The Journey of the Spiritual Heart

The word "journey" is probably one of the most overused words that I have heard used (and have personally used ad nauseum) in religious circles. It is something that we often wear as a badge of honor.. don't you dare criticize my journey. With 2008 knocking on our doors I was thinking about this idea of journey and thought of these verses out of Proverbs:
"The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel." (12:15)

"There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." (14:12)

"All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, But the LORD weighs the motives." (16:2)

"Every man's way is right in his own eyes, But the LORD weighs the hearts." (21:2)
There is a word that is used in each of these verses.. it is the word "way" and is translated from this Hebrew word:
derek (deh'-rek): From darak; way, road, distance, journey, manner, road, way, path, journey, direction, manner, habit, way, of course of life (fig.), of moral character (fig.)
Journey seems a good fit for these verses.. try substituting it for "way" and reread the verses. I find it interesting that these words speak negatively about this word journey. Looking at the verses it is obvious that:
  • Our journey can be foolish if we walk it alone. We need the help of others to walk out a wise journey.

  • Our journey is all about the inner life. Being successful on our journey is all about our motives.

  • Our journey can lead to some dark places (i.e. death) if we live it from our flesh.. our minds.. our emotions.. our lusts.

  • Our journey is not about those things we see but about those things that can only be discerned with our spiritual hearts.
This last bullet is the one that can be so difficult. So often our journey is fraught with fear, pain and other negative influences.. during these times it is so easy to allow these things to shut our hearts down.. so easy to allow the things that we see with our outer eye to overshadow those things that can only be seen with our inner eye.

In this time when many of us are considering 2007 and thinking of 2008 maybe we can resolve to live more fully this journey of our spiritual heart.. possibly relying less on our earthly/brainy wisdom.. possibly leaning more into our spiritual hearts.. and maybe we will begin to see the journey through the inner eyes of redemption. It is my prayer for you and for me.

The Longest Night

In preparation for my talk at last night's Longest Night Service I jotted down a few thoughts on our church blog. I got the inspiration for this post as I recapped 2007 in my previous post.

The service was pretty well attended. We spent some time singing a few worship songs, my wife Ann read Diane Hendricks' Longest Night Meditation and my friend and co-worker Jason sang this inspiring song:

I followed with a brief sharing of my heart around my year of the longest nights. We ended our time with a time of candle lighting and prayer. It was a very sweet time and a fitting way to prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus.

2007 in Review

At the end of the year I like to take a look at the posts I have written.. I see some common themes and a few new ones. Here are some excerpts from my favorite posts by month:
  • January: Flowing with Weakness
    I think that this kind weakness is something that often looks like desperation. It is the kind of thing that really brings you to the end of yourself and to the beginning of faith. I have to admit that I do not feel strong spiritually right now. I am forced to trust the Lord in a way that I have had to do on several other occasions. I am again reminded that I can only flow with the Spirit at a heart level ... I can only be at peace when I give up control of this situation.

  • February: Which Reality?
    I often find myself going through the day subconsciously talking to God. On one such day a few weeks ago I heard myself thinking "I am a realist". What I heard back surprised me. This thought instantly came back to me: "Which reality?" Over the past few weeks I have thought a lot about this one ... it is a challenging thought. I am very comfortable with the reality that I can see with my eyes, feel with my hands, hear, smell and taste. I am not so comfortable with that reality that can only be discerned with my heart ... that place of faith.

  • March: Invisible Ministry
    The desire to be visible is a dark side of the ministry ... wanting to be seen and appreciated by people is a dark force that permeates much of American church leadership. Many large ministries and churches, as well as small ones, are led by men which have surrendered to the dark side of visible ministry. These men were, at one point in their lives, seduced by public ministry.

  • April: God's Will
    Does it surprise you to hear that your heart plans belong to you? Does it challenge you to think that those plans in your heart can be an expression of God's will? So often we can get so wrapped up in our religious "Christian" ideas of "God's will" that we forget the kingdom of God is not so much about what we do but how we do it.

  • May: Living in the Invisible Kingdom
    The beautiful thing about the Invisible Kingdom is that it can become visible at any time ... peace and joy can be manifested in our lives even in the most difficult of circumstances ... if our focus is on the invisible ... following Jesus' command in the gospels to seek first this Invisible Kingdom.

  • June: Thick Skin, Soft Heart
    Developing a tough thick skin is a way that we can guard our hearts from the wounds that cause it to develop a hard crust. I read that having a thick skin is being able to withstand criticism. Ouch, I don't like that because I don't like being criticised ... I much prefer the idea of being able to withstand wounds - sound a bit more noble. Keeping criticism out of our heart is so hard because many of us are such people pleasers.

  • July: Facing Down Nebuchadnezzar
    Life has its way of intimidating us doesn't it. Nebuchadnezzar can show up in all sorts of ways. Sometimes he shows up overtly demanding that we bow to the things that we know we should not bow to, but sometimes he shows up so subtly intimidating us to bow in thoughts and attitudes. This is where I am challenged today as I watch my wife back in a wheelchair and struggling physically from MS. I find Nebuchadnezzar standing over me today intimidating me ... telling me to bow to a subtle worship of fear, self-pity, hopelessness and despair.

  • August: Offended by Jesus
    Life in jail must have been pretty discouraging for John the Baptist. After all it was not that long ago that John was baptising many and experiencing so much success in his ministry. John was even the one that introduced Jesus to the world as the Lamb of God. John certainly thought that Jesus would free him from Herod's jail but he never did. You can almost feel John's disappointment when he asks Jesus "are you the One?"

  • September: Spiritual Fingerprints
    The post caused me to think about how different we all are ... different in gender ... different in race ... different in culture ... different in personality ... different in many other ways. So ... I am still processing ... why is it that I still want to make rules and generalizations around things like how we love Jesus and how we walk out our faith in Him?

  • October: Where you do not wish to go
    Sometimes following Jesus takes us on a journey that is both hard and heartbreaking. Reading Jesus words to Peter so resonates with me this morning. It reminds me that sometimes our path takes us to places "where you do not wish to go". I am in such a place in this season of my life.

  • November: Grateful For What Really Matters
    We all know in our hearts what really matters.. we are all thankful for the tangible and intangibles of life that we hold so dear.. but sometimes the events of our lives can overshadow those things that we are thankful for.. pain can breed an inward focus and cause us to forget what really matters

  • December: The Trustable Heart
    To live from your heart you have to give up control.. the brain is all about controlling.. the heart is all about trusting. For many this is difficult because the brain wants to follow rules while the heart wants to follow God.. a desire to make and follow rules is evidence of people wanting to live from their heads.
If you are so inclined.. please let me know if any of these were particularly helpful to you.. today or yesterday when you first read them.

Chain Breaking Praise

Codepoke reminded me of this song when he wrote about voluntary chains at his place. If you are having a rough day or rough season.. I'm sorry that things are difficult.. as you listen to the song turn your heart to Him in praise. It is true that praise can break those chains.

