Sunday, March 30, 2008

March 31, 2008

A "Go with God" moment.

Last week was Easter Sunday. But life moves on, whether we want it to or not. In actuality, the lilies and the empty tomb is a fading memory; especially with countless school project deadlines looming on the horizon. But never fear; Pentecost is fast approaching.

Question; What is the “point” of Pentecost?” Is the gift of the Spirit given to provide each Christian with assurance that they are saved? Certainly that is a fine answer…but it could be more? Is there a deeper theological agenda that God has in store with our lives?

It initially comes to light in the Old Testament when we note that salvation is always seen as taking place in families, tribes, or what might be termed “community.” My Inductive Bible Study class just finished doing an interpretative assignment on the Book of Ruth. One truth that arose is that the actual redemption that Naomi and Ruth experienced is by the people of Bethlehem as they followed the “torah” of God. Salvation came through the Law as fulfilled by God’s people.

But is there a change in God’s plan with the life and death of Jesus? Is it now about individuals being saved? Sorry, that kind of thinking arises not from God changing His mind but from our modern American climate which elevates the rights of an individual above the group.

Jesus’ perspective can best be encapsulated with His prayer in John 17. Listen:
After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: "Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. (17:1)

My first thought arises with His initial statement which give us the theme of the Father-Son relationship; mutual edification. In Trinitarian conversations, it’s not about “me” but about “we”. After that initial statement, we see that the rest of the prayer is broken into three sections;

  • 17:1-5 Jesus prayer for mutual glory;
  • 17:6-19 Jesus prays for His disciples;
  • 17: 20-26 Jesus prays for all future believers.

The item of note is the similar theme which unites the second and third sections; Jesus’ prayer for one-ness:

17:11 - I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name-- the name you gave me-- so that they may be one as we are one.
17:20-23 - My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Three quick points. First, this theme of one-ness comes on the heels on three chapters (John 14-16) of discussion by Jesus on why it is “good that I leave you.” For if I go away, the Father will send you another Comforter (i.e., Holy Spirit). Thus, one-ness is not based upon human effort, but it’s a Spiritual unification of the Body. Second, unity is the final prayer of Jesus for believers. Not that you be “saved” for that is simply a means to the end. The final prayer is one-ness.

Third, this changes everything with how we will now think about evangelism. For Jesus’ prayer states clearly, “so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Friends, it is the Holy Spirit who makes us one and it is the same Holy Spirit who will draw outsiders in. It is the Spirit-filled body of Christ that is the key to redeeming the lost. It’s not the memorizing of the “four spiritual laws.” Nor is it a perfectly formed apologetic argument. No, its solely (or maybe “soul-ly”) up to us submitting to the Spirit of Christ and allow Him to form us into His image.

Now that’s Pentecost. I can not wait.

Monday, March 24, 2008

March 24, 2008

A “Go With God” moment.

Welcome back from Easter “Holy-day.” As an aside, but I’ve heard too many times, people saying, “Have a great Easter Break”; as if this is time off to rest or to catch up on work that you are behind on. Rather, the reason IWU dismisses classes on Good Friday and the Monday after Easter, is clearly missional; so you can focus your attention on worship with family and friends on the most important “Holy-Day” of the year.

Did you also note that Easter is the end of Lent? We have spent the last six weeks preparing ourselves, through personal denial to be ready for Easter…and now its over. So now we as Christians can now put the spiritual stuff to rest until the end of the semester? Right? I mean nothing comes after Easter of any significance until Advent and Christmas. Nothing tops the Resurrection, right? Well, maybe Easter is the catalyst of another event in the life of the church is not yet completed; Pentecost. Originally, Pentecost was one of the three main pilgrimage feasts in the life of ancient Israel. It comes 50 days after Passover, with the celebration of the harvest. In the early church it also commemorates the arrival of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the praying 120. According to Luke’s theology, it is the climax of the promise made by the Father (Luke 24:45-49). Wow, the Resurrection is not the trump card? And it is what the early church was instructed to wait for in Acts 1:4-8. We are not to wait for the returning Christ, but to wait for the Holy Spirit.

May I put it to you simply? Jesus’ death and resurrection is not only to serve as a means of forgiving your sins. If that is the way you view Easter, your thinking is far too reductionistic, self-centered, and reeks of a modern western individualism. Read that statement as follows, “Easter is all about my (singular) relationship to Jesus.” Rather, the New Testament as a whole understands Easter as a precursor for making possible the shaping of the Body of Christ into His Image here on earth. This is almost exclusively portrayed in the New Testament in a corporate/community sense, not individually. Maybe we can think of Pentecost this way, “Through the Power of the Holy Spirit, WE are being fashioned into ONE.” Those are not really my original thoughts, but they are a paraphrase of Jesus’ prayer to His Father in John 17. Remember that John chapters 14-16, at least in part, are about the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus actually tells the disciples that “it is or your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7)

Now, listen to the Son pray:
“My prayer is not for them [disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21).

Think of it this way, Easter and the Ascension lay the groundwork for Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the church; empowering us to live a “Christ-like life.” And that Christ-like life is best described in “one-ness.” And the best model is the Trinity. The concept of Pentecost should be that we resemble the relationship of the Father-Son-Holy Spirit. And if you say, “That’s impossible,” I dare say, you have just limited the work of God in your life. Make that our life. For your faith indeed impacts my life, for good or for...well you get the picture.

So, for the next several weeks in the Monday Memo, we will be looking at what a “Spirit-filled Body” should look like. Think of this as Lenten preparation, Part 2.

BTW, Pentecost Sunday is May 11.

Let the preparation begin. Maybe begin by asking yourself these questions:

  1. What is the purpose of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church?
  2. What is the purpose of the Holy Spirit in my life?
  3. Is there a difference and if so, why?

BTW, Pentecost Sunday is May 11.

Lord Jesus;
We desperately need the power of Your Spirit in our lives.
But Jesus, power as You define it, not my concept
Make it Your Will and Your way.
I want nothing short of Your work.
Make me an instrument for the world to see You.
You may begin today.

Now, Go with God.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

March 17, 2008

A "Go with God" moment:

Let me give you two scripture passages which have always seemed strange to me. The first one comes at the end of Luke’s Gospel on the first Easter Sunday. The second one comes right in the middle of the Gospel of John, yet it still occurs during Holy Week.

Listen carefully as Luke describes an event on the first Easter Sunday: “When Jesus had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” (Luke 24:37-38) My first reaction is “huh?” they did not believe because of joy? How can joy or amazement be a hindrance to anyone’s belief? I thought, you might say, that joy should be an outgrowth or a result of faith, how on earth could it prohibit real faith?

Now take a moment and hear John relate people’s response to Jesus after his Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem. Remember, throughout His ministry (at least the previous three years) he has performed innumerable signs (many more than seven, see 2:23; 20:30) bearing witness to who He is, especially in relationship to the Father. So what a shock then when we read, “Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.” (John 12:37) This one for me is especially troubling. The word “performed” is in the Greek perfect tense (sorry to be such a Greek geek), which could be translated “the signs He preformed which have an on-going substantive effect in your life.” And the word “believe” is in the imperfect tense and could be rendered, “continually chose not to believe.” So, John is really saying even though you enjoy and experience the benefits of Jesus’ signs, you refuse to acknowledge Him as the benefactor of your good fortune or believe He is God’s Son.

