To My Dying Friends

Ice storm in Monroe

All my friends are dying. This is for you.

I won’t be here in a hundred years. You won’t be, either. I’m certain I won’t be here in 50 years (I’d be 111!). How about 25 years from now? I’ll be 86. The end, for me on this earth, in this present darkness, will be very near. Life will be, for me, moment by moment.

The question, therefore, is not will I die, but when I die will I be ready? Here are some thoughts I have about this.

  • Let’s be basic. One day, you will die. Maybe you’ll have a funeral, maybe not. Some of this depends on how you die. (Some years ago I read physician Sheldon Nuland’s How We Die. It’s sobering.) Maybe there will be some friends and loved ones at your funeral, or at your memorial service, if you have one. Remember that you could outlive them all, in which case no one will mourn your passing. Or it could be that, in your life, you made things so miserable for others that you die without friends. I have seen this happen. I got a call once asking if I would do a funeral for a total stranger because there was no one interested in doing it, and no family would be there. I declined, due to other circumstances. Perhaps you will be martyred for following after Jesus. It is happening as I am now writing these words. The point is: you and I are in inexorably finite. We’ve come into being, and we will pass away. Yes, I know and believe there’s life after life after death ( this is N.T. Wright’s scholarly and, I think, accurate way of expressing it in his Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church). Still, one day you and I will exit this present darkness. It is a good thing to acknowledge this.
  • Life is best lived when death is acknowledged. So, no immortality complexes are allowed (on this see especially Elizabeth Kubler Ross, whose research showed, among other things, the “immortality complex” in adolescents). Live life in the awareness of death. This will focus and prioritize things.
  • Readiness for death begins now. Not in some morbid, gothic sense. We don’t have to wear black, get tattoos of skulls, or wear dark makeup. That’s not readiness for death. True readiness for death is: living day by day in spiritual renewal. I love and am thankful for how Paul puts this: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:6) Avoid trying the opposite of this, which is: “Though my spirit is wasting away, I am spending thousands of dollars on my extreme makeover day by day.” Have you seen pictures of 60-year-old men with the body of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger and the face of Willie Nelson? In moving towards death, outwardly waste away. You will not successfully wage war against this. Focus on inward renewal. Exercise spiritually unto godliness.
  • Live life for something greater than your own self. Imagine your obituary. You want it to read differently than this: “He loved gardening, enjoyed vacationing in Florida, ate everything in sight, and was an avid Tigers fan.” How about this instead: “In him Christ was glorified.”
  • Remember that, for Jesus-followers, death has lost its sting. I believe in the historical resurrection of Jesus. This is huge for me. While not having yet experienced my own death (if that’s even possible), I’ve had many loved ones die, including a son and my parents and Linda’s mother and sister. In all of these events I have had great hope. I am so grateful that, when I became a Jesus-follower, I was introduced to resurrection studies through William Lane Craig. Bill was one of my campus pastors and apologetic-philosophical mentor. And then there was John Peterson, who was my other campus pastor. John married Linda and I. He introduced me to C.S. Lewis and other apologetic material. From that beginning my Jesus-resurrection-studies have not ceased. My doctoral dissertation was on Wolfhart Pannenberg’s use of metaphorical language in describing the historical resurrection, found in his brilliant Jesus: God and Man. Fast-forward to the present and I see 40 years of detailed resurrection studies to include, more recently, N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God.
    Everyone can’t study such things as I have. I don’t think everyone is supposed to. But for me these studies (to include reading all the skeptical material) have only served to bring me to a place where I know my Redeemer lives, and one day I shall enter fully into his presence. To prep for death, focus on Easter.
  • Some have the opportunity to think long and hard about death. They are those who know, for medical reasons, that unless God miraculously intervenes they won’t be here much longer. Others have no opportunity to do this. They appear well. Then they drop dead. I’m not sure which is better. But I do feel certain death-prep best begins today. What we do today prepares us for the inevitable.
  • How we are in death is important. How a book begins and ends is important. The same can be said for a piece of music. Or a sermon. Or a life. Paul, in Philippians 1:21, wrote: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Therefore, finish strongly.

