Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008 in One Word

If you could describe your 2008 in one word, what would it be?

I'll probably change my mind in a few minutes but at the moment, my word would be:


Saturday, December 06, 2008

How Well do you know the First Christmas?

I originally posted this a couple of Christmases ago, but I thought I would do it again--for obvious reasons. I'd appreciate any thoughts, critiques or additional contributions.

How Well Do You Know the First Christmas?

There is so much in these birth narratives that we miss or read over because we think we know the story already or because our mind has been so cluttered by the popular depictions that we don’t study carefully what the text actually says.

1. What is the traditional biblical story of the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem?

The traditional picture has a tired and desperate Mary & Joseph trudging/rushing into Bethlehem. They are all alone, there’s no AAA Roadside Assistance, there’s no hospital, they know no one. All the Inn’s or Motel 6’s have No Vacancy and so thanks to the backhanded generosity of a sour innkeeper, Mary & Joseph are banished to the barn where she is already in labor and almost immediately has the baby Jesus. Then the Shepherds appear following a star because not far behind them are the 3 Kings bearing gifts. They all form a nice little huddle around the Manger and the baby Jesus.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this picture—it’s the most popular—but is it the most accurate to the biblical texts?

2. Were they traveling alone? What biblical evidence do you have to support this?

We get a few clues to suggest they were not traveling alone.

First, in Luke 2, since everyone had to travel to their own hometown to register—it’s safe to assume that other people had to do some traveling to register as well.

Second, Bethlehem was full of travelers—they had to get there somehow—they would have used the same roads that Mary & Joseph used.

Third has to do with the time of year the events actually occurred which we’ll get to later—let’s just say that in order for them to get to Bethlehem, Mary & Joseph had to pass through Jerusalem (Bethlehem is about 5 miles South of Jerusalem whereas Nazareth is considerably north of Jerusalem)—Jerusalem was the center of political and religious life in Israel so pilgrims of all sorts were on the roads to Jerusalem all the time.

Fourth, most people traveled in family groups or with friends whenever possible. You see evidence of Joseph & Mary doing this just a few verses later (Luke 2:41-44) when Jesus was 12 years old. Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem when J & M left for home. They were traveling in such a large group, they couldn’t see Jesus and assumed He was running around with someone else.

3. When was the baby born?

a. Mary barely made it into town
b. The first night
c. Some time later

Luke 2:6 says “while they were there, the time came for the baby to be born”. The implication of that statement is that M & J arrived in Bethlehem and sometime before they went home, Jesus was born. Luke was a very precise writer—and even though he’s giving a quick summation of some things—if there was a panicked rush to get to Bethlehem, he could have said so. The language is of a much slower series of events. So the idea that she was in labor as they ran into Bethlehem, desperately pounding on doors is not particularly accurate. So they may have been there for a few days or even weeks before she went into labor.

Given the later accounts of the Magi in Matthew—it’s obvious that J & M stayed in Bethlehem for a long time.

4. Does that change the nature of the location of Jesus’ birth if it happened some time later—in other words, couldn’t Joseph had found some other place after a while?

If they had been there for a few days at least, then the likelihood that Joseph couldn’t find any place to stay is a stretch. After some time, he would have been able to find something and they would not have been cast out to the animal pens. Why would they go there then? We’ll talk about that later.

5. Were Mary & Joseph alone while in Bethlehem? What is the likelihood that they knew anyone in town?

The traditional picture is them alone and afraid. But why were they going to Bethlehem in the first place? It was their family home. They both were of the line of David. Not all of the family would have moved away from Bethlehem. Some of them stuck around—and they would have had some good records or tradition of who is related to who and where they are in the line of potential successors for David’s throne. Family relationships and connections were important for that culture and Joseph or Mary probably had relatives that still lived there that they could have gone to and asked for a place to stay or help with the pregnancy.
Yet if that were the case, why would they have to go out to the animals? That would be affected by several things one being the nature of the place they were staying.

First, let’s look at something that isn’t obviously related, but it is.

6. Luke 22:10-12—What was this room like?

In this passage, Jesus is preparing for the Passover feast and He sends Peter & John in to find the right place—He says—“He replied, "As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11 and say to the owner of the house, `The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' 12 He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there."

This “guestroom” was a large room that many houses had for family gatherings, meals, or visiting relatives—it was big, generally open and several families could sleep there at the same time.

If you didn’t know, Luke uses some of the best Greek in the New Testament, fitting for his life as a physician. He is precise in his words and this is important.

7. Back in Luke 2, what is meant by the word “Inn”? Is there any other possible meaning?

Interestingly, the word that Luke uses in ch. 22 translated “guestroom” is the same one used in ch. 2 translated “inn”. The problem is that “inn” carries many different connotations—our mind pictures something like a Motel 6—large building with many small rooms that you can rent for the night. If Joseph was there for an extended stay—at least 33 days according to Leviticus 12 for Mary’s purification (Luke 2:22) this would quickly become an expensive venture.

As shown by their sacrifice of 2 small doves in the temple and not a lamb—they may not have been well off financially—much less able to stay in a Bethlehem motel for several months.

But if the word is not translated “Inn” but guestroom, then the situation changes. If they really had family in town, then that would have been the place they would have gone for lodging. And if the family’s upper room/guest room was full—it was probably full of other family. There’s a reason why all those family members would have been there in Bethlehem, which I’ll get to in just a moment. But it’s very likely that these people were not strangers but cousins, aunts, uncles, and others who would be traveling to Bethlehem.

8. Typically we see Mary & Joseph as being banished to the stable. How could it have been a good thing for them?

The problem wasn’t that they were alone and desperate, or that there were cruel, heartless innkeepers who wouldn’t bother to find them a spot—the greater problem was that there was a lot of people—and even a lot of family and friends is no place to have a baby!

How many women do you know that want to have a baby in a crowded room where everybody and their dog could watch. Sure, some have given birth on a plane, in the mall, but certainly that wasn’t their first choice!

So going to the room for animals—likely something built onto the house itself or even under the upper room—was a good thing, a helpful thing, a privacy thing. There, they won’t have to worry about people watching, kids tripping over them or all the other inconveniences a woman in labor would want to avoid. Not to mention all of the ceremonial uncleanness that a birth brings with it (I don't have time to look it up right now)

Similarly, since the birth didn’t happen the moment of arrival, I’m sure they had the opportunity to make sure the place was cleaned up or prepared for Mary to have a baby down there. Going to the stable was a good thing for Mary.

The stable would have given privacy, if they were really around family, then Joseph would not have been the only attendant Mary had, but other related women who had been through the process before themselves. They may even have known a local mid-wife to assist in the delivery.

9. Was Jesus really born on December 25th?

Most of you know that December 25, was a chosen date that co-opted a pagan religious winter festival. If you didn’t know, there you go. The likely time that shepherds would be out in the fields at night is springtime, while the lambs were being born. The shepherds were out to guard and assist their flocks in their deliveries. That would put Jesus’ birth closer to Passover.

In which case—the reason that Bethlehem was crowded would not have just been because of the census—but because of all the travelers going to Jerusalem for Passover. It would have made the roads packed with faithful Jewish men and women who were required to go to Jerusalem for the observance. So the image of the lone travelers is even more unlikely. It also makes the ceremonial uncleanness of the birth all the more significant--perhaps even excluding Joseph from assisting her if he intended to participate in Passover.

The census was taken over a period of time (even years from its issuing) so there was not a hard deadline for Joseph to meet—so presumably, he combined his registration in Bethlehem with his regular/annual trip to Jerusalem.

The other interesting imagery is the fact that one of the titles Jesus is given in Scripture is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”. To participate in Passover, Jewish family had to sacrifice a year old male lamb. These sacrifices were to Atone for the sins of the family. The sacrifice only covered the sin—the unintentional sins. There was no sacrifice for deliberate sins and they certainly didn’t take away sin or it’s consequence. But that is what Jesus, the Lamb of God was promised to do.

The very lambs that the shepherds were watching born in front of them would be next year’s offering—but they were able to bear witness to an even better Lamb, that could do even more.

10. Why is it unusual for shepherds to be witnesses to this event?

Ironically, even though the shepherds provided the most important element of the festival, by this time, shepherds were not high on the social ladder in Jewish society. They were the fringe elements, not a part of the upscale, city community.
These were the elements called to be the first witnesses and first testifiers to the Messiah. Why them? In many ways, it was a call back to or a reminder of their roots. Shepherds may have been outsiders to the community, but they were the original foundation of the community. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob were all shepherds. As was Moses—as was the great King David.

