Spellnig Cuonts ?

From one of the teenagers at church ...

I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg.

The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch atCmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in awrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the fri st and lsat ltteer bein the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raedit wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed erveylteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Amzanig huh? yaeh and Iawlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

Of course, if you cannot read this you may need the gift of interpretation :)

2005 in Review

12 Excerpts from this years bloggings:

19 Jan 2005 The purpose of pain
Pain is a somewhat relative phenomena ... for someone in a wheelchair pain is quite different from someone who has lost a loved one - but pain is pain nonetheless and our challenge is to find a way to let pain achieve its purpose in our lives.

4 Feb 2005 Religious Pollution
Do 'religious people' make you angry? You know those people who seem to love the rules but don't seem to love people. I must confess that they do make me angry.

10 Mar 2005 Identity
It is a matter of identity. Many in the church today refer to themselves as 'just a sinner saved by grace'. I wonder if by saying these things we have trained ourselves to identify as sinners and not new spiritual creations.

29 Apr 2005 Beauty for Ashes
Don't you love happy endings? Do you believe in a happy ending for yourself? I am sure that Job never thought the day would come … perhaps you are in a similar situation. I have seen many of my trials turn into blessings.

21 May 2005 Confessions of a Charismatic Fundamentalist
The events of these years have convinced me that the letter kills but the Spirit gives life. I have learned that there is a difference in being right and righteous … one can have absolute truth about an issue but be absolutely wrong in their application of that truth if they are not truly led by God’s Spirit.

22 Jun 2005 Perspective
We can, in the same way, be disappointed with God when he does not meet our expectations. We often imagine that he will do something in one manner and he acts in a way contrary to our thinking … and we are disappointed.

2 Jul 2005 Choosing Joy
Spurgeon reminds us that even in death God is present ... in the fiery furnace God is there. For me, worship has been the key to having joy and experiencing God's presence.

10 Jul 2005 Citizenship
Being a citizen of heaven is a reminder that we, who are in Christ, live in, and are under the government of, a different kingdom. Our world is an inner realm ... an eternal world where motive, intent and meaning are important.

06 Sep 2005 Katrina and that River in Egypt
We often miss this step when we read Job's story. The first two chapters of are basically ones of denial. Job's reactions are very much entrenched in numbness.

29 Oct 2005 Religious Answers
Ever read something in the bible, embrace it and regurgitate it to someone? Sure you have. I wonder if it is endemic of our need to have an answer when we don’t have a clue.

28 Nov 2005 Unplowed Ground
Our hearts, like the soil, can be hard, shallow and strangled. Trials, tests, hardships and suffering often reveal these aspects of our hearts. A trial will surface the person that we are on the inside ... what we really believe.

12 Dec 2005 Disappointment
The older I get the more I can resonate with Paul in a small way. Paul accepted sufferings not only as a part of life but also as God’s plan to refine him in weakness. God seemed to have brought him to a place where he embraced every aspect of life did not lose hope when it was as he expected it to be.

Six Resolutions for 2006

I guess it is that time of year again. With 2006 approaching in just a few days I thought that I might suggest six resolutions. In the year 2006 I resolve:

  • To love God … to know His will … to meditate on Him and His word … to yield to and not quench the Holy Spirit … to be pleasing to Him.
  • To love people … to genuinely care … to listen more and speak less … to love my wife … to love my kids and grandkids … to love Christ’s body … to love those who hurt.
  • To be me … to live from my guts and not brain … to have the courage to live from my heart … to not let our culture or other people define who I am.
  • To be generous … to be a compassionate giver … to be a good steward of everything that God has blessed me with … to be content.
  • To stretch … to leave my comfort zone … to do things that make me feel uneasy … to be around people who are not like me.
  • To take care of myself … to exercise and eat healthier … to rest … to have boundaries … to live life and not manage it.

I’d be interested in knowing what, if anything, you have resolved for the New Year. In either case have a blessed and joyous 2006.

American Express wants to know

A bit of a format change ... to celebrate me (actually in response to a challenge from another blogger) I have listed below my answers to questions posed by an American Express Ad campaign:

  • My childhood ambition ... to be a fireman (@6 yrs), a lawyer (@16 yrs) & a computer programmer (@26 yrs)
  • My fondest memory ... my honeymoon
  • My soundtrack ... worship music (oddly followed by Phantom of the Opera)
  • My retreat ... my basement
  • My wildest dream ... hasn't happened yet
  • My proudest moment ... my wedding day
  • My biggest challenge ... to pick up my cross and follow Jesus
  • My alarm clock ... RCA cube (with a CD player) gets me up between 6 & 7am
  • My perfect day ... running around town with my wife
  • My first job ... YMCA Camp Counselor
  • My indulgence ... my car
  • My last purchase ... new pair of jeans
  • My favorite movie ... Chariots of Fire
  • My inspiration ... Jesus
  • My life ... trying to live true to the heart that God gave me (easier said than done)
  • My card ... Blockbuster (only because Wal-Mart doesn't have one)

If you are so inclined leave a comment and answer the questions. Happy 2006!

Busy-ness vs Being-ness

I have been home sick most of this week and have had the time to do a bit of blog surfing. Found one where the blogger opined about the busy-ness of the Advent season. I commented as follows:

Busy-ness vs Being-ness ... it took a long time to understand that it was okay for me to just 'be' without doing. It was (and still is) hard because so much of my worth/identity was/is wrapped up in what I did/do. I have found that when doing comes out of being it feels more like what Jesus said about living water coming from our innermost being. This kind of doing refreshes the soul rather than draining it.

The scripture I reference in my comment is from John 7:38 and reads:

"Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him."

Earlier in John's gospel (6:28-29) Jesus answered this question:

"What must we do to do the works God requires?"

by saying:

"The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."

