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December Newsletter-What We Can’t Do

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Big picture: the Gospel is not only about us being in love with God but it’s about God being completely in love with us.

Ok, it’s Christmas and I’m talking baseball. Go figure. During a Cardinal game this summer I heard former St. Louis Cardinal Jim Edmonds describe his ideas about hitting a baseball. He was explaining how he made suggestions to some of the younger players and occasionally one of them would listen and implement some of that material. He said he was not trying to get the player to do something but simply wanted to give him an idea about something; just giving him something to think about but with no obligation to have to do what he said. I sometimes think that pretty well describes the music we rotate on the station. Our playlist contains thousands of songs, thousands of suggestions about the Gospel. That also describes pretty much my conversations in these newsletters for the past 32 years. I have no guarantee of the things I write about being right all the time; actually I’m assured of not understanding all there is about the Gospel because only one knows the Father fully. But I enjoy speculating and giving people something to think about and let the Spirit build on or destroy that in another person’s heart.

It was funny to me years ago when my mother, in a very sweet and loving way, asked me if I bought my newsletters somewhere. She knew me and she knew I didn’t ‘talk’ every day like I write in the letters. I still grin when I think back to that moment. I remember how I failed an English writing course long ago because I ‘generalized too much.’

Generalization is right down my alley. So here we go again, making speculation but without the need to have the speculation agreed with. I’m good with friendly kind of differences.

The Gospel, while I love it, I also find it intriguing and attractive because of so much of its simple ‘upside down’ characteristics, characteristics while ‘crazy’ to man’s human, sometimes logical brain, are literally, by Jesus’ stamp of approval, true. ‘The first will be last’ and ‘lose yourself to find yourself’ are just a couple. This hints that what might be described as fools and children will understand Jesus better than the elite, the wise. There is a suggestion by Jesus that the poor and not the rich will be blessed, and that the meek will inherit the earth, not the arrogant and proud, that the pure in heart, not the strong, will see God. The Gospel of Christ was not started by the Jewish ‘officials’, not the wealthy, not the powerful, but started by seven fishermen, a tax collector, a thief, and a zealot, and defined most profoundly by a Christianity persecutor. Jesus taught of a kingdom upside down as our dwelling place. When tempted by Satan, Jesus shunned the earthly kingdom in order to obtain a heavenly one. Jesus showed us a reality that, while seemingly opposite of our reasonable brain, actually brings us out of the dark into a great light. I wish I could translate that to the most dear in my world. But blindness cannot see. And the only switch to turn the light on, dispel the darkness, is Spirit and not my or anyone else’s words.

We live in a world that curses so much of what Christ followers believe. It appears the world’s morality is simply anti-Christ morality. You can do good, preach your social gospel, and it’s ok. You can do evil as you wish and we will snicker, laugh and cheer-it’s ok. You preach Jesus and you’re bullied, asked to be quiet and labeled as a threat to society. Jesus has become a stain that must be cleansed. Generally, the opposite of anything that Jesus taught is considered good and superior to all things that he suggested. ‘If Jesus said it, we’re against it’ pretty well covers it. In some sense, it’s as though mankind, without Christ, is possessed by a death wish, and needs someone to provide companionship with it on that journey. Humanity accumulates material, knowledge and skills and declares man as the god of their destiny; so satisfied with abolishing Father God, only to seemingly create a mutually enjoyable destruction.

Christianity holds on to the exact opposite of that. In fact, part of Gospel mystery and maturity is moving from ‘we know some things’ to knowing this: ‘Jesus alone knows the Father.’

It appears in many ways that hard and testing days lie ahead. But, there’s an oasis that opens its doors to believers. More challenges will come to Christ-believers as they seem to be painted more and more as the problem. The Gospel gave us a heads up in John 15-18,19: If the world hates you, know that it hated me before you, If you are of the world it loves its own…because you’re not of the world, it hates you. Observing by what you hear and read, it’s the Christians that are destroying the culture, its Jesus followers that are disrupting and blocking a ‘glorious future’ created by a glorious mankind. (I won’t go there in detail, but the political view about Christians today reminds me of the people referred to as ‘savages’ described in the book 1984 by Huxley.)

While we’re not isolated from the world, hopefully in Christ we have an insulation surrounding our hearts. No legislation, no organization, no person can take away what you carry inside your soul. We can seek Him endlessly no matter the environment. Believers can live with the knowledge that God is present; nothing we experience is experienced by ourselves alone, Christ lives in us and is with us even when our feeling may be tweaked by the culture.

Over the years I’ve heard people criticize our faith in Christ and suggest it’s a crutch. They suggest believing Jesus is not really based on reality. One simple thing that’s required in their argument is to imply Jesus was not a real person, stating real things in a small town in Israel. Historically, we can identify Moses, Socrates, Plato, Michelangelo, Martin Luther, Lincoln, any number of historical people. Jesus is historically provable as well. It’s not a make believe story about Jesus, it’s proved and as C.S. Lewis once pointed out: Your choice is to believe him or to assume he was a mad man, but he’s a person requiring evaluation just the same.

