Thursday, March 3, 2011
Once a beggar lame from birth sat at the gate to a holy place. This gate was called Beautiful while the man was called Lame. For the One who's holiest place lies within the hearts of people, this seemed backward. So, while on their way to worship, He gently arrested his disciples Peter and John. "Look at what has become of my temple whom people have called Lame-From-Birth!"
"Got any spare change?"
"Peter and John looked at him intently," the story goes, "and Peter said, 'Look at us!' The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting a gift."
Here is a man who clearly does not get what he is asking for. Serendipity springs from the Source of all knowing, gracing a man with the fulfillment of his deepest desire, the desire he dares not dream.
"I don't have any money for you. But I'll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!" Out poured the treasure heaven stores in human vessels upon this treasured man, Lame-From-Birth.
"Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man's feet and anklebones were healed and strengthened. He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them."
I believe they continued into the man-made temple, with their holy human hearts on fire with joy. I believe the Beautiful Gate itself could not have been a more lovely sight to those who love the Father.
"All the people saw him walking and heard him praising God. When they realized he was the lame beggar they had seen so often at the Beautiful Gate, they were absolutely astounded!"
This is not astounding at all to the One whose Temple is not made by human hands. When man-made altars are clothed with greater honor than His own precious image-bearers, how can He not weep. No, it is we who are amazed when God turns our worship upside down and shakes it with His Truth. But still, we miss His purpose when we stop and stare at the miracle of one man's healing, because it is only the prelude to the outpouring of grace to follow.
"Peter saw his opportunity and addressed the crowd." Healing truth is also heavenly Treasure. Peter and John walked through the open door to hundreds of hungry hearts created by the healing, to heal a nation with these words. "Jesus lives. Jesus forgives. Jesus is Lord of all."
How wonderful when we do not get what we expect, but what we need from our Father in the Heavenlies - healing for the soul, a new name, Healed- by- Faith, perhaps, or Strengthened-By-Flames.
How wonderful when we do not give what people expect, but what He directs.
What other instances in Scripture show us men and women who do not get from God what they ask for?
Have you received a different answer than you have asked for from God? How has this affected you?
Has the Spirit used you in an unexpected or inexplicable way? Why do you think He did this?
Father, make me so attentive a listener that I hear your Voice above all desires and expectations. Pour forth through me Your Treasure.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Resolve: To Overcome
Pastor Anne Stoothoff
January 3, 2010
Last week I came home from church and got out the leftovers from dinner the night before [Green Curry and Rice from Tea Garden- yum!]. I settled back into my recliner and wistfully turned on the TV. It’s almost the end of football season. Then what’ll we do? Some folks turn to basketball; others just watch old movies until spring thaws out the garden. The Seahawks were playing Green Bay.
I usually love to watch both teams play. My grand dad snuck off to Wisconsin from his Independence, Mo home, to play pro football after college with the Packers. It wasn’t a gentleman’s game at that time, so he had to play under an assumed name- that’s the family story, anyway. So even when the Packers beat the Seahawks, I am usually ok with that- as long as the Hawks play respectably well. I know! I know! Where’s my loyalty????
For about 5 minutes, I was able to maintain that equilibrium until Hasselbeck had been sacked for the 2nd or 3rd time---in 5 minutes. It was a rout. The score was outrageous- 41-3 at that point, I think, with the Packers defensive linemen strutting around like they were great war-heroes, pounding their chests, while the Seahawks offensive line caved in again and again. It was awful. I felt humiliated. I felt angry. And I was just watching on TV a random afternoon game.
Why is it that the Seahawks brutal loss affected me so deeply? I think it has something to do with the way I identify with them. They really are MY team. They play for MY state, for Seattle, in MY backyard. They represent me. When they lose, it’s personal.
You and I were created to win! Not like the Packer’s brutal strutting rout, but a clean, sweet triumph over a powerful and dangerous enemy- Satan; over a subtle and insidious culture he has designed to degrade us; over our sinful and self-centered human nature. Belonging to Jesus Christ is belonging to the ultimate winning team. We were created in His image to follow in the footsteps of His triumph! A win in Him is a win for all we influence, as well.
This first Sunday of the New Year, we take a look backward to the year before, take a look around us where we are right now, and look forward to the months ahead, the Lord willing. It’s a time to make some decisions. We call these choices; these decisions; resolutions.
