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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.

NewSong’s Very Merry Christmas Tour with Big Daddy Weave

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December Newsletter-Merry Incarnationmas

Posted on by Laura Posted in Newsletters | Leave a comment

Christmas this year does feel like a breath of fresh air. Matthew West has a new Christmas song called ‘We Need Christmas.’ I agree. Thinking about Christmas is somewhat related to hoping for a return to normal. This changing world, well, has really changed. The only stable thing we have left, the one thing that does not change, is The Gospel of Christ. There’s a daily reminder we all need to be aware of that gives us confidence in the future: the ‘before the foundation of the world’ dream of a Loving God is still the dream God has today. His dream does not change and is not going away. The circumstances we experience, hear and see should not frighten us because of what we know about God’s tomorrow. That dream was expressed with the incarnation of a baby, born of a virgin. The purpose of that incarnation was to cause us to experience God with us. Imagine that, God stepping into our world with its broken hearts and spirits and delivering a piece of mail marked ‘Hope.’

The incarnation was God’s self-communication with the creatures that He created, His attempt to communicate in some way so that we might know Him. Jesus was the Word made flesh. (John 1:14) Jesus was God’s statement to us that He cared; we mattered. It was God’s personal way to reveal Himself to humanity. The birth, the incarnation, is designed specifically to share with us the dream of God, telegraphing God’s desire of what He hoped, and eventually has planned, His creation was to be like. The birth, teachings and resurrection of Christ was to show us how to live, show us the secrets of Life as the Father would have it for us. Jesus came to reveal the Father, Son and Spirit and, just as significantly, reveal who we are as well.

Jesus was the Word of God made man. Significantly, he was a man who believed and came to teach us how to do the same. He is both the Word who created the cosmos and amazingly, the man who submitted himself to the cruelty and darkened heart of humanity. The same Word who created the world came to save it. For the Word, coming to earth was a moment of addition, not subtraction. The Word of God didn’t lower himself, rather, he added the creature experience to His deity experience. In doing so, a new and living way was created. The amazing story of incarnation, of redemption, and of that new creation was that God entered into the equation personally. By entering into our world, He forced on humanity a story that all humanity must consider. Jesus, by giving himself into the hands of the wicked, by entering their darkness, brokenness and rebellion, God in His Wisdom, established relationship with people they can’t ignore. Amazingly, He used humanity’s rejection as the vehicle for their redemption. On the cross, the world had damned Jesus with anger and hatefulness. They had bullied him, humiliated him, beat him, mocked him, pierced him, and killed him. In their minds they had put an end to Jesus of Nazareth. The Jewish leaders, who demanded the Law of Moses for all people, broke their own commandment of ‘thou shall not kill!’ and conspired to murder. The Romans who championed humanity’s progressive intellect with declarations of reason, order, justice, and logic also created one of the cruelest forms of punishment ever introduced by humans- crucifixion. Perhaps the hearts of all humanity can be summed up with one single action witnessed on the day of crucifixion: offering Jesus to drink of bitter root. That moment exposed man’s heart toward God.

Jesus’ crucifixion was man’s answer to God’s self-communication. God’s answer was resurrection! A new Genesis was written at that moment. A new man was created. With the death and resurrection of Jesus, a messianic man would replace the Adamic man for the very first time. Jesus was a new Adam, a new man not only possible with Jesus, but an opportunity to happen to whosoever will. The Wisdom of God had used our broken, hateful, darkened heart to create His story of Grace, Mercy and Reconciliation. Incarnation began an opportunity for man again to walk and talk with God as in the original Garden of Adam. Incarnation was purposed to lead us to the knowledge of God and to embrace Jesus as Creator and Lord, Salvation and Life, and the True source of life’s meaning for humanity. With an ‘in-plain-view’ death and a public resurrection God had forced the world to look and see, to witness and believe. There was no hidden trial, instead a very public one. There was no hidden body, instead one guarded by Roman soldiers. And with the resurrection witnesses, certainly He left mankind no excuses.

Symbolically, what happened at the crucifixion happened because the world cried, ‘Crucify Him!’ Today, we can hear much of the world making that same statement. I’ve often discussed with Jane how what the world did to Jesus at the crucifixion; the world will do to the risen Christ prior to His return. What it looked like then, will look that same way again. ‘Crucify Him!’ is shadowed in our cancel culture today. Now, we all find ourselves experiencing increased stresses and witnessing what I’ll call ‘award winning’ stony hearts. I mean it’s almost professional stony hearts.

In spite of that, as believers, we have His blessed Hope. Christ is in us and that’s the Hope of Glory. His Wisdom encourages us to abide in Christ and thereby bear much fruit. Listening to Jesus inspires us to walk with Christ and have a hope of experiencing the Father’s heart. His incarnation brought Hope. The promise of the Spirit and of Christ is to release us from the daily tensions of loneliness, of fear, dread, sadness, chaos, frustration and discouragement and prepare us for the revealing in our own hearts that God will never leave us, never condemn us, but really is Immanuel- He is God with us.

The good fight of faith is one of choosing to believe in the power of that incarnation story or simply turn it away. C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity that we’re free to not answer that telephone call to faith but it still doesn’t excuse us from hearing the phone ringing. One thing is very clear; the original vision foreseen by Father, Son and Spirit, the original price that was paid by the Trinity of God, will never, ever be lost. So today, it’s impossible that the Love of God will ever abandon the Truth. No matter what we see in the world, no matter what we hear, no matter what we feel: It’s impossible that the Spirit of God will ever hide away. Remember, it looked very bad for Jesus of Nazareth all his earthly life. But now, just as it was then, it’s impossible that the Father will not accomplish ‘Thy Will be done.’

It appears that the world is manifesting, in a big way, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. In Daniel Chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar was king of Babylon. The king had a dream. In it he imagined a huge, glorious statue of himself. The head was made of gold, the chest silver, a bronze belly, iron legs and feet made of iron and clay. It was a towering image; impressive in power and size. It was the kingdoms of the earth. Yet, Daniel indicated that a rock not cut by human hands (Jesus) struck the feet of the statue and it collapsed in rubble. That single stone became a mountain that filled the earth and filled it with a King’s kingdom (one not created with human hands) that would never be destroyed. Today, the earthly kingdoms are strong and getting stronger. They are powerful and getting more powerful. They are ‘all knowing’ and getting more intrusive each day. They do what’s right in their own eyes. They have magnified Adam’s mistake believing Lucifer’s whisper, ‘You can be like God.’ That foolishness is still whispered today and many still buy it. Just as in the king’s dream, there’s a Rock poised to cover the earth with a Godly Kingdom. This radio ministry continues to share that Message 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our message today is what it was the first day we broadcast on January 8th, 1990. One of our original radio tags was: They could not help but speak what they had seen and heard. (Acts 4:20) We still believe that the only way to know God is through Jesus Christ. Incarnationmas is a celebration of Jesus! OK, I’ll do it the old fashioned way– MERRY CHRISTMAS!