If you’ve read this then, probably, you have not yet expired. I suggest you now slow down in your heart. Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths. You are alive! Thank God for it. Do not take your life for granted. Are you facing problems today? You are alive to face them. Do you have friends? You are alive to “friend” them today. If you are a parent, behold your children. Are you a spouse? There is your wife; and there, your husband. Enemies? They are your great love-opportunity. Instead of wishing they were dead, thank God they are yet alive. If you grow in love towards your enemies God’s Kingdom will be more greatly populated, and many will thank God for you and a life that was spent on Christ. Celebrate life, whether abased or abounding, now.
 
Are you dying? We all are, literally. And we now live to consider such things.

How the Prophetic Voice Increases

At Redeemer

When you spend much time with God the prophetic voice within increases. You begin to hear from God. God gives you a voice that will uniquely distribute his voice.

If you are too busy too spend time with God then you will hear little or nothing from God. What you hear will likely be: “Be still and know that I am God.” “Stop striving.” “Come back to me.” “Spend time with me.” When you hear these words, do not refuse this offer.

God has much to say to you. Today. One experiences this by being sheep-like. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.” How do you grow in learning to hear the voice of God?

1. Saturate yourself in the Scriptures.
2. Spend much time in God’s presence.
3. Hang around people who do #s 1 & 2.

For me the desire to prophecy was given to me and increased in me as a result of doing 1 & 2. One day, a few years ago, I was reading 1 Cor 14:1-3 and – prompted by the Spirit – wanted to prophesy. Which means: I wanted to hear more clearly from God so as to be used by God to strengthen those who needed strength, confort those who needed comfort, and encourage the discouraged. The simplicity and practicality of these verses hit me.

I remain convinced that the prophetic voice of God grows within us as we abide deeply and closely to him. Connect with God today. He has much to say to you.

Self-Love as Boredom

Here’s a Thomas Merton quote that I read many years ago and just now re-read. Merton’s deep insights continue to nourish my spirit. They come out of Merton’s quiet, abiding heart. Out of a “still” place, a place in one’s soul that is not striving. Remember that Ps. 46:10 says, literally: “Cease striving, and know that I am God.”

Merton, in The Waters of Siloe, writes:

“If you discover any kind of love that satiates you, it is not the end for which you were created. Any act that can cease to be a joy is not the end [purpose; telos] of your existence. If you grow tired of a love that you thought was the love of God, be persuaded that what you are tired of was never pure love, but either the same act ordered to that love or something else without the order altogether.

The one love that always grows weary of its object and is never satiated with anything and is always looking for something different and new is the love of ourselves. It is the source of all boredom and all restlessness and all unquiet and all misery and all unhappiness – ultimately, it is hell.”

So…

  • The love we were made for and are all looking for is to be found in God. Such love will never cease to be a source of joy and wonder.
  • All other loves that lose their joy and wonder (that one tires of) are, ipso facto, not loves we were made for.
  • The ultimate tiring, unsatisfactory, boring love is love of one’s self.
  • Merton here reminds me of C.S. Lewis’s idea of heaven as being a place of infinite exploration, wonder, and joy, so that in life after life after death (N.T. Wright) we are always moving “further up, further in.”

Some Meditations on LOVE

(Can you add anything to these meditations on love? If so let me know & I’ll tag it on with your name. )

I will meditate today on “love.”

