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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Out of Sync

What happens when our personal lives and feelings are not matched up perfectly with the season? What if "He is risen!" fails to ignite a joy in our hearts because we "just aren't feeling it"?

Truth is we are unable to generate the feelings we think we are supposed to have. Bad news.
Feelings for that reason are really not what matter. Good News.

I remember one Easter morning (forty years ago) getting a phone call that the young son of our former next door neighbor had drown. I knew him only as a little kid, a dozen years younger than me, a teenager. He was probably around ten when he died. The shock of the phone call, coming just hours before the Easter service, left me stunned and numb. It was sad, sad for the family, and incongruous with the celebration of life and joy that Easter morning. I know some would say we sing "Alleluia!" because Jesus has conquered death. And I did sing "Alleluia!" that day and I did (still do) believe Jesus conquered death. But Jesus, who conquered death, did His share of crying, and there is something about little boys dying that just seems sad. As Paul says, Jesus will put down and conquer all rivals to the Kingdom... the last enemy is death. So death may be defeated, ultimately, but in the meantime the power of death is still set lose.

Death and sin, defeated in the end, still have their way among us. They do not only visit in penitential seasons. Sometimes life is out of sync. Great joyful events are touched by tragedy. A wedding party is disrupted by a heart attack. A birthday party ends in a car wreck. Much of it is more mundane and subtle. A human is touched by personal pain and sadness and cannot "feel" the joy. Cannot feel it, even as they long to taste and experience joy. Life just gets in the way...

So if that is you its okay. Sometimes happy events happen in solemn times. Sometimes we get tickled at funerals and laugh. Sometimes we are just happy and joyful because we just feel it. Independently of our circumstance we feel what we feel. Other times, we want joy, but cannot feel it.

Feelings are great but not all that matters. Love is not a feeling, it is a commitment. It is saying He is risen and knowing/trusting that is what is most important, even if I don't feel it. The bad news, feelings are sometimes out of sync. The Good News, the truth is still true even if we do not feel it.

He is risen, if that fails to stir joy in you right now, don't worry. He is risen. Someday death in all its forms (including feeling bad) will be defeated and destroyed. If you believe, even if you do not feel, then remember someday every tear will be wiped away. Some day sorrow and pain will be no more. Some day your life will be in total sync with the Father's glory. Some day, not today, but some day.

So do not worry or fret about how you feel. Commit to believe the truth. He is risen. Say it over and again. Sometimes, the sheer repetition is an effort. Sometimes the veil lifts. Sometimes... Until the Forever Day when all is made new!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

What if He Didn't Rise?

Last week I saw a man in a wheel chair. He had no feet. I paused for a moment to gaze at his sullen face and wonder. What if I were him? Who would I be if my legs suddenly ended in mid-shin and I couldn't walk? What if my feet were gone....

What if Jesus didn't rise? What if He was crucified, died and was buried--the end? What if the women anointed his dead body in the tomb? What if the disciples returned home? Would that impact you? Would it feel like your feet were cut off?

Ironically, there is a connection in the Bible between the Gospel and feet. Isaiah 52:7 ("How beautiful on the mountain top are the feet of those who bring Good News!") is quoted by Paul in Romans 10:15 when he writes about announcing the Good News.  In Ephesians 6 ("armor of God") says to "bind up your feet in preparation of the Gospel of Peace." Feet and Gospel proclamation are connected. The Greek word kyrusso means to announce important information publicly. The resurrection of Jesus is the most important information in history. God declares Jesus is the Messiah! He has visited His people with salvation. 

So let's ponder:
What if Jesus did not rise from the dead? What would that mean? It is really not an expected outcome. No Jew expected Jesus to rise, especially not the apostles! As Psalm 88:11-12 asks, "Do you work wonders for the dead? Will your loving kindness be declared in the grave? Your faithfulness in the land of destruction?" Ancient people feared death because dead people stayed dead.

So if Jesus didn't rise, then he was just one more failed Messiah. But History would be different. We would be pagans. There wouldn't be a church or many of the institutions we take for granted. The world would be much bleaker.  There would be no need to announce the Gospel because there would be no good news.

But Good News, Jesus did rise. God has made Him Lord and Savior. In His life, death and resurrection our sins are forgiven and death has been defeated. The Kingdom of God really is near, and we have every reason for hope it will come.

After the crucifixion, the women went to anoint a dead body and the apostles hid. No hope! No expectation! To see Jesus in resurrected form changed their lives. It can change ours too if we open our hearts to the Holy Spirit. They stopped hiding and boldly proclaimed it. They spoke out even at the cost of their own lives. Why? Because the resurrection of Jesus took away the fear of death. The Father loves us, forgives our sin, heals, reconciles and restores us! God put feet on them; feet that carry Good News.

We do not need to look anywhere else to find our heart's desire. Jesus who suffered and died is resurrected. Our Heavenly Father wants to put feet on all of us. He wants to give us feet to go tell the world, "He is risen. Fear not! Trust Him! God's Kingdom is real, mercy is real, forgiveness is real, and love are real. Life in Jesus is stronger than death." And telling other people--verbalizing it--will be a blessing to you. Your faith will grow. You will find deeper peace

If Jesus died and didn't rise then there is nothing to say.
But Jesus did rise then it is disobedient and silly to stay silent. He did rise and so we need tell someone. Tell lots of someones. To tell the world! That is why God gave you feet!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Is Good Friday Service a bad idea?

Today at 12:30 we will have a liturgical celebration of the Crucifixion of Jesus. In the Collierville (Memphis suburb) area we are going to be part of a very small number of people doing this. Atheists obviously think that the service is a stupid waste of time. Nominal Christians are satisfied with Easter and Christmas. Hearty Individualist Christians don't see much value in any church service, they have their own special relationship with God. Most of our church going neighbors (in big churches, much bigger than mine) will not offer the option. And many will say it is not necessary to have such a liturgy at all. In fact, there are some who would see it as an error, perhaps a blasphemy, to conduct such a service at all.

