Resurrection Power

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Imagine if the resurrection reality was not a part of the Gospel! We would suffer a massive loss of benefits, both temporal and eternal. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable…If the dead do not rise, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’”           (1 Cor.15:19, 32)

I have personally experienced God’s resurrection power in my life. I went from being dead in trespasses and sins to being made alive. God raised me up to come alongside the rest of the Body of Christ, to sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. This was a tangible event in my life thirty-nine years ago, and yet it remains a daily source of strength by which I am able to walk out the Christian life. The “Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead” dwells in me. (Ephesians 2:1-6; Romans 8:11)

The hope of the resurrection needs to stay current in our minds. News items have a way of falling out of our view, like an email message that loses its primary position on our computer screens. Today’s headlines will become tomorrow’s archives.

Resurrection power needs an invitation to manifest. Consider those regions within us that are still in bondage, where “Lazarus like” grave-clothes are hindering our freedom. At salvation I felt totally “unwrapped” but over the past four decades I’ve been blessed to see a great increase in personal freedom, thankfully visiting many “tombs” from which Christ has called forth my true identity.

The Ezekiel-like journey to a valley of dry bones is filled with anticipation, though the journey is certainly arduous at times. But this I know: Resurrection power will come to those who know their dead bones well enough to speak to them.

Then there are those places within that have been brought to death on the cross. Where the flesh is crucified with Christ, the soil is fertile and rich for resurrection to take root and grow. “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.” (Romans 6:5-6) The most troublesome areas in life are those where we are still slaves to sin.

Hiding is at best a temporary solution; denial a surface détente. The valleys are full of sinful attitudes, errant thought patterns, uncontrolled emotions, judgments, embedded hurts… One reason why Christians don’t see more dynamic change in their lives: Everyone is afraid to go into the graveyard.

“How will I find my way? It’s all just so confusing. It doesn’t seem worth pursuing. We’ve tried before.” Understood. It’s not always easy. My suggestion is to follow the markers. Some will be easy to locate; large and ornate. Others will be close to the ground and even covered over. Be assured that when God leads you to a grave marker it’s not simply for remembrance or reflection; it’s for resurrection.

When Jesus yielded up His spirit to God, the veil of the temple was torn in two, and many graves were opened, their former occupants seen walking in Jerusalem on that very day. Death and resurrection is a match made in heaven.

Jesus continues to yield Himself to God as our High Priest and Intercessor on a daily basis today. May His resurrection power encounter your heart afresh.

 

Marriage Apathy

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Nearly every marriage counseling scenario has the same story line. “We used to be so excited in our relationship and now we’re bored.” Apathy and boredom are arch enemies of marriage. We can easily expand that statement to include all of life. Single or married, it is critical that we live “fresh.”

Fresh is the opposite of stale. Anyone like me enjoy fresh baked bread? I have aromatic childhood memories of this bakery in downtown Buffalo where my parents used to buy bread. It was located at the end of an alleyway, red brick on either side. As you walked up the alley the smell was heavenly!

Fresh is newly produced; not preserved by being canned or frozen. Freshly frozen corn for example is much better than canned, but neither are a match for corn on the cob. Fresh is renewed in vigor, as in waking up from a good nights’ sleep; and that clean feel when you’ve had a fresh change of clothes.

Enthusiasm is another quality that seems to be in plentiful supply when couples first begin their relationship. There is energy and life as each person discovers the other. Common interests, goals, and even the spice of some diversity, make for an enjoyable connection. It would appear that “auto pilot” is on, for there’s such little effort required to be happy and fulfilled together. Then comes the wedding, followed by the marriage, and the auto pilot switch seems to have malfunctioned. I’m not enthused at the same level that I was before.

We can gain great insight from breaking down the meaning of the word “enthusiasm.” The root word is “entheos” – en + theos. It literally means “inspired in God.” Does that mean that everything I’m excited about has its source in God? Hardly. But I do believe that the greatest inspiration for laying down your life for your spouse, and actually enjoying such service, can only be sourced in God.