I think that these scriptures are enlightening. If we equate doing the works of God to believing in Jesus (hence being our Heavenly Father's child) then we conclude that these works will flow out of us in away that does not drain us spiritually but actually refreshes us. A similar concept is found in Proverbs 11:25:

"The generous man will be prosperous,
And he who waters will himself be watered."

Refreshing and life comes when our doing is the result our being God's child. If you find yourself weary it may be because your busy-ness is not coming from being-ness.

Unplowed Ground

In the first 21 verses of Mark 4 Jesus tells the parable of the sower, the seed and the soil. When he explains the parable to His followers Jesus tells them that the sower is God, the seed is God's word and the soil is a person's heart. Of these 3 elements only one changes in the parable - the soil or the heart. Jesus paints a picture of 4 different hearts: a hard heart, a shallow heart, a strangled heart and a good heart. When I think about the soil and planting seeds I am reminded of a verse that we used to sing in church:

Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you. -- Hosea 10:12

Notice the phrase 'break up your unplowed ground'. It seems that the issue in the Mark 4 parable is soil that has not been plowed. Without the plow's work the soil is hard, shallow and strangled.

Our hearts, like the soil, can be hard, shallow and strangled. Trials, tests, hardships and suffering often reveal these aspects of our hearts. A trial will surface the person that we are on the inside ... what we really believe. A person may say that they "trust the Lord" in their finances, then lose their job and become anxious and agitated ... the trial surfaced a shallowness in their heart faith. Because faith is a heart issue, and really has little to do with our cognitive abilities, we can logically understand the concept of God's provision but until we have experienced it in our hearts we really don't believe it.

Once a hard, shallow or strangled area of our heart is revealed we need to allow God to plow that area of our heart. We first need to identify the heart issue, find its source and allow God to bring truth to the issue. God recently plowed an area of my heart ... here is how it went:

Earlier this year I accepted a ministry position with my church and had been happy serving the Lord in that capacity. A few weeks back I received a phone call from a person offering me a software consulting position that paid very well. I was very attracted to the offer and was tempted to pursue it ... that really frustrated me because I knew that it was not God's will. As I searched my heart in prayer God showed me that because of my childhood insecurity issues I always 'followed the money' when it came to job pursuits. You see my insecurity had a stranglehold on my heart and needed to be plowed. When I allowed God to plow my insecurity issues it set my heart free to follow the Lord vocationally.

It is not the lies that we believe with our minds that are issue ... these lies are a mere reflection of the inner lies. Lies we believe at an experiential heart level result in hearts that are hard, shallow and strangled. Trials expose these lies and only God's plow can bring truth to these areas and make our hearts free.

Religious Answers

Ever read something in the bible, embrace it and regurgitate it to someone? Sure you have. I wonder if it is endemic of our need to have an answer when we don’t have a clue. Consider these passages from the first three chapters of book of Job:

Chapter 1: All of Job's children have died in one day. In that same day he lost all of his livestock. Here is how Job responded:

Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”

Chapter 2: On the heels of this devastation Job is struck with boils all over his body. His wife is in a level of pain that very few people can relate to. Here is Job’s response to his wife:

“You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

Chapter 3: Some time has passed … Job has been visited by friends … the pain of his loss has taken hold. Job is coming out of denial and responds:

After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.

In March of 1990 my first wife Ellen had a heart attack and kidney failure at the age of 39 … after four years of declining health and hemodialysis Ellen passed away in 1994. My initial responses to my pain were very much like Job’s. Masking my inner devastation I often spoke words that were very religious … albeit empty and devoid of inner truth. Christian clich├ęs did not help me but got in the way of dealing with my pain. Phrases like “God is still on the throne” or “I am a victor not a victim” or the ones that Job spoke caused me to shrink back in fear instead of addressing my plight in courage. Religious words never help because they insulate us from our pain instead of addressing it head-on.

I attended a grief group after Ellen died. It was in this group that I learned that to heal on the inside I had to step into my pain ... I had to deal with the reality of my experience in a truthful way. I believe that Job began to take this step into pain in chapter 3. This step is one of the scariest that I have ever taken … it took more courage than I ever imagined. This first step took me on a journey where I began to shed my religious answers. I am still on this journey … it is a journey where I am challenged every day to live out of my dangerous heart instead of my safe mind.

Most of Job’s story is one where he and his friends trade religious accusations and answers … this dialogue was not helpful and did not result in comfort or encouragement for Job. The next time you or a friend is in crisis please refrain from giving a religious answer. Get a hug or give a hug instead.

Majoring on the Majors

I wonder, can we love our neighbor without knowing about their 'faith'? I suspect that loving people has more to do with building an interpersonal connection rather than obtaining an 'understanding' of another's religious tradition. I think that often this kind of 'understanding' can lead to stereotyping and some 'misunderstanding' as faith is very individual and often times veers from published dogma. Of course, if your religious tradition encourages hate for those outside of your 'faith' it may be difficult to make that relational connection. Consider this passage from Luke 10 ...

25On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 26"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" 27He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'[a]; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'[b]" 28"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." 29But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 30In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two silver coins[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.' 36"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" 37The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

I think that the priest and the Levite probably had a dim stereotypical religious view of Samaritans ... but the Samaritan was the one that Jesus used to teach the Jews of His day ... who also had a dim view of the Samaritans ... about loving your neighbor.

The way we judge each other is a sad commentary on modern day 'faith' ... we justify this judging with words like 'contending for the faith' and 'fruit inspection'. The way we are attracted to talking heads that find fault with other believers is a sad commentary on the church.

I have learned with experience that accepting people with other faith traditions is a very rewarding experience. Loving people who are not like me and opening up to receive love from them makes me a better person. Judging each other is poisonous ... even when it is veiled with religious words. My aim these days is to Major on the Majors ... loving God and loving people ... all of them. Now, go and do likewise :)

Katrina and that River in Egypt

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina I thought that it might be helpful to talk about the grieving process and how to minister to grieving people. Grief is a process that we go through as a result of loss ... life, relationship and property are a few things that we can grieve over.