  1. God is love. Love forms the very being of God. “Love” is an essential attribute of God. To say this means that God cannot not-love. Christian Trinitarian Theism best expresses this. God is a 3-personed being. God is, essentially, a being-in-relationship. God as Father-Son-Spirit makes conceptual sense of the idea that God is love. Because “love” is relational. “Love,” to be love, requires an “other,” an object to-be-loved.
  2. God cannot not-love you. This does not form some restriction on God. God does not love you because there is some command external to his being that he must follow. God is love, therefore all God’s thoughts and actions are loving. God’s love for you is genuine. When God thinks of you he has a good feeling. God also likes you. You are God’s child, his son or daughter. God made you, and what he has made God calls “very good.” You are deeply loved by God. Nothing can ever change this.
  3. God expressed his love by coming to us, rather than making us seek to find him. God himself came, in the Son, to “sozo” us; i.e., to “save” us. Love came down to rescue us. “For God so loved the world…” Michael Brown et. al. write that the New Testament usage of sozo means “to rescue, save, 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 well” (sozo). Sozo includes being healed, made whole, and delivered, and is applied not simply to individuals but to people groups and cultures. “Love” is  verb. Love is an intentional action.
  4. From God’s POV love is “the greatest.” The highest, in terms of value. Love is greater than power. In the being of God love is the raison d’ettre of power. Jesus, in his humanity, accessed the power of the Father. Jesus’ displays of power came out of his compassion, which is to say, out of his love. Paul follows up and expands on this theologically in 1 Corinthians 13. Without love, you are nothing.
  5. Love is not impatient. Love waits. Love waits for others. Love doesn’t get ahead of others.
  6. Love is not unkind. Love never speaks un-loving words, for that would be the antithesis of love. Love speaks kindly.
  7. Love does not envy or boast. Love is free from human hierarchies of comparison. Love does not measure one’s self against others.
  8. Love does not dishonor others. Which means: love looks to honor others before one’s own self. Love does not go after self-honor. Love loves to see others get the honor. Love is free from the need to be in the spotlight. Love does not “upstage” others.
  9. Love is not self-seeking. Love does not seek after one’s own self, but seeks after God and the well-being of others. Loves puts God first, and others second. Love is satisfied with taking third place, or not place at all.
  10. Love is not easily angered. Love doesn’t get irritated or ticked off. Love isn’t irritable or inconvenienced. Love is easily interruptible.  
  11. Love lets go of past offenses. Love keeps no record of wrongs. Because of this, love sleeps peacefully at night. There’s no bitterness or resentment in love. To forgive others: this is one of love’s greatest accomplishments.
  12. Love does not delight in evil. There’s nothing evil does that makes love happy.
  13. Love does not rejoice with falsehood. Love rejoices with the truth. Love doesn’t throw a party when “1+1=3.”
  14. Love always protects. Love is responsible for the other. Love shelters. Love takes a bullet meant for the beloved.
  15. Love always trusts. This is because love trusts in God. Love is not naive or gullible because of this. Love doesn’t trust an ax-murderer with an ax, but trusts that God is greater than he who is in the world.
  16. Love always hopes. Love expects, therefore love prepares.
  17. Love always perseveres. Love never gives up.
  18. Love never fails.
  19. Love is the thing that will last. Love ever-lasts. Therefore build your life on the everlasting foundation of love.
  20. Faith and hope are great things, but love is greater.
  21. We are to love one another. This is the mark of the real Jesus-follower. “See how they love one another.” If we all were doing just this one thing the entire world would be revolutionized.
  22. We are even to love those who are against us. We are to love our enemies. Love doesn’t get any more radical than this. This is the “Mt. Everest” of love; love’s summum bonum. When love displays itself this way the earth trembles, the heavens open, jaws drop, eyes open, and skeptics reconsider.
  23. If you love Jesus, then you will keep his commands. And one of his commands is: Love your enemies. Here logic kicks in. Modus ponens. 1. If A, then B. 2. A. 3. Therefore, B. Such as: 1. If it rains, then the ground gets wet. 2. It is raining. 3. Therefore, the ground gets wet. Such as: 1. If you love Jesus, then you will keep his commands. 2. You love Jesus. 3. Therefore, you keep his commands. Including yhe commands to love God, love one another, and love one’s enemies. Just as surely as the rain causes the ground to get wet.

Your Marriage Represents Christ & the Church

To husbands and wives: If your marriage represented the love Christ has for the Church, his Bride, what condition would the Church be in?

Linda read this to me yesterday, out of John and Stasi Eldredge’s Love and War: Finding the Marriage You’ve Dreamed Of.

