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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sunday School addendum: "Receive then Give"

Groups identified around Jesus:
1. Enemies are those set against Him and His work. 1 John calls them the anti-christ. It includes those who kill Him and also those whose unbelief leads them to reject Him and His ministry. Sadly, this is in all of us to some degree. (Those identified include but are not limited to; Satan, Jewish Leaders, Romans, World, Judas, His family, Peter)
2. Indifferent folks are not mentioned, but no doubt some did not really care as they were busy with life. This is the "beaten path" in the parable, or the shallow soil. or the weed infest places...
3. Crowds gather around to receive what Jesus is providing. The question "What's in it for me?" is what motivates them so they blow with the wind. The ones who screamed "Hosana" one day cry out "Crucify Him" a week later. The church attracts people who come to get something; they rarely come to worship but they show up to get help with bills, counseling, children's ministry, all the things that we provide for free. However, many regular worshippers are in the crowd. Like the Jews who heard Jesus they worship God, but they do not invest in a relationship with Him. Too often, they are content to come and have a "good worship experience" and enjoy a sermon or church fellowship event. They are outwardly active but in their hearts they stand at a distance. All of us, from time to time, are in this group too.
4. Followers are those who ‘believe’, seeing Jesus as the Lord and Messiah. All of us in the church should be followers. We receive instruction, ministry and care, we find companionship and support. These are all good things and one major function of the church (call it "fellowship and discipleship"). We want to follow Jesus and learn and grow. However, it is still all about "receiving"...
5. Insiders; 12 disciples were called to be with Him, to be committed students and friends. This is the stage of investing your life in Jesus and be a person of prayer and serious about holiness. At this stage of relationship one receives the teaching and instruction for more radical living in Christ.
Apostles those sent out in His Name to continue His work. This is the ultimate purpose of 'discipling'. I am healed and renewed, I understand and am living in abundance then I go to give it to others. Jesus said, "What you have received as a gift, give as a gift."

1 Corinthians 6
Do you not know your bodies are members of Christ?

Do you not know that your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit?

Once we see the world from this perspective we encounter it differently. Jesus sees opportunities where we see problems. He brings good news where we see despair. He offers hope where the world tells us to "temper expectations." He raises the dead and we bury them! If the same spirit is in us that is in Him and He is present in and through us then whatever we read that He did, we can do.... If we believe.

John 10:9-11  “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”
The Greek word Perissmos means abundant, more than enough, over and above, beyond what is needed. 
Church life should look like more than enough,"over and above" living. If we are Christ--Him in us and we in Him--then Christ should be present in us and through us. It is not about some day only, it is also about today!

John 20:19-23  Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent (apostello) Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”
Hamartia-sin- be without a share, miss the mark, err, wander from the path, do wrong, violate god’s Law
Aphiemi-forgive- send away (divorce), let go, go away, leave alone, let be; disregard, yield up, remit a debt, cancel a debt.

The world is full of people who miss the mark (all of us). We wander off and just live in error. Sin is part of it, but being in error is not only moral and ethical. It is also ignorance, or mistaken ideas. The way is narrow, says Jesus in another place. It is easy to lose your way off a narrow path. Jesus (and now we, Him in us) throws away all that is wrong. He expels it and cuts it off. The debt is ignored and treated as a non debt. This is our life in Jesus and each disciple must be an apostle, every follower is sent in Jesus name. In the end, that is what church is about. Making the crowd into disciples, making disciples into apostles. It is God's work, the Holy Spirit in us, and it is our vocation. "Be Jesus" is not an effort, it is a gift. We are Jesus by God's gracious act. Living faithfully to who we are, however, is a challenge. It takes effort. We have help, but we have to do it. We do, every day, starting now.  

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Reflections on the Healing Retreat

Sunday we gathered for an afternoon to encounter God's salvation. The question we began with was this: what does this text mean to you?

Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (NRSV)

The challenge of faith in the face of the offer of salvation is ever new in each generation. Pondering God's reign among us, how near? Pondering repentance, what is Jesus looking for, versus the American middle class faith which encompasses us all? But on retreats I take off my "teacher" cap and hand over the process to the inner working of the Holy Spirit in the human heart of each one there. It is about encounter not instruction, hearing with the heart....