The book of Job is a biblical story of a man navigating through the grieving process. The grieving process has many steps but I'd like to just briefly discuss Job and 'denial', the first step of grief. Here is a brief description of what denial looks like:

Denial [Numbness]. The body protects us from what is really happening. The experience does not seem real. We can go through the motions at the time of loss and sometimes through the time of the funeral as through we are spectators watching from a distance. This can be a stage of bargaining as well, telling God we will do or change anything if the person can be brought back. Over a period of time, reality is faced. It is important to talk about it , not to keep it at a distance with frantic activity, pills or alcohol.

We often miss this step when we read Job's story. The first two chapters of are basically ones of denial. Job's reactions are very much entrenched in numbness. All of his children die in an instant, he loses his animals and possessions and here what he has to say:

"I was born with nothing, and I will die with nothing. The LORD gave, and now he has taken away. May his name be praised!"

He is covered with boils all over his body and is in intense pain and says:

"When God sends us something good, we welcome it. How can we complain when he sends us trouble?"

These are all statements from a very numb person. I am surprised how many of us, myself included, have used these statements as examples of correct responses to pain and suffering. People in pain need our understanding. Understanding that this denial phase is a necessary for coping and emotional survival is key to helping a person navigate through grief. At the beginning of chapter 3 it says:

"Finally Job broke the silence and cursed the day on which he had been born."

It is uncertain how long it was before Job came to this point but one thing is certain - he was passing out of denial and entering into the next phase, 'Anger'. Perhaps we'll talk about that on a later date.

Citizenship

From my morning devotions, Charles Spurgeon speaks about citizenship:

What is meant by our being citizens in heaven? It means that we are under heaven’s government. Christ the king of heaven reigns in our hearts; our daily prayer is, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." The proclamations issued from the throne of glory are freely received by us: the decrees of the Great King we cheerfully obey. Then as citizens of the New Jerusalem, we share heaven’s honours. The glory which belongs to beatified saints belongs to us, for we are already sons of God, already princes of the blood imperial; already we wear the spotless robe of Jesus’ righteousness; already we have angels for our servitors, saints for our companions, Christ for our Brother, God for our Father, and a crown of immortality for our reward. We share the honours of citizenship, for we have come to the general assembly and Church of the first-born whose names are written in heaven. As citizens, we have common rights to all the property of heaven. Ours are its gates of pearl and walls of chrysolite; ours the azure light of the city that needs no candle nor light of the sun; ours the river of the water of life, and the twelve manner of fruits which grow on the trees planted on the banks thereof; there is nought in heaven that belongeth not to us. "Things present, or things to come," all are ours. Also as citizens of heaven we enjoy its delights. Do they there rejoice over sinners that repent-prodigals that have returned? So do we. Do they chant the glories of triumphant grace? We do the same. Do they cast their crowns at Jesus’ feet? Such honours as we have we cast there too. Are they charmed with his smile? It is not less sweet to us who dwell below. Do they look forward, waiting for his second advent? We also look and long for his appearing. If, then, we are thus citizens of heaven, let our walk and actions be consistent with our high dignity.

Being a citizen of heaven is a reminder that we, who are in Christ, live in, and are under the government of, a different kingdom. Our world is an inner realm ... an eternal world where motive, intent and meaning are important. A world where the central law is love ... for our King and for each other. As we live as citizens of the USA, or any country, it is easy to forget who we are and where our allegiance lies. We are not pawns of earthly leaders or subjects of imperfect governments. The scripture calls us a holy nation ... a kingdom of priests ... God's people. In Spurgeon's words, "let our walk and actions be consistent with our high dignity." Amen.

Choosing Joy

From this morning's devotional Charles Spurgeon speaks to me quoting Psalms 33:21 “Our heart shall rejoice in Him.” He goes on to say:

Blessed is the fact that Christians can rejoice even in the deepest distress; although trouble may surround them, they still sing; and, like many birds, they sing best in their cages. The waves may roll over them, but their souls soon rise to the surface and see the light of God’s countenance; they have a buoyancy about them which keeps their head always above the water, and helps them to sing amid the tempest, “God is with me still.” To whom shall the glory be given? Oh! to Jesus-it is all by Jesus. Trouble does not necessarily bring consolation with it to the believer, but the presence of the Son of God in the fiery furnace with him fills his heart with joy. He is sick and suffering, but Jesus visits him and makes his bed for him. He is dying, and the cold chilly waters of Jordan are gathering about him up to the neck, but Jesus puts His arms around him, and cries, “Fear not, beloved; to die is to be blessed; the waters of death have their fountain-head in heaven; they are not bitter, they are sweet as nectar, for they flow from the throne of God.”

I love what he says about joy. My good friend Jim told me in one of my darkest hours that I had to choose joy … I didn’t like hearing it but knew it was the truth. I believe that our spiritual enemy knows that the joy of the Lord is our strength and he fiercely battles to conquer our joy and rob of us of our strength. For one who is sad and depressed ... and I have visited those places many times ... an admonition to be joyful can be a reminder of our pain. Spurgeon this morning reminded me that Jesus is always present in our pain.

At thirty-nine years old my first wife, Ellen, had heart and kidney failure ... at the brink of her death I found myself begging God to not let her die ... I could not accept her situation or the possibility of her death. Three and a half years later after praying almost daily for her healing ... never giving up ... I found myself again faced with the possibility of her dying. Driving to work one day ... racked with the agony of thoughts of a world without Ellen … I began to pray in the Spirit. I saw a picture in my mind. In this vision I saw myself standing on a mountain looking down at a valley ... some how I knew it was the valley of the shadow of Ellen's death. As I looked into the vision I saw Jesus come to my side, take my hand, and walk with me into the valley. It was a comforting picture. God was trying to tell me that he would be with me when Ellen died and that I would be okay.

