I Stand In Awe of Jesus

About 20 years ago Mark Altrogge wrote a song named "I Stand In Awe". Last night I popped in an old praise and worship tape and the song began to play. I got lost in the song ... it is so beautiful ... it expresses what I think about when I hear the name Jesus. Here are the lyrics:
You are beautiful beyond description
Too marvelous for words
Too wonderful of comprehension
Like nothing ever seen or heard
Who can grasp your infinite wisdom
Who can fathom the depth of your love
You are beautiful beyond description
Majesty enthroned above
And the chorus:
And I stand, I stand in awe of you
I stand, I stand in awe of you
Holy God to whom all praise is due
I stand in awe of you.
Jesus is beyond comprehension. His life leaves me speechless. His love overwhelms me. I stand in awe of Him.

Blog Inspiration

Barb at A Chelsea Morning recently asked blogger folk to write a post answering the question:
"So what inspired your blog name?"
This phrase, "An Eye for Redemption", came to me in the late 1980s on a Sunday morning at church ... I felt it was from the Lord for me in specific and for others as well. As I reflected on it over the years I became convinced that life is all about redemption and often we miss it big time when we don't see hardship, trial and suffering through God's redemptive eyes. Really, pain makes no sense unless you believe that God can use it ... eventually ... for good ... to help another traveler ... to bring healing to someone's pain.

This message of redemption was made very real to me in the 1990s when I had to deal with my first wife's illness and death. I was tempted to stuff everything and go on like a good little Christian soldier ... which I did for a long time. I eventually became convinced to no longer allow that overwhelming, gut-wrenching agony to dominate and control me any longer. I started to live by this passage:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
At times I don't feel too comfortable or qualified to bring this message ... and at times I don't. I am often living in the pain of a moment ... trying to deal with my stuff ... yet often feel compelled to speak a word of encouragement to someone that is hurting. I think that it is the majestic, awe-inspiring, beauty of the Holy Spirit to use hurting people to help hurting people. I find that, by being transparent and vulnerable about my stuff, the Lord can take my pain and redeem it - but it is only when I do it with an eye for redemption. Having an eye for redemption will keep you from being self-focused, it will help you to see past people's outer pain and make a heart connection with them. I guess I'll close this post with the words that appear at the top of my blogsite:

In the seemingly most tragic events of history, and in particular our lives, God sees with an eye for redemption and works to bring beauty from ashes.

Jesus, help us to see with your eyes, so that, like You, we can be moved with compassion. Amen.

Deal Breakers

Ever leave a fellowship of believers mad, upset, wounded and/or disillusioned? Ever had leaders of a church do something that upset you and caused you to leave? A pastor of a large church in Tulsa changed his view on hell and lost the church building because so many people left the fellowship. Hear is the story through the eyes (and cameras) of MSNBC:
To Hell and Back #1 - #2

This story hits close to home because our fellowship recently had to sell our building because many people left our church. For me it begs the questions:
  • What are your deal breakers?
  • What would cause you to 'break fellowship' with the leaders or the people of your church?
  • Would your reasons be theological, inter-personal or behavioral?

Early in my walk with the Lord I attended a church for 18 years and left hurt, wounded and 'unheard' - that last word is especially important. Being 'heard' is a very relational thing ... wanting to be involved in a fellowship where leaders know you and need you ... it is so subtle but hits to the core of the body of Christ. I am reminded of this passage:

But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; or again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." (1 Corinthians 12:18-21)
Ever felt unneeded? It is a sorrowful feeling because it hits us where we live - we all want to be part of a group where people care about us and want our input. How many church leaders have subtly (or not so subtly) changed 'church' because 'God said'? In some weird way, for some, amputation has become an acceptable practice in Christianity. It seems that losing body parts doesn't make much of a difference to some churches. When people leave the church many rationalize it away blaming God with words like "God led them". It is a sad commentary on the way that we do church these days.

All that said, I do not want to leave on a negative note. For many (myself included) church is a place of life, where you genuinely love your brothers and sisters in Christ and in turn feel loved by them. We are currently selecting a new lead pastor for our fellowship and the atmosphere feels welcoming and inviting. Elders making the decision have had many conversations with the members of our body. The two men being considered for the position are people who love people and are genuinely concerned for the well being of our church. Some people may leave but I think that it will not be because they are unheard ... but I could be wrong.