Wow, rejection in the face of grace. I’m thankful I live today, and am not affected by such shameful action. Or am I? Question: “Is there a danger if you and I begin to expect God’s grace to be part of every day life? To put it another way, if I no longer see it as the gift that it is but rather as what is owed to me, say a “spiritual entitlement.” Let’s see if we can come up with an example. Think for a moment about some of the special facilities we have at IWU;
  • McConn…I’d like a mocha-java-decaf-double-shot-latte with cinnamon and whipped cream; and just swipe me.
  • Baldwin, three (no count it, four meals a day with fat meal). Then there is Wildcat which serves more food selections than all the restaurants on the Bypass combined.
  • A state-of-the-art Rec & Wellness Center and Intramural activities night and day (often more night than day).
  • A NEW campus. I mean, we live on a new campus that only has one building older than any of you students. That is of course the old CM Noggle building, which is in the midst of complete renovation.
  • Your own private community. Now, this is not what the Apostle Paul would call the “body of Christ” but I mean you have built-in friends everywhere on campus. You never have to look or intentionally make plans to visit with someone; you merely have to look up from the book you are reading and we have created for you “instant companionship.” If you do not believe my definition, just ask anyone who has graduated recently if I’m telling you the truth. They have to go to work 8 hours a day, then stop at Wal-Mart on the way home, buy food, cook it, clean up, pay money to join a health club (if there is time to work out), and then friends, where on earth do I find friends (or if I have friends, where is the time to be with them?)

Would you mind if I asked you a few questions,

  • Do you ever take the gifts of the IWU campus as a personal privilege?
  • Do you simply assume it will be here tomorrow or that it should be yours; or maybe complain when it is not available?
  • Can you sincerely pray the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread” when you still have 90+ meals left for the semester?
  • Is there even a place for God to show Himself as our provider when we already have it all? Now does the passage of scripture in Luke 24 make sense, “They did not believe because of their joy?”

Let me try to make a specific application. If our faulty concept of joy is actually getting in the way of our spiritual development, “What do we do?” This week is Holy Week, the 7 days which lead up to Easter. Lent should be a time of self-denial and inner-searching. Maybe try this:

  1. Focus upon the issues of Doulos this week. Instead of trying to find someone of the other sex as your recreation for the week (spring focus on IWU campus as we all know); what if you rather focused on re-creation; freeing someone who currently is a slave to sex.
  2. Before you return home for Easter Break; fast and pray for at least 24 hours. Give something up that you haven take for granted. Maybe, just maybe your physical needs will become a bit less of a priority in your life.
  3. Pray about taking a short-term mission trip. You need to see “real joy” that radiates from someone who has absolutely no material possessions. For many Americans, that is one of the greatest “signs/miracles” they will ever see.
  4. Instead of spending $4 on a Chai Tea special drink; give the money to a redemptive cause. See number 1.
  5. And if you do not buy the drink at McConn, intentionally invest that hour not with a casual friend but instead walk down to Colonial Oaks Nursing home (4725 S Colonial Oaks Dr, Marion, IN; 10 minute walk from campus). Spend 60 minutes with someone who has not had a visitor for a month. Call it, “Adopt a grand-parent.” Trust me on this when I say, your casual friend will never miss you; your adoptive grand-parent will not stop talking about your visit for a week! “What you do unto the least of these you do unto me.”
  6. Direct your attention to the local church this week; i.e., attend Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. Find a place to practice the Holy Sacrament of Communion.
  7. Take 90 minutes this week and read thru John 12-21; Holy Week according to John. It will re-orient priorities.

Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)

We want joy that emanates from You; not the world’s second rate substitutes.
We fear that we might settle for the temporal over the eternal;
We do not want joy that comes from what we buy rather we desire what You have purchased for us.
We want to want what You want.
This week, Lord; we want to see with Divine eyes.

Now, Go With God.

March 10, 2008


Welcome back from the sun (if you were so blessed), or from the snow (if you stayed closer to home). I hope and pray that you experienced true “Sabbath rest” during your time away. You and I both know that the rest of the journey this semester will be an all-out sprint.
So let me pray Isaiah 40 over you this morning;
May those who hope in the Lord renew their strength;
May you soar on wings like eagles.
May you run and not grow weary;
May you walk and not be faint.

I want you to keep in mind that Fall 2008 registration is right around the corner. It begins for seniors on Tuesday March 25th and will last for two weeks thru April 11. You will need to take into consideration several alterations to the major classes PLUS take note of several new course offerings.

  1. New Classes of Interest
    a. REL 2XX Christian Spirituality/ Spiritual Formation 2:20 MWF Jim Lo (Class will be listed soon on-line)
    b. REL325 Centuries of Song 9:25 T/TH Constance Cherry.
    c. PHL430: Advanced Topics; C.S. Lewis; MWF; 8:55 Scott Burson
  2. N.B. (Nota Bene; Latin for "Note well") If you plan to graduate in the Spring 2009.
    a. REL431 Wesleyan Church History (fall 2008 ONLY) 1:40 T/TH David Vardaman
    b. REL468 Church Leadership (spring 2009 ONLY) 9:25 T/TH Keith Drury
    c. REL482 CM Capstone (fall 2008 ONLY) T/TH 3:15-4:10
    d. YTH370 Youth Counseling (fall 2008 ONLY) 6:15 T Sandi Duecker

February 25, 2008

A "Go with God" moment:

For more than the last two decades, my deepest desire has been to bring the light of the Gospel to my family. For some reason, my light has been “dim” to say the least. My true disappointment is that I have been able to take the Gospel around the world, but been unable to touch my family with a transforming message. As many of you know, I have been home with my ailing mother for the last week, watching her pass from this life to the next; still waiting for God to speak through me. It did not materialize, at least as I expected.

First, as my family and I sat in vigil around my mother’s bed; we began talking about spiritual things like never before. Wonderfully, it was triggered as I was grading Inductive Bible Study assignments. My family asked me questions about the type of students at IWU. I related story after story of who you are and why you are at IWU, and most importantly what God is doing in your lives. It was your lives, my friends, that brought the gospel light in my conversations. My family wanted to hear more and more about you. Further, I told them about students who were gathering together for a prayer just for us, and our needs in this difficult time. Students, it was you and your actions that were bearing testimony about the goodness of God to the most important people in my life. Thanks be to God for you.

Second, the funeral home visitation took place during a terrible winter storm on Thursday evening in Columbus Ohio. The turn out was a bit less than I had hoped for to comfort my father. Just before we left, in walked my pastor, Rev. Steve DeNeff. He had driven from Marion in the storm to spend time with me and to pray with my father. All evening long Dad kept asking me, “What kind of man is he and why would he drive through a snow-storm to be with us?” Seemingly, “self-less Christian love” demands an explanation. As Pastor Steve was driving home (it took him 6 hours for a 3 hour drive), I text-messaged him these words, “Steve, you are a great preacher but the best sermon I have ever heard you preach was the one you whispered to my family through your presence. Thanks be to God for you.”

