Celebrating the Resurrection at Northridge

Celebrate Easter!
Did you go to church? If not,
Why not listen now?

Did Easter slip by you this year? Many people work in industries where there is no option to stop and rest on Sundays, and for others, attending church wasn’t a priority. Maybe you’re among those who were super busy preparing a feast for family and friends, hiding Easter eggs, and enjoying the cultural aspects of the holiday. If you weren’t able to attend a service anywhere and feel a tug in your heart that you may have missed out, then it’s not too late!

Hundreds of churches around the world now have their services on line! Why not take a break and take in what’s been going on at Northridge Church near Detroit, Michigan? This church is so full of love and energy to reach out to others that on February 17, 2019, they received the “Liberator of the Year” Award for Michigan and Ohio for their involvement in helping with the human trafficking problem. (They are the first and only church to ever be given that honor!) Northridge has also been so excited about Easter that they held 18 services where over 21,000 joined in worshiping and praising God together. You might be happily surprised by what you see, hear, and learn! And, if you live in the area, this coming Sunday (April 28, 2019), Dr. Hugh Ross will be discussing the interconnection between faith and science.

http://northridgechurch.com/experience/talks/the-moment/310/

Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).

Sacred Fire (inspired by A.J. Sherrill)

Last night, Alan and I celebrated our 46th anniversary! Such a joy!! This morning, as I was reflecting back over our marriage, it occurred to me that when I prepared my last blog (on how Christ can heal us), I hadn’t really made any particular connection to the every day struggles we all face, but I listened to two messages Sunday night that were so good, and so appropriate, that I want to share the gist of them with you. Throughout the course of my life, the two hardest conscious struggles (probably more significant unconscious challenges) relate to self control in what I eat and what I think about. I’ve always felt very “normal” (if such a thing exists), so my guess is that these almost come as standard weaknesses on most human models coming off the assembly line. Can you identify?

A.J. Sherrill (a local pastor) taught a two-part series called “The Soul of Sexuality.” I’ll put links at the end and highly recommend them as healthy soul food to help you manage your appetites (maybe not as much for food, however).  In turn, A. J. gives much of the credit for his teaching to Richard Rohr, a little monk from Albuquerque, with whom he spent a week some years ago, trying to understand life. You may think a monk wouldn’t be the best resource for understanding how to cope with our innate sex drive, but think again. Any monk who has actually been able to keep his vow of celibacy has spent his entire adult life trying to figure out how to handle his own drives.

Even as a married woman, dealing with sexual impulses has been challenging! I remember when I was mid-forties, asking my spiritual mentor (who was about 80), when men stopped making passes at women. She nodded thoughtfully and replied, “Oh, maybe sometime between 75 and 80.” I was shocked and felt doomed! Would I never be free from unwanted male advances? Men I love, just like I love women. But, men challenging my commitment to my marriage, I do not appreciate. It’s not funny, and it’s not fun. Worst case scenario, it can actually be tempting, which was terrifying when I was 40 and my husband was way too busy to pay attention to me.

So, I used to complain to the Lord, “Why did you make us sexual beings, anyway? Why couldn’t you have made us without sexual passion???” One of the most helpful resources I found was Living with Your Passions, by Erwin W. Lutzer. (It came out in 1983 but is still available on Amazon.) After reading Lutzer’s book, I came to a somewhat grumbly surrender to the thought that God must have known what he was doing and determined to learn how to live a moral life despite my immoral heart, but I wasn’t thrilled about the challenge.

After studying the Song of Solomon for ten years, I decided that God intends our chief love to be spiritual, and that as we’re drawn into a love relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we find joy and strength that surpasses human love . . . an energy and beauty that causes those around to marvel: “What will ye see in the Shulamite? As it were the company of two armies” (Song of Solomon 6:13: the dance between our soul and the Trinity [my interpretation]).

A.J. took it a step further, and I love what he had to say. The “why” of sexuality is about “beauty, mystery, and meaning . . . Your sexuality is an echo of a larger cosmic mystery unfolding, which is the story of Christ and the Church.” “God is not a stoic force; he’s a passionate lover.” (I’m putting everything in quotation marks but they may not be perfect; I was typing as fast as I could!) God is Israel’s husband (Isaiah 34; Jeremiah 31) and in the New Testament, we learn that we, the Church, are the “bride of Christ” (Ephesians 5). From John 7 and 15, we can infer that our marriage to Christ is designed to flow into the stream of life and bear spiritual children and spiritual fruit. In John 14 we are offered the Kiddushim—the covenant of love—and now we’re just waiting for the Huppah, when Jesus comes back to receive his bride (us!).

