Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Sunday, October 2, 2011
My Bethany friends,
We are now on the “other side” of Spiritual Advancement. We are into the semester routine…and for many of us that might mean we have misplaced some of the realities we discovered just 10 short days ago. On this Sabbath, could we take just a few moments to reflect upon both the profound words that were shared and the effects in our lives of the movement of the Spirit in our midst. Question: Are you the same today as you were before Rev. Clint Ussher came to Bethany? Can you see yourself falling back into some of the same, possibly even more destructive habit patterns as before? May it not be so!
Think with me about John chapter 5. This passage depicts a beautiful story of Jesus’ care and compassion for the disabled of the world. But more than that, it’s a description of the wholeness that Jesus offers to all who hear His voice. Listen to the description of the event, “Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie-- the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. (ESV 5:2, 4)” Traditionally, as story is told, an angel would “stir up” the water in the pool and the first one to get in would be immediately healed. But the story goes on, “One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’”
Now, you might think that the answer to Jesus’ question is obvious. I mean, the man is in the right place isn’t he? He’s here, near the temple, waiting for a miracle, his miracle. But in actuality, Jesus is not simply asking a question, He is holding a mirror up to the man. How could a paralyzed man be the first to get in the pool? And he has been going through the same quasi-hopeful routine for 38 years. Maybe, just maybe, he is comfortable with the situation that he knows.
But what in actuality is Jesus asking him? Several translations word it this way, “Do you want to be healed?” (ESV) or “Do you want to be made well?”(NKJ, NASB, NIV). Neither word choice gets at the heart of Jesus’ question. Listen to my translation of the unusual word, “Do you want to be made whole?” This word occurs 11 x’s in NT; 9 in Gospels (Matt. 12:13; 15:31; Mark 5:34; John 5:6, 9, 11, 14f; 7:23; Acts 4:10; Titus 2:8). Outside of our use in John 5, the most revealing is in the passage concerning the woman with the issue of blood. Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”(Mark 5:34 NIV)
Now, to John, the question Jesus is asking the man by the pool (and us) is this, “Do you want me to free you from what is destroying you?” Now, hear me carefully when I say, it’s not just his physical condition which is eating away at him. The man may not realize it but its more so his lack of faith that there will ever be any remedy. Moreover, we get even more insight into the man’s spiritual dilemma after his healing when “Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well!” (FYI, “well” is the same word we discussed above but this time in the perfect tense; “See, you are restored to wholeness”). But then Jesus goes on and says, “Sin no more that nothing worse may happen to you.’” Jesus explicitly states there are decisions that one can make which can return you to the same situation that you were in before Spiritual Advancement Week. Oh, please do not return but only go forward with the Presence of the Lord.
So, what will each of us do to keep from going back but rather to pursue Wholeness in our lives? First, “Align your lives with the means of grace God has put in your path.” For us here at Bethany, this is place before us every week.
- How about being transparent and utterly open before God and others with your life.
- How about the simplicity of reading a Psalm of Ascent (Psalm 121 for example) as you are walking to chapel. Prepare yourself for the meeting with God. Do not passively sit by the pool…but actively participate with Him. Expect to meet Him even before walking into the chapel.
- Make sure in the busy-ness of your schedule you set aside time for personal Bible study or to meet for public and private prayer. So many people are gathering for prayer walks or times of corporate prayer. Why not engage with them in a pursuit of the high-calling of Christ. Moreover, make D-Group not just another “check” on your Day-Timer but an opportunity to calibrate your spiritual compass in the direction of how God would like to fashion your Soul to look just like Him!
Second, one true shortcoming of many folks today who are trying to overcome spiritual shortcomings in their lives is that they attempt to remain in the grace of God all alone. Just like the man in John 5, “I have no one to put me into the pool for healing.” So why not intentionally align yourself with a spiritual mentor or guide, someone who is farther along the journey than yourself, and knows that wholeness can be attained because they live it before you each day.
May Your wholeness be what we seek.
May Your Spirit guide us on this journey.
May Your Body here on earth assist each of us.
May Your Image be re-created within our hearts.
May the pleasure of Your voice be what we long for, “For you are my beloved child, in you I am well-pleased.”
May we never stop short of anything less.
Monday, May 9, 2011
The Greek word for "complete" is the verb "teleiow" which is often translated as "finished." The initial words of Jesus' prayer are that He wants to bring God glory on earth by "finishing" His work. This prayer is of course a foreshadowing of Jesus' final cry from the Cross in John's Gospel, "It is finished."
Specifically, what is finished? This would include His work of reconciliation, of adoption, of sacrifice, of suffering, of abandonment, of forgiveness. For you as ministers, remember, Jesus is doing this work NOT you.
PLEASE listen to me carefully apply this text to your lives, this was His work.
This is so much more than an exegetical exercise.
For either we learn to live in the "it-is-finished-ness" or you will try to complete what you think or you feel is lacking in the work of God.