Third, Friday morning I was trying to calm my emotions as I was to deliver the eulogy for my mother. I desperately want to house my love for her within the greater story of love, Jesus’ Gospel. And these are the same words that I have wanted to share with my family for decades. As I walked into the sanctuary I gazed upon the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. In the pew directly behind mine was the entire Religion faculty in prayerful support. They had traveled hours to be with me at that pivotal moment. My emotions let loose in a strangely comforting manner. God was freeing me to house my words with tears. After the service, the Religion faculty was the first to greet my father. One after another they expressed their shared sorrow for his loss. Another sermon was being preached by lives lived for Jesus. All day long my family inquired why so many sacrificed so much of their time. “Christian love” was the topic of the day. Thanks be to God for you.

Each of you became the living embodiment of the Gospel. I am so tired today, emotionally and physically. But spiritually, I am singing the song by Twila Paris:

How beautiful the hands that served
the wine and the breadand the sons of the earth.
How beautiful the feet that walked
the long dusty roadsand the hills to the cross.
How beautifulhow beautifulhow beautiful is the body of Christ.

You, Body of Christ are beautiful. And this Monday Morning, I am “Going with God” because of your prayers for the presence of Christ in my family. Thanks be to God, for you.

Now, God with God

February 18, 2008

A "God with God" moment

This weekend I’ve been spending long hours at my mother’s bedside. She is in the final stages of her long battle with lung and liver cancer. It’s times like this that begs the question: what is important in life? And how will you maintain that priority when so much of life tugs at you to deviate from your life mission?

Last week I laid before you the thought of pondering and then setting what I called “Life values.” The purpose that they serve is that they assist you in making decisions not upon situations but according to godly values that are determined before a decision needs to be made. I gave to you the fist two foundational values last Monday:
1. Transformation: I believe in the power of a transformed life. I will never forget where I have come from; a sinner saved by grace. However, with the empowerment of the Spirit of God, I will not allow my “past” to prevent Christ from fully reshaping His image within me.
2. Integrity: I will display before all people my transparent self. I will not worry about what I can not control. Rather, I will work on what I can control; first and foremost myself.
Ironically (or maybe providentially) as I spend so much time in the house in which I was raised, this week’s value expresses how I want to honor God and express my priority to others in my home:
3. Home: I will make home a non-negotiable priority; I will succeed at home first. May I always point my wife and children towards Christ and may they reciprocate.

Friends, last week I had to make a decision. Do I stay in Marion and teach classes, grade papers, and attend meetings, or do I go home to be with my parents; with a grieving father who is watching his life-partner of 56 years slowly pass from one life to another, and to be with my mother gently whispering into her ear all the final words a son longs to say to a loving mother? Now that was an easy decision; fully supported by friends and administration here at IWU. But how about when the issues are not so black-and-white, when there are competing issues which seem equally valid and God honoring. How do you make these decisions?

Here is my example. Angie and I were married. I was in the beginning stages of writing my dissertation. She was working 9-5 financially supporting the family. I was Mr. Mom, caring for two pre-teens by day, writing my dissertation by night. One evening we had the wonderful opportunity to entertain a world renowned New Testament scholar for dinner at our home; his name is Martin Hengel. He had taught at the University of Tubingen (Germany) for many years and at the time was the top of the academic world for New Testament research. As we were passing pleasantries before dinner, he inquired about the topic of my dissertation. I told him I was researching on the “presentation of the Gospel of Mark in a first century oral culture.” His interest was immediate and he asked question after question on my approach. During dinner, he boldly asked (in front of Angie), “Why do you not come to Germany and spend six months researching the subject under my tutelage? [FYI, in my mind, that would be like a youth pastor being asked by Rick Warren to come to Saddleback Church to learn about ministry.]
As you can imagine, this was all I could think about for the next several weeks. I was mentally trying to figure out how our children could be cared for in my absence. I was also thinking how impressed people would be seeing Martin Hengel as a mentor and as an academic reference. One night [lovingly I might add], Angie asked how and when my priorities changed? She asked, “Since when does your resume take precedence over our children? She simply wanted to know when my values had changed. As you can imagine, I tried to “persuasively” convince her that this is a once in a life-time opportunity. Moreover, I argued, just find one of my academic peers who would disagree with this “self-made study abroad” program. Her words were simple, “I agree. It’s a wonderful opportunity. But is it more important than the value you place on caring for your children while we are in school together? While I work, you promised to put them first.”
After wrestling with God for several hours, I knew that she was right. My value, my Home priority was that I will always win at home first. This allowed me to see this offer not as an opportunity to be self-promoting (nice resume, Dave) but rather as an occasion to show my children they are the most important people in my life.

Remember the passage of scripture in the Sermon on the Mount, “For where your treasure is there your heart will be.” This is Matthew’s way of substantiating his argument that worldly accolades and material possessions will surely disappear (Just ask my mom today) but what remains are the kingdom values upon which shape your life decisions. As for me and my house, “I will succeed at home first.” Friends, how do you place a value on family, friends, and relationships? Can you word it in a way that will assist you in making some of the most difficult decisions?

Your mind and wisdom is what we seek.
Not to be smart, but to be a reflection of Christ in a world bent on success.
Would You reorient our values to appear just a bit more servant-life than self-serving.
For the sake of Your kingdom.

Now, Go with God.

February 11, 2008

A "Go with God" moment

How do you make decisions? There are a multitude of models and a plethora of books on the subject. Maybe in an attempt to be objective in the matter, you make a check list of pros and cons. How about strengths vs. weaknesses. If you are business-like you may employ the SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Some of you resonate with this logical approach (otherwise known as left-brained thinkers) while others of you make decisions based upon your heart. Let’s call it a more intuitive approach (that’s you right-brained, feeling folks). You may be one of the folks who look at the whole picture rather than sub-dividing it into smaller decisions.

I also know that many of you are in the midst of making decisions each and every day…about jobs (summer or for you seniors, real life employment), classes (that can mean “going or not” or is there time to do all my homework), relationships (DTR trumps all this week with Valentines Day). And on a Christian campus such as this, God is called upon to “sanctify” these in lieu of other alternatives.

But there may be a middle ground, where you can make godly decisions incorporating both reason and intuition. It can be done in part by making decisions in advance. You say, “How is that possible?” Well, let me give you an example. In Romans 12:1-2, we read
“I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-- this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-- his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Did you read carefully the cause-and-effect relationship in the passage? When we make a decision in advance to offer ourselves to God THEN we will know what His will is! Our real problem is that our decision-making process usually functions in the reverse. We tell God to reveal His will THEN we decide if we will obey. In honesty, if we are pondering whether or not to obey God, we are already in trouble. To make godly decisions, we must order our lives (and decisions) according to His Kingdom values. And being a Christ-follower means that we will do so in advance.

Over the years, I have tried to find a way to integrate Jesus-values into a personal list to help in making decisions, both big and small. So if you will allow me, over the next few weeks, I will try to give examples that I have implemented into my own decision-making process. I call them life-values. The first two set the groundwork for all the others.

1.Transformation: I believe in the power of a transformed life. I will never forget where I have come from: a sinner saved by grace. However, with the empowerment of the Spirit of God, I will not allow my “past” to prevent Christ from fully reshaping His image within me.
2. Integrity: I will display before all people my transparent self. I will not worry about what I can not control. Rather, I will work on what I can control; first and foremost myself.

May we see what You see
May we honor what You honor
May we love what You love
May we value what You value
May we decide in advance to follow You.
Now Lord, tell us where we are going.

