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March Newsletter-Missed God

Posted on by Laura Posted in Newsletters | Leave a comment

I recently had someone talking to me about how they were discouraged that they had ‘missed God’ because of some of their selfish decisions. Seems her Christian journey had many unexpected, unwanted, unfair and sad turns along the way, and she really felt that she no longer had a chance to get back on the road ‘as the Father leads’ and experience life as the Father would have it for her. My first response was natural and easy, ‘I’m not sure that’s possible with God.’ Our God never leaves us, does not condemn; from God’s perspective I’m not sure He ever gives up on us. His characteristic is to wait for any opportunity to bless, share His Life with us. To me, the Gospel appears to always be in rescue mode, healing mode, compassion mode. It is true we can walk away from Him, we can say no but that walk is on us not Him. True, our road can be rocky, have some hills to climb, but the Gospel of Jesus appeared specifically to straighten that road out, level it. Simply put, God’s sole purpose is to help you find His purpose for you. His dream is for us to catch a glimpse of a Life with Him. I think we can be assured that instead of missing God, our Father, His Son and Spirit are more interested in not missing an opportunity to miss you. God is always ready, always present and any time is a perfect time to step into our lives. Jesus came for people and to gather people into a new and better life. He ministered for 3 years and never declared anything but Love-of-God for people the whole time. He didn’t come to prove deity, did not come to seek His own praise, He came to save!

A big part of having that kind of confidence in our Father is simply knowing that Jesus came for one purpose: to reveal the Father, Son, Spirit to us. Jesus came to reveal, to redeem, to set us free. There was no other agenda. He healed to show the Trinity’s compassion for us. He didn’t come to be praised but to share with us what praising God could do for our hearts, not His. Remember, He does not seek His own. (1Cor. 13) Jesus came to embrace us as much as anything else. To express how much He valued you, Jesus shed His blood, gave up His very breath, to make sure you considered what kind of price he was willing to give so that you might find Life as the Father would have it for you. Jesus did not come to bring a how-to-book, did not come only to establish another moral or ethical system, and did not come to start a new religion. Jesus came to reveal the heart of God so that we might come to know Him. Know Him so personally we could say and believe that the Spirit of Christ lives in us. Now stop right there. That’s a pretty heavy, serious statement for any person to say. Can you, do you believe that? It’s like Gospel 101. It’s one of the first things to learn in order for Christ to be experienced in our lives. Again, Christ lives in our hearts! Christ co-habits there accompanied by our mind-will-emotions. But given the chance, He can and desires to dominate the others. This is an important feature of our Faith: I’m not asking all the time does it feel likes that’s true, not asking does your ‘thinker’ always think that. The question that needs answering is not either one of those, instead, simply is that true no matter what I might feel like, or what I might be thinking. Christ in you should dominate whatever our mind-will-emotion might whisper to us.

Creation was the gift of life (bio), Grace and Mercy is the Gift of well living (zoe)… God’s Grace and Mercy bless believers with a Life that is better than Creation alone can give. (Remember, Mercy is not getting what we do deserve; Grace is getting what we don’t deserve.) The Gospel is more than biology; it’s zoe Life to the full; simply, completeness of body, soul and spirit. The Gospel is not progressive, moving toward to a new, never experienced life; actually it’s much more about going back. Jesus is the way back to the original relationships of God and Man in the Garden of Eden, doing that through the blood stains of the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s a Gospel not toward a more complex understanding of Life as the Father would have it for you, but actually toward simplicity, coming to it described by Jesus as a child. We are to be re-deemed, re-stored, re-birthed, re-surrected back to relationship.

That Garden brought Peace. That’s not a humanly defined peace without sadness, conflicts or violence, but is God’s Peace based upon knowing we are redeemed. It’s a calm created by knowing God’s purpose for your life. In Eden, Man turned their vision from God’s Life into one where they thought the best future was by becoming gods of their own lives. That’s still Man’s emphasis today. God’s vision in Eden was that Man would know Him, it was not that Man would be Him. Most of today’s troubles are created by Man trying to set up their little kingdoms; ruling and reigning as king over all. In reality, the Peace we need is found in Christ’s promises rather than the promises the world keeps offering.