Praise the Lord

When you're up against a struggle
That's shattered all your dreams
And your hopes been cruely crushed
By Satan's manifested schemes.
And you feel the urge within you
To submit to earthly fears
Don't let the faith your standing in
Seem to disappear

Praise the Lord. He will work for those who praise him
Praise the Lord. For our God inhabits praise.
Praise the Lord. And those chains that seem to bind you
Serve only to remind you.
As they fall powerless behind you.
When you praise him.

Satan is a liar and he wants to make us think
That we are paupers, when we know ourselves
We're children of the king.
So lift up the mighty shield of faith
For the battle must be won
Remember Jesus Christ has risen
So the works already done.

O Holy Night

"O Holy Night" ("Cantique de Noël") is a well-known Christmas carol composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 to the French poem "Minuit, chrétiens" by Placide Cappeau (1808-1877), an accomplished amateur. Cappeau was asked to write a Christmas poem by a parish priest. I have included two ensemble versions of it below. Let me know which one you liked best. For fun you can play them in unison.

Celtic Woman

Il Divo

Which rendition moved you the most?

The Trustable Heart

Jim over at Coming Out of the Prayer Closet asks the question: Does Christianity Make Us Better People?

Here is the way I responded:

The problem you describe Jim.. I think.. is the whole problem that many evangelicals.. especially fundamentalists.. have when they describe the heart as desperately wicked. When I woke up to the fact that my heart was good and trustable everything began to change for me.

I have told people that if your heart is wicked then you'd better not try to walk out Proverbs 3:5.. better to lean on your own understanding than to trust a wicked heart. So the question is: When does your heart become good?

I think that it is a part of the born again experience.. the problem for some Christians is that:
  1. The born again experience is too narrowly and exclusively defined by religious leaders. As a result many people who trust Jesus are discredited because they "didn't do it right".. it is a pitiful example of how insecure religious leaders bully sincere believers in Jesus in an attempt to control them.
  2. Religious people teach Christians to lead a life from the head and not the heart.. they actually discourage a heart connection.. I think that they do it because of issues of their own insecurity and their own quest for control.
  3. To live from your heart you have to give up control.. the brain is all about controlling.. the heart is all about trusting. For many this is difficult because the brain wants to follow rules while the heart wants to follow God.. a desire to make and follow rules is evidence of people wanting to live from their heads.
I wrote several posts on this a year and a half ago and it made me consider the impact that bad teaching and thinking about my heart had on me. So, to answer your post's query:

Christianity as a religious system certainly doesn't make you a better person.. no religion can do that.. but being born again (remember point #1) changes everything because it changes your heart and your motives.

The Power of God’s Pleasure

Following is an excerpt from an article of the same title by Steve Sjogren as posted on his blog.

All of us have gifts, whether we know Christ or not.

I have found that one of the most powerful ways to lead people toward Christ is to give them a chance to use their gifts in serving others. In using their gifts they will experience, to borrow a famous idea from the film Chariots of Fire,
“the pleasure of God.”
We would generally agree that leading people away from strange views and perspectives to a scriptural view of Jesus is extremely difficult. Once people have given themselves to a “cultic” view of Jesus, it is difficult to find their way back to a clear-cut biblical view of him.

Yet I have seen a number of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, both of those groups believe in the Arian view of Christ that he was only man and not God, come to a saving relationship with Christ through using their gifts to serve others.

Early on in my stint as a leader there was no way that I would have allowed a non-believer any shot at serving along side of other believers. But then along came a handful of Mormons who initially said they were interested in caring for those in need. Could they help in giving groceries and clothes away? After thinking it through we said they could, but they had to be paired up with older, mature believers who were grounded in the faith. Read the rest here.

I found this principle to be true when I was involved in leading The Alpha Course. New and nominal believers were often given small group co-leader positions.. they proved to be great in small group settings and brought a lot of life with them.. experienced believers often had the opposite affect as they spouted bible verses and had a hard time relating to new people. Giving people a chance to use their gifts in serving others is the heart of what leadership is.. at least what it should be.

An Emerging Perspective

A friend wrote asking me for input to questions around The Emerging Church.. what it is.. where it started.. what sets them apart.. and other questions. I am certainly no authority on this topic.. in a sense no one is or can be.. but I responded anyway.. I always seem to J ..I don't think that I have ever posted on this topic.. anywho, here is what I wrote:
  1. Each generation seems to want to have their own movement.. their own flavor of Christianity.. to be emerging is to identify with that sentiment.. it is to say that I am not happy with the way things have been in church and in Christianity. As a result an Us vs. Them mentality sometimes surfaces.
  2. Emerging theology tends to be a bit more accepting and less exclusive. I think that this is somewhat of a reaction to fundamentalism and some sects of evangelicalism.
  3. Like Protestantism, emerging churches tend to be different yet the same in some ways.
  4. The emerging movement seems to have it’s rock stars like Brian McLaren, Rob Bell and Mark Driscoll but these only represent certain viewpoints within the movement and are not authorities on emergent thought.. no one really is.
  5. “Missional” seems to be one of the words that you come across when an emergent person speaks.. I think that it is a word that speaks of integrating faith into everyday life.. I like that word.
  6. The Catch-22 of the Emerging Church is that it is becoming institutionalized and legitimate.. this will cause the “movement” to become something different.. like the Charismatic renewal of the 1970s did.. what started out as a Holy Spirit grass roots thing morphed into something that man and churches began to control.
  7. The Emerging Church is a part of the Church Universal (the Body of Christ) and as a result is simply just a different way to express your faith in Jesus. One can express faith in Jesus within this context or one of the many other ways that so many people do.
Of course my views are still emerging on this one. I would be interested in any thoughts on this topic as I am not sure that I really know what I am talking about.. nothing new there.

Grateful For What Really Matters

Susan Estrich begins her article titled Thanksgiving: A Holiday at War With Our Culture bemoaning the reality of what Thanksgiving has become and how challenging the holiday can be.. making a moist Turkey.. getting past the thoughtlessness of relatives and friends.. the demands of cultural thinness.. the success of nasty people.. aaahh.. enough to make a body depressed.. but Susan ends the article this way:
The challenge of Thanksgiving is not to make a better turkey, not to lose 10 pounds, not to get there first or faster or cheaper, or with the most money in your pocket or the most gold stars on your forehead. It's to remember that those things don't really matter, and to be grateful for what does.
We all know in our hearts what really matters.. we are all thankful for the tangible and intangibles of life that we hold so dear.. but sometimes the events of our lives can overshadow those things that we are thankful for.. pain can breed an inward foocus and cause us to forget what really matters.

Today.. on this day dedicated to the giving of thanks.. join with me and offer a prayer of thanks to God for those things that really matter.. and say a word of thanks to those that really matter to you. Happy Thanksgiving!