Is it a good idea to have Good Friday in church? If Jesus died, once and for all, in an unrepeatable act, then is this service implying that we can repeat it? If Jesus died to take care of our sins and our sins are taken care of, is it wrong to go back to the crucifixion? Aren't resurrection people supposed to be joyful and thankful? Isn't this why we hold high the cross but keep crucifixes out of view? (Except for Catholics, of which I happen to be one, in an Anglican variation) Are we at risk of becoming morose by focusing on the bloody execution? Is such a meditation bordering on "pornography" as I heard many Episcopal priest complain about Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" some years ago. There are solid theological arguments to pass this day by, and historically the Twelve Apostles don't mention it as God's intent. 

So, as part of this very small subset of Christians who will be in church for an hour, reading the passion account, praying, and reverencing a wooden cross to honor Jesus, how am I to understand what we are doing? Is it a good thing, an indifferent thing, or a bad thing?

No surprise, as I am the leader of this small band of 'outlier' disciples, I think it is a very good idea. Good Friday liturgy is a powerful opportunity to gather with other believers and publicly declare that the death of Jesus is worthy of public remembrance. There has been much discussion about whose lives matter in our society. I would see Good Friday as a proclamation that Jesus' life mattered. The manner of death is too often reduced to a singular meaning--penal substitution. Perhaps if we think the cross is completely understood (Jesus took my place and died for me) there is not much sense in pondering the event. After all, if it is all about Me (and my sin) and it is already done (Jesus said it is finished) then I probably should celebrate the new life in grace and not darken my mind with gory details of Roman brutality.

What if penal substitution, though true, is but one aspect of the crucifixion? What if there is more to sift through here? I believe there is. 

The horrors of the suffering of Jesus are worth contemplating. We need to know that the whip didn't leave a red mark. As an instrument of torture it has unparalleled success at opening up huge gashes and deep wounds. The body of Jesus was literally torn to shreds. Not pleasant to think about, but most important for those who ask the question, "where is God in the midst of so much human suffering?" Today in worship we gather to answer that question. God is right there, at the front of the line, absorbing in His fragile human body the same abuse that terrorizes our world. Victims of oppression, illness and any other inhuman suffering have a companion on their journey. It is good to ponder that, to see the suffering of The Holy Other, the one who chose to share in our suffering of His own volition. He emptied Himself to become like us. On this day we remember that it was at a terribly cost. It's good to be reminded.

Loneliness and betrayal haunt the human soul. Feeling so alone, sometimes in the midst of friend and family, leads some to drink, others to suicide and others to empty lives of misery. Can we spend an hour hearing Him cry out with us "My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?" Is there a source of hope in knowing that when we are most alone we have entered in the heart of the Crucified, there to find the human-divine companion who knows, who understands, who hangs dying with and in us. No dark place is so alone that He is not there. And if He can pray Psalm 22 (those words indicate that He did just that), then we can take encouragement in our own dark times that at the worst moment of abandonment it is possible to complain to God but also declare unaltered trust in Him as well. We can pray the whole psalm--words not quoted in the text, but spoken by "the mouth dried out like a potsherd" His "tongue sticking to the roof of His mouth" "surrounded by" a "pack of dogs" which "pierce His hands and His feet." What did the abandoned one of Psalm 22 pray? "I have been entrusted to you ever since I was born," "Praise the Lord you that fear Him...give glory," "I will declare your Name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you," "My praise is of Him in the great assembly," "My soul shall live for him, my descendants shall serve him; they shall be known as the Lord's forever. They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn the saving deeds that he has done." 

To pray that whole prayer with Jesus changes everything to me. That is the psalm He prayed, words of horrible suffering, but many words of unbounded faith and trust. It is good to sit in church and see Jesus hanging on the cross announcing that we (His descendants) will serve God. Jesus believed it hanging there. Is there any excuse for doubt when I face my struggles?

Finally, we gather to ponder His request. "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." My theory of salvation includes this verse. How did Jesus save us from our sins? Well, He was unjustly executed and His dying request was that we who did the crime be forgiven by His Father. Call it a dying man's last request, a particularly innocent man dying a particularly awful death. The kind of man and kind of death that makes the request hard to ignore. Why did Jesus dying on the cross save us from sin, because He loved us so much that He asked God to forgive us. And He did.

So why are we doing this? Because humans need to think deeply on what the cost of salvation is. Humans need to spend time thanking the Lord, in an inconvenient time and space, for all He has done. People need to delve deeper, in community, into what really happened. People need to understand the shadow side of Easter, how we got to that empty tomb. One day set aside to remember and enter the saving mystery of His death is life-giving....So it is a good idea.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Remembering like a Jewish Jesus

What does Jesus mean: "In remembrance of me"?

It has always been easy to see the Last Supper as Jesus' farewell speech. Preparing to die the next day, He gathers His closest friends and has a special meal with them. Like most humans I figured He desired to be remembered. No one wants to be forgotten. It is harder for me to grasp the fuller meaning of this Passover meal for an Ancient Jew. We do not hunger, as they did, for deliverance from a foreign pagan oppressor. We do not celebrate the ancient Jewish rituals as intimate celebrations to our collective hearts, declaring our trust in YHWH despite the centuries of hatred and abuse against us. For us the Exodus belongs to another group, it is sort of a warm up act by God in the days before He "became Christian." But the Exodus memory was not just an idea in the Jewish mind, it was a living reality in the here and now of each person at the table. That is what remember meant to ancient Jews, including Jesus; it is the opposite of dismember (to cut up into separate parts) to re-member is to bring it back together (past into present) and experience it as a living reality.

