Chuck Norris’s Voice and Mine

 Last week Linda and I went to Subway. “What would you like?” asked the young man behind the counter?

“A tuna sub on honey oat bread.”

“What would you like on it?”

“Swiss cheese, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, extra hot peppers, oil and vinegar.”

He then asked me, “Do you know who you sound like?”

“No.”

“Chuck Norris.”

I thought, to this kid I sound like Chuck Norris. I felt a warm feeling inside. I felt bigger, taller, stronger, more dangerous, more capable. And the only words I said were the ingredients of a sandwich.

Since then I’ve talked out loud while driving alone, just listening to the sound of my voice. A few times I’ve thought, “I do sound like Chuck Norris.” I speak, and my enemies tremble.

Be Thankful for the Kingdom That Cannot Be Shaken

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”

– Hebrews 2:18

We’re not in control. Agreed? Things we don’t control include: the global economy, what’s happening in India today, what’s happening in Bangkok today, other people, our own addictions, the weather, the common cold, gas prices, nations, the past, the future, most of what’s happening now, and death. Because these things are fundamentally out of our control or anyone’s control, attempts to control them sometimes get ugly, such as when we try to control other people.

All these uncontrollable things shift and move beneath our feet and before our eyes and make life uncertain. Sometimes the very foundations of our life get shaken and we get fearful. This has happened to me and will happen again, I am certain.

Many years ago my life was shaken. “I” was out of control. My choices and their results left me in a fearful condition. It was then that I looked to Christ. And something inside me shifted. The shift was from a heart that trusted in fundamentally uncontrollable things to life in a “kingdom that cannot be shaken.” This shift has been, for me, THE event of my entire life. Now I spend most of my time seeking the kingdom of God, and studying the things of the kingdom, and looking to God for strength to live these things out. I’m not the perfect kingdom citizen. But, like others I know, I’m the recipient of God’s kingdom. The result is that I am thankful. And it causes me to “worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”

Pray, Watch, Be Thankful

 

 

(Sterling State Park)

 

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.”

          Colossians 4:2-3

 

I think it’s true that there are a lot more people who call themselves “Christians” who are not devoted to prayer then there are those who are devoted to prayer. I don’t mean to judge people re. this, but for years I’ve led conferences and taught on prayer throughout the United States and around the world. “Devotion to prayer” is lower in America and Europe than in Third World countries. I have found that the more one enters into the Third World the more devotion to prayer there is. Why?

 

Because the more stuff one has creates the illusion of un-neediness. And, a person has to be very, very busy to acquire all the stuff, so “there’s no time to pray.” In reality we’re all very needy. In America, mostly, we just don’t realize it.

 

The same, I think, is true for “watchfulness.” The American way of watching is passive, unengaged media-gazing. Media-deprived people know what it is to be watchful, like the farmer standing in his field gazing deep into the horizon searching for rain. True watchfulness follows from true neediness.

 

Paul instructs us to be devoted to prayer and to watchfulness. Real watchfulness contains an element of mystery. The media-illusion casts a spell of “knowledge” on people, masking the truth that this world we live in, to include our own selves, remains fundamentally a great mystery. The more mystery, the less we know we’re not in control, the more watchfulness emerges.

 

I find it interesting that Paul next instructs us to devote ourselves to being thankful. Thankfulness follows from prayerfulness and watchfulness. This is because a person who is devoted to prayer and watching has a great sense of need and dependency. When one is needy, then provision is not so taken for granted. Hence, thankfulness emerges. Gratitude happens.

 

Give your life to being thankful. Focus on thankfulness. Love being thankful. Make thankfulness a priority. Dedicate to thankfulness. Get a prayer life. Get a watchful life. Get a thankful life.