To reject the shepherds was to reject their roots. The community had not grown past them, they still needed them and in many ways, needed the simplicity of faith and trust in God they represented, which the Jewish community had once had, but had in many ways lost.

11. How did the Shepherds find Mary, Joseph & Jesus?

The traditional nativity scene has M & J, the shepherds and the wise men all gathered around a manger. Often, when you ask this question, many will say the shepherds were guided by the star, just like the wise men. But as we’ll get into in the next question—they didn’t get there on the same night of the birth (for that to happen, the “star” they saw would have to have appeared months before Jesus’ actual birth—God could have done this, btw).

The shepherds were just told about the 2 signs—wrapped in cloths & lying in a manger. They didn’t get an address, a street name, or a general vicinity of where they would actually find the baby. There was no star mentioned in Luke that guided them to the right house.

So, how did they know where to go? At most Bethlehem was a few thousand people—maybe they listened for the cries of a newborn. Maybe they looked for the only ones with a fire still lit. Maybe God picked them on the side of the town that they would reach first. Maybe they tried several places before finding the right one.

Or, speculatively speaking, since this was M & J’s family town—what if these shepherds were relatives and merely went home first, or relatives who already knew they had a visitor who was expecting a baby. Shepherds returning from the fields probably would go into the animal’s room first. Interesting possibility.

12 How many Magi were there?

We sing, “We Three Kings” so it must be three, right? Tradition even gives us names. But Scripture never says how many Magi came, just that they brought 3 different types of gifts—gold, frankincense and myrrh. Ancient depictions, stained glass and such—teaching tools with limited room depicted one person to hold a gift each representing the different types.

But again, by custom, most traveled in large groups. These were practically ambassadors and political representatives, as evidenced by the fact that they first went to Jerusalem and sought Herod. A small entourage, would not do for such dignitaries.

The amount of their gifts was not necessarily something one man could carry despite the many inescapable pictures that suggest otherwise.

I’m of the mind that there wasn’t only 3 representatives, but more.

13. When did the Magi arrive?

As mentioned, unless the star appeared months before Jesus’ actual birth, there’s no way they could have been there the night of. In the east, the wise men saw a star that pointed them to a King being born to the kingdom of the Jews. They would have to see it, interpret it, decide what to do about it, prepare for the journey and then make the trip up the Euphrates river, west along the fertile crescent, then south through Syria and the coastal territories—a several month long journey.

This would put Jesus a year old or more by the time of their arrival—they had to wait for circumcision, they have to wait 30+ days for Mary to be purified so they could offer their sacrifice. When Herod later gave the orders to kill any boy under 2 years—you’ve got to figure that this is an effort to cover His bases and not miss anyone.

14. Why Magi and why would they care what was going on in Jerusalem?

For some reason, these Magi—practicing astrologers, interpreted their signs to point to the Kingdom of the Jews. But why would that sign have sent them off on such a long and uncertain journey? Hey, a new king in Israel… that’s nice… somebody hand me the remote. Why would they care so much about the goings on in Israel that they would go there?

It’s important to remember where they were supposed to be from. It is generally understood that these men from the east were in the Mesopotamian river valleys… between the Tigris & Euphrates rivers. What would have been prominent territories in the biblical kingdoms of Assyria, Babylonia & Persia. In other words, modern day Iraq and Iran

This is the general area and territory where the Jewish exiles were taken by different governments. Most of the Jews never returned home even after they were given special permission by King of Persia. They didn’t leave, but stayed with many keeping their faith, their traditions and even Scriptures. So there was an Old Testament witness and community where these Magi were from. If I’m not mistaken, even today some of these countries have a small Jewish population.

So if nothing else, these Magi would have had access or awareness of Jewish teaching and Scripture—making the homeland important. With the influences of people like Daniel or Esther in high government—some may have begun to take them very seriously.

Of course, another powerful possibility is that these men were themselves Jewish or had some Jewish heritage. In other words, their ancestors had watched other Jews pack up and go back to Jerusalem because they had a desire to be restored to God. I’m sure there were many who talked about it for generations, many who wondered what it would have been like if they had returned. In reading the scriptures, the psalms, the laments, the prophets and their heart for the land, the Temple, the Promise of God—even these Wise Men may have had their hearts wondering about the glory of the Temple.

If they were themselves Jewish—it is an awesome reminder of God’s call to come home.

Even though most stayed behind and didn’t return with the remnant, God still found a way to reach out to them—that hope that they had heard of, the promise of a Messiah for their people—was still something God would remind them of.

And so their hearts—longing for the fulfillment of God, longing for the homeland, wondering if God would still be faithful to His promise, wondering if God would still allow them to be a part of it—drove their hearts to make such a long and uncertain Journey.

15. Why did they go to Herod first?

It’s no wonder they went to Jerusalem first. Jerusalem was the center of religious and political power. A future king would more likely be born to the current king. But God doesn’t work the way we think He should—the obvious is rarely what He uses.

So they went to Jerusalem, alerted King Herod, gained further specifics from scripture—Micah 5:2 that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and continued.
But there’s something else interesting here. It seems the star that started their journey did not guide them all along the way. If so, they would never have stopped or turned aside to Jerusalem. Maybe they couldn’t interpret what a stopped guiding star would look like. But in any event, they were asked by Herod to make a careful search for the child. If they were relying on the star at that point, then why would they have to “search”.

But upon leaving Jerusalem, something changed—now the star was much more specific. In fact it led them and hovered over a specific house. This is no longer something high up in the sky unless it is using a powerful spotlight—but gently hovering over the exact place where they were staying.

Again, Mary & Joseph had to stay for a while in Bethlehem. This would be an expensive venture if they had to “rent” or buy a place to stay, but would be easily accommodated by family. But the star directed them directly to their destination.

This was the guidance of God they had hoped for.

But I’ve always wondered, were they the only ones who could see the “star”? Wouldn’t Herod or his officials seen it and followed it to the baby Jesus?

Which leads me to consider whether, at least this second, localized guidance was not a literal “star” but a manifestation of the Glory of God, perhaps the Holy Spirit alighting on the place like He did later at Jesus’ baptism, or possibly an angel. The original sight that started the journey could easily be too.

Which could mean that only the Magi saw it. They eyes of faith were needed as well as the choice of God and whom He chooses to reveal it to. There's a common phrase--some say they have to see it to believe it--but some things have to be believed to be seen.

Remember, those on the road to Damascus with Paul had a vague sense of something happening, but couldn’t really tell you much about it, whereas Paul’s awareness was very acute and specific.

But the Wise men were called home to Worship just as the Shepherds had been called. Both great and small were bowing before Jesus—God drew both the heritage and the remnant back to their Savior, the Messiah.

16. What is the significance of the gifts?

While I have seen several possible meanings of the gifts, I have a preference. This doesn’t mean the others are wrong or should be written off—after all, since the Scripture doesn’t itself assign meaning, it’s all an educated guess.

Remembering also that we don’t know the amounts of the gifts involved—the depictions of the men carrying a small box doesn’t seem to fit with travelers from such a great distance. I’m of the mind that 2 of the gifts declare WHO Jesus, and His role is and the third declares What He will do to accomplish the will of God in those roles.

Gold—a gift fit for a King. Jesus is called the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in the New Testament.

Frankincense—incense in the Old Testament was used in prayer and worship in the Temple—the smoke represented the prayers of the people. The one who administered this incense and smoke was the Priest. This is another aspect of His identity and role in the world. The book of Hebrews tells us Jesus is the Great High Priest in the order of Melchizedek—greater than the Levitical/Aaronic priesthood—and able to enter the very Presence of God and grant us access in His Name.

Myrrh—was a burial spice. Many ancient cultures began preparing for their eventual death very quickly. The Pharaohs of Egypt began building their monuments immediately. But for this gift to Jesus, it signifies the death and burial that is in Jesus’ future in His role as Messiah—He will lay down His life on the Cross, shed His blood, take away our sin, and prepare a place for us in eternity. His death and subsequent resurrection is the fulfillment of God’s plan in sending Jesus in the first place.

Again, there is so much in these birth narratives that we miss or read over because we think we know the story already or because our mind has been so cluttered by the popular depictions that we don’t study carefully what the text actually says. If you’ve made it this far, I hope that you have benefited from this breakdown of the text and related cultures.