Now, Go with God

February 4, 2008

A "Go With God" Moment:

This last week I was reading Mark 5 with an IBS class. I’ve read this account of Jesus healing the woman with the issue of blood countless times but I am always delighted when the Lord shows me something fresh and new. In class, we were discussing the “Big Picture” perspective of this passage. The passage really begins with the disciples’ question regarding Jesus after He has calmed the winds and the waves; “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” The whole story moves carefully yet climactically to the story of the raising of Jarius’ daughter from the dead at the end of chapter 5. The woman with the “flow of blood” is often hidden as a side note on the way. It is certainly a miracle itself, but maybe not as impressive as Jesus’ “controlling of nature” in 4:35-41 or His “raising of the dead” in 5:42. But if you asked the woman herself, she would never speak of her encounter with Jesus in any second-class language. She would tell you that she has been cut off from community for twelve years, for the “flow of blood” is a euphemism for a twelve year menstrual cycle. Culturally that makes her “unclean” and without access to God (through the temple). Forgiveness and fellowship were put on hold until a remedy is found. Every human agency has been contacted, with no medical answer. This kind of “impurity” is a substantial issue in the Old Testament (Lev 15:19-33). Any kind of association with a woman who has this kind of disorder is to be carefully avoided, adding the stigma of a social and religious outcast to the trauma of her lengthy health ordeal. Mark portrays her as a complete outcast in every aspect, unable to approach people and ceremonially unfit to approach God.

I’ll let you read the account of her secretive approach to Jesus. Let me point you to His declaration of her condition following their encounter, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Literally, it reads, “your faith continues to save/heal you.” The word “save/heal” is in the perfect tense, implying an ongoing aspect to this event. Then He says, “Go in peace…Be whole (maybe “be free”?) from your affliction.”

May I add a few simple observations and then tie them to an application? First, the result of the healing event is more than a physical change in the woman’s body. This miracle offers her wholeness. She is no longer ostracized from people or ceremonially from God and His forgiveness. She is wondrously restored. The second observation is based upon the verb tense; there is an ongoing component to this miracle but also to the demand of an ongoing nature of her faith. Maybe I would paraphrase Jesus’ words this way, “As you walk daily in faith, you will be whole.” Third and final observation, wholeness is described by this miracle as restoration to community life and worship, and their reception of this woman back among them with open arms.

Now the application to this: for us all. When God has done a miracle in a person’s life, and faith takes over and they are cleansed, we now, as God’s agents of reconciliation, should welcome them back into our fellowship. No second class citizens of the kingdom please. Moreover, we as the church, have the divine mandate (“call” if you prefer) to “loose” a person of those sins with what I might call sacramental words (“what you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”). So there may be an instantaneous aspect to a miracle but its ongoing (lifetime, even eternal life) affect should be implemented by the body of Christ herself. Call this “corporate holiness” if you like. So, may I ask you, is there someone around you who might be struggling with their “cleansing/healing/saving?” Jesus certainly healed them, but He is emphatically asking you to be their brother or sister. Is there room in your family for one more miracle baby?

Now, Go with God

January 28, 2008

A "Go with God" moment:

This week we have a guest contributor to the Monday Memo, Christina Tripp. She spent the spring 2007 in Israel, studying at Jerusalem University College. I had coffee with her after she returned and thought you might like to overhear her impressions and the impact a semester abroad had upon her life. Here is her story…

“So what are you going to tell everyone when you get back?” I asked my roommate. “What are you going to say when they ask, ‘How was Israel’?” She paused in her packing, and I just waited. She shrugged. “I don’t know. ‘It was good’? What are you going to say?” I lifted empty palms. “‘It was good. It was hard.’ I don’t know.”
It was and is the hardest question to answer because there is so much to say about what we learned and experienced that semester, and only a limited amount of time to say it in. So the most accurate and concise statement we could think of was, “It was good.” And it was. It was fantastic. I learned more in that semester about life, about family, friends, God, people, and place than I ever have before. But I can only tell you about one of those, so let me tell you about the place – the land.
As students within the Religion Division, we all have learned, or will learn, how to write an exegesis paper. Do you remember the component of historical and cultural studies? Do you remember being told that unless you understand how the people of the Bible understood what was being said to them, you would not understand what the Bible was saying to you? Therefore we studied the history and culture surrounding our text in order to understand the Biblical context in which that passage was written. Let me reinforce what our professors have told us. It’s true. Unless we understand how the people of the Bible understood what was said to them, we have not understood the fullness of what God is saying to us.
For example, my understanding of and respect for a shepherd completely morphed. As a farm girl from northwest WI, and going off those pleasant pictures of lush, flat pastureland from Sunday school curriculum, I thought I knew a thing or two about shepherds. Ha! Let me tell you what I didn’t know. There is no such thing as flat, lush pastureland in Israel – well there is, but not for the shepherds. Flat, lush land is a scarce resource in Israel, and if that land can produce crops to sustain a community, then that community was going to cultivate it. Shepherds were going to have to find somewhere else to feed their flocks. And they did – in the hills. And when I tell you hills, I don’t mean those gentle, rolling ones that burst with wildflowers. These are high hills, rough hills, hills of hard crusty limestone that sustain scraggly patches of vegetation only in the rainy season. When the rainy season stops, those hills dry up and the shepherds have to hunt for vegetation and water if their flocks are going to survive. When I understood how difficult that is, my understanding of the Lord as our Shepherd took on a much fuller appreciation. I got to spend a semester learning this – learning how the land, history and culture of the Bible formed how the people thought. And when I understood how they thought, and how God spoke into those understandings, I found myself awed again and again by the depth, breadth, height and width of the love God has for his people.
I don’t write all of this just to tell you Israel was great. This isn’t just to tell you I had a great time – this is to tell you it changed the way my mind works; it changed the way I read the Bible and the way I understand how God speaks to His people. I could go on and on – and hopefully I’d convince you that you should also study abroad. Israel or elsewhere, you’ll learn there what you can’t learn here – and you’ll never get a better chance to do it. There is much more I could say, and I will if you want to hear more, but for now, this has to be enough. I’ll suffice it to say, “Israel was great. You should go.”

FYI, Professor Brian Bernius will be taking 12 students to study at Jerusalem University College this summer, then they will go to Tel Dan for an archaeological dig. (Prof Bernius has promised some entertaining side trips to fill out the cross-cultural experience). Indiana Wesleyan has several options for Study abroad, beginning with our own campus in Zambia, Africa for the fall 2008. Study Abroad questions can be directed to Dr. Karen Hoffman in Academic Affairs in Jackson Library.

Please show me the vastness of Your Kingdom.
Open my eyes to the wonders of Your Creation
But also to the diversity of Your creatures.
May You provide me with an opportunity to learn these truths in both theory and in practice.
Open my ears to hear the array of languages which bring praise to Your holy name;
Then I may understand how wide and long and high and deep is Your love for this world.
Lord, please speak in bold and life-changing ways to me.