Overflow With Thankfulness

 

 

(Monroe)

 

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

          Colossians 2:6-7

 

At age 21 I received Christ Jesus as Lord. I welcomed Jesus. The result is that for the past 38 ½ years I have lived in him. Not perfectly. Jesus is God, I am not. But my receptiveness to Jesus has so changed my life that I wonder if I’d even be alive today were it not for him. I have sunk my roots into the deep, rich, life-giving soil of God’s kingdom and never left. If anything good has come into me and through me to others it’s Jesus, flowing through me.

 

And I am thankful. I feel thankful today. I don’t always feel that way, and when that happens I’ve lost the forest for the trees. I see the darkness and miss the light. I rarely feel ungrateful. Sometimes, I’m just in neutral – not ungrateful, but definitely not overflowing with thankfulness.

 

To “overflow,” literally, means to have more than a full cup. When a cup of water is full it overflows. Overflowing is the indicator of fullness. Therefore to be filled with God’s Spirit is to necessarily overflow. Part of this overflow is a thanks-shaped heart. It’s a wonderful way to live this life. It’s life sans bitterness. It’s for every day, every week. It’s even for Thanksgiving week.

 

Receive Christ Jesus as Lord.

 

Continue to live in him.

 

Sink your roots deep into life in his Kingdom.

 

Be built up in him. Construct your life in him.

 

Find yourself being strengthened in faith.

 

Let the overflow of thankfulness pour forth.

Is Jesus Really the Messiah?

(MCCC)

In Luke 18:31 we read: Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.

This is high Christology; viz., the claim that Jesus makes regarding himself being the fulfillment of the ancient Jewish Messianic promises. There are things that are going to unfold and happen in Jerusalem when Jesus gets there. It’s like Jesus us saying to his disciples, “You’ve heard of these things before. You’ve longed for these things to happen. Now’s the time.”

So what did the prophets write about? I’m going to present the reasoning of Dr. Michael Brown , using his synopsis found in Lee Strobel’s The Case for the Real Jesus. I find his analysis compelling. He’s a great scholar, having done his Ph.D in Near Eastern Languages and Literature from NYU. And, he’s a Jew who has found Jesus to be the Messiah. Here are Brown’s bullet points. (Many of these are simply direct quotes from Brown’s interview.)

1. Long ago, as recorded in the book of Genesis, God gave specific promises to the tribe of Judah regarding the covenant God made between himself and Israel. For example, Genesis 49:10 says “The scepter will not depart from Judah.” There was a man named Jesse who was of the tribe of Judah. Jesse had a son named David.

2. Isaiah 11:1 says “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” The word “Branch” is commonly used to refer to the Messiah. The idea is that from Jesse, who is from the tribe of Judah, there’s going to come a “Messiah” who will bear fruit. There’s going to be a lasting kingship through David.

3. In Jeremiah 23:5 God said that he will raise from David’s line “a righteous Branch, a king who will reign wisely.”

4. In the book of Isaiah we see references to someone called “the servant of the Lord.” Which means, “Messiah.” “Anointed One.” (The Greek words for “the Messiah” are “the Christ.”

5. Isaiah 42:1-4 say that the Messiah will not stop [falter] until he brings justice to the earth.

6. Isaiah 49 says that the “servant of the Lord” has the mission of re-gathering the tribes of Israel to bring them back to God.

7. In Isaiah 49:6 God says he will not only re-gather Israel. We read: “I will make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

8. Isaiah 50:6 speaks of the Messiah’s voluntary suffering.

9. In Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 we read that the Messiah will be highly exalted but first will suffer terribly. He will actually be disfigured in his suffering. The words here say the people of Israel didn’t get it. They thought he was suffering for his own sins and wickedness. They didn’t realize he was bearing their sins, suffering for them, and by his wounds there was healing for them. Then these verses speak of his death and his continued life after that.

a. Lee Strobel asked Michael Brown the question – “How important is this passage?”

b. Brown said: “It’s almost as if God said, ‘I want to make it so absolutely clear Yeshua is the Messiah that it’s undeniable.” I almost feel as if God would have to apologize to the human race and to the Jewish people for putting this passage into the scriptures when it so clearly points to Yeshua if he didn’t really mean it.”

