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Jesus Wants To Make His Home With You

The fourteenth chapter of John is one of the best known and loved passages in the Bible. It has been one of the standard passages read at funerals. I don’t know that I ever did a funeral with reading from it.
The emphasis is usually on the comfort God provides and the promise of a home in heaven (“I go to prepare a place for you.“)

These are certainly wonderful promises. But, I am intrigued by this statement: “We (My Father and I) will come to him and make our home with him.” What a “breath-taking” idea. Someone has said, “There is no more precious verse in the whole Bible.” We can host God, not just as a visitor but living with us.
He knocks at the door, waiting for us to open it and invite Him in. And He will only stay as He is loved as demonstrated by our obedience to his word.

When someone lives with you, you really get to know them. You share the “nitty-gritty” of your life: the heat/cold, the sparse furnishings, whatever. In return, we have direct and familiar access to the creator’s power, and the redeemer’s love, forgiveness and companionship.

Who wouldn’t want to share your home with some one like that?

He Promised

Matthew 28:6b- he has risen, just as he said.

A one time popular Christian TV personality once told a TV audience: “The Christian life is just so great that I think I would become a Christian even if it wasn’t true!”1 Tim Keller says, “As a young Christian, I had come up through mainline churches, I was a religion major at a secular university. The common message he got about the stories of the resurrection was that they “were literalistic, symbolic representations of these higher spiritual truths.”

And then I read what the Apostle Paul wrote: “If Christ is not risen…your faith is useless.” The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is greatest event in human history. It is in fact the hinge; it is the pillar on which our faith stands. Continue reading

Strangers in Town But Members of the Household

Now you are the people of God -I Peter 2:10b

Alfred North Whitehead once wrote: “Religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness.”  That is when no one is looking, and not trying to impress anyone.

While that is true in a sense, it is certainly not the fundamental truth of the Christian experience.  Because as John Wesley said, Christianity is a social religion.  An essential and primary ingredient in the Christian experience is community.

In this letter Peter is not addressing “isolated individuals but a community. It is nothing less than the continuation of the OT “Covenant People”.  In this short passage Peter uses several terms for this community.  He calls them:

obedient children
spiritual house
God’s own people

Even though strangers in the world, they do not loose their identity because they are members of a community. This community, which the New Testament calls the church is to provide the environment for growth and spiritual health. It is also to be the primary witness to God’s work in the world through Jesus.

Because we are strangers in a hostile world, we can only maintain our identity as Christians/survive in community.  This community gets its value and identity by belonging to God and its purpose by worshiping and witnessing to His excellencies.

Are you trying to go it alone as a follower of Jesus? If so, find a group of other followers and join them. Churches like Messiah will welcome you with open arms.

Don’t Get Over It

 When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Romans 5:6 (NLT)¹

Some years ago I read about a story Garrison Keilor told of a family Thanksgiving dinner:

The table was laden with food. But the hostess made the mistake of calling on Uncle Joe (not real name) to give thanks. We all knew that Uncle Joe would talk about the cross and when he talked about the cross he would cry. Sure enough he did.

There’s nothing that makes people more nervous than to hear a grown man cry. We shifted from foot to foot.

“We all knew that Jesus died for our sins, but Uncle Joe never got over it.”

I wonder if a lot of us haven’t gotten over it.  We’ve moved on to God helps me in my troubles, comforts me in my sorrow, heals my sickness, provides resources to make me successful at my job, in my relationships.  All good and important things. But the bottom line is Jesus died for our sins.

Dear God, don’t let me get over it.

¹Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved

Listening To God (2)

“God…has spoken” –Hebrews 1:1,2-
“Listen and understand. –Matthew 15:10

Listening is the primary starting place for a journey with God. The Bible is the primary place we hear God. That’s not a misprint. In spite of the problems our culture sees with it, the Bible is what God says to us, in writing.

There is no denying it can be daunting, at least in the beginning. There is no denying there are some things we don’t understand. According to Eugene Peterson, classicist, Gilbert Highet “used to say that anyone who reads the Bible and isn’t puzzled at least half the time doesn’t have his mind on what he is doing.” But every period of renewal and revival, reformation has come as God’s people returned to the Book—reading, studying, teaching. It is there we hear God. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.

It is important to remember that the reading, studying are not ends in themselves but means to hearing God. As Jim Cymbala puts it “Christianity is not predominantly a teaching religion…The teaching of sound doctrine is a prelude, if you will, to the supernatural.”

Need direction? Need understanding? Need encouragement? Need correction? Need salvation? Listen; God has what you need.

