Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My Last Two Church Visits

I think I would rather have food poisoning than hear a sermon that has nothing to do with the Biblical text. At least with food poisoning I can expect to recover within a reasonable amount of time, but when I hear a sermon that does not submit to the text it ruins my day, makes me grumpy, makes me want to leave the church as soon as possible, and carries over into the next few days.

I’ve visited two churches within the past few weeks and neither sermon had much of anything to do with the text, neither had a structure, and neither had a point to it. What have we come to?

Both churches had a lot of people, nice people; and I’m sure the preachers are nice guys – but how can this be – how can churches that profess a high view of Scripture be satisfied with not submitting to the text? It happens all the time I know, but it doesn’t make it any easier to experience. And of course no one seems to notice because this is the way we read, the way we think, the way we make decisions – everything today is done in fragments and thoughts need not be connected or coherent. So sad.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Meditations on 1 John: XVIII

“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…As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in Him,” 1 John 2:20-21, 27.

The interplay of abiding permeates John’s letter. In 2:6 the one who abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. This makes sense, if we’re living in Christ we ought to live as Christ. In John Chapter 15 Jesus says Abide in Me and I in you, if we don’t abide in Him we will not bear fruit – this is basic and yet it eludes us for we are impatient and we will not rest, we insist on making things happen – what should be a way of life is often considered an esoteric ideal for the impractical person.

In 2:10: The one who loves his brother abides in the light; abiding in Christ does not mean inaction, rather it means that we engage in the greatest action – loving our brothers and sisters – he who would abide in Christ must learn to love in Christ.

In 2:14: I have written to you, young men, because…the word of God abides in you… Does the Word of God abide in us? Has it taken deep root? Peter writes (1 Peter 1:23): for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. Do we allow that Seed to take root? Do we work the soil of our hearts and minds? Do we weed out all that competes with God’s Word? Do we water the Word with prayer, mediation, and obedience?

In 2:17: …the one who does the will of God abides forever. The way we live is the way we will die and the way we will live eternally – if we abide in Christ today we will die in Christ today and we will live in Christ forever. Just as we abide in the light as we love one another, we abide forever as we do the will of God. Abiding in Christ is enigmatic from the outside looking in for it entails rest on the one hand and simultaneous action on the other; rest strengthens action and action strengthens rest. No action of mine is fruitful unless I am abiding in Christ; abiding in Christ is a result of obedience to His will. His will works in me and through me while my will submits to His and says a continuous “yes” to Him.

In 2:19: …if they had been of us, they would have abided [remained] with us… Christ is the line of demarcation in humanity, there are those in Him and there are those outside of Him. Regarding professing Christians and others who attach themselves to Christianity in one form or another, there are those who display the outward garb of religion and spirituality but who do not abide in Christ and who therefore end up moving away from those who abide in Him – this is particularly seen in relation to God’s Word and obedience to His Word; as John reiterates throughout this letter we cannot live in light and darkness, in truth and error, in love and hate, in confession of Christ and denial of Christ – there are many antichrists out and about and we must be aware of the marks of the Christian and of the antichristian – one abides in Christ and we know the fruit of that abiding, the other may profess to abide but we know better when we see practical and theological desecration of God’s Word, exhortation to disobedience of the Word, and a denial that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

In 2:24: As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. That which we heard from the beginning is the message of the Incarnation (1:1) and that we are to love one another (2:7-11; 3:11). God’s love is manifested in the Incarnation and we are to continue the incarnation of His love – the expression of God’s love for the world is to be seamless, from Jesus Christ through His people to the world until the final day of history unfolds according to the will of God.

We’ll continue this survey of the word abide in the next 1 John post, in the meantime I encourage you to read and reread and reread John’s letter; note the tightly woven themes, the interplay of words and images, the imperatives to obedience in Christ. Can you taste the flavor of this letter? Are you living in this facet of God’s Word? Is it more than second nature to you? Is it becoming your nature? Is 1 John abiding in you as you abide in Christ?