10. Now we narrow things even more. In 2 Chronicles 7 God says if Israel’s sin reaches a certain level he will destroy the temple [Solomon’s], exile the people, and leave them in a state of judgment.

a. God says to the people of Israel – “Forsake me… and I will destroy the temple in Jerusalem.”

b. And, sure enough, all of this happens in history.

11. The prophet Daniel prays in Daniel 9 that God would have mercy.

a. God gives Daniel a revelation about the temple being rebuilt.

b. Before this new temple is destroyed, Daniel is told that several things are going to happen.

c. This includes the bringing of everlasting atonement – the final dealing with sin.

12. The Second Temple is built.

a. The prophet Haggai lives to see this second temple built.

b. But it’s nothing like the first temple, Solomon’s temple. Solomon’s temple was a stunning physical structure, far more imposing than the second temple. It also had the glory of God there. When sacrifices were offered, fire came down and consumed them.

c. The second temple didn’t have the presence of God or the divine fire.

13. BUT… Haggai said the glory of the second temple would be greater than the glory of the first temple. I love these verses – read closely:

a. Haggai 2:6-9 – 6 “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7 I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD Almighty. 8 ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty. 9 ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD Almighty.”

b. God would fill the second temple with his glory. But when God says he’ll fill the temple with glory, He’s talking about filling the temple WITH HIS PRESENCE.

14. Then the prophet Malachi, who lived later, says God HIMSELF… will come to his temple and purify some of his people and bring judgment on others. Malachi uses a Hebrew term that always refers to God himself – the Lord – he will come to this Second Temple.

15. The second temple was destroyed in AD 70. The prophesied visitation of God had to take place before the second temple was destroyed. So guess what’s happening, e.g., a passage like John 7. On the last and greatest day of the Feast [of Tabernacles – God, you have provided… like You did in the wilderness…; food…, and water. SO… SEND RAIN!!!], Jesus stood [in the temple courts]… and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” 39By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.  40On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”  41Others said, “He is the Christ.”

16. The prophecy of Haggai is fulfilled when Jesus enters the temple courts and says things like “I am the light of the world,” and “If you are thirsty come to me.”

a. In this regard Michael Brown says – “So it’s not a matter of maybe there’s another one who’s the Messiah. If it’s not Jesus (“Yeshua”), then throw out the Bible, because nobody except him accomplished what needed to be done prior to AD 70.

i. What divine visitation did take place if not for Yeshua?

ii. When else did God visit the second temple in a personal way?

iii. Who else atoned for sin?

iv. How was the glory of the second temple greater than the first?

v. Either the Messiah came two thousand years ago or the prophets were wrong and we can throw out the Bible.

vi. But they weren’t wrong. Yeshua is the Messiah – or nobody is.” (Strobel, Case for RJ, 198)

For the full text of Strobel’s interview with Brown pick up The Case for the Real Jesus. It’s an excellent read – the entire book.

For Brown’s more scholarly writings on this go here.

False Teachings of the (Declining) Church of Oprah

 

(Sterling State Park)

 

Oprah Winfrey is a false prophet who has referred to herself as a “Christian” but who embraces a mix of mystical teachings that are unrelated and antithetical to acftual Chrsitianity. This is seen in her love affair with the ideas of a man who calls himself “Eckhart Tolle.”

 

Tolle wrote a book that became a big seller called “A New Earth.” Last year I read this scandalous and sophomoric book because, apparently, many were buying it. Were people actually reading it? That I don’t know, since I have learned that people don’t necessarily read the books they purchase. For example, when Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind was big seller it was called “the book everyone has bought but no one has read.” I actually read Bloom’s book over a series of days – it’s a very good, very deep and insightful read. As for Tolle’s book, I read it one night – it’s shallow reading. And, as I said, it’s scandalous, spiritually speaking. Tolle’s citations of Jesus are, honestly, laughable. Yet I wasn’t laughing at the thought that some would read his book and think he was on to something.