If the work that Jesus has completed actually brought Glory to God, should we tamper with it? Should we add to it? Or should me simply marvel in it? Hear me, IT IS Finished.
All of you graduates have completed your internship. And you know only too well that when you take all the cares of the world and the burden of ministry upon yourself; it is exhausting beyond belief. Hear me, IT IS Finished.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Friends, last week we were talking about what it means to simply "listen and obey." But in all practicality, there is nothing simple about this. If so, we would never have an inner struggle of faith plus there would be no disobedience in the Christian world.
So, what is so hard about listening? Maybe I can paint a spiritual metaphor that will define the overall problem. And I will do it in the form of a theological question. "What would make Sponge-Bob Square-pants a poor follower of Christ?" Go ahead, say it out loud. Right, "He has no ears." How can he listen if he has no ears? In essence, he is a spiritual blockhead. But that is nothing like us, right?
Read with me Psalm 40:6-8 …and let's create a "Theology of the Ear."
Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired;My ears You have pierced;Then I said, "Behold, I come;In the scroll of the book it is written of me.I delight to do Your will, O my God;Your Law is within my heart."
Several years ago a male student burst into my office with Psalm 40 in his hand. He shouted, "I have all the biblical evidence I need. See, even God approves my ears being pierced." Now, he was trying to find scripture to justify to his parents that they should approve his desire to get his ears pierced. He read the text as if this act would be his offering to the Lord. I tried to convince him that he had unknowingly taken the passage out of context. For the NIV does a strange job of translating the Hebrew word kara. He was assuming this passage was referring to the act of faithfulness that a servant/slave does for his master by making a lifetime commitment by having his ear pierced. (See Ex 21:6; Deut 15:17). His only problem; it's the wrong Hebrew word.
The word "pierced" in Psalm 40 is a rarely used in the OT and it refers quite specifically to a cistern being dug out (Gen 26:26Num 21:18). The noun form of the word actually means "well" or "cistern." What the passage is describing is straightforward; we are human SpongeBobs. We have hands and feet (and are often found to be equally poor dressers). But worst of all, we have no real ears to hear the voice of God. Offering and sacrifices do not help in any way. God's words still falls on deaf ears. Furthermore, it will take a divine act of grace to fashion ears on the side of our heads that will hear anything above the earthly noise that fills our daily life. Our ears are only capable of hearing the within the auditory range of what I would call "daily distraction."
The Gospels report the same hearing disorder to Jesus disciples. After they have witnessed countless miracles and sat under His teaching for years, Jesus sadly says to them, "Do you still not see or understand. Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see? Do you have ears but fail to hear? (Mark 8:17-18)
We are no different. Maybe we are even affected with a worse disease; for they all lived pre-Cross and pre-Resurrection. Our deafness is rejecting the full revelation of God. Plus, what honor or praise are we giving to a speaking God if there are no human ears to hear?
So, may I now ask you a serious question? This very day, will you allow the Lord, the Divine Physician Himself to do a serious act of spiritual surgery on you? Will you let Him fashion a whole new set of ears for you? Will you permit Him to dig out and excavate your old deaf ears and replace them with ones that are capable of hearing even the gentlest whisper of the Spirit? Does your heart long to hear the voice of the Father, with clarity?
We desire to want what You want.
We pray for hearts to be shaped after Yours.
But Jesus, that may only begin when we can hear Your Word.
So begin with me this very day.
Use a divine instrument (Heb 4:12-13) and provide us with the ability to hear You.
We pledge to quiet all competing voices and distractions.
We promise to incline our lives in Your direction.
Now, Lord, heal our ears, dig deep into the recesses of our souls.
We long to hear…and obey.
Now, Go with God
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Last week, we discussed the issue of finding and obeying God's will. In my mind, the term, "God's will" sounds just a bit distant and disconnected. As if "His will" is something God keeps hidden from us and we have to wrestle Him for it, much like Jacob at Bethel. Can I change that paradigm for you, because I do not think anything could be farther from the truth. What if we made the statement just a bit more relational…I want us to learn to hear God's voice.
A great place to start would be the key parable in each of the Synoptic Gospels. Take just a minute and read Mark 4:1-9
Jesus began to teach again by the sea. And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land. And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching,
Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; as he was sowing,
some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up.
Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.
Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop.
Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.
And He was saying, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
Often when I hear sermons preached or Bible Studies done on this passages, the discussion circles about the call of this passage to be "good soil." But there is nothing explicit about this in the parable. There is only one imperative Greek verb in the whole passage. Sorry to sound like a Greek geek but in actuality there is only one command in the entire parable, its found in the word, LISTEN. The hallmark of being a Christ follower is simply listening to His voice. Let's not make this more complicated than it is; just listen. As a matter of fact, the parable begins and ends with the same call; use your ears and listen. But that takes us to the next step, the implication to obey.