Our series this month is called iResolve. I know many of you have sworn off of New Year’s Resolutions. Maybe you’ve made a few only to find yourself like the Seahawks did last Sunday- defeated and road weary. These are the kind you and I make and try to fulfill by the strength of our own will or by our own wishful thinking. Ouch!
But we all make decisions, though, right? A resolution is just a conscious choice: we resolve, or decide, to do or to be something. It comes from the root word resolute. Here’s a working definition of the word:
Resolute: characterized by firmness and determination, as the temper, spirit, actions; firm, steadfast, fixed.
Years ago now, Eric and I both made a decision about who would be in charge of our lives, of our marriage, of our family. We made this conscious choice in the presence of the Lord and His people. We said, “Our lives will be for Christ, and for His mission on earth.” Our lives every day reflect that decision, not made on the strength of our own promises, but on the power of the Living Lord working his will in and through us.
So this month, through communal agreement (there’s power in numbers) let’s resolve that 2010 will not pass by and leave us with regret over lost opportunities for physical, intellectual, spiritual, and relational growth. We’re about to take an intentional step forward in faith, and resolve to see Christ formed in us this year.
We’re going to take a long look each week at four areas in which Christ has created us to win in this life. Don’t miss the next few weeks’ messages! They’ll set the tone for our spiritual growth in the coming year.
Today I have the joy of laying the foundation for our team’s biggest win: iResolve to Overcome.
The text today is from John’s gospel, the apostle John, the beloved disciples’ account of the life of Jesus. John 11:1-44
While you’re turning there, I want you to know what took me several years to discover. The Bible is not like any other book. In our western mind, the rational, analytical, systematic way of viewing reality, we would have written a Bible that moved along in chronological order, for starters. The Bible seems to jump from frame to frame with much less attention to time than we are used to. Then, we would make an outline, starting with the general and moving to the specific. We would make check-lists, take apart specific words and thoughts and place them in categorical pigeon-holes. We would write a “to-do” list. How many of you like to read “How To” books? But God didn’t. God sent us the Story- a narrative account- of his relationship with mankind. It’s not a pretty story. It isn’t tidy. Then, because we needed, not only a story, but a Person, He sent His Son to fully reveal to us His Truth; His Way; the Life that is knowing Him. Jesus lived His life as a human being on earth-entered into our story- and then, returned to Heaven and sent His Spirit- luminous, holy, and pure to guide us home to God.
So I’m going to read you a story. The story is about overcoming- don’t forget that. The story shows us, not tells us, what it means to overcome; how some friends of Jesus’ did it against great odds. I want you to think about some specific things as we read. Go ahead and write them down. Here they are:
Who is chosen to suffer and to overcome?
How does each of the characters respond?
What is significant about these events? So what?
John 11:1-44 (New Living Translation)
The Raising of Lazarus
(To the people living this story out, there were no titles letting them know how it all turned out. It’s the same in your story and mine, isn’t it.)
1 A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha. 2 This is the Mary who later poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair.[a] Her brother, Lazarus, was sick. 3 So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, your dear friend is very sick.”
4 But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” 5 So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, 6 he stayed where he was for the next two days. 7 Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”
Who is chosen to suffer and to overcome?
His dearest friends
Have you thought you’d be given a “pass” on the difficulties of life because you love Him so much? Because you have given so much of yourself for Him and His cause? Because you are a good person? Because you deserve a good life? Have you watched dreams die, loved ones suffer, your children experience immeasurable loss? In other words, have you felt betrayed while you watched down the road for Jesus to rescue you, and he waits?
8 But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?”
9 Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. 10 But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.”
Jesus is saying, in effect, it isn’t dangerous to follow Me into what the Father and I are doing. I’m still with you. I am the light, the direction you need to go in is the one I illuminate for you. Dangerous times are still ahead, but this isn’t one of them.
11 Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.” 12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” 13 They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died.
They seem so thick-headed to us sitting here, smugly reading this nice story, neatly titled, The Raising of Lazarus”. But I assure you, I’d be scared out of my socks, and I’d be very confused, if I were them, and so would you!
14 So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.”
16 Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.”
I hope I’d be so brave- thick-headed, yes, but courageous. That’s faith, for you.
17 When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. 18 Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, 19 and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. 20 When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house.
Don’t miss the significance of this short sentence. It really defines the state of mind of these two women.