Suffering, yet not Ashamed

Today's Verse of the Day seems so appropriate for recent events. The passage reads:
I am suffering ... Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. (2 Timothy 1:12/NIV)
Yesterday, our dear friend Ann Glotzbach passed away.. you can read about her here. Her passing is painful yet bittersweet because of her prolonged suffering and pain these past years. Here is what the Verse of the Day website had to say about Paul:
As Paul faced very difficult circumstances near the end of his life, many of those he had led to the Lord abandoned him. But he was confident that the Lord would not abandon him! He had committed his life to Jesus as Lord. That Lord would ensure that the investment Paul had made would not be wasted. His life, his future, and his eternal destiny were entrusted to the Lord. He was confident that they were also secure in the Lord. He believed with every fiber of his being that on a special day known only to God, Jesus will return and every knee will bow and Paul's faith in the Lord will be joyously validated.
A few points from it that I would like to highlight:
  • It is hard on everyone when painful situations come.. sometimes people just don't know what to do.. sometimes they do nothing.. don't be too hard on these folks.. they do care.
  • God uses the pain in our lives to develop compassion for others. It is nothing short of amazing how God turned ruthless Saul into loving Paul.
  • Our hope cannot be found in temporal blessings. Our ultimate hope is in the Blessed Hope.. the Lord Jesus.. in the end we will see Him and many whom we have loved.
On a very personal note I have to say that this has been an extremely difficult summer and fall for my wife Ann and me. After two hospital stays of 3 and 5 weeks we are left with life in a wheelchair.. we have both been very sad.. the temptation to lose hope is immense.. it is in our face every moment of the day.. yet we persevere knowing Whom we have believed.. knowing that those bullet points above are true for Paul, for the Glotzbach family and for us. I close with the prayer offered at the Verse of the Day site:

Almighty God, I believe, but please strengthen my faith so that no matter what I may endure, my confidence in you will remain firm and my hope may remain vibrant. I entrust to you all that I am and all that I hope to be, believing fully that you will bring me through whatever lies ahead and bring me into your glorious presence with great joy. In Jesus' glorious name I pray. Amen.

We Shall Behold Him

I have been thinking a lot about hope these days. This Dottie Rambo song sung by Sandi Patty encapsulates our blessed hope like no other I know. It captures the hope that we have in our hearts at the thought of seeing Jesus.

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

He's Been Faithful

In 1994 I was grieving the loss of my first wife when I first heard this beautiful song sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.. it helped get me through a difficult time in my life. My friend and co-worker Jeanne bought the cassette tape for me.. I think I played it three times a day. He's been so faithful to me.. He still is.

If you find yourself in a somewhat difficult season and are hurting so much.. or if you just want to express your gratitude for His faithfulness to you.. I suggest that you sing along.. the words are below the video pane.. and lose yourself in His faithful presence.

In My Moments Of Fear
Through Every Pain Every Tear
There's A God Who's Been Faithful To Me

When My Strength Was All Gone
When My Heart Had No Song
Still In Love He's Proved Faithful To Me

Every Word He's Promised Is True
What I Thought Was Impossible
I've Seen My God Do

He's Been Faithful
Faithful To Me
Looking Back He's Love And Mercy I See
Though In My Heart I Have Questioned
And Failed To Believe
He's Been Faithful, Faithful To Me

When My Heart Looked Away
The Many Times I Could Not Pray
Still My God Was Faithful To Me

The Days Are Spent So Selfishly
Reaching Out For What Pleased Me
Even Then God Was Faithful To Me

Every Time I Come Back To Him
He Is Waiting For Open Arms
And I See Once Again

He's Been Faithful
Faithful To Me
Looking Back He's Love And Mercy I See
Though In My Heart I Have Questioned
Even Failed To Believe
Yet He's Been Faithful, Faithful To Me

The Words of Jesus

In response to Stan Guthrie's Christianity Today article Tony Campolo said:
While we, like you, have a very high view of the inspiration of Scripture and believe the Bible was divinely inspired, you are correct in accusing Red Letter Christians of giving the words of Jesus priority over all other passages of Scripture. What is more, we believe that you really cannot rightly interpret the rest of the Bible without first understanding who Jesus is, what he did, and what he said.

Likewise, we believe the morality in the red letters of Jesus transcends that found in the black letters set down in the Pentateuch, and I'm surprised you don't agree. After all, Stan, didn't Jesus himself make this same point in the Sermon on the Mount, when he said his teachings about marriage and divorce were to replace what Moses taught? Don't you think his red-letter words about loving our enemies and doing good to those who hurt us represent a higher morality than the "eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" kind of justice that we find in the Hebrew Testament? Is it really so hard to accept that, as God incarnate, Jesus set forth the highest law in the Bible, and therefore that law is more important than the Kosher dietary regulations we find in Leviticus and Deuteronomy?
I agree with what Tony said.. I don't think that I could have said it better. I often am perplexed by evangelicals who vehemently advocate the public displays of the 10 Commandments.. really.. shouldn't we be advocates for the Sermon on the Mount? What do you think?

Heavenly Recognition

Until We Meet Again
'Does the Bible teach that we will recognize our loved ones in heaven?'
Daniel R. Lockwood, Christianity Today

As the years pass, this question looms larger in my thinking. Last year, I attended three funeral services of godly saints who'd passed away. One was my 85-year-old father-in-law, whose exemplary life and witness is now just a cherished memory. For my wife, who loved her father dearly, this question is thus no idle theological speculation. Fortunately, the Bible speaks clearly to it.

The simple answer—yes—rests on two pillars of Christian belief. One is the blessed hope that we will see Jesus again (Titus 2:13). The other is the assurance that our present bodies will be raised from the dead, immortal (1 Cor. 15:12-57). Together, these pillars provide a basis for believing we will recognize our loved ones in heaven. After all, if we can recognize the Lord Jesus, possessing the perfectly restored and glorified bodies to do so, it follows that we will recognize other believers, including our loved ones. Read the whole article here.
I resonate with wanting to be reunited with those dear loved ones that have died. I think that it is a part of that blessed hope that the scripture speaks of.

Under Fathered, Over Mothered Worship

This short video deals with the topic I previously discussed in my Feminine Worship post. In the video popular song writer and worship leader Matt Redman discusses why some worship songs aren't for the blokes. In the video Matt is very transparent about some of his lyrics and thinks that today he might have used some different words.

Moses: Rescued Rescuer

But the harder the Egyptians worked them the more children the Israelites had--children everywhere! The Egyptians got so they couldn't stand the Israelites and treated them worse than ever, crushing them with slave labor. They made them miserable with hard labor--making bricks and mortar and back-breaking work in the fields. They piled on the work, crushing them under the cruel workload.
(Exodus 1:12-14)

Pharaoh issued a general order to all his people: "Every boy that is born, drown him in the Nile. But let the girls live." (Exodus 1:22)

A man from the family of Levi married a Levite woman. The woman became pregnant and had a son. She saw there was something special about him and hid him. She hid him for three months. When she couldn't hide him any longer she got a little basket-boat made of papyrus, waterproofed it with tar and pitch, and placed the child in it. Then she set it afloat in the reeds at the edge of the Nile. The baby's older sister found herself a vantage point a little way off and watched to see what would happen to him. Pharaoh's daughter came down to the Nile to bathe; her maidens strolled on the bank. She saw the basket-boat floating in the reeds and sent her maid to get it. She opened it and saw the child--a baby crying! Her heart went out to him. She said, "This must be one of the Hebrew babies."