May God truly bless you and your family this Christmas.

Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life,
Kelly Reed

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Signs of Dead or Dying Churches

Some time ago I found an article on Churchcentral.com about spiritually dead churches and some of their characteristics. The link no longer works so I’m reproducing the list below that I found on other sites. I just remember reading and going down the list and seeing so many familiar things—all of them examples of things I’ve seen, places I’ve been, if not dead, then dying.

“Here are eight death clues. Spiritually dead churches:
1. Have lost their sense of mission to those who have not heard about Jesus Christ and do not pant after the Great Commission;

2. Exist primarily to provide fellowship for the “members of the club;”

3. Expect their pastors to focus primarily on ministering to the members’ personal spiritual needs;

4. Design ministry to meet the needs of their members;

5. Have no idea about the needs of the “stranger outside the gates;”

6. Are focused more on the past than the future;

7. Often experience major forms of conflict;

8. And watch the bottom line of the financial statement more than the number of confessions of faith. “

The article goes on to say that for the church to survive, it needs more than revitalization, it needs Resurrection.

“If resurrection happens, our behavior changes:
1. The church turns outward in its focus.

2. Jesus, not the institution, will become the object of our affection.

3. The Great Commission will become our mandate, and we will measure everything we do by how many new converts we make rather than whether we have a black bottom line.

4. Membership in the Kingdom will replace membership in the church.

5. Pastors will cease being chaplains of pastoral care and will become modern-day apostles of Jesus Christ.

6. And those who try to control the church with an iron fist or intimidate the church at every turn of the road will be shown the door.

I'm not sure I agree with all of these last ones, but I do pray that dead and dying churches will awaken from their slumber and truly impact the Kingdom of God. I know I desire to be a part of a ministry that is truly answering the call. I pray that I am the type of person that enlivens a church and inspires a people to great things. I pray for willing hearts.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Moriah's B-Day Pictures

In Reverse Order

Who's that with the B-Day girl?

Blowing out the Candle with Aiden & Anthony

The Gathering

The Arrival

A Beautiful Fall Day

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Modern Parables

Last week a co-worker explained to me the reason for his distance from God. It was a sad account of marital infidelity. But it made me think of a parable that I will be giving to him soon for his consideration. It may need a little refining so if you think of something, please let me know.

Here it is.

Just before movie night started over at his house, Jason found his friends, Michelle and Steve kissing on the couch. The problem was, Michelle was Kevin’s girlfriend—and he would be there any minute. When Jason came back into the room carrying the popcorn, he asked them to stop fooling around because Kevin would soon be there with the drinks.

“Mind your own business!” they told Jason. Disgusted, Jason left the room to get the rest of the snacks. Just then, Kevin came in the door and saw Michelle and Steve on the couch. In his anger and sense of betrayal, Kevin broke up with Michelle and was about to fight with Steve.

Jason rushed back in and stopped Kevin and Steve from fighting—but the movie night was already ruined. “I’m not speaking to them again. And Jason, I’m not speaking to you either, ever again. You should have stopped it.”

“I tried,” pleaded Jason. “They wouldn’t listen to me.”

“This happened at your house. At your party, she betrayed me. Don’t expect to see me around here again.”

With that, Kevin walked out. Jason was sad and hoped that his relationship with Kevin could be restored.

How reasonable is it that Kevin blamed Jason for what happened? How long should Kevin be angry and not speak to Jason? What should Jason do?

In the same way, people get angry at God and stop talking to Him when His people do things they aren’t supposed to do.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Quote-- "Eternal Impact"

Back in June, I picked up a book by Ken Hemphill called Eternal Impact. My intention was that I would lead the study in the fall. Well, obviously, things haven’t worked out that way.

I picked it up the other day and began reading for my own benefit and for future ministry. I found a telling quote early on in the Preface.

“Many churches are more concerned with placating the saved than with rescuing the lost. Our budgets don’t reflect that we are concerned with allowing God to add to our number daily those who are being saved. Our small group structure is often allowed to stagnate as we hold our ‘holy huddles’ while people in our neighborhoods search for authentic community. The kingdom-centered church acknowledges that the plight of the lost outweighs the comfort of the saved.”

Do you agree with this quote?

Does this attitude exist in your church?

Why does the church exist?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Olympic Gold--Texas Longhorns

Aaaah, it's Football season--I truly enjoy this time of year, even though I don't get to actually watch much of it.

I did enjoy hearing that my Longhorns won their game last night. I was glad to see that Western Illinois gave Arkansas a scare. I snickered at seeing poor Texas A&M losing to Arkansas State at home after paying the school $750,000 to come and give their team a warm-up game.

In the course of that, I found a rather amazing listing of Gold Medal rankings after the Olympics.

Not too shabby. We beat Japan!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Last Weekend before School!

Canoe Trip on Spring Lake

Evening Fishing & Moonrise, unfortunately, we didn't catch anything as all the worms we bought were DOA!

Reed Family Update

This is Gabriel getting ready for school which starts on Monday. He'll be going into the third grade.

Please be praying for me and my family as we are trying to sell our house and we need a buyer.

Be praying as I am currently looking for a new place of ministry as I have resigned from my church position in Macomb. We are looking all over the country, waiting for God's opportunity and leadership.

Right now, I am working in an assembly position in a factory making stuff for John Deere tractors. It's heavy work and after about a month, I'm just now getting physically used to it. I have good opportunities to be around people that I normally wouldn't and even there, I'm able to minister. They know I'm a pastor and some good conversations have resulted.

It's a reminder to me what the church is asking people to do. You work your 8-10 hours a day, and then come and give even more of yourself to the church. It's not that easy, but it does take commitment.

Thank you all for your prayers.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

God Shaped Hole and more

I heard again on Sunday the now familiar phrase, something like, “You have a God-Shaped hole in your heart that only He can fill and satisfy.”

I don’t really have a problem with this statement, besides its potential overuse. This life is not satisfying, we are missing something, that connection to our Creator and nothing else can take His place.

But the statement got me to thinking… as much as God designed a special place for Himself to reside in our existence, He designed a special place for us in His existence, in His kingdom: a place that you or I are uniquely created and gifted for, a role, a task, a responsibility, a position that God designed within the plan of the universe for you fill.

As much as there is a God-shaped hole in your heart, there is a “you-shaped cog in the in the Kingdom of God.”

Some have said that God is an Artist. Others have compared Him to an Architect. In any event, He is a Designer of unparalleled precision. He designs everything down to the very last cell. The smallest jot or tittle (dotted “I” or crossed “t”) is accounted for. And your place and mine is not an accident, but integral for the whole house to function as it is designed. We need each other to take up our place in His Kingdom.

God often describes us as, and a part of a building project.

1 Corinthians 6:19—“ Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price.”

Ephesians 2:21-22—“ 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

There is a special place and reserved for you in His Presence, in His Temple.

Revelation 3:12—“Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God.”

There is a part of the Temple which God has designed for you to be—are you going to miss out on it?

As much as you have a God shaped hole... it's amazing to think that God has a you-shaped hole of His own.

Monday, July 28, 2008

When God Tore His Robe?

Why do people tear their robes in the Bible?

In the Jewish world, when a man hears blasphemy, he is supposed to tear his robes. You see this in the actions of the high priest during the trial of Jesus who believed He was hearing blasphemy from Jesus when He spoke of returning in power.

But that’s not the only reason a Jewish man would tear his robes. In Job, when he heard the barrage of news of his children’s deaths, Job tore his robes in grief. Typically, at least as I imagine it and have seen it depicted, the man would grab the top of his robe, the collar area, where his head sticks through, and pull, thus tearing the fabric and breaking the pattern of woven cloth. Eventually, the whole thing would fall apart, the tear would worsen.

When a man tore his robe it was to demonstrate or protest or convey the magnitude and impact of what has just happened before them. It was symbolic—his life would never be the same because he could never wear that particular clothing again—it would be forever ruined, a testimony to that moment, and was then useless for its intended design.

Now, I’m playing with an idea that I haven’t even quite worked out with. It’s the idea that there is a moment when figuratively speaking, God tore His robes. And it’s a new take on a passage that is very familiar with us and may be very ingrained into our thinking.