“Information in the head is not the same as intimacy in the heart. We were made for intimacy.” “Ya had” means to throw out your hands. Let go! Let God dwell in us so much that through us He will produce fruit! Hebrews 12—throw off all false lovers and fix our eyes on our true lover, Jesus. When we celebrate communion, we are celebrating our love covenant with Christ. He wants us to understand how much we’re loved and feast with him. He has never forgotten us or forsaken us, even though we have failed him and had other lovers and idols. Come and feast with him. Let him heal you!

The first message dealt with vertical love; the second message with horizontal.  A.J. offered three scripts for how sex is handled in our culture: Erotic play, Intimate connection, and Covenental Promise. He offered some excellent quotes thinking through the value and power of sexual energy (a couple of which I’ll write out for  you below), and he ended with an invitation to reach a “higher altitude” for viewing. “Sexuality is the best instrument for learning self-control There are times when offering yourself is a gift and when withholding yourself is a gift.” If you’re in a relationship right now, he suggested that you “Talk with your partner about what you want without finger pointing, but by offering your longings, not your complaints. Complaints create emotional distance, but longings are redemptive. You’ve trusted God with your soul. Will you trust him with your body?”

“A healthy sexuality is the single most powerful vehicle there is to lead us to  selflessness and joy, just as unhealthy sexuality helps constellate selfishness and unhappiness as does nothing else . . . Sex is responsible for most of the ecstasies that occur on the planet, but is also responsible for lots of murders and suicides. It is the most powerful of all fires, the best of all fires, the most dangerous of all fires, and the fire which, ultimately, lies at the base of everything, including the spiritual life.” —Ronald Rolheiser

“The fire of sex is so powerful, so precious, so close to the heart and soul of a person, and so godly, that it either gives life or it takes it away. Despite our culture’s protests, it is not casual and can never be casual.” —Rolheiser

So, in light of Jesus healing the lame man—and offering to heal us too!— if you’re restless or unhappy with your sex life (or lack thereof), this is a great time to let Jesus heal your wounded heart! Consider watching the two messages (which together are shorter than a movie!):

https://marshill.org/teaching/?sermons=the-soul-of-sexuality-week-1

https://marshill.org/teaching/?sermons=the-soul-of-sexuality-week-2

I am come that they might have life,
and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

Free Dental Day Coming Up Tomorrow (February 8, 2019): Need Help? Want to Volunteer?

Tooth pain hurts!  That’s why our son, Daniel
(who’s the dental director at Exalta Health here in Grand Rapids),  has been facilitating free dental days several times a year for the past few years. Each Free Dental Day, there’s been a wonderful group of very capable volunteers
who donate their time and expertise, which is good, because there’s also a long line of patients waiting outside
well before it’s light in order to get dental care that day.

(Many patients are uncomfortable having their pictures taken, so I couldn’t take any photos of the line, and fewer than half the patients in the overflowing waiting room agreed to let me take their picture, so the majority of them were actually behind me in the hallway when I took this photo.)

           Exalta at its heart is motivated by the love of Christ.  It’s a charitable outreach to those who are uninsured
and find it nigh unto impossible to pay for health care. This includes many young adults who no longer have parental support, as well as people of all ages who are out of work, homeless, or have low-paying jobs. Exalta also reaches out to refugees and has a large Hispanic-speaking population. They’ve been blessed by many Hispanic Christians who’ve taken an interest in the work, including this couple, who met at Exalta and are now newly married! This year our volunteer coordinator had the bright idea to do a press release, so a camera man  and a news reporter from Fox News visited  to interview patients and let Grand Rapids know what’s happening here. Not long afterward, Channel 13 News came to interview Daniel,and do a story on Exalta! Of course, the publicity was exciting, but that’s not why anybody helped. We helped because it’s good to help! We want to be the hands and feet of Jesus to love others wherever we go. Still, I hope the exposure in the news media will make the public aware of the opportunity both for service and to serve. In addition to care that can be provided by dentists and hygienists, an oral surgeon was available for some of the more challenging work. Exalta has a panoramic X-ray machine to help with diagnostics, and patients can receive free eye screenings or counseling services if wanted.Caring for many patients in a timely manner takes tight coordination, including people who can translate, triage, and guide the patients. Just keeping packets of instruments sterile is a HUGE job
(which I know from trying to do it sometimes). It’s tricky trying to find just what you need when you need it, and faithfully restocking the drawers is a challenging labor of love! As photographer, I got to appreciate first-hand the beehive of activity . . . and the sense of satisfaction that comes from a job well done. So, if you need some dental care, or if you have time to volunteer, call Exalta Health in Grand Rapids and get plugged in
for their next free dental day, which is tomorrow, February 8th, 2019. If you can’t help tomorrow but are interested, they need volunteers with or without medical training every week day, so please call!
https://www.exaltahealth.org/