Then his sister was before her: "Do you want me to go and get a nursing mother from the Hebrews so she can nurse the baby for you?" Pharaoh's daughter said, "Yes. Go." The girl went and called the child's mother. Pharaoh's daughter told her, "Take this baby and nurse him for me. I'll pay you." The woman took the child and nursed him. After the child was weaned, she presented him to Pharaoh's daughter who adopted him as her son. She named him Moses (Pulled-Out), saying, "I pulled him out of the water." (Exodus 2:1-10)

Where you do not wish to go

In a comment on my 10-20-30 post Therese made this comment about my accounting of what I was doing 10, 20 and 30 years ago:
"And you were following Jesus on all of those parts of your journey."
I don't think that I had considered that yesterday when I penned my memories about my life and my family. In some strange brain connection Therese's thoughts reminded me of what Jesus told Peter:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go." Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, "Follow Me!" Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, "Lord, who is the one who betrays You?" So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, "Lord, and what about this man?" Jesus said to him, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!" (John 21:18-22)
Sometimes following Jesus takes us on a journey that is both hard and heartbreaking. Reading Jesus words to Peter so resonates with me this morning. It reminds me that sometimes our path takes us to places "where you do not wish to go". I am in such a place in this season of my life. I have had to take a month long sabbatical from work and church because of the difficult circumstances of my wife's hospitalization.. been almost 3 weeks now.. still struggling.. trying to walk again.. in physical therapy.

It is so easy when you hurt so bad to, like Peter, look at others and ask the 'why' questions. Why do others, like John, seem to have easier journeys.. why is my journey so often a painful one? To these questions Jesus answers our 'why' questions with another question: "what is that to you?" I think that the 'why' questions are unfruitful ones that cause you to obsess and wallow in your pain rather than process and move through it. Jesus ends by telling Peter "You follow Me!" He makes no apology.. offers no exuse.. He simply says that.. even in difficult places "where you do not wish to go".. our focus is to follow Him. Amen.

Perfected Jews?

Ultra controversial conservative celebrity book writer Ann Coulter appeared on the a CNBC show (video here) and said that Christians are perfected Jews.. which was interpreted by the Jewish host as "Jews need to be perfected".. hence it did not go over well with him. Ahem, well Ann is probably not the best spokesperson for the faith.. not sure that I am either.. so I thought that I would ask the question:
What is a perfected or completed Jew?
I think that the question somewhat betrays an inner belief that somehow Christians embrace Judaism as a legitimate alternate approach to God or that Christianity is just an extension of Judaism.. I think that some Messianic congregations arise around the idea that Christianity is a mere extension of Judaism. This idea often leads to a misunderstanding of grace and a return to the law and traditions of the Old Testament. Am I in trouble yet?

In the 9th chapter of Romans the apostle Paul makes a few astute observations about his Jewish roots and Abraham. He begins by expressing his deep grief over his Israeli brothers' and sisters' rejection of Jesus saying that he would.. if he could.. separate himself from Christ if it meant that they would come to know Christ. He then goes on to say:
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants, but: "THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED." That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.
So, I think that the idea of a perfected or completed Jew can lead to some strange ideas about what Jesus came to do. Those who follow Jesus are not perfected children of Abraham.. we are children of the promise made to Abraham regardless of our ancestry. Here is the promise as Paul tells it in another of his letters:
Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU." So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM." Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, "THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH." However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, "HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us--for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE"-- in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:7-14)
I brought all of this up to bring a bit of clarity to Ann Coulter's remarks. I think that she would have done better to stay away from this 'perfected Jew' language. What do you think? And please keep your comments focused on the topic instead of on Ann Coulter ... this blog is rated PG-13. :)

Eternal Family

A recent ad for the Mormon church features a young man who lost his mother when he was young.. in reflecting on his loss the young man makes this closing statement:
Families should be eternal.
That statement hit me funny ... what do you think of it? Here is something that Jesus says about family:
While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, "Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You." But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, "Behold My mother and My brothers! "For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother." (Matthew 12:46-50)
This is quite an amazing statement from Jesus. In it He gives us a whole new perspective on family.. He seems to be saying that there are two different kinds of family. Albert Barnes has this commentary on the passage:
Dear and tender as were the ties which bound him to his mother and brethren, yet those which bound him to his disciples were more tender and sacred. How great was his love for his disciples, when it was more than even that for his mother! And what a bright illustration of his own doctrine, that we ought to forsake father, and mother and friends, and houses, and lands, to be his followers!
For myself, I find this idea to be challenging because of my love for my family and my desire to be with them forever. I guess family is a theme that permeates all of scripture.. it is a concept that needs to understood in light of what the New Testament teaches about spiritual family. Jesus speaks to the finiteness of earthly family when he answers a question about a woman that was married more than once:
"In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had married her." But Jesus answered and said to them, "You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God. "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. (Matthew 22:28-30)
In this he speaks of a heavenly family that is different than the earthly one. When Jesus speaks to a religious leader named Nicodemus he tells them that he needs to be born again saying:
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:6)
When we are born again we are born into a family just like when we are born into a natural family. The difference is that one is natural and one is spiritual ... one is temporal and one is eternal. This metaphor of family is one that I like to use when I describe the relationships that Christians have with God and with each other. I think that I like that metaphor because ones like the Body of Christ, the Army of God and others fail to capture the heart of our loving community. The Family of God paints a picture of a loving Heavenly Father and children who endeavor to love Him and each other. I guess love is something, like family, that is both spiritual and eternal.

The Great Invitation

My blog friend Janna wrote a great post with the same title as this post - I encourage you to visit and read the whole post. Here is the way she begins:
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
My pastor calls this passage the "Great Invitation". I had never heard of that concept before but find it very interesting and applicable. This passage has been described as the "how" to the Great Commandment (Mt 22:37-39) and the Great Commission (Mt 28:18-20). This makes total sense to me. The premise being that in order to be able to fulfill those other two "Great's" (loving others, God & making disciples) we need to first learn from the Master, Jesus, by walking alongside Him in His yoke.

God Is

In the following few sentences I will attempt to put a few words together to describe what I think 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". The attributes of God can be captured in three words beginning with Omni:
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 opportunity to curse Him or submit to Him.

That is my answer to the "Who is God?" question ... not that anyone was asking J

Refiner's Fire

My wife Ann is in the hospital again with another MS relapse (third time in as many months) and life has been difficult for us both. I got the following from a friend in an email message this morning and it encouraged me, so I thought that I'd pass it on.

Malachi 3:3 says:
"He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver."
This verse puzzled some women in a Bible study and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God.

One of the women offered to find out the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible Study.