Listening To God

Hebrews 1:1,2- “God…has spoken”

“You weren’t listening” is a common complaint about me from my wife. Listening is a powerful human activity. But it often is the missing ingredient in human interaction. The source of many problems between people, individually and collectively, is lack of communication. I am convinced that often the real cause is a failure to listen. To be trying to be heard, to express a need, a concern, or to make a point and to sense that the other person is not listening rates at the top of the frustration chart. Everyone wants to know they are being listened to. And most relational problems can be worked out if we really listen to one another.

Listening is the primary starting place for a journey with God. In the Bible it goes like this: God speaks, calls and God’s people are to listen/obey. Submission to God’s word is the basic ingredient of the spiritual life. And God’s word once spoken did not go away but was to be recalled/listened to forever. The call to love God (The Shema) was followed by instructions:

Keep these words…recite them to your children, “discuss them in your home, make them a sign on your person and on your house” (Deut. 6:4-9).

The reason is simple. Life is created by God’s word. The world was spoken into existence. The NT identifies this creative word with Jesus. The book of Hebrews describes Him as God’s final (complete) word.

However, it is not always pleasant to hear. In the book of Nehemiah we are told that when the people heard it they wept. William Willimon says,

“You may think that the toughest task of a Christian is serving on your church’s Finance Committee without losing your faith. No. Your toughest task as a Christian is to hold your life and your church accountable to this peculiar odd, not made for television story called the gospel.”

If we are to become good/holy people it begins with listening to God. Are you listening? To be continued.

To Tell the Truth

The truth will set you free. -John 8:32

Have you ever thought about how hard it is to tell the truth in church. Surprised? Do you believe the church is the place of truth? Do you assume that unlike other institutions, places, and people the church is different because here we find the truth? Of course, the church is the custodian of truth, specifically the gospel truth. Of course the church is the place where you don’t expect people to lie to you, and most of the time they don’t.

So when I talk about it being hard to tell the truth, I don’t mean we tell lies to each other (though it’s not unheard of). Rather, it is how we often fail to think about or talk about the negative, the problems, the unflattering things. Of course some people see only negative and some who are never happy with anything. Some of them use every chance possible to point out shortcomings (real or imagined).

We are often guilty of trying so hard to “sell” our story, our church, ourselves to others that we distort the truth by only talking about the positive. Sometimes, we also hide unpleasant matters by “creatively” interpreting facts so that we maintain an upbeat atmosphere.

We sometimes “kid” ourselves about our own spiritual condition. We don’t express our real opinions because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or cause problems. We accept shoddy efforts because after all, they’re just volunteers.
Usually this is not done for wrong motives but because we have mistaken notions about protecting image and feelings. In some cases we just don’t think. I know that I’ve probably been guilty myself. I want people to feel good about the church, themselves and (I have to admit it) me. So I don’t notice or don’t mention anything that might prevent that.

Now some of this is simply using good judgment. For example you don’t write a brochure for prospective new people and talk about negative issues (You don’t mislead either). We see that the positives far outweigh the negatives, and rightly emphasize them to prevent a “negative spirit” from discouraging us.

The point of all this is that we need to learn to trust each other and God enough so that we can face real problems and issues that affect our ability to grow as disciples, to reach the unchurched and make all disciples. As a church we have a lot of strengths but like all churches we also have weaknesses. While I do believe we need to focus on our strengths, we also need to deal with weaknesses. Identifying them, acknowledging them, talking about them is never easy but necessary so that we can deal with them in constructive ways.

My prayer is that God will help us be honest with ourselves and speak the truth to one another in love.

Praying for Effect

Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers. -Ephesians 6:18

Praying is an important human activity. Historically Christians have believed it essential:

John Wesley, the father of the Methodist movement, said, “God will do nothing but in answer to prayer.”
S.D. Gordon said, “The greatest thing anyone can do for God and for man is to pray….”You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.”
E.M. Bounds: “God shapes the world by prayer. The more praying there is in the world the better the world will be, the mightier the forces against evil.”

It seems the American people agree. A 2010 survey by the National Opinion Research Center determined that 86% of Americans pray; 57% pray at least once a day and 75% at least once a week. Surely then for Christians, the percentage is much higher. Certainly our church does a lot of praying. We have our prayer lists, prayer chains, prayer groups, prayer teams, prayer meetings. We invoke and “benedict” every meeting or occasion and have several prayers in every service. We request prayer for ailments, troubles, decisions, for friends, relatives, ourselves. The last thing we need is someone telling us to pray—right? Maybe, but why does our praying sometimes seem to make so little difference? How can we pray “for effect” so to speak?