I juxtaposed the "Good News" with the "Bad News" and invited folks to reflect on Genesis 2 &3. The second creation account, 'adam' scooped and fashioned out of the 'adamah' is a reminder that the human is constructed of dirt (adamah a word translated as "earth, dust, mortar, even rubbish" elsewhere). It is the breath of God blown into the nostrils that animates the "dirt-human." We are a construction of the lowest building material mixed with the most amazing gift (God breath). The human condition and human struggle are summed up in this brief account. What happens when God breathes into dust? Well, you get us. That's what we are from the beginning. In a sense it is what the "Body-Soul" discussion comes down to. How is inanimate matter transformed into organic entities? How does chemistry and physics produce biology? How can atoms and cells create a symphony or ride a bike? And how are these biological machines able to relate to God? By a grace, a gift, a sharing of Divine life (breath) and it is the status of every human being. That is striking. Too often we talk about the gift of Holy Spirit as a one dimensional reality. Only Christians have the breath of God say some, but not here. Here it appears that God is breathing something into each of us and all of us. It is another amazing grace!

The result is a nephesh--a soul, mind, person, hunger, desire, passion. The word is so full of meanings and it provides us with such valuable insight into ourselves. The human person is at core hunger, desiring, wanting, needing. This is before the Fall! God will say the human needs a companion, another strength to help. Of course He would. What else would a hungry passionate soul need? And so in Genesis 2 we encounter the truth about ourselves. We are mortality hanging by a thread, a collection of dust held together by the breath of God. And we are hungry, thinking, feeling, searching--a big empty hole in need of filling. We need food, water, rest, and above all relationships. There is terror in that need, people do strange and wonderful, confusing and terrible things to feed the empty hole within us. Facing that emptiness within, an emptiness that can sometimes rear its head in even the happiest times, is startling. "What is wrong with me?" some people ask. "Why am I never satisfied?" The answer seems to be connected to the creation. Later on theologians will explain it (our hearts are made for God and will not rest until they rest in Him) but Genesis is satisfied with a word: nephesh.

God provides all they need, but He honors them by providing an option. Will humans rule the earth but obey Him? So there is a tree, a tree of knowledge of Good and Bad. "Do not eat," He said. Why put it there? Because without it we are only babies. He wants relationship, He tests us to reveal what is in us. He gives us choice. (Perhaps the tree is no different from any other, randomly chosen and set apart. It reveals good and bad because of what is in the human behavior, not the fruit itself. It's not the fruit, it is disobedience which educates us in evil.) So the tree "looks" good, thinks Eve. It appeals, the way independence appeals to the teenager. "Shake off the chains and be free!" Eve, singing with Franks Sinatra, "I did it my way!" Tragically, knowing what evil and bad are is not so much fun. It is especially painful when you find it in yourself. We, too, have tasted the fruit, it looked good and tasted sweet, but it became bitter in the stomach. Eve and Adam begin a new life together. One filled with the misery of their own choosing. You want freedom and independence from God? Welcome to "Earth II: Fallen Creation."

Sin, suffering, wounds, death, deceit, injustice, fear.... The new world order under Adam and Eve produces all manner of problems. We are not totally alone, God still finds a way to reach us, but we are not in Eden and He no longer walks among us in the cool of the day (except for rare exceptions for the welfare of the human race). The ministry of Jesus would be the prime example of Him rescuing us from this mess of our own making. As Jesus breathed His breath into the Apostles and sent them out (and by extension us as well) He told them and empowered them to do the same. Rescue folks. And so, at its best, this is what the church does. It teaches truth to rescue minds, it exorcises demons to free soul and spirit and it heals body and soul, mind and heart, to free from every malady. This is what we sought to do last Sunday. It worked. There were different manner of healing, enough tears shed to convince you that some pains were dealt with. People said they felt things going on, spiritual kinds of things that manifested within them. It was not a typical church day, though it is becoming more typical as we seek to do what Jesus told us to do: Preach, Teach, Heal, Exorcise, Reconcile and Forgive Sinners.

Why do such things? Because we live east of Eden in a cursed world. Because Jesus told us to and God wants it. Because seeing life renewed is more fun and more beautiful than most anything else we could have done. I continue to pray for those who attended, that the healing begun reaches fruitition, and for protection on the healings. I pray for those who wanted to be there but couldn't come. I pray for those who needed to be there but didn't come. I pray in thanks to the Father of mercy who loves us so much and saves us each day in myriad ways.