One of my favorite sayings is: Zeal for your spouse will not automatically draw you closer to Christ, but zeal for Christ will always draw you closer to your spouse. When I get inspired in God I feel enthused about life all the way around, including towards my wife.

Personal, spiritual renewal guards the perimeter of your marriage and keeps boredom and apathy on the outside.

photo credit: Carol Browne via photopin cc

Covering Your Husband

cover your spouseSometime after Noah and his family returned to dry land following the flood we are introduced to an important relational principle through Noah’s oldest son, Shem, and his youngest son, Japheth. The setting is Noah’s tent where he has become “uncovered” due to his drunkenness. Noah’s middle son, Ham, looked on his father’s nakedness and proceeded to tell his brothers about their father’s condition.

What was Shem and Japheth’s response? Did they also choose to dishonor their father as Ham had done by going into his tent and looking at him exposed in his nakedness? Genesis 9:23 tells us that their response was quite different from their brother’s.

“But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.”

We can find a lesson in this story. Which response will we choose when we observe something “uncovered” in our spouses’ character?

Will we be as Ham, dishonoring our spouse by pointing out to them, or others, their weakness? Or, will we choose to cover them in their weakness?  To “cover” does not mean to ignore, nor does it mean to consent to what may be wrong behavior.

To “cover” our spouse means three things. First, we do not use our tongue as an instrument to ridicule or condemn them. Second, we do use our tongue as an instrument of encouragement as we lovingly accept them in their imperfect state. Third, it also means that we use our tongue as an instrument to cover them in prayer.

Think about it; isn’t this what we want them to do for us? Jesus is our model—He loves and accepts every believer—even when He does not agree with what we do.

God’s love covers our weakness and sin, and His love through us can cover our spouse in their weakness and sin.

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

Am I Ready for Marriage?

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This is a question asked by many singles as they ponder marriage. It is also a question asked by many who are married, feeling overwhelmed by the challenge and wondering if they made the right decision.

A decision of great magnitude requires great consideration. Jesus made this clear to the multitudes that followed Him: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)  This is the essence of being joined to Christ. He must become the transcendent object of love among all of our relationships.

His instruction is to “count the cost” before deciding. He uses two parables. One: Before you build a tower be sure you have access to all the materials you will need to complete it. Two: Before going to war consider your military resources, measured against those of your enemy.

A covenant pledge to Christ is not to be entered into lightly. In like manner, choosing to spend the rest of our earthly days in a marriage covenant with one person, requires a skillful and wise decision-making process.

Are you ready to count the cost of what it takes to build a marriage over decades? Are you ready to consider whether you have the strength to stand against the army of darkness that will come against your marriage union?

Most of us are familiar with the invitation to receive Christ, given at evangelistic crusades. Sadly, only two to four percent of those who profess Christ in such settings, are still persevering in the faith five years later. Listen to these words of a famous evangelist who preached the gospel in the American colonies during the Great Awakening: “There are so many stony ground hearers, who receive the Word with joy, that I have determined to suspend my judgment till I know the tree by its fruits. That makes me so cautious now, which I was not thirty years ago, of dubbing converts too soon. I love now to wait a little, and see if people bring forth fruit.” (George Whitfield)

I advise singles who think they have found their marriage partner to first evaluate their significant other’s history in God. Is the fruit of the Spirit evident? How have they navigated seasons of transition? Have they come up from the wilderness leaning on their beloved? (Song 8:5) Have they walked with Christ and are they rooted and built up in him, established in the faith? (Colossians 2:7)

Your life in Christ is the ultimate qualifier for your married life. Granted, I don’t always “feel” qualified, much less prepared, to run hard after God every day. Nor do I rely on “feeling” like a great husband to determine whether I choose to act like one. But if we count the cost on the front end of every day and nurture the “Yes Lord” on the inside, His grace will be sufficient.

Those who work out their salvation with fear and trembling will have a strong source from which to work out their marital issues. (Philippians.2:12) Together, your source in God will be the source in your marriage.