[Consider printing 1 John from a computer and using colored pencils to highlight words and themes. Use one color for love, another color for abide, another for light, etc.].

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Psalm 19

The first six verses of Psalm 19 focus on God’s witness in creation, the following two verses focus on His witness through His Word. God speaks to us without and within, the question for me today is whether I will hear Him. Will my eyes see Him, will my heart hear Him, will my mind seek to understand Him, will my will choose Him and His ways?

Verses 1 – 6 focus on the witness of God our Creator; verses 7 – 14 focus on Yahweh, the God of the Covenant, the God who reveals Himself through His Word and brings us into covenant relationship with Himself and each other. First we have God’s general revelation of Himself, a revelation that Paul writes renders us without excuse (see Romans 1); then we have Yahweh’s special revelation to us through His Word, a revelation that demands a response from us, a response of repentance and submission or a response of rejection and continued rebellion. There is no neutrality between us and God, His love pursues us, His love is not neutral else it could not be love; we either accept His love or we reject it – there is no middle ground.

As I begin this day will I see Him in the heavens and earth? Will I behold His handiwork in creation? Will the majesty of the mountains and oceans humble me? Will the patterns of flora and fauna give me pause to consider Him? Will the birds of the air and the creatures of land and sea cause me to consider the One in whose mind they were first conceived?

Will I turn to His Word this morning, a Word given to men and women ages ago, a Word which has been the demarcation line in humanity since we first walked the earth; our answer to the question, “Has God said?” determines our lives today and tomorrow and forever.

God our Creator speaks all around us and within us; Yahweh the God of the Covenant speaks specifically through His written Word – He calls to us, will we respond in obedience to Him? What will the Word and revelation of God look like in my life today?

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Yahweh, my strength and my Redeemer, Psalm 19:14.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Can You Hear Your Own Accent?

I’ve been fascinated by accents as long as I can remember. As a boy I recall drinking in the flavor of my Virginia relatives’ accents, so much different from where I grew up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. in the 1950s and 60s. As I traveled as an adult the various accents of New York City, Baltimore and different regions of Virginia intrigued me, as did the difference between the accents of Eastern, MA as compared with Western, MA. Then, being somewhat of an Anglophile, there is my fascination with the land of Professor Higgins – though I sometimes wonder if they are really speaking English, a question to which Higgins would respond at times with “No!”

I recall, when living north of Boston, going to purchase firewood for our home. I got out of our pickup truck and said “Good morning” to the seller to which he replied, “Where are you from?” I don’t have what I’d call a Southern accent but to that man’s New England ear I could have been from deep Mississippi.

Do people hear their own accents? Do they hear their own accents when they are with people with the same accents? If you have a sense of your own accent you’ll likely have it when you’re with folks from another region rather than your own region or family; if you do hear your accent you’ll hear it because of contrast; naturally when you’re with people of your own family or region you don’t have an accent in that context because everyone speaks the same way.

Churches have accents; their jargon, their social mores, their doctrinal distinctives, their emphases in Sunday worship; what can you add to the list? Some churches take pride in their accents, which is dangerous for there is no room in the Kingdom of God for pride, with self-righteous religious pride being the most deadly of all. Other churches don’t know they have accents and they live in such cocoons that they have never heard the accents of others. Yet other churches hear the accents of others but don’t know that they have their own accents.

I’d like to think that accents don’t separate people, but they do. Spoken accents can separate and cultural accents, such as church accents, can separate. There are Christians who don’t have time for other Christians with other accents, other ways of thinking, other ways of doing things, other ways of expressing their love to God and to their neighbor. There are churches that are so heavily biased toward particular accents that a visitor can only become a member by melding into the culture without maintaining honest distinctions.

This is not to say that we should or can be accent free, yet on the other hand as we put on the new man in Christ, which is in His image, we hopefully realize that “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all,” (Colossians 3:10-11). We would do well to remind ourselves of Paul’s words to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:10 – 17): “Is Christ divided?” Do we emphasize our accents or do we emphasize our common language? My observation is that we emphasize our accents often to the point where it is questionable whether we have a common language.

