Sunday, April 20, 2008

April 21, 2008 - Last of the School Year

A “Go with God” moment,

This is the last Monday memo of the school year, and for you graduates, this is the last one of your undergraduate career. What final words might be significant to the future which looms ominously before you?

If you recall, since Easter, we have been looking together at the early church which is metaphorically in God’s waiting room; the time between the Cross and Pentecost (i.e., Coming of the Holy Spirit; Acts 2). I told you last Monday that 40 days after Easter, Jesus ascends to the right hand of God the Father (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9, 6:55)…and from that point on Jesus is speaking into the ear of the Father. And this is Jesus’ final destination until His Second Coming.

Now, what implications of the Ascension of Jesus can actually serve as a suitable final word? It has everything to do with the most important spiritual discipline you will have in your personal life and in your ministry for the Lord as you leave the hallowed halls of IWU. It has to do with your prayers. For I know one thing for certain, there will be times in the future (maybe even many times) when you are praying and it appears as if God is not answering. And this may cause doubts to rise in your hearts. You may sense that God does not care or may be ignoring your prayers for some reason. Some of our past students have even drawn the conclusion that God is not even there! On all counts you would be wrong. Remember these words; appearances may be deceiving. The issue may be that your theology of prayer has not incorporated Jesus’ Ascension into it.

Let me explain. Most of us understand prayer in a minimalist way, as a simple cause-effect action. We pray (cause) --> God acts (effect). And when it does not happen in precisely the fashion we originally requested, we think of there are only three possible avenues available to the Lord: (1) Yes, (2) No or (3) Not Yet. However, the ascension of Jesus to the right hand of God tells me there might actually be another viable answer. Jesus takes your prayers to the Father and their response (did you catch the plural?) is not limited to a simple yes or no, nor to an issue of mere timing. In actuality, the Father-Son-Holy Spirit may develop a Trinitarian response which when implemented may only vaguely resemble what you originally requested. Do you really think that the work of God is limited to what we can conceive of in our earthly prayer closets? So, my friends, my parting words to you about prayer is that His answers do not always return to earth in the same form that we originally articulated them. This is Good News. Maybe even Great News.

Let me put it to you this way, the Spirit is at work in the voicing of the request:
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

Personally, this truth enhances my prayer life for I know that praying with absolute perfection is not a prerequisite to engaging in conversation with God. We merely need to start with a desire for God’s will (read fist half of the Lord’s Prayer; Matt 6:9-10). Then the Holy Spirit takes our prayer directly to the Ascended Jesus…
He (Jesus) is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25).

Imagine, a heavenly counsel meeting regarding you and your prayers. And then the answer comes:
When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you. (John 16:13-15)

It’s great to know that we do not command God to do our will; but rather we make a human suggestion based upon our perceptions of the world and the needs which surround us…and then we can release them to God to re-create our prayer to be fashioned into the image and likeness of His perfect will.

This hope in the efficacy of prayer is the last thing I want to leave with you this year. God is more faithful than you could ever guess. When it appears as if your prayers are not being answered; when it appears as if God does not care…appearances may be deceiving. God may well be at work in ways you never imagined. He is bigger than the greatest of our meager thoughts. Friends, when the door of despair may appear to be opening wide, and you think God is not listening…remember the Ascension. Jesus is your Advocate, whispering into the ears of the Almighty Father, devising ways to reveal to you and the world how He has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3). My last words to you; prayer works; but not in our simplistic manner; but with a Trinitarian response of perfection. Please, when the prayers you offer seem ineffective and you think the Lord of the Universe does not care for you; do not forget the words of Stephen as he is being stoned to death for his faithfulness:
Full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55-56)

Because Jesus has ascended to heaven; appearances can be deceiving. Please remember this when you think prayer doesn’t work. In actuality, things are even better than you ever could ever imagine.

Your ways are not our ways.
We pray with human insight and are often ignorant of the complexities of life situations.
Today, we give You permission to act in our lives with the beauty of Holiness
And with the redeeming omnipotent love which characterizes You.
We trust in Your Triune person to always have our best interests at heart.
May we not be deceived by the World’s simplistic substitute.
Rather, we bow low in order to hear and see clearly Your re-fashioned answer.
Lord, Hear our Prayer.

Now…for the summer or for the rest of your life; I beg you, always Go with God!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

April 14, 2008

A God withGod moment:

Remember friends, Pentecost (the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church) is approaching. Ever since Easter, we’ve been moving toward this climactic event asthe fulfillment of Jesus’ richest promise. (As an aside, it may only seem like you are inching, but this time of the semester, any movement forward is a true blessing).

Here are Jesus’ closing words and deeds in Luke’s Gospel: Luke 24:49-53
“I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God. (Luke 24:49-53)

Just a few observations. First, this is not only the end of Luke, it is the zenith. The story of Luke began in Chapter 1 with Zechariah meeting an angel in the temple, and not believing the words being spoken. All of Luke has been pointing to this very place, true temple worship, continually not erratically or only occasionally.