(All photos taken during Exalta’s last free dental day, November 2, 2017.)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (11): Draw Out Now and Bear to the Governor of the Feast

Last week we ended our study of Jesus’s ninth command with everybody holding their breath to see what was going to happen next, and this is what happened: “And he [Jesus] saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.” (I think they were very brave souls!!) “When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;)  the governor of the feast called the bridegroom,10 And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.11 This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him” (John 2:8-11). Let’s start at the beginning and think through the details of this occasion. Jesus and his disciples were attending a wedding feast in Cana where they ran out of wine. Jesus’ mother, Mary, told Jesus about the problem.  In response, Jesus directed the servants to do something that was possible but probably made no sense and was possibly a little scary; they were to fill up the waterpots with water. But . . . how would that solve the problem?It might be worth noting that these ancient waterpots held “two or three firkins apiece” (John 2:6), and my understanding is that a firkin is a quarter of a barrel. I’ve heard estimates of these waterpots holding between 20-30 gallons. Multiply this by 6 (there were six of them), and you have as much as 180 gallons of water!  Given that the water was turned into wine, even if the wedding celebration lasted seven days (which was common), there would be no shortage of drinks again! As someone who’s never had an alcoholic drink, I’ve often wondered why Jesus turned the water into wine. Jesus could have purified the water as his miracle, and pure, cool water might have tasted better than anything any of them had ever tasted before. Water symbolizes life, as Jesus taught us in John 4:14, “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.Paul wrote that “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27). Jesus could have simply purified the water, but he did not.       Jesus turned the water into wine  . . . wine better than the best they had.  For the sake of clarity, “wine” comes from the Greek word οἴνῳ, (or in Latin: vino, “from the vine”) and was used generically for both non-alcoholic grape juice and fermented, alcoholic juice products. “Wine” in the Bible is symbolic of joy, and of the Holy Spirit. I don’t know if Jesus turned the water into fresh, non-alcoholic grape juice or fermented “wine,” although after much study (which I’ll write about separately someday), I personally believe it was fresh. Still, as I pondered this, the thought crossed my mind: Am I missing out on joy by refusing to drink alcohol? The Lord brought these verses to my mind: “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18), and “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace . . .” (Galatians 5:22). In the flesh—in this world—people experience a certain type of pleasure by drinking wine, but true joy comes from being filled with the fruit of the Spirit—not fruit of the vine. If you’re drinking in God’s spirit, you have better than the best the world can offer! So, none of us who are abstinent are missing out on joy . . . and we may be avoiding great sorrow. 🙂As  a last thought, turning the water into wine was such an obvious miracle that the disciples couldn’t miss it. Reading from our perches 2,000 years after the fact, it’s easy to see that “the miraculous draught of fishes” (as it’s commonly called) was also a miracle, but the disciples didn’t really recognize it. They recognized Jesus’ power, but it just made them afraid of him. This time, in Cana, the change from water to wine was indisputable but not the least bit scary, and the disciples began to trust him: “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.”How about you and me? Do we believe the testimony of the miracles that Jesus performed? Has that made us trust him? Are we enjoying the true fruit of the Vine, the Lord Jesus, who is “drink indeed” (John 6:55)? Are you looking forward to participating in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, to which all are invited, but only those who are dressed in the robes of Jesus’ righteousness will be attending (Revelation 7:14)? As Christmas approaches, I hope you are experiencing true joy—the joy of knowing Jesus as your Lord, King, and Savior!

Joy to the World

Joy to the World; the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields & floods, rocks, hills & plains
Repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love. (—Isaac Watts, 1719)

(*Photo credits: Photos of famous, “Public Domain” paintings are from free online sources, particularly Wiki Commons and Wiki Arts Encyclopedia: https://www.wikiart.org/en/Search/Marriage%20at%20Cana . I took the photos of the Greek storage containers last fall at Getty Villa, California. The photos from a modern reenactment of the biblical story are from http://www.freebibleimages.org and can be used freely on blogs or for teaching purposes with attribution to: www.LumoProject.com. These are great resources. If you know of other free resources, I’d love for you to share the links in the comment box below. Thanks so much!)