It is not unusual for a professing Christian’s primary identification not to be Christ and His Church, but to rather be a particular denomination or tradition or way of doing things or doctrine – there is not only no Biblical warrant for this, there is ample Biblical warning against it for time and again the Scriptures remind us that in Christ we are one and that we are to guard that oneness; in fact, our love for one another and our unity in Christ are so paramount that they are, as Francis Schaeffer reminds us, the marks of a Christian. The world is to know we are Christians by our love for one another and the world is to know the Gospel through our unity (John Chapters 13 and 15).     

Can we hear our own accents?  Can I hear mine? Can you hear yours?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Meditations on 1 John: XVII

“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…As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in Him,” 1 John 2:20-21, 27.

Jesus teaches us that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, will teach us all things [John 14:16, 25]. The context of Jesus’ words is our abiding in Him, just as the context of the above words of John in his first letter is our abiding in Him. The leading and teaching of the Holy Spirit is not something that occurs apart from our abiding in Christ, it is a fruit and result of our relationship with the Trinity and with one another.

Jesus’ words in the Upper Room in John 14 were spoken to a group of people who were representing a group of people, the universal Church; John’s words in 1 John were written to a group of people, a local or regional church. Yes, there is an individual aspect to the leading and teaching of the Holy Spirit, for the Holy Spirit along with the Father and Son live within us as individuals, but if we abide in the Trinity and the Trinity abides in us then we live in koinonia with each other and it is in that eternal and transcendent community, especially in its temporal local expression, that we experience the fullness of the leading and teaching of the Holy Spirit. It is a mistake to primarily apply either the words of Jesus or the words of John to the individual – they are spoken and written to a people and I am to hear and read them as an individual who is joined to a people.

John writes that “you have no need for anyone to teach you” and yet John is teaching them. While the readers of John’s letter may have no need for teaching yet they have a great need for teaching. Here is a Divine tension, Christ the Head supplies His local body of believers, and yet that local body of believers is often supplied from other believers who are not local. Christ the Head supplies the individual member of the local body of believers, and yet a great measure of that supply comes through other members of the local body, see Ephesians 4:1-16; in fact from Ephesians 4:1ff one can argue that what an individual member receives from Christ is given primarily to be given away to other members of the body.

The individual who reads John’s words or Jesus’ words and thinks, “I don’t need others to teach me,” greatly errs for not only does that person ignore the immediate context of Biblical community, but he ignores the greater Biblical context of community, of living in relationship with the People of God. The individual local church that reads these words and thinks, “We don’t need other local churches,” errs in the same fashion, and perhaps to a greater degree since it propagates unbiblical thinking and living in its members. Furthermore, the association or denomination that thinks that it doesn’t need churches and believers outside of its denomination or association errs in the same manner. Consider that our trajectory in Christ is the New Jerusalem, we are a people and we are becoming a people.

John writes not because his recipients don’t know the truth, but rather because they do know it and they know that no lie is of the truth; and yet it is because they are in danger of believing a lie that John must write. Ah the tensions of this life, we have all treasure in Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:1ff) and yet we think we need to supplement our treasure. We need to be reminded of what we know, as John writes, “These things I have written…so that you may know that you have eternal life,” 1 John 5:13.

Biblical teaching is often telling people what they already know and reminding people of what they already have, rather than telling God’s people about what they don’t have and what they don’t know. Paul’s introduction in 1 Corinthians (1:1-9) is an example of this; Paul begins by affirming who the Corinthians are in Christ and what they have in Christ, thus setting the stage for the corrective nature of his letter. Once we establish who we are and what we know we have a benchmark for determining where we are and where we need to go. John reminds us of the nexus for all of this, for all of life, with his words “abide in Him”.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

"I Have to Blow My Nose"

My friend Bill has four children, one of which is a “special needs” child. Below is an entry in Bill’s prayer journal.


