Heaven’s Gates Are Over Monroe

(The Temple Mount, Jerusalem)
In today’s nytimes.com there an article on the convergence of two great religious holy days in Jerusalem: the Jewish month of Elul which leads to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and the Muslim month of Ramadan. For both Muslims and Jews these are holy times in a most holy place, Jerusalem. Having been to Jerusalem last winter I wish I could spend another month there now.

Is Jerusalem especially holy? “Holy” means “set apart for God.” A “holy” month would be a month where God especially reveals himself; a “holy” city would be a city where God especially dwells. As 17-year-old Avi Kenig says as she looks up at a clear night sky, “It feels here as if the heavens are open to our prayer. We have been taught that here we are at the center of the world. These are the gates to heaven.”

What’s a Christian like me supposed to think of this? My answer is that, in Jesus, the opening of heaven’s gates is no longer geographical or temporal. As Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well, a time is coming when there will no longer be worship on your holy mountain (Mount Gerizim) or in Jerusalem (on Mount Zion – the “temple mount”). When we pray “God let your kingdom come, let your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we’re not asking God to send something special on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. We are asking God to rule and reign, here and now.

 

With Jesus the “center of the world” shifted. Geographical and temporal boundaries no longer matter. That’s why we’re experiencing the opening of heaven’s gates here in Monroe, Michigan.

Pressure & Integrity

(A Monroe Quilt)

We see who a person really is when they are under pressure. Do they have “integrity?” That is, are they integrated morally and spiritually? Consider metal.  A piece of metal is said to have structural integrity when pressure is increasingly put on it and it does not crack. If the metal is integrous it means that it’s the same here and the same over there and the same wherever you look at it. Apply pressure, and a chunk of metal that has integrity won’t crack anywhere. But if it lacks integrity at any point, that’s where it will crack.

Personally I’ve never met a person who I’ve thought was perfectly integrated. But I’ve known some who come close. Using my Christian perspective, this means they love and follow Jesus whether they are in public or in private, whether in the church sanctuary on a Sunday morning or home with their family on Monday evening. In that regard they are the real thing. They are consistent. Their friends and children don’t view them as hypocrites who smile in front of others and go berserk in their living rooms, who show up on Sunday but whose words can’t be counted on when it’s Monday.

If you were a tennis player and wanted to grow in your skills then play against opponents who are better then you. Want to grow in your faith? It mostly happens when darkness comes. Want to grow in character? Character development mostly happens during times of struggle. A well-integrated soul holds together in good times or bad times. The apostle Paul expresses it this way: “I have learned the secret of being content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11)

Please God, Not Other People

(My wife Linda in the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island)

If you are a follower for Jesus and minister to others in his name it is important for you to distinguish your ministry from your need to be liked. God likes you, and that will be enough for you once you get that inside of you. Anyone who truly follows Jesus will not be universally liked. If this gets to you and you choose to be a people-pleaser, then in those areas you will likely not be pleasing to God. Your “ministry” will be a reaction to the pleasure or displeasure of others with you. Please God first, then love others even if at times they are displeased with you.

Worshiping on Mount Munson in Monroe

(Monroe)

Yesterday I preached out of Luke 17:11-19 – the story of the ten lepers who were healed by Jesus. This story has always been a favorite of mine. It’s about more than a physical healing. It’s about true seeing; about a revelation or epiphany.

Lepers were socially and religiously outcast. In the time of Jesus if you were sick it was thought that God was cursing or punishing you. Remember, e.g., the blind man in John 8 who was sitting outside the temple. Jesus’ disciples see him and immediately wonder who sinned – this man or his parents – that he was born blind.

Jesus is walking towards Jerusalem on the border between Samaria and Galilee. Ten lepers, keeping their distance, call to him – “Have mercy on us!” They knew Jesus was socially higher than they were. And they must have seen something in him that made them think “He can help us.”