 

 

Don’t Discount Discount

For the past twenty-five years, we’ve always used Discount Tire to keep our cars rolling smoothly. If Discount sells you tires, they take care of your tires, repair your tires, air your tires, balance and rotate your tires, and let you know when you need new tires. We’ve always been very satisfied with their service and appreciate their help.  Also, it’s traditionally not been hard to get service there, so I was caught totally off guard (or should I say off balance?) when they failed to let me know my new tires had arrived. The tires were supposed to come within a week, so after about 10 days, I started calling  . . . and calling . . . and calling!  No answer. After a week of no answer, I decided to pay them a visit. There was a long line, but I waited patiently for my turn. “Yes, the tires are here, but we just haven’t had any time to call, and now appointments are running more than a month out. However, if you’ll come in at 8:00 am tomorrow (or maybe even a few minutes before), we’ll try to get your tires on while you wait…shouldn’t take more than a half an hour.”  That sounded good, so I arrived at 7:50 am, thinking I’d be first in line. In fact, I was already fifth in line, and by 8:00 am, there were nine plus more people getting into line behind me, some reluctantly emerging from their warm cars. The line zigzagged back and forth through the little waiting area, as it was below freezing outside.  They had my car done in not much more than an hour . . . just long enough for me to have a new appreciation for what a good tire company does for its customers, and the importance of having good tread on our tires so we don’t slide off the road in icy weather.  The wait also got me to thinking about how often I take my church for granted, expecting it to “be there” for me. It’s usually easy to access, and a good church (which mine is)—like a good tire company—helps keep me in tune so I don’t crash when the rubber meets the road of difficulties in my life. If you don’t have a church family, please, please, please seek one out . . . a place where the teaching is true to the Bible and the people are sincerely seeking to follow Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  And, for those of us who are already part of a good fellowship, let’s not discount “Discount!” Let’s appreciate what a fantastic “deal” it is to have a church home who takes good care of us . . . and when the church is struggling under an overwhelming burden (like Discount Tire Company is in this icy weather), let’s bend over backwards to be patient, help out, and appreciate all the hard work and good service that’s happening every day!

So the churches were strengthened in the faith,
and they increased in numbers daily
” (Acts 16:5).

Monte Carlo Night: Great Fun for the Holidays…but…No Gambling or Drinking!

Anybody who thinks Sunday school is just for kids has never been to our Sunday school class! In a mega church like Calvary (with about 6000± attendees), it would be easy to get lost in the crowd, so you need to connect with a smaller group of people for friendship and fellowship. Midweek prayer meetings, care groups, life groups, youth groups, music groups…short circles…there are so many ways to engage with other people, but one of our favorites has always been via a Sunday school class. Our class, Heirs Together, has about 120 members and a wide age span, although I think we’re pretty close to the median age with a profile like most of the members, including a similar world view and deep faith although somewhat irregular attendance due to travel, family and health needs. The class has been hanging together for many years, and although the majority have probably been married for 35-50+ years, there is a growing population of singles. (Yes, we’re getting older!)  We have a monthly “event,” and last weekend it was a “Monte Carlo” game night which was super fun and perfect for getting to know people. Therefore, I want to pass it along to you in case you think it also sounds like fun. I’m hoping to try it out over Christmas break when we have many of our kids home, but it could also be used in any group of 8 or more.  I think our Monte Carlo Night was the brainchild of Ed Avink, who’s one of our class leaders and an architect. The only tricky part is that you need groups of 4 people to make it work, and probably at least 8 to make it work well. Here’s how to play: Either number people off into teams of 4 or let them gravitate naturally to a seat at any of the card tables you have set up. We had 17 tables of 4 people, but that’s way more than you need, and actually none of us got to play a hand with everybody.  To prepare, set up a room (or rooms) with one card table, four chairs, 4 score cards, a couple of pens, and a deck of cards on each table. Once people are settled:1. Have somebody at each table shuffle the cards.
2. Everybody takes a cut. The person with the highest card deals. Aces are high. If two people get the same card, then it goes by suit: Spades (highest), hearts, diamonds, and clubs (lowest) 3. Deal out all the cards by going from left to right around the circle. (Should end up with 13 cards per person.) It looks to me like it’s polite to wait until all the cards have been dealt before looking at your hand. 4. Play your hand according to the instructions on the game card. (Obviously, you could make up your own rules and number of hands. Fourteen hands took us close to three hours.) The person to the left of the dealer starts first, but after that, whoever has the highest card wins that “trick” and starts the next round.
5. After all the cards have been played, count your tricks (by team, with your partner being across the table from you) and record your score on your score sheet.  6. The tables are all numbered: 1-??? The two winners move on to the next highest-numbered table and play kitty-corner, so they have new partners for the next hand. The losers stay at the same table they were at but also change positions so that they are sitting kitty-corner and will each have a new partner
7. Play through all the hands.
8. Count up your final points.
9. The winner wins! At our Monte Carlo night, Dean won with some 2,100+ points. The next two tied at 1,900+. Alan and I were in the 1700 range, but some people ended up with 700+, so there’s a huge variation. I’m not sure if anybody needs to know who loses, but there was much admiration for our winner, so that was fun.  Nobody passed out a candy bar or anything as a prize, but everybody brought an appetizer, or a bottle of pop or juice to share, which worked out great, because sometimes you had to wait for the next table to finish before you could play again. Alan and I had several good opportunities for conversations with members of the class that we’d met but didn’t know very well, including one couple that we discovered were married just one month before us (both couples married nearly 46 years now) and had attended the same university, the same year, even living in the same married student housing, although we never met! Best of all, the next morning we learned that one of our newest members, who was widowed last January, shared that the night of our Monte Carlo game night was the night he would have celebrated his 51st anniversary, and he’d been dreading that day for weeks. He said going to the game night and enjoying everybody’s company had turned a terrible night into a blessing for him.  So, if you’re looking for a fun way to celebrate and reach out this holiday season, you might enjoy throwing a Monte Carlo Night! If you do, please let me know how it goes! Or, if you’re lonely and aren’t plugged into a good group for fellowship, let me know, and I’ll invite you to our Carol Sing coming up in December. You are also cordially invited to try out our Sunday school class. Not only is it warm and friendly, the teaching is excellent, and we pray for every request that’s given each week! Let me know, and I’ll tell you when and where . . . and introduce you to everybody! And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).