I can’t imagine, with all my ability to search my heart, that I’m ‘crutching’ about my life, my faith, my future. Not possible! I have no need for that kind of support in my life. What happened to me, I’ll just say decades ago, cannot be forgotten, modified, suggested away. I read a parable a long time ago that pretty well stabilized how to settle into the Gospel as fact for me. It goes like this: There was a elderly caterpillar crawling along the ground in a garden. On his way, he ran into another younger caterpillar representing the elite society of caterpillars. In their conversation, the elder made the suggestion that, ‘you know we will all be butterflies someday.’ His response was ‘you poor thing, you’re just afraid of dying, inventing something in order to comfort yourself.’ A few days later the younger fella finds a chrysalis attached to a plant and observing it, watches as a butterfly emerges out of the container and flies away. A caterpillar changed from a creepy thing into a glorious thing. That’s the story of redemption Dr. Seuss wrote about in The Grinch That Stole Christmas. Hearts can be changed, not just our minds.

Paul encouraged us to be steadfast in the things not seen; things seen are temporal, things of the heart are eternal. (2Corinthians 4:14-18) That’s our hope, our suggestion, both in this life and the life to come. Will we be celebrating or wrapped in fear?

Luke 18:8 … when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? It was on the most catastrophic day in history, on the most unjust day ever, in much darkness, all hope appearing to be gone, that the most hope, most profound, most important day in all creation brought forth new life. I’m assured the Morning Star will shine out of this mess as well.

November Newsletter- Feelings

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It often occurs to me how Jesus must have ‘felt’ as he approached Jerusalem for the last time. I don’t think he was relishing the thought of having his wrists nailed to the cross, he wasn’t particularly comforted by the thought of a spear thrust through his side. A lashed-bleeding back probably wasn’t something he wanted to contemplate. I imagine the humiliation of those next 24 hours wasn’t easy to receive. And where were the thousands of people that witnessed his miracles, who were touched by his words, where were the ones healed, the forgiven, the lowly, the friends, the disciples? Many that had encountered him had the same kind of thoughts as Peter had, ‘Jesus our king, King of Jerusalem.’ Peter thought Messiah’s purpose and reason to come was to overthrow Roman rule and establish an earthly rule– reign right before their eyes. That didn’t pan out; just like Peter, many abandoned Jesus. Jesus’ vision of his purpose was quite different. In Jesus’ mind: the knowledge of being the Lamb of God, and he very well knew what man’s traditions, his chosen people’s traditions did with lambs! Jesus’ death was real, not a showcase, not a drama acted out by him with a fake response or setting. It was associated with real feelings and pain. God’s son became human and experienced the full human spectrum of our lives; suffered the same persecution from those around him. Christ really did bleed, felt pain, died a slow agonizing death. He was spat upon, screamed at, mocked. Not an encouraging day.
Many years ago, a short time prior to starting this radio ministry, a friend of mine (let’s just call him Pastor Todd Greiner to protect his identity) talked me into going to the Halloween march in Carbondale. No Greater Love ministry sponsored that annual event, walked through the downtown streets and ended up at a location near the SIU campus. That night, the band out of Chicago known as the Resurrection Band performed in a Christian Rock concert. What I remember most about that event was not the music but how surprised I was at the way people lining the street responded. The march was led by a cross and we followed behind. I’d never experienced such anger, shouting, obscenities, thrown beer cans, fists raised in anger, hand gestures– and that was pre-1990. Not an encouraging day.

With many things in life it’s not what we see but how we see it. That’s true about hearing as well. It’s not simply what we hear but how we hear it sometimes that makes all the difference. We filter our eyes and ears with traditions and expectations; however, it’s the Gospel that should filter how we see and hear. I try to not live by how I feel or even by what I see. (2 Cor. 5-7) To simplify that statement, I try, not always successfully but try, to live by agreeing with what Jesus says. Literally, the Scripture in 2 Corinthians means ‘to be preoccupied’ with agreeing with Jesus’ teaching. Feelings are soulish and sometimes they have to be contrasted with the Spirit. Feel is different than hear. It’s hard to explain but the closest I can get is that feelings come from the brain, hearing comes from the heart. Jesus’ feelings, while he did have them, were not controlled by his flesh. His walk was not responding to every moment but was focused on a larger, driven vision. Vision is superior to feelings. Many years ago a friend of mine got into all kinds of ‘stuff’, stuff that destroyed much of his life. One day I spent two hours assuring him of God’s Love for him. For that moment I was an ambassador for Someone else, representing God’s Love. I actually didn’t feel like doing that during that conversation, I actually opposed much of what he was doing, but I spoke about God’s point of view rather than my own. Sometimes we have to separate ourselves from own feelings and simply state what Jesus says about a situation. In some sense that’s the Faith Message: believe, trust Jesus, and not what we see, we think, we sometimes even experience.