"Remember" translates the Hebrew word zakar which seems to derive from "being pierced or penetrated" in the sense that memory enters into us and fill us. To remember is also to memorialize. zakar is also to be a male. However,  to remember is not simply a mental act; it is to act on the memory:

In Genesis 8:1 when God remembered Noah in the ark, He sent a strong wind to dry the earth. Later, (9:15, 16) God twice says He will remember His covenant, the sign is a bow in the heavens, and not flood the whole world again. To remember is to do (or not do) something. This continues in Genesis 19:29 God remembered Abraham and spared Lot in Sodom and in 30:22 God remembers Rachel and gives her a child. It applies to humans as well; perhaps one of the clearest examples is found in the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:8 "remember the Sabbath and keep it holy." In the psalms the writer cries out "remember me O Lord as a cry for salvation."

In Exodus 6:5 God says "I have heard the moaning of my people... and I have remembered my covenant." When God remembers His covenant it is salvation. When Israel is in trouble she cries out, "Remember me Lord!" This really means know and understand my troubles and deliver me Lord. When God has redeemed us Jews, they say, then we have been remembered!

In Jewish belief, to remember is to enter into the reality, not simply refer to it as an idea. So the Passover meal now is a participation in the Exodus meal then. This permeable sense of time negates our western sense of history as the past. In the Bible 'time' can be an interpenetration of past and future in the present. It sounds like theoretical physics! It is truth.

Jesus wants us to present Him to God; that is what doing this in memory of Him means. He says He will not drink from the cup until He drinks it in the kingdom of God. He has made a vow to God (and us) and now requests that we gather in His Name and cry out, "Father, remember Jesus!" The Passover meal remembers the Exodus but looks ahead to the future when Messiah delivers God's people in the End Time. At the Last Supper, Messiah, present with His followers at the meal, washes them as a symbol of bringing salvation past, present and future! We are there with them because that is what Bible memory means... You and I, at each eucharist, are with Jesus at that meal and look to the Father with thanks, faith and hope and cry out, "Your Kingdom Come! Your Messiah come!"

Jesus --flesh and blood-- is the Paschal Lamb, slain and eaten on that Exodus night. Jesus' blood saved His people, is saving His people, will save His people. "Do this in remembrance of me," is a memorial prayer to our Father God. "Remember Jesus, Father, remember Jesus and act in His cause, for Jesus has offered Himself and we await the deliverance!"

This meal is two edged. If we deeply remember Him before God it will make us hungry and thirsty.
It will sharpen our pain and increase our desire. It will be like a glimpse of the face of a long separated loved one. A moment of joy which kindles greater longing. It is like a touch of the hand from the one whom we long to embrace and hold forever!

The eucharist is a glimpse into the Kingdom. It is a brief touch of Jesus' hand. We are to pray as those who wait impatiently, longing for the Father to act. Yes Jesus is among us. Yes the Kingdom is here. But not yet, not already. Still more to come. still more..... so Jesus says remember me, remember me before the Father and pray, "Thy Kingdom Come!"
So we do.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Donkeys, Unfulfilled Prophecy, and the Cross

Jesus read Zechariah 9:9-12 (Our first reading this morning) many times in His life. The Word had come to Zechariah 500 years before the Word became flesh to dwell among us! Jesus knew these words, today He acts to fill up their meaning! During the exile, Persia conquered Babylon and the Jews were able to return home and rebuild the Temple.The book of Zechariah seems to be a transition into the emerging literature of apocalyptic and much of it is echoed in the Revelation of John. In Chapter 9 God declares that He will bring judgement on the nations and restore Jerusalem. However, the judgment has bits of good news for Gentiles! 9:1("all the nations will turn/or/ belong to the Lord like Israel") and 9:7 (God will clean them of uncleanness and they too shall belong to God) especially lend themselves to a universalist reading. The Kingdom of God to include non-Jews! In 9:8 YHWH God says that He will encamp in His house--the Temple--and He will keep watch on it that no one will march against or overrun it again. This is part of the prophecy to which we shall return. The next verse was what we read in church today.

The city is told to rejoice and shout, for her king has come. Three words are used to describe the king.
   *He is tsaddik (just, lawful, righteous; justified by God). Translators have debated the exact meaning of this word here. Some think it means he is a legitimate king, of Judah's Davidic line. Others think that it means God has justified the king, while others think it means he is a righteous and faithful king. [Jesus is all three!]
   * He is yasha (to save, be saved or be delivered). This Hebrew word is in Jesus' name (YHWH yasha= Yeshua) and may point to the saving work of the King or be a  declaration that God saves the King. Both active and passive are possible. [In Jesus, we will see both simultaneously.]
   * He is aniy (poor, afflicted, humble, wretched, weak) and riding on a donkey. In the verses that follow the war horses and chariots are banished. The world's power is in might; the power of God's Messianic Kingdom is peace and love. [In Matthew 11:29 Jesus says He is meek and gentle of heart.]

Luke 19:29-40 tell us of Jesus' ride. Unlike Matthew, Luke does not spell out the Biblical reference. My guess is Jesus didn't either, but He knew the scriptures. So did the Jews. They knew Jesus was declaring Himself to be the Messiah King. On Good Friday the saving death of the King will be manifest and on Easter we will celebrate the saving act of God who raised Jesus from the dead. The short donkey ride is full of meaning, but much of it is discovered in the verses which we did not read today, the rest of Luke 19 that sandwich today's Gospel.

Luke 19 begins with the story of Zacchaeus, the story of a tax collector called by Jesus. The people were scandalized and grumble. The thankful sinner repented with a remarkable outpouring of generosity (unlike the "law-abiding" rich young man of 18:18-30). Hear what Jesus says, "The Son of Man has come to seek out and save what is lost." This echoes the Zachariah passage which says the humble king brings salvation!

Next Luke 19:11-27 is a conflation of two parables moved by the author to introduce Jesus riding the donkey. The parable serves as an interpretative key. In it, God has expectations that people use the gifts He bestows on them; this is probably a model for understanding the judgment on Jerusalem. However, Luke's added some lines about those who opposed the King. At parable's bleak end they are brought forward and slain. If the Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost, clearly those who stand in opposition to His reign face certain doom. In the real world Rome will slaughter many who rejected King Jesus.