That moment is the tearing of the veil from top to bottom at the moment of Jesus’ death. I understand the traditional way of looking at this passage and I love it. I even wrote a song about it. The idea that through the death of Christ a way was made into the Holy of Holies—the veil that separates us from God is removed from top to bottom, by His hand. Our sin is atoned for and so we are granted access to the Almighty, most Holy God of the Universe.

What I’m proposing here shouldn’t take away from that understanding at all. It’s just adding a different angle to it. Figuratively speaking—the veil in the temple was a covering, a barrier protecting the holiness of God’s presence, preventing eyes from seeing what was not meant to be seen.

The veil was torn from top to bottom, as if, the hands of God had grabbed the top and pulled—ripping the fabric to the bottom. It was now useless for that purpose. The veil could never be used again.

What would God have seen in that moment that would have caused Him to “tear His robe”? A great tragedy and loss—the death of His One and Only Son. Even though it was the Father’s will to crush Him, even though it was pleasing to lay the sins of the world upon Jesus because it purchased our redemption—it was still a great and painful moment. The weight of sin, the forsakenness of Jesus, the wrath of God poured out on One who is Innocent and undeserving. Upon hearing the death of His Son, God tore His robe—the veil was torn from top to bottom never to be used again.


Sunday, July 06, 2008

Always Hope--Sunday's Coming

Today I took my own jump off the High Dive--my son helped give me courage. This is a troubling day for my family and for University Baptist Church. We all need prayer. But we have hope:

Sunday's Coming

Please Follow the link

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

12 Years of Bleeding, 12 Years of Living-- Mark :24-34

The previous sermon from Mark 5:24-34 where the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years was a blessing to study. God showed me some things I had not noticed before, applying them in ways I had not seen.

There was one thing that I was not willing to put in the sermon. It’s because it’s highly speculative and one of those, “I wouldn’t be surprised to find out in heaven that….” kind of moments. I was struck by Mark’s emphasis of numbers in the passage. The woman had been bleeding for 12 years, the daughter was alive for 12 years. That could easily be to emphasize to Jairus, Jesus’ power.

Again, what I’ll be saying is highly speculative and is likely to be wrong (i.e. don’t build a theology on it), but we serve a God who surprises us sometimes with His connections.

In 5:40, Jesus kicked out the mourners and took the father (Jairus) and the girl’s mother into the room where her body was. I addressed the story of Jairus and his daughter on Father’s Day. I had always assumed and read the account as if the girl’s mother was just waiting at home for Jairus to return with Jesus. Of course, she wouldn’t want to leave the girl’s side. That is the likely explanation—sometimes, simpler is better.

However, I was struck by the fact that the woman had been suffering her bleeding for 12 years and the little girl was 12 years old. What if, the bleeding woman was the girl’s mother and Jairus’ wife, who had complications from delivery that never fully healed?

Mark does not call her as such and most of the descriptions of her describe her as if she is cut off and depending on her own resources; without the protection of a husband. But I had thought that if she had been married before the bleeding started, that the husband may have put her out. Someone in Jairus’ position may have felt even more pressure to do so as a leader in the synagogue. How could he be such a leader if everything his wife touched was unclean, rendering him unclean?

So her coming to Jesus and experiencing healing, even going in peace and wholeness would have restored her to the community. Where could she go to? What if it also restored her to her husband and just follow him home to their daughter? What if in these healings, Jesus was restoring the life of the whole family? Raising not only a daughter back from the dead, but a marriage?

It was a touching thought, totally speculative, but one of those things that I want to ask about when I get there.

What would this add to our understanding of the passage? I can't say for sure. Why would it be hidden and concealed if true? I don't know that either. Like I said, just a thought that came to me that made me say, "hmmmm".

There’s a couple of others, like the location of the ram caught in the thicket, but if you want to know about that one, you’ll have to ask!

Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Monday, June 30, 2008

Sermon--Mark 5:24-34--No Touch & Go Faith

Mark 5:24-34

There are some days that have too much to do and not enough time. I get frustrated at the rushed feeling when everything seems to take longer than it should, everyone seems to be moving slower than normal—it’s the old “a watched pot never boils” syndrome.

In the same way, when I’m in a hurry to do something, to be somewhere, to meet someone, that seems to be the greatest opportunity for the phone call, that is the greatest opportunity for flat tire, some kind of interruption to stop you from going on to something, somewhere else.

And I’ve learned over the years, that while annoying, at least when it’s the telemarketer, but those moments of interruption are many times a moment of great ministry. What is your interruption, is often God’s Redirection & Opportunity.

Jesus had one of those moments in Mark, as He was on His way with Jairus to see the man’s daughter who needed healing. They were in a hurry, time was short. To make matters worse, there was a crowd that slowed them down.

READ vs. 21-24

The way & streets were narrow so that the crowd was tightly bunched in. A celebrity was coming through, everyone had their camera, everyone wanted an autograph. Jesus’ entourage of body guards were trying to get Him through the crowd, hopefully gently pushing everyone aside because Jesus had something important to do. In a few verses, well get a sense of the exasperation of the disciples as they are trying to make their way through this crowd.

But in the midst of this slowdown, when nerves are getting frayed, another interruption occurred.

READ 25-28

The nerve of this lady—couldn’t she see that Jesus was busy, that He was in a hurry, that He shouldn’t be bothered? Yes, in many ways, she can see all of that. That’s one reason why she doesn’t want to make a big deal about it—she just wants to touch Jesus’ robe and be on her way. She believed, perhaps a bit superstitiously, that Jesus’ Power is great enough, that it would be transferred into His clothes—she doesn’t need a big miracle, she just needs a small dose of that power—she was after all desperate.

Look at the words used to describe her.

Suffering—for 12 years she had been bleeding—probably gynecological, enough to make her weak, uncertain of her future, but also unclean. She was embarrassed about her problem, she was shunned and looked down upon for her problem. If she didn’t think God was punishing her, then I’d expect many other people did think that.

Common attitudes would be: There must be some serious sin in her life for this to be happening to her. OR: She must not have very much faith to not experience healing for 12 years. To have a sickness, to have a disease that not only hurts, not only embarrasses, but cuts you off from the faith and from people and keeps them from getting close to you. Nothing has worked, nothing has cured--

Endured Much—even the kind of treatments that were given to her over the years did not produce healing, instead they produced more suffering. Rather than helping, they intensified the problem, increased the pain

Spent Everything—here was a woman, cut off in many ways, trying to support herself—spent everything she had, every penny she made assuming she could find any work, because everything she touched was considered unclean. But the money she spent was probably her own probably even her dowry for marriage. Because if she was married before this started, her husband probably got rid of her. She had laid aside any hope of her future, in order to try and get better. She spent it all—on doctors, sacrifices, on faith healers,—planting seeds in their ministry—with the promise of return. Rather than better, she was…

Worse, physically, emotionally, relationally, spiritually,—nothing has improved for this woman. Her pain and suffering are real. She was essentially stuck—her life was on hold until she could be restored. She was captive to her disease—she couldn’t work, she couldn’t get married, she was a burden to her family. She is in desperate need of a Redeemer. Someone who would purchase her freedom. That is a hope that carries through the Old Testament.

JOB 19:25 I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.

ISA 54:5 For your Maker is your husband-- the LORD Almighty is his name-- the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.

ISA 35:8 And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it.
ISA 35:9 No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there,

She Would be disqualified in her current state.

ISA 43:1 But now, this is what the LORD says-- he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

To need Redemption means that you are trapped, held captive and enslaved—trapped as a prisoner of war, trapped in debt, trapped as a slave, and you are held against your will, a captive—and you are unable to Free yourself, unable to change your own condition—you don’t have enough, you have no hope—and you are being auctioned off to the highest bidder. To be Redeemed means that you have been bought off the auctioning block and you have been set free. That’s what Jesus promised to do in His first teaching at a synagogue.

LUKE 4:18-21—quoting Isaiah 61

He comes as our Redeemer—redeeming us from Sin & Death, Redeeming us from the Kingdom of Darkness—where we are captives and dead in our sin—He Redeems us to Life, Light & Holiness

Jesus is on His way to Redeem a young girl from the clutches of death—and He is passing another one in need of redemption.

Here she was, her life on hold and she hears about Jesus being nearby. She believes, has faith that Jesus can heal her.

But she’s not supposed to go near Him. She’s not supposed to mingle with the tight crowds—because of her bleeding—but if she can just get one touch—that will be enough—that One Touch won’t bother Him, won’t interrupt Him, won’t embarrass Him, He’ll never know. I’ll just touch and go—He’ll be on His way, and I’ll be restored.

