An Update on Mat …

I wanted to give an update for those who are praying for Mat (One ‘T’, I had that wrong before.)
First, thank you to those across the country praying for him. It’s been encouraging, as was this news from Mat, through his fiance, Jess:

Mat has said this week that Christ is evident in our church. His family members have noticed as well. This would be much harder if it wasn’t for all of your support. Thank you for being such a great family and for showing your love in actions and truth.

Second, however, I must ask you to please keep praying. He’s gone into ICU since my first post. He’s having trouble breathing, his fever is spiking and they’re still searching for answers as to what exactly is happening.
So, if I may indulge you a bit more, please continue to pray for Mat and for Jess, his fiance, and of course the family. It fills my heart with anguish to see this young man who surrendered to Jesus and righted the course of his relationship with his girlfriend, so that she was baptised too and they were engaged, in what may be a fight for his life.
It doesn’t seem fair, so I ask you to continue to pray with me.

Squarebird Ranchero

What happens when one mixes a 1958 Thunderbird and a 1977 Chevy Blazer 4×4? This goofiness.
What this crazy world really needs is a 450 horsepower, Chevy powered, four wheel drive, Ford Thunderbird pickup truck, right?
According to the auction, “If you want to stand out among the crowd in a one of a kind creation that looks great & sounds great, this is it.” Hard to argue with that. Also, it’s good to know that the 4WD actually still works. Nothing worse that taking your vintage Thunderbird out on the Rubicon only to get stranded in some mud pit or on a boulder by non-working 4WD.
Oh, and it can also be used as a tow vehicle. In fact, “The previous owner had a lawn service so he pulled a trailer with mowers in it.” Imagine that.

Good News and Another Request

Elani, always Dancing Bear to me, came through her surgery fine and is doing well. Dad is even feeling better too. Thanks to all who prayed.
If I could indulge you a bit more, please pray for a young man in our church named Matt who’s in the hospital with pneumonia. He and his girlfriend were baptized last year and were engaged recently. He’s a leukemia survivor and also has a immune disorder where, if I understand right, his body goes overboard fighting disease. It ironically seems to have helped his fight with leukemia, but is hurting his ability to fight off this pneumonia.
If you’re willing, please pray for Matt, this young convert with a beautiful fiance waiting for him to come out of the hospital. Pray for the doctors caring for him to have wisdom and insight as well for his healing.

The Oppression of Perfection

I haven’t written much of substance around here of late, aside from my on going Quiet Time Journal study of Ezekiel. That’s been a surprisingly enjoyable study thus far and your encouraging words on it are appreciated. I’m at a point where I enjoy my reading and look forward to it, a place I haven’t been in a long time.
But aside from that, and my Blogwalking posts, not much of substance has happened around here. I’ve found myself in a low spot lately. It seems that life has been conspiring against me of late. The ongoing issues with my car (still unresolved), lots of things around the house to fix and deal with, it’s time to get the T’bird out and I again didn’t get any projects on it done over the winter, etc. They seem trivial, but somehow they all add up to a feeling of hopelessness that hangs over me. It seems like I’m always chasing problems and issues.
Welcome to life, right?
What I’ve begun to understand is how I’ve bought into the idea that things can be perfect and right. There’s a right way, the right way, and I should seek it and obtain it. So, I think somehow that if I wash my car enough, keep the salt off, change the oil at the proper time, etc it will be shiny, new and perfect forever. If I study enough, read enough, pray enough and think enough I’ll achieve spiritual perfection. I’ll know how to do church, which church is the church and who’s a Christian and who isn’t. If I finish this and that project around the house, put up that last piece of trim, pain that wall and get the patio done, I won’t have to work on the house any more, it’ll be right.
Ingrained in me in my upbringing & our culture of the past few decades is this idea that problems have individual, absolute and final solutions. It’s the American ‘can do’ spirit, a Bob The Builder attitude (“Can we fix it? Yes we can!”) that believes inherently that we are able to find all the answers and fix anything.
This pursuit of perfection, more over the belief that we can obtain and sustain it, is ultimately a lie. Worse yet, is once you’ve bought into it, even when you discover the lie, the mindset still lives in you, pushing you toward The Answer, even though you know it does not exist. I’ve long understood that things break, people fail, truth can be elusive and ‘fuzzy’ and that questions pile up faster than the answers. Yet, I still act as if that weren’t true. In my heart, I want it all just so, just perfect, just right.
I’ve come to understand that this pursuit of perfection is oppressive to the core. It drags my soul down. Why? Well, for one, it is unobtainable. Things rot and decay. A freshly washed car immediately starts gathering dirt. (In fact, just washing the car reveals all the latest scratches and dings that the layer of grime was hiding!) Problems multiply. Questions abound. But the real reason that it’s oppressive is because the heart behind it is inherently selfish. The reason to pursue perfection is to free time that would have been spent on problems for me and my plans. I’m not pursuing some high minded standard, I’m pursuing my own leisure, what I think will make me happy.
I think that by avoiding work and making more time for fun, I will be happy or fulfilled. The work is in the way, a necessary evil in life that must be endured to get to what I want to do. The cold truth is the opposite – God is a worker and He created us to work too. There is satisfaction in the work invoved to complete tasks and meet needs. When I seek to fix all the problems and find all the answers and put it all to bed for good, what I’m really saying is I want to avoid God’s plan for me – to work and serve – and follow my plan – to relax and indulge.
God is at work, He created me to be at at work too. There will always be work to do. Rather than seeking to empty my to do list so I can get to the good stuff, I need to embrace the idea of the work being the good stuff. It’s not the means to an end, in many ways it is the end itself.