Immediately after Jesus rides the donkey, in 19:41-48, Jesus weeps over the city. "If only you had known the things which bring peace," He cries. Here we see the full blown tragedy of Zechariah 9.

The prophet saw God's heart for His people; a vision of the humble King on a donkey providing God's deliverance. The arrival of Jesus was to begin an era of peace and prosperity. Instead, Jesus make clear, that opportunity is lost. The people of God are blind to His offer and will instead experience the opposite of the thing God promised. God will not sit in the Temple to protect it and cleanse the Gentiles and integrate them into His people. Instead, Jesus will cleanse the Temple and the Roman armies will trek through and destroy the temple of God. There will be widespread slaughter of the people. Salvation offered and rejected. And Jesus wept.

As we begin Holy Week, it is easy to forget that God's plan --to seek out and save the lost-- is always in flux as He deals with rejection and unbelief. What is true then is still true now. The Messiah King comes to gather a people to Himself. We can choose, like Zacchaeus, to repent and believe, or reject Jesus and try to silence the disciples. Humans are fickle, those who cry out "Hosanna in the Highest!" one day yell "Crucify Him!" a few days later.

Humans are fickle, and we are human.

But God is faithful. His desire is to gather all, Jew and pagan, into His people.
His desire to seek out and save the lost.
He weeps over those who turn from life to choose death and He stands ever vigilant to embrace any who return to Him.

The interplay of Prophet writings and Gospel give us insight into the ever-changing nature of the world and God ever-consistent efforts to find a new way to bring His plan to fruition. The God who weeps for the lost, the God who seeks to save them; YHWH God is the faithful, merciful Father and His righteous Messiah King is Jesus.   

Sunday School: Addendum on Divine Activity

The Sunday school classes have generated a great deal of questions around the issue of human and divine causality. My hope was to explain why the statement "God can do anything" is true, but if not understood properly it becomes a barrier to ministry. As theology it is core truth, as a 'slogan' it is misued to disobey God, to generate inactivity, to deny the scriptural understanding of church and to create many of the problems we see around us.

Perhaps this is expressed in juxtaposing two Scriptures.

Psalm 127 is a wonderful expression faith in God the Source.
"If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor on it.
If the Lord does not watch over a town, in vain does the watchman look out.
In vain you rise early, sit late, eaters of misery's bread. so much He gives His loved ones in sleep."

The message is clear, trust God and He will take care of it. However, these verses from Haggai 1 provides another stream of revelation.
"[The word of the Lord] Is it time for you to dwell in paneled houses, while this House (Temple) is lying in ruins?... Go up to the hills and get timber, and rebuild the House, then I will look on it with favor and I will be glorified... You have been expecting much and getting little...Because of my house which lies in ruins, while you hurry to your own houses."

Whatever it may means to say "the Lord builds the house," it does not mean that human labor is unneeded. Does this mean that God needed human beings to build the Temple? No, but.... Could God not have created the Temple out of thin air? The answer appears to be yes, but no. Yes, God could have created and generated the Temple out of thin air. No, God does not work that way in the world. He accomplishes His goals through humans. In the end, it all depends on what the meaning of "needs" is. Ultimately God does not need us, period. However, in the world as He created it, a world where humans have dominion and autonomy, a world where God (a pure spirit) works in and through created, material reality, there is a sense in which one can say, "God has created a world where He needs us." For some this is unimaginable blasphemy, for others it is a theological insight into the incarnation.

How does "God build the house"? Apparently, Solomon and assorted others were key players in building the first Temple. Humans cut, drug, piled, hammered, and did all the grunt work. Was God at work building the Temple? Yes! But in and through them, not alongside them or in place of them. He didn't finish up the day's work while they slept. There was no 50-50. It was all provided by God, 100% and it was all done by humans 100% Therein lies the mystery!

In the early church, the incarnation of God the Son was the subject of much debate and discussion. In the end they said, "Yes Jesus is human, but not only human. Yes Jesus is God, but not only God. No Jesus is not a mix of God and Human, He is both, totally and completely human and totally and completely God." I think this is vital for understanding our roles as "the Body of Christ," "apostles sent by Jesus," "Ambassadors of God" or whatever other term one wants to use. Perhaps this illustration will help.

What is 1 + 1 ? 2! What is 24 + 37? 61! Basic math, pretty simple.
What is 23 + Red? what is it? well, unless we change the meaning of Red into a number, or 23 into a color, the answer is "you cannot add 23 to red."
What is red plus yellow? Orange. What is blue plus yellow. Green. So although you cannot add a number and a color, you can add two colors.
The reason is because they are of the same kind of thing. When we talk about God, we can forget this. We are creatures. He is creator. He is not another thing like us. He is above and beyond us in "inapproachable light"! As far as East is from West, so far is He from us. So to go back to our number analogy, What is 87 plus infinity? what is 16 plus infinity? what is one million plus infinity? When we talk about God we cannot give Him a number, like He is one of us (even a really big number). God is infinity. He transcends numbers. So when we talk about God working "with" us, "helping" us, "being alongside" us---all those words are trying to express the mystery of infinity in the midst of finitude. They are analogies or similes or metaphors for something which we cannot fully express in human language.

God is God. He is the Creator, the Source and Ground of everything. Without Him there is nothing. However, He created and this creation is real and it exists. It follows the rules He created. There are processes in place which occur naturally. He doesn't have to create rain or store up lightning to make a storm. It happens on its own (except everything depends on Him for its being). Life is not an algebraic equation where one of the variables is God. God is the source of everything, but He is outside of it.

This is why the workers sweat over building the Temple and fell into bed each night exhausted by their labors. There were times when they sense God with them, other times maybe not. It doesn't matter. They built the house, but so did God. They did 100% of the work. So did God.