Spurgeon reminds us that even in death God is present ... in the fiery furnace God is there. For me, worship has been the key to having joy and experiencing God's presence. During those years preceding Ellen's death worship became a mode of survival for me. At times I felt afraid and alone. I remember times of solitude … singing along with worship tapes … weeping uncontrollably … pouring my heart out to the Lord … and finding joy in His presence and strength to make it one more day. In a deeper way I understood that His strength is made perfect in weakness … I have never been the same person.

Today, if you are sad and are having trouble finding joy, put yourself in a place where you can experience the presence of Jesus. You may, like me, want to sing along with a worship tape. However you do it find a way to connect with God and let Him hold your hand and walk you through your valley. King David was a man who knew the secret of finding joy in God's presence. In closing let us remember what he wrote in Psalms 16:

You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Amen.

Heavenly Challenge

Once again I sit in awe of Jesus this morning as I read:

Jesus replied, 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. 'Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.' -- John 12:23-27

Did you catch how Jesus starts with being glorified and ends with a troubled heart ... it is as if He got a glimpse of the 3 nails and wooden cross? Only hindsight gives us understanding into this passage ... those present on that day certainly didn't understand that Jesus was speaking of himself as a kernel of wheat dying. Can you catch the significance of glory in the context of not loving your life? Can you even relate to not holding on to your life in the same way that Jesus didn't cling to His? I honestly have difficulty getting my arms around this. It puts denying myself into context ... it causes me to wonder what servanthood really looks like. Can God only be glorified through death?

So here I sit, once again challenged to die to my ego, to my comfort, to my dreams ... to deny myself ... to take up my cross ... to follow Jesus ... to be where He is. Jesus doesn't ask more of us than He required of Himself. He gave Himself for us ... we in turn are required to also give ourselves for others. It is heavenly challenge.

Confessions of a Charismatic Fundamentalist

My conversion to Christ in April of 1976 was immediately followed by a crazy spiritual experience that was accompanied by a receiving of the gift of speaking in tongues. I remember, like it was yesterday, that night at a large church in Houston Texas. It was the day after I quietly surrendered my life to Jesus … no one had a clue what I had done in the quietness of my heart that Saturday night in a Houston hotel … but here I was in church on a Sunday night caught up in worship for the first time in my life. I remember we were singing a chorus from the Andre Crouch song "My Tribute". We were repeating the verse "To God be the glory" … I was in a state of surrender … singing my heart out … entering a most holy place of worship … then I came to the realization that I was not singing in English … I was totally freaked out. This was the beginning of the wildest ride of my life.

Three months later my wife and I moved to Kansas City and began attending a small evangelical church. I enjoyed the new friendships I was developing at church but missed the worship that I experienced in Houston. Then one Sunday night in the spring of 1977 I attended a large charismatic church in Kansas City Kansas. Oh my, what a service … once again I found myself lost in worship … waves of God's Spirit seemed to flow over and through me. After several months of Sunday nights my wife and I became convinced that the large church was right where God wanted us to be … in June we began attending there full time.

The following 18 years of my spiritual journey were immersed in the ministry of this large church. I taught Sunday school, led small home groups, was an overseer of small groups and established close relationships with many people … the church and the pastor’s teaching became a party of my spiritual identity. For most of those 18 years I was involved in the prophetic ministry of the church … several times a month the Holy Spirit would speak a message of encouragement through me to several thousand people … looking back on this it was quite surreal. I became know as a prophetic person … being prophetic also became part of my identity.

Life was good for most of these years … kids came along … joyous family times were the hallmark of this time in my life. My wife and I had a wonderful relationship. If you asked me I would have told you that the priorities of my life were, in this order, God, family, church and work. I was absolutely identified by the roles in my life. I loved being a Christian, a husband, a father, a church leader, a prophet of sorts, and a computer programmer. These roles gave me so much joy and made my life meaningful. Life was good.

In March of 1990 my life fell apart. My wife of 19 years had a heart attack and kidney failure. In the following four years my whole life’s focus was caring for her. Everything else I was doing, ministry-wise, was stopped … I slowly died on the inside. It was during this time that I began to be confronted by the legalism that surrounded me and lived deep within me. For years I had thought of myself, in a Christian sense, as a ‘Charismatic’ – both in theology and in practice. I considered myself to be this ‘free’ person. I distained legalism and specifically the word ‘religious’ because I identified myself as a ‘Spirit-filled’ person … someone who was led by the Holy Spirit certainly could not be legalistic.

It was like yesterday, I was entering the parking garage at work … I became aware of the fact that I had ‘parking garage rules’ … I had a logic scheme by which I chose a parking spot … I was crushed by the idea that ‘possibly’ … ‘maybe’ … I wasn’t led by the Spirit in this part of my life … in hindsight it is pretty amusing but it was just the beginning of my awakening. As I continually prayed for my wife she got weaker and weaker … and my frustration got stronger and stronger. My children began having problems in school … they too were dealing with a deepening grief about their mom’s health. All the while I was being forced to change – I hated it … all of the things in life I thought that I had figured out were unraveling before my eyes … everything that was important to me was falling apart. I was dying on the inside and in May of 1994 my dear wife of 23 years died.

The past years had taken a toll on our family … my 14 year old son, my 10 year old daughter … and me … we were all devastated at my wife’s death. We all expected her to get well … that is what we prayed for … I believed in healing and miracles … I even prayed for a resurrection when my wife breathed her last. The aftermath of her death found my son medicating with drugs, my daughter struggling with identity issues and me dealing with a broken theology. I increasingly became aware of how much I had been led by principles and precepts. Subconsciously I had developed a complex internal system of rules and logic concerning life. These of course were all based in scripture and encompassed words like ‘authority’ and ‘submission’. For years I lived the life of a ‘Charismatic’, ‘led by the Spirit’ Christian when in truth I was more like a Fundamentalist.