In January of 2012, we were notified that Leigh’s behavior was affecting the staff and the other residents at her group home and that something needed to be done to correct her behavior.  My wife and I and our friends prayed that we would find help for Leigh.  The problem was that even though I was praying for God’s help, I was still controlling everything and not turning it over to Him.  In May of 2012, after things had gotten worse, we had a meeting at the group home and were informed that if Leigh’s behavior did not change that she would need to move out by year’s end.  It was so sad for all of us because this had been Leigh’s home for over 20 years.

I cried and I prayed to Him each day asking Him to please help us find someone to help Leigh.  The hard thing for me was to give up control and to realize that it was not going to happen in my time table but rather in His timing.  Through what seemed to be “forever,” God’s hand was at work and through Him and a lot of praying He led us to a doctor who agreed to see Leigh. 

In August 2012, the doctor changed Leigh’s medicine and within a month Leigh was a totally different person.  Her behavior was so much better that the other girls in the group home were no longer afraid of her and the staff was so pleased with her.

At the beginning, I saw no hope but in the end I saw that through prayer no situation is too big for God.  He already had the answer.  He was just waiting for me to let go and watch Him take something that seemed impossible and turn it into a moment of “JOY” for Leigh.  Also, I had to remember that as a special- needs individual Leigh has a special relationship with God. 

Let me explain. When Leigh was 9 years old she was very upset about something and her mom told her to go upstairs and talk to God about it.  A few minutes later as we heard her yelling to God we went to the top of the steps to listen. In the middle of her conversation with God she told Him to “Wait a minute -I have to blow my nose!  Don’t go away!”  She blew her nose and went right back talking with Him.  There is no doubt in our minds that God enjoyed that time with Leigh.  She knew that her heavenly Father would take care of her concerns.

God is GOOD!


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Psalm 18

“You have also given me the shield of Your salvation, and your right hand upholds me; and Your gentleness makes me great. You enlarge my steps under me, and my feet have not slipped.” [Psalm 18:35 – 36].

For decades this passage has resonated with me; the gentleness of God has attracted me. The context is anything but gentle; the context is warfare and opposition and trial and testing; and yet in the midst of all this David knows the gentleness of Yahweh.

Jesus tells us that He leaves His peace with us; He tells us this on the night of betrayal, on the eve of torture, minutes before His testing in the Garden of Gethsemane, hours before His crucifixion. In the Upper Room Jesus not only tells us that He gives us His peace, He also tells us that He gives us His joy – He tells us these things in anything but what we consider a peaceful and joyful context.

In verse 33 David writes, “He makes my feet like hinds’ feet, and sets me upon my high places.” God makes David sure footed, David’s steps are enlarged under him. In the Upper Room Jesus is sure footed, in the midst of impending agony and trial He washes the disciples’ feet, including the feet of Judas Iscariot. Jesus committed Himself to the Father, David committed himself to God. Peter writes in 1 Peter 4:19, “Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” Paul is sure footed when he writes in 2 Timothy 1:12, “For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”

As our Father is gentle toward us so are we called to be gentle with others; Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, “But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.”

As I look back over my life I am thankful for the correction, discipline, and chastisement of our Father; and I am also deeply thankful for His gentleness. Both His chastisement and His gentleness are expressions of His love, both are communicated through His grace and mercy. God is so big and vast and awesome, His is the Almighty One, His power is infinite…and yet as Jesus condescends to wash the feet of His disciples, God condescends toward us with His gentleness; He knows we are fragile and made of dust – the hands of the Almighty are tender with us lest His shatter and crush us – if we will receive it…His gentleness makes us great.

Does our gentleness, in Him, make others great?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

SAVORING MOMENTS: by Pauline Gunderson

Our friend Pauline Gunderson, is, as you will observe below, someone who pays attention to detail. If life is sacramental, as it surely is, then Pauline receives the grace of God in the great and the small of life’s experiences.