Now once we have the "listening thing" clear in our minds…let's read one of the best know passages, Romans 12:1-2.
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
As you probably know, this is a power packed passage, worth pondering and carefully exegeting. But let's focus our attention to the clear cause-and-effect description given by the Apostle Paul. He is saying this, First, present your bodies as a living sacrifice (somewhat of an oxymoron)…then you be able to prove what the will of God is.
Think about this question, "Why you want to know the will of God?" Be honest with yourself. Most people ask to know the Lord's will so that they can ponder if they like what He is asking of them…or even worse, if they even want to obey. Let me make this as clear as I can, our task is not to consider the option of obeying or even mull over what part we like or will consider doing. Our act of faith is just to say, "Yes Lord Yes." So, if you really want to know the Lord's will, just say YES…and then ask Him what we have agree to. Simply, sign on the dotted line and then follow Him as the faith contract begins to be written in your daily walk.
Finding the Will/voice of God is just saying YES, in advance of knowing what it is. That is true faith…and it will make your life so much easier to live. Temptations to disobey will cease to become a part of your walk, because you have already agreed to His will.
Give us ears to hear and hearts that are undivided towards Your will
Jesus, give us a holy walk which resembles Yours.
Now, Go with God (and keep listening…and say "Yes" when we hear)
Sunday, October 3, 2010
My new, and deeply growing Bethany friends.
Several years ago, as I was stepping out of the classroom and into more of an administrative roll, Dr. Keith Drury suggested that if I was concerned with losing my level of influence with students, I should begin writing to them a weekly "open-letter." Thus, I started writing about my musings of life and my exegetical insights in the Word. It was affectionately titled, Go with God, since those are the last three words I pronounce over you as you would walk out of my classroom.
So, once again, I find myself without a classroom. Thus, I have no convenient place to share my insights. So I was wondering if I could think of you as my sounding board? (Wikipedia defines sounding board this way: A structure placed above or behind a pulpit or other speaking platform that helps to project the sound of the speaker.) Perfect. Will you help me refine and project my engagement with the Lord?
So, here I … Go with God.
Years ago (yes, 1992); Christian music artist Darly Coley wrote a song entitled, "When the Music Stops." The opening line goes like this,
When the music stops, that's when I live my song…
That thought kept coming to mind all this last week since we are in our first week, post-Spiritual Advancement. The music has stopped, the services are over and the Lord is asking us to daily walk in the freedom we received and to live out the commitments we made. This seems to so easy to do while basking in the glory of the moment but Oh so hard in the mundane routine of Monday through Friday. Might I add, this was no easier for the disciples as they walked with Jesus than it is for you and me.
Let's start with reading Mark 9:2-13 It's OK, I'll wait for you.
My first observation is that Jesus, in His wonderfully graceful way, does not respond to Jesus' impulsive statement but rather the Gospel writer Mark interjects his inspired insights with a subtle parenthetical comment
(Peter did not know what to say, they were so frightened).
Simply, Peter did not know how to react or even worse, how to integrate this mountaintop experience into his normal everyday life. And his immediate response was, let's just do away with the day-to-day monotony and instead, stay here and worship 24/7. Let's just make everyday a Sabbath day.
Notice how second comes a divine revelation clothed in a theophony (define this as a God-moment). A cloud descended and a voice appeared. If you were a good first-century Jew, this would remind you of the Giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai, (see Exodus 20). The voice of the Father comes and speaks directly to the three disciples, "This is my Son whom I love, Listen to Him!"
So what does this have to do with determining the Lord's will for everyday life! (This is the application part). First and foremost, just listen to Jesus. Please do not think that the "art of listening" is isolated to your ears. In every language "the act of listening" implies obedience, making this just as much a matter of the heart. So please, never say, "I heard from God, yet I decided to act differently." That, my friends, is called open rebellion.
Second, (and I love this part) listening does not demand that you fully comprehend all the implications of what Jesus means. For example, as the disciples are coming down the mountain, Jesus told the disciples "not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead?" (9:9). And they discussed "what this rising from the dead" meant. What a relief that is! I do not need to fully comprehend every single theological and practical nuance of Jesus' teaching to find and follow His will. I merely need to listen. Life has just become so simple
So you might ask, what do we as a Bethany Community do following Spiritual Advancement week? How do we find and follow God's will after we come down from the mountain? Well, we start with our ears (and heart). But of course there is more and I'd like to take the next several weeks and discuss in detail, finding God's will…and of course, implementing this into the fabric of our community.
Next week, after we hear, to know God's will, we simply say YES.
Again and again in Your Word, you call "those with ears to hear"
So please tune our ears to hearken to Your voice.
Help fashion our ability to listen as You speak
Shout, speak, or whisper; we are here.
Your Word originally was a creative act,
So, in our lives, please make this a re-creative work of grace.
Now, Go with God (and keep listening)