God is the ultimate cause of everything. "All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made." (ESV John 1:3) However, God exists outside of time and space, He is not a creature, so He must enter time and space (whatever that means) to interact with creatures. Hence, the mediated presence (or incarnation) of God is a fundamental principle of orthodox Christianity. Divine revelation is in human words. Theophanies look like fire, lightning, and clouds, and sound like thunder or roaring waters. God's ministry is through human instruments (Moses, prophets, Jesus, the apostles). So when He acts in the world the typical mode of action is in and through humans.

2 Corinthians 4:7 "But we have this treasure in clay jars (vessels made of the earth---see Genesis 2) so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belong to God and does not come from us."

Humans cannot make "it" happen (it being salvation, healing, transformation). That is the work of God. However, humans can and do preach, teach, pray, declare, etc. and thereby serve as the tools. That is the (God-given) work of humans. Genesis says that humans have dominion on the earth. And throughout salvation history the work of God is (to the horror of Gnostics!) seen IN and THROUGH creation; a sacramental manifestation which is frequently dependent upon human activity--not because God cannot do it on His own, but because God has chosen to construct a world which operates in that manner.

So the failure of Christians to be faithful in their vocation as the Body of Christ is not an act of faith but an act of deceit (because The Father and Lord Jesus trusted us and we hide behind pious words to deny it), an act of disobedience (Jesus sent us but we didn't go), an act of unbelief (He gave us the Spirit and power of His Name, and we act as though He didn't)---and it has severe impact on the life and salvation of those whom we were sent to serve (as earthen vessels carrying His extraordinary power). If a parent does not feed a baby God entrusted to their care, the child dies; likewise, if a church does not do the work entrusted to it then manifestation of the LOVE of God and the MERCY of God and the GOODNESS of God and God's saving work are diminished. I do not know why God would limit Himself in the world like this. I do not understand His faith in us at all. But the Bible makes clear over and again, "God said, "I have seen and heard and know their troubles, I have remembered my promises, I have come down to save them---I send you!" 

Our mission is God-given. It all depends on God as the sole Source of Salvation. God alone is God. God sends us. As Mary once said, "Do whatever He tells you." He has spoken. Clearly.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Your Healing is Within 7-10

Why Did Christ Heal?
a) There are 26 stories of healing and an additional 10 summaries of healing multitudes
  1. Healing expresses the mind and will of God.
  2. Jesus heals because He feels compassion
  3. Jesus' healings fulfill prophecy (Isaiah)
  4. Jesus healed to prove He can forgive sins.
  5. Jesus healed to draw attention to the Gospel
  6. Jesus healed to glorify God (raised Lazarus)
  7. Jesus healed to stimulate faith.

b) But Jesus frequently asked people to have faith. (your faith has made you well, according to your faith let it be done to you) (because of their lack of faith he could/did not do many mighty works

c) curse of the Fall: sin, sickness, suffering, death, and the other works of the devil is the reason the Son came into the world.. Physical and emotional sickness is included in this.

d) Kingdom of God is eschatological and contemporary. Kingdom is a spiritual/heavenly reality which will be experienced in perfection when God and His Christ rule the world. The Kingdom has already been established as is among us now, growing like a seed (parables) Among the signs that the Kingdom is among us is healing and divine provision (food, drink, clothes)

8 The Healing Ministry of Disciples. Five times this is mentioned (see the 12 and the 70) and there are numerous examples of healing in Acts. Healing is linked to the commission to evangelize, signs and wonders are manifested in connection with prayer and ministry.

9. James and Corinthians. While every Christian can participate in the church's healing ministry, there are some who will manifest a special gift and calling. (this is a debated issue. some believe that the simple declaration of the Gospel is sufficient to manifest healing, in which case anyone who is able to share the promises and faithfulness of God and invite a trusting response can be a vehicle of healing. For others, the healing gift is a power--Jesus said I felt power leave me when the woman with the bleed touched Him for healing. Some believe everyone has a gift for healing which must be exercised. Personally, I tend to think that the Bible and church history indicate it is a gift to the church, but that it is a charism which some exercise more effectively. Like preaching and teaching, all can do and all should do it some, but special gifts are in evidence within few.)

10. Objections to this minsitry
a) value of suffering. (i was raised with this one...offer your sufferings to the Lord. there is an incredibly wide stream of Christian spiritual practice which embraced suffering and sought it out. I recall as a young man praying for suffering because I felt I had not suffered enough. My Spiritual Director let me know that I did not have to pray for it, suffering would find me in its own good time--it did. The meditations on the sufferings of Christ produced a school of spirituality which embraced suffering as an end in itself.) Glennon responds that suffering is not sickness, it is persecution and the cost of discipleship. Sickness is never called suffering in the Bible, it is called sickness and it is bad. Faith response to healing is being cured. (Jesus never tells someone to embrace their illness. He never refuses to heal someone on the ground that there is value in being sick. He responds to illness in a negative way--though not sick people. One huge barrier to the healing ministry is the subconscious and unconscious embrace of illness as some sort of a spiritual gift.]
b) Many hold up Paul's thorn in the side. Glennon says that perhaps the speculation that Paul had some recurrent illness may be accurate. However, he thinks this would be an exception, and notes it as such. However, he said that in the Old Testament the term frequently refers to people (the inhabitants in the land, in particular obnoxious ones). Because Paul also says, "an angel//messenger of satan to beat me" in his flesh,it is more likely that Paul is beset with a person who is a constant source of irritation and frustration. It makes sense that Paul is struggling with some person who he sees as an agent of the other side and that God told him, my strength is enough for you... Hence, this is not an illness at all, but a struggle for the Gospel