Jesus heals them – “cleanses them.” This “cleansing” means they are not only physically restored but socially and spiritually restored as well. As they walk away from Jesus one of them, a Samaritan (Jesus calls him a “foreigner”), stops. A light goes on in his mind. He does a 180 and walks back toward Jesus. As he’s doing this he’s shouting out praises to God. He approaches Jesus, throws himself at Jesus’ feet, and thanks him over and over again. Arguably, this foreigner is the most outcast person we ever meet in the New Testament. He’s physically, socailly, and spiritually unclean, and on top of that he’s a Samaritan, and Jews and Samaritans hated each other. Now here he is worshiping a Jewish man who just cleansed him in three ways, the most important of which is that he can worship God and get close to God.

This is important, and it’s the “revelation” part of this story. In John 4, in the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus tells her that a day is coming when Samaritans will no longer fall down and worship on Mount Gerizim and Jews will no longer fall down and worship on Mount Zion. God is looking for true worshipers, and true worship is non-geographical and non-ethnic. True worshipers worship in spirit and in truth.

The Samaritan ex-leper gets it. He’s not worshiping on any mountain any more. He’s worshiping at the one place where true worship happens, which is at the feet of Jesus. You and I don’t have to make a pilgrimage to the holy land to worship God. We don’t have to climb Mount Zion and bow down. Munson Park here in Monroe will do. If you’ve had a revelation of the Real Jesus, that he is the One who makes all things new and all things clean, you’ll see you can throw yourself at his feet where you’re at while reading this and give thanks to the One who has come to save us.

Life Experience Does Not Equal Maturity

(Monroe Quarry)

I’ve met a lot of old people who, simply because of their long life, have a lot of life experience. While this is true, it does not mean they are mature people. I’ve met 70-year-olds who haven’t developed maturationally beyond middle school. I conclude that life experience does not equal maturity.

Maturity, from a Jesus-standpoint, is the Greek word teleios. Teleios means, literally, “purpose” or “end” or “goal.” Maturity is the achieving and achievement of one’s life purpose. For the Jesus-follower, this is a move towards Christlikeness and Kingdom living and Kingdom-advancement.

“Mature” is often used of fruit. When fruit is mature, it means it’s ready to be picked. It’s ripe. And the reason it’s ripe is because it has spent its lifetime attached to the source of its life, which is the branch or vine. If fruit falls off the vine the maturing process stops.

The kind of maturity the follower of Jesus only happens as one is attached to Jesus, conncted to Him, who is the source of our life. A person could live their entire life disconnected from God and Jesus, and be spiritually immature. And one could have lived in Christ for just a few years and be growing in maturity because they are connected to him.

This Weekend at Redeemer

(Lake Erie)
TONIGHT – We’re at Newport Beach Cafe to worship and hear Josh Bentley teach out of 1 John 1:5-10 – starts at 10 PM.

TOMORROW NIGHT – WIN – 6 – 8 PM (Worship Intercession Night – a time where we combine worship & prayer)

SUNDAY MORNING – Luke 17:11-19 – 10:30 AM

SUNDAY EVENING – Heather Brown preaches – 6 PM (we begin with worship)

And remember… Redeemer Ministry School worships from 9 – 9:20 AM T-F mornings (5305 Evergreen)

Praying Today at Our State Capital

(Capital building, Lansing – not taken by me)

It’s 6:30 in the morning, and I’m about to drive to Lansing where it will be my privilege to open today’s Michigan State Senate Session with prayer. For me this is a great honor. And it’s a God-opportunity. I’m glad our government still opens their sessions with prayer. Is the opening prayer mere protocol? For me it makes no difference, because I believe in God and I believe that where prayer focuses, power falls. I look forward to blessing our state senators with wisdom and hope and creativity and diacritical ability that can only come from God. They need it, as do I. God is not in some panic room over these difficult economic times, and has direction to give for all who will listen. And when it clearly comes from God and advances his kingdom the glory will go to him.

I don’t feel that political solutions will ultimately cure the things that lie deep in the human heart. I do believe each of our state senators has a heart that can be transformed into Christlikeless. If and as this happens if will be good for them and us and God. If this happens it would cause the people to rejoice.

