What To Spend Your Life On In 2009

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On Sunday, December 28, I preached out of John 12, which is the story of a dinner given in honor of Jesus. The dinner takes place at the home of a man called Simon the Leper. Probably, Simon is not a leper anymore. If he was, then he wouldn’t have a house. His leprosy has been cured. Arguably, it was Jesus who cured him, since there weren’t any other cures available.


Also at the dinner is Lazarus, the man Jesus raised from the idea in the village of Bethany. The name of that village today, in Israel, is El-Eizarya, which means “the place of Lazarus.” Ancient Bethany is famous because of Lazarus, who was brought back to life by Jesus.


Martha and Mary, sisters of Lazarus are at the dinner. So are Jesus’ disciples, to include Judas.


Martha, as usual, is serving – cooking, cleaning, making sure everyone’s needs are being taken care of. Imagine how grateful Martha and Mary must have been, to be sitting there with their once-dead brother Lazarus, in the home of ex-leper Simon?

Mary’s heart cannot be contained. She has brought with her a special gift for this occasion, a pint of a perfume called nard. This was worth, at that time, a year’s salary for an average worker. New Testament scholar Ben Witherington suggests this pint of expensive nard would have been an inheritance Mary had. It would be like your retirement savings, your 401K (if you have one), your entire Social Security pension.


Mary pours her entire 401K on the feet of Jesus, in a lavish, extravagant act of humility and love. She gives everything she has to him. Why? Because he has brought her brother back to life. If someone did that for you, how much would it be worth? Jesus tells the people that in doing this Mary has done “a beautiful thing.”


It’s at this point that we hear the voice of Judas, for the very first time in the gospels. Judas says, “I object! It’s a total waste of money! We could have sold this perfume and given it to the poor!” John 12 tells us Judas could have cared less about the poor. He did care, a lot, about money. He was the “treasurer” of the disciples, the “keeper of the money bag.” He would have liked the perfume to be sold, and the money placed into the bag he carried, because he often took out of the bag money to spend on himself.


The life of Judas is tragic. Because he has just spent almost three years walking and living and eating with Jesus. He had seen Jesus calm a storm, heal sick people, deliver people from demons, give to the poor, reach out to prostitutes and tax collectors, and even raise a dead person. In the midst of the most lavish act of love so far seen in the gospels, Judas says “what a waste.”


I’m now thinking about these two responses. I do not want to be Judas-like and quench extravagant acts of love to Jesus. I do want to be like Mary, whose love knows no bounds, being a sacrificial love that gives all to her Savior. Why would anyone do this? Why would I do this? Because I would not have a life if it were not for what Jesus did for me years ago when I finally called out to him. He rescued me out of a very dark place, and gave me much, much more than I ever deserved. How much “money” is that worth to me? If he’s done this to you, how much “money” is that worth to you?


I am sure the answer is: it’s worth giving everything we have to him and in service to him and to the cause of his beautiful kingdom, the purpose of which is to release captives from bondage and darkness.


In 2009 spend your entire life, your whole being, on Jesus and his Kingdom. Love him extravagantly.

Vials of Ancient Perfume Found in Magdala

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“A team of Franciscan archaeologists digging in the biblical town of Magdala in what is now Israel say they have unearthed vials of perfume similar to those that may have been used by the woman said to have washed Jesus’ feet.
The perfumed ointments were found intact at the bottom of a mud-filled swimming pool, alongside hair and make-up objects, the director of the dig conducted by the group Studium Biblicum Franciscanum told the Terrasanta.net religious website.”

Interesting, isn’t it, that these have been found in Magdala?

Go here.

And here.

Sozo

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(Sterling State Park)
In Luke 19 Jesus invites himself to the home of the wealthy chief tax collector Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus is a hated, lonely man with, comparatively, a lot of money. The result of Jesus spending time with Zacchaeus is that Zacchaeus emerges from his house to publicly announce two things: 1) he’s giving half of his money to help the poor; and 2) he’s paying back four times of what he’s stolen from people.