Your Healing is Within You 5 & 6

Power of the Holy Spirit
a) we need the Holy Spirit at work in all areas of our life, not just healing. One important manifestation of the Spirit is in witnessing. The Spirit empowers us to be bold and proclaim the Kingdom and witness effectively.
b) Glennon differentiates the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer. "Born of the Spirit" is conversion, it is a work of God's Spirit within each of us that begins the new life in Christ. "Filled with the Holy Spirit" refers to receiving the power to do Christ's work as the church. There can be an interval between the two, sometimes long and other times short. I would personally hasten to add that all human talk about the spiritual realm is going to encounter the limits of understanding. The work of God is far too subtle for us to understand the exact machinations. However, in our tradition baptism and confirmation are seen as separate events, the latter conferring the Spirit in an 'adult' decision, while the former is understood to make the baptized (frequently as an infant) a child of God by the gift of the Spirit.)
c) New Testament believers were baptized. Later they had "hands laid on them to receive the Holy Spirit." He is a divine person active in the life of believers.
d) In Latin America there has been a huge growth in the Pentecostal movement and a booming increase in membership.
e) The need for God's power is evident when you face a cry for healing. The church programs, events and fund raising cannot address that need---only God can. When God does address it, the Holy Spirit should come as power which can be experienced and manifested in ministry. One fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives is an increased desire to pray: a desire for more, deeper and longer prayer! When the Holy Spirit shows truth to be truth, it is like you have never experienced it before--even if you had an idea--its knowing in a new and living way. Progress is continual but so are the spiritual attacks of the enemy. Dark spirits get more active when the Holy Spirit fills you with His light and life. (the reality of spiritual warfare surprises some people. They assume that if God is with us nothing will ever go wrong again...Not so and one reason why the seed of the Word does not prosper every where-namely the path, the shallow soil and the weed infested ground)
f) requirements
   1. Be committed to Jesus Christ (repent, believe, obey)
   2. Unconditional surrender; you don't tell God which gifts you want and which you don't want
g) How to be filled-through the prayer of faith.
   1. Do not rely on "feeling" but on faith. If you ask then trust you have received, how you feel is not
       an accurate measure.
   2. Our job is to trust. Faith is our responsibility, God supplies the "signs and wonders". Stay
   3. Laying on hands is helpful, appropriate, but not necessary. In the NT it often happened with out
       this sacramental act (like Pentecost and Cornelius)
When I was reading this book and writing these notes the section from "God Calling" seemed appropriate. "The last and hardest lesson is learning to wait, wait as one who knows all is well. This seemed to echo his writings on the centrality of faith and healing as a process.

chapter 6 Stretch Out Your Hand and Heal
John 17:18 "[Father] as You sent me into the world, so I send them." [this is something to ponder and pray over; what does it mean that Jesus sent us into the world as He was sent? how many moments of our day look like a day in the life of Jesus?] This apostolic vocation is both a corporate and individual responsibility to be Christ in the world.
a) The church is people who believe in Jesus and live as His. Fellowship is wider than our denomination. The whole church has the ministry; we are part of this body of Christ. However, Glennon believes that what the whole church does has an impact on what individuals can achieve. We are personally limited or expanded by the lack of/presence of faith in the big church. He notes that in Corinthians the gifts of the Spirit are given to individuals, but healings (only) is in the plural. He emphasizes working in unison to provide for total church ministry. James said "call the elders of the church" because they exercise the healing ministry on behalf of all--even if they do not have the particular charism. He raises up The Order of St. Luke because it is important to e in fellowship and not "go it alone." Also important to pray for people to receive the ministry. It is not unusual to for people to pray to themselves and fail to "open up and accept." (opening the door to Jesus)
b) Glennon says praying for other people follows the same rules. Faith: "I believe, Lord,  I accept on their behalf"...then immediately and in the days that follow..."Thank you Father, you are healing my brother/sister." This vicarious faith is intercessory in prayer. Glennon compares "thanking God and receiving" on behalf of another to what we do with parents in infant baptism. He invokes the Scripture where Jesus sees the faith of the men carrying the paralytic and tells the man, "your sins are forgiven."
Know the promises of God. Accept His gift. Affirm the gift by faith. Be watchful and give thanks throughout the process. 
This works in intecession/vicarious reception for another. Obviously, it works better if they believe too! [However, amazing things have happened in intercession so do not lose hope. We do not understand how spirit and soul connections work. People impact each other in myriad and mysterious ways. there may be pathways about which we are ignorant. Personally, i think this is why sometimes God inspires us to pray for another. Why else would He ask us to pray unless our praying was a means for Him to achieve His ends?]

* More challenging healing may need prayer and fasting because faith is not sufficient to the task.
* The greatest barrier to healing is the lack of faith in the entire congregation/church. The corporate belief is an open or closed door. The lack of expectation and belief is a huge issue.
*Fasting has a value. It increases our awareness of dependence upon God which can help us pray better. this is key: DEPEND ON GOD NOT YOURSELF

The Holy Spirit is present in healing. Even those who "aren't healed" can still have a profound and powerful experience of God's Spirit. [in the end, healing is a sign of and manifestation of salvation. The world is fallen and 'we are made of dust and will return to dust'. Our relationship with God is central and the healing ministry is most successful when it cements that bond.]

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Exodus 4

This chapter is not a break from chapter 3 but a narrative continuation. The amazing reality is that Moses does not appear to believe what God has said. Chapter 3 details God's description of what will happen, and Moses response is they won't believe me or listen to me and they will say YHWH hasn't appeared to me. This lack of faith reflects the "religious human" dilemma--man/woman in encounter with God must come to grips with the challenge of faith. While the word does not appear, one might think Moses is afraid or overwhelmed. On a spiritual level, it is a reminder that each of us, when confronted with God's action in our life, must stay focused on God and not on the problem (like Peter looking at the water). Focus on God not the problem is a spiritual law! Moses, like all humans, needs to come to confident trust in God. Doubt in the face of revelation is amazing, yet we have the Bible and God's promises there and we, like Moses, generate all manner of "what ifs" and"it won't works"...

