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August Newsletter: Focus

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Dan 7:14-And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him: His dominion an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom which shall not be destroyed.

It was 1985. Saturday afternoon. I was sitting at my work desk at the time. It was a slow afternoon customer wise with only an occasional person coming into the business that day. And, as I did sometimes when business was slow, I began to read a book. This Saturday, it was a C.S. Lewis book, titled God In The Dock. It was my practice back then, when alone, to read out loud because I seemed to remember the material better. As I was reading a paragraph, out of my mouth (I know this sounds a bit different than most of our general life experiences) came the words, ‘You shall……”. I’m going to leave the rest of that blank. Those were words not written on the page of that book. The words were unrelated to the subject of the book material. It was personal and private. Words that didn’t relate to anything I had been thinking about. The truth is, it was so astounding to me I’ve only shared the exact words that came out of my mouth with Jane. No need for the detail here but it was a spontaneous, significant moment. Recently, I was texting someone and giving them the usual generic, business as usual information, and at the end I typed: ‘I see Jesus in you’. As I hit the send button it was almost like watching me do that rather than me being in control of doing it. People that know me well know I seldom express myself like that in an email or actually any time. I hit the send almost in a hurry, knowing that if I paused very long I’d probably erase that thought. It literally was like I watched myself say that, observed the process rather than planned it. Similarly, while on the phone I recently expressed how much ‘we’ loved them. That, to a man I only know by the heart; not the flesh. Those are samples of things that I didn’t generate in my brain, they came from someplace in my heart. I believe that the Spirit of Christ is buried in there and He speaks through us sometimes. I use those illustrations to simply mention a few of many hundreds of little things that I’ve experience in my Faith Journey that has created ‘steadfastness’ about the Love of God and the personal interest He has in our personal lives.

I hear many people saying that we’re in a special time, special brokenness and hurt. When I hear that I’m reminded of the things my father and mother went through in World War II, being separated for almost 3 years and life threatening day by day danger that my father lived with while landing on Utah Beach in France and marching for 26 months to Yugoslavia. In crises like those and the ones we face today, Faith in Christ is a necessity focus for us. Today, rather than growing less secure, less confident of God’s presence, I’m strengthened and more aware of His presence than at any other time in my life. In March, 2012, when Jane was paralyzed head to toe, when we spent 11 weeks in Chicago, her in a hospital bed on a ventilator and me sleeping and snacking in a chair next to her, the one characteristic we both experienced was the very presence of God and His willingness to be there with us. In some sense we were the center of His focus. Those days we do not live by sight but by Faith. Everyday looked terrible and even hopeless by most definitions. But, we were in the middle of a Kingdom that seemed to surround the terrible with Comfort.

When I type that, I’m aware of how that must sound to unbelievers and perhaps some believers that just find it that hard to understand such an expression. God with us, in our hospital room, paying attention to our problem? And at the same time, God, by His Spirit, everywhere else and involved around the world. But, it was true.

In the days we’re now experiencing, there seems to be days when there simply are no words to express our hearts. I recently said on the radio that sometimes our silent prayers are more powerful than our screaming them. I hesitated when I said it because I didn’t want to give the wrong impression with those words. The silent prayers I was referring to were prayers of confidence, hope and peace. They’re things that are on the inside of us that might just need to stay there instead of being spoken. In the middle of the loud, in the presence of even this worldly demonstration of anger and strife, silence does not always mean voiceless. I’m reminded of the simplicity of Jesus’ response to the questioning of Pilate. Jesus being pushed to declare His authority as King of the Jews simply answered: thou sayest. (Mark 15:2) Few words, two words! Said it all. Matthew (12:17-19) described how Jesus refused to raise his voice in the street. Zechariah 4:6 comes to mind, ‘not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord.’ That’s a confidence abiding inside Christ and now in us that does not necessarily need expression.

Silence can be the voice of: I know something, something that doesn’t show up in the newspapers, on television and on social media. God is alive, not dead. God is eagerly focused on me and my life, aware of my life. Christ, according to Rev. 1, is King in a present Kingdom not seen with our eyes. Worldly success, political power, and self-righteous behavior modification are not the showcases of His Kingdom. Paul teaches that the Kingdom of God is not fleshly or a physical kingdom but is Righteousness, Peace and Joy all in the Spirit. (Romans 14:17)

It’s a journey to get to that point. Sometimes finding freshness to God’s Gospel means we have to subtract some of what we’ve focused on previously on our journey. We grow, we increase in understanding, and we simply discover that Jesus’ ministry focus changed from the early Gospels chapters to the later Gospels chapters. He moved from sharing and healing into a concentration of parables on eternal/everlasting life and the Kingdom that had come.