“Being married costs you everything… We all know that loving is hard. Marriage is hard. It is hard because it is opposed. The devil hates marriage; he hates the beautiful picture of Jesus and his Bride that it represents. He hates love and life and beauty in all its forms. The world hates marriage. It hates unity and faithfulness and monogamy. Our flesh is not our ally here either – it rebels when we put others before ourselves. Our flesh hates dying.

But God loves marriage! The Holy Trinity is for it. God loves intimacy, friendship, unity, self-sacrifice, laughter, pleasure, joy, and the picture of the Sacred Romance that you have the opportunity to present to the watching world. God is with you. He is for you. He commands you to love and he says that with him and in him all things are possible.”

The Dialectic Between the Words of Men and Their Being

One of the fruits of taking much, regular alone-time with God is the morphing of irritation and even hatred of other people into real compassion. I have experienced and been aware of this for many years. Solitude with God takes any internal angry edge and smooths it out. This was confirmed to me today as I read some Thomas Merton.

In The Sign of Jonas Merton writes: “It is in deep solitude that I find this gentleness with which I can truly love my brothers. The more solitary I am, the more affection I have for them… Solitude and silence teach me to love my brothers for what they are, not for what they say. Now it is no longer a question of dishonoring them by accpeting their fictions, believing in their image of themselves, which their weakness obliges them to compose, in the wan work of communication. Yet there will, it is true, always remain a dialectic between the words of men and their being. This will tell something about them we would not have realized if the words had not been there.”

Our love for others, as Christ’s other-love is, cannot be based on peoples’ words or consistency, just as I am inconsistent in that my words do not always match my being. Much solitude-time with God takes us deep into the being of God where love is pure and untainted by a lack of human integrity. God loves us because we are his children. Nothing can separate us from such love.

The “Kindness Circle”

The African-American museum
at Central State University

I’m prepping for Sunday’s message, which is out of 1Thessalonians 5:1-11. I’m reading through this letter and coming across verses, though I’ve read before, seem new to me. Like 1 Thessalonians 5:15:

“Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.”

How kind am I? How kind have I been? In general, I think the further I go back in my life the less kind I have been. I’ve always been kind to Linda, for the most part. When I’ve been unkind I’ve always asked her to forgive me. And she’s that way towards me, too. We always confess, forgive, and move on. And we love being kind to one another.

The further back I go in my life my “kindness circle” shrinks. Smaller is the group of people I am kind to. Sadly, I used to privately and sometimes publicly make fun of other people. To mock them. To stand above them and judge them. I have spoken negatively about people I don’t even really know. Surely these are examples of unkindness.

Unkindness pays back wrong for wrong. You get wronged; you pay it back on the other person. Tit-for-tat; an eye for an eye. Unkindness breeds unkindness, which breeds more unkindness, and so on ad infinitum. Unkindness is spiritual cancer. Unkindness is… antichrist-like.

Paul is here addressing Thessalonian Jesus-followers. N.T. Wright comments: “Each Christian, and each Christian group or family, has the responsibility to look out for thr needs of the others, to give comfort, warning, strengthening and example whenevrr necessary. It isn’t enough to avoid trouble and hope for the best. One must actively go after (“pursue”) wat will be good for other Christians, and indeed for everybody.” (Wright, Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians, 132)

The kindness circle extends to all who claim the name of Jesus for themselves. If this were followed churches everywhere would be revitalized. But the real concern here is: me. A few months ago I was asked, in an interview, “What is the #1 problem you see in your community?” I amswered: “It’s me.” I was serious! If I change our community will be better and stronger. The old hymn does not sing “Change their hearts, O God…” Nor does it sing “It’s them, it’s them, it’s them O Lord, standin’ in the need of prayer.”

I need to be kinder. Does the kindness circle extend even to our enemies? Of course, because it includes you and me.

  • You and I were once Christ’s enemies. (Romans 5:10)
  • God’s kindness to us led us to repentance. (Romans 2:4)
  • Christ is being formed in us. (Galatians 4:19)
  • As fruit-bearing people attached to Jesus the Vine we produce kindness. (Galatians 5:22-23)

The kindness circle extends not only to one’s enemies, but also to those in your own home. If we don’t show kindness to those in our own home our marketplace-kindness is fraudulent. The person who is unkind to their family members while opening doors for strangers is a fake. That’s how I view it. Linda and I have talked about this. I don’t want to treat others with kindness and not be so towards her. That would be so hypocritically weird.