The signs:
First God tells Moses to throw his staff which becomes a serpent. Why? This sign (which the magicians of Pharaoh can duplicate) is probably best understood in its Biblical verbal context. We all know of the first appearance of the word (in Genesis) and there is no obvious connection there. However, in Numbers 21 the Israelites are beset with biting serpents as a punishment for their sin and Moses raises up a bronze serpent on a pole so that all who look upon it are healed. [For Christians this is a type of the crucified Lord Jesus.] This will be a deeper meaning of the sign. Moses 'flees' from the snake, the next time that verb occurs it is in connection to the servants of Pharaoh who flee from God's threat of "killer hail" in chapter nine, and five chapters later the charioteers of Pharaoh will flee (2x) before the power of God at the Red Sea.

The second sign is tsara' sheleg (literally stricken, by extension as with a disease, scabby) and (snow, white). This combination occurs in Numbers 12:10 when Miriam is covered in a skin disease that makes her white (in punishment for her envious attitude toward Moses). tsara is also found in the Levitical Law in the sections on "clean/unclean." In the plagues on Egypt skin problems will be an issue, although the term will be different.

The third sign is the first which is an overt foreshadowing of the plagues: water turning into blood from chapter seven. Interestingly, the water becomes blood when it hits the yabbasheth (derived from a Hebrew verb meaning to wither and dry up; hence "dry land," only other occurrence in Ps 95:5). In the seventh chapter the Nile will turn to blood. Interestingly, later in this chapter in the unusual circumcision story the "bridegroom of blood" is used twice and in chapter twelve blood is the sign on the doorpost for the angel of death to pass over the Israelite's homes.

The final straw for God (4:14 His "anger burns"!) is Moses complaint that he is not a "man of words" (ish dabar). His problem is a "heavy tongue". This is translated myriad ways, but Friedman brilliantly points out that within the Scriptures this expression is found again in Ez 3:5-3:6; there it refers to foreigners as people with heavy tongues. In light of this, he thinks that Moses is saying "I don't speak Hebrew because he was raised Egyptian and lives now as a Midian. (this makes much sense to me) God is pretty angry. YHWH (this name is used) says that He created mouths and "I am with you." This reminder is important for us today as well. What malady can God our Father not take care of? His presence with us must inspire faith and enable trust. We are His. He is ours!!! Suddenly, we find that Aaron, now the chosen spokesman, is on his way to Moses. This could be God's hand at work, we are not told. Note, in support of the idea that the heavy tongue is foreign language, Aaron will speak "to the people" for Moses (v.16) not the Egyptians. The more amazing thing is that Moses will be an elohim (god) to him, repeated of Pharaoh in 7:1. The idea of a man being God may be another hint of the incarnation in the Jewish text?

[The hot anger of God is worthy of some reflection. 'aph (nostril, nose, face; by extension anger--because of the rapid breathing of strong emotion) carah (hot, furious, burn, be kindled, angry, passionate). [First, we note this is assigning human emotions to God; like God's repentance, His anger is not to be taken literally as if He were a human actor. Rather, I think, it is a descriptor meant to communicate our experience and relationship to The Eternal One.] Anger will be a recurring theme in God's salvation and judgment of the people.
   Ex 11:8 Moses storms off from Pharaoh in 'hot anger'
   Ex 15:7-8 is from an early song of the Red Sea--"you send forth your burning (charown,masculine
   noun form of  verb charah) at the blast of your aph (nostrils) the waters piled up.
   Ex 32 and Num 11 both contain extensive uses of the term in describing God's reaction to the sin of

 The next scene (4:18-23) has Moses taking leave of Jether (variant of Jethro).  Moses says he want to return to Egypt to see if his brothers are alive (recall Joseph in Egypt asked his brothers if his father were alive. Gen 43:7, 27; 45:3). Moses' safety is addressed, those seeking his life are dead (see Mt 2:20 for same message to Joseph about Jesus). Moses leaves with his wife and sons, we only heard of one. Notice how so many biographical details are left out. 4:21 is a source of endless theological debate. What does it mean "to harden his heart"? (the Hebrew chazak means strengthen, prevail, harden, be strong, become strong, be courageous, be firm, grow firm, be resolute, be sore, to encourage, to support) This Hebrew word appeared in 4:4 (when Moses grabbed the serpent by the tail) and recurs in describing Pharaoh's intransigence. However, in 12:33 it describes the urgency with which the Egyptian people wanted the Hebrew slaves to depart. The operative question is the freewill of Pharaoh and God's action on his heart. One is reminded that divine causation is simply declared in the Bible regularly, without the nuance of later theology. "God creates good and bad" is a stream of thought in the Bible. He is the author of all things. This is certainly embraced by contemporary churches which advocate God's supreme authority and many types of predestination. Trying to make sense of this (God punishing a hand puppet) baffles us. However, mystery is encountered all over and the fact that this makes no sense to us may just demonstrate our limits. In places, the hardness of Pharaoh will seem to be of his own choosing. It is hard to know how human freedom interacts with divine activity. There is a "Burger King" aspect to God ("have it your way") present in the teaching of Jesus as well. The message that Moses is given is actually a brief summary of what all will take place. In the text this is not the message which Moses delivers. Much of this section is a preview of coming attractions and serves as a narrative summary of what follows.  The juxtaposition of "first born son" and provides the (ancient, middle eastern) moral rationale of the conflict and what transpires. Israel is God's firstborn son.