Reflections by Pauline Gunderson

Before going for an early morning walk at 6:40am, I hung the heart-shaped prism on the sliding-glass door.  The sun hadn’t peeked behind the clouds as yet. When I got back at 7:00am the sun was shining brightly, the heart-shaped prism refracting the spectrum of light with small rainbow-colored ovals on the sea-foam green living-room wall.  First I counted three.  As I moved to a different position I noticed five, when I moved again I saw six and finally at my last move - seven with one on the floor.  Taking a broader view, these colorful ovals were making an open circle.

At 7:15am there were only three ovals and the circle was shrinking.  The sun was rising, being blocked by the partially opened vertical blinds. One more appeared as I fully opened the blinds.  I experimented with moving the prism to other places on the glass doors to capture the direct sun.  Finally I achieved seven ovals splashed on two walls and the floor.  It seemed like a metaphor for me but what was the metaphor?

Yesterday, as I was driving to my last day of school before beginning my retirement, I thought about the assignment that our Principal Carol Moore had given to the faculty. Last fall, at a staff meeting, we were each given a small cream-colored collapsible gift box about 4” X 4.” She asked us to make a design on the outside or put something on the inside that would reflect our year.  I hadn’t given much thought to the assignment.   Now these gift boxes were due.  Different ideas had come to mind in the last few days. 

I had a lot to do that day with my replacement, coming from New York.  I wanted to make good use of her time so she would have a smooth transition in the fall.  In addition there were a myriad of details that I needed to take care of before I left school.

Then I thought about Panera.  For over seven years since moving to Virginia, my early morning routine is to enjoy a bagel with hazelnut cream cheese and hazelnut coffee with a splash of half and half or 2% milk.  My bagel favorites have changed little over the years.  They no longer make Apple Raisin or Carrot Raisin (not sure of name).  Now I enjoy Whole Grain.

I realized that I savored the time between 6:30 and 7:00am while enjoying my food and listening to classical music in the background. In the last year they’ve changed the type of music which is disappointing.   I like this definition of savor:  “to enjoy something in unhurried appreciation.”  This half hour is a delight to me before engaging in very busy days!  In recent years I sometimes shared that time with fellow-teacher Debby.   Tom was also a regular.  He connected his lap top at a corner table; sometimes showing me things on the computer. Ah-h-h!  In the gift box would go a bagel and a cup.  Since I’m an early childhood education teacher, we had a plastic cup and bagel in the dramatic play center. 

So what does the bagel and coffee have to do with the assignment?  I knew last fall that I would be retiring at the end of the year.  At the time I wasn’t consciously aware that I had a different perspective about this year.  Looking back, I savored more those moments with students individually and with my colleagues.  I took more time to just watch the students teach the preschoolers and observe the children at play and “work.”

Throughout many days I had unexpected challenges.  Just as I took notice of the heart- shaped prism refracting the sunlight on the wall in a rainbow of colors from different perspectives, I took time to listen more to the hurts and concerns of my students.  It shifted my perspective and I could see the facets of their lives more clearly.  I wanted to comfort and help them.  In those intimate moments I wanted them to know God was pouring out love to them, wanting them to lean on Him.

 God also has many facets; one of those facets is the God of Comfort.  Jesus said:

 “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  (Matt. 11:28)

I have experienced that rest in Jesus countless times. When I was going through a very difficult time (losing my job as the main bread winner, my marriage falling apart, losing the equity in our home, moving to Virginia alone, starting a brand-new career, being dependent on others and living alone for the first time in my life) I felt wrapped in His arms as I sometimes wept and drifted off to sleep at night.  I didn’t know until today that there is a hymn called, “Safe in the Arms of Jesus.”  I went on the internet and read and copied the lyrics and story behind the hymn.

“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”  (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

I relate to the following as expressed by Corrie Ten Boom: “We [Corrie and her sister] started comforting those around us [in the concentration camp].  We could comfort others because the Lord had comforted us.  He spoke through us to the people.  We were channels of living water, as the Lord had promised.”

