “Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord),” became the first African-American spiritual to be sung in established American churches. It was first published in 1899 and eventually was included in the Episcopal Church hymnal in 1940. It is now well known from being sung in most churches (“Were You There,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia). When I sing the words and think about the lyrics, especially since being saved, it does make me tremble and brings tears to my eyes.

Were you there when they nail’d Him to the cross?
Were you there when they pierced Him in the side?
Were you there when the sun refused to shine?

I wasn’t there when they crucified my Lord. If I had lived during that time and had been an early Christian, I’m sure I would have been nowhere to be seen, just like His disciples and followers were back then. I think the more important questions for us today are, “Where am I because they crucified my Lord,” “Where am I because He was resurrected for sinners like me, like you,” and if saved, “Where am I lacking in zeal and spiritual fervor in serving Him?” I think the answer to that last question defines our relationship with God; I am either a superficial friend or I choose to be a close friend of God, meaning I have a spiritual fervor in serving Him, or in today’s vernacular, “I walk the talk.”

Redwing Black Bird

A while back, I read something that, in effect, said, “God doesn’t want a superficial relationship with us. It doesn’t please Him, and it does us no good.” That stuck with me as I think it is essential to think about our relationship with God. Jesus was all in for me; am I all in for Jesus? It is nice to sing songs about being His friend, but being a friend requires much more. In my Bible studies, I’ve learned that “you can’t hide Jesus,” meaning that if others don’t see Jesus in your life, He most likely isn’t there. Who hides their friends anyway? I am sure you have heard it said that you are known by the friends you keep. Jesus expects to be seen so people know you are His friend, so how else can you bring Him glory?

Since being saved, I hope people see Jesus in me not for my glory but for His. However, I don’t go around thinking about how to show Jesus in my life. Instead, I focus on studying His word and try applying it to my life. I also pray for Him to guide me in my actions and try to learn as I go. For example, on July 19, 2017, I stopped at The Jug along Middle Island Creek near Middlebourne in Tyler County. It was a popular summertime spot for swimming and hanging out as a teenager. It was also a good fishing spot. The Jug had been a well-known restaurant and bar since the early to mid-1900s. However, its doors had been closed that morning for a few years or so. Its owner, Gladys, a lady who was 92 and spry as can be, came out as I got out of my truck. I asked her for permission to take some photos, and she said yes. I took several shots around the property and down by the creek, bringing back fun memories of my youth. Before leaving, I knocked on the door to say thank you and heard a voice say come in. I stepped in, and just like that, I felt like I was taken back fifty years in time; nothing seemed to have changed.

the jug
The Jug

I asked Gladys if I could take a few photos of the interior. She said yes, with a little more emphasis, “I don’t want my picture taken.” I did more chatting than picture-taking. She interrupted me once and said, “Are you a pastor?” which startled me. Where did that come from? I may have been a little shaken as I hadn’t had much experience sharing my faith with strangers. I think Jesus took over as I said something like, No, I’m just a friend of God. Up until that moment, she was lively and so talky. I think I learned about her family history and the history of Tyler County in that short visit. Gladys was 92 and had lived at that spot for 87 years. She broke a long silence and said almost in a whisper, “I hope I am a friend of God, too.” I’m not sure exactly how I responded other than a fumbling testimony attempt. We chatted some more before saying our farewells. I remember how her countenance softened when I mentioned being a friend of God. As I was leaving, she seemed genuinely pleased with my stopping by. As I drove away, I felt like I had blown it and should have asked if I could say a prayer. When I got home, I processed my photos, printed off a dozen or so, and mailed them to her with a note of thanks. Gladys remained on my mind all the way home and for quite some time afterward, as it was such an emotional encounter with a stranger. A few weeks later, I received a beautiful card from her thanking me for the photos and my visit. She said that over the years, many people had stopped to take pictures, and I was the first to ever send her copies. She said it touched her greatly. I believe that was the gentle touch of Jesus, our mutual friend. I later learned that Gladys passed away two years after my visit at the age of 94. I’ve always thanked God for the lessons our encounter taught me, including being bolder and more courageous in sharing Jesus’ friendship. I think it is good to reflect on our actions to make sure they match our professed faith. Reflection is an excellent opportunity to learn and grow.