Now, Go with God

There are many joys I have being the Division Chair but nothing compares to announcing the names of students that have been awarded scholarships. This year, the recipients of the Williams Scholarship to Israel are:
1. Joy Cash
2. Brian Bither
3. John Cleghorn
4. Kelsi Adkins

If you see them, congratulate them. They will be traveling with Dr. Williams to Israel this April. Even more so, let’s give thanks to the people who make this and the other scholarships possible. Their sacrifice is our gain. For many students, it is the only way they can afford an IWU education. Ultimately, thanks be to God!

January 21, 2008

A "Go With God" moment:

It’s now “After Summit.” We need to 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 this Monday as you were last Monday? Can you see yourself falling back into some of the same, possibly 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 his physical deformity which is eating away at him. It’s 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 which one can make which can return you to the same situation or worse.

So, what will each of us do to keep from going back but rather to pursue Wholeness in our lives? First, listen to the words of Dr. Chris Bounds from the Friday chapel, “Align your lives with the means of grace God has put in your path.” Dr. Bounds urged you to line yourself up with the local church, personal Bible study, and with public and private prayer. Second, one true shortcoming of many folks today who are trying to overcome sin in their lives is that they attempt to remain in the grace of God all alone. Just like the man in John, “I have no one to put me into the pool for healing.” So why not align yourself with a spiritual mentor, someone who is farther along the journey than yourself, and knows that wholeness can be attained because they live it before you each day.

Lord Jesus,
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 child, in you I am well-pleased.”
May we never stop short of anything less.

Now, Go with God

January 14, 2008

A "God with God" Moment:

Welcome back! Also welcome to January. You have probably seen depictions of the Roman god, Janus, from which we get the calendar name, January. He is depicted with two faces, one looking backward from where he came; one looking forward to where he is going. January is a perfect time to do just that; reflect and ponder on the past year and to strategize where you are going in the next 12 months.

Looking back. Let’s just look back to Christmas 2007. I imagine that at several different times throughout the past holidays you heard or read yourself the nativity story according to Matthew. The part I was taken by this Christmas was the section just before the angel shared his message. Remember:

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. (Matt 1:18-19)

Allow me to make just a few basic observations. First, in Matthew, the birth of Jesus is not narrated. Rather, what we are informed of are the unsettling circumstances; for example, a young unmarried woman pregnant and her betrothed who knows he is not the father. Now you must carefully keep the sequence of the story in mind. Joseph has not yet received the dream/heavenly vision that Mary is pregnant thru the Holy Spirit. You and I know this as readers of Matthew, but Joseph has not been told. I’m sure in his somewhat tense discussions with Mary she claims her innocence. But if you were Joseph, what would you conclude based upon the evidence? His action plan is simple yet profound; he will “divorce her quietly.” Matthew does not tell us what his other options might have been but a simple reading of cultural background will be helpful. One for example was to join up with Mary’s father and have her stoned for her adulterous actions. The Old Testament gives them that right. Moreover, the culture of the day tells us that both her immediate family and Joseph will suffer humiliating public shame for what all people think she has done. Her death would be a legal (and justified) way for this stigma of shame to be removed. Yet, Matthew tells us that Joseph did not “want to expose her to public disgrace.” Joseph is taking love and loyalty to a new height. He loves her and her reputation more than his own standing in society. He will suffer public humiliation for her sake. Wow, what a man.

Second observation: Matthew defines Joseph with a powerful Jewish word; a righteous man (Greek: dikios). Often in the Old Testament, one who is righteous is one who follows the commands of God. And in this instance, the commands of God say, Mary is a sinner and deserves death. But I think that here Matthew, in the introduction to his Gospel is (re)defining the term “righteous.” Joseph will not be one who does the commands of God but rather one who acts Godly. Joseph is one who suffers undeserved disgrace and shame for another. Hummm. I wonder if that sounds like someone else in the Gospel, Jesus?

Looking Forward. So, with January upon us how might we turn this reflection into a year-long application lesson? First, spring is approaching and some of you might be thinking about life-long companions. Might I suggest that you think Joseph as the model. Ladies, please look deep inside a man to see if the sincere desire of his heart is to protect you and your reputation from public shame. I need not be overly graphic to make my point. Maybe you might ask yourself the question; “Does this man love me in ways more than himself. Will he protect my public and private image, even at the cost of his own?” Second, men, where do you think that Jesus learned to live a “righteous” life? My guess is, that at least in part, he learned it by watching his earthly father Joseph live a godly life day-after-day. What a bold task of a father, to teach the “Son of God” how to live a godly life. I’m not being sacrilegious. It’s the God-given task of every earthly father. Moreover, each of us teaches others a life of faith by the way we live each day; faith and righteousness is learned in community. But you need not wait until you are a father to live a “righteous” life. By then it might be too late. Why not begin right here and right now. In the midst of Spring Summit, why not cry out to God and tell him you want to live a life like God, like Joseph, like Jesus.

Lord Jesus,
May we see models around us that empower us to live righteous lives.
May we see the pain that we might create if we fail to live such, and cause others to falter
May You empower us to live like the saints of old, in this day NOW.
Forgive and cleanse us, Lord, in the midst of this Community, Your Body

Now, Go with God

December 3, 2007

A "God with God" moment:

The dark mornings (can you say 7:50?), the cold wet weather, and the last week of the semester stress tell us all; welcome to the Christmas season. So you might think that the final Monday Memo of the year would have a “Go with God” moment from Matthew 1 or Luke 2. I’ll let you read those passages on your own. As for me this week, I’ve been in John. I’m preparing a series of messages for next week from the Farewell Discourse of John (13-17) and was struck by a simple observation. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the ethical call which Jesus uses as the summary of Christian life is found in the Great Commandment, “Love God and Love your neighbor.” But that statement is not found in the Fourth Gospel. Now, this may come as a surprise because “love” is a key theme in John. We find God’s love for the world (3:16, 16:27); Jesus’ love for people (11:5, 36; 13:1, 23); the love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father (3:35; 5:20; 10:17; 14:31); but there is never a call for us to love God. What? It’s true, in John the call for us to love is not displayed vertically but horizontally. John says, “I give you a new commandment that you love one another (13:34-35). This so-called new commandment is given immediately after Jesus demonstrates “the full extend of his love” (13:1) as washes his disciples’ feet. The context is set when John says, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love” (13:1).

So, if we are never called to love God directly in John, how are we to express our love for Him? Maybe a great starting point is to employ his teaching, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet” (13:14). Think of it this way, if you have love that you want to lavish on Jesus for all He has done for you, give it to the person right beside you. If you want to worship God, how about washing some feet? I would imagine that you might prefer to wash Jesus’ feet and you might actually knock people over on your way to get in line to wash His feet. But that is not an option He gives you. He washes yours (i.e., divine love); we then wash others.

So, Christmas is the perfect time of year to practice the “John Love Principle.” Maybe you are wondering what to get as a gift for your roommate, or for your significant other. How about an “IOU Foot-washing” gift card? I bet it will be a perfect fit, and the one who receives it will have no thought of returning it. Now of course, you may need to update the working model. Possibly instead of taking up a basin and towel you may put on an apron, take up a rake, but that is up to you. Remember two key ingredients; first, it should be humbling. Second, as you carefully choose the person you will give this gift to, Jesus washed the feet of Judas (his betrayer) and Peter (who denied him). You may do this for a friend, but pray seriously if the uniting of humility and love may be best found in a foot-washing for an enemy.

Nothing says “Merry Christmas” better than wet feet.