 

I am suspicious of anyone who changes his first name from “Ulrich” to “Eckhart” and then writes about being truthful and authentic. This is because, in my doctoral studies, I did an independent study with medieval scholar Richard Kieckhefer (Northwestern U.) on the German Christian mystic Meister Eckhart.  Meister Eckhart is, historically and even spiritually, interesting. But he’s questionable when his idea of mystical experience approaches what sounds like the possibility of a metaphysical union with God.

 

Does “Eckhart” Tolle understand Meister Eckhart? I can’t tell. But he’s definitely on the metaphysical union side of things, except it’s far from clear that the m-union has anything to do with God. It’s more like the old “surprise – you can be one with the Universe” kind of thing. At any rate “Eckhart” Tolle is a universe away from Christianity.

 

When Oprah promoted Tolle’s book I thought, “She’s even more dangerous and off-base then I thought she was!” Now, in a new book called “Oprah, Miracles, and the New Earth: A Critique,” Chicago theologian Erwin Lutzer takes on the “Church of Oprah.” Lutzer says: “If you understand Christianity, you understand that the kind of new spirituality that is being propagated by Oprah is incompatible. It’s a form of occultism that is being packaged for American audiences.”

A recent Chicago Tribune article on Lutzer’s book states: “Since March 2008, more than 2 million people from 139 countries have tuned into Winfrey’s new spirituality “webinars” such as “A Course in Miracles” and “A New Earth.” Students learn about the transformation of consciousness, a spiritual awakening that requires transcending our egos—a prerequisite for personal happiness and world peace. Lutzer said many who are taking these courses are searching for something that will bring them closer to God. But Oprah, who describes herself as a “freethinking” Christian, is not leading them into a deeper walk with God, he said. She is leading them astray.”

I agree. Oprah is a false prophet.

And, according to others, the Church of Oprah is now in decline.

A Jewish Scholar Talks About Jesus

(The Sea of Galilee, Tiberias, Israel)

Dr. Michael Brown is a Jew who has come to believe that Jesus is the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. Brown is arguably the greatest defender of Jesus the Messiah today. He did his Ph.D in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He’s one of the scholars interviewed in Lee Strobel’s excellent The Case for the Real Jesus. Brown makes a clear and compelling case for Jesus being the fulfillment of Old Testament prophetic Messianic hopes. I loved what Brown said in his concluding remarks to Strobel.

“Yeshua is the right continuation of my Jewish roots. He’s the Messiah of Israel and the savior of the world. He’s the one to whom I owe my life, and through him I’ve come to know God.

He is the one who provided for me complete forgiveness of sins, who loved me when I was a miserable, ungrateful, rebellious, proud wretch. He put a new heart and a new spirit within me; he has turned my life around and given it meaning. He’s the fullness of God in bodily form. He’s the very expression and image of the Father – in seeing him, I see and know God.

And he’s the only hope of the world. Outside of him, all we see is darkness. He’s the hope of Israel. Israel will run out of options and finally in the end recognize that the one it thought was the source of all its pain and suffering through the years actually is its only hope.

He’s the beginning and the end, the all in all. I cannot imagine existing outside of him. I can’t imagine purpose in life outside of him. So really he is the ultimate expression of God to the human race. That’s why I’m spending my life talking to Jewish people – as compassionately and accurately as I can – about the reality of Jesus the Messiah.

I just can’t withhold God’s very best from those he dearly loves.” (225)

I find these to be good words, especially today, given the global fears that surround us. Political solutions fail. Yeshua is the only hope of the world.

God Morphs a Controlling Heart Into a Trusting Heart

(Coffee Maker, Jerusalem)

I’ve taught spiritual formation classes at a number of theological seminaries as well as weekend retreats for pastors and Christian leaders. I begin my classes by sending the students out to pray for one hour using Psalm 23 as their focus. When they return from praying I ask them the question “What did God say to you?” My experience is that one-third of them don’t get past verse 1, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” God asks them the question, “Am I really your shepherd?” Arguably, this is the basic question of one’s spiritual life. Henri Nouwen has said that the basic question is “Who do you belong to?”