Divine Pets

Over the past months I have had many discussions with people that believe that Jesus' death and resurrection secured redemption and salvation for all of creation regardless of whether they believe or not - atheists, agnostics, Hitler ... and maybe even Satan are included in the mix - their position is that Jesus redeemed them all. They have compelling arguments and scripture to support their thinking. These are all very thoughtful people ... I enjoy exchanging ideas with them - maybe they will offer a comment on this post :)

So here is the question that has been going around in my head these days:
Are we just God's pets?
Some folks seem to embrace a redemption/salvation scenario where God is unwittingly portrayed having an unrelenting purpose to be with His pets forever ... nothing His pets do can change His resolve ... the pets have absolutely no part in His decision ... He loves them unconditionally and does not care what they think about anything - including Him, His Son's sacrifice and the afterlife.

I find that this model of redemption/salvation to be somewhat of an affront to humanity because it robs us of divine dignity and reduces us to people who are handicapped and unable to respond to heavenly love. But maybe that is exactly what it should be. Maybe we are all divine dogs and cats - loved deeply by their Owner but not really respected by Him ... made by Him but not really in His image ... His to play with and stroke lovingly but truly unable to be a collaborator with Him in His kingdom . I find this to view to be somewhat condescending and demeaning.

On the contrary, here is a scripture that I resonate with:
No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you." (John 15:15)
I believe that these words of Jesus restore dignity to us. Believing in Jesus sets us free to be fully human and fully alive - both today and the day we pass from this life to the next. I do not believe that we are heavenly pets with pre-ordained destinations. I don't think that believers are puppets manipulated by a heavenly (puppet) Master. God is my friend, I just can't view Him that way.

Communication and Technology

Communication is somewhat of an eclectic mix of art, personality, style and details - to name a few. When you add technology to the mix you often get surprising results. Here is a (probably fictitious) story that was recently emailed to me.
A Minneapolis couple decided to go to Florida to thaw out during a particularly icy winter. They planned to stay at the same hotel where they had spent their honeymoon 20 years earlier. Because of hectic schedules it was difficult to coordinate their travel schedules so the husband left Minnesota and flew to Florida on Thursday and his wife flew down the following day.

The husband checked into the hotel. There was a computer in his room so he decided to send an e-mail to his wife. However, he accidentally left out one letter in her e-mail address and without realizing his error he sent the e-mail.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Houston, a widow had just returned from her husband's funeral. He was a minister who was called home to glory following a heart attack. The widow decided to check her e-mail expecting messages from friends and relatives.

After reading the first message she screamed and fainted. The widow's son rushed into the room and found his mother on the floor and saw the computer screen which read:

To: My Loving Wife
Subject: I've Arrived
Date: June 1, 2006

Honey: I know you're surprised to hear from me. They have computers here now and you are allowed to send e-mails to your loved ones. I've just arrived and have been checked in. I see that everything has been prepared for your arrival tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing you then!

Hope your journey is as uneventful a mine was.

P.S. Sure is freaking hot down here.
Hope you enjoyed the story. I wish that I couldn't relate to it. Email has gotten into more trouble than I want to admit to. Maybe this will cause you to think twice before you next hit send.

Cessationism Followup

Thanks to all who provided feedback on my previous post on Cessationism. I think that spiritual gifts are an interesting topic. I think that much of cessationist thinking began as a reaction to some bad Pentacostal/Charismatic theolgy and behavior. Many Pentacostal/Charismatic believers in their zeal for gifts (especially tongues) developed an exclusive and somewhat arrogant theology that teaches "spirit filled" believers that they are special because they do this or that - especially speaking in tongues. In reaction non-tongues-speaking believers countered with Cessationim ... apart from my experience 30 years ago I may have been a Cessationist.

So, if any of you are still reading, I would like to pose a few questions:
1) If God doesn't need these gifts any longer then why bother to put them in 1Corinthians in such detail? Just to give us something to fight about? Or was Paul just giving us a history lesson?

2) Does God no longer need us to minister to each other? Is the model we embrace today a we-have-the-bible-and-don't-need-the-Spirit paradigm? Is ministry now reduced to fleshly wisdom, power, speech and discernment?

3) Is there a lack of reality and transparency in some (large) Charimatic ministries that hype all sorts of healings and miracles? I know that I want to vomit every time a network news show probes into some televangelist's ministry and finds people that are evasive and unaccountable.

4) Does Cessationist theology come out of the pain of being sick and/or having prematurely lost loved ones? I honestly struggle with this idea. Losing my first wife after years of prayer for her and ministry to her was very difficult and challenging.

5) Are people tired of 'super spiritual' people talking down to them? I know that I have dificulty listening to some of these folks on TV ... of course I also have difficulty with the fundamentalist televangelists.