Lord Jesus,
You and the Father exchange this very kind of eternal love.
Thus, foot-washing is a divinely inspired tool.
May we learn to lavishly give love with joy.
May the recipients of our love for you rejoice.
May the Glory of the Lord shine ‘round about us
As we love one another.

Now, Go with God.

November 26, 2007

A "God with God" Moment

I noticed something new this weekend and I was shocked by what I found… or might I say, what I didn’t find. I was reading Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane in Mark 14. I’ve read it countless times, for it describes Jesus at His most human level. You encounter phrases like, “began to be very distressed and troubled” and Jesus’ himself describes his situation in these words, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death.” We gain insight into the heart of God unlike any other place in the Gospel narratives. He then prays, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” At least the first part sounds just like me. Sounds like just about any of us. Jesus, when he finished praying returns to his disciples and finds them sleeping when they should be praying due to the seriousness of the hour. Then, we find Mark stating Jesus “Again went away and prayed, saying the same words.” I highlighted these words because it literally says “praying, he said the same words.” Was Jesus’ prayer not effective? Boy, that sounds really human to me. This happened to Him three times. And three times he finds the disciples asleep on their watch.

But what is missing from this prayer? The voice of the Father. Two other times Jesus prays and the Father verbally responds. At his baptism, while he was praying, the Father responds with beautiful words of affirmation, “You are my son whom I love, in you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21-22). At his transfiguration, while he is praying on a mountain top, the voice again echoes, this time to the disciples, “This is my son whom I have chosen. Listen to him” (Luke 9:28-36). But as Jesus prays in Mark’s gospel in Gethsemane, there is no response from heaven. The Father is silent.

If this is Jesus at his most human, what does this tell us about our prayer life? In prayer, we are to be completely honest, to be our most vulnerable, our most transparent. We are to tell the Lord exactly what our will is (often it’s the easy way out, or the way which brings us the most honor). But Jesus ends his prayer with the “God’s Will” postscript. It’s a great practice of affirming, “Lord, I do not want the universe or even my small portion of it to be run according to my will but instead I submit all to your will.” And in all honesty, we do not need to hear from God to submit to what He has already revealed to us. Jesus knew exactly what the Father’s will was for his life. He has told his disciples three times his mission was to suffer and to die (Mark 8, 9, 10). But if you noticed, simply the practice of prayer (even apparently unanswered prayer) seems to strengthen Jesus.

Personally, I find great power in prayer as I actively give myself over to God in prayer. I do not need a miracle from heaven each time I pray. Nor do I need a vocal intervention into my specific circumstance. Prayer is faith building all by itself, as I de-commission my will and co-mission God’s will as the driving presence in my life.

Lord Jesus,
Hear my prayer.
As I give myself to You today,
I need not hear from You in a super-natural manner;
No voice is needed, no miracle demanded;
Lord, simply an empowerment from Your Spirit;
That I may decrease as You increase.
Hear my prayer.

Now, Go with God.

November 19, 2007

A “Go with God” moment:

Several weeks ago I started making some basic observations about 1 John 1:9. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Let me summarize quickly what I talked about. First, I saw that John states forgiveness is asked, received and practiced within a community, specifically, that is the Church. Second, I pointed out that each of the main verbs in the passage; confess, forgive, and cleanse; each are in the present tense, implying that there is a continuous, ongoing connection between confession, forgiveness, and cleansing. My third and final observation comes again from the verbs, confession, forgiveness, and cleansing in Greek; they are all non-indicative verbs. Sorry to sound like a Greek-geek. Let me put it this way. These words are not to be heard in the realm of certainty but rather housed within the scope of possibility. How about this translation: “If we might confess our sins…he might forgive us our sins and he might cleanse us of all unrighteousness.” This rendering is precise; and it has much to do with the way you understand salvation to actually “work.” (That would be “efficacy” if you are in Dr. Bounds’ Theology class)

How do you explain the means by which you are actually saved? Do you see it like this: “Ok God, I’ve confessed! I’ve done my part. Now you are obligated to forgive me.” You may not sound that forceful, but is your expectation the same nonetheless? Confession in-forgiveness out. Is that the Kingdom you live in? God can not be forced to do anything; no even forgive. How do I know this?

Listen to Moses, after he has come down from Sinai and found his people worshipping a Golden Calf. “The next day Moses said to the people, ‘You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.’” (Exodus 32:30)

Listen to the King of Nineveh in his response to Jonah’s sermon, “When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? Perhaps, God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.’” (Jonah 3:6-9)

Did you notice the common element in both the statements of Moses and the King of Nineveh? The powerful word, perhaps. But if salvation is not guaranteed, how will we ever know for sure? It never is a certainty with you…but forgiveness does not come exclusively out of your confession but rather forgiveness arises out of the nature and goodness of God Himself. Specifically, listen now to the text of 1 John 1:9 as the apostle unites the possibility of “confession” and the possibility of “forgiveness.” Listen to the words again, He is Faithful and Just. Your forgiveness comes from HIM and HIS FAITHFULNESS.

May I ask the question this way, do you want your forgiveness based upon the purity of your confession? On you saying just the right words? Or since the verbs in 1 John 1:9 are in the continual aspect, do you want your forgiveness to be dependent that your ability to be unceasing in the attitude of confession? Upon what will you rely with certainty your forgiveness? As for me and my house, we will trust in Jesus and His character; for He is faithful and just. It’s upon the very nature of God that I cast my confession. That is more certain than anything you could ever imagine. Never has there been a truer thought at Thanksgiving.

Lord Jesus
I cast all my care upon you.
I stand on the solid rock of You, and You alone.
There is no sinking sand in Your Presence.
I confess with a broken and contrite heart,
And I have the assurance that as you take the confession to the Father,
As my Advocate, you will speak on my behalf.
I rest solely upon Your nature and goodness.
With that, the storms of life have been vanquished.

Now, Go with God.

November 12, 2007

Last week I started making some basic observations about 1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Let me summarize quickly what I talked about. First, I saw that John states forgiveness is asked, received and practiced within a community, specifically, that is the Church. Second, I pointed out that each of the main verbs in the passage; confess, forgive, and cleanse; each are in the present tense. Simply, there is a continuous, ongoing connection between confession, forgiveness, and cleansing.
Now, my third (and new this week) observation about the passage. Let me restate the words in a literal manner:

He is faithful and just (dikaios) to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (adikaios).

In Greek, the word “just” is the word dikaios. The second word “unrighteous” is called an “a” privative, where the word, righteous is negated by placing the letter “a” in front of it. We do that in English as well, with words like a-historical (non-historical) and a-theism (world view without God). Listen very carefully to the implications of John’s statement. Jesus is faithful and just/righteous and He offers to us the same thing. In our forgiveness and cleansing, He wants to remove from us all that is “not-righteous.” Let me put it another way; salvation is about cleansing from us all that is “not-Jesus.” What Jesus is offering is far more than a “sin-management” program. It is a cure for sin itself. His desire is to transform us to be just like him; a state of righteousness. So maybe we should stop using “forgiveness language” and instead adopt “re-creation” language (cf., 2 Cor. 5:17) as He restores the broken “Imago Dei” to look just like Him.