If I just get to Jesus all my problems will be solved.

Vs. 28

He’ll Never Notice—I’ll come and go, zip in & zip out, Touch & GO--disappear with my healing, disappear with what God has done for me. No one ever has to know. Maybe I’ll send Him a thank you card.

READ vs. 29, 31

Even the Disciples were of the same attitude—there’s a big crowd—we’re pressed in here like sardines—You’re in a hurry to save this other little girl. I’ve got too many people touching me already and you’re worried about someone you don’t even know. there are more important things to be worrying about Jesus.

But Jesus disregards all of that in search of the one who drew Redeeming power from Him. READ 30, 32

Even though the disciples had asked Jesus to move on—and they had many good reasons, there are a lot of people, there are more pressing things—Jesus does not follow their words and insistence—instead, He stops, turns around and asks—“Who touched my robes?”

1. One principle I see in this is that No matter what is going on in the World—Jesus will never ignore you, dismiss you or be too busy for you.

This woman waited for 12 years, so it’s not like if you do something, pray something, confess something, plant some seed, God is then Obligated to jump at your command and do your bidding—heal you on the spot, give you that great new job, that money, or whatever else—despite what Joel Osteen says.

God is under no obligation to do anything—but don’t confuse a “Not Yet” or even a “No” with “I’m not paying attention” or “I don’t care”. People…

the world may be on the brink of falling apart, international leaders might be struggling with a decision, Billy Graham may be on the hotline—but every single one of the hairs on your head are still numbered and not one of them falls to the ground without His notice.

Jesus stops the world essentially to address this woman.

“Who touched my clothes?”

He asks not because He didn’t know, but b/c He wanted the woman to come forward on her own and take another step of faith.

READ vs. 33

It was a great step of faith for her to reach out and touch Jesus—Jesus calls her to even more—One Step was not enough—He didn’t want her to remain in anonymity, but to publically show herself and the answer to her desperation.

It would have been so easy for her to disappear, to blend back into the crowd—to look around and pretend to scan the crowd for the real perpetrator—but she did not—she knew she had been touched, knew she had been healed, knew she had been made whole, knew she had been Redeemed.

She came forward, even though she was afraid—afraid of what? A harsh word? Condemnation? A withdrawal of the miracle and a return to her suffering? Whatever was going through her mind, she took another step of faith and came forward, fell at His feet and spoke the Truth--And the truth set her free.

This is a second principle to take from this passage. When God works in your life, He does not want us to be ashamed of it, to conceal it, to Hide it—to fade into the background, to disappear or to downplay what He has done for us--we shouldn’t hide out on the back row when God has done something wonderful that needs to be shouted from the rooftops.

God doesn’t want just a Touch & GO faith—He wants a lifetime of touches and steps—the same kind of faith that gave her the courage to reach out and touch Jesus in the first place is the kind of faith that gave her courage to acknowledge it was her, to fall at his feet, to speak the truth.

There was a miracle of faith in her healing, but there was also a miracle of faith in her Testimony.

READ vs. 34

Jesus knew who it was--He wants courage and boldness, not just to reach out to Jesus for healing and forgiveness, but to acknowledge His work.

Daughter—the only time in the Gospels that Jesus calls a woman by this title—your faith has healed you—other translations say “saved”—the word is often interchangeable for Physical & Spiritual Healing. Your Faith has Freed You! This woman was Redeemed—the power went out from Jesus, but it was in response to her faith. Did she have that kind of faith all along? I don’t know, but the Faith to believe, combined with the Right Divine Moment to produce a powerful Testimony to the Healing, Redeeming Power of Christ.

It was exactly the kind of testimony—messy as it was—that Jesus was looking for. You and I have been touched by the Master—we have a Testimony, we have a story to tell—you may look at your s and think that yours is not as dramatic, not as powerful, not as wonderful as hers was—but the spiritual transaction that brought her out of the Kingdom of Darkness is the same one that Saved You.

It takes Faith to open our mouths—it takes faith to tell someone about the Power of Christ at work in our life. Faith to Believe and the Right Divine Moment—we will miss it if we hang back in the crowd.

Now, who do you think benefitted from this woman’s Healing & Testimony?

Jesus called her His daughter--
Jesus is moving from one daughter to another daughter— Jairus benefitted.

The text does not say, but I would not be surprised to find out in Eternity that Jairus knew this woman. That she had come to the synagogue for years seeking prayer and cleansing. That as a leader in town, he knew of her affliction, had recommended doctors, recommended treatment, prayed for her.

The testimony of the woman, acknowledging this healing that had plagued her for 12 years--as long as Jairus’ daughter had been alive—strengthened his resolve as well.

“Wow—if Jesus can heal her—and she’s been sick for 12 years, I know He can heal my daughter.” He would have said.

So as he was escorting Jesus back to his home and the people came up saying, “It’s too late, your daughter is dead! Don’t bother the teacher anymore.”

“Don’t be Afraid—Just Believe”

Hey if Jesus can heal her and she’s been bleeding for 12 years—I know He can heal, save, Redeem my daughter!”

Don’t you understand—so many people are out there hurting and in pain and they think their hurt, their sickness, their sin is so bad that not even Jesus can help them—they don’t believe it’s possible.

They need to hear from you the healing power—they need your courage of faith to not disappear into the crowd—not hole up on the back row—but hear of your Healing, Hear of your Restoration, Hear of Your Redeemer—they don’t believe because they’ve never seen it—they’ve not heard it from the Church—
we’re too afraid of our own sin, too embarrassed of our own past, too unwilling to step out of the crowd and say “Yes! I touched Him and He touched Me”

There is no sin that He cannot forgive—I doubt you will find many people in and on the streets of Macomb that has a sin in their life that is not somehow shared with people already here in this church. Sexual sin—hey come on in—we’re already here. Drug abuse—yeah, we tried that too—Jesus is helping us overcome that too. Financial failure—we’re here

Hey, God loves you and He can make you whole just like He did me. I Know My Redeemer Lives

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

SBC Convention - 08- Pictures

Sermon--Deliverance from Spiritual pain-- Mark 5

A man often walked through a cemetery on his way home. One night, though, unaware that a new grave had been dug in his path, he tumbled in. For some time he struggled to get out of the 7 foot deep grave, but finally gave up and settled down for the night.
An hour later, a farmer out possum hunting came walking through the cemetery and he too fell into the grave. He began a desperate attempt to get out, unaware that there was anyone else in the grave. The first man listened to him for a few minutes, then reached over in the pitch darkness and laid a hand on his shoulder. "You can’t get out of here,” the man said to the farmer. But the farmer did.

Now a cemetery is not a place I’d want to spend one night, but as we’ll see in a moment, one man was spending a lot of time there.

In looking back over Mark, we see Jesus attracting crowds, getting into a boat, then traveling across the lake. While enroute, a great storm blows up while Jesus is sleeping. The disciples lives are in jeopardy, and Jesus wakes up just in time to Calm the Storm. In escaping the crowd, Jesus leads His disciples into dangerous waters and across the lake to where there are mostly gentiles—certainly not the type of people the disciples were expecting. Over in Capernaum and the area controlled by Jews, it didn’t take long for Jesus’ Presence to draw a crowd of the curious, the desperate or the angry.

The Presence of Christ in the beginning of Mark 5 didn’t take long to draw attention of another sort.

READ 5:1-8

The presence of Christ draws us, but it also draws the attention of the demonic. This possessed man saw Jesus from a distance in vs. 6 and came running. The Presence of Jesus sent this unnaturally strong man to his knees before Jesus, begging for mercy. The man who was unrestrainable, cowered in fear before the Presence of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

But you know, looking at this man like this, made me wonder what he was like before the demonic got a hold of him.

Do you think he was on the front & leading edge of a radical new concept of cheap and affordable housing? Just testing out the product?
Do you think he was part of a Escape Artist Training School so that’s why he had so many chains and restraints about him?
Do you think he was a part of an early clothing optional time-share? After all you learn later in v. 15 that people were surprised to see him clothed.

All of these things we read about he became as a result of the evil, unclean and demonic spirits that dominated his life.