It’s always been interesting to me, and wonderful to think about, but in the first of The Book, Genesis 15:1, in the middle of The Book, in Luke 2:10 and at the end of The Book, Revelation 1:17, God’s word to us is ‘Fear not’. It reminds me that Christ is the first and the last; He is the beginning and the end. I’ve done some reading on the Greek words in those scriptures and it’s important to their understanding to note that the word ‘not’ found there is more emphasized than just being a suggestion not to fear. It’s a word that comes with a command in it. It’s not simply a ‘hope this helps’ kind of word it’s an affirmative ‘do not!’ Its emphasis is ‘to be in awe of.’ Paraphrased, maybe it would be like this: ‘do not fear, but be so amazed in God because He and He alone, casts out fear.’ Consequently, the daily observance of the world around me, a world seemingly defined by Man, should not frighten us.

So, here we are; many of us looking for Jesus’ return, some fervently praying come quickly Lord. Absolutely, we should pray for our re-union, that’s for sure. However, I do want to go back a few paragraphs and re-emphasize ‘Christ in us.’ That Spirit, the Comforter, has come, lives inside believer’s hearts. That Spirit can be depended on to Lead and to be Present right now, today, at any moment. Romans (10:8) preaches of Christ now, close, and personal. In James 2:23, the author describes God Himself as the friend of Abram. One reason I write a letter such as this letter is because of a very early ‘favorite’ scripture found in Isa. 42:3. ‘A bruised reed He shall not break, smoking flax He shall not quench.’ That scripture changed a whole lot of my life years ago. I had come to believe that was the heart of God toward His people. At the time, I certainly qualified as broken and bruised back then, or even now, and it took awhile before that ember in my heart for Christ became a flaming fire.

In closing, be kind to me and let me finish the letter with this. I need your kindness because I’m going to use a secular song to make a point. Back in 1971, when I was just a pup, James Taylor’s song ‘You’ve Got A Friend’ won the Grammy Award as the song of the year. I’m sure, not too many (probably not even James, or Carol King who wrote it), heard it how I heard it, but to me I could hear the Gospel in it. That song back then and even today conjures up Jesus thoughts in me. So here we go; my apologies (but with a smile)…

When you’re down and troubled
And you need some lovin’ care
And nothin’, nothin’ is goin’ right
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night
You just call out my name
And you know, wherever I am
I’ll come runnin’
To see you again
If the sky above you
Grows dark and full of clouds
And that old north wind begins to blow
Keep your head together
And call my name out loud
Soon you’ll hear me knockin’ at your door
You just call out my name
And you know, wherever I am
I’ll come runnin’, runnin’, yeah, yeah
To see you again
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I’ll be there, yes, I will
Now, ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend

February newsletter-Prayer

Posted on by Laura Posted in Newsletters | Leave a comment

1Thes. 5:17 encourages us to pray always, finding Grace and Help for all our needs.

Recently prayer has been a full time job it seems because of some personal experiences in my wife’s family. Her 97 year old mother, her sister, her brother, her sister-in-law, her nephew and his children all contracted Covid. As a friend related to us the other day, many shared in the sorrow when Jane’s brother and sister passed away. Jane and I have spent hours discussing between ourselves and personally praying during those days. During those conversations I remembered that I had only discussed prayer one time in a newsletter. That letter appeared in 2016. I think I mentioned in the letter that I’m not very verbal about what prayer is but that I have some definition of what it’s not. Because of our recent family experience and specifically because just about everyone I know is praying intently for many reasons because of the world we all deal with each day, I thought I’d share a few thoughts.

There are 25 incidents cited in Matthew, Luke, Mark and John of Jesus praying. One of my favorite prayer scriptures is the lengthiest one found in John 17. In the 25 times recorded of Jesus’ prayers, He prayed alone, in public, before meals, after meals, before healings and after healings. He prayed for The Father’s guidance and showed us how to pray boldly in the Lord’s Prayer. (Matt. 18, Luke 11) And of course we all grew up with the example of the 23rd Psalm as a Messianic Prophecy prayer about a future Lord. I think there’s a difference to be noted in the Old Testament prayer teachings contrasted with the New. There’s a victory in the New Testament prayers that are only hoped for in the Old. Something happened in the prayers of Jesus and Paul that confirmed the presence of a new way of praying, a new confidence in the relationship between the Creator and the human heart.