Ezekiel – Chapter 20

Ezekiel 20:1 – Hmm, Ezekiel 1:1 says “In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, …” but here in chapter 20 is starts “In the seventh year, in the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month, … “. The chapter is titled “Israel’s Continuing Rebellion” so I’m confused, is this before chapters 1-19 or after? Guess I ought to get that commentary you folks told me was ‘indispensable’. 😛
Ezekiel 20:5-8 – You can hear the anguish in God’s tone here. He chose them, searched out the best land for them and set them in it. Don’t look back, is all he said. I’ve picked you out from all other and provided the best there is for you, leave that inferior stuff behind. Instead they started looking around at what was out there, desiring something new and different. Perhaps there was something better than what God was offering …
How are we any different? God’s poured out his best for us and we give him scraps all too often. We’re distracted by the good that this world offers us, not remembering how inferior it is to the best that God has. We think we can keep one hand on God and wander around with the other stretched out for whatever else might be out there.
Do we hear God crying out in anguish as we search for happiness elsewhere, “But I even gave you my Son …”?
Ezekiel 20:11 – God gave the law, not to control but to educate. Act according to this and you will live. It was a gift, not a burden. After all, God created us and the world we live in, an instruction manual on how best to get along here is a wonderful thing.
Ezekiel 20:9-26 – God sums up Israel’s history here. God gives, Israel rejects, god longs to wipe them out, God relents and then the cycle repeats. I like the picture, repeated in verses 13-14 and 21-22, where God says he will destroy them, but relents for the sake of His name. It’s a picture of God wanting to let His emotions loose, but taking His own thoughts captive and submitting to what is better rather than what would feel good. He is like us (rather, we are like Him) in that His emotions and drive Him to hasty action, but, unlike us too many times, His reason prevails. He does not simply let His emotions rule.
He shows in this just how much different He is than we are. He feels emotion as, strong emotions, just as we do. But where we are often carried away by them and later, ashamed, wonder what we’ve done, God does not. His emotions are a part of Him and influence Him, but he controls them rather than the other way around. Perhaps I humanize God too much, but we are created in His image. He clearly is portrayed with emotions in the Bible – jealousy, anger, love, passion, sadness. He handles them perfectly and we can learn from watching Him.

“As I live, declares the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out I will be king over you. I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out. And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will enter into judgment with you face to face.”

Ezekiel 20:33-35 (ESV)

This is under the heading of “The Lord Will Restore Israel”. Imagine, restoration “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out”. After that would you want to meet God face to face? He finishes in Ezekiel 20:38 “Then you will know that I am the Lord.” Uh-huh.
But then …

“For on my holy mountain, the mountain height of Israel, declares the Lord God, there all the house of Israel, all of them, shall serve me in the land. There I will accept them, and there I will require your contributions and the choicest of your gifts, with all your sacred offerings. As a pleasing aroma I will accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered. And I will manifest my holiness among you in the sight of the nations. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I bring you into the land of Israel, the country that I swore to give to your fathers. And there you shall remember your ways and all your deeds with which you have defiled yourselves, and you shall loathe yourselves for all the evils that you have committed. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name’s sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, declares the Lord God.”