Satan’s Power & Influence
Preoccupation & Fascination with death—death was the only place the demonic were truly at home—and they wanted to take the man with them.
Cut off from Society—anti-social
Great despair
Unnatural strength—
Out of his mind—needed the renewing of his mind
Nakedness—no dignity, living more like an animal
Steal—this man’s life, family
kill & destroy him

that is the same goal that the demonic has for each one of our lives. To steal, kill & destroy. Sometimes we’ll never know we’re under attack. You may never feel it, hear it, see it, but Satan would love to have that kind of influence over you and have you live in and around death, rather than the life of Power and Promise that God has for you.

I do not say that so you will be afraid or in fear—In Christ we have Nothing to Fear. I am one who believes that the Believer in Jesus cannot be possessed by the demonic. We can be attacked, tempted, influenced, manipulated, but not controlled. Why? First and foremost because we have been marked and sealed with the Holy Spirit—God’s seal of ownership over our soul. Because our heart, our soul is the residence and temple of the Holy Spirit—and He will not allow any squatters to move into His house.

For the Christian, there are two extremes that must be avoided with reference to satanic activity. As C. S. Lewis aptly put it:
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors,

The Presence of Christ reveals the spiritual enemies in our lives.

The Power of Christ

READ 5:7-13
Sees Jesus coming from a Distance—
Ran and fell on his knees—knows he cannot hide from Jesus
Knows Who Jesus is and Knows Jesus is more powerful—Son of the Most High God—the demons believe according to James and shudder—they know who He is, but they do not believe or trust in Him—the demons are in total rebellion to Jesus.

Demons fears torture—because that’s what it’s doing to the man—but also b/c if anyone combines both the power and the authority—it would be Jesus. The demonic is torturing this man b/c they know it hurts the heart of God. Now they fear torture from the Rightful Ruler, the All Powerful, Almighty, second Person of the Trinity, God in the Flesh, Savior of the world, Jesus.

This demon is totally submissive to Jesus, begging for his own existence

Jesus asks the demon his name?

Legion—Roman Legions were up to 6,000 men. I don’t believe it’s supposed to be an exact number, but it’s a large number. Just like Elijah v. the Prophets of Baal, Jesus stands alone--even though they are many—and He is but one—the Many cower before Him.

That’s who’s feet we walk behind—Has the Power to Control even a Legion of Demonic Spirits—and He does so with ease.

They ask; beg for permission—to not be sent into the Abyss—but instead to be sent into a herd of pigs the Decision belonged to Jesus

They cower for permission to go into the pigs—The decision belonged to Jesus
They feared being sent into the Abyss, b/c Jesus has the authority & power to send them there and eventually He will, but this moment was not the time.

Jesus Power—He has Power of Creation with the calming of the Storm—He has power over Sickness and Death as we looked at last week in the account of Jairus and his daughter—Jesus also proves to have power over the Spiritual—the Demonic.

And that Power is available to us—Ephesians 3:16-21—“ I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

EPH 3:20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

the Power of the Cross, The Power of the Blood of Christ, the Power of the Resurrection is what is ours as believers in Christ

the Power of Forgiveness and Reconciliation with God. The demonic has no place, and no authority, and no power of us—that’s why, when you or I submit ourselves to God, resist the devil, he will flea from us. Satan and the demonic world lives in fear of Believers who have submitted themselves to God.

That’s why we live in
The Promise of Christ

Matthew 9 & 10--37 Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."

MT 10:1 He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

All authority has been given to Christ—and we are His ambassadorsThis is the reality of the world they lived in. but is it just them? Is it no longer our world?

Do we still live in that world? Do we still live in the world of demonic influence and possession? Does Satan still affect people’s lives emotionally, physically, spiritually?

If you want to believe it in the NT, if you want to hold the Bible high as the Reliable, Authoritative Word of God then you should believe that the world Jesus walked and lived in is not really much different than the world we live in. We haven’t changed all that much. Our spiritual enemy is not yet cast into the abyss.

Do not make the mistake of assuming that all NT claims of demonic influence or possession is merely due to the ignorance of the people of the day. Because you would be lowing Jesus into that category as well. He could rightly diagnose and cure all kinds of sicknesses and diseases, even reverse death itself.
He knew how to handle a sickness or injury. He also knew a demon when He saw one—in all cases, the demon or demons knew Him.

Are we better at figuring out what is a real medical condition than they were in NT times? Yep, you bet. Back then a lot of things were blamed on demons that would now be treated in hospitals. It is totally reasonable for Doctors and Hospitals to search out a physical, mental, medical condition to problems. It is totally appropriate for parents to seek that kind of treatment and to have their child receive such treatment.

There was a case just last week, among several in the last few months of parents in Oregon watching their child die from a treatable medical condition because they believed that if they just had enough faith, then God would heal them. No. do not believe such nonsense.

While many if not most cases today may be medically caused, don’t make the mistake of assuming that everything is physical—sometimes our conditions can be spiritual. The NT teaches that the demonic can make a person deaf or mute.

Can a demon possess a believer, No I do not believe so. I do not believe the Temple of the Holy Spirit can be overcome and evicted by a demon. Can a believer be attacked, can a believer be influenced by, can a demon mask his influence to appear like a medical condition? Yes.

You should also know that those kinds of attacks still happen—they happened to me last week, the night we got back from the SBC Convention.

What I’m going to tell you is not to boast or brag, not to draw attention to myself, but to let you know that something happened that Thursday that hasn’t happened in 12 years.


I say all this to let you know that this world is still a reality—and that if you are unaware of it, or if you scoff at it—you will be unaware of it’s affect on you and unprepared for when, if ever, the attack comes your way. It was not by my might, it was not by my power, but by His Spirit that this attack was fought off.

We live in the Promise of Christ so that we can truly live as His agents in this world dominated by sin, dominated and under the influence of the demonic. When we live in the Promise that He will be with us wherever we o we can do what Jesus asked of this man.


Greek literally .... "Go to your house to your own."
1) NIV ............. "Go home to your family."
2) KJV ............. "Go home to thy friends." Jesus is not asking man to open a scroll.
b. Asking him to open his heart to people who need to hear that God is at work in people's lives.

This is the second man Jesus told to Go and Tell—the first was back in Mark 1: 44 and the man with Leprosy—the unclean physical skin condition—a Jew. Now Jesus is telling a Gentile with an unclean spiritual condition to Go and Tell his friends and family. 2 men, outcasts to their society were the first ones Jesus sent out. They were both completely transformed by His Power.

You’ll notice that we skipped a segment of this story and I want you to see it and see it clearly in a way that I hadn’t noticed before. It describes the Passion of Christ.

READ 14-17

The Passion of Christ
Look at Jesus—The Storm on the Lake—the disciples lives at stake
Crossed over to Gentile territory—but in vs. 21—“Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake” He immediately came back across—

He would have known the storm was coming, He would have known the reaction of the people, known that He wouldn’t stay very long.

What was it that brought Jesus all the way across the lake, into gentile territory?

One man… a man who was so lost, so out of his mind, so hurt and in pain and possessed—that he couldn’t live around living people anymore.

He needed Freedom. He needed Deliverance. He needed the Power of Christ to Transform his life—and Jesus went all that way for him.

That is His Passion—to seek and to save that which was lost—those held in captivity to the Prince of Darkness-He wants to bring into the Kingdom of Light.

Do you realize that how many people around us every day are for all practical purposes in the same boat as this man? Sure, they’re not foaming at the mouth, running around naked, breaking chains—but they are just as lost, just as harassed, just as hurt and in pain, just as captive to the enemy—

You have the Presence of Christ

You Have the Power of Christ

You have the Promise of Christ

What we need more and more of, what we need to be filled with is the Passion of Christ

I don’t know where you are today…

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sermon-- Father's Day-- A Father's Plea- Mark 5:21-43

This is a message that is better on audio, but it wasn't recorded. So the text may not flow as well, but it did in my head!

A Father’s Plea—Mark 5:21-43--Jairius’ daughter

By the time a man realizes that maybe his father was right, he usually has a son who thinks he is wrong.—Charles Wadsworth

Fatherhood, for me, has been less a job than an unstable and surprising combination of adventure, blindman’s bluff, guerrilla warfare, and a crossword puzzle

Billy Graham—A good father is one of the most unsung, unpraised, unnoticed, and yet one of the most valuable assets in our society.”

READ Mark 5:21-24a

He risked everything for her—a synagogue ruler—one who was in charge of the worship service or the building—Jairus was coming to Jesus under great stress and concern. Perhaps he had exhausted all other options—by coming to Jesus, he risked his reputation in the community, he risked losing that position, he risked being thrown out of the synagogue all together and being cut off form the Covenant People of God.