That week, the woman called a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn't mention anything about the reason for her interest beyond her curiosity about the process of refining Silver

As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities.

The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot; then she thought again about the verse that says:
"He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver."
She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined.

The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed

The woman was silent for a moment Then she asked the silversmith, "How do you know when the silver is fully refined?"

He smiled at her and answered, "Oh, that's easy -- when I see my image in it."

Sometimes in the heat of the fire it is difficult to remember that God is present attending the process and controlling the heat. My prayer for you, for Ann and for me is that we would see life, and in particular these fiery times, with an eye for redemption ... knowing that He sometimes uses fire to make us like Jesus.

Spiritual Fingerprints

Last night in response to comments on my In Love with Jesus? post, Codepoke passed on a link to a post titled Personality–transformed by God?. Here is an excerpt from it:
Your comments about MBTI vs. spirit-led life made me smile a bit, because it reminded me of a conversation I had with a very extraverted friend who couldn’t really grasp what I was explaining about being an introvert. She listened, a bit incredulously to my explanation, and at the end was like, “Well, that’s all fine and good, but doesn’t Jesus make any difference in your life? What’s it mean for Him to transform you?” I almost laughed right then, because I realized that the things I was saying that I thought were good, she was seeing as faults–perhaps she thought I was giving her insight into what was wrong with me! And so, was all that explanation just excusing my faults instead of letting Jesus transform me? I told her, “Well, I think it means I’ll look more like Him, but probably NOT more like you :)”
The post caused me to think about how different we all are ... different in gender ... different in race ... different in culture ... different in personality ... different in many other ways. So ... I am still processing ... why is it that I still want to make rules and generalizations around things like how we love Jesus and how we walk out our faith in Him? Could it be that I am still a bit insecure about what consistutes love and faith? Maybe I still am not content to love and trust in that way that is so deeply personal ... maybe I yet need a validation that I didn't think I needed.

I think that, in a very real sense, God has made us each to be very unique in the way that we love and the way that we trust. This goes against the grain for many of us because we have spent many many hours listening to people who define what it is to love and trust. Then someone comes along who loves so differently and trusts in a way that we are not used to ... these people should inspire us but instead they bring out our insecurities and cause us to retreat into what we are accustomed to. I wonder, maybe we are each created with spiritual fingerprints ... each of us having a unique expression of love and trust ... each with a very specific spiritual personality.

In Love With Jesus?

Consider this a brief follow-up to the Feminine Worship? post of a few weeks ago. Brian recently referred to a post by John Stackhouse titled "Jesus, I'm not in love with you". Here are a few excerpts from his John's short post:
First, I’m not in love with Jesus. The locution “in love with” is one I reserve for one person only: my wife. I love my sons, I love my siblings and parents, I love my friends, I love my country, I love my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I love God. But I’m not “in love” with any of them. And I daresay most of the rest of us use this phrase in exactly the same, highly-restrictive way.
But the New Testament never calls Christians Jesus’ fiancées or his brides. Instead, it is the Church collectively, and only the Church as a whole, that relates to Jesus this way–just as individual Israelites did not relate to Yhwh as so many spouses, but only the nation of Israel as nation was his beloved bride.
This is a totally new thought for me that challenges my thinking about what it is to love and be "in love". You'd do well to read John's post. I'd appreciate any of your thoughts on the subject.

Allah, Jehovah and Jesus

Over on my other blog we have been having a comment discussion about something our evangelical president said. It all started when I wrote:
In 2005 when asked if Muslims worship the same Almighty as Jews and Christians, President Bush replied replied, “I believe we worship the same God.”
The conversation started when Missy asked:
Technically, don't they worship the same God?
I don't want to regurgitate the entire dialog here ... you can follow the dialog over there ... but I would like to bring a few points to bear. Firstly, I think that it is not accurate or helpful helpful to legitimize Islam, the Quran and Mohammed by saying that Allah is just another name for the the God of Judaism and Christianity.

The bible says that Jesus was the full revelation of the God, spoken of in the Jewish scriptures, in human form. Therefore it is accurate and appropriate to say that the God of Jews and Christians are one and the same God. Also, Christianity recognizes the God of the Jews as the same God that Christians worship ... it also officially recognizes the Jewish scriptures. This is what Jesus told an Arab woman in the gospel of John:
"You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews."

The idea that the God of Islam and Judaism/Christianity is the same is something that Jesus did not agree with and I do not agree with.

Maybe if we enter the realm of the absurd I can make my point a bit clearer. What if Kansas Bob has a dream one day and awakes with a strong revelation that God wants everyone to worship Him in a certain way ... and if anyone refuses to worship in this manner those who believe should purchase laser swords and kill the infidels. Now I can say all day that "Jesus" spoke to me in a dream ... but it doesn't mean that the Jesus of the bible spoke to me in that dream ... to say so would discredit Jesus. Here is what the Apostle Paul said:

But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully. (2 Corinthians 11:3-4)
Paul had an understanding that just because you say that you worship the same God doesn't mean that you actually do. So it is with those that say that Muslims, Jews and Christians all worship the same Almighty ... they may sincerely believe it ... but I think that they are sincerely wrong.

Feminine Worship?

This seems like a good topic for a Sunday-morning-before-I-go-to-church post. Steve Sjogren, founding pastor of the Cincinnati Vineyard Community Church recently wrote a blog post with the same title as this post. A few excerpts:
Eventually, I ask men this question, “So why do you come late each week? You can tell me the truth – I’m only here one week – I don’t know who you are. You can be completely honest with me…” It is amazing how consistent men are when they answer me. Almost always they lean forward, they look right, look left, lower their voice then speak…
“The God’s honest truth is, I CAN’T STAND THOSE INCESSANT SONGS THEY SING HERE! My wife told me I’d get used to the songs, but hey, it’s been several months (or even years) now and I still don’t like this singing stuff.”
Then I usually hear one of two things, that they are either:
1) Bored stiff while the singing is going on, or;
2) They feel the songs are too "girly."
Some reading this might think, “I suspect those guys aren’t believers yet.” I thought this as well for a while. But in many cases, these guys definitely know the Lord.
This is tough to hear for those of us who love worship as it exists now, but we have essentially castrated worship, calling it “Contemporary Worship.” True, few would go for this style if we called it “Castrated Worship” or Contemporary Castrated Worship, but it seems to me to be the truth.
I am really not sure what to make of this one. I feel like I need to come out of the closet and say that I like "girly worship". In the same breath I have to say that I do understand where Steve, and these guys, are coming from.

Growing up Episcopal I remember singing my favorite hymn, Onward Christian Soldier ... it really spoke to my masculinity. I guess it is true that many contemporary worship songs have a feminine feel. Often these songs speak of romance and intimacy focusing on our relationship with God. They rarely speak of spiritual battle or use warrior language. Apart from the words the music is also sometimes feminine sweet.

I wonder why there are not more masculine oriented worship songs out there ... or am I asking the wrong question?