I think this is a profound and necessary discovery on our part. In John 10:10, Jesus simplified the Gospel into just a few assuring words: I have come so that you might have Life and have it more abundantly. That was the purpose of the pre-genesis action of God before creation. He came so that you, and you is everyone whosoever, will accept God’s explanation of why! It’s not political, not economic, not simply religious law that caused Him, the Father and the Spirit (They all were present during Jesus’ ministry.) to come across the other side of Genesis to earth. It is simply He came that you might have what Life the Father, Son and Spirit would have for you. It’s encompassed in the words Peace, Joy, Free, and Love. That kind of Life is present in moments of cultural upheaval, during hospital visits, on bad news days, actually all the time. The leaving Heaven, the suffering, the whole incarnation was for you to experience their kind of Life. Not just human life but Life as God experiences: mutual caring, mutual sharing and relationship.

So much of the time we’re focused on trying to be like Jesus. And, we should be like Jesus. However, there’s a bit of a caveat on how to get that result. Much of the time, what we believe is that the Gospel is designed to change who we are and make us Messiah version 2.0. My little caveat is that we actually fail at being like He is. It’s not that we’re turned into little ‘Jesuses’; rather, the Gospel was designed to let Him live through us. The destination to be as He is is real; just the mode to get there is a bit different. It’s not that we become perfect like Him but that we permit Him to pour out His Spirit (through us) on people around us. It’s similar to my email and phone conversation mentioned early on in this letter. He used my typing and my voice to tell someone a message for their hearts. If I had been thinking about it I don’t know that I would have expressed it in that way. But having it come through me was as real as real can be from me. Sometimes I’ve used the expression ‘I didn’t know I knew that’, but what resides in us is resident there and eager to express itself through us.

The Spirit of God came to live in you so that He could ‘leak’ out and change the world around you. ‘I see Jesus in you’, ‘we love you’ after I thought about it was very appropriate to be said to each of those people, not because they’re pristine or perfect but because they, as much as anyone I know, let Jesus flow out of their sharing as well. I don’t see them as being made into Jesus 2.0, but I see the evidence of Jesus coming from out of their human ‘being’. When Jesus said that he was going away to prepare a place for you, that does not have to be limited to just places in Heaven. Jesus was also preparing a place for us to live now, in a new ‘kingdom come’ He established. To be free in Christ, to experience rivers of living water, to learn to trust, to permit our hearts to become vulnerable permitting us to care deeply, to be fearless, to walk in hope, are places prepared for us by the crucifixion/resurrection of Jesus. This life and the next are characterized by His Kingdom of Righteousness, Peace and Joy, now in this mess and forever more. As Daniel prophesied, His Kingdom will never be destroyed. The Love of God cast out all fear that we can experience the Kingdom of God right in the middle of this mess.

30 Years of Memories-Rich Mullins

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30 Years of Memories-Rich Mullins

September 19th, 1997, Rich Mullins died in a car accident near Peoria, IL. Rich had been in concert for us three times over the years. Still today, much of his music rotates in our highest rotations library of music. Even gone, Rich is still sharing the Gospel in his unique way. During the last couple years of Rich’s life he had moved to Window Rock, Arizona, to teach music o Navajo children. He had taken a vow to live the lifestyle of the average wage in America and had no information about all the financial results of his music career, leaving that to others. Rich Mullins was more than a musician who wrote song lyrics, he was a ‘thinker’ of the Gospel who was transparent about his struggles with and the wonder of God’s Love. A good weekend read might be Rich’s biography written by James Bryan Smith, An Arrow Pointing to Heaven. The Rich Mullins of our first concert with him in 1990 was not the same Rich Mullins in his last in 1996. Smith’s book narrates Rich’s Gospel journey.

Another one of the things that he did was to write a monthly column for Release Magazine. I stumbled across a couple of those in my desk recently and I thought it might be interesting and perhaps trigger memories of one of CCM’s most influential artists if we reprinted one of those articles. This appeared in the fall issue of Release in 1993. It’s a true story of Rich living in at attic in a friend’s house in Wichita, Kansas. My favorite picture of Rich that we have from one of his concerts was him barefooted, a diet Coke sitting next to his feet, a pair of frayed blue jeans, and wearing a white wrinkled t-shirt. That was Rich. Common, no pretense, no wasted words. This short column fits his image: a hammer, nails, his room a mess.

‘My new apartment is in the attic of Jim and Megan’s house. It’s a big old one-roomer with a mind of its own – a cacophony of lines that occur at approximately 45 to 90 degree angles, with floors that sort of redefine ‘level.’ This attic has its own idea of what ‘square’ means; its studs have their own interpretation of the classic 24-inch on center.

Its walls are loosely vertical and the whole thing is about two weeks away from being much more than a lot of potential. Right now it is resistant to change – openly hostile to my ideas of what it ought to be. But slowly, surely, occasionally even patiently, I am (with the help of some friends, a hammer, a saw, some nails and a wrecking bar) enlightening it, changing its self-concept, convincing it that it is not merely an ugly, old attic – it’s a great space full of promise and beauty and order and life.