It’s been said that prayer is not what we do in a panic or exhausting effort, but it is what God does in us and for us during those times. If true, that’s a wonderful freedom found in the Gospel of Christ for New Testament believers. Being in Jesus brings Peace and Comfort because He listens and He cares. In the O.T., Israel had a central, annual day of worship and prayer called the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). On that day the priest gathered up all the prayers for the whole year and they were presented to God by one participant, the High Priest. That Priest uniquely represented many on that day. While the High Priest prayed inside the Holy of Holies, the nation prayed outside. Upon exiting the Holy Place the Priest always brought a message of Peace and Blessing: ‘The Lord bless and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord turn his face toward you and give you Peace. And they may put my name on them and I will bless them.’(Numbers Chapter 6) While in the sanctuary the Priest made sacrifice, not a sacrifice to calm an angry God, but a sacrifice to represent the Covenant of God with Abraham. God is a God of Covenant and as such had chosen to bless Israel through Abraham, blessing Abraham’s future generations with a gift of Love and Grace. God is not a God that has to be persuaded to Love and be Grace filled; He is that by His very nature. He is not like a pagan god caught up in blood sacrifice to placate anger and wrath but a God identifying the seriousness and cost of sending a Son to be sacrificed by the world, that sacrifice to be a propitiation for the world’s sin. I prefer to think of that as God saying He really means business in paying such a price for us. Our God is so serious that He built a bridge to you, built it with the blood of Jesus. God wanted to show you something so profound it would, in God’s dream, make obvious to humanity His desire to share His Life with us.

In the O.T. God had called Israel to be priestly over all the nations of the earth – they failed to do so. They shouted with joy on escaping Egypt and then died in the wilderness, forgetting to trust and obey the One that had rescued them from Pharaoh. If you look at the world today, it appears many are making the same mistake Israel made; embraced the Grace of God and then kick Him out. The story of the O.T. is that God did not abandon His purpose in building a people to have communion with. Jesus’ life represented that desire in God. He is still committed to that same purpose today.

Presently, we have a High Priest (Heb. 10-19). He is an eternal Priest ‘of the order of Melchizedek’. (Heb. Chapter 7) A risen Christ left earth and entered into continuous prayer in the presence of the Father. Today and every day, just as on Yom Kippur, we have a representative in the Holy of Holies that gathers our prayers and intercedes on our behalf. That’s part of the Glory of the New Testament. Christ entered into the Holy Place and entered into it for us, sinful men and women, and stands in for us continually. Christ died for us while on earth. He now acts as a Brother by standing in with us in prayer. Paul taught in Romans (Chapter 8) that we do not know what to pray but the Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words many times cannot express. Christ is God’s way, even when we do not know how to pray, to draw us into personal, private communication with the Creator of the cosmos. Our prayer at times can simply be ‘Abba Father.’ Mary’s prayer at the appearance of the angel was: ‘…be it unto me according to Your Word.’ Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane was simply, ‘Thy Will be done.’ Both prayers were simple but heartfelt and powerful.

The Apostle Paul teaches: confess Him with your words, say the same thing about you as the Father says about you, and be the same in little and in much. What’s true about God and what was accomplished by Jesus, was a Victory He grabbed for us. It is true even in times when it may not look like it is true. On the 5th floor of a Chicago hospital, while staying with Jane during the paralysis created by GBS in 2012, in a room with one small window, each day that window had a ray of morning sunshine. There, I discovered a whole new truth about the scripture that refers to not living by sight. No matter what I was seeing in her hospital room, no matter what was being said about her condition, I knew one thing more than anything else: that God was with both of us. We knew that God was for us, knew God was present. Jane, paralyzed from head to toe, likes to say often that Jesus was all she needed, He was enough. God was her Father, loved her more than even a husband can, and He had said, and confirmed, with His Love, to be with her, to hold her, and have great compassion for her. It was obvious to us that the Love of God interceded with us, prayed with us. In our prayers, we were never alone praying. We had a powerful Brother in prayer. Our prayers were not about convincing God to help, our prayers were about thanking Him for what He was doing right then, and today, right now!