At that moment Jesus declares, “Today salvation has come to this house.”

In Matthew chapter 1 Joseph is informed that Mary will give birth to a child, the child’s name will be called “Jesus.” Why “Jesus?” Because “he will save his people from their sins.”

The Greek word for “save” is sozo. “Jesus” means “he will save.” Jesus is the soter (the Greek word for “Savior”), the one who sozos things, to include people.

“Sozo,” “salvation,” is a big, holistic word. Some people think it’s a fire escape out of hell. While it is that, it is far more than that. See Zacchaeus, for example. The sign that Zacchaeus got “sozo-ed” is that the poor get rescued. Salvation has systemic socio-economic consequences. The heart of Zacchaeus gets transformed; the result is that through him the heart of God gets demonstrated and people get blessed.

Michael Brown et. al. write that the New Testament usage of sozo means “to rescue, sace, deliver, preserve from danger, etc.” (212) “James 5:15 in particular provides an excellent example of the holistic usage of sozo.” (213) The sick person will be “raised up,” forgiven, and “made will” (sozo).

So, Zacchaeus’s sozo-ing results in economic benefits for the poor. Prayers offered in faith can sozo a sick person. A more exhaustive word study of sozo, soter, and soteria would result in seeing how deep and wide and high and long is the love of Jesus the Savior. It is too simplistic to interpret sozo as “getting saved.” This narrow approach undergirds discussions about people “getting saved” and getting into heaven but having lives that produce no Zacchaeus-like results. Sozo includes being healed, made whole, and delivered, and is applied not simply to individuals but to people groups and cultures.

Snow & Sexual Purity

Tonight and tomorrow we’re supposed to get a lot of snow. If we do, and everything is white, then it’s a great symbol of purity. Purity is beautiful. Sexual purity is also beautiful.
Recently Linda read Kris Vallotten’s Purity: The New Moral Revolution. She told me it’s one of the best books she’s ever read on this subject. For her to share this with me is significant, since she and I have read tons of stuff on this over the years. So I’m reading it now, too. We’re recommending this book to a lot of people. We continue to meet people who are in lust, not love. The sex god (as Rob Bell calls it) is alive, well, and destroying a lot of lives out there. Sexual purity, on the other hand, is refreshing, freeing, what real love is about, compelling… and, sadly, rare.

Keeping A Spiritual Journal

(Sterling State Park – One of My Favorite Places to Pray)

I’ve been keeping a spiritual journal for almost 30 years, and have read and responded to over 700 spiritual journals pastors and Christian leaders have sent to me as part of the seminary classes, retreats, and coferences I have taught. Here’s my thoughts on keeping a spiritual journal.

A spiritual journal is a record of the voice of God to you. When God speaks to you, write it down. To do that is to keep a spiritual journal.

Apart from this, people write differently. Some include lots of detail as regards, e.g., the place where they are praying at, prayer concerns, even biblical exegesis. But the core of the journal is: God’s words spoken to you. When I read the journals of others that’s what I am discerning and looking for.

When your mind wanders it may be helpful to write down, in your journal, where it wanders to. The mind does not wander arbitrarily, but always to something like a burden. The wandering mind is a barometer of your current spiritual condition. Then, following 1 Peter 5:7, “cast your burden on God, for he cares for you.” I find it helpful to get the burden on paper. To see it on paper makes it feel like its not inside me any longer; it’s at a distance from me. This is not always the case, but often it is. De-burdening is an important part of entering into God’s presence more fully and achieving a greater focus on God because one is not so distracted.

If keeping a spiritual journal is writing down what God says to me, how can I know it’s really the voice of God? I have found that one better hears God’s voice when they:

1) Saturate themselves with Scripture.
2) Spend MUCH time alone in God’s presence.
3) Interacts with other Jesus-followers who spend much time in God’s presence.