 

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Marriage – A Prophetic Witness – A Reflection

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The witness (testimony) of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Revelation 19:10)

Prophecy is the testimony of God’s heart for his people. Jesus spoke this witness perfectly; we do so imperfectly. This is the essence of being “prophetic” – to accurately reflect God’s heart.

Jesus was perfectly prophetic in that he reflected God’s heart perfectly. 

The Apostle Paul tells us to “pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. He who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.” (1 Corinthians 14:1,3) We speak with words and by the reflection of our character.

“You are a letter of Christ…written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Cor.3:3)

“Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at you. Christ himself wrote it—not with ink, but with God’s living Spirit; not chiseled into stone, but carved into human lives—and we publish it.”(The Message Bible)

The primary way that we tell others about Jesus Christ is by how we live our lives, and if you’re married, that includes your married life. Consider your marriage as a letter of Christ published for all to read.

Jesus displayed God the Father in a flawless fashion: “He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature.” (Hebrews.1:3) Unlike Christ, we carry the treasure in flawed jars of clay but we are glory bearers nonetheless!

Pursue love…desire spiritual gifts…especially to prophesy… We all need to be uplifted and enlightened (edify), to be counseled and admonished (exhort), and to be supported and sustained (comfort). This is the essence of the prophetic. These dynamics will strengthen us in our marriage plus give us a story to tell – that’s our prophetic witness.

That which is “prophetic” carries what I call a “telling edge.”  It’s the story line of heaven reflected in the most intimate of relationships, with clarity and precision. It is God’s word being “fleshed out” in the day to day of Christian marriage. Granted, we are all growing in our roles, our impact on the increase, by the grace of God.

Christian marriage is called to be a prophetic witness, a reflection of the union between Christ and his church. It is meant to tell the story of faithful, covenant love. Husbands and wives that model their marital love after the way that Christ loves the church, will edify, exhort, and comfort one another. Let this be our testimony.

No Place Like Home-The Orphan’s Dream

anne-of-green-gablesAnne of Green Gables was a family favorite for us. The main character, Anne Shirley, is orphaned as an infant. She later finds herself in a Cinderella like role in a family with three sets of twins; cooking, cleaning, helping to raise the children. There was no princely rescue but she did find her way to a family on Prince Edward Island. A brother and sister, Matthew and Marilla, were planning to adopt a boy to help them on their farm at Green Gables. Due to miscommunication, Anne was sent to them instead. They were old enough to be her grandparents and they planned to send her back. But she won their hearts, and became a source of redemption in the community. Faithful friends Diana and Gilbert help to guide her journey.

Let’s go from the farm to the galaxies. What about Luke Skywalker of Star Wars renown? He was orphaned twice. His mom died in childbirth, his dad becomes the epitome of evil (Darth Vader), and then he is bereaved of aunt and uncle. Ben Kenobi initiates Luke into Jedi training and faithful droids R2-D2 and C-3PO, prove to be invaluable journey mates.

Have other well-known orphans come to your mind? Forgive me if I have omitted a favorite of yours. Wait, there’s one more I must include – Dorothy Gale. (I know, her last name is never mentioned in the Oz movie.) This young orphan was adopted by her Uncle Henry and Aunt Em. The journey in this case is a dream but I want to focus on the wonderful ending to this film.

Dorothy had a zealous yearning for home. She would do anything to get back. When she was instructed to repeat the words, “There’s no place like home”, her heart leapt with faith and expectation. The story segues to her return home, safe in the embrace of her family.

What about my life or yours? We may not have made the silver screen nor had our story told in print. There are no throngs of people viewing our life’s story as it unfolds. Or is there?

I love the continuity of the Bible. My story, your story, is part of a greater story, consisting of people just like us. In Hebrews chapter eleven we are encouraged by the faith walk of the saints of old. Chapter twelve continues the thought: “Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

We’re not talking about just a few people who have turned out to watch you run. This is a great cloud.

Later in the chapter the concept is expanded. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (12:22-24) I’d say this is pretty good company. It’s nice not to travel alone.