Let your heart take courage

I came across two psalms today that end with similar phrases:
I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD. (Psalms 27:13-14)

O love the LORD, all you His godly ones! The LORD preserves the faithful And fully recompenses the proud doer. Be strong and let your heart take courage, All you who hope in the LORD. (Psalms 31:23-24)
It seems that both of these verses relate hope and faithfulness with strength and courage. Ever think about what it takes to wait on the Lord ... experience tells me that persevering in hope can really develop a strong heart ... but it often comes with a price tag. I think about what the bible says about enduring trials:
"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." "Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him." (James 1:2-4, 12)

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; (1 Peter 1:6-7)
Do you find it encouraging when you see words like "lacking in nothing", "crown of life" and "result in praise and glory and honor". If today you are experiencing a difficult season of trials ... hang in there ... be strong and let your heart takes courage ... He is working wonderful things in you ... He is making you like Jesus.

How To Not Pray

Barbara has knocked one out of the park with her most recent post titled "How To Not Pray". Here is her list:
    1. Sometimes prayer is used as a means of proof to your church or others that you are a "good Christian".
    2. Read all the books you can find on prayer so that you can pray "right".
    3. Base your prayer on a request that you don't understand because it would take a semester long course to learn what it means.
    4. Try to impress others by using all the prayer buzzwords.
    5. Be forced to pray out loud in a group.
I recommend that you visit her post to read some of the most insightful stuff about the dynamics of group prayer and the silly rules that people make up about praying. It is good stuff and might just set you free J

Wait Until the End

I wasn't sure I liked this one at first ... it paints a troubling picture of the prodigal's journey ... especially the journey of a prodigal teen ... it was causing me to dial back into my past pain and fears ... hang on until the end and you might like it.

The Second Coming

Watching this reminded me of the Left Behind series of books. What is your perspective on the second coming of Jesus? Do you believe in a rapture of the saints?

Prayer is Universal

As you watch this video please join me in prayer for the hungry, hurting, lonely and broken people of the world.

Prayer is Worship

This morning I awoke and, I have to admit, I was sore - physically, emotionally and spiritually. It has been a difficult week. Then I began listening to some worship songs on YouTube ... you can catch them on my sidebar. As I listened and sang along with the music something wonderful began to happen ... I began to feel refreshed and encouraged. As I listened to the words of the song 'On Eagles Wings' I began to break and cry, pouring out my heart to God. As I sang along with 'Shout to the Lord' my spirit began to rise up in me. I began to sense God in me as I sang along with 'Blessed Be Your Name'. By the time I got to 'Everlasting God' I was doing so much better.

I think that prayer is sometimes about experiencing God's presence in our lives. Thinking about this reminds me of this scripture:
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (James 4:8)
I often experience a sweet closeness with God as I draw near to Him in worship ... it is a cleansing experience ... one that seemingly sets my heart in alignment with His ... helps me see life through His eyes. When Jesus taught on prayer He taught us to begin with worship: "Hallowed be Thy name". He offered us this invitation:
"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. "For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
I think that this is a picture of what happens when we come to Him in worship - we find rest for our souls and our burdens are lifted. Take a few minutes today ... watch one of those YouTube worship videos ... sing along ... enter His rest.

Prayer is Therapeutic

Another brief thought on prayer. I think that the rise of secular psychology and Christian counseling over the past decades speaks volumes of our need to express ourselves verbally. There is often a psychological and/or emotional and release that happens when we talk about our stuff. Expressing our pain and frustrations verbally can often release us bringing new freedom. When I think about talking to God I often think about the dialog we often see in the book of Psalms ... I think about this verse:
Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah. (Psalms 62:8)
Trust is often fully manifested when we get to that place where we our heart is laid bare before the Lord in prayer. Getting to that transparent and vulnerable place is not as easy as one might think it to be because we get there with our heart and not our head.

Prayer is an Invitation

Just a quick thought for your day (or night). Sometimes, I think that prayer is an invitation ... an inviting of God's presence into our life ... inviting Him to walk with us ... an invitation to experience His power when ours has run out ... inviting Him to intervene on our behalf and on the behalf of those who we love so much. Often I think that God is just waiting for a simple invitation to be involved - even saying something like: I can't do it ... God help me.

Offended By Jesus

This week I once again had the honor of sharing with a few inmates at our city jail. I spoke to them about how we can take offense when God does not act the way we expect him to ... how we can respond with offense when he doesn't answer our prayers. As an example I asked them (and you) to consider this passage:
Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, "Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and report to John what you hear and see: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. "And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me." (Matthew 11:2-6)
Life in jail must have been pretty discouraging for John the Baptist. After all it was not that long ago that John was baptising many and experiencing so much success in his ministry. John was even the one that introduced Jesus to the world as the Lamb of God. John certainly thought that Jesus would free him from Herod's jail but he never did. You can almost feel John's disappointment when he asks Jesus "are you the One?" What do you make of it when Jesus answers John talking about not taking offense. It is like Jesus is saying "Don't be upset that I am not answering your prayer". I wonder how John took it when his disciples returned to him with Jesus' answer. How would you have reacted? Would you have been offended?

The issue of unanswered prayer is a difficult one. It is like the question of why God allows evil in the world. When our hearts are broken ... when we see pain all around us ... when it seems that God just doesn't care - these are times when it is easy to become offended by Jesus' lack of action. This offense can be strong when, like John, we haven't done anything wrong. We see this offense spoken by Job when he dialogs with his friends. He says:
"For the arrows of the Almighty are within me, Their poison my spirit drinks; The terrors of God are arrayed against me." (Job 6:4)

"If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of men? Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you?" (Job 7:20)

"I have become a laughingstock to my friends, though I called upon God and he answered— a mere laughingstock, though righteous and blameless!" (Job 12:4)

"Surely, O God, you have worn me out; you have devastated my entire household." (Job 12:4)
Job is surfacing a deep offense as he speaks of poisoned arrows, burden, laughingstock and family devastation. God appears in the midst of Job's grief and confronts Job saying:
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." Then 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? (Job 40:1-8)
God's response to Job sounds a lot like Jesus' response to John. I think that the last verse speaks to how life really is when things get rough. Out of our deep offense at God we cast dispersion over his justice. Out of the pain of our hurt we seek to blame God for the pain. Oh that we would have Job's final response:
Then Job answered the LORD and said, "I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' "Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know." 'Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me.' "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:1-6)
In the end Job ... and I think John ... understood the error of being offended by God. I asked the inmates this week to consider Job's response and to retract their offense and repent. I ask you all to consider doing likewise.

The Absence of God

The following fictitious classroom dialog is sometimes circulated on the web as a historical interchange between Albert Einstein and one of his teachers on the question of the existence of evil. Even though it is fictitious, I found it to be an interesting dialog and wanted to share it.

The university professor challenged his students with this question. Did God create everything that exists? A student bravely replied, "Yes, he did!"

"God created everything? The professor asked.

"Yes sir", the student replied.