21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”
Here’s the thing. Martha does believe. Martha has faith in the resurrection of the dead, in the power of God, the promises of God. And Jesus still allows her this difficult and painful experience. Why? She comes to this point in her life and the faith she has seems to be stretched to the furthest possible point without breaking down entirely.
“Even now…I know Who You Are.” From here, from this utter extreme of believing, Jesus expands and strengthens her faith, because it is on this faith He will found a movement that will propel humanity out of blackest death and darkness, into power and victory over even the worst enemy of all- physical and spiritual death.
It is significant to note that when death entered our world, it came first through the woman, Eve, to the man and through them to all humanity. When Jesus comes to bring the biggest win of all, He brings the news of it, the faith to believe in it, through these women who are His friends, and to their brother. Interestingly, he is really the silent character throughout these events- being dead, and all.
25 Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. 26 Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”
In this pivotal passage we find a purpose, a treasure Jesus unearths from her broken, human heart.
27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” 28 Then she returned to Mary. She called Mary aside from the mourners and told her, “The Teacher is here and wants to see you.” 29 So Mary immediately went to him.
So this is what it means to be Messiah! You are God! You are the Lord and Life-giver. When Martha’s faith is brought to this full maturity, then is able to restore her shattered sister. Why does Mary have the courage NOW to go out to Jesus? She can see the powerful influence of hope that is starting to transform Martha before her eyes.
Here the story turns from the character of Martha, who is at least hanging on to a shred of hope, and for whom Jesus coming means perhaps there is yet something good to come from this pain, to Mary, who has come undone. Jesus can handle human despair, too. He doesn’t flinch or tell her to just “get a grip”…listen.
30 Jesus had stayed outside the village, at the place where Martha met him. 31 When the people who were at the house consoling Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there. 32 When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
She comes out to Jesus. He didn’t rush in and wail, like the rest of the mourners. He asked this much of Mary. She has this much faith in Him. She is overcome with the cruel irony of being best friends with the Savior and watching helplessly while he allowed her brother to die. No, “even now” with Mary. She is shattered, broken, despairing.
33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. 34 “Where have you put him?” he asked them.
They told him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Then Jesus wept.
It is this passage that gives me the most hope in the story so far. Do you think it was easy for Jesus who was present when God wove Lazarus together in his mother’s womb, for the Creator Christ, who formed every man, woman and child on earth, to watch and wait while the horror of decay destroyed the friend he loved? Do you think it is easy for Him to watch today as the people he loves are consumed by greed and others by despairing poverty? The death of every human being is a degradation to the beauty of their God.
Have you heard people weep the agonizing, deep moaning the death of those they love brings on? Have you felt the power of that kind of pain. These are not the silent tears of simple sadness. This is the weeping of a mighty heart torn in two. He is weeping for me and for you.
36 The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”
We’re confused, too. We wonder in our pain, what can the Lord be thinking? He promised overcoming victory, and yet, here is this reality. A grave. A bankruptcy. An illness. A divorce.
38 Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.
But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”
40 Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” 41 So they rolled the stone aside.
I think that was also a great act of faith. It was something like walking out to where Jesus was, to meet him. It was like some of you walking into this church today. You didn’t know what would happen, or whether it was even worth it. You’ve been in churches before, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. In fact, it kind of stuck. Yet, you felt it was what He was asking you to do. You came here hoping He would do something, anything. What a risk you have taken. What a risk they too
I think Lazarus was already alive by then, trying to blink his tightly wrapped eyes open after being in the presence of another reality altogether. I wonder whether he wasn’t a bit confused and disappointed!
Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” 43 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!”
44 And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in grave clothes, his face wrapped in a head cloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”
I always wonder what happened next. Was he hungry? Thirsty? What was the walk home like? What was it like to unwrap the cloth (yards and yards of it) and uncover his smooth, healthy, plump skin, after 4 days in the grip of decay? What was it like to sit down to the funeral pot-luck dinner with the guest of honor, the former corpse? I’d like to hear that laughter. I’d like to see those joyful faces- overcomers all.
What is the significance of this story. So what?
First of all, I don’t want to over-spiritualize this passage and dilute the power Jesus proclaims over death. The first rule of Biblical interpretation is, “What does the Scripture say?” Take the first, logical meaning first. What did it mean to the people in the story? To the people who first read the story?
Believers will rise from the grave by His power- the actual grave. Our human bodies will rise again. We were created by God to live forever. This has been restored to us all, who trust Him. This is why it matters what you and I do in this body- it is His precious creation- made for eternal life.