When Elisha and his servant were surrounded by the army of Syria, the prophet prayed that his servant’s eyes would be opened to see in the spiritual realm. “So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:17)

God provides tangible family, real persons in our present story, and He also provides a spiritual family, a mystical union with saints of old and angelic hosts.

The air that strangers and pilgrims breathe is “unto” another dimension. We realize that we are not home just yet. We do however carry a piece of home’s DNA inside of us. “When a man loves me, he follows my teaching. Then my Father will love him, and we will come to that man and make our home within him.” (John 14:23)

“But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’ But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes the deep things of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10)

Not seen and yet revealed – to those willing to search deep and to be searched out by the Spirit of God.

We carry a treasure in our earthen vessels: the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The treasure abides within us; our mission is to steward this Presence as we journey towards a greater entrance across the threshold and into our eternal home. There’s no place like it.

Orphans on the Silver Screen

small__4030260103The idea was birthed when he was walking the streets of Chicago looking for new cartooning ideas. A chance meeting with a tattered girl on the street named “Annie”, inspired Harold Gray to launch “Little Orphan Annie.” The comic strip debuted in 1924 and after Gray’s death, was picked up by other writers, until its’ final episode appeared in 2010. The story lines varied over the years, often reflecting the cultural, political and social satire of America at the time. Annie is full of optimism, hope for tomorrow, and a will to persevere. Like most orphans in story and film, they have a faithful advocate and friend on their journey. Annie had her dog Sandy and of course her benefactor, Daddy Warbucks. Everyone needs a journey-mate.

Allow me a moment to muse over a few other “famous orphans” that many of us have been familiar with over the years.

Homely and homeless, the main character of the Hans Christian Andersen story was the “poster duck” for everyone who ever felt rejected or unwanted. The Ugly Duckling endures verbal and physical abuse his whole life and is convinced of his utter lack of value to anyone. Finally taken in by a community of swans, one day he sees his true reflection in the water, and the rest is history. I can remember feeling compassion for this character; must have been in my DNA, a foreshadowing of my pastoral calling! I mean, how can you NOT feel for this guy?

Cinderella was the victim of an extremely dysfunctional family. Her widowed father married a woman with two daughters. Obviously a poor judge of character, the father’s actions proved disastrous for his lovely daughter. She was forced into servitude by the others, spending all day doing menial chores. Her room was cold and so she curled up near the fire to sleep, only to awaken covered with cinders; hence her nickname. Cinderella endured persecution, unable to be consoled by her father, who was under the control of the unjust stepmother. I love the ending, as the orphan girl is vindicated and justice is served.

One of my favorite comic book characters was Superman. It wasn’t until I was grown up that I emotionally connected with his wider story, that of being an orphan. His parents bid him farewell as their planet was being destroyed, and so he was orphaned from both family and home surroundings. He grows up a seemingly normal boy with his kind earthly foster parents, eventually blossoming into his destiny as global crime fighter.

The famous author J.R.R. Tolkien was orphaned as a young boy, as was one of his main fictional characters – Frodo Baggins. He is a tender young boy, caught up in an epic storyline, and accompanied by his most faithful friend Sam. There is divine-like intervention and training from elder mentors amidst ongoing pursuit by the enemy. The Lord of the Rings series is an exciting action adventure rich in allegory and inspiration. We hardly stop to think that it’s an orphan boy who is one of the heroes.

It’s a little known fact that super spy James Bond was orphaned as a young boy. This is the back story found in the Bond books penned by author Ian Fleming. He becomes a strong, resourceful young man, devoting himself to his country. Hyped up Hollywood glamour aside, Bond is a bona-fide member of the Justice League. Whatever his past may have been his masculine strength is now devoted to fighting evil.

Alfred the butler was one of the best in terms of sticking with this next main character on his trek. He endures the ups and downs of Bruce Wayne’s life as the orphaned boy channels his inner turmoil, first into revenge, then into protecting the population of Gotham.

Peter Parker was also orphaned on two occasions in his life; from his parents and then his uncle Ben. He is a rather solitary figure like Bond, except for his faithful girlfriends lending support and encouragement in his fight against evil.

To be continued…