We should not regard prayer as a legal duty that we must fulfill in order to get God to bless us. Our God is not a God/Father who says to His children: ‘I shall only love you if you….! Prayer is a joyous response to the Love and Grace of God. One of my favorite quotes about prayer was written by E. W. Bullinger:
Prayer is the breath of the new nature.” Just as the natural breath is the sign and evidence of physical life, so prayer is the mark and sign of the possession of spiritual life… Natural life commences with breathing and the breathing produces a cry. It is so with the New Birth… From that moment, breathing continues as the spontaneous outcome of the New Life. No knowledge of Physiology is required for the one(breath), and no knowledge of Theology is necessary for the other(prayer)… The moment it becomes the subject of discussion—its essence is gone…The moment we reason about prayer we make it artificial. But true prayer is spontaneous. Our business in natural life is to breathe and not to think about it. Our business in spiritual life is to breathe (to pray) and not to think about it. The moment we begin to think about our prayer we are occupied with the means and lose the end…

In John 17, Jesus prayed for himself, prayed for his disciples and for all believers in such a way that it’s an example for us to see the heart of God for praying today. Simply, it’s a prayer of hope established upon Jesus’ unique knowledge of the compassion of God for Him and for us. Jesus knows the Father more than anyone knows the Father, and he reflected a huge confidence in the Father’s heart in that prayer. To paraphrase: Father be with me (on the way to Gethsemane)…what We (the Trinity of God) set out to do before there was time (before the foundation of the world), that is now finished. Father be with Your people, keep them, be One with them as We are One that they may know that You Loved them as You Love Me. …(know) that, the Love I have with You may be in them and I in them… Jesus knew full well that the Father was to be and could be trusted in all things, and gloriously.

January Newsletter-Aksarben

Posted on by Laura Posted in Newsletters | Leave a comment

“Your words were found, and I did eat them; and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart.’ (Jeremiah 15:16) Joy and rejoicing in our hearts, anybody need that today?

Above is a photograph of a small collection of Ak-sar-ben lapel pins. They’re pins from a race track in Omaha, Nebraska, a town Jane and I lived in for 4 years while in the United State Air Force. No, I’ve never been to the track, or any other race track actually, but there is something about this track that caused me to buy these pins years ago. I don’t really collect them, it’s just over time I’ve been ‘favorable’ to these particular pins and have accumulated a few. Except for Jane and I having family and friends that we valued very much, we would have stayed in Nebraska after the Air Force because we loved Omaha so much. As to why I have those pins, I’ll explain later in this letter; for now on to the Gospel.

I was recently re-reading my highlights in a book by Rabbi Daniel Lapin entitled Buried Treasure. The book illustrates (I guess I’ll call it) the power of the Hebrew language and its place in the study of Bible language. Hebrew is the language of Adam and of Moses’ Torah and unlike the English language, with which a word’s meaning may change from generation to generation, the Hebrew language never changes. It’s fixed. Read it today and you know exactly what was being said and read thousands of years ago. The subtitle of Rabbi Lapin’s book is called ‘Secrets For Living From The Lord’s Language.’ Let’s just say it’s interesting reading using Hebrew to teach us about many ideas such as relationship, marriage, children, community, work, and success, all with a touch of the Spiritual mixed in.

One of the ‘fun to read’ chapters has to do with the Hebrew word for trash: ReFeS. One of the things that Lapin points out is the fact that with the Hebrew language a Hebrew word spelled backwards is not just a jumbled, meaningless bunch of letters but many times reinforces that word’s normal spelling. Example: in English trash spelled backwards is hsart. It doesn’t mean anything whatsoever. However the Hebrew word spelled backwards, SefeR, gives us the Hebrew word for ‘excellent’ or ‘fine’. In the Hebrew language trash spelled backwards takes on the exact opposite meaning of the word spelled correctly. Interestingly, in ‘the Lord’s Language’ something perceived as trash when looked at from a different perspective can become something valuable. What appears to be trash looked at in another way appears to be a treasure. That sounds a bit like our life stories of before Christ and after Christ.