4:24-26 feels like an intrusion in the story and interpretations vary widely. Most commentaries admit that the repetition of pronouns is equivocal (who is each "he"?). One reading it seems that God has decided to kill Moses, in another Moses' son. Propp speculates that Moses is liable for the murder of the Egyptian (the term damim in Hebrew is associated with blood guilt). To further complicate matters, in Arabic the term can mean bridegroom or circumcision (because that was when it took place). Those who believe that Exodus is composed from more ancient sources speculate that the story reflects a longer, primitive narrative about an ambiguous god who is dangerous (reflecting the struggles of life). Folktales and religious literature of neighboring cultures certainly contain such elements and the Israelites' roots are in those cultures. [think back to the two Genesis accounts: the "speaker creator" and the "potter shaper"] In the end, themes that are important include the importance of circumcision, the use of blood to save (type of of lamb blood on the doorpost), and a woman intervening to save Moses (again). Perhaps, in terms of revelation, this story serves the purpose of reminding us that while we know much about God, there is much more that remains outside our intellect and theologies!

The chapter closes, v27-31, with the arrival of Aaron. Here we see the Lord speaks to him and tells him to go meet Moses in the wilderness. Note the juxtaposition here of God's direct communication and the need for Moses to explain all that God had told him. This is subtle, but a reminder, that the Lord works most commonly 'in and through' human beings. The meditation of God's word is found again and again in the Word of God. The brief summary indicates that Aaron spoke to the elders, that the signs were performed and elicited faith  ('aman) and submission (bow down and worship) because God had seen their affliction and cared!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Lent 4 Prodigal Son Parable

The human person is an interesting mix of body-soul-spirit. The mysteries of the human being include our failure to know and understand our own selves. The human person, created in the image of God, is who we are meant to be (potential) and our truest Self. Much of the true self exists in an unconscious state, therefore, each of us must discover the answer to the question "who am I?" The great spiritual writers of classic Christianity typically contrast the "true self" with the "false self." When Jesus says that we  must "die to our selves" He refers to the false self. The true Self is who will be raised on the last day. For our purposes, we will call the false self the 'ego.'

If our Self at the spiritual core remains somewhat hidden, our "Ego" is more easily accessed. The ego is what most of us mean when we say the word "me." It is the person who interacts with the outer world. It is the point where the self is actualized and substantial. Our thoughts, dreams, fears, desire, strengths, weaknesses---all that is available to the conscious is found in the ego. However, the ego is expressed in a persona, actually multiple personas. The Ego takes on "a role" or "acts a part" in different settings or conditions. The different relationships we have impact the "who we appear to be"--the persona. The persona emphasizes various facets of our personality, so that is why people say "I saw a different side of you." When we see a friend at work we notice the difference in his voice and demeanor. A promotion always "changes" us. A parent looks different to her children than to her friends, because people act differently as parents. The different roles we play are an expression of our Ego (and by extension our Self). The persona in its roles, however, also shapes our Ego. We tend to become what we act like--behaviors shape character. We can over-identify with the role so that it becomes all there is to us (hence the crisis for many people when their roles change).

I want to offer the possibility that what is true of us is also true of our experience of God. The Heavenly Father is viewed through many prisms. We have countless stories about God in the Bible, and some of them do not easily add up. It may be helpful to think of them as outward expressions of God's "persona" in particular situations. The core of God, however, needs to be known and understood in order to make sense of the other information we have. Today, I believe, Jesus is showing us the true heart of God. It is not all there is to the story of God, but it is the most important thing to know.

God is the Father, the loving Father, who honors our freedom and allows us to go our own way. God is the Father of patient love and mercy, but He does not control us or our world. We start with this revelation of God to understand everything else. That is the revelation and amazing grace.

In the parable, there are two sons, each displays a particular persona as well. These are archetypes. The older is the obedient one, doing what he is supposed to (but seething with resentment and a judgmental heart). The younger is a free spirit, enjoying life and living it with abandon (but lacking in responsibility or genuine care for others). Each of them lives in us, to a greater or lesser extent, but most of us tend toward one or the other (and if you go to church it is probably the older brother). Both boys, in their own particular way, cut themselves off from the Father. One goes far off to squander his inheritance, the other, while closer, is still outside pouting, refusing to go in. Who were these boys meant to be? No doubt something much better. How did they go so wrong, each in a different direction yet both ending in the same place... alone and rejecting the Father? Because sin finds a way into the heart of us all, no matter our tendencies or personality. Each of us lives and loves in our own way, each of us sins in our own way. But sin is, in the end, always the same--rejecting the Father. Rejecting the Father who deserves better from us!

The heart of God is the faithful but broken heart of the Father who has found that all of His children find a reason to walk away. Too bad or too good for Him, we run our lives by our own rules. Many of the stories of the Bible are written from the perspective of the sinners. Imagine the story told by the sons. Would the Father not be to blame somehow for creating the problem? Would the younger son have spent years wondering why dad did not come and find him (before "he came to himself)? Was the Father's wrath (wanting to eat pig food) not the son's choice? And what of the "holy" brother who passes judgment? No kindness, no mercy, no compassion, he administers a new sadness to the heart of the Father at the time when His heart was finally joyful. See, the good son was not able to muster a moments thought about his dad, because after all, even when you are good it can still be "all about me."

Who is God.... I mean who is God really and truly?
I believe this story is The answer.
He is the Father who has given us everything.
He is the Father who sets us free, yet hoping and waiting for us to return. He scans the horizon and desires us, and seeing us in the distance runs to greet us and throw a party.
He is the Father who confronts our "party-pooper-pity-party-resentment" with the question, "can't you join us? can't you love your brother enough to rejoice that he has hope of a life again? Can't you love me when I have given you everything, yes, everything I have is yours, so can't you share my heart as well?"

Whatever else the Bible says about God, I think, this is the story that is the basis for understanding it. If the Father allows us to choose sin, death, suffering---and He does---it is at a great cost for His long suffering, loving, kind, merciful heart. This is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Waiting and hoping that we will come home, leaving the pigs behind. This is the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, trying to get us to have mercy on others and to come into the party.

This is our Heavenly Father. His heart and core and True Self. This is the starting place and ending place of any other kind of story that you hear about God...  
Repent and Believe the Good News!