Corrie Ten Boom (1892-1983), a Christian and native of Holland, was imprisoned in a concentration camp along with her father and sister who both died in the camp.  They had sheltered Jews from the Holocaust. She has inspired millions through her writings about that experience.

Jesus said to His disciples, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

I discovered the metaphor of the prism: Although an average vessel on the outside, if I focus on Christ in my life His glory will shine through in my actions as the sun shining through the heart-shaped prism. 

“And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.”  (Psalm 90:17)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Meditations on 1 John: XVI

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us, 1 John 2:19.

What does John mean by “they were not of us”? The preceding verse characterizes these people as antichrists and verse 22 tells us, “Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.” The confession of Jesus Christ, and all that such confession entails, is the essence of the Gospel, it is the essence of Christianity.

John begins his letter with Jesus Christ and with our koinonia in the Father and the Son and with each other. There are those who abide in the Trinity and there are those who don’t; there are those whose source of life is the Trinity and there are those who choose to draw their life from elsewhere. To not be “of us” is to not be in the koinonia of Jesus Christ. We enter into fellowship with Christ through confessional belief (the heart believes, the mind and will assent, the mouth and life speak) in Him; denial of Jesus Christ is rejection of Biblical Christianity.

On the one hand this seems a simple proposition, but it is not simple; basic yes, simple no. It is not simple even to those who think it simple, and of course it is not simple to those who by subterfuge masquerading as progressive scholarship or enlightened thinking undermine the confession of Jesus Christ thus producing a Christless Christianity.

I have often been asked why men and women who don’t believe the Bible and don’t believe in the Biblical Jesus Christ go to seminaries that don’t believe these things either and then go into pastoral ministry; to echo C.S. Lewis’s thinking – at least a clearly articulated atheist has integrity whereas these other people willingly take the money of many faithful people who have no idea that their pastors do not believe in the Biblical Jesus Christ. Sad to say that many entire congregations by now no longer profess even superficial belief in our Lord Jesus Christ as a result of generations of insidious pastors, teachers, and seminaries – what must the angels think? (This language is mild compared to the Biblical commentary on such people).

However, the foregoing is fairly obvious to the disciple of Jesus Christ; what is not obvious is what happens in our own camp – we allow substitute Christs, substitute confessions, to become our center of gravity. We confess home-schooling, we confess the end-times, we confess politics, we confess a particular “take” on the Holy Spirit, we confess a certain perspective on the sacraments, we confess a strident view on creation, we confess a program of social justice, we confess a style of music, and on and on we go with things and people other than Jesus Christ being our central and primary confession and love. If people know we are Christians by our love one to another, they also know our central confession by what we say, what we talk about, and what we invest ourselves in – the question is, “What are we known for?” If the answer is anything other than Jesus Christ then perhaps we should pause and consider where we are.

Simplistic? No. Basic yes, simplistic no; for not only does the world compete for our affection but religion competes for our affection. The danger to the Pharisees was not the world, it was religion. The Pharisees as a group could not “see” Jesus because of their man-made religious paradigms, they had put such a hedge around the Law that the light of the Law could not get out and the light of the Gospel could not get in.

What do people think about? Do they think about their church more than Jesus? Do they think about their church’s culture, its heritage, its way of doing things more than Jesus? Do they identify with their church first and Jesus second or third? Do people seek new knowledge and understanding and illumination more than they seek Jesus Christ? Do we have an external relationship with the Bible rather than an internal relationship (that expresses itself externally) with Jesus Christ?

Whether it is the relationship of Israel with Yahweh or the Church with Jesus Christ, the Biblical refrain is that “You have left Me for others”. Seldom does this mean a straightforward repudiation of Yahweh and Christ, rather it means a pollution of the relationship by spiritual adultery, by syncretism, by legalism – we are not just talking just about evil polluting the relationship, we are also talking about good polluting the relationship. This is basic but it is not simple.

If you are reading and rereading 1 John then you see repetition and more repetition and still more repetition – why the repetition?

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love,” Revelation 2:4.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Psalm 17

As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake, 17:15.