As we come to the end of 2022 I’ll share this with you. Just as in your life, in this ministry feelings come every day. Being positive about our Faith and purpose, just as in everyone’s life, even at the station, has not been without challenge. Given the past couple years and even now, it’s not as easy as just being verbally positive. From an integrity point of view, believers’ words can’t be the only positive things stated, believers’ hearts have to be positive as well. Our heart of ministry still remains stable because of Whom we believe and trust. We are in our third year of not doing our annual Celebrations. During those events, we explain our purpose, our hearts, and testify to the necessity of raising the funds to operate this ministry. For almost three years our contact with our listeners has been interrupted. We miss that. Roadblocks related to our concerts have occurred. While we continue to try and create opportunities for encouragement and inspiration with those gatherings, things have changed, the environment has changed, so that we’re ‘seeing’ a different world when it comes to gatherings, even gatherings meant for good.

Ministry in the original Greek language, while composed of 8 different Greek words in Scripture, is defined, as applied to WBVN, ‘to serve, to render service, to wait upon’ (others). We’re locked into that and continue to be motivated to provide that kind of ‘ministry’ on the radio. In essence we experience a kind of congregational caring for one another, a daily gathering of people on the radio that God has given us to care about, to wait upon.

Over all the years, and in each of them, we’ve seen much, experienced much–miracles really. Coming up on 33 years, (January 8th) we praise and give thanks that people have been caring and good to us. Even over that past 2 years plus. There’ve been necessary changes in people’s lives that perhaps caused listeners to have to pause their giving to the station and at the same time there have been listeners that have increased their contributions to help cover the differences. We’re grateful for all that help. It can’t be overlooked that our listeners have done that with limited effort on our part. One of the miracles for us is that we’ve seen that happen rather than caused that to happen.

Let me refer back to the first paragraph in this letter. Imagine you’ve not heard the end of our Gospel story, haven’t read the end of the book. Jesus is just a man, a wise, apparently charismatic man making pretty strange and noticeable teachings. Imagine all you have is the ‘now’, simply living in the moment. You’re following a leader that you’ve waited for all your life. Your ancestors have waited on Messiah for thousands of years. Then Jesus comes, says his Father is God. He’s born out of wedlock, he seems to do miracles. He teaches Wisdom, shows compassion to people who don’t deserve compassion, people who for sure haven’t earned it. He seems to have a regional following in a time ‘regional’ doesn’t really exist. He quotes the Old Testament writings effortlessly. He boldly enters your Holy building and exerts authority over the religious leaders of your group. He says he forgives sin. He draws the attention of the King and the Sanhedrin. He doesn’t raise his voice but seems to command an unusual awe, changes the environment everywhere he goes. He parades into the capital of your religion on a donkey with thousands lining the streets. Apparently he is the king of something. But in reality he doesn’t establish a religion, never rules or reigns or overthrows the Roman guards. What he does is die! Your leader dies. Seemingly, the old traditions win. Rabbis and Romans celebrate his death; celebrate his failure. He’s dead. How would you feel at that moment? Sad? Discouraged? Afraid? How would you feel at that moment, only seeing the Cross, not seeing past it? Today we see past it, recognize its glorious future; they only saw the death and burial. It looked over, felt over, was in the practical over.

But, there was more to come. There is more to come for us as well. Do you think that in spite of what we are seeing there is more to this story? Do you think that if before the foundation of the world, God, Son and Spirit set out on a mission and in 2022, it’s coming to an end? Do you think there is something to hope for in spite of what we see, what we hear, what we experience? Eye has not seen nor ear heard neither has entered into the heart the things that God has prepared for them that love God. (1 Cor. 2-9) Personally, I haven’t placed that scripture into only a Heavenly future, I put that in the now, capable of being revealed to us by the Spirit. Hope is real, it’s by the Spirit.

I’ve never done this in a newsletter in 32 years but I’ll end it with a joke. “When questioned by his mother what he learned in Sunday School, 8 year old Justin answered, ‘We learned about when God sent Moses behind the enemy lines to rescue the Israelites from the Egyptians. The teacher said that when they came to the Red Sea, Moses called for engineers to build a pontoon bridge and they barely got across it in time, because the Egyptians were right behind them coming in tanks, Moses radioed headquarters on the walkie-talkie to send bombers to blow up the bridge and they did and all the Egyptians were stuck and that’s how Moses saved the Israelites.’ Mother questioned, ‘Justin is that really the way the teacher told the story?’ He confessed, ‘Well, not exactly, but if I told it her way you’d never believe it.’” We can have Hope because the God of Moses is the God of today and tomorrow. Part of our Faith is to believe and trust even on Cross kind of days. From observing what we see and hear each day, imagining how these things roll into the future, God in that future, it would be hard for us to believe. However, the prophesied His-story will happen, just like Life after the Cross.

Now’s not the time to abandon him either, where were the formerly blind, the lame, the lepers, those set free by Jesus, where were they on crucifixion day? Our eyes and ears may be discouraged because of what we’re seeing and hearing but the reality of this situation is not as easily understood as it appears. The story is not defined by our sight, it’s defined by the words of Jesus. Luke 18:8…when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? Will we be celebrating or wrapped in fear?

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