Tommy Walker: Pursuing the Way of Peace

When you’re in L.A., there are many outstanding churches you might want to visit on a Sunday morning, but when we were there last week with our oldest son’s family, Alan’s first choice was to visit Christian Assembly, where Tommy Walker is the worship leader. Over the course of his career, Tommy has composed 85+ songs, recorded 25 albums, and has 247 recordings listed on Song Select. His works include many songs that our family band played over the years, such as He Knows My Name, That’s Why We Praise Him, Joy, Joy, Joy, and Sweet, Sweet Presence of Jesus.
Tommy is an outstanding musician and has worked with national leaders like Franklin Graham, Rick Warren, and Promise Keepers, but what Alan loves best is not Tommy’s great giftedness, but his amazing humility. Although he’s been offered deals by recording companies and publishers, he has intentionally pursued a more quiet path with his wife Robin, continuing his ministry as the worship leader at the same church for twenty-eight years, where his four children have grown up. His ambition is to glorify God, not himself, and that won’t catapult you into Hollywood fame and fortune. However, I believe Tommy Walker is spiritually rich, and he’s definitely famous in the eyes of those of us who’ve been blessed by his ministry!
       By the way, the message (by Pastor Tom Hughs) was also excellent. He’s working through a series called Anxious for Nothing http://cachurch.com/sermons/october-20-21-weekend-services/ and last week offered this advice for keeping CALM in the midst of crisis:
C: Celebrate God’s goodness and blessings
A: Ask God for help
L: Leave your concerns with God
M: Meditate on God and his Word
      Are you anxious today? If you’ve got a few minutes, please allow yourself to be calmed by Tommy Walker singing “When I Don’t Know What to Do.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMXEwwhF6pg

“Lord I surrender all
To Your strong and faithful hand
In everything I will give thanks to You
I’ll just trust Your perfect plan

When I don’t know what to do
I’ll lift my hands
When I don’t know what to say
I’ll speak Your praise
When I don’t know where to go
I’ll run to Your throne
When I don’t know what to think
I’ll stand on Your truth
When I don’t know what to do

Lord I surrender all
Though I’ll never understand
All the mysteries around me
I’ll just trust Your perfect plan

Bridge

As I bow my knee
Send Your perfect peace
Send Your perfect peace Lord
As I lift my hands
Let Your healing come
Let Your healing come to me”

“Strong Christians are not strong people, they just know where to run.” —Tommy Walker

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

P.S.—I didn’t think of this when I first wrote the article, but studying Tommy Walker’s life makes me believe he has had to resist Satan’s temptations to “bow down and worship” him. (See Meditating on the Commands of Christ 2). I’ve never had to give up fame or fortune (because I’ve never had either), but Tommy seems to have avoided a lot of the common traps that ruin the lives of many gifted people!