The professor answered, "If God created everything, then God created evil since evil exists, and according to the principal that our works define who we are then God is evil". The student became quiet before such an answer. The professor was quite pleased with himself and boasted to the students that he had proven once more that the Christian faith was a myth.

Another student raised his hand and said, "Can I ask you a question professor?"

"Of course", replied the professor.

The student stood up and asked, "Professor, does cold exist?"

"What kind of question is this? Of course it exists. Have you never been cold?" The students snickered at the young man's question.

The young man replied, "In fact sir, cold does not exist. According to the laws of physics, what we consider cold is in reality the absence of heat. Every body or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy. Absolute zero (-460 degrees F) is the total absence of heat; all matter becomes inert and incapable of reaction at that temperature. Cold does not exist. We have created this word to describe how we feel if we have no heat."

The student continued, "Professor, does darkness exist?"

The professor responded, "Of course it does."

The student replied, "Once again you are wrong sir, darkness does not exist either. Darkness is in reality the absence of light. Light we can study, but not darkness. In fact we can use Newton's prism to break white light into many colors and study the various wavelengths of each color. You cannot measure darkness. A simple ray of light can break into a world of darkness and illuminate it. How can you know how dark a certain space is? You measure the amount of light present. Isn't this correct? Darkness is a term used by man to describe what happens when there is no light present."

Finally the young man asked the professor, "Sir, does evil exist?"

Now uncertain, the professor responded, "Of course as I have already said. We see it every day. It is in the daily example of man's inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil."

To this the student replied, "Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is not like faith, or love that exist just as does light and heat. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God's love present in his heart. It's like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light."

The professor sat down.

I liked this one because it is a straightforward and simple explanation of a phenomena that is neither straightforward nor simple.

The Inmost Strength of the Heart

Barbara has a great post listing some quotes from Vincent Van Gogh. I particularly like this one:
"As we advance in life it becomes more and more difficult, but in fighting the difficulties the inmost strength of the heart is developed."
Isn't is encouraging to know that we are developing an inner strength when we are fighting our way through the difficult things in life. It reminds me of what Paul wrote:
Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)
So often life events like sickness, rejection, job loss and pain seem to make us so weak. It is in times like these that we can courageously lean into the Lord and find a strength that makes our hearts a bit stronger.

Wolf Bait

This cartoon from AgnusDay reminds me of two things:
  • Satan was defeated at the cross!
  • Sometimes we need to be reminded that Satan was defeated at the cross!
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:6-11)

Facing Down Nebuchadnezzar

There is a story in the book of Daniel that I have been thinking about lately. It is the story of Daniel's commrades, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. The story unfolds as Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, confronts them because they would not bow down to the king's towering (ninety feet high and nine feet thick) statue. Catch the dialog:
Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and anger gave orders to bring Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego; then these men were brought before the king. Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, "Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? "Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?" Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. "But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." (Daniel 3:13-18 NAS)
This story is one of the most inspirational ones in all of scripture - not only because God did deliver them from the fire (in the furnace) but because of their stand in the face of intense intimidation.

Life has its way of intimidating us doesn't it. Nebuchadnezzar can show up in all sorts of ways. Sometimes he shows up overtly demanding that we bow to the things that we know we should not bow to, but sometimes he shows up so subtly intimidating us to bow in thoughts and attitudes. This is where I am challenged today as I watch my wife back in a wheelchair and struggling physically from MS. I find Nebuchadnezzar standing over me today intimidating me ... telling me to bow to a subtle worship of fear, self-pity, hopelessness and despair. I find something rising within me saying, like the guys in Babylon:
O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of Multiple Sclerosis; and He will eventually deliver us. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we will not bow to feelings of fear, self-pity, hopelessness and despair. This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.
Isn't it interesting that God let them be thrown into the furnace but He did not allow the fire to consume them. It is written that a man who looked like 'a son of the gods' was in the furnace with them. Isn't that just like God to send help in the form of one who looked like His son? The story is still true today. God shows up in ways that we can't imagine when we face down Nebuchadnezzar.

What is Communion?

A comment over at A Bit of Smoke got me thinking about what communion is. The dictionary says that communion is:
  • the celebration of the Eucharist
  • a group of persons having a common religious faith
  • interchange or sharing of thoughts or emotions; intimate communication
I wonder if we religious types have bought into the first two and left out the last one? It reminds me of this verse in 1Corinthians 10:16
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? (NKJV)
The Greek word translated “communion” in this verse is koinōnia. In other New Testament verses koinōnia is translated fellowship or sharing. I like those words but unfortunately, in religious circles today, the word fellowship is an overused word - the church I go to has it in it's name ... it has become a catch-all word for a religious group of people that get together. Because of this, and our discomfort with revealing our true selves, we have lost the meaning of what it means to commune or fellowship with another.

The essence of fellowship and communion is intimate communication where you bare the deepest part of your heart. This is the heart of prayer - communing with God in a way that bares our fears, our insecurities, our challenges, our questions and our deepest wounds to a loving Father. When we get to that place with the Father then we can begin to take steps to commune with each other.

In my last post I shared about the cost of friendship. In a sense communion is a somewhat scary part of intimate friendship. It is scary because we don't bare our hearts very often and have all sorts of anxieties around being transparent with another. We don't understand that to love and be loved requires risk. Sometimes people won't understand when we open our hearts to them - it may scare them because they will experience heart feelings that have been long suppressed.

Communion is what we were created for ... intimacy with God and with each other is what life is all about. We deceive ourselves when we acquiese to a superficial communion that demands nothing of our heart. We lull ourselves into a spiritual stupor when we think that communion is all about the bread and the wine and not about the sharing - the sharing of the life of Christ in each of us.

The Cost of Friendship

Missy said something that got me thinking this morning about what it is to have and to be a true friend. She said:
"I miss the pain of true friendship."
How many times I have run away when I hurt someone or they hurt me? Maybe the measure of friendship is how fast you come back to that friend when pain is inflicted or received. The scripture is not silent on this one. It says:
Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy. (Proverbs 27:6)
This scripture says that one aspect of being faithful to a friend is to tell them something even though it hurts them. I guess the measure of a friend is how real you can be with them ... how deep you can go ... how honest you can be. This I think is the essence of fellowship and love ... but to be able to love like this takes much time and energy ... sometimes years of investment ... after all faithfulness is not something you do in a day.

I think that God values this kind of friendship more than we think He does. Jesus spoke these two things about how to be a close friend:
"Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. (Matthew 5:23-24)

"If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. (Matthew 18:15)
These verses tell us that we are without excuse ... whether we have hurt a friend or they have hurt us ... we are to go to them with reconciliation in our hearts. Maybe reconciliation is what it is all about ... maybe true friends are just people who passionately want to walk out genuine reconciliation ... even when it hurts.

Unity and Diversity

Matt, over at From the Morning, has a thoughtful conversation going about diversity and unity. Therese blew me away when she commented:
"What unified them and should unify us is worship, not fellowship."
I don't think that I have ever thought about fellowship in the light of diversity. We are all very different and it makes sense that our fellowship with each other will reflect that diversity. Conversely, we bring this diversity with us and somehow find unity when we worship.