Maybe the problem is not so much how often or how much we pray but the nature of our prayers. The most obvious characteristic of our praying is we pray “for.” We are asking for something we want from God—healing, direction, comfort, strength, peace. Now that’s appropriate and important but not primary. And until we get the order right, our praying will be less than what God intends.

Christian prayer begins with listening to God. In silence, in meditation, reflection but most of all the context of the Scriptures. Then we need to respond in praise, adoration and action.

As Eugene Peterson says, such praying is essential to keep the reality of the Good News (vs Bad News) as a basis for living:

“It is hard to believe and much-denied…The sheer quantity of wreckage around us is appalling: wrecked bodies, wrecked marriages, wrecked careers, wrecked plans, wrecked families, wrecked alliances, wrecked friendships, wrecked prosperity” (Peterson, Working The Angles, 15)

It is also essential to maintaining our relationship to God. Only as prayer fills that place in our life can we really pray for effect. Only then does it change us and change the world.

Encouraged To Follow Jesus

Encourage one another daily. -Hebrews 3:13

Isn’t it interesting how we sometimes miss things that are right in front of us? Often it’s because something else has the focus of our attention. The book of Acts in the New Testament provides an example.

Christians, churches are directed to Acts to learn about the early Christian movement and what how it relates today. We rightly are often awed by the explosive growth of the early Christianity community (3000 added in one day). We see the miracles of healing, of deliverance from dangerous situations and other exciting happenings. But there is something else which we might miss.

During my daily reading in Acts one day, something caught my attention: “Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-by.” I wondered—“encouraging them…?” As I skimmed Acts (14:22; 15:41; 16:5; 16:40; 18:23; 20:1-2, 12, 32; 27:22, 36; 28:15), it became like a refrain—“encouraged,” “strengthened.” One of the prominent disciples was Barnabas meaning “son of encouragement” (4:36).

Then I remembered the Great Commission: “Make disciples…I’m with you.” And finally a light went on. Encouragement of his people is a priority for God. Having pastored a church, I’m well acquainted with the Sunday/Monday syndrome—a spiritual high followed by a letdown. There’s also the wear and tear of the battle. But the Psalmist declares “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

But encouragement is also about helping a person toward a goal. It is to assist one for effectiveness and achievement. Jesus promises a helper (paraclete=one who stands along side to help), the Holy Spirit to his disciples. Years ago Iowa was beaten by Duke in the NCAA basketball tournament. I remember the Iowa players’ reaction after the game. Of the Duke players they said, “They’re always encouraging each other.”

Encouragement is a key element in discipleship, both being and making. We tend to lose sight of this element, perhaps in the excitement of evangelism and new people coming into the church in Acts. Later, as the apostles return to places where many have come to follow Jesus, their ministry to those Christians is encouragement.

God’s method of encouragement is that human beings filled with His Spirit, stand with one another to encourage and strengthen. We are directed to “encourage one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13).

Bothers/Sisters God has made provision for Monday morning, for the discouragement that lurks around the corner, for the draining effect of the battle. It is encouragement. That is the primary ministry that we are to have to one another. Any consideration of the way we shape our lives together must keep that in focus.

Strangers In Town

To God’s chosen strangers in the world. -I Peter 1:1 (CEB)

There is an episode in the old Andy Griffith show where a stranger shows up in town. He calls everybody by name, knows all about them. And it makes people nervous, even afraid. So they try to run him out of town, not knowing he had learned about them by reading the paper and decided he wanted to live there. His mistake? He tried to be one of them. He didn’t want to be a stranger but ended up being “strange.”

Your community has “strangers in town.” They speak a different language, have strange values, owe allegiance to another ruler. Who are they? They’re followers of Jesus, Christians.

Strangers and aliens

Strangers and aliens

Peter writes a letter to “strangers in the world.” The Greek term, paroikia, (translated “sojourner”, “stranger”, “alien”) became a regular term for congregation. It is the word from which we get “parish.” (Cranfield)

The Christian understanding of life has always been shaped by the notion of strangers in the world, of alienation, not belonging. They are “looking for a city.” Not because they are transients to life or because they can’t find total satisfaction for their souls but because they are different.

When that attitude is diminished, we loose power, effectiveness, and any right to call ourselves Christian (those who belong to Christ). In a conformist, politically correct culture it is important to keep the lines drawn, to resist the temptation to settle down, conform, become like them. The Bible urges “keep yourselves unpolluted by the world” (James 1:17).

Like the citizens of Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, the world will pressure you. They will think it strange that you do not plunge in with them. Jesus even warned, “they will hate you.”

For those who call ourselves followers of Jesus, the question is “do we live up to the name Christian? Are we really “strangers in town”? Or have we settled in and become like them?