One encyclopedia defines a “fundamentalist Christian” as “a Christian who holds the Bible to be infallible, historically accurate, and decisive in all issues of controversy that the Bible is believed to directly address”. On the surface this really seems to be a good thing … and possibly for some people this is the correct way to express their faith … but for me it was not. Fundamentalist thinking brought out the worst in me. I took an exclusive and legalistic approach to the bible. This approach bred an arrogant attitude towards people who didn’t see the scripture the same way I did. When my wife was sick the arrogant attitude began to give way to glimpses of humility. I was humbled when meals came into my home from friends at church for 10 weeks. Coping with hospitalizations, doctor’s bills (from 40+ doctors), hemo-dialysis, and a boatload of medical problems brought me to a place of breaking … I didn’t want to let go of my legalistic ideas and practices but had no option … I could no longer maintain and feed the on stuff that once brought my ego such satisfaction.

The 10 years after my wife’s passing have brought many changes in my life. One major theme in these years has been one of control. You know that ‘control’ is a major battlefield for one trapped in legalistic thinking … it is all about ‘control’. That brings me to the end of 2002 … I had remarried and my new wife was going through an intense health crisis that involved paralysis … I was besides myself once again when the Holy Spirit began to speak to me. He spoke to me about life and living … about letting go and flowing in life instead of controlling … He said that life isn’t something to be managed like a project but something to be lived. I still find it difficult to let go and not control but I am making progress. I take job assignments these days that have clear boundaries. I honor the choices of my adult children even when I don’t agree with them.

The events of these years have convinced me that the letter kills but the Spirit gives life. I have learned that there is a difference in being right and righteous … one can have absolute truth about an issue but be absolutely wrong in their application of that truth if they are not truly led by God’s Spirit. These past few years have also taught me that you take very few things with you when you die and one of them is relationships with fellow believers.

I try to love more these days but I am always confronted with how little I seem to care about people. Just when I think that I am really making progress I find myself withdrawing into a protectionist attitude. You know loving ... God-like loving ... always gets us out of our comfort zone ... always challenges us to the core. God-like loving is not natural and cannot be accomplished using a set of precepts or rules. God's kind of loving is so different than man's kind of loving. God's love is what it is all about ... and we can't love people when we are rules concious. I am convinced that Jesus was all about showing us love in a way that man had not seen before. Possibly when, like Jesus, we are moved by compassion for others we will step outside of our comfort zone ... and walk in His love rather than our rules. That is my prayer for you and my prayer for me. Amen.

Why Obey The Commandments?

The following is excerpted from an e-mail message that I got from my neighbor and friend John Gilman. I love what John says ... he cuts through the religiosity ... his writing is insightful and helpful ... enjoy.

In my last letter, I said about love: “Why else ‘be a living sacrifice,’ or ‘submit to one another,’ or ‘let yourself be wronged?’ Well, actually, there are other reasons why people obey the commandments. Here is one of the most amazing statements in the Bible:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (I Co13:1-3)

Giving everything to the poor and sacrificing your life for some other reason than love? That’s hard to believe. These are great things! And they amount to nothing? That’s even harder to believe. But, and this is so critical, if we don’t love, we are nothing! We gain nothing! The Apostle John said:

“Anyone who does not love remains in death” and “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (I Jn 3:14 & 4:8)

These love claims are not little hyperbolic asides by Jesus and the Apostles. They make their main point, we are to: Love God completely, love our neighbors and ourselves rightly, and love some fellow apprentices as Jesus loved the Twelve. Obedience is supposed to be an _expression of this love.[i] Faith is supposed to express itself in love. Love is the most excellent way. Love is greater than faith and hope. With love we shine like the stars, we have the very nature of God. With love we are perfect like our heavenly Father. And the Greatest Commandment is…?

I grew up in a church of people who were trying to keep all God’s laws, including kindness, justice, and responsibility. A child is far better off in a society of laws than in a lawless one and I am thankful for those people.[ii] And I am thankful for the laws that kept me out of harmful pits of stupidity like: abandoning my family, or addictions, or affairs, etc. However, if love becomes just one or two of the laws we keep, than the laws can be obeyed for other reasons such as: pride, acceptance, self-justification, prestige, fear, and on. We can pray because we’re supposed to, or because of love. I used to be kind, out of obedience; now, hopefully, I am kind out of love. Often the giver and the receiver can feel the difference. Ask my wife.

I have always tried to love and much of my obedience was motivated by love. But many years ago, at a men’s conference, I was envisioned with the importance of “obedience” and I told God that by his grace I would obey him. That, coupled with a positive experience in the military, meant obedience became the goal, and love became a few of the commands I was trying to obey. I marched home from the conference with the Marine slogan, “perfection is our basic minimum” ringing in my head, and immediately assaulted my loved-ones with a perpetual pressure for perfection. The laws of God became both a blessing and a curse, a blessing because of the attempt to deal honestly, kindly, justly, etc. A curse because my obediently patient perpetual pressure for perfection meant everybody (including me) was always failing. Usually I was obediently-patiently-kind about their failures, but obediently-honestly-clear in pointing out their failures. God began correcting my miss-guided zeal by revealing “grace” to me, which was a huge step up. Then God revealed his definition of perfection to me. And now I’m praying that my obedience will hang on love, like fruit on the vine.[iii]

Dear Father, help us love your love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

John—a worker in the harvest.

[i] I concede the circularity here—we are to love out of obedience and obey out of love—but the emphasis is correct and can be clarified, I believe, through an argument that is too long for this letter.