6) Does the bible give us an unbalanced view of spiritual gifts? It seems that the scripture gives us the highlights of the apostles' ministry and could make it seem that healings, miracles and spiritual gifts were the norm for everyday life.

7) Do our expectations around spiritual gifts get in the way? My friends Tony and Livie have a healing ministry and have witnessed all sorts of miraculous healings. Yet they would tell you that healing is a percentage game ... to see one person healed you have to pray for many many people ... not all are healed ... the gift is God's to give not ours.
And here are a few thoughts that Paul from Exiled from Groggs posted at He Lives:
Who are "missionaries" - not mentioned as such otherwise in the Bible? Wright suggests that they are people exercising the gift (not the office!) of apostleship - which then opens up whole areas of further discussion about what missionaries are supposed to do.

On what biblical basis do we distinguish between the "charismatic" gifts and the "gifts of the Spirit" that are given to all believers for the edification of the whole body?

Given that prophecy is fundamentally and has always been "forth-telling" God's will that he has already made known, rather than "foretelling" the future, are we clear that this is definitely not what is happening when certain preachers are speaking?

There are others. However, for me, "cessationist" is another label that has come to seem an oversimplification of what the Bible has to say, and probably closes down debates and builds walls rather than allowing people to think.
Seems that the older I get I have more questions than answers. With regard to gifts I know that I have settled one question in my heart ... whether you are a Cessationist or not ... if you love Jesus then you are my friend and my brother or sister. In the essentials unity, in all else charity.


David at He Lives is thinking about teaching on Cessationism in his next semester of Sunday School. He defines it this way:
"Cessationism teaches that the charismatic gifts: tongues, prophecy and healing, gifts generally associated with God the Holy Spirit, ceased being practiced early in Church history, either at the Church's reception of the canon or with the death of the last apostle."
Here are my comments to David:
My experiences in Charismania for 30 years has led me to determine that:

1) God does indeed speak today but not in a universal sense ... prophetic like utterances are focused and specific.

2) Charismatics (I being one) regularly misinterpret and mis-hear the Spirits voice. We foolishly say 'thus says the Lord' or 'God told me' before testing what we say. Sometimes it is just a matter of bad role models and/or immaturity.

3) The manifestation of the Holy Spirit via spiritual gifts is probably not the norm. For example ... take healing ... less than 1% of people prayed for are healed miraculously.

4) Some charismatics are really fundamentalists that cloak legalism with spiritual verbiage. They follow charismatic formulas rather than the voice of the Spirit.

You can follow my journey in my post entitled Confessions of a Charismatic Fundamentalist
So what do you think about the topic. Seems that this was one of the hot issues in the 70s and 80s. Is it still controversial or is it something that we all have agreed to disagree on?

The Church of Me

I bit of irreverent church video humor from Sermon Spice:
Me Church helps us understand what we really (don't) need from church.

The Evangelism Linebacker will motivate you to get your act together and shows you how to 'love' people into the kingdom.
If you are done laughing I want to really recommend this clip to you. Get Service is an insightful video about how a young man is frustrated that no one looks out for him until he is given eyes to see the needs of those around him. I found it to be impactful.

Freedom from Bitterness

Gordon at Heavenly Heartburn recently posted about The Defilement of Bitterness. The post is excellent - short and sweet. To follow-up I thought that I would add a few words about my own journey with bitterness.

From first hand experience I can tell you that bitterness is deceptive and seductive. I have struggled with bitterness and have got rid of bitterness on several occasions. The way that I have deep-sixed bitterness on these occasions was to:
  1. confess it and ask for forgiveness,
  2. renounce it and ask for cleansing
  3. repent of it and ask for love to replace it.
About 20 years ago I had been having problems with my boss, Carol, for about six months. I could hardly stand to be in the same room as Carol ... I considered her to be the cause of my angst. As I prayed about this one day God spoke to me and told me that I had bitterness in my heart towards Carol. I was devastated - the issue was mine and not hers. Here is how I prayed:
Father, I confess that I have harbored bitterness towards Carol. Please forgive me. I renounce this bitterness and ask you to cleanse me of it. I repent of this bitterness. Please fill me up with Your love for Carol.
It was the first time that can I remember getting free of bitterness. My relationship with Carol immediately changed. It shocked me that I felt different when I was around her. Since that time I have been a bit more aware of bitterness and it's cancerous effects on my life. I have prayed that prayer many times when I sensed any shred of bitterness. If God is dealing with you today - pray the prayer ... it is easier to pull little weeds that the big ones.