Ezekiel 20:40-44 (ESV)

What an amazing God we serve! In this chapter we see an anguished god, angry, ready to destroy, facing yet another generation in a long string of unfaithful Israelites. Yet here He is promising once again to lift them up, to restore them. Why? Because of what He is, not because (thankfully) of what they’ve done.
We see this in Jesus, the grace and forgiveness, but this s the God of the Old Testament. He is the same God, continually forgiving and continually calling His people back to Him – for His name sake.

For Pink and Dancing Bear

Most of you who frequent these parts probably already know, but please pray for Pinakidion and his new baby girl Elani Rose Payne, formerly known as Dancing Bear. Elani was born Wednesday with a blockage in her nose and is not able to breath on her own. She’s on a ventilator and will have corrective surgery on Monday.
They’ve been through this once before, with their son about 18 months ago. Twice in 2 years is a little hard.
In the mean time, John, I hope these lyrics from Casting Crowns might be of comfort. May you be able to sing them yourself soon.

Praise You In This Storm
I was sure by now
That You would have reached down
And wiped our tears away
Stepped in and saved the day
But once again, I say “Amen”, and it’s still raining
As the thunder rolls
I barely hear Your whisper through the rain
“I’m with you”
And as You mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away
I’ll praise You in this storm
And I will life my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
Every tear I’ve cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm
I remember when
I stumbled in the wind
You heard my cry
You raised me up again
My strength is almost gone
How can I carry on
If I can’t find You
As the thunder rolls
I barely hear You whisper through the rain
“I’m with you”
And as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away
I lift my eyes unto the hills
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord
The Maker of Heaven and Earth

Ezekiel – Chapter 19

Ezekiel 19
Uh oh, poetry (sorry Paul :-P). I find Biblical poetry like this more challenging to read. I wonder what is it supposed to mean? What am I supposed to get from it? The same s true here. I get to the end of the chapter, and I’m left wondering. Sigh.
It seems to be the Lord comparing the princes of Israel to first lion cubs gone astray and then comparing their mother to a vine. Who is He referring to, their mother? In the first, destruction comes on the princes, in the second destruction comes on the mother. I’m not sure what that means. Nonetheless, it’s sad for the Lord to see this destruction, even if it is deserved.
I wonder how much of creation, perhaps all of it, exists simply to give God illustrations of His ways? Certainly that’s not the only reason, I believe it was given for our pleasure as well. In Romans 1 we see that God’s nature is made known through creation and over and over God uses illustrations from His creation to make a point about our hearts and our actions throughout the Bible.
I see God’s nature in so much of His world. Over and over, I learn things about creation and I’m reminded of who God. The passing of the seasons speak to His grace and forgiveness, for example. If we put the Bible together with creation, I think what God is becomes very plain. Looking, however, at nature with out the Bible or at the Bible without nature, I believe that we can get an incomplete view of our God. He reveals Himself to us through both.

Ezekel – Chapter 18

Ezekiel 18:1-4 – The passage to follow is a familiar one to me. It’s the main passage used to refute the doctrine of original sin, that we are born guilty. It’s always important to consider context, however, when plucking a passage out to use in support of or against our pet doctrine. In this case, the context seems to be that Israel was using their father’s sins as a scapegoat for their current situation. “Dad screwed up, that’s why we’re in this mess.”
That’s not exactly the same situation as those who believe in original sin. They believe it, mostly, as a simple fact, we are born with sin, rather than a scapegoat for their own failings. That doesn’t mean, however, that God, in the process of teaching Israel, didn’t reveal to us a broader truth, that God does not hold us to account for the sins of our fathers, we are not born with guilt.
Knowing the difference between how Israel was thinking, and why God brought them this message, and why people believe in original sin today can help us use this passage properly. (Of course, we need to determine if God was speaking a truth for all times and peoples, or only about how he would deal with Israel in Ezekiel’s time.) We need not deliver it with the force that God did, to convict them that they are responsible, not their fathers. Rather, it becomes one of gentle instruction about how God looks at us and our sin. Ultimately, theirs little reason that we cannot disagree on the doctrine of original sin and still consider each other brothers.
Ezekiel 18:19 – Another reason they believed this way – their sinful hearts wanted to extend the punishment of an evil man to his righteous son. Guilt by association. God was not so much teaching them a truth (although the wording seems to be more universal than specific to me), he was teaching them how to treat each other.
Ezekiel 18:21-29 – Praise God that he allows us to change! More importantly, he honors our changed hearts and discards our past evil ways. Of course, he will do the same of we change course from righteousness to evil, but there is hope in God’s willingness to forget our past sins if we turn and pursue righteousness.