There is a deeper and more foreboding application to this passage if you dare to follow me. This week I would like for you to ponder your answer to this question, “Have I accepted the first half of the verse; ‘forgiveness of sin’ yet have for some reason said, ‘No’ to the offer to be cleansed from all unrighteousness?” And if you have said no, why? Are there limits to work that Jesus can accomplish in your life?

Lord Jesus,
May we first and foremost look to You for our understanding of forgiveness.
May we take hold of You, who are faithful and just.
May that truth take hold of us.
May we sense grace in the midst of confession.
May we grasp the power of not just forgiveness but transformation.
May we experience the fullness of your gift.

Now, Go with God.

November 5, 2007

A “Go with God” moment:
I thought that for the next few weeks I might write just some simple observations about a passage of scripture which many of you know by heart, 1 John 1:9.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

First observation…You can almost guess what I am going to say from the words I have boldfaced, note all the plural pronouns and ponder their implications. Our forgiveness, and might I also say, our salvation takes place within community. If you read the rest of 1 John 1 for the overall context of John’s thoughts, you will find that is not an isolated occurrence.

Next, I observed that all the verbs; confess forgive, and cleanse are present tense verbs. Simply, there is a continuous, ongoing nature about them (e.g., if we “continually confess” we will “continually be forgiven”).

Third and final thought, the “we/us/our” is a community. But for John, all communities are not created equal. “Community” by definition in 1 John is the Church (that is a big “C”). It’s the place where believers are gathered together exclusively for the purpose of “proclaiming to you” (see 1:3, 5). The main verb driving this entire passage is the act of “proclamation.”

Maybe instead of telling you precisely what I think, I’ll ask you to ponder a question this week for yourself, “What are the implications in your life and in your ministry (present and future) that salvation is discovered, received and maintained all within the confines of the church?

Lord Jesus,
First, May we listen intently to the words passed down by Your apostles,
for they heard and saw, and touched You.
Next, may we gather regularly for the profound purpose of (re)discovering You as the “Word of Life.”
May we look at the person beside or in front of us and whisper, “Thanks be to God for my brother and for my sister that you have placed them in my life as a bestower of divine grace.
Forgive and cleanse us, Lord, in the midst of this Community, Your Body

Now, Go with God.

October 29, 2007

A “Go with God” moment:

Have you read the Christological hymn in Colossians 1 recently? I just read it with a Greek class this week and was overwhelmed by its majestic yet practical truth.
He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.
For by him all things were created,
in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—
all things were created through him and for him.
And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
And he is the head of the body, the church.

He is the beginning,
the firstborn from the dead,
that in everything he might be preeminent.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
and through him to reconcile to himself all things,
whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Note how I have divided it into two distinct sections. The first section (1:15-18a) describes Jesus as Creator. The second, 1:18b-20 describes His Christological acts as our Redeemer. Would you allow me to impose another way to state Paul’s description of Him, Re-Creator. Now, there is so much here that we could look at this passage for weeks…but let me mention just one or two nuggets which cause me to pause and reflect upon. In the passage I have underlined two subjects of sentences; “all things”. This obviously is plural, meaning Paul is referring to more than one thing. Simple, right? Wrong! The subject “all things” is plural while the verb is singular. Not a big deal, except that in Greek grammar, subjects and verbs must agree. Unless, if Paul might be teaching us that in creation, “all things” are not disconnected from one another. Is it possible that originally, creation was so intimately linked that “all things” hold together as one singular entity? God’s grand design is that all was so wonderfully ordered and linked, that we (people, animals, trees, etc) were made as one! If that is true, then I can see the real un-godly-ness of being self-centered. Could selfishness actually be defined as an act of “un-creation?” I wonder the implication of such things?

In the text, I have also boldfaced two verbs that seem exactly the same…and they are identical in English. Not so in Greek. The first verb “were created” is an aorist passive (sorry for sounding like a Greek-geek). Simply, a passive verb means that the subject, “all things”, was the recipient of the action of “creating.” The things did not act or become “created on their own.” There was an outside agent. Sorry, no Big-Bang without a Big-God. But the second verb is the one which is pregnant with meaning. It is a perfect passive (apologies again). It could be translated like this, “All things were created and continue to be created.”

Ok, Dave, nice Greek grammar lesson; implications please! Well, you might actually look at the world and your stressed out chaotic life (chaos is biblically seen as the opposite of creation) and draw a conclusion that your life is out of control. Colossians would tell you that you are wrong. Rather, creation (and re-creation) is an ongoing process; and God is intimately linked with it. What appears as chaos (panic attacks over too much to do, too little time, relationships gone array, countless decisions about the future, etc) may actually be an act of on-going creation. Did you notice the interesting phrase, “in him all things hold together?” Please, you may see your life and all its “separate events” as if they are spinning out of control, being cast off into chaos, and there is no way out…but you would be wrong. Rather “all things” (which include you) are being carefully crafted into God’s plan for creation. Maybe, rather than looking for an escape, pause and take a long look at where you are; right in the midst of HIS creative hand. And please, not as an individual. No lone-ranger-creationists. You are being engrafted into His larger plan for you this very minute. Appearances can be deceiving. I promise you, and Paul promises you that there is divine order in what appears to be chaos.

My world is too stressed to bring Glory to You.
Panic seems to rule my life; not Your peace.
Please Lord, give me a clear sense that Your hand is in mine,
May I have eyes to see where knowledge of You as Creator might bring calm
May Creation and Your purpose in it rule over my perception of chaos
In the past Lord, I have only seen hope if you would stand in the bow on my boat and rebuke the winds and the waves of my life.
Today, Lord would You do the miracle of miracles…
Would You welcome me to take a nap with You in the stern of the boat while the storm rages.
May I find Peace, Your Peace.

Now, Go with God

October 22, 2007

A “Go with God” moment:

Have you ever walked away from a worship service saying, “I just did not get anything out of it?” Let’s ponder Revelation 4 for just a moment with that question in mind. After John has written his letters to the seven churches (Rev 2-3) John’s attention is then turned from earth to heaven, “After this I looked and there before me was a door standing open in heaven.” Keep in mind that what John sees is a throne room, with an eternal worship service transpiring. Listen carefully to the description of this service:

Day and night they never stop saying:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come. (Revelation 4:8).

This seems to be the point John is learning first hand and is passing on to us. There is always a constant worship going on in heaven, day and night, never ceasing. Can you see it? Can you hear the praise radiating from heaven and hopefully serving as a contagion for our worship services?

We often forget. Make that I often forget. So when I walk into a sanctuary of Sunday morning, I wait until the service begins. But in actuality, it has never ceased. Maybe for me the most important thing to remember is when I walk into the sanctuary on a Sunday morning I am being invited to enter into a worship experience that started long before I came to church.

In the end, if I say, “I got nothing out of worship today”, it is primarily because I never saw beyond the four walls of the sanctuary. Maybe I am just too earthly minded (make that too self-centered). Do you remember the line in the Lord’s Prayer, “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven?” That also pertains to the act of worship as well to his Kingdom rule. May that be so for us!

May You, O Lord, Give me a vision of heaven, and may it affect my view of earth.
May I (we) today enter into worship with all of heaven, and all of creation for that matter.
May I worship You at all times and in all places.
May I cease waiting for the start of worship to begin my worship.
May I never cease to worship, just because our earthly service has a benediction.
May all that I am give praise to all that You are, at all times.