In this psalm, as in many of his psalms, David surveys the juxtaposition between the righteous and the unrighteous, between those who seek God and those who don’t. In verse 14 he writes of those who have their portion in this life; there are those who find their portion in God and then there are those who find their portion in this life; harkening back to Psalm 1 there are two kinds of people.

Jesus teaches us to build up treasure in heaven and warns us that our hearts can only be in one of two places and that we cannot serve two masters. Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The promises to the Seven Churches in Revelation center around the Presence of God and intimacy with Him, the consummation of the ages focuses on God’s people being in God’s presence; on God’s presence being with God’s people.

We read in Psalm 16:5, “Yahweh is the portion of my inheritance and my cup…” Is Jesus Christ enough for us? Is union with and in the Trinity enough for us? Are we fully satisfied with Jesus Christ or must we look elsewhere for fulfillment and satisfaction?

Is a bride enough for a bridegroom? Is a bridegroom enough for a bride? There are marriages in which the answer is “no”. There are proposed marriages that are canceled because issues arise that demonstrate that the marriage relationship is not enough in and of itself to fully satisfy the bride or the groom. There are marriages that break up because the groom or the bride is no longer enough for the other spouse.

Is Jesus Christ enough for us? Is knowing Jesus and being with Jesus for eternity enough for us? Is beholding the face of Jesus in daily life enough? Are we…will we…be satisfied simply with Jesus Christ?

Paul’s desire after many years of following Jesus continued to be: That I may know Him. The constant throughout Paul’s writings is Jesus Christ. Paul and the other Apostles can write letters addressing local circumstances and never lose their focus because their focus is always Jesus – this is one reason why their letters, inspired by the Holy Spirit, transcend time and place – the eternal Jesus captures their thoughts and holds all things together.

Give me a writer of any time and any place whose focus is Jesus Christ and that writer will benefit me today. On the other hand, give me a person whose message is driven by the daily news and I will give you a writer or teacher or preacher whose work will be of little or no benefit to future generations – let alone our own. The daily news is parochial and self-centered; Jesus Christ is transcendent and centered in God our Father; the former orientation is a tar pit, the latter is our destiny.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Bill's Prayer Journal

Last week I had coffee with a brother who I hadn't seen since 1996. During our time together Bill shared about his experience in praying for others. As I listened to his testimony I thought, "It would be great if he'd write about this." What follows is Bill's first description of his prayer journey. I hope this is an encouragement to you and I hope that Bill will share more of how God is using intercessory prayer to encourage him and others - thank you Bill for sharing your testimony!


In 2004, God laid it on my heart to start a prayer journal.  At first, it was prayer requests for family members, friends, and people from church and work.  Every once in a while I would get the courage to ask someone I was talking to on the phone if there was someone or a need I could put in my prayer journal so I could be praying for them.  But one day God clearly showed me that He wanted me to go beyond my comfort zone and also to reach out to strangers wherever He placed them in my path.

One day in Shoney’s I noticed a couple in the back of the restaurant who looked like they were really struggling.  I finished my lunch and paid and walked out to my car.  But then God said to me, “What are you doing?  That couple inside needs to know that someone cares and wants to lift their needs up in prayer.”  So I got a notepad, went back inside, and told them that God wanted me to let them know that He loved them and wanted me to pray for them.  The joy that filled their hearts that someone cared enough to share God’s love and to pray for them was overwhelmingly shining on their faces.  We prayed together before I left and I told them that I would continue to lift them up in prayer.  The joy in my heart from this experience cannot be expressed in words. 

Thus began a prayer journey for me that has been going on for over nine years and a prayer journal that now has nearly two thousand entries.  Over the next several weeks, I will share with you the amazing journey I have experienced through my prayer journal which is inspired by God.

My purpose for doing this blog entry is to give God all the praise and glory for answered prayers while, at the same time, to encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and reach out to those who need someone to say, “God loves YOU and He wants me to pray for you.”

God bless you!