We will see Kyle Kupp’s impish grin again! We will take the hand of a little 6 year old student of mine named Hannah, and dance up the hill for a story. Like every one who has believed and gone before us, we will live in Jesus.
Revelation 12:11 (New Living Translation)
11 And they have defeated him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die.
If death itself has no power over us, how can we NOT be resolute, how can we keep ourselves from following Him wholeheartedly into whatever future belongs to us?
We overcome by believing. Faith wins!
Have you been led by Jesus into dangerous territory? Are you willing to risk your security for His Kingdom? You will, like they did, watch people rise from their graves. Don’t miss it!!!
Like Mary, have you been betrayed? Have you found your feet bringing you, almost against your will, to the place where you will meet Jesus? Have you told Him your pain? Have you seen His heart break for you? Be restored by His deep compassion, and by His life-giving power over your pain.
Are you like Martha, with just enough faith to hang on, “even now”? Will you let Jesus stretch your faith so it is big enough to conquer the most powerful enemies of your soul?
What is it that is in a grave for you? A lost way of life that you depended on? The love of a husband or wife? Your expectation for the future? A ministry? If it is something that will bring great glory to God, you can be sure He will resurrect it!
Let us resolve together to overcome: financial hardships, relational conflict. How? Believe.
1 John 5:4 (New Living Translation)
4 For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith.
There is one last group of characters in the faith story of Lazarus’ family. Remember the onlookers? Maybe you are one of the people watching all this miraculous stuff happen to others. Did you know, Jesus did it all, while they were watching for their sake, too! It was no coincidence that they each were there for all that took place. This life and joy is for YOU, too! Let’s not forget that people all around us are watching.
Remember the Seahawks? I said, “When they lose, it’s personal.” Your life matters. When you and I lose, when we choose to stay in the grave of sinful, destructive thoughts and behaviors, when we let doubt, resentment, and unbelief win out over faith in His love and life-giving power, we all lose. When you lose, for those who love you, it’s personal. Even if you don’t resolve to believe for your own sake, believe for the ones who are watching you. For them, it’s personal.
But what a powerful win for all who love God when we overcome together!
The story of these friends of Jesus is our story, too. That’s the eastern way of learning- one enters into the life of another in order to gain understanding on far more than an intellectual level. Emotionally, relationally, spiritually, physically He enters into our story, too, if we give Him access to it. He who raises dead men is able to bring you to life again, too. Present tense. He is here, in this room, right now.
What will your story be?
What do you need to overcome this year? Financial stress? Health issues? Relational difficulties? Jesus' sacrifice plus your story (your testimony) equals victory over death and over the one who brought it into the human story. Jesus' sacrifice is complete, but our testimony is still unfolding.
Today is the day to resolve to make the 2010 chapter complete - to say 'yes' to Jesus for the first time, for the first time in a long time, or for the first time in an area of your life previously 'off-limits' to God.
Let’s resolve to believe, to give Jesus’ life-giving power room in every area of our lives.
Friday, May 1, 2009
I notice this so much more in myself lately, when many of the associations that I have allowed to define my life are in conflict with who I really am. When my heart says, "Stand up for justice for the immigrant 's child." or "Speak out against oppressive religion." or "Defend the battered that no one else believes." Why is it that to do these things puts me in opposition to the safe, the "good", the familiar? Why does it feel like death to do so?
I can't have both. I can't have both my own "safe" circle in which I am clearly one of the "right" ones and the Fire of the Living God leading me. I can't be both faithful to the Spirit within and to the comfortable and easy way of defining my life. Cocooned by comfortable convenience I suffocate, I silence the Spirit that cries out, "See the marginalized! Hear their cries! See how the self-righteous take no chances with their status? See what your indifference costs the poor?." I choose the "Other" that is Christ, and the suffering follows.
So if you see me gathering with the gay or leaning toward the left or eating with sinners, remember who I am. I am the same person you have long known who loves Jesus and takes Him seriously. The one who can no longer be defined by a political party or an institution or a family name or a nationality. I can find no safety there from the demands of Christ- love those who hunger for the love of God.
It's a costly worship. As with David in 2 Samuel 6 as he brings the Ark of the Holy Presence into his home town, its every six steps and then a blood-letting. As with David's joyful dance, despised by those looking out the windows of his own home. Defined by those who love themselves and their human dignity, David was an embarrassment. Defined by the inner sense of Whose He Is, David responds, "I am willing to be even more foolish than this!"