It reminded me of a time four years ago during a Sunday morning worship service at church. Ann and I had been attending a few months and liked the church okay. Then, on that one Sunday morning, as I was pouring my heart out in worship ... my eyes closed ... His presence seemed so rich and present ... I opened my eyes and saw people all around me entered into worship. I am not sure that I can communicate how much I identified with those folks at that moment ... it was transcendent ... even though they were so different than me ... that identification in worship was so strong ... it changed me.

A strong message of the kingdom is that we are so different and yet so similar. We are diverse in ethnicity, in language, in intelligence, and in callings ... even our worship expressions are different. Yet, we are so similar. We all experience pain and joy. We all need friends. We all need encouragement. We all need to be loved. This is where worship can make a difference. Worship can unite diverse people because it gives us access into His presence. In His presence those things that separate us fall away and we experience unity.

Seeking the Kingdom

Pearlie asks "What is: The Kingdom of God"? I started to post a reply then decided to answer here instead.

I think that the Sermon on the Mount gives us a unique look at the kingdom through the heart of Jesus. In The Sermon Jesus presents a magnificent delineation of what the kingdom looks like and how it is contrasted to the worldly kingdom.

To seek the kingdom is not so much about finding something "out there" ... although that aspect certainly has its place in our salvation experience ... but to seek the kingdom is in a very real sense to connect with the Spirit within us.

My life began to change when I stopped seeking to bring God into my life but rather tried to let Him out of my life. The kingdom, in a sense, is all about that spiritual anointing that each of us has deep inside of us - 1John says it this way:
But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth. (1 John 2:20-21)
This verse says that we already have what we need and don't need to go out and get it. In a sense the kingdom is all about what we have ... what He has given us ... and not what we don't have. In the gospel of John, Jesus puts it this way:
"He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'"(John 7:38)
He says that it is not about water flowing into us but it is all about living water flowing from the deepest part of us. To first seek the kingdom we must learn how to connect with Christ in Us. Listen to what the Apostle Paul writes:
Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:25-27)
Paul says that this inner life of Christ in us is a glorious mystery that has been revealed to us His saints. The kingdom is also presented to us as a mystery. Seeking this mysterious kingdom is all about connecting with and seeking to live from that deep part of us. This is the heart of seeking first His kingdom and also seeking His will.

Feeling With Others

As I watched Justine Henin win the French Tennis Open this morning I was reminded of this scene last year when Andre Agassi retired at the US Open. The ovation for Andre lasted for about 8 minutes and was a moving experience. So, this morning I got a chance to rejoice with Justine.

This past week in my home group we had a chance to mourn with one of the guys who taught Sunday school to Kelsey Smith, the teenager who recently passed away. It was a heartfelt time of sharing anothers pain. These things reminded me of this verse in Romans 12:
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
I think that we are a bit like Jesus when we allow ourselves to feel anothers pain or joy. Entering in can really be hard for some who 'don't wear their emotions on their sleeve' - I hate that saying because it marginalizes the very thing that we should do when we gather together. Christianity, in some sense, is all about sharing joys and sorrows. It is all about loving each other enough to be open to feeling with each other. Consider what the book of Hebrews says about Jesus:
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
When we are happy or when we hurt Jesus feels with us ... often through the Holy Spirit in each other. It is high and noble calling to feel with each other ... it is the heart of love and compassion ... it is what the church and the world desperately needs.

In Case You Missed Them

For those of you who only troll this blogsite I thought that I'd highlight a few of my other blogs post that deal with faith - or at least religiousness:

Essentials talks about consciously know the difference between essential and nonessential criteria.

CNN Faith Forum excerpts from the faith dialog with some candidates.

Missional Communion looks at both of those words from a theologians perspective.

Poetry of the Soul

From Julie Unplugged:
Prayer is the poetry of the soul. Unnecessary and utterly important. It's like the vial of perfume wasted over Jesus' feet. Always a luxury, always an extravagance, always a waste. It changes nothing and everything at the same time. We can't help but long for, hope, wish ... pray.
You can read Julie's entire article here.

Dark Night of the Soul

This post is dedicated to anyone who is experiencing a really long season of difficulty - I am thinking about one blogger friend in particular. Here is an excerpt from Dark Night of the Soul written by Saint John of the Cross.

These souls turn back at such a time if there is none who understands them; they abandon the road or lose courage; or, at the least, they are hindered from going farther by the great trouble which they take in advancing along the road of meditation and reasoning. Thus they fatigue and overwork their nature, imagining that they are failing through negligence or sin. But this trouble that they are taking is quite useless, for God is now leading them by another road, which is that of contemplation, and is very different from the first; for the one is of meditation and reasoning, and the other belongs neither to imagination nor yet to reasoning.

It is well for those who find themselves in this condition to take comfort, to persevere in patience and to be in no wise afflicted. Let them trust in God, Who abandons not those that seek Him with a simple and right heart, and will not fail to give them what is needful for the road, until He bring them into the clear and pure light of love. This last He will give them by means of that other dark night, that of the spirit, if they merit His bringing them thereto.

The way in which they are to conduct themselves in this night of sense is to devote themselves not at all to reasoning and meditation, since this is not the time for it, but to allow the soul to remain in peace and quietness, although it may seem clear to them that they are doing nothing and are wasting their time, and although it may appear to them that it is because of their weakness that they have no desire in that state to think of anything. The truth is that they will be doing quite sufficient if they have patience and persevere in prayer without making any effort.

It is difficult to persevere in patience when we are disappointed, sad, depressed and hurt so much for so long. In times like these I take the advice of this song and press on in Jesus name. Sometimes I have to listen to it several times to really get the message.

Via Dolorosa

A bit of inspiration to start my Sunday. Hard to watch and not be moved.

Living in the Invisible Kingdom

This morning I came across a few great thoughts as I was reading Jack Hayford's Bible Handbook. In the Ecclesiastes section he presents these three keys to understanding life:
    1. Life is fulfilling only when it is given away.
    2. Life in pursuit of excellence without sacrifice will ultimately disappoint.
    3. Life that is solely lived on the earth-plane breeds cynicism.
These three keys give us a picture of what it is to live life in the Invisible Kingdom. I think that number three is the one that I most struggle with. When life becomes difficult ... really difficult ... it is easy to look at the natural aspects of life and living and become despondent, depressed and cynical - it is a matter of focus ... things that you can see are often powerless to help in life's difficulties.

In John 18 Jesus told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this (visible) world. When looking for life in the visible we become frustrated because real life can only be found in that which is invisible. Consider this excerpt from Romans 14:
"the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit"
The beautiful thing about the Invisible Kingdom is that it can become visible at any time ... peace and joy can be manifested in our lives even in the most difficult of circumstances ... if our focus is on the invisible ... following Jesus' command in the gospels to seek first this Invisible Kingdom.