I suspect that it wants to cooperate, but it’s hard and I must be patient. Whoever it was that shaped the attic before me did so with some pretty big nails, deep cuts, hard hammers and rough saws. The considered the attic to be a wasted space – distance between the roof and the ceiling – a buffer zone and not much else. Someone else came along and closed it in for a smoking room; a place for ignoble activities that would be inappropriate in the ‘house proper.’ They slopped over the walls with cheap, nasty paneling and put in a bathroom, covered the floors with ugly carpet and stunk it up with a tobacco habit.

Sometimes in the heat of the toil of my labor I give in to fits of self rage –frustration more over my lack of skill than over my apartment’s progress. But, late at night when I look over the piles of dust and drywall and the knee-deep debris that remain during this reconstructive effort, I am strangely moved by the place and I proclaim the Gospel to it softly. I say, ‘I know how it hurts to be torn up. I am often choked on the litter left by my own remodeling. I know what it’s like to settle (by the grave act of a strong will) into the despair of believing that you are wasted space. I have felt the blows of heavy hammers that nailed me to a sense of uselessness. I have been shaped by some pretty careless workers who came to the task of making me and lacked any craftsmanship or artistry. I know the pain of wanting to be changed and yet distrustful of changes, of wanting to be worked on, but being suspicious of the intentions of the Worker. But here is some good news: He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. However messy it may be now, however confusing and scary it appears, however endless the task may seem, we will someday be glorious, beautiful, alive! There is much tearing out to do – a lot to give up. No thin coat of new paint, no shallow, petty piety will do. It’s not good to cover up imperfection, it must be corrected. Art, beauty, functions – these things take time. They may take until the day of Christ Jesus.

But we are not wasted space, we are temples of a Being greater than ourselves, temples being built to be inhabited and brought to life. Though we may not understand the process, our Rebuilder does. We are His workmanship and the place where He lives. Little attic, do not despair! I’m being made by a Master Carpenter. I’m learning a little about building, too.’

July Newsletter- Chloe Jane

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This month’s letter is on a subject I’ve never written about. It’s been lying in the back of my brain for 30 years and I’ve never before felt the time to write it was now, but I guess the time is now. I’ve said over the years that WBVN is a ministry to the Church. As such, evangelism, while important to us, is what we do indirectly rather than a direct approach. We encourage the Church and in doing so we hope they in turn become evangelical and share their faith with others. In that way, evangelism is on the other side of our daily efforts to encourage you; it gives even more purpose in what we do.

So, let’s talk Nicodemus. He was a special dude. Reportedly, he was one of the three richest men in Jerusalem. He was a Pharisee. He was a member of the Sanhedrin. He was, as such, a teacher. Simply, Nicodemus was a person of authority and held the position in his community of purposively knowing God. He taught people God! He’s mentioned three times in the Gospels. First, and probably most famously, he was a quizmaster of Jesus. (John 3:2-21) Second, he acted as a defender of Jesus’ right to speak before being judged. (John 7: 50-51) And lastly, he brought 100 lbs of myrrh and aloes for Jesus’ burial. (John 19:30) John is the only Bible author that tells of Nicodemus’s quizzing Jesus. In John’s text, Jesus simplifies the processes of coming to God, knowing God, as being born. Nicodemus, in the great Jewish fashion of answering a question with another question in order to try and get further explanation (and I’m sure with a bit of Jewish swagger) suggested Jesus surely doesn’t mean re-entering his mother’s womb. Jesus follows: unless we’re born of water (literally, rainy from above) and the Spirit, we cannot enter into the Kingdom of God…that which is flesh is flesh and that which is Spirit is Spirit. The Kingdom of God is the place where God is present, the place where God reigns. That Kingdom of God can be right here, right now. In fact, Jesus emphasized that the Kingdom had come. I’ll pause the story right there for now.

Jane and I have a new granddaughter. Chloe Jane has re-kindled the wonder we’ve experienced when observing the miracle of birth with our own daughters. Birthing, bringing forth a new life, parallels the birthing that God did when He created Adam and with every person since Adam. The experience we have with babies is the same kind of heart experience God has when creating His children. So much hope, so much love, so much caring. Simply put, God loves His children just as easily as we do when we look over the crib seeing our new part of the family. These first few months have had Jane and me amazed at Chloe’s personality and her rapid growth mentally and physically. Have you ever thought back to your first 9 months? (That’s a bit of a trick question.) I know the answer to that- you have not! No one has because we don’t remember the first 9 months at all. I’m talking embryonic stage of our lives. In some ways, that pre-coming-to-birth 9 months can be representative of our whole lives. I’ll explain. I know people that simply turn away from any reference to God simply because they can’t see Him, can’t feel Him and can’t imagine Him. Without the physical confirmation of a God, they simply deny the presence of God in the world: no proof equals no God, no belief.