[ii] Many, although they may not be able to articulate it, are living lives of love. Their obedience has resulted in the adoption of love into their lives. Wittingly or unwittingly, they have become lovers of God and man. Their inner compass pointed toward God’s love, they asked Jesus into their heart, and they’ve sailed that direction ever since, reaching, one by one, the shores of heaven. Every time I see them I want to kiss them. My mother was such a one, and early Wednesday her sturdy craft bumped ashore and the One-Who-Is-Love greeted her with a smile saying, “Perfect!” Far behind her, her family follows her long straight wake.

[iii] "You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Mt 5:43-48

“Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.” I Co 13:8-10


"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” Jn 15:8-12

The Cultivator

This morning in church, as I was lost in worship, I saw a picture in my mind. I first saw a picture of a very beautiful yellow flower ... as I looked the vision seemed to pan out and I saw a golden haired young woman kneeling before the planting ... crying as she toiled ... working the soil with her hands. I then began receiving a few words which I wrote down ... here they are:

The Cultivator

I saw her bowed down before a glorious planting of flowers,

Hands in the soil, tenderly working the roots with water and her hands,

Her flowers are beautiful, her plantings prosperous,

All she plants does very well and nothing withers in the sun,

The Lord has given her favor because she is faithful and a lover of God,

Stooped down, she has taken the position of serving and intercession,

With humility of heart and conviction of soul she is a mighty force,

She is
The Cultivator. She is Mom!

These words are so appropriate for today, Mother's Day. If you are a mom then please take these words of encouragement to heart ... your children appreciate the tears, the words and the deeds that you have cultivated into their lives.

Beauty for Ashes

Don't you love happy endings? Do you believe in a happy ending for yourself? I am sure that Job never thought the day would come … perhaps you are in a similar situation. I have seen many of my trials turn into blessings. I am reminded of the messianic prophecy that tells us that the Messiah will "comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve". He will "bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair". It says "They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor".

In the months following my wife Ellen's death God spoke to me often. One day as I was praying God said to me "I am sending you a Ruth". You know I really can't describe the emotions that went through my mind … a kind of disbelief that anything so wonderful could happen to me … Ruth was the epitome of a woman.

Well, later that year, God brought Ann into my life. In many ways she was nothing like what I expected in a woman but in every way she was a Ruth. Our courtship was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I experienced levels of joy that had escaped me for so long … Ann made me feel so young and alive. I had such little understanding of how much of a blessing she would be to me. We were married in the following year. For the last ten years I can say, with Job, that the Lord has blessed the latter part of my life … with a wife that is a servant in the best sense of serving … a woman who's inner beauty and integrity are matchless … and a sister who loves God.

You know it was funny how Ann and I met all over again. We had been acquainted for almost 20 years but had not seen each other for about five years. One day we, by chance, ran into each other in front of The Dime Store in Kansas City where she was shopping and I was just happening by. I wrote this poem at the onset of our courtship.

Love at Second Sight

What drew me to her I do not know.
Spirit? Soul? Flesh? A mystery to me still.
On that day I saw her again ... for the very first time.
Could this be love ... at second sight?

That day was bright ... my heart was dark.
Her skin was fair ... my soul was heavy.
A spark ignited and my spirit soared.
Could this be love ... at second sight?

The summer passed and fall had come.
My mind wandered still to that that day in June,
When my heart was touched by her lovely smile.
Could this be love ... at second sight?

As grief passed and courage grew,
I saw her again and then I knew ...
That my heart longed to know her heart.
Could this be love ... at second sight?

Mourning exchanged for joy.
Loneliness turned into happiness.
Feelings I can neither explain nor express.
Could this be love ... at second sight?

Time goes on and passion grows.
Where we'll go ... who really knows.
My heart and my mind yet question still ...
Could this be love ... at second sight?

You know when you are experiencing hardship, and wonder if your trial will ever end, it is good to remember Job. How God was faithful to him. How God blessed the latter part of his life more than the first. Do not lose heart. God does care and He has a purpose and a plan for your life. Open your eyes and begin to see your situation with eyes of redemption. Know that He can and He will redeem your darkest times and most difficult situations to give you beauty for ashes.

Identity

The older I get the more I am convinced that life is an intense struggle of identity. Listen to what the Apostle Paul pens in his letter to the Galatians:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:16-21)

The big news of the last few weeks has been of the capture of the alleged BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) killer in Wichita, Kansas. The man captured was a church-going one ... even a leader in his church. When the story broke many in his community were in a state of shock. How could this be? Over the years I have bumped into a few people who, in retrospect, seemed to have lived two different lives. There was the outward, church-going, side and an inward, perverse, side. The outer life looked good but no one knew the sickness they battled on the inside.

The scripture above seems to speak of this duality. In some sense we all have this inner battle of identity ... we are all tempted in some way ... and sometimes we give in to temptation. So what is the difference between us and those, like the alleged BTK killer, who seem to have gone off the deep-end. I suggest that it is one of identity. In the last few years I have noticed that often when I am tempted to sin I find myself thinking "that is not who I am' ... "I am not a lust-er" ... "I am not a worrier" ... you get the idea ... fill in the blanks for yourself. I don't think that it is a matter of psyching myself up or convincing myself I am something I am not. I think that, somehow, I have built an identity with Christ through the Holy Spirit. Here what Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians:

Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (I Corinthians 6:9-11)

When we think of ourselves we can either identify ourselves as sinners or as ones that were cleansed of our sins and set apart for God's work. It is a matter of identity. Many in the church today refer to themselves as 'just a sinner saved by grace'. I wonder if by saying these things we have trained ourselves to identify as sinners and not new spiritual creations. Possibly by doing this we have quenched the Holy Spirit's influence in our lives. Hear now what God says of you through the Apostle Peter:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

As believers our identity is a noble and holy one. I think that if we live in that reality we will struggle less when we are tempted.