There are also some good books about this, such as Dallas Wilard’s Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship With God.

Because the spiritual journal is a record of God’s voice to you, it is extremely fruitful to occasionally re-read and re-meditate on your journal. A number of the things God tells you will be thematic in your life. it is important to remember such things. “Remembering” is huge in one’s spiritual life. When we’ve gotten God’s words for us written down it can be easier to remember them as we re-ponder them anew. The maxim here is: “I will not forget God’s words to me.”

A spiritual journal, because it is a record of God’s voice to you, is about you. Not others. Yes, I sometimes write about others in my journal. If I’m upset with someone I use letters such as ‘X’ to denote those persons. I don’t want my journal to be found or read by someone with whom I’m angry with. When I write down such things before God I’m primarily asking God to help, not ‘X,’ but me with the anger thing inside me.

Finally, what can you expect God to say to you? My experience tells me that God will tell you things like: his love for you, things he wants to heal deep inside you, things you need to repent of in your life, that he forgives you, things about his essence, a deepening of Scripture, and so on. And, God impart things to you, which when this happens to me, I write down in my journal. Things like: grace, mercy, peace, joy, love, hope, and power.

I don’t believe journaling is for everybody. But remembering is. As is entering deeply into Go’s presence and hearing his voice.

Christmas and Competing Worldviews

(MCCC)

Charles Kraft is an anthropologist who taught at Michigan State University and now teaches at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Years ago Kraft wrote a book called Christianity With Power: Your Worldview and Your Experience of the Supernatural. Kraft’s book, which I read in 1989, influenced me a lot. Here’s how.

While believing in God, my life experiences in church settings rarely exposed me to supernatural activity. Most of the things I saw in church could be attributed to human expertise and human fallibility. The church as I saw it was, largely, human, all too human. Yet when I read the Christian Scriptures I was exposed to realities that could not be attributed to mere human abilities. Did the things I read, e.g., in the New Testament, actually happen? Did they still happen today? If they happened in the past, why aren’t they happening now? And if they happen now, why aren’t I seeing them?

My academic training did not prepare me for the supernatural. My dad was an engineer, and when I entered college I declared metallurgical engineering to be my major. When I chose to follow Jesus at age 21, I changed my major to philosophy because, to me, that’s where the big questions of life were being asked and talked about. My studies were in areas of empirical and analytic philosophy, not exactly areas affirming of supernatural things. I was trained in being a reductionist, which means I learned how to reduce any candidates for miracles to the language of sense experience. In other words, I thought that if you can’t see it, smell it, touch it, taste it, or hear it, then it can’t be real.

Charles Kraft thought the same way I did. Until he began to encounter things that could not be explained within the narrow worldview of empiricism. Kraft actually saw some people he knew healed, which challenged his naturalistic worldview. He writes of these things in his book, and brilliantly explains the notion of “worldview” and the explanatory power of worldviews.

I was fascinated as I read Kraft on all of this, and found that some of my experiences paralleled his. Now, almost 20 years later, I can say that I have seen many miraculous things like, e.g., people being healed of diseases, that I easily conclude my naturalistic worldview was wrong.

This makes all the difference for me as I approach Christmas. I now believe in an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, omnitemporal being called God. I believe this omni-God came to earth in human form to communicate his love for us. To me, among the world’s religions, this remains the most sensible idea; viz., that instead of humans trying to figure out God, God has reached down to us.

I have a very high expectation level in these days in terms of God-with-us (also called “Emmanuel”). God is with us. God is with you. You were made by God and for God. God loves you. Embrace him. And discover that your existence and experience need not be any longer confined to a narrow empiricist worldview.

[One more philosophical thing. It simply cannot logically be true that the only things that are true are things you can see, smell, taste, touch, or hear. Here’s why. Consider this statement: The only things that are true are things that you can see, smell, taste, touch and hear. Now, is that statement true? You can’t see, smell, taste, touch, or hear the truth of that statement? Therefore it cannot be true, logically, because it’s self-refuting. This kind of narrow empiricism, called Logical Positivism, was refuted early in the 20th century.]