Abide in the Vine, now.

Let the Spirit produce the fruit of kindness within.

Walk in kindness towards all. That’s how wide and deep and long and high God’s kindness circle extends.

When the Party’s Over, Dwell

Sioux Falls

Linda, Holly and I just spent a wonderful weekend in Sioux Falls, South Dakota at the Sioux Falls Regional Outpouring. Many thanks to Gerry and Susie and everyone for your gracious hospitality and encouragement. We loved being with you!

We had meetings on Friday night, Sat. morning and evening, and Sunday evening. The focus of my presentations was:

  • Live your life attached to Jesus, the True Vine.

There is an old pear tree in my back yard. Every spring it buds; every fall its fruit is plentiful and delicious. Sometimes branches fall off the tree and we pick them up and burn them. We’re not expecting disattached branches to produce fruit. No matter how hard an unattached branch works and strives and labors to produce fruit, it will not because it cannot not. All its striving is in vain.

But if the branch is attached to the tree, striving is not needed to be fruit-bearing. Does a pear work hard to become a pear? Not at all. What must it do? Simply: stay connected. If a branch is connected to a pear tree it will produce pears, just as surely as If it rains then the ground gets wet.

Linda and I have had one of the most exhilarating two-three months in our lives. In late fall I went to Kenya to preach and teach, then in January to NYC to do the same, then here in Monroe with Randy Clark and his excellent school of healing and impartation, then at Payne Seminary teaching, and finally this ast weekend in Sioux Falls. We saw and experienced a lot of God-things, such as: people healed, people delivered, prophetic words that brought strength, encouragement, and comfort, plus we at a lot of interesting and delicious food with friends old and new. It can be a real adrenaline-rush, almost a spiritual high, to have such constant God-activity swirling around one’s heart. But now it’s Monday morning, a snowstorm-blizzard is coming tonight, and it’s just us. When the party’s over, what do we do?

The answer is what we have always been doing for the past 40 years: dwell. Remain. Abide. Connect with Jesus. Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you…. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:18, 20) I may be sitting in a chair alone typing these words but I am not orphaned. Do not make the mistake of equating the now-presence and activity and power of God with exhilarating conferences. God can sometimes show up at a conference. God can also show up in your living room. Actually, I think we’d experience more of God at the conferences if we daily experienced his presence which is, by the way, awesome and earth-shattering.

If you are a Jesus-follower then Father, Son, and Spirit have come and made their home in you. (John 14:23) This means you and I are portable sanctuaries who host the presence of God. When you left the big conference God came with you. How good is this for you now? To begin with, God is God – everlastingly. The omnipotent, omniscient, omni-benevolent, everlasting God is here, now. Connect with him and he gives you His peace and His joy. (John 14:27; 15:11) He calls you “friend.” (John 15:15) As you abide in Him you can expect to do the kind things Jesus did with the kind of heart by which He did it. Christ, the hope of glory, is in you! (Colossians 1:24-29) So be in awe.

And, you will be fruit-bearing, now. Jesus did not say “If you attend the conference you will bear much fruit.” He did say, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:5-8)

Fruit-bearing. Fruitfulness. That is what the Jesus-life is all about. Trying harder to bear fruit won’t work, just as that pear in my back yard is not working hard to achieve pear-ness. Does this mean we do nothing? No. It means what we do comes out of the dwelling-relationship with Christ. We stay tight with Him, we hear His voice, He calls us to take part in the Movement, we obey, and in our obedience we work to the glory of God. Our “doing” comes from our “being” (dwelling). In this way our “doing” is authentic and relevant. All disconnected-doing is inauthentic, irrelevant, and mere striving.
God has much for you today. Right now. Make abiding your constant joy. It’s all about the Relationship.

Connectedness now is the key to the outpouring of the Spirit.