From the Mouths of Babes …

Emily is my middle, about to turn 10 in a couple of weeks. In some ways, however, she’s beat her older sister to puberty. She’s wrestling with her own soul, it seems, these days, and dragging Mom and Dad (and whoever happens to be around) into the fight with her. It’s exhausting at times, for Emily does nothing and feels nothing in small doses. She lives life and feels it in the extreme.
This week she’s grounded from some of her favorite things. In Emily’s world it’s all about her and she genuinely doesn’t understand that there are others to be considered. It sounds odd, perhaps, to put it that way, but I think that’s the case, she just can’t grasp the concept of considering other people. One day she will, but not now. This self immersion gets her in trouble, but I know that if this is not broken in her, she will never find peace and will never find God. It’s hard, but it cannot be ignored.
She cried tonight and told me she wanted her Ellie (a treasured stuffed elephant, she likes pink Milly) back. “Not until Wednesday,” I said, “but if you show me a changed heart … ”
“But how do I do that?” she interrupted, through tears.
I stood at her bed speechless, tears forming on my own cheeks.
How indeed, Emily, how indeed.

Midweek Lesson

Put yourself in the disciples’ shoes after the cross for a moment. You’ve lived with Jesus for years. You’ve watched the miracles. You had hoped, perhaps, he was … the one. But not the one, the messiah, we think of, rather the one to finally free Israel from the Romans. But instead, those same Romans killed him on a cross. (remember, your mindset is Earthly, physical rescue) That’s where you are mentally, you had put more and more faith in Jesus, letting yourself believe in him, only to be disappointed. Now what are you doing?

  • Wondering what you’ve spent those years on
  • Wondering how stupid you could be
  • Wondering what it all meant, surely it wasn’t for nothing?

But what of your faith? You have a deep faith in God, obviously, you didn’t follow Jesus to learn carpentry. Where’s your faith now?

  • Faithlessness
  • Doubt.
  • Confused, very confused.

The picture of the disciples after the crucifixion is one of confusion and uncertainty. They were still together, but they seemed still paralyzed by what had happened. They weren’t sure what to do next. Jesus had told them plainly that he would die, but they weren’t’ really prepared.

Luke 24:36-53
36While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
37They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
40When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate it in their presence.
44He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
45Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
The Ascension
50When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

So, Jesus had risen from the dead. He’s appeared to many of them. Yet, when he shows up here at their meeting, they still think it’s a ghost. Evidently, death is too final to overturn. So Jesus provides more proof, touch me, feel my wounds. I’m not a ghost, in fact, I’m hungry, do have any food?
A dead man they can touch, standing among them, eating. Think of someone who’s passed away. A grandparent, perhaps. What if they stood before you and you were able to give them a big hug, to talk to them, share a meal together. Wow.
They did that with Jesus. And then, if that weren’t enough, he floats away, into the sky, up to heaven as they watch. So now where’s your faith?

  • High
  • Ready to do anything
  • Renewed.

So this miracle of a resurrected Jesus and his amazing ascension inspire you, but what to you do with what you’ve seen?

  • Tell the world
  • Share it

So you go into the world and tell everyone “Guess what? I’ve seen a dead man come to life and then he flew up into the sky, floating all the way to heaven!” How will that likely go over? Who’s going to believe that?

  • Not so good
  • No one.

The miraculous appearing of Jesus over and over (He could have gone back to heaven after just one or two appearances) wasn’t as evidence that they could share to prove that he was the Christ, it was for them and their faith. He needed them convinced of who he was if they were to change the world, but the story of His appearing and ascension wasn’t how they would change it.
So then, how would they?

  • Loving God above all else
  • Loving their neighbors as Jesus had loved them
  • Loving their enemies
  • Get serious about sin
  • Caring for the downtrodden
  • Reaching out to the untouchables
  • Putting all those things they had learned from Jesus into practice.

Jesus needed their faith to express itself through love, but to do that they had to have faith. But it wasn’t their faith alone that would change the world, in fact it couldn’t. As James said, faith without deeds is dead. Instead, they considered nothing their own, they gave to anyone who had a need, even selling their houses do so, the met together daily in the temple courts, they devoted themselves to the scriptures and the teaching of the apostles, they healed and preached and taught in the streets.
The question for us, and it’s a serious one, is how is your faith being expressed in love?
What are you doing with what Jesus has taught you? Or is your faith dead?
What will you do tomorrow to express your faith to those you see?

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