Find out who or what you belong to, and place your trust there. To trust is, ipso facto, to let go of control. If you’re driving and I’m riding and you see my foot move towards the gas pedal while my hand appears on the steering wheel you’re going to ask the obvious – “Don’t you trust my driving?” In that case my answer would have to be “No.” To trust in God means he is the driver and I’m along for the ride.

One biblical example of this is in John 21:13-18. Jesus asks Peter three times the question “Do you love me?” As Peter confesses his love for Jesus, Jesus then says: “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Verse 19 tells us that “Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.”  Then he said to him, “Follow me!” Henri Nouwen uses this passage to illustrate the control vs. trust situation. He writes that “maturation in a spiritual sense is a growing willingness to stretch out my arms, to have a belt put around me and to be led where I would rather not go (John 21:18).”[1] It’s either “dress yourself and go where you want to go” (control) or “be dressed by someone else and go where they want you to go” (trust). To follow Jesus is to go where he wants you to go. When someone becomes a real followers of Jesus they won’t be dressing themselves anymore.

Thomas Merton says that “maturity,” for the Christian, is learning how to be a “sheep.” “As long as we remain sheep we overcome and are victorious. But as soon as we are wolves we are beaten: for then we lose the support from the Shepherd who feeds not wolves, but only sheep.”[1]  If the Lord is my shepherd and his sheep hear his voice and follow, that’s the sign of a trusting heart.

To talk about heart-transformation from control to trust is to move in the “deep waters of the human heart” (Proverbs 20:5). The “control” thing is part of the kingdom of darkness. How so? For one thing it’s mostly illusory. We may think we’re in control of a lot of things, and marketers may tell us if we buy their product it will give us greater control over something, the truth is that we mostly control nothing. Things we have no control over include the weather, what other people think, time, the future, our past, and death. Things we have very little control over include sickness, the economy, our physical appearance, addiction, and our feelings. What, really, do we have control over? The TV controller? Maybe, but I doubt it. I think the “I’m in control of things” attitude is an illusion. Any feeling that “I’m in control” may make you feel that is the case, but the feeling is non-indicative of any reality that corresponds to it. The only option, then, is that we must trust. But in what or in whom? In money? Governments? The self? Gerald May writes: “In our culture, the three gods we do trust for security are possessions, power, and human relationships. To a greater or lesser extent, all of us worship this false trinity.”[1]

Some people are control addicts. My own belief is that the more controlling person is a more fearful person. When confronted with situations that cause us to fear the common response is to want to gain control over the situation. That’s not all bad. The problem comes when we become addicted to control. Since, as we have already seen, most of life is out of our control, the control addict is fearful most of the time and tries to gain control over situations that are, fundamentally, out of their control. Like trying to control the hearts and minds of other people. This cannot be done. Yet the control addict tries, because they fear people who don’t act or think or feel or choose as they do. Such people are “out of their control,” and they don’t like it.

God is not in our control. Sure, some Christians seem to think they can control God but the great truth is that God is “sovereign.” See, e.g., the parable of the workers in the vineyard where those who get hired last get paid the same as those who worked all day. The all-day workers cry out “Hey, that’s not fair?” To which the owner responds “It’s my money, right? And I can do what I want with it.” God’s in control, we’re not. And in some cases we’re out of control. So to have a heart that tries to gain control is counter to what’s really going on in this world. What can we do? The answer is: God wants to and is able to transform (meta-morph) your controlling heart into a heart that trusts in him. Place yourself consistently in God’s presence and God will, usually over time, do this. To me it’s been happening and my experience is one of greater and greater freedom and hope. I want a heart that more greatly trusts in God. I am placing my trust in God.



[1] Gerald May, Addiction and Grace, 32. May’s insight is similar to Richard Foster’s who states that the three things people mostly trust in if it’s not God are money, sex, and power.