Non Causa Pro Causa

This cartoon is an example of the informal logical fallacy of false cause (non causa pro causa – when something is erroneously posited to be the cause of something else, but in reality the conclusion is not dependent on the observed temporal relationship between the imagined cause and its effect).

Since the final exam for my Logic course is a week from today I’m posting this as a warning to my students that this kind of argument won’t work for two reasons: a) the informal fallacy it commits; and 2) astrological signs have no causal efficacy.

Gort

Why do some childhood events stay with you? Like “Gort” has stayed with me. I’m 59 years old and met Gort 50 years ago. He’s resurfaced, awakened by the soon-to-open remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Could the original be my favorite all-time science fiction movie? Probably yes.

The story as I remember it brings the alien Klaatu (beautifully rendered by Michael Rennie) to earth, in love and in power. We fearful, threatened earthlings misunderstnad and kill Klaatu. Klaatu’s powerful robot, Gort, gets angry. Love has been rejected. Power gets exerted. Earthlings are about to get hurt.

The power of Gort is power restrained by the love and wisdom and curiosity of Klaatu. If Klaatu is the Gospels, Gort is the Apocalypse. If Klaatu is the Son, Gort is the Four Horsemen. Or, Gort is God. Instead of applying a final solution after Klaatu dies, Gort raises Klaatu from the dead.

In “Day” you had to wait to see Gort. This made the film better. “Day” takes the road less traveled, which is: delay gratification. Then, unlike “Waiting for Godot,” Gort shows up. When he does, the earth and every kid watching the movie stood still. It was a holy moment pierced by arguably the most famous words any extraterrestrial ever said – “Gort, Klaatu barada nikto.” Klaatu barada nikto. I wonder how many others never forgot those words? “Say them to Gort,” Klaatu tells the earthling Helen, “should I die.” “Gort – stop – don’t kill anybody!”

As a kid I felt less interested in love and wanted to see power break forth. It’s not fair to crucify pure innocence. When this happens there’s the desire for revenge. But my inability to let love rule and win places me among the fearful, non-trusting earthlings who cry out “crucify him!” I wanted Gort to wipe us all out because we deserve it. Instead, because “Klaatu barada nikto,” apocalpyse got delayed, and there’s a resurrection instead. It’s a great story, isn’t it? A story that has stayed with me through the years.

Next Friday the remake opens, and I’m hoping it gets the story right.

Gary Wilson’s Art Show This Weekend in Monroe

Part of my Christmas in Monroe always includes a visit to the home of Gary and Linda Wilson and Gary’s annual Christmas Art Show. Gary is one of Monroe’s great local artists, and long-time professor of Art at MCCC.

On display and for slae are many of his creations, from wall sculptures to “pots” like you’ve never seen before to beautful mugs and much more.

Gary and Linda’s son is Darren Wilson, professor at Judson University in Elgin, Illinois. Copies of Darren’s “Finger of God” (Deluxe Edition), normally for $50 at amazon.com, will be on sale for $40.

It is a 5 DVD boxed set that has a copy of Finger of God (a refurbished, technically “cleaner” version) as well as 4 other DVD’s of footage he had filmed that didn’t make the movie. Darren had over 100 hours of film so you know there was alot of good stuff that wasn’t included. Each DVD has a “theme” and they are broken down as follows:

– Disc 1 – miracle stories
– Disc 2 – “Theology” – answering many questions regarding what God is doing around the world.
– Disc 3 – “Extra Footage” (raw footage from the streets as it happened)
– Disc 4 – “Teachings and Miscellaneous” – some things that just don’t have a category
– Disc 5 – a refurbished copy of the movie “Finger of God” 

WHERE: At the home of Gary and Linda Wilson

327 S. Macomb

 

734-241-6721