He showed His love for her—she was his only daughter and if there was a way to help her, he would find it
He was willing to humble himself for her—he fell at Jesus’ feet and plead earnestly for her—when it came to his daughter, his children—dignity goes out the window.
He was willing to go to Jesus Himself—he didn’t send someone else—he didn’t let his wife go and take the kids to church while he stayed home to watch TV.
He called to Jesus, begged Jesus on her behalf
He demonstrated faith—he believed, personally—that Jesus could heal her, that he could even help her to live—vs. 23

In 1882, J. R. Miller published a book called, Home-Making:

What we want to do with our children, is not merely to control them and keep them in order-but to implant true principles deep in their hearts which shall rule their whole lives; to shape their character from within into Christ-like beauty, and to make of them noble men and women, strong for battle of life. They are to be trained rather than governed. Growth of character, not merely good behavior-is the object of all home governing and teaching. Therefore the home influence is far more important than the home laws; and the parents' lives are of more significance than their teachings. Whatever may be done in the way of governing, teaching or training-theories are not half as important as the parents' lives. They may teach the most beautiful things-but if the child does not see these things modeled in the life of the parent, he will not consider them important enough to be adopted in his own life.

He held nothing back.

READ 5:35-43

I love the fact that Jesus didn’t listen to those voices telling Him to stop.

Even when others tried to discourage him, Jesus kept coming-even after the bad news, there is no record that Jairus tried to stop him, dissuade him—he believed, held on to desperation, held on to hope. As long as Jesus was coming, there was hope.
Upon his daughter being raised from the dead,
He was astonished—Ekstasis-Existemi –both words mean astonished or to throw out of position, off balance—instead of a double negative—it is a double positive to show the impact it had.
Praised her healing and her Healer—Jarius would have wanted to tell the whole world but Jesus said not to.

Jairus would have seen the power of Christ every morning when his daughter woke up. Many people knew about her death so it couldn’t have been kept totally private. But even though Jesus tokd them not to let anyone know about it—who do you think Jairus made sure never forgot about what had happened?

And when reports came back after the events in Jerusalem that Jesus had been crucified and that He had been raised from the dead, who would have been most likely to believe it?

What do you think is the likelihood that she grew up and became a believer in Jesus Christ?

There are no New Testament accounts that tells me that, but it does seem likely.

Maybe you’re past your child raising days—maybe you have the privilege of being a grandparent

This passage sets a good example--
Care Earnestly for them—Demonstrate your love for them—sacrifice to be with them—Be Willing to Pray on their behalf—abandon all self dignity—and bring them before the Lord Jesus

Here’s even more—I know this church is precious in your hearts. Treat your church like Jairius did his daughter.

Be Willing to Risk—everything on her behalf—don’t be so worried about people’s opinion, what they think of you, what they think of UBC or may think—what you could lose--risk—risk, risk more, risk it all—be more bold than ever before--

Be Willing to Humble yourself--—take the risk, risk embarrassment, discomfort in order to pray for, or invite?

Be willing to go to Jesus on behalf of the church, members and staff

Be willing to demonstrate Trust and Faith—sometimes it’s easy to read the accounts of the life of Christ and wonder—why haven’t I seen any of that kind of movement in my life?

Be willing to Praise Him & give Him all the glory for every miracle

Go to Jesus with all your concerns

Cry out for Jesus to do something on behalf of the church—for renewal, for unity

Demonstrate faith & hope for those things not yet seen—plan, prepare and live expecting them

Praise God for he victories you see

The greatest thing to keep in mind in all of this talk of Father’s Day is that we have a Father who loves us with all His heart.

Know that God is our Father, and the heart that we see in Jairus is but a reflection of the heart of God.

Psalm 84--PS 68:4 Sing to God, sing praise to his name, extol him who rides on the clouds-- his name is the LORD-- and rejoice before him.

PS 68:5 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.

PS 103:13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
PS 103:14 for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.

Know that God took a Great Risk for His Children—He gave us the ability to choose evil instead of good. It affected all of creation.

Know that God Humbled Himself to reach you—humbled even unto death itself—He threw aside His dignity—to be beaten and whipped and naked before the whole world. He took on our infirmities, our sickness, our death—so that we may rise and live.

Know that God was willing to Die to save you and me

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Spiritual Attack after SBC Convention--part 2

Spritual attack after SBC Convention—part 2

It’s been over 10 years since I’ve faced the kind of direct attack mentioned in the previous post. I’ve wondered over those years what changed that I no longer received them. From 1991-1996 they only came while on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin; nowhere else. Was it just a matter of location? Was I on the front lines in Austin, but not in Ft. Worth at seminary or in the other ministries my wife and I were involved in?

Had I removed myself from the front lines? Was I not having significant impact for the Kingdom of God? Did Satan not think of me as a factor anymore thus leaving me alone? Was I falling for Satan’s deceptions and discouragements? I wondered those over the years.

I still don’t have good answers for those questions. I’m also wondering, what has changed to bring it back now? Why would this happen after so long? Is this going to be an isolated incident or will it be a recurring event?

Another set of questions: what does Satan hope to accomplish in this attack? Intimidation? Fear?

How would you answer those previous questions? Do you have any insights into what may have changed to bring it about just after the SBC convention?

Pursuing Him,


Oh, and just so you know... nothing has happened since.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Spiritual Attack after SBC Convention

The 2008 SBC convention in Indianapolis was a retreat for my wife and I. Two church members came with us and they enjoyed themselves greatly. We loved seeing good friends, talking to people, hearing great music and messages. It is typically a recharge for us. There were a few frustrating things that I'll get to in another post. I wanted to share what happened after we got home.

We got back yesterday about 4:30 and things were normal. But something unusual happened during the night. We had stayed up so late every night at the convention that I couldn't sleep. I stayed up to about 1:45 looking at and working on several things--several mental temptations came my way that God provided a way out for, but as I was going to sleep, I was spiritually attacked in a way that I had only heard about from a friend in college at UT-Austin.

I was in that semi-dream state where your still kinda controlling the direction of the dream but this time it was being pushed into a very dark direction which I was literally fighting to come out of. I was lying on my left side. As I was waking up, a presence and weight pushed my face and my right shoulder down into the pillow, trying to smother me. It was heavy, there was some semblance of a voice but it was very faint and I couldn't determine anything. I was startled immediately prayed, "get off of me in Jesus name! Get off of me in Jesus name!" It retreated down my body (I could feel it) and I began continued prayer for protection, for my wife and kids, for my house to be emptied of demonic presence.

I sat up, the hair on my neck and arms was standing up. This was not a dreamy confusion. I was confident in the blood of Christ. I was also confident this was real--I've experienced similar moments before, just not like this. (link to testimony)

In all honesty, I haven't experienced such an obvious & direct spiritual attack since I was in Austin going to college (1991-1996). There, it was while I was awake on campus. Not long before I graduated, a friend I was having lunch with reacted to something I was used to ignoring.

I woke Vicky up so we could pray together for our kids and house as well as those who had gone with us to Indianapolis. That was about 2:40 am after I had tried to go to sleep about 45 minutes earlier.

Like I said, that hasn't happened to me that strong in over 10 years. It makes me sure that that battle here is stronger than ever. I would appreciate your prayer.

Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life,


Sunday, June 01, 2008

Sermon--Sowing & Fruitfulness--Mark 4:1-20

Mark 4:1-20--Sowing & Fruitfulness

Read Vs. 10-11

God Has Entrusted You with a Secret, a Mystery—the Kingdom of God
• This Secret, this mystery is not supposed to stay that way
• This secret is not meant to be hoarded or locked away—it’s not supposed to stay unclear, hidden or obscure
• This secret is to be told to everyone possible
• They mystery revealed
• This secret will not be understood by everyone
• Only faith comprehends the secret

Sower & Soils—READ 4:1-9

The consistent thing in the whole parable is the fact that the Sower was busy about the work of Scattering the Seed—scattering the Word—leaving the results up to God—see vs. 26-29—The sower is not responsible for the growth of the seed—God is—

The sower is responsible to sow the seed. Just like a farmer has to prepare the ground and plant the seed in anticipation of the rains—he must be faithful to prepare, to plant before the rains come—believing that what is needed will come. He cannot wait until he sees the rain, then the ground will not be prepared, the crop not ready to receive the blessing.