Second, note that Jesus has now ascended to heaven. Think of the significance this way; earth was forever changed in Luke 2 with the Incarnation. Now heaven is equally enhanced for the Incarnation eternally lives on in the Resurrected Jesus. And He now stands at the right hand of God (Acts 7:56), making intercession for us. So, not only is heaven changed, but with Jesus praying for us, our lives on earth are indeed soon to be changed as well.

Third, just before leaving this earth, Jesus blesses the disciples. What a powerful word which can easily be reduced to a “benediction” at the close of a Worship service. Maybe the best way to conceptualize the term "blessing" would be to hear the initial series of blessings that come from the lips of God Himself. In the Creation story of Genesis, God blesses mankind as He creates the man and the woman (1:28). Also in the climax act of Creation, He sanctifies the Sabbath day and blesses it (Genesis 2:3). Friends, just as God blesses the earth at the moment of Creation, Jesus equally blesses the world at the time of re-Creation.

Thus, as we prepare to celebrate Pentecost as the high point of Jesus’ re-creative work; let’s not minimize its impact. It’s much more than being touched by the Spirit. It is being completely remade in His Image, the Imago Dei. Maybe the best parallel of what the reality of Pentecost is comes from Genesis 2, “the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” So, this Pentecost (May 11) as God breathes upon the Church, remember, He really is the air that we breathe.

Lord Jesus;
This last full week of the semester, we need Your blessing.
Would you please whisper into the Father’s ear on our behalf.
Would you speak our name in heaven
So we may be recreated here on earth
to live our lives as you did.

Now, Go with God.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

April 7, 2008

A God with God moment:

The last several weeks we have been pondering together what it means to be post-Easter but pre-Pentecost. In essence, waiting for the climax of the New Covenant. In a different setting I said, “the Cross and the empty tomb of Easter would have only been an historical remembrance if it were not for the transforming reality appropriated by the filling of the Church by the Holy Spirit.” So, once again we return to the meaning of formation of the “Body” by the Work of the Spirit.

We have looked at places in scripture such as John 17, where Jesus specifically and poignantly prays that His followers; both present and future, “be one, as He and the Father are one.” Profoundly, there is to be a Trinitarian-likeness regarding the way we relate to one another. Anything short of that would fall short of Jesus’ own request of the Father.

Earlier, we looked at Acts 2:42-47. There we discovered that a Spirit-filled community is to communally focus on the right priorities; read that as devotion to (1) the apostles’ teaching, (2) the fellowship, (3) the breaking bread, and (4) the prayer. An ethical result of that affection is that we recognize the needs which folks have in our vicinity and we are empowered to rise up and sufficiently meet them.

This week, I want to point you to well know passage found in the Book of Philippians. The climax of this passage is known as the Christological Hymn in 2:5-11…but I want you to first locate what precedes it in the text. Read carefully 1:27:
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Let me try to fill this verse out in its own context. This is the beginning of an entirely new argument. Previously Paul has been giving biographical information to one of his favorite churches. But now he is switching to their ethical responsibility. May I try to enhance the beauty of the language in the original Greek.
  1. “Whatever happens” should really be translated as: Only one thing. Paul is about to summarize his understanding of the Gospel in a brief statement.
  2. “Conduct yourselves” (notice the plural subject) is a very unusual word. It does not merely mean “live” but it means specifically “live as a citizen.” This is a call to loyalty; maybe better translated as “live as a citizen of the Gospel.”

So if there is only one thing that we should be focusing on; at its tantamount to declaring what our oath of citizenship might be; go on Paul, tell me what it is…ready;
Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel.

It seems as if “one-ness” is not only an important ingredient in “Body-life.” It may actually be the central issue. Please, I encourage you to take a few minutes to read thru the passage as a whole (Phil 1:27-2:18). And do so slowly, taking in the theme of unity. Realize a few things that may be missed in the NIV.

  1. All pronouns are plural; no exceptions.
  2. Note the call to thinking alike (i.e., thinking like Jesus not like humans; it occurs three times in 2:2-5).
  3. Also note how this reaches a climax, not in the example to be like Jesus in 2:5-11 but this is the result if we follow the model of Jesus:
    Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-- not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence-- continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

Again, do not be surprised that “your salvation” is plural and that the verb is present tense (do this continually). Do not misunderstand what Paul is saying. This is not a works-righteousness theology. Far from it. We are saved by grace thru faith. But here, Paul is telling us that we will exercise and strengthen our salvation muscles as we do so corporately. We need one another in this world, and in the next! He is also telling you that your salvation is not a private party. He wants us to know that this is a global celebration. For that is the way things are in heaven. Do you not want our citizenship here on earth to model life in heaven?

And it appears as if this only comes thru Pentecost; the one-ness that comes thru the Spirit.
Wow, Pentecost Sunday...May 11, I can hardly wait.
Come Lord Jesus, Come.

Now, Go With God.