In 1 Timothy 2:1-6 Paul instructs young Timothy by saying: “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time.”

I’ll be standing before the Senate at 10 AM and before God asking him for some things and giving thanks.

Become Like Jesus

(Monroe)

Increasingly, I find myself less and less interested in becoming what many people want to become. I don’t admire what a lot of people seem to admire. I mean this in two ways.

#1 – I’m not interested in becoming what the media says I need to be. And what’s that? It’s someone who has a lot of money, a lot of power over other people, and a lot of sexual experiences. The “big three” of America are money, power, and sex. Regarding money, I have never had a lot of money. Making money has never been my pursuit. I seem to be interested, for the most part, in the things money can’t buy. Like healed and restored people and relationships. I can’t say that I’ve never succumbed to the money-god. But I can say that life’s greatest joys for me have nothing to do with money. Regarding power over other people, I value serving others and getting beneath others rather than standing over them. Again, I can’t say I’ve never served the power-god. But I can say I don’t like it when power-hungry people exercise their authority over me, and this has caused me to not want to be like that towards others. And regarding the quest for multiple and many sexual experiences, I love being married to one women, Linda, for 35 years. There are things to know and experience in a long-term monogamous relationship that cannot be known in, e.g., serial monogamy and multiple sexual “partners.” Add to that the fact that I stood before God, my family, and my friends and vowed to Linda that I would be faithful to her through all the ups-and-downs of life “until death do us part.”

#2 – I’m mostly not interested in becoming what the Christian media says I need to be. By this I mean the glitz, hype, fabricated drama, stage-presence, money-taking & money-making stuff I see. Not all Christian media is like this. But some are, and I don’t want to be like that. Of course it’s not for me to judge who’s real and who’s not. But I’ve seen more than enough of “Christian” tele-people whose lives fall apart because of money, power, and sex. Personally, I am asking God to protect me from all of that, because it ends up destroying a lot of people’s faith.

What would I like to become? Just give me Jesus. The Real Jesus. The Real Jesus of Matthew-Mark-Luke-John. Not the American-TV-“jesus.” Just…. Jesus. Give me the Jesus who tells me to watch out for “money” because Money is like a god. Give me the Jesus who, though He could have had all the earthly power He wanted, rejected all of that when He was tempted in the desert and instead chose to serve and give and love and sacrifice. Give me the Jesus who loved prostitutes and delivered them from sex-trafficking and gave them a life of holiness and dignity.

Jesus is the One I admire. I want to be like Him.

Authenticity vs. Hypocrisy

(Lake Erie)

Often, when I meet with someone I don’t know, I ask them the question “Who are you?” It’s interesting to see their responses as they try to think of how to respond!

I’m not doing this as a game. I want to know, really, who they are. I’m open to listening to however much they want to reveal about themself.

Are they, e.g., an “authentic” person. The word “authentic” comes from the Greek word “autos,” which means “self.” We use it in the old word “auto-mobile,” which means, literally, “self-driven.” “Authentic” connotes “real.” Are you authentic? Are you a real person?

The biblical opposite of an authentic person is a “hypocrite.” This Greek word was used to refer to actresses and actors. You could translate “hypocrite” as “someone who wears an actor’s mask.” Hypocrisy has nothing to do with imperfection. We’re all imperfect. Hypocrisy has to do with not being authentic, not being real, like being an abuser in your own home but wearing a mask of politeness out in public.

Hypocrisy in parents produces anger and bitterness and cynicism in children. Authenticity engenders endearment. Hypocrisy is the creation of an illusion about one’s self; authenticity owns one’s self and lives it out before others, especially those who are closest to you. Hypocrisy is acting, authenticity is freedom. Which means it takes a lot of energy to live hypocritically.

When Jesus says “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” part of the freedom includes taking off the heavy mask of one’s false self and letting Christ shine through the real you. You and I are not perfect, but we can be truthful, loving, and real.