Now, Go with God

October 15, 2007

A “Go with God” moment:

Last week I asked a question, “Have you ever felt abandoned by God?” This week, let me tweak the question just a bit, “Have you ever wanted to yell at the Lord?” Have you ever been so disappointed with Him, with life situations, and people hurting you that the first thought out of your mouth was cursing them and not blessing? Welcome to the human race. Now, read the words of Psalm 137. Maybe even try reading them out loud...but get ready for a surprise...

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"
How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.
Remember, O LORD, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell.
"Tear it down," they cried, "tear it down to its foundations!"
O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us—
he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.

Now, go back and re-read the last two lines and ask yourself; how can these words of vengeance and blood-thirsty anger be allowed into the Old Testament canon? How can this be part of Holy Scripture? Even more troubling, the Psalms were designed to be read publicly and encountered in the Temple as prayer offerings to the Lord. Prayer, public prayer you say? Yes.
The issue I want to place before you is that the people of Israel were bitterly angry with the Babylonians who carried them off into captivity, away from the city of Jerusalem which they loved, and away from the Temple where they worshipped and found forgiveness. Moreover, in Psalm 137, we discover that the captors of the Jewish nation tormented them by asking them “to sing songs of Zion” (aka Jerusalem) while suffering exile in a strange land. They were so mad that they imagined themselves grapping the babies of their enemies and bashing them against the rocks. What is this; infanticide in the name of the Lord? Worst of all; let me remind you that this is done in the context of prayer, even corporate prayer.

So, what is the life principle in this psalm? This is not a Psalm justifying vengeance against one’s enemies but rather it is teaching us to BE HONEST TO GOD about who we are. The Jews in exile were expressing their honest and transparent feelings directly to God, first and foremost. So, for us, first and foremost, tell Him exactly how you feel. Do not lie to Him in prayer. Do not act as if life is OK when in actuality, you are hurting, confused, and outright angry. The very beginning of transforming and healing comes with the issue of telling the truth to God so you can overhear it! This psalm (and many others, plus books like Jeremiah, Habakkuk, etc) give you permission to come to God and tell Him, “Lord, I do not like the way you are running the universe, especially on how it pertains to me and the ones I care about.”

Transformation of the mind begins with telling God the truth of how we actually feel and what we are thinking. Keep in mind that God already knows how you feel. Do not forget that He is omniscient (all-knowing). Nothing you say will surprise Him. But the real surprise might be that the beginning of transformation comes about when you do not come to God with wearing your “Sunday Best” but with the truth which resides in your heart.

Create in me a clean heart.
So, I begin with praying with an open heart and open mind.
In many cases I confess that do not know what You are doing;
I acknowledge that my ways are not Your ways.
Please Lord, Open my eyes, open my ears,
So I might catch a glimpse of the heavenly design.
That I may have Your mind, Your Son’s mind.
May this mind be in me that was also in Christ Jesus.

Now, Go with God

October 8, 2007

A “Go with God” moment:
As I was walking back from Homecoming chapel in Lucky Gym, I was pondering the Word brought by Pastor Kevin Myers. Remember his text? Jesus and the disciples in the boat during the storm. I simply thought about all the folks I know on campus; faculty, staff, and students who need to hear a simple trusting word that Jesus is alive and well; even in our times of trials. My word to you today is simple; do not avoid God because you are disappointed. Run to Him for the very same reason. Use the scriptures as a window into the very nature of God Himself and into your darkest moment. I promise you something; He will meet you right there.

One particular passage comes to mind; Psalm 23, which you probably know only too well…but read it slowly for a moment:
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Two simple observations. First, notice the change in personal pronouns in the first three lines, they are all third person (he, he, he, his, etc). It is as if this is more of a confession or declaration; talking about God rather than talking to Him. But notice the change that takes place in line four, “Even though I walk through the valley of death, YOU are with me.” (look at all the second person pronouns). Can you sense this is a change from a general confession of who God is to a true experience of the Holy One personally? And when does this take place, “in the valley of death” not when life is at a touchy-feely good time. No, God is most real and most personally present when life is most trying. Second observation, where does God prepare the table? In the most quiet restful spot? No, He prepares a table in the presence of your enemies. And “Your enemies” need not be translated as a person; but God prepares a table for you in the presence of your most revealing fears and anxieties. (Can you name your worst fears at this moment?) Why? Because He wants to demonstrate Himself to be more powerful than any fear or temptation which you will ever face!

So, my friends, if you feel as if you are abandoned by God right now; it is right now that God wants to make Himself the most real. Truthfully, I do not want to serve a God who only “works” when life is good. I want to follow a God who works when life is the most trying. I sincerely believe that the Lord God Yahweh is on the border of revealing Himself to you in a way that He never has before. Be honest with God in prayer. Let Him meet you right where you are…and buckle up, for you are about to meet the real God, the Holy One of Israel, who more than likely will bow down and wash your feet (check out John 13). So if in the next few days, your socks and shoes feel a bit soggy; it’s because Christ is in your midst.

In the midst of our unsettled semester
In the middle of life’s
In the eye of the storm,
Give us Yourself.
We do not need
calm if we have You.

Now; Go with God

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Go With God - Introduction

When I started teaching at Indiana Wesleyan (as all first year professors will confess), I was totally unprepared for the routine of teaching 12 semesters hours per week. The lecture preparation, handouts, in-class projects, grading, and overall classroom management was an overwhleming undertaking. The first class I taught was first year New Testament Greek. Everything I had prepared for this one hour class (and it took me 10 hours to prepare it) was on a PowerPoint presentation. I had practiced it several times, in the actual classroom. When I arrived in class, another professor had taken the computer cart to this room. I was left with nothing but an attendance sheet and students. So, as a last resort, the class consisted with me telling my students my conversion story; from being completely lost to being found by Christ; from an alcohol and drug abuser to becoming a new creation in Christ (1 Cor 5). It was unplanned and unrehearsed. In all honesty, I think a flannel graph presentation would have been a huge improvement from this first classroom effort.

However, as the last two students were leaving the classroom (and they sensed my utter frustration coupled with academic failure), they whispered to me, you may not have taught us Greek, but you showed us the "Power of God." My spontaneous words to them as they were going out the door were "Go with this God." They turned, and smiled, communicating to me that they sensed a true blessing through our encounter that morning. I may have failed them miserably as a professor, but nevertheless, Christ Jesus had enriched their lives.

Thus, now, at the end of every class, I send my students out into the world with those words; "God with God." BTW, in every course I teach, I still begin the first day of class of each new semester with my testimony. So, after 8 years, 4-5 classes per semester, and a few summer offerings; I've shared my conversion experience 100+ times...and I have sent students out from these classes with a "God with God" blessing maybe 3500 times. In all honesty, each class is the best; and each group in each section is a special treasure that the Lord Himself puts before me. Thanks be to God.

Last fall, a fellow professor asked me, "Why not put into written form a weekly blessing to offer over students as they begin each week?" (Thanks, Keith). With that as a brief history lesson, this Blog has taken shape as a compendium of these "Go with God Moments." If you read this with any regularity, you will overhear the Biblical blessings that I pray over the students of Indiana Wesleyan University each Monday morning.

And now, may you as well,
God With God.