Help me, Lord! Help me always dance for your honor, when everyone else tells me to be more dignified! Costly worship. Valuable only to those whose lives are in His hands.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
"I did this so you might trust the power of God rather than human wisdom." 5
God's wisdom seems to be a knowing underneath intellect. It pervades and penetrates both mind, and will, and emotion- unites them in enlightened direction, so we may do and be in thoroughly integrated motion. To know Him and to be known by Him is to be honestly naked and face fully forward, completely empty of pretense yet full in every sense; undone, unraveled, and yet complete.
O Wisdom and her holy Father- Abba God, ever unmake my humanly engineered enterprises that rise on the landscape of your creative genious like tiny toy cities at the dusty edge of the Grand Canyon. More sinister, these, because they claim to be the holy work, claim the awe that's due only You. Kick them over gently, Father. I invest my silly hart so deeply sometimes- you know. When wrenched away I look up- your beauty arrests, stuns and quiets my foolish soul.
You alone are God. I am not, yet You are mine- as generous as the canyon is deep. All is mine as well, and all is truly well- all is in You.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
I read this morning from Deuteronomy 5 and reconnected with the Mosaic covenant in a fresh way. Covenants were not new. Adam, Noah, and Abraham each interacted with YWH on the basis of promises He Himself would keep, even when His servants failed Him. And we humans are spectacularly capable of such covenant breaking as would split in two a heart of stone. Here He is, seemingly wasting His time revealing expectations (to use the language of modern education) no human can ever fulfill apart from Christ.
Yet in the Savior, by the fire power of His Spirit, these lovely laws reveal a life of freedom and joy we are destined to inherit. My friend once said, "I think of these as the 10 promises, because now, in Jesus', I am able to fulfill them."
I will love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind and spirit...in Christ's power.
So, here are a few thoughts I had as I read through the list this morning.
1) "I am the Lord your God...do not worship any other gods besides me." Our worship- what we love, fear, trust in- is reserved only for Him. Life is not about me.
2) "Do not make any idols..." Do I have any images of what life should look like that I pattern my life after? Do I use a substance, experience or pleasure to fill the empty place in my soul that only He can fill? Do I live to please myself, my peers, or my Jesus?
3) "Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God." Do I, though I am Christ's own beloved, bear another man's child-the offspring of my dependence on human ways? Do I claim to be joined to Jesus, yet continue to lead my own life? Called by His name, Child of God, do I exhibit His character; love what He loves?
4) "Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy..." Do I make a habit of setting aside time apart from my routine of working for a living, to rest in the fact that no matter how hard I work, it is God who provides for me?
5) "Honor your father and mother...then you will live a long, full life..." Am I aware of the value of loving parents who have done their best to give me roots and wings? Do I treasure them? Are there people who have stood in the place of absent or abusive parents? Do I thank them; thank God for them?
6) "Do not murder." Do I take the law into my own heart and hands by hating another human being? Do I recognize that life and favor is God's alone to give and to take away?
7) "Do not commit adultery." Am I faithful to my spouse? to my future spouse? Do I betray the one who knows and loves me best in thought, word or deed?
8) "Do not steal." Do I respect anothers' right to have and to enjoy what God provides for them Don't be willing to grasp it from them and wrestle it away for myself? Do I steal anothers' praise, honor or respect?
9) "Do not testify falsely against your neighbor." Do I tell the truth whether it gets me what I want or costs you all you have.
10) "Do not covet your neighbor's wife...house...land...servant...ox or donkey..." Be content. Don't long for someone else's blessings no matter what they are.
Mark 14 promted this poetic rainstorm as I reflected on the disillusionment; the darkness and confusion ahead of the disciples through the trial, bloody beating, and death Jesus prepared them for. No rose colored glasses. Laser clarity both of their human weakness and His triumph over both the grave and their dismal failure. "You will all desert me, but afterward..." What is the crisis that undoes everything? What is the melting of all known reality into a muddy puddle of gloom from which there is no way forward? He knows all about it and has a "but afterward..." where He will meet me and rebuild my life.
a tearing down
all is laid bare
and no human effort
can be launched to
counteract the truth
of our utter helplessness
is the birth canal to
new life emerges
fresh from heaven