It is my firm belief that Individuals are to be Sowers and Churches as a whole are to be Sowers.
But it is not always easy.

14-15—they hear, but Satan takes it away

We are responsible to sow the word, sow the gospel, sow Jesus—many times, over and over again.

In many cases, neither you nor the church will receive any direct benefit from it. Much of what we do will not return to us. The seed falls and it does not produce the fruit of a changed life.

But God still sees the Sower as Faithful—the growth is a factor of the Work of God and the condition of the Heart upon whom it lands. God will hold the sower responsible if he fails or is unwilling to sow the seed in the same way that a Watchman in Ezek. 33 is held responsible for the blood of those who die because they neglect their duty on the wall.

We must be about Sowing. Much of our efforts to share the secret, the mystery of the Kingdom of God will be like this—you throw it out there but it never takes root. It comes back without fruit—it is snatched away—the enemy keeps someone in chains.

We tend to look at that as a failure—as somehow a lack of faith—but it is not so.

Some may look at it as the foolishness of the sower to waste such seed on the path—he should be more careful and only put it in the places he knows it will take root. That’s “spending his money wisely”. But do not think for a moment that the Word is void even in this situation. It is by no means void—it will not return

Isaiah 55: ISA 55:10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
ISA 55:11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Even the word on the path, accomplishes what He desires—it may be one step, one act of soil preparation in the path of the person hearing the word. It may be removing any excuse or defense—actually increasing the rightness of God’s judgment. But regardless of what happens with the one on whom the seed falls—
Sowing the Good News, sowing God’s Word changes the Sower—the more the Sower sows, the greater the closeness to, the dependence on, the trust and expectation from God.

He who sows little, harvests little. Those who sow sparingly are not trusting of the one who has called, hired, and told them to sow.

“Satan comes and takes away the word sown in them” Satan also uses that in the heart of the sower—to discourage you from sowing any more, to dissuade you from the hope of ever seeing a harvest.

How long has it been since you’ve been a part of a harvest? Have you forgotten the joy and thrill of seeing someone respond in faith—to see the light ignite in their hearts and eyes? Has it kept you from sharing your story, from inviting, from praying at all?

Satan comes to steal it away to keep faith from taking root, and also with the hope of stopping the sower.

READ vs. 16-17

There are many people that the church meets, speaks to, and shares Christ with and respond. There’s an excitement, there’s an expectation. Both the Sower and the Receiver are greatly encouraged. They respond to your invitation and come to try it out—but quickly conclude that it’s not for them—so they quickly disappear—we no longer see them. Often, they may stay for a while, but eventually they will move on to something new. Maybe they see difficulty and trouble and move on, maybe they will see strife, gossip and bickering, maybe they will get their feelings hurt.

That is the pattern of church shopping and hopping. “if you ever find the perfect church—don’t join it because you will instantly corrupt it.”

Fewer and fewer will stay in one church for their whole lives, very few who will be committed to one denomination over their lives. How many of you grew up SBC? Churches are constantly seeing people come in and leave—even in the best and most healthy churches this happens.

I just spoke to the minister who married Vicky and I—the pastor of a good and vibrant church and ministry, he’s been the pastor of the church for about 20 years. He told me his church is currently plateaued because they are losing (despite their best efforts) just as many new people they bring in.

70% of SBC churches are plateaued or declining. Worse, only 11% of SBC churches were experiencing healthy growth.

People leave and move on from churches regularly—it is not unusual— In part, this is what we’re seeing now—for various reasons people are moving on—you and I both know of those who have responded, visited, and left quickly. Some may have stayed for a while but were never planning on staying for long. Still others, as you know, are retiring and relocating.

Some of the causes for people leaving are recent, other causes have been simmering for years, some are the typical pattern of the church in America—especially here—as I was told when my family first moved here—the mobility of the university population has for many years been considered a hindrance to growth at UBC.

This situation—those who receive it—only for a short time—can again very discouraging for the Sower. Why bother to invest the seed, the time when it’s not going to last? Affliction and trouble is just going to undo what we’ve been trying to do.

That kind of discouragement—for the Sower, for those who stay is what contributes to the next: READ vs. 18-19

These are ones in which the faith has grown—they have had all the time to grow, they are in the time of harvest, but when checked for fruit, they have little to none. In relation to the church, these are the ones who have sat in the pew all their lives and never invited, never shared, never led anyone to Christ.

It is possible to hear the word, to receive it and still be Unfruitful. Because of discouragement, but also other things beside their walk with Christ become more important, become obstacles to true faithfulness—nothing happens in their life even though they’ve been sitting in the pews every Sunday and nothing happens—There is no Power, there is No sense of Victory, no Demonstration of the Work of the Spirit.

Sure they may be getting fed the word, some of the fruit of the Spirit grows in them, but it’s as if they are grain forever locked up in the storehouse—they never get out and contribute to a crop of their own.

Here is the cause—
• worries of life distract us from our true mission—
• the deceitfulness or seduction of wealth—get in the way, desires for other things—
• things less important keep us from doing what is truly important.

Every church has people drop out and disappear—we should never accept it or take it lightly, However, when people leave they typically have a reason. we should seek to be corrective when the church is or other members are at fault, forgiving, redeeming, reconciling and amiable.

However, the thing that will kill any church is not people who leave—the thing that kills a church is a
Failure to Sow and Sow a lot and Sow Generously, Lavishly.
Hoarding the Seed may allow you to eat for a little while, but your Future is Gone.
Not Reaching out to new people, not inviting, not sharing, not grabbing hold of the mission of Christ and taking it out to those who do not have a church home, who don’t want one. Having no love for the lost, no urgency to their salvation is a sign that the Weeds have come up and chocked out our Fruitfulness.

“Over time, most churches plateau, and most eventually decline. Typically, they start strong or experience periods of growth, but then they stagnate. Patterns and traditions that once seemed special eventually lose their meaning. Churches that were once outwardly focused eventually become worried about the wrong things. They become more concerned about a well used policy manual than a well used baptistery.”—pg 17

We must reconnect with our mission—the one Jesus gave to us as a reason for existence here on earth—we must recapture an urgency for sowing by awakening a true love and concern for the lost. Jesus outside of Jerusalem wept for those unwilling to embrace Him in faith. And our attitude according to Philippians 2 is to be the same as that of Christ Jesus.

It’s not going to be by memorizing a new outline though that may help you, but by continuing to fight, not losing hope, continuing to sow and trust the results to God—He makes it all grow.

A growing church requires each person using their gifts to serve and minister to others, sharing their life story, deliberately seeking out and praying for their friends, neighbors and co-workers, requires each person to be a growing and fruitful disciple. Fruitfulness is one way to measure growth. Fruitlessness is one way to measure distraction.

If you don’t ever share your story, if you don’t ever pray for another person in person, if you don’t ever invite anyone to church, or tell them of the life-changing power of Jesus Christ—then you are missing something as a disciple of Christ. And the church is missing something from it’s body—one thing that means is that we are unfruitful. Sowing People make a Sowing Church.

I’ve been asking around, asking previous members and ministers and observing and my fear is that we are not a sowing church. That’s why we can see almost a generation and a half missing from the church. We have children & youth and then roughly 45’s and up. The only ones in the 20-30’s range are on staff.

If our church were to close its doors today, would anyone besides our own member notice?
Would the city be saddened because such a great community-transformation partner—a missionary of impact was gone? Or would it even miss a beat?

Jesus is the Light of the World—but in Matt. 5:14 He calls us the light of the world—the light that should not be hidden,

The light we have is not meant to be hidden, the mystery and secret we have been given is not meant to be concealed.

Vs. 22, 24-25

We must hold on to the hope that is found in vs. 20—that those who receive and become fruitful will produce a wonderful harvest.

The Heart of a Sower—

I’ve got this seed—I’ve been saving it—it is precious—it is the future—it is the future of my family, it is the future of my people—only by scattering and being generous with this precious seed do any of us have any hope. I can’t guarantee the harvest, for each seed, I don’t know if it will produce anything, if I will see any harvest from it. I have faith & hope. The only thing I am certain of is that I don’t scatter it—there will be no harvest.

Individually, you must be a sower—scattering the seed of your faith at every possible moment. But even bigger than you individually—our family, our fellowship must be a sowing church.

Only if we are willing to sow will we ever see an increase. We need, I believe to repent of our unwillingness to sow.