For 9 months, each of us was sustained and nourished as a gift from someone we weren’t mentally aware of. However, that someone was someone we still we have an intimate relationship with. That’s mom. Our mothers provide every need for our development for 280 days. They provide an environment for us to be comfortable and they provide the umbilical cord, our only source of life. That whole 9 months, we’re completely, totally unaware of mom and her provision. All we knew was ourselves: were we comfortable upside down? Did we want to stretch our arm? Maybe kick our leg? Did we want to sleep all day and wander around birthing space all night? Then, we’re born. A whole new world appears to us. Mom becomes the center of our universe and we know her, depend on her, we cry for her attention and we become aware for the very first time that mom is our life source. Suddenly, we’re awakened to someone we actually had a relationship with all along, we just didn’t recognize it. We’re moved from unaware, to being aware that someone existed besides us, someone who looked out for our safety long before we became aware of them. Our not being aware of mom, not feeling her presence, not seeing her, did not define her existence. She did exist and played the central role of getting us where we were supposed to be after 280 days. Being unable to recognize ‘MOM’ in that first 9 months, didn’t mean there was no mom. Jesus’ parable to Nicodemus concerns what’s True, even Truth that we might not presently be aware of. That’s the Gospel that Jesus shared with Nicodemus. God is here, the Kingdom of God is here, and our being unaware of it gives us no excuse to deny it. Truth is real whether we perceive it or not. As Jesus said, people need a birthing to become aware of Who has been present with them all along. Without that new birth, we simply are like infants in the womb of our mothers, without the knowledge of who has been with us since cell two.

Faith is the bottom line of our Gospel. Proof is not the bottom line of our Gospel. It was never intended that we would prove Jesus, prove the Father or Spirit. Jesus did not come to prove He was the Son of God. His miracles were signs but they were not requirements to prove who He was. With Compassion and Love, yes, Jesus did respond. He could have done a million things to prove who He was but did not do that. Significantly, all the temptations offered to Jesus by people or by Evil, were all suggestions to express proof in a fleshly manner, not the Spiritual. Throw yourself off the mountain, turn stone into bread, others, were offered to tempt Jesus to prove His deity, turning the Gospel into power not faith. He refused to give seeing, feeling, touching as way to God. Faith was the only way to discover Him, become aware of Him. Awareness by the Spirit, not the flesh, was Nicodemus’ lesson on being born again. In the original language, redemption did not mean just changing one’s behavior or mind but included a qualifier, a necessity requirement: changing our heart. The Life of God doesn’t just affect our flesh; it sets up our heart to rule and reign over our flesh. Godly Life is not just about good and evil, but also contains a change in why we live, what in our heart motivates us. Coming to Faith is just that. We don’t arrive at the doorstep of God and present him our faith; we arrive asking for Faith and He ‘rainy from above’ Faith on us as a gift from Himself.

We can go through 90 years of life like a baby goes through 9 months. We can only be aware of self all our life or we can come alive into the new world of knowing God. We can remain in a pre-birth condition, unaware of God providing for us, nourishing us, caring for us, without our awareness of Him. Or, we can be made alive to His presence by the Spirit. Eternity will not change our minds and hearts. That’s what this life is about, birth now, not then. We will enter Eternity knowing or not knowing, awareness or not awareness. One of my favorite scriptures is Matthew 5: 6, ‘blessed are they which hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.’ Seeking God is the way to satisfaction in this life. The reciprocal works for that statement as well, those who do not seek Him will be ‘uncomfortable’ (my word) all the time. Get your Peace now; there are other things in store in the future. Faith can’t prove God; but unbelief can’t prove its belief either. The bottom line is: faith in God is one way to live and faith in not believing in God is just another faith to believe. Both are belief systems. Which one you choose is simply choosing a faith either way.

It seems because of Nicodemus’ social position, he chose to meet Jesus at night, in the dark, not to be seen. Maybe Nicodemus was hiding from other Pharisees or was just simply too embarrassed to be seen with Jesus by his friends. There is a parable in that story as well; darkness is where we all come from to meet Jesus. We all are blinded by our own minds; we have built in prejudices and cultural traditions. We can’t see Him in our darkness. Reason? Darkness is associated simply with the absence of light. Actually darkness can’t exist if any light is present at all. A single candle can light a whole room. Darkness only exists if light is missing. Scripture crowns Jesus as the Light. We must all come to the Light, a Light that illuminates our surroundings and surroundings that we have not been aware of before. And, similar to Chloe becoming aware of her mom at birth, the light of a new world revealed mom to her, the Light of Christ, our delivery into a new life of God, reveals the presence of God in order to experience the Kingdom of God right now.