There are many illustrations of how the Hebrew language and Bible language make profound differences in our Scriptural understandings. Lapin points out that the Hebrew word for Truth is spelled EMeT. Evaluation of that word reveals something interesting. In that Hebrew word its first letter is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The second capitalized letter is the middle letter of that alphabet: thirteen letters before and thirteen letter after. The last capitalized letter for that word is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The author’s point: Truth is so complete it is the alpha and the omega, first and the last and all the middle contained in one expression. Truth is found beginning with a truth, continuing in that truth throughout and ending with the completeness of Truth. Isaiah 28-10 describes it pretty well, ‘line upon line, here a little, there a little’ into all Truth.

If you had been following me around the past forty years and watching you would have seen me open another particular book often. It’s E.W. Bullinger’s A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament. Bullinger was a Biblical scholar and translated the Word into his own study Bible in the late 1800s. Honestly, I can’t remember any time in the last 40 years that I haven’t visited its text almost weekly. That one book has helped make the Scripture I quoted at the beginning of this letter real; and as Eugene Peterson says in his Message Bible, ‘a feast on His Word’. Using a lexicon is somewhat like unwrapping a gift, you’re not sure what’s inside until the wrapper is removed. Bullinger has permitted me to experience something of an archeological dig. When I was about 10-12 years old I used go to my Grandma Tanner’s house and almost immediately ran off to the field next to her house. She lived within ‘just feet’ of the coal mine next door that dumped its ‘spoil’ in huge piles all around her house. The spoils were the rock dug out of the ground and piled in large mounds, probable 25-30 feet tall and pyramid shape so that I could climb to the top rather easily. Being dug out of the earth nearby, they were full of fossil material. I spent hours going through the shale and rock to find ferns, shells and tree bark images. Every time I found one it was a bit joyful and exciting. They weren’t valuable but they created a wonder in my mind and a pleasure of having found what had been hidden away until I discovered it.

To me, Biblical word study is a bit like those spoils. I sometimes think God placed words and their meanings for us to un-cover out of the pile so that we would be wide-eyed and excited to discover such wonder. I’m not saying he hid words from us to make it hard to find– not in His character! But I do sometimes imagine He wrapped words in little packages so that we could open them and see something we’ve always longed for inside our hearts. Let me give you one of my favorite ‘findings’ as an example. In 2Cor. 11-2, Scripture references a godly jealousy. This so called godly jealousy is not associated with the meaning of being against or being jealous of; rather it specifically refers to an eager, vehement passion for, in this case His people. Rich Mullins said it well in his song lyric: ‘the restless raging fury that they call the Love of God.’ Imagine God so motivated that He would send His Son to be bruised, cursed, disgraced, his friends scattered, his name laughed at, Jesus’ misery smiled upon, him scourged, spat upon, pierced, crucified, and buried, all that for a relationship with people like you and me…that’s a godly jealousy. God was willing to step out of paradise and grab you in a holy embrace; a God so passionate as to include you in His Life and Eternity. It’s a natural characteristic of God, not a once in a while passion, but a never changing passion, a passion desiring to earnestly be with you! Because of that great passion, God has made a way for personal relationship between you and Him to happen by Christ Jesus.

It’s a passion identified and expressed in Brennan Manning’s book titled The Ragamuffin Gospel, and a passion again expressed by Rich Mullins in the lyrics: ‘There’s more that dances in the prairies than the wind, more that pulses in the ocean than the tide. There’s a love that is fiercer than the love between friends, more gentle than a mother’s when her baby’s by her side…’. One of my favorite quotes is mentioned in Manning’s book. Brennan attributed it to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: ‘I feel only gratitude for my life, for every moment I lived. I am ready to go. I have seen so many miracles during my lifetime…never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder and He gave it to me.’ Heschel went on to say it appears that, ‘as civilization advances, the sense of wonder declines.’ Wonder has been one of the favorite things ever in my life experience. The unknowing and constant unfolding of life keeps it interesting for sure. Sometimes the unfoldings are sweet, sometimes sad. Our comfort comes from knowing God is with us every moment.

I started this letter out mentioning Ak-sar-ben lapel pins and mentioned I would explain why I have those at the end of this letter. It’s simple really. Remember the Rabbi Lapin teaching on the word trash and how reading it forwards gives us one meaning and reading it backwards gives us another. Try that with Aksarben…..I’ll help: nebraskA. The pins just let me hold a little bit of a place Jane and I loved in the palm of my hand.