“I will give them integrity of heart and put a new spirit within them…”

Ezekiel 11:19 (CSB)

Last time, I wrote about being at a crossroads and realizing I needed to make more room for Jesus so that God is at the center of my life. Thankfully, when you commit your life to God, He sends the Holy Spirit to help you in your journey just as He said He would. Early on, I learned He chose me on purpose, as I’ve indicated how incredible that might seem, and that He chooses all of us for a specific purpose. We have a common role: to be ambassadors for Jesus Christ with a mission of pointing people to God. God has blessed us with unique gifts that He wants us to use to serve Him and bring Him glory. Using our individual unique gifts to point people to God allows us to perform our ambassador role while fostering our friendship with Him. It all starts by taking “self” out of your heart to maximize the room for Jesus.

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, ‘Be reconciled to God.’”

2 Corinthians 5:20 (CSB)

I can only write this because about twelve years ago, as indicated earlier, someone pointed me to God. I was in a low place one morning at a Bible study: broken, confused, and searching for meaning in my life. After the study, a friend named Kevin pulled me aside, put his arm around my shoulder, and talked to me. One of the things he said was, “Take it to Jesus, Al.” I wasn’t sure what “take it to Jesus” meant, but I eventually did. Kevin was echoing Paul’s words, “Be reconciled to God.” Through prayer, study, and reflection, sure enough, it happened; God happened; He saved me and put me on an amazing new path, His path to serve Him and to be reconciled to Him.

“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”

John 1:12 (RSV)

When you get saved, you quickly learn you are not in it alone. As John writes in the scripture verse above, you receive power in the form of the Holy Spirit when you accept Him. As you make more room for Jesus in your heart, I have found it becomes easier and easier. Jesus is one of those rare friends; He’s always there for you. I also feel very fortunate to be surrounded by several Christian friends who have taught and encouraged me as I try to hone my ambassador skills. One of my most important learnings is “it’s not me” and should never be about me. I’ve learned that if you think it is about you, your lamp is out, and people will never see Jesus. The power must come from Him; we must be connected to the vine for His light to emanate. That is why we must study His word, pray without ceasing, and worship both individually and in church. If we abide in Him with a humble heart, His power will sustain us in witnessing to others to be reconciled to God and become a genuine friend of God.

easter, trilliums

The Hope Of Easter In Spring

In closing, I hope you have a wonderful Easter. It was brought to us by my friend Jesus. He made every day of His human life count: teaching, preaching, healing, and, most importantly, dying for our sins and raising us from the dead to give us eternal life. He still makes each day count. How about the day He struck down that scoundrel and Christian terrorizer, Saul of Tarsus, on the way to Damascus and blinded him. Then, He sent an early Christian, Ananias, to Saul to remove the scales from his eyes. He, in turn, became Paul, who could instantly see again and was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Paul became Christ’s first ambassador for the Gentiles, making every effort to make each day count. Seizing the opportunities in front of them, Paul, the Apostles, and so many other Biblical saints and Christians of every generation did the work of Jesus. At the same time, they could make each day count. The same should go for us.

We haven’t been called to be part-time friends or occasional ambassadors. As I have emphasized throughout, we are told to be “never lacking in our zeal but keeping our spiritual fervor in serving our Lord.” John stresses that “we must do the works of him who sent (us) while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work” (see John 9:4). This tells me we are to keep our lamps lit so we can see the opportunities to serve God as they arise and that we must do the work while we are able.

Most importantly, this scripture tells me we must witness on behalf of Jesus so others can be reconciled to God. Kevin did, and he steered me to become reconciled to God and Jesus’ friend. I love being His ambassador. There’s nothing better!

Remember, God doesn’t want a superficial relationship with us. It doesn’t please Him, and it does us no good. He wants your close friendship and needs you to be His ambassador. He did His part that first Easter. If you are not saved or are like Gladys and hope you are a friend of God but are not sure, or you want to become an ambassador for Jesus, seek out someone whom you know who has a strong faith, contact a local pastor, find a Bible-based church or maybe do as I did and join a Bible study group. Be sure to pray for His guidance; it worked for me. Seize the moment if you have been moved by my testimony, that is Jesus knocking at the door to your heart. He wants to be your friend.

Have a Happy Spring. I pray that you will make each day count and people will see Jesus in your life.

Godspeed, Al

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