The Antidote for a Hard Heart

The writer of Hebrews speaks to us of the importance of encouragement:

See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. -- Hebrews 3:12-13

In this passage the writer tells us that the antidote for a hard heart is encouragement. The Greek word, translated encourage, is 'parakaleo' - it is one of my favorite Greek words. In John's gospel Jesus calls the Holy Spirit "Comforter" which is a translation for 'paracletos' - a similar Greek word . Both of these words communicate a deep sense of coming along side someone to comfort them, strengthen them, rebuke them and teach them. These words encapsulate encouragement.

I find it interesting that these verses seems to define leadership differently than the way I once thought of leading ... leading from the side and not the front or back. I guess that is really what encouragement is all about ... walking with someone ... holding their hand as they go through some difficult stuff. My wife has been such a person for me ... believing in me ... hanging in there with me ... helping me see that the glass is more full than empty. I believe that the Holy Spirit not only encourages us directly but at times He becomes an encourager through other people.

The verse warns us that our hearts can be hardened, sinful and unbelieving if we are left to ourselves. Being in close relationships with caring brothers and sisters sets our hearts free to be soft. When we share our pain, our disappointments and our fears with them we make ourselves available to be encouraged. Another verse in Hebrews speaks also of encouragement. It reads:

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching. -- Hebrews 10:25

Again we see the writer using "parakaleo" ... urging us to not just see each other on Sundays but walk with each other ... open our hearts to each other ... and to give and receive God's gift of encouragement.

Religious Pollution

Do 'religious people' make you angry? You know those people who seem to love the rules but don't seem to love people. I must confess that they do make me angry. They made Jesus angry too. Listen to what Mark records in his gospel:

Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, 'Stand up in front of everyone.' Then Jesus asked them, 'Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?' But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.' He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.

Deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts? Stubborn hearts? Could that be the definition of a 'religious person'? Someone with a stubborn heart? That is way to personal for me. I want to look at this story and interpret 'religious people' as those who do not have compassion ... probably because I think of myself as a somewhat compassionate person ... but stubborn? This is not going at all the way I wanted it to - this was supposed to be a commentary on those religious self-righteous people who lacked compassion - not about 'stubborn people'.

When you come down to it we are all stubborn in one way or another. We get locked into our positions or thinkings and have a difficult time when Jesus shows up and wants to do something that doesn't fit into our theological paradigm. We can, like those religious people of Christ's day, cause distress and anger to our God when we refuse to work with Him and bring healing to the hurting. May He redeem our stubbornness and bring us to a place of humility, brokenness and compassion and make us religious people in the best sense of religion:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. -- James 1:27

and also keep oneself from being polluted by stubbornness :)

Would you condemn Me to justify yourself?

The Old Testament book of Job is an awesome commentary on who God is and who we are. Towards the end of the book God shows up and speaks to Job. Here is the dialog:

"The Lord said to Job: 'Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? Let him who accuses God answer Him!' Then Job answered the Lord: 'I am unworthy - how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once but I have no answer - twice but I will say no more.' The Lord spoke to Job out of the storm: 'Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?'"

Well when it all is said and done one thing remains. God is God and man is man. Here the Almighty shows up. He has patiently listened to Job's discourse with his friends and He now makes an appearance to put it all in perspective. At the heart of God's lengthy questioning of Job is Job's heart itself. God counsels Job regarding the things that make God God. He helps him to put the events of his recent life in relationship to God's attributes and character.

As God speaks, Job begins to understand some thing about God. God begins to reveal himself as the Omni-God. By that I mean the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent Almighty God. You see, Job suffered, as many of us do, from a small view of God. When he waited and God didn't act and react the way Job expected him to, he became discouraged because he didn't really understand who God is. In the following few sentences I will attempt to put a few words together to describe what makes God God. Knowing that what I write will be inadequate to the task doesn't discourage me … I don't think that anyone could do a truly sufficient job.

To begin let me address three broad categories of God's attributes. I call them is-isms. "God is Almighty". "God is Holy". "God is Sovereign". Each is-ism speaks of a different aspect of God. First "God is Almighty". As we discussed previously God is an Omni-God. Omnipotence speaks of His power to act … this is expressed in creation, in healing and in miracles. Omniscience tells us that God knows everything … every thought and motive … He cannot be surprised. Omnipresence is the ability that God has to be everywhere at one time and at all times … He is not bound by space or time … He sees the future in the same way he sees the past. Doesn't that seem to be enough of a definition for God … surely enough to make most fall prostrate in worship? This, in a small way, encapsulates the idea that "God is Almighty".

The next is-ism is "God is Holy". Here we unwrap the notion of God a step further. For He is more than an Omni-God. "God is Holy" speaks of separateness. Because "God is Holy" He is separate … separate from created beings and things. This is essential to a clear understanding of God. Because He is separate, it is somewhat impossible to understand Him and His ways. Nevertheless, understanding this causes us to see him as unique. This separateness manifests itself in three qualities … goodness, justice and love. Without these the character of God comes into question and He is reduced to a divine despot. The first quality of goodness tells us that at His core God is good … His thoughts, ways and actions are all good … He is a good God. Secondly, God is just. Because he is separate He can judge as no earthly judge can judge. He is the ultimate in fairness and is able to judge because His is separate. Lastly, God is love. In this aspect we see a divine care for creation that is matchless in extent and quality … His love is perfect and unfailing because He is separate. Each of these qualities is important to embrace when we speak of "God is Holy" … each balances the other out somewhat and gives us a picture of a God who is pure in nature … One in whom we can place our trust.

The last is-ism is "God is Sovereign". While the first two is-isms speak of His power and nature this is-ism speaks of God's involvement with creation. It also breaks into three parts … volition, involvement and kingship. Volition firstly speaks of God as one who has a will … not only a will in the most general and universal sense but in the smallest and most personal sense. God has a will for nations and for individuals as well. This concept progresses as we understand that God is involved. He becomes involved in every aspect of creation. He brings the full extent of "God is Almighty" and "God is Holy" to bear on all of creation. He uses His power to accomplish His holiness in our lives. This is where kingship enters in. Job said, "I know that no plan of yours can be thwarted" … this is the essence of kingship. God will have His way … would you want it any other way. But though he rules in the events of our lives … permitting trial and suffering to enter … he allows us to accept or reject His rule in our lives … He gives us free will to curse Him or submit to Him.

So, how does this tie into Job? Would he have acted differently if he really understood who God is? His answer to God's questioning seems to indicate that he would have. For when God appeared to Job, He didn't answer all of His questions … He simply reminded Job of who He is. He said that for Job to justify himself was tantamount to condemning God. Kind of puts it in perspective.

How about you? Does understanding that God's will for you is perfect help you? Does knowing that He brings all of "God is Almighty", all of "God is Holy" and all of "God is Sovereign" to bear to help you be the best person that you can be … one who reflects His goodness, His justice and His Love? Job learned this lesson … may we benefit as well.

Which is easier?

I am in awe of Jesus. He always goes to the heart of an issue. Listen to what is reported of him in the second chapter of Mark's gospel:

Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 'Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?' Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, 'Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . .' He said to the paralytic, 'I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.' He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, 'We have never seen anything like this!'

Does this just blow you away? He turned things around on the teachers of the law. He took their 'deep' theological whining to a new level ... their whining was something deeper though ... for if Jesus could forgive sins then their perception of who He was was wrong. You know many of us want to acknowledge Jesus as a great teacher and possibly even a prophet. Like the religious people of Christ's day we want to relegate Him to the normal and the natural - but, like those ancient teachers Jesus does not let us get away with it. For if He can forgive sins then He truly is very God of very God - the Ancient of Days visiting mankind. The writer/theologian C. S. Lewis put it this way:

'I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of thing Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.'

Determine for yourself which is easier. As for me, I believe that He has the authority to forgive sins for I believe that he is God.

Dear Rabbi

Last month I had an e-mail dialogue with a Rabbi that had published an article on religious tolerance and unity. With hopes of advancing communication and understanding I have included the conversation below.

Dear Rabbi,

I come at forgiveness from a New Testament perspective and was wondering what your take is on the verses in Hebrews 9 that say ...

When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. He said, "This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep." In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

... since sacrifices are no longer performed how does a modern day Jew appropriate forgiveness?

Dear Bob,

Indeed, forgiveness in the Hebrew Bible was contingent on the kind of passage you quote which alludes to the sacrifice being the vehicle tp forgiveness. That continued in the ancient tabernacle in the wilderness and then afterwards in the Temple in Jerusalem. Once the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70, however, the means of asking God for forgiveness for the Jew transferred to a. the prayer service- both in the daily morning prayers where there is a passage asking God for forgiveness and then on our Day of Atonement through prayer, fasting - and b. not repeating the offense. c. In addition, a Jew is required to "seal" forgiveness" with some act of genuine kindness with another human being.

Dear Rabbi,

Is there a passage in your scripture that you base your reply on or is it based on tradition alone?

Dear Bob,

both. for example, there is a classic passage in the Talmud where two rabbis are walking near the Temple ruins and lamenting that "the place which atoned for the sins of the people of israel through animal sacrifice lays in ruins! To which the second rabbi responds,''be not grieved, my son, there is another way of gaining forgiveness-through deeds of loving kindness for Hosea 6:6 says "Lovingkindness I desire, not sacrifice." Just one example.

Dear Rabbi,

Thanks so much for the information. I have often wondered about this because of the emphasis in the new testament about forgiveness being appropriated by the shedding of Christ's blood. It sounds like your theology blends in with the thinking that as long as you are a good person, doing good works, you are right with God.

The Pope, Pastors and TV Preachers

I have often thought that there is not much difference between the Pope, Pastors and TV Preachers - many seem to believe that they are accountable ONLY to God Himself and that those in their charge are required to submit to them in spiritual matters. Often these leaders are vexed when people revolt against their authority by either becoming vocal or leaving their church. You know that this is not a new phenomena … religious leaders from the beginning of time have had difficulty with people submitting to them and their authority. This is not to say that rebellion is either good or bad ... it just seems to be.

Jesus faced these religious authorities head-on when he roamed the hills of Judea. These leaders would often come to him trying to trip him up or find fault in His message. On one such occasion they came to him asking for His credentials. Matthew's gospel tells it this way:

"Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”

In hindsight it is clear that two authorities are present - spiritual authorities. The chief priests and elders certainly had the weight of tradition, position and even possibly scripture on their side. Jesus on the other hand was at odds with them and seemed a bit out of step with the Judaism of that day … he seemed to have a different kind of authority.

Even today there seems to be two different kinds of authority in church circles. There is certainly still the type of authority that the religious leaders of Jesus' day exhibited. This type of authority doesn't like to be challenged. It is heavy handed and has it's base in carnal power or position. We see this type of authority exercised in many of our corporations. Many husbands and fathers are most comfortable with this paradigm of authority. This authority depends on people who for one reason or another are afraid to disobey the authority. The authority that Jesus exerted was quite different. It is written in Mark's gospel account:

"Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 'What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are--the Holy One of God!' 'Be quiet!' said Jesus sternly. 'Come out of him!' The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, 'What is this? A new teaching--and with authority!'"

Jesus certainly had a rare type of authority. I submit to you that His authority was a blend of spiritual power, wisdom and love. The power was displayed in miracles and demonic exorcism. Wisdom emanated from his teachings. Love was His foundation. It is often written of Jesus that He was moved by compassion when He healed or performed a miracle. I submit that His authority had a basis in love.

Today we would be well advised to evaluate the type of authority we place ourselves under. We are wise when we submit to those who love us with no ulterior motives - and we are wise when we love those in like manner to whom we have authority over. You know, authority is really about influence and the best way to influence anyone is to love them unconditionally. May God take all of